United Airlines continues to gradually ramp back up its globe-spanning international route network, with eight long-haul routes set to begin or resume in September.
The Star Alliance carrier is moving forward with plans to connect its Chicago O’Hare (ORD) base with both Hong Kong (HKG) and Tel Aviv (TLV), while also resuming a number of European and Indian routes from Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH), Newark Liberty (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO) airports. Flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and Sydney (SYD) are also due to resume in September.
Other international additions include 20 routes to Latin America, including to popular beach destinations such as Los Cabos (SJD) and Puerto Vallarta (PVR) in Mexico from Denver (DEN).
At the same time, United has extended its change fee waiver through Aug. 31. Travelers can change their flights without an added charge or have award redemptions redeposited into their accounts without a fee.
United’s international additions come despite numerous travel restrictions around the globe that limit international passenger travel. However, the airline has seen the amount of freight it carries rise markedly, supporting many flights even when there are few flyers aboard.
“We continue to be realistic in our approach to building back our international and domestic schedules by closely monitoring customer demand and flying where people want to go,” said Patrick Quayle, vice president of international network and alliances at United, in a statement. The planned additions target holidaygoers or those visiting friends and relatives.
All told, United plans to fly systemwide about 37% of what it flew last year in September. This is about three percentage points more than its plans in August and shows the airline’s conservative approach to resuming flights.
Every U.S. carrier faces the looming likelihood of what J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker has called an “autumn of discontent.” Historically, leisure travelers — who have supported the recovery so far — fly less after Labor Day with business flyers taking their place but this year most corporate travelers remain grounded.
United executives have said they plan to pause resuming flights through the end of the year, while other carriers are paring back plans to fly more flights. International travel is the hardest hit as many borders remain closed to all but essential travel.
But the outlook for global air travel does not look good. Trade group the International Air Transport Association (IATA) does not expect the number of flyers to return to 2019 levels until 2024, or a year later than it previously forecast.
As a result, U.S. carriers are warning of massive furloughs once employment protections under the federal coronavirus aid package, or CARES Act, expire on Sept. 30. United has sent notices of possible furloughs to 36,000 staff and recently told pilots that an additional 1,650 crews may not be needed…