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:
- With Delta retiring its 777 fleet, the airline is turning its Atlanta to Johannesburg flight into a triangle route that will include Cape Town (this is because the A350 can’t fly nonstop from Johannesburg to Atlanta without severe payload restrictions)
- South African Airways is on the verge of collapse, and was previously the only airline to fly nonstop between the NYC-area and Johannesburg
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?