Cool: United Airlines’ Africa, India, And Hawaii Expansion

Filed Under: United

United Airlines sure knows how to generate buzz — yesterday United hinted at a route announcement happening today, and the details are now official.

United Airlines has announced plans to add seven new routes, including flights to Africa, India, and Hawaii. All the new routes are subject to government approval, and tickets will be available for purchase in the coming weeks. Exact schedules and launch dates haven’t yet been announced.

Let’s take a look at the details.

New United Airlines Africa flights

United Airlines is launching new routes to Accra, Johannesburg, and Lagos. This is exciting, since Africa isn’t a continent that got much love from US airlines in the past.

Newark to Johannesburg route

United will launch daily nonstop Boeing 787-9 flights between Newark and Johannesburg as of spring 2021. At just under 8,000 miles each way, this will be one of United’s longest flights.

This complements United’s 3x weekly seasonal flights to Cape Town, as that route was launched last year. With this addition, United will operate more flights to South Africa than any other US carrier.

This comes at an interesting time for a couple of reasons:

United will launch daily flights to Johannesburg

Washington to Accra route

United will launch 3x weekly nonstop Boeing 787-8 flights between Washington Dulles and Accra as of late spring 2021.

United will be the only US airline to fly nonstop between Washington and Accra, and the Washington metropolitan area has the second largest population of Ghanaians in the US.

This represents a route resumption rather than a new route altogether, as United flew between Washington and Accra years ago, but the route was cut in 2012. Delta is currently the only US airline flying to Accra, as the airline serves Ghana out of New York.

Historically South African Airways has also operated a flight between Washington and Accra, but it seems unlikely that will resume anytime soon.

Washington to Lagos route

United will launch 3x weekly nonstop Boeing 787-8 flights between Washington Dulles and Lagos as of late spring 2021.

United will be the first US airline to fly nonstop between Washington and Lagos, and Lagos is the largest Western African destination from the United States. However, this is also a destination that Delta beat United to, as Delta flies from Atlanta and New York to Lagos. United used to fly to Lagos back in the day from Houston, but that route was discontinued in 2016.

New United Airlines India flights

United Airlines is launching new routes to Bangalore and Delhi. United is already the biggest US airline in India, so this will only build on that.

Chicago to Delhi route

United will launch daily nonstop Boeing 787-9 flights between Chicago and Delhi as of December 2020. That flight will cover a distance of just under 7,500 miles, and it will be the first of United’s new routes to launch.

This complements United’s existing service to Delhi out of Newark and San Francisco. Chicago has the second largest population of Indian-Americans in the United States. Air India also operates this route nonstop, and this is a route that American had operated about a decade ago.

United will launch daily Chicago to Delhi flights

San Francisco to Bangalore route

United will launch daily nonstop Boeing 787-9 flights between San Francisco and Bangalore as of spring 2021. This will be United’s first flight to Bangalore, and second flight to India out of San Francisco. At 8,700+ miles, this will also be United’s longest flight, beating out the Houston to Sydney flight, which is just over 100 miles shorter (and then the San Francisco to Singapore flight is just a little shorter than that).

This is interesting since American is planning on launching Seattle to Bangalore flights as of 2021, as part of a Seattle growth strategy. I wonder if American will reconsider Bangalore flights now that United is flying there as well.

New United Airlines Hawaii flights

United Airlines is launching two new “long haul” routes to Hawaii, including to Kona and Maui. In both cases, these flights represent the furthest east nonstop flights available from these Hawaiian airports.

United already claims to be the biggest US airline between Hawaii and the mainland, and this will only build on that.

Chicago to Kona route

United will launch 4x weekly nonstop Boeing 787-8 flights between Chicago and Kona as of summer 2021.

This complements United’s Kona service out of Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

United will launch 4x weekly Chicago to Kona flights

Newark to Maui route

United will launch 4x weekly nonstop Boeing 767-300 flights between Newark and Maui as of summer 2021.

This complements United’s Maui service out of Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

My take on United’s long haul expansion

United has long been the most creative and daring US airline when it comes to long haul expansion, and this all builds on that. Obviously airlines are in a tough spot right now, given that business travel likely won’t recover for several years.

While some of these flights have the potential to have good business demand, it’s also clear that the priority is routes that have quite a bit of leisure traffic, where you could see people visiting family in other countries. After all, that’ll be the first type of long haul travel to recover. It’s even something that United emphasized, by pointing out the large populations in these US cities with ties to the destinations.

At the same time:

  • I can’t help but wonder about routes like these when travel restrictions are still in place, with no signs of those being lifted
  • Does United actually think all of these these routes will be profitable long-term, or just that they’ll be less unprofitable than other routes in the coming years?
  • Is United dropping any routes in the meantime, since this is quite a bit of expansion?

Economics aside, it’s incredible how United has differentiated itself from American and Delta when it comes to just how global its route network is.

What do you make of United’s new routes to Africa, Hawaii, and India?

  1. San Francisco to Bangalore is now United’s current longest route in terms of distance, beating Houston to Sydney.

  2. United also flew IAD-Lagos between 2010-2012 or so. at some point I think it was tagged with the flight to Accra.

  3. I suspect these route announcements are just the tip of the iceberg.

    Aside from US military contracts which were operated by Delta (hence their reasoning of Haneda, because it’s closer to Yokota), United had managed to dominate US based corporate contracts to East Asia from Apple to Disney, had managed to level the playing field to the point of being neck at neck with Singapore Airlines. But this isn’t about competition with Star Alliance members. In fact I think United and Singapore Airlines will manage to joint venture, after all they allowed ANA and Singapore to JV.

    I do think they will want to widen the gap between themselves and Delta, before Delta makes their move to acquire JetBlue (to turn them into the new Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Pacific).

    As a brand consultant, I think Delta’s weakest aspect is its brand from a global perspective. They’ll have to change tbis somehow.

  4. @Jason – United launched both Lagos and Accra in June 2010 as IAD-ACC-LOS. They pulled out of Ghana in 2012 and maintained Lagos as non-stop from IAD and later IAH.

  5. “I wonder if American will reconsider Bangalore flights now that United is flying there as well.”

    I suppose that depends on how much traffic Microsoft would generate, as well as connecting traffic. SFO-BLR will be nicknamed Silicon Valley Express in no time and will be filled just by O&D traffic.

  6. Good gosh United, what the hell are you thinking of!? Ghana and Nigeria. Yup, yup, sure the vacation spots Americans want to go to. And that Hawai’i service, you’re being real optimistic there, unless the start date is 2022. Let’s get real, do they think they’re PanAm or what? And if you’re doing all these long hauls, you have GOT to put in more leg room for these long hauls….and more substantial meal service….and get some real planes to fly these routs, like the 777-300ER and push those seats further apart!

  7. Lucky – I’m curious about the choice of planes here. More specifically the absence of 77W on the India routes. At this point do you think they have that section of their stable pretty well utilized? Or do we think it’s just that they’re testing the waters with load factors with a relatively smaller and more efficient plane (787-9)? Given that 77W largely has a better business class so the yield becomes important, in addition to the opportunity cost. I know that UA’s EWR BOM is a 15 hour jaunt is operated by the 77W.

    It’ll be interesting to see if SFO-BLR follows AI pattern where they fly different directions on the outbound and return (circle the globe).

  8. I dont understand most of these. I dont see them as viable or profitable in today’s world and nothing is changing by March. Count me as a skeptic

  9. It continues to amaze me how far United stretches the distance of their aeroplanes. The 777-200ER flights from Newark to Delhi & Mumbai, the 787-9 from California to Singapore, and now San Francisco to India’s tech hub in Bangalore.

  10. Ben do you know of any weight restrictions on that SFO-BLR route? I can’t imagine that route is being operated by a 787-9 without any restrictions at all.

  11. “This complements United’s Kona service out of Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.”

    You wrote this twice, the second time (potentially?) erroneously under the “Newark to Maui” sub-section. I’m assuming you meant to write something else.

  12. Hi Everyone, I am trying to work in some political commentary to this thread but so far I game up empty handed. Anyone care to help?

  13. “This is exciting, since Africa, isn’t a continent that got much love from US airlines in the past.”

    Africa hasn’t received much love from US airlines, since Pan Am criss-crossed the continent, in the early 70s.

    At the time, Pan Am’s African network served:

    Dar Es Salaam

  14. Matt – use your brains a little will ya! All of these flights are to areas that are governed by non-white individuals, thus following the logic of our esteemed POTUS they would all be classified as “shithole” regions.

    So easy, just so easy LOL!

  15. I’m all for creative new routes, and on balance this one is a mixed bag in terms of profitability
    1. IAD-ACC and IAD-LOS will flop quickly. The demand just isn’t there, especially in the covid dominated next year from now (at least). A triangle route maybe could have cut it, but individually it’s a dead end.
    2. EWR-OGG is very clever. I’m surprised no one thought of it until now (out of jfk for dL and aa of course)
    3. EWR-JNB also a masterstroke. SA is a very popular destination, when this nightmare is over, and given SA’s collapse it will be lucrative
    4. SFO-BLR: not sure. On the one hand it seems like overkill on Blr given that India is already served, on the other it could work given tech connectivity from Silicon Valley. Honestly it would be better as a triangle route with some other place for double demand.

    Only time will tell!

  16. It looks like UA might also be targeting some governmental business travel with these new routes from Washington to Africa (I know Lagos isn’t the capital of Nigeria, but Abuja doesn’t have a major international Airport so anyone going there would probably be flying into Lagos regardless). Frankly, I don’t know how lucrative this market segment is but I would imagine governmental business travel would recover faster than private sector business travel.

  17. @Weymar M Osborne – Abuja absolutely has a major international airport which is served by 12 international airlines (plus the Nigerian carriers), and processes over 5 million passengers per year. Delta used to serve Abuja with a 757 via Dakar (and then a 767 via Accra) in the not too distant past.

  18. @John G, @Matt – Don’t underestimate the demand out of IAD from government agencies and NGOs. This helped fill the SAA flight to ACC and DAK en route to JNB for years. DC market is not all about leisure traffic and global financial hubs. IAD has supported some surprising routes for this reason in the past (like KWI).

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