United’s “Historic” Announcement: More International Flights From SFO

Filed Under: United

Last night I wrote about how United revealed that Oscar Munoz would be making a “historic” announcement today. This was described as a “historic package of new and expanded international routes,” and suffice to say that it led to lots of speculation as to what the additions could be. Well, the wait is over, and we now know.

I’d say it’s not not exciting, but it doesn’t quite live up to the “historic” hype, in my opinion.

United announces big international expansion from SFO

San Francisco is already a massive hub for United, as the airline operates dozens of longhaul flights from there. This “historic” announcement is that United will be adding extra routes from San Francisco in 2019, including to:

  • Melbourne, Australia (3x weekly)
  • New Delhi, India (daily)
  • Toronto, Canada (twice daily)
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands (daily)
  • Seoul Incheon (for a second daily frequency)
  • Auckland and Tahiti (year-round, rather than seasonally)

Okay, truth be told, this is actually sort of anti-climactic. The way I see it:

  • The San Francisco to Delhi route is the only really exciting addition here
  • United already flies to Melbourne, but only out of Los Angeles; it’s nice to have an extra nonstop, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking
  • United already announced flights to Amsterdam
  • United already flies to Auckland and Tahiti, just not year-round
  • United already flies to Seoul Incheon, they’re just adding an additional daily frequency
  • United doesn’t fly from San Francisco to Toronto, but the market is already pretty well served by their partner, Air Canada

So yeah, there you have it. No doubt their growth out of SFO over the past few years has been extremely impressive. However, I’d hardly call this particular announcement “historic.”

Details of the new routes

Here’s a chart showing when the schedules and aircraft type for the new routes:

And here’s a chart showing the service that’s being made year-round:

Bottom line

United is adding four new routes, one of which has previously been announced, and all of which are to destinations they already fly to from other hubs. Then they announced additional frequencies on three routes.

What do you make of United’s SFO expansion?

(Tip of the hat to @e_russell)

  1. As a SF resident the new route to Delhi is great. The only previous nonstop option was Air India…which is Air India.

  2. Am I the only one who thinks the Delhi flight times are crap?

    It’s a PITA to land in a city at 1 a.m., if public transport even operates at that hour I would not feel safe enough taking it.

    Same thing with a takeoff at 4 a.m. leaving Delhi. You either get a hotel for half a night’s sleep or have to hang around until 1-2 a.m…

  3. Meh….nothing really impressive. I’m based out of SFO, and the only positive thing out of this is increased competition and hopefully lower fares from the international carriers that United is trying to compete with. I purposefully avoid United even though their hub is here, and this won’t change a thing.

  4. Quite Interesting That United didn’t announce one to Brussels.. Like ive said there’s been rumors and Brussels badly needs a connection to the west coast… Also interesting they want to go head to head with Qantas on the SFO-MEL route, and once again they want to step on their Star Alliance partners toes with Air Canada and Air India… but Air India is Air India…. and unless Air India switches from the 777-200 to the 777-300ER on that route they’re gonna loose out. This announcement sums up United perfectly… getting people hyped then completely deescalating.

    *Ahem* (Just like their Product)

  5. I was definitely hoping for IAD-JNB. Oh, well..

    Truth be told I expected a new route out of Houston. Brisbane has seen an exciting growth lately, or heck, Auckland.

    Those 787-9 sure make for a very good 777-200 replacement

  6. Pressuming the SFO-DEL flight flies out on a northwest heading circle route, in theory this does restore “round-the-world” service the likes of which I think was last offered decades ago by Pan-Am. I’m not aware of any airline that has sufficient fifth-freedom rights to offer service all the way around the globe, but in theory with United you can now go from SFO to DEL to EWR to SFO. Maybe a purist would say the route has to cross the equator… But I don’t think even Pan Am’s 001 and 002 did that back in the day.

  7. Adding MEL is interesting.

    UA have the worst J product of all of the airlines servicing the US-AU trans-Pacific market, and their pricing isn’t typically significantly better than that offered by competitors.

    Even their Star Alliance partner offers both superior pricing and a superior J product, with the only downside being a short stopover in AKL (that many travellers seem to be more than happy with).

  8. ANOTHER SFO-DEL flight? Why are they competing directly with AI? A SFO-BOM flight would’ve made more sense.

  9. @Indira SFO-BLR is greater than 14,000 Km… Only aircraft capable of operating that route is A350-900ULR which United hasn’t even ordered… Air India planning that route was a joke so don’t get excited, that route is pretty much impossible.

  10. Cara, AC flies a Dreamliner from Toronto to SFO right now, which is better than any equipment that UA flies domestically. So unless UA steps up the same, I’d still prefer AC.

  11. There isn’t even a route that isn’t served already in this announcement. The Amsterdam flight is already operated by KLM, the New Delhi flight is operated by Air India, the Melbourne flight is already operated by Qantas, and the rest of the routes United already operates.

  12. SFO – BKK = an exclusive nonstop, with tons of Star Alliance 1-stops beyond. Why might this not be in the cards?

  13. It’s a letdown feeling no matter what happens on other routes because UA still not flying to Land of Smile!

  14. @ cara lockwood: Wait until you try UA once, to understand how good AC is compared to UA…
    AC uses a 787 with great economy product and lie flat business seats on YYZ-SFO route twice daily. I don’t think UA will have those products on this route, and even if they do, UA just can’t compete with AC in terms of customer experience and organizational culture.

  15. Good for SFO residents, but after my recent trips through SFO being messed up from “air traffic control” delays, I will never book through there again.

    I have watched various morning flights IAH-SFO for a month now, and almost every day they are delayed an hour into SFO. It makes me see SFO as an unreliable connecting hub.

  16. historic snooze indeed. But they played their cards well – El Al announced SFO too early and gave UA all the opportunity to upgauge and what not, and now El Al’s SFO route is in a quagmire.

    Similarly, DL’s non-announcement of BOM gave UA another opening to launch a 3rd India route route. it took UA and AI less time to launch both SFO-DEL and JFK-BOM than DL to trying to make up their mind whether to do it from JFK or ATL.

  17. @Miz – best to ignore since its obvious to everyone that AC is superior to UA!

    After reading the post and comments I wonder what would satisfy everyone’s “historic” criteria. Hourly to NRT? BKK, CGK, DPS, SGN, KUL, BNE daily nonstops? Honestly, people are never satisfied!

    IF one route fits the historic label, in this “void in-between worlds” era (yes, we are inbetween worlds) they can spout any nonsense and call it what they like 😉

  18. @Veeejay SFO-BOM Is pushing the limits of any Long Range aircraft… Plus there isn’t a lot, if none, demand to go from SFO-BOM so it just be a waste of money , time, fuel, and aircraft.

  19. Would anyone fly UA if there was an alternative non US airline available? I would rather take the one stop SQ or Emirates to India, Asian airlines with a stop to East Asia and the South Pacific. Presumably some corporate contract traffic is available……

  20. @Willem – that’s exactly what I was thinking. The SFO-DEL timing is especially brutal. A 12:45 am arrival means no shot at connections beyond DEL, and if you’re staying in Delhi, you’ll be lucky to reach your hotel by 3 am. That’s going to be a fun first day in India. The return at least makes some sense. The morning arrival at SFO allows you to beat jet lag and get a full day of work in.

  21. In what world is AC’s squished Y seating on a 737MAX used on YYZ-SFO (or even a 787) better than E+ on a UA 737?

    What service do you exactly get on AC domestic routes? What service recovery is there if something goes wrong (a 5% off cert)?

    The evening AC flight to SFO has like a 20% on time performance with AC.

  22. @Mike Hines I don’t have the exact routing but Air New Zealand already does an RTW flight

    Akl-lax-Lhr-xxx – akl.

    As others have said we’d all be disappointed no matter what they did. I was just hoping for new routes to new cites or resuming old routes cut in the 80’s through early 00’s.

  23. @ cara lockwood: It seems lots of people will be happy if you leave one of AC seats empty and fly UA instead. People have different preferences, and although it feels unfathomable to me (and apparently several other persons here), I respect your preference for UA over AC.

  24. YAWN! simply a bunch of hot air w/o any substance, as expected from UnUnited. Now had they announced service to BKK or SGN or HAN that would have been historic as non-stops.

    As is not much of anything

  25. I try to avoid SFO whenever possible, so this is especially underwhelming. The SFO-MEL is especially disappointing since the competitors have been cheaper for such a long time. Why spend more $$$ to fly United? It’s like United is a steady C- student and has no incentive to even try……

  26. @Rkaradi

    Air New Zeland appears to only fly to Heathrow via Los Angeles… not via any around the world routing.

  27. Air India must be doing well on the DEL-SFO route/ UA has probably been transferring many *Alliance pax to AI that they saw demand and decided to launch the route and keep the cash.

    To those mentioning the ungodly arrival/dep hours at Delhi… european airlines like LH & BA have similar timings from their respective hubs.

  28. I try to avoid SFO with weather issues, my connecting flight out of LAX or SNA to SFO to connect to a long haul is hit or miss. Just this past Monday we sat on the ground at SNA for an hour and 15min till we took off as the weather was too cloudy for the parallel landing. I would rather UA launch flights from LAX then SFO, I would use them more if they did.

  29. The DEL times may be “crap”, but given the time zone difference and flight times, one has to choose between arriving/departing DEL at a convenient time, or arriving/departing SFO at a convenient time (including making domestic connections). One can’t have both.

    Most international flights arrive DEL middle of the night.

  30. Recently flew UA from SFO to TPE in Polaris. What a dismal service and state of interiors. I can’t imagine doing a longer flight on United.

    @Willem – most international flights to DEL are given clearance to enter the commercial corridor from late evening through the early mornings. Transportation from DEL is easy at any time considering the number of prepaid taxis. Public transit (especially the high speed metro) runs until 0100 hours. Public transit isn’t pathetic as it is within the US.

  31. The SFO-DEL route is great but I’d still rather fly AI than UA given the better service, food and hospitality. The rest of the announced routes are underwhelming.

  32. @Rkaradi NZ used to fly both AKL-LAX-LHR & AKL-HKG-LHR however they dropped HKG-LHR many years ago when they linked up with CX

  33. @Emily well I guess you’re in luck given that’s about as long a flight as they’ve got…once you’re at 14 hours does 2 more really make a difference, lol. I get the angst against United if you’re used to flying EVA to TPE but given most of my J flights are back and forth to Europe, these days I’ll 100% take United over the competition. It’s a 1-2-1 J product which Lufthansa doesn’t have and Swiss and Austrian only have if you pay $199-ish for the throne. Ok AF on the 777-300 is better and SAS new business is up there and plenty of Asian and Middle Eastern carriers are still better, but with the accelerated Polaris Lounge openings, (which are some of the best out there), and true Polaris seating retrofits on the 767’s and 777-200’s, and the 787-10 deliveries, I really think United deserves a whole lot less hate than it used to…but maybe that’s because 90% of my flights are FRA-SFO-FRA and I’m just happy to not have to fly 2-2-2 any more, and I’ve found the crew’s on that United route to be consistently excellent. I mean credit where credits due…

  34. “Here’s a chart showing when the schedules and aircraft type for the new routes:”

    Am I looking in the wrong place? I don’t see the aircraft types. Are they all 787?

    Do you know when they will be bookable with miles?

    Thanks (as always) for your informative and entertaining blog

  35. Would the canucks please shut up defending AC.,In democracies(which Canada isn’t given their head of state is a monarch)people voice negative opinions freely without kneejerk nationalistic brain washed reactions.I hate Tim Horton donuts,there!

  36. @DavidO – good points and I am in agreement with you. However, I echo the sentiments expressed by @Emily.

    I fly trans-pacific a few times a month and UA’s service is by far one of the worst on those routes. The competition – Asiana, SQ, ANA, Eva, KAL, add to list – is much superior. In addition, UA doesn’t charge any less. I guess I would be more sympathetic to UA if I were flying trans-Atlantic more frequently now that they have caught up with the Europeans.

  37. @DavidO – the nonstop between SFO and TPE is on a brand new 77W with all Polaris but the cabin maintenance is non-existent. I will concede that the Polaris lounge is swanky.

  38. Didn’t expect to see 2nd SFO-ICN before EWR-ICN or ORD-ICN. Good schedule coordination btw OZ/UA. SFO-ICN falls right between OZ(midnight departure) and curremt UA(morning departure) flights while ICN-SFO is the first departure of the day. (OZ is late evening departure, current UA is early evening departure around 2.5 hrs earlier). Wonder what UA 772(sCO sUA Polaris) ICN would get – my money is sUA but…

  39. For SFO DEL, a 9:30 pm departure landing at 2:45 am would have made lot of sense as DEL has connections to most domestic airports between 5 and 6 after a decent 3 hour transit including customs and immigration. It would have also facilitated a departure around 6 am from del.

  40. Lol, unremarkable announcement consistent with UAs unremarkable value proposition.

    (I’m sure the B737 on SFO-YYZ will be swapped for an E175 or CRJ-700 with fuel stop).


    These routes would have been historic

  41. This announcement is a big snooze. I was hoping for something new from ORD. Obviously forgot we were the red headed steps child of the UAL Hub Network. Much ado about nothing…zzzzzzzz

  42. I know everyone loves hating on Air India, but I’m scratching my head on the aircraft choice. Does UA only see opportunity to steal enough share to fill a 787-9? Otherwise with the huge loads you’re almost guaranteed on a flight to India considering the demographics in Silicon Valley and onward connections from Delhi, you’d think a 777-300ER would make more sense? Remember Indians are very price sensitive and UA would almost always be more expensive than AI across all cabins and AI always wins on flight times wherever they go.

  43. @Travis, agreed.

    If I was traveling primarily trans-Pacific and had those kind of options I’m sure I’d have a very different opinion. I haven’t noticed the cabin maintenance issues, but that’s most likely due to the pre-flight cocktails in the Polaris lounge being on point. They’re also pouring The Prisoner red wine in there, which is one of the higher value red wines I’ve seen in a J lounge.

    A few years ago I would’ve avoided United like the plague for a long haul, but now at least it’s in the mix if it’s a route with the new seats. Step by step I suppose.

  44. @Veeejay It doesn’t. In all reality the only route that would have an economical advantage for United would be from SFO-BKK or SFO-CAN

  45. @Mike Hines The Air India flight is already RTW. It flies Del-SFO over the pacific to take advantage of tailwinds (Incidentally this is the longest flight in the world but doesnt show up on most lists as the lists use the over the pole GC distance) and the SFO-DEL is flown over the pole.
    Even though the Pacific route is actually longer due to tail winds it takes less time and fuel.
    UA will probably fly the same route.
    The AI flight is very expensive sometimes twice as expensive as a 1 stop Cathay or Emirates as its the only nonstop. Now with UA in the picture the fares might moderate.

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