With the drop in business travel, airlines have shifted their focus toward leisure demand. This change has caused airlines to focus on “sun and fun” destinations — cities focused more on beach tourism. United Airlines has done this throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and will add one more of these routes to their route network. The airline will add a flight from Panama City, Fla. to Washington D.C.
United Airlines will commence the route on March 4 with daily service. The flight will be operated by a United Express Embraer E145, which features 50 seats: 44 economy seats and six in premium economy. The flight will take about two hours.
On the route, United Airlines will face direct competition from American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. American Airlines offers a daily flight from its hub at Washington Reagan National Airport with a CRJ700. The route was launched recently in January 2020. Southwest Airlines operates a weekly flight on Saturdays from its base farther north in Baltimore using a Boeing 737-800. The Dallas-based carrier plans to launch a weekly flight from Reagan National in mid-April. This route will use a Boeing 737-700.
Also, the route faces competition via Delta Airlines and its funneling of passengers through its Atlanta hub. Atlanta is the largest destination from Panama City, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT).
United Airlines will expand its offering in the panhandle of Florida with this new route addition. Currently, the Chicago-based airline plans to offer flights from Panama City to Chicago, Denver and Houston in March. However, flights to Chicago and Denver will end before April. Additionally, United Airlines operates flights out of Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport and Pensacola International Airport on the panhandle.
Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Panama City and Pensacola are considered the main gateways to the panhandle of Florida. Destin is mainly served by Allegiant, with flights to the Midwest, Northeast and the South. From October 2019 to September 2020, Delta Airlines was the largest airline in Pensacola, with 30.25% of the market share. The Atlanta-based airline flies operates flights from Pensacola to Atlanta.
Meanwhile, in Panama City, Southwest Airlines was the largest airline with 42.60% market share, according to data from the DOT. The airline operates a route network of flights to its bases in Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Nashville and St. Louis, with additional seasonal service to Atlanta, Austin, Denver, and Kansas City. Delta American Airlines operates flights from Panama City to Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas and Washington D.C.
In recent months, many U.S. airlines have grown their presence to sun and fun destinations. For example, American Airlines will be relaunching flights from Charlotte to Honolulu in the spring. Another example is United Airlines launching flights to Pensacola from Washington D.C., similar to the new route to Panama City. Additionally, United Airlines launched point-to-point routes connecting Florida to the Northeast and Midwest.