United adds Tokyo, Manila and Taipei flights to cater to international travel boom


A United Airlines plane sits on the tarmac at San Francisco International Airport.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

United Airlines on Tuesday mapped out another expansion of Asia flights in the coming months, part of its push to capitalize on a boom in long-haul international travel that has helped drive airlines back to profitability after the Covid-19 pandemic.

International travel bookings surged this year, airline executives have said, as travelers seek long-distance trips they put off during the pandemic amid a web of travel restrictions and concerns about the virus. Airlines have been beefing up their schedules in response.

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“In general, the Pacific is as strong if not stronger than the Atlantic is today,” Patrick Quayle, United’s senior vice president of global network planning and alliances, told reporters. United announced new flights to New Zealand and Australia in April.

Starting Oct. 29, United will fly daily nonstop flights between San Francisco and Manila, becoming the only U.S. airline to offer nonstop service to the Philippine capital from the continental U.S. It will use its largest aircraft, a Boeing 777-300ER, for the route.

The carrier will also add a second nonstop flight between San Francisco and Taipei, Taiwan, also starting Oct. 29, and it plans to resume service to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport from Los Angeles in addition to flights between Los Angeles and the more city-centric Haneda International Airport.

Quayle said Tokyo flights have been in high demand since Japan lifted travel restrictions earlier this year.

China service still challenged

Still, there are constraints to United’s growth in China, including Russian airspace restrictions. Quayle said as a result, United won’t resume other routes like New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport to Hong Kong. The airline will offer Los Angeles-to-Hong Kong flights, however, bringing its daily nonstop service to Hong Kong to three flights a day including flights from San Francisco.

He said United and other airlines are in communication with the U.S. government about negotiations with Chinese counterparts on adding back service.

There are 312 flights scheduled between the U.S. and China between June and the end of August this year, down from more than 4,800 in 2019, according to aviation data firm Cirium.

As of the upcoming winter, United’s trans-Pacific flying will be about flat compared with 2019, but about 40% larger when stripping out China service, a spokeswoman said.

International at Newark

United is weighing schedule cuts at its Newark hub as it grapples with bad summer weather, congestion and a shortage of air traffic controllers in the area. However, Quayle said that won’t affect international service.

“What our goal is is to operate a reliable consistent operation globally from Newark,” he said. “We’re not going to cut back from the international, but we obviously will make some changes.”

United is scheduled to report quarterly results after the market closes on Wednesday. Executives are likely to outline changes that they’re considering at Newark during a conference call Thursday morning at 10:30 ET.

This article was originally published on CNBC