United Airlines Announces New Routes Across Three Continents

N654UA United Airlines Boeing 767 322ER 1

Skift Take

United is continuing to deepen its presence in markets overlooked by most other U.S. carriers. It’s a strategy that appears to be working well.

United Airlines is in international expansion mode once again.

The U.S. carrier has revealed a trio of new international destinations, spanning three different continents. From Morocco to the Philippines (and somewhere in between), it’s a diverse selection. 

There are also route resumptions and increased frequencies to existing United services. Here are the key highlights to watch in the coming months:

New Route: Marrakech, Morocco

From October 24, United will strengthen its African offering with a new route to Morocco. The service will link Newark with Marrakech and be operated three times weekly. 

United will be flying its Boeing 767-300ERs on the new service. Alongside a regular economy cabin, there are 22 Premium Plus (premium economy) options and 46 of United’s signature Polaris (business class) seats.

The addition of Marrakech is notable as it will make United the only U.S. carrier serving the city. Air Transat is the only other nonstop transatlantic operator from Marrakech. The Canadian leisure carrier is due to start a year-round service from Montreal in June. 

Within Africa, United already flies to Accra (Ghana) and Lagos (Nigeria), as well as Cape Town and Johannesburg (South Africa).

New Route: Cebu, The Philippines 

Shifting focus to the Far East, United is boosting its presence in the Philippines. From July 31, the airline will fly to the central city of Cebu. A daily service will be offered, operated by Boeing 737-800 planes. 

Crossing the Pacific on a single-aisle aircraft that typically flies two or three-hour journeys sounds odd, right? The answer lies in United’s vast Pacific network. 

When the Chicago-based airline merged with Continental in 2010 it ultimately acquired much of the latter’s extensive Micronesian network. This included shorter services to and from the U.S. island territory of Guam, as well as Japan and the Philippines.

As such, United will be flying the narrowbody jet from Tokyo Narita Airport to Cebu, with a flight time of around 4.5 hours. Passengers will be able to transit in the Japanese capital with United’s long-haul flights.

The airline already operates a direct link between San Francisco and Manila. It also flies to Manila from Guam and Palau.

According to the Philippines Department of Tourism, the U.S. was its second largest source market in 2023, with 836,694 arrivals.

New Route: Medellin, Colombia

The final new addition to the United route map is Medellin. Traditionally the Colombian city has been better aligned with American Airlines’ enormous Miami-based network. However, United seems happy to shake up the status quo and will fly there for the first time in its history from October 27.

United will operate a daily service from its Houston hub to Medellin using Boeing 737s. The new route expands the airline’s presence in the country, with Bogota already served from Houston and Newark.

It brings the total number of Latin American destinations operated by United from Houston to 52.

Any Other Network Enhancements?

Yes. Along with the three new routes, United is also ramping up its flying program to existing destinations. Hong Kong, Seoul (South Korea), and Porto (Portugal) will all see extra flights in the coming months. 

The airline is also adding a four-times-weekly flight between Los Angeles and Shanghai. Operated by the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, the route will begin on August 29. It is due to be ramped up to a daily service from late October.

This follows a new agreement between the U.S. and Chinese governments to increase passenger air links between the nations. 

What’s United’s Strategy Here?

In recent years United has developed a reputation for flying into secondary and even tertiary long-haul markets. The airline is the first to admit this, saying it proudly serves “off-the-beaten-path locales around the globe.”

Cities such as Faro in southern Portugal and Christchurch in New Zealand are among those not served nonstop from the U.S. mainland by any other airline.

Patrick Quayle, United’s Senior Vice President of Global Network Planning and Alliances said the airline has “consistently been ahead of the curve in finding hidden gem destinations.”

Part of the reason United has been able to do this is a diverse fleet. Alongside smaller jets, the airline has dozens of Boeing 757s, 767s, 777s, and 787s. By right-sizing the plane to meet the mission, the airline can make more niche routes profitable.

Following Thursday’s announcement, United serves 134 international destinations in 67 countries.

Watch United CCO Andrew Nocella at Skift Aviation Forum 2023 Here:

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