United Retaliates Against JetBlue, Launches Boston To London Flights

Filed Under: United

United seems to be preemptively targeting JetBlue with this new route announcement

United Airlines’ new Boston to London route

United Airlines has announced that it plans to launch daily nonstop flights between Boston and London in 2021, which will be the carrier’s 19th daily flight to London Heathrow. The exact start date for the service hasn’t yet been revealed, as it will be based on demand recovery and travel restrictions, but it’s said that the flight will go on sale in the coming weeks.

United’s new Boston to London flight will operate with the following schedule:

Boston to London Heathrow departing 10:00PM arriving 9:35AM (+1 day)
London Heathrow to Boston departing 5:00PM arriving 7:30PM

United will fly between Boston & London

Personally I kind of dig those schedules in both directions, though I realize some might not like the timing of the westbound flight.

United Airlines will use a premium Boeing 767-300 for this new service, featuring just 167 seats, as follows:

  • 46 Polaris business class seats
  • 22 Premium Plus premium economy seats
  • 47 Economy Plus extra legroom economy seats
  • 52 economy class seats

United will use a premium 767 for the Boston to London route

See here for a review of the United 767-300 that will be used for this route.

This is a preemptive attack on JetBlue

Of the “big three” US airlines, United has the smallest presence in Boston. The airline has historically only flown to Boston from its hubs, and currently it’s also operating some seasonal point-to-point flights to Florida (which just about all US airlines are offering at this point).

It’s pretty clear that this announcement is directed at JetBlue:

JetBlue’s new Mint Studio

I would guess that United is serious about launching this Boston to London flight (despite the lack of a start date), though I’m not totally sure I get the strategy here:

  • It’s not like this will cause JetBlue to reconsider launching Boston to London flights, as the airline has specifically ordered planes for routes like these
  • JetBlue will undercut other airlines when it comes to premium pricing and restrictions, as it did when Mint was introduced in transcon markets years ago
  • United can’t compete with the two huge joint ventures that dominate this market, which includes the Delta and Virgin Atlantic alliance, as well as the American and British Airways alliance
  • I suppose United has significant corporate traffic in general, though if there were sufficient demand for this route you’d think the airline would have launched this route pre-pandemic, since it’s going to be years before US to London business markets recover to pre-2020 levels

Boston to London is already very well served

Bottom line

United Airlines will be launching daily nonstop flights between Boston and London as of some point in 2021. It seems pretty obvious that this is targeted at JetBlue, as JetBlue plans to launch transatlantic flights in this market later this year, and JetBlue also keeps expanding at Newark.

I’m still not totally sure I get the strategy, though — a once daily flight won’t be able to compete with the two mega-joint ventures in the market, and for that matter JetBlue obviously has no qualms entering transatlantic markets that are already very busy, given that the first two transatlantic routes will be Boston and New York to London. Similarly, years ago the airline had no problems entering crowded transcon markets, and it even worked out quite successfully for the airline.

What do you make of United’s new Boston to London flight, and do you think it will actually launch (and last)?

  1. What a weird route for United. They’re already the smallest carrier in Boston (AA/DL/b6) and they have little feed in BOS or LHR.
    This feels like a waste of a slot for them

  2. There is a whole market of people who don’t care about alliances or status or collecting points and who simply want to get from A – B for their vacation or business or family visit and if UA has a good price and the schedule works they will fly with them rather than anyone else.

  3. United (legacy) flew it in the past from 1999 to 2001/2002. It was operated with a 767-300ER. This is a dumb add and a waste of a slot. The 1980s and 1990s industry hyper competition is back it seems with capacity dumps and depressed yields. The US to London market will recover but it will take a long time to get back to pre-pandemic levels as business travel is not really going to see a whole lot of recovery. If this is UA retaliating against B6 for launching BOS-LON it is almost as dumb as B6 so focused on TATL to begin with.

  4. I hate a 10pm eastbound departure. I have no desire to start eating at 10:45pm and not having the lights turned off until well after midnight. My sweet spot is more like 6-8pm departure. I also prefer an early morning arrival to get through customs and immigration quicker and getting to the lounge for breakfast before moving on. Having a nearly full day in London before heading out is nice; however, the return flight timing is tough unless your final destination is in Boston.

  5. This flight probably won’t even start like Delta’s ORD-LHR or it’ll end quickly like UA’s LGA-RDU flights.

  6. Looks like there’s going to be a glut of International supply. Companies aren’t traveling, particularly International and I don’t see that changing soon. The requirement for testing makes leisure travel unappealing. Whom is exactly going to be filling these planes?

  7. $$$ wise UA used to do quite well with this route pre-9/11…Of course that was a different time, but it is nice to see BOS get some love…

  8. @Chris C – those people will choose JetBlue on this route as they will be the cheapest.

    @DLP – eat before boarding! It’s such a short flight you need to maximise sleep. 10pm is pretty much a perfect departure time on this route as the time you would get to sleep would be in line with normal bed time. Full day of work, leisure journey to airport, dinner in lounge, boarding, bedtime.

  9. Economics 101. By flooding the BOS-LON market with premium seats, where there is a limited UA corporate/elite FF base, UA is signalling to B6 that it will have zero pricing power on its Mint services to LON (that is as long as B6 intends to continue its encroachment at UAs fortress hub at EWR).

    Route will be withdrawn shortly after B6 pulldown at EWR.

  10. If this route launches, it will be a costly effort by UA. The premium configured 767-300 is a very high unit cost aircraft in a market where UA is starting from scratch – just as is the case in the JFK transcons.
    UA might be preemptively swinging at B6 but they are entering markets where AA and DL and their joint venture partners serve.
    I will go out on a not-very-long limb and bet you will see Delta add a few more routes from LAX to UA hubs besides IAH which DL just announced.

  11. Weird the launched BOS-LHR before JFK-LHR with their build-up at JFK. I would have guessed AA launching EWR-LHR before UA doing BOS-LHR….

  12. UA hardly has much to fear from jetblue @ EWR. Southwest was at EWR and we heard the same anti-UA rhetoric being thrown around.

    WN is also right next door at multiple UA hubs – SFO/OAK IAH/HOU ORD/MDW IAD/BWI and directly at DEN+LAX, and we all know how much victory WN must have claimed to have to run back to LGA with their tail between its legs. Not that any of the other attempts has sent UA away.

    and people think B6 will be any different.

  13. @ Roberto — Indeed, I could make a lot more sense of a JFK-LHR flight than a BOS-LHR flight, especially given United’s JFK aspirations. I’m still not convinced this new route will actually launch.

  14. @ henry LAX — a) So what do you think logic of BOS-LHR route is then? b) The major difference here is that JetBlue has a strategic alliance with American, which is much more threatening to United than Southwest acting independently.

  15. @ jason — JetBlue isn’t really looking for pricing power on transatlantic flights, though, as the airline will be undercutting the competition. And United isn’t about to upend its entire transatlantic pricing strategy to prove a point to JetBlue. JetBlue was already going up against American, British Airways, Delta, and Virgin Atlantic, so why would an extra flight from United make any difference? It’s not like JetBlue is Allegiant, and pursues markets that no other airlines serve.

    I can’t imagine this will cause JetBlue to retreat at Newark, or change anything, for that matter.

  16. @ AlliW — Indeed there’s virtually no demand right now. I think all airlines are hoping (perhaps optimistically) that these restrictions will be lifted. It’s the same as American putting a bunch of flights to Israel on sale that are supposed to launch in June, even though the country’s borders are closed.

  17. @henrylax
    WN has more than 20% market share in Chicago and Houston which is precisely why they felt comfortable adding/re-adding service to UA’s hubs. In the Bay Area and Denver, WN had the largest passenger share – higher than UA – pre-covid. In LAX, AA was the largest carrier but appears to be giving that up to DL.
    In EWR, WN was competing against 4 NYC heavy carriers where WN had minimal share at the 3 airports. Their decision to consolidate to LGA makes the most sense even though LGA traffic right now is the most badly impacted by covid.
    UA’s hubs are by far the most under attack by competitors right now, a product of UA’s reluctance to re-add capacity and the fact that UA’s hubs were already more competitive than AA, DL or WN’s.
    UA would seemingly be the least likely to venture back into BOS-LHR because they are competing w/ AA and DL and their JV partners that are flying right now and B6 – and the AA/B6 alliance will not cover transatlantic flights.

    This is as much a shot at both AA and B6 but it also highlights how vulnerable UA is at EWR. No carrier in decades has had as much share at EWR as B6 could have if all of its flights launch – and there is a decent likelihood they will.

    It is also worth noting that B6 simply does not have the resources including cash now or on the way to support all of flying it scheduled pre-covid – BOS, JFK, and FLL plus what it has announced in new markets – RDU, AUS, LAX – and still develop EWR.

    B6 has committed to going transatlantic and that will have to rise to the top of its priorities besides EWR. Most of the rest of what it has proposed doing as well as significant pieces of its operation at JFK and BOS will get sacrificed with the hopes that putting its code on some of AA’s flights will make up the difference.

    B6 will win its contest with UA in Boston but both will come out very bruised in the process.

  18. I still feel like the JetBlue London announcement was the most disappointing new flight announcement of my lifetime. A lot of us in Boston thought they were finally going to give us Canada flights and finally it wouldn’t cost $400 to fly to Montreal anymore, which everyone’s been asking for since the beginning. Instead it was “hey you guys got four plus BA departures with unlimited drinks, plus Virgin Atlantics swanky new planes.. or Norwegian which flies the route really cheap.. you guys only have eight flights a day to london, but we’re going to do something totally new, fly a smaller plane on the route! ..and I don’t see any reason to think JetBlue will be cheaper than United, it isn’t on any other Routes out of Boston.. but in this case I think JetBlue flying a 321 on the route will be far more successful than Uniteds 767.. a lot less seats to fill plus JetBlue could provide a lot more connecting traffic then United can

  19. UA might have a corporate contract that would like BOS-LHR. Or its trying to woo a corporate client. I can’t imagine cargo figures into the picture in a big way. I suspect a/c utilization makes this an easier choice. It certainly seems like the a/c is going to fly XXX-LHR-BOS-LHR-XXX. So with decreased demand in late 2021 UA may very well be able to put a B767 on this route at a lower cost than in pre-COVID times.

  20. Two things – it will be good to have Star presence on BOS- LHR and what about slot sitting? Perhaps if they are required to utilize LHR slots more, this could be a placeholder for one if the EWRs until demand comes back.

  21. This slot might be the remedy slot for the AA/BA JV re-approval. I don’t know if this is true, but I heard that B6 might not be considered for it due to it’s northeast alliance with AA. If so, it reduces the oppty cost since the slot wouldn’t come from an existing UA resource.

  22. What if this isnt exclusively an O&D market for BOS? I could see this filling in for one of the late LHRs from ORD or even the DEN one until traffic rebounds. ORD-BOS-LHR, or even DEN-BOS-LHR.

  23. At a similar price point, the UA equipment will be vastly competitive over B6. The 767 configuration in question is far more comfortable in both Business and Coach than any single-aisle equipment. Not to mention the smoother ride of a widebody.

    And definitely agree with one of the above commenters that B6 would have done Boston and other markets a bigger favor by starting service to Canada (at some point) rather than entering an already crowded and competitive market across the pond. But all these LCCs do the same thing – cherry picking o/d markets without regard for geographic completeness, whether that’s international or service to smaller communities. That’s why I stick to the network carriers whenever possible.

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