United fires warning shot at JetBlue with transatlantic expansion

The Star Alliance member plans to move into the increasingly crowded Boston-London market.

Transatlantic competition from Boston Logan (BOS) is set to intensify later this year when United Airlines launches a new route to London Heathrow (LHR).

The carrier plans to connect the cities daily using Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. The start date will be based upon passenger demand and when COVID-19 travel restrictions allow, but tickets are expected to be available for purchase “in the coming weeks.”

“We are thrilled to offer travelers a convenient, non-stop option between Boston and London;with this addition to our global network,” United VP of international network and alliances Patrick Quayle said. “We will continue to monitor the demand recovery and travel restrictions as we finalize a start date for this service later in 2021.”

United has provided service to LHR for nearly 30 years and over the course of the pandemic has maintained continuous operations between the US and UK capital. Once the new route begins, BOS will be the airline’s 19th daily flight to London from the US. 

The planned launch of the service marks an interesting strategy decision by United, which usually relies on its US hub-and-spoke network to feed such intercontinental routes. Existing services to London are from hubs in Chicago O'Hare (ORD), Denver (DEN), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO) and Washington Dulles (IAD).

However, the details of the new point-to-point route come as competitor JetBlue Airways continues to push ahead with plans to make its European debut from BOS and New York John F Kennedy (JFK).

The New York-based airline intends to begin service sometime during the third quarter of the year using Airbus A321LR jets. Slots have already been secured at LGW and London Stansted (STN), but the hybrid carrier in January complained to the US Transportation Department (DOT) alleging it was being “locked out” from LHR. 

JetBlue will offer its new upgraded Mint business class product on the transatlantic routes, featuring 24 private suites with sliding doors and all offering direct aisle access. The revamped Mint will debut on a limited number of flights between JFK and LAX this summer before the London routes begin. 

United is also planning a sizeable business-class offering between BOS and LHR, with its 767-300ER equipped with 46 Polaris business class and 22 premium plus seats. The airline claimed the aircraft features “the highest proportion of premium seats on any widebody aircraft” operated by a US carrier between London and the US.

As well as heightening competition in the Boston-London market, United’s new route can also be seen as retaliation for JetBlue’s expansion from EWR, where OAG data shows United held a 65% share of all departure seats in 2019. 

On Feb. 18, JetBlue and American Airlines revealed the first phase of their partnership with the start of 33 new routes and codeshares on nearly 80 more from New York and Boston. 

As part of the alliance, JetBlue is launching 10 new routes from EWR, including flights to Antigua (AUA), Cartagena (CTG) and Port-au-Prince (PAP). The latest schedules filed with OAG show the airline with compete with United on seven of the new services.

Given the ongoing travel restrictions between the US and UK, United is currently offering just three routes (w/c Feb. 22, 2021), flying daily to LHR from EWR and ORD, and 5X-weekly from IAD. A total of 10,170 two-way weekly seats are available. This compares with almost 58,000 seats during the same week in 2019. 

Between BOS and the UK, OAG data shows British Airways (BA) is flying daily from LHR and Virgin Atlantic 2X-weekly. Prior to the pandemic BA served BOS-LHR 24X-weekly and Virgin 2X-daily. Delta Air Lines also offered daily BOS-LHR flights, while Norwegian served BOS-London Gatwick (LGW) daily.

American was due to begin BOS-LHR flights in March 2020 following a seven-year absence from its network, but the daily service was postponed because of the COVID-19 crisis. The latest schedules suggest the route is tentatively set to launch in May 2021.

Photo credit: Joe Pries