United Scales Back Hong Kong Flights Even Further

Filed Under: United

With the situation going on in Hong Kong, we’ve seen some airlines greatly adjust capacity there in light of decreased demand. All airlines seem to be struggling in Hong Kong. Some are choosing to continue operations as usual, realizing the long term importance of the market, while other airlines are cutting capacity, either in the short-term or permanently.

United has already hugely cut back capacity to Hong Kong, and they’ve just announced yet another adjustment to their capacity in the market.

United’s Hong Kong Cuts Up Until Now

Before this whole situation started, United operated daily flights to Hong Kong out of Chicago, Newark, and San Francisco. On top of that, they were supposed to launch a second daily San Francisco to Hong Kong flight as of late October 2019.

Since then:

United has already stopped flying 777-300ERs to Hong Kong

United’s Further Hong Kong Cuts

Well, it appears that there are more (temporary) cuts coming to United’s Hong Kong route network, as the airline is managing capacity in a very active way.

Newark to Hong Kong Service Reductions

First of all, between January 12 and March 27, 2020, United won’t be operating their Newark to Hong Kong route on a daily basis. Instead the route will be operated anywhere from 2-3x per week.

The route is generally being operated three times per week, but for the weeks of January 19, February 9, and February 16, the route is only being operated 2x weekly.

Equally interesting as the cuts as such is how precise these flight cancelations seem to be, presumably based on demand. For example, the week of January 19 the 2x weekly flights operate on Tuesday and Friday, while the week of January 26 the 2x weekly flights operate on Tuesday and Thursday.

United has reduced Newark to Hong Kong frequencies significantly

San Francisco To Hong Kong Service Reductions

While not quite as drastic, for three weeks in January and February 2020, United won’t operate a full two daily flights between San Francisco and Hong Kong. Instead they’ll operate one frequency daily, and the other frequency 5x weekly.

United is just flying their old business class to Hong Kong at the moment

Bottom Line

United is hugely scaling back Hong Kong service, though that’s not much of a surprise.

To put this into perspective, on January 20 United was originally supposed to operate four flights to Hong Kong — two out of San Francisco, one out of Newark, and one out of Chicago. Instead they’ll operate a single flight to Hong Kong that day, on a 777 from San Francisco featuring their old business class seats.

Perhaps saddest of all is that even after all four of those flights have been consolidated, that one flight to Hong Kong shows just 12 seats taken in business class (though admittedly seatmaps aren’t always an accurate indicator of how many people are booked).

Ultimately I can’t fault United for this, and if anything I’m impressed by the precision with which they’re trimming their Hong Kong routes, where the cuts vary week-by-week. Of course that doesn’t exactly put customers at ease when booking United, since you wonder how much longer these cancelations will occur. If you’re booking United to Hong Kong right now, could it be that your flight ends up being canceled?

Have you been impacted by United’s Hong Kong route cuts?

  1. As I customer, we cannot change our trips week by week because of the UA’s capacity. This airline is crazy, period, treating customers with no respect, change the routes and products with no consideration of customer’s need.

  2. Why do you mention “Newark to San Francisco Service Reductions” for a headline, then not mention anything about reducing frequencies on the Newark to San Francisco route?

  3. You’re worried about a seatmap on January 20 not showing as very full? It shouldnt this far in advance. In general, during normal times, Hong Kong is a business market, and those seats should be empty until a few weeks out – that’s when high fare traffic tends to book seats.

  4. @ Jason — Of course I get that. My point is that in theory the passengers from four flights have been rebooked on that service, and even so the seatmap is quite empty. Not saying it’s that unusual, just surprising that we’re talking so few passengers. Yes, most business travelers book last minute, but with United you also have a fair number of people confirming in advance with systemwide upgrades, booking award tickets, etc.

    And “Newark to San Francisco” was a typo, should have read “San Francisco to Hong Kong.” Fixed now.

  5. @Henry

    So… you expect the airline to lose money on routes that have plummeted in demand so that you can have your preferred schedule? I’m not sure United is the crazy one here…

  6. @Ben – fair enough. Still though, based on my experience in the industry, mid January through late Feb/ March is usually a slow time on transpacific routess, and given what’s going on in HKG these days it’s even more so. Sadly, not surprised at all that three are this few bookings at this point. I was supposed to spend a day there in late February on the way back from Vietnam, now just passing through.

  7. I haven’t been affected by United’s cuts, but I cancelled a planned March, 2020 trip to Hong Kong. (I was booked on Emirates; Paris-Dubai-Hong Kong.) Australian friends who have lived in Hong Kong for 23 years dissuaded me from visiting. They are wrapping-up their Hong Kong-based business and returning to Sydney in January.

  8. I would think at some point this will have to affect their construction plans for the new Polaris Lounge at HKG, right? Website still says “in planning”.

  9. What routing options is UA giving to those affected? I assume ANA through TYO. Maybe OZ through ICN.

    Of course, I assume a free date change or cancellation is being offered, too.

  10. Just flew LAX-HGK this past week on a FULL (AA) plane in both directions. Wonder why AA hasn’t changed HGK frequency or scheduling? (My HGK/Lantau hotel was FULL too as were the HGK airport One World/CX lounges).

  11. I returned from HK on CX last Friday. It was full. Surprised that I was told fewer people travel to HK and it was not the case. I would travel again for business this week thru HK from SFO Let’s see.

    What I am worried is my SQ flight. I will fly to Singapore via HK in mid of Dec for vacation. Hope this airline won’t behave like UA.

    Understanding cutting back but please thinking about the customers first.

  12. @maria if UA offers 14000 seats round trip between the USA and HK and only 1000 are sold they will cut capacity
    If you are flying SQ to Singapore does it matter it’s via HK. ?

  13. Lucky: The week-by-week precision is about the Chinese New Year period. Every year in the past they’ve cut flights on specific days due to lack of businessmen traffic and tourist/family traffic.

    Jake: UA is probably the largest foreign employer of flight attendants in HK. The AFA chapter newsletter indicates about 300. When UA cuts HKG flights, they have to find other international flights for these FAs to work, such as, recently, SFO-HND. US-based FAs and especially language line holders are the real ones getting “hurt”.

    AlliW: AA is benefiting from HKers boycotting CX for firing staff retroactively even for supporting legal activities. Just like HKers clearing their Seattle Coffee (managed by the much hated Maxim) gift card balance, those with a lot of Asia Miles are burning them on Oneworld carriers!

  14. @lcarus, My SQ 1 flight is transit thru HK to Singapore which I have booked since Feb for 4 of us as our family annual vacation.
    Though I think SQ would not do the same as UA.

    (I m still thinking it’s okay to travel and visit HK though. I walked on street, went out for dinner last week and had no worry. Anyway family is still there so I may see and feel different, if you may not agree with me:)

  15. Old news, January 25 will be the chinese new year of 2020, UA always cut back flights to HKG a week before and 3 weeks after every year, since all factories shut down for at least two weeks

  16. @Lucky One quick add … 50% of the sCO 772s now have the new Polaris Suite – there are only 11 772 planes remaining with the old seat, so the chances of a new suite are better. I was switched to one at T-60 both directions this week on the late SFO-HKG.

  17. We flew american dfw – hkg late october in 777-300 Plane was quite full. Airport was calm actually spent a nite at airport marriott.

  18. I’m writing this from onboard UA869 SFO-HKG. They actually up-gauged to a 777-300ER today. One of the FAs I spoke with said it was due to a cancelled flight yesterday and the need to get people home.

    The bigger airplane just emphasizes the emptiness of the cabin, especially the premium ones. I’d say Polaris is barely 1/3 occupied (maybe even 1/4) and there are 2 people in the premium eco cabin. I just so happen to have a row to myself in the back. Granted this is Thanksgiving week, so lighter loads are expected, but wow.

  19. I was booked to go to HKG for Lunar New Year in Polaris using my last two Global Upgrades. When I heard about the equipment downgrade I called to see if I could cancel my flight. They graciously refunded my $1,200 (which was a great upgradeable fare).

  20. DFW to HKG on AA last week was packed, including F (couldn’t get an upgrade from J to F). The clear difference between UA and AA here is the onward connections on CX/KA. So, HKG still doing well as a hub, but O&D is clearly suffering.

    In that sense, UA and others reducing capacity is good news for CX and its OW partners.

  21. I’ve been doing UA 869/862 for twenty years, on a quarterly or more basis. I’d estimate 100+ times. On my recent flight in early November (the day before they shot a protester point-blank in the chest and it all went to hell), the inbound was totally full in Polaris and PP. On the outbound it was the same story.
    Is this going to affect me?
    Not really.
    IUA has pissed me off with their mileage plan changes. The downgrading of aircraft is also insulting. I’m leaving as MM Gold with 1.3 million FF and lifetime miles and they’ll never see another rev trip from me again. I’m changing to Alaska and Singapore or Cathay which are simply better ways to get to HKG from where I’m at.
    I’m rather looking forward to dumping Chase and UA and trying Alaska & Friends and BofA.

  22. The big disgrace in this is that for a route that is so low in demand that they need to cut flights, there are NEVER award seats available. United miles across the Pacific are basically worthless.

  23. I had direct ewr-hkg booked for feb 5 for 3 pax using MUA. They changed our reservation to connect in sfo. UA has not notified us of the change and I didn’t know until I saw this post. I specifically booked HK for this trip since I could fly direct and have no interest in a connecting flight. I will be calling Friday to see what trope of change options we are offered.

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