United Airlines Holdings Inc. pushed industry shares higher after saying it would boost its domestic schedule for August to 48 per cent of last year’s level, from 30 per cent in July, offering another sign of rebounding travel demand.

International flying also will increase, to 25 per cent of the 2019 schedule from 16 per cent in July, United said in a statement Wednesday. All told, the carrier will add almost 25,000 flights during the month as a whole compared with July, and triple its schedule from June.

United’s expansion, which will focus on leisure destinations, reflects the gradual return of passengers after the COVID-19 pandemic gutted demand earlier this year. Even now, as the U.S. reopens, concerns about rising infections are keeping travelers cautious. Demand tapered off last week but remains strong for the July 4 holiday weekend, United said.

“We’re adding in flights to places we know customers want to travel to, like island and mountain destinations where social distancing is easier,” Ankit Gupta, the airline’s vice president of domestic network planning, said in the statement.

The shares climbed 4.1 per cent to US$36.02 at 10:45 a.m. in New York, after jumping as much as 11 per cent and leading a rally of other major U.S. airlines. United had dropped 61 per cent this year through Tuesday, the worst drop on a Standard & Poor’s index of the five biggest carriers. The S&P 500 Index fell only four per cent during that period.

European Ban

United’s trans-Atlantic plans face an additional hurdle, with European Union governments banning nonessential trips by U.S. residents. Those restrictions, which will be reassessed every two weeks, are based on the bloc’s view that the U.S. response to the pandemic has been insufficient.

Domestically, U.S. airlines have been trying to lure back customers with safety policies that include requiring passengers to sign health checklists, overhauling cleaning procedures and mandating the use of face masks. Big carriers have vowed to suspend flyers who refuse to cover their faces, although the rules don’t apply to small children or to people with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks.

United plans to add more than 350 daily flights from its U.S. hubs in August, including doubling the number from the New York area compared with July.

American Airlines Group Inc. has said it will fly 40 per cent of its 2019 system-wide capacity in July, including 55 per cent of last year’s domestic flying and about 20 per cent of international.

--With assistance from Mary Schlangenstein.