United Airlines Holdings will add new nonstop flights to Africa and India to serve customers visiting friends and relatives, as the carrier revamps an international network beset by weak business traffic.
Destinations such as Lagos, Nigeria, and Bangalore, India, will focus on large diasporas living in the US and will give United greater network diversity, said Patrick Quayle, vice president of international network and alliances. Traffic from trips to see friends and family has withstood the coronavirus pandemic better than other segments, particularly corporate travel, he said.
“It’s us rebuilding our network in a new way,” Quayle said. “We’re not just going to put the chess pieces back on the board the way they used to be.”
Most of the new routes reflect United’s plans for a smaller North Atlantic schedule in summer 2021, given heavy travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. and European governments. The airline expects that its European schedule next summer will largely reflect the capacity it has deployed this fall, Quayle said. Internationally, United will fly about 40 percent of its 2019 schedule next month.
United in December will begin a daily nonstop from Chicago to New Delhi followed by a daily San Francisco-Bangalore flight in early 2021, the company said in a statement Wednesday. American Airlines also plans a new flight to the southern India tech hub in 2021, from Seattle.
Next year, United plans new service three times a week from Washington to Lagos and to Accra, Ghana, as well as a new daily flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Johannesburg. That flight will complement seasonal service from Newark to Cape Town that United began in December 2019.
Delta Air Lines serves Johannesburg nonstop from Atlanta and both Accra and Lagos from New York’s John F. Kennedy International. In October, Delta will add a seasonal one-stop Cape Town flight on its service from Johannesburg to Atlanta. State-owned South African Airways is insolvent and hasn’t operated for more than five months.
On Thursday, United will also begin its first nonstop from Chicago to Tel Aviv, operating three times a week. El Al Israel Airlines had planned to start that route in March, just as the pandemic began decimating international travel.
For the summer of 2021, United expects that Hawaii will become a favoured destination and will add four weekly nonstops from Chicago to Kona on the Big Island and from Newark to Maui.
Hawaii essentially closed its tourism industry this year by requiring a 14-day self-quarantine upon arrival. The state tentatively plans to resume tourism Oct. 1 for visitors with proof of a negative coronavirus test.
“We’ve seen it in our data – there’s a lot of demand for Hawaii,” Quayle said.