United Airlines ends its use of Russian airspace, indefinitely suspends two India routes

Mar 1, 2022

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

UPDATE: United Airlines on Monday morning said that its San Francisco (SFO)-New Delhi (DEL) and Newark (EWR)-Mumbai (BOM) flights are now indefinitely suspended.

“We continue to evaluate and adjust our schedule in response to the evolving situation in Ukraine – we’ve temporarily suspended service between San Francisco and Delhi and between Newark and Mumbai and our current plan is to continue flying between Chicago and Newark to Delhi,” the airline said in a statement.

ORIGINAL STORY: United Airlines will no longer use Russian airspace for its flights to India, and is temporarily suspending two routes as a result.

In a message to employees on Tuesday that was viewed by TPG and confirmed by an airline spokesperson, the carrier made clear that it was their decision to stop using the airspace — and not Russia’s.

“United has decided to temporarily suspend transiting Russian airspace to operate our flights to and from BOM (Mumbai) and DEL (Delhi) India,” the message said.

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United currently flies to New Delhi from its hubs in Newark, San Francisco and Chicago O’Hare (ORD) as well as Mumbai from Newark. As a result of the longer routes made necessary due to the airline’s avoidance of Russian airspace, United said it is suspending its SFO-DEL and EWR-BOM “for the next few days.”

Other U.S. network carriers have been avoiding Russian airspace. American Airlines, which competes with United on its new New York (JFK) to Delhi route had never used Russian airspace to operate that particular route.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week, more than 35 Western countries have banned Russian operators from their airspace, and Russia has reciprocated with in-kind bans. United’s decision came hours before President Biden announced a ban on Russian operators using U.S. airspace.

More: Airspace closures linked to Russian invasion of Ukraine create another set of challenges for pandemic-weary airlines

United’s use of that airspace requires payment of overflight fees to the Russian government, just as Western companies are accelerating their efforts to cut commercial ties with the Russian government and Russian businesses. Therefore, United’s move on Tuesday can also be viewed as another Western company cutting Russia off.

In its note, the Chicago-based airline noted that it had other routes available and that further adjustments are possible.

“We do, however, have available routes outside Russia, which allows us to continually operate the ORD-DEL and EWR-DEL routes,” the message said. “We may have additional adjustments to our flight schedule for India in the days ahead as the situation develops, but we remain in close communication with our crews in India.”

Avoiding Russian airspace can add considerable flying time on routes between many destinations in Asia and North America.

American’s New Delhi flight, for example, must frequently make a fuel stop in Bangor, Maine (BGR), on its return trip to Kennedy Airport. That flight is operated by the same type of aircraft as United’s flight from Newark to Delhi, the Boeing 777-300ER. It’s unclear if United will be planning similar technical stops.

Featured photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images.

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