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United Airlines adds 3 Africa routes, Delhi and Bangalore as part of 7-route expansion

Sept. 09, 2020
5 min read
United Airlines
United Airlines adds 3 Africa routes, Delhi and Bangalore as part of 7-route expansion
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United Airlines is using the coronavirus pandemic to make bold changes to its international route map.

The Chicago-based Star Alliance carrier will add three new destinations in Africa — Accra, Ghana (ACC); Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB); and Lagos, Nigeria (LOS) — amid a seven-route expansion that begins later this year and continues into 2021, United vice president of international network and alliances Patrick Quayle told TPG in an exclusive interview. In one fell swoop, United will go from one seasonal destination on the continent to four, three of which will boast year-round service.

United's other new routes include nonstop service between Chicago O'Hare (ORD) and both Delhi (DEL) and Kona (KOA); Newark (EWR) and Kahului (OGG) on Maui; and San Francisco (SFO) and Bangalore, India (BLR). The last destination, Bangalore, is new to the United map.

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“We are repositioning the network," Quayle told TPG. "What we’re doing is accelerating our long-term plans."

The additions come as United faces a challenging international travel environment. Border restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 remain the norm rather than the exception with plans to resume flights constantly changing — often with little notice — due to these limits.

In October, the airline only plans to fly about a third of its international schedule a year ago. But even with a third of flights operating, many destinations remain suspended, including Auckland (AKL) — home to United's joint venture partner Air New Zealand — Madrid (MAD), Rome (FCO) and Santiago, Chile (SCL).

Related: United Airlines bets on Hawaii, Mexico beaches in October schedule

Two major airline trade groups — Airlines for America (A4A) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — say they do not expect global air travel to return to 2019 levels until at least 2024.

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In a glimmer of good news, United saw a "moderate improvement in bookings" for U.S. domestic and short-haul Latin America and Caribbean leisure travel at the end of August, it said in a securities filing on Thursday.

Despite the positive travel news and the new routes, United's plan to furlough up to 16,370 staff — including 6,920 flight attendants — on Oct. 1 remains in place, according to United spokesperson Josh Earnest.

Related: A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

“Europe will be different next summer," Quayle said when asked where the planes to fly the new routes will come from. "We’re reallocating where we’re putting capacity.”

While he declined to say how United's Europe flying will look different in 2021 compared to 2019, airlines historically have retreated to flying primarily to partner hubs plus major cities like London and Paris during previous crises. For United, this could mean flights come back at hubs like Frankfurt (FRA), Munich (MUC) and Zurich (ZRH) first before to other cities.

All of United's new routes announced Wednesday will be flown with Boeing 787 jets — the new "workhorse" of its long-haul fleet — except for the Newark-Kahului route. That will be flown with a 767-300ER with United's standard configuration with 30 Polaris business class seats — and not the so-called "high-J" layout with 46 Polaris seats.

Related: American, Delta and United plan to add 15 long-haul international routes in September

Accra and Lagos are not current United destinations, but they're not new to United's map. The airline served Accra from its Washington Dulles (IAD) hub — as it will again with the new service — from 2010 to 2012, according to Cirium schedules. It flew to Lagos from its Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH) hub from 2012 to 2015.

United will be the second U.S. carrier serving Accra, Johannesburg and Lagos after Delta Air Lines. Delta, for its part, plans to add service this fall to Cape Town (CPT), currently United's sole destination in Africa.

In addition, United's new service to Bangalore comes as competitor American Airlines plans to launch service to the Indian tech hub from Seattle (SEA) in 2021. American's new route is part of a renewed and expanded partnership with Alaska Airlines, which is based in Seattle.

Related: United Airlines adds 17 routes to Florida, bypassing hubs in pandemic route-map shakeup

Below is a list of United's seven new routes.

  • Chicago - Delhi: daily on a 787-9 beginning Dec. 2020
  • Chicago - Kona: four-times weekly on a 787-8 beginning Summer 2021
  • Newark - Johannesburg: daily on a 787-9 beginning Spring 2021
  • Newark - Kahului: four-times weekly on a 767-300ER beginning Summer 2021
  • San Francisco - Bangalore: daily on a 787-9 beginning Spring 2021
  • Washington - Accra: three-times weekly on a 787-8 beginning Spring 2021
  • Washington - Lagos: three-times weekly on a 787-8 beginning Spring 2021
Featured image by NurPhoto via Getty Images

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  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
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  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more