United to ramp up international routes

The airline's network will grow beyond London Heathrow, its only current international destination.

By Sean Broderick and Ben Goldstein  

United Airlines, signaling its intent to re-build its extensive international network, plans a significant expansion of intercontinental flying in the coming months.

There will be notable ramp-ups at its Chicago O’Hare International (ORD), Denver International (DEN), Newark Liberty International (EWR) and Washington-Dulles International (IAD) hubs, as well as the re-opening of key Asian routes.

The airline’s latest schedule, loaded May 29, includes a series of ambitious service resumptions rolling out through early September. United will add a dozen international routes alone in July, ramping up service from its major hubs to cities in Asia, Europe, and Latin America, an analysis by Routes shows. Examples of the build-up include adding service between IAD and Brussels (BRU), London Heathrow (LHR) Munich (MUC) and Zurich (ZRH). In June, the only international service out of IAD is to Frankfurt (FRA).

IAD, which normally boasts more than 40 international destinations, currently has just one—LHR—through June. But its third-quarter additions include Beijing Capital (PEK), BRU, FRA, Rome Fiumicino (FCO), Shanghai Pudong (PVG) and ZRH.

The airline’s EWR hub will add flights to Delhi (DEL) and Dublin (DUB) in July.

The schedule also marks the return of international flying at United’s DEN hub, with flights to FRA and Tokyo Narita (NRT) slated to start August 3. Its pre-novel coronavirus pandemic schedule linked the hub to 14 international markets.

United is slowly ramping its Asia network back up. Among the routes slated for resumption by early September: Houston (IAH)-Tokyo Narita (NRT), Los Angeles (LAX)-Sydney (SYD), EWR-Hong Kong (HKG), San Francisco(SFO)-HKG, and SFO-SIN.

Resumptions to Latin America will link Houston to 11 cities, including: Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lima, Peru; and San Salvador, El Salvador. Caribbean destinations will get nine new routes—six from EWR and three from IAH.

The airline’s pre-pandemic schedule featured 120 international destinations. Its June schedule will top out at 27 international routes. The newly loaded schedule adds or expands service on 40 routes, the carrier said.

Last year, United's third-quarter schedule generated 43% of its available seat miles via international flying, led by 18% from its Atlantic traffic and 15% from its Pacific routes. United CEO Scott Kirby has said that the airline's growth rate and network structure will be driven primarily by demand as the pandemic-related headwinds abate. But, he added  its heavy international presence will be maintained. 

United's July system-wide schedule for the coming quarter is down about 75% year-over-year. While dire, the figure is an improvement over he current schedule’s 90% decline.

Photo credit: Nigel Howarth / Aviation Week

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