United Airlines slashes capacity by 60%, will fly just 15 long-haul routes

Mar 18, 2020

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United Airlines has upped its coronavirus crisis capacity cuts to 60% in April, the largest yet from a U.S. carrier.

The Star Alliance carrier’s global network will take the biggest hit with international capacity down 85% and only 15 long-haul routes due to operate during the month, United said Tuesday. Long-haul routes, all of which will operate daily or less frequently, include:

  • Houston Intercontinental (IAH) – São Paulo Guarulhos (GRU)
  • Newark Liberty (EWR) – Brussels (BRU), Delhi (DEL), Frankfurt (FRA), London Heathrow (LHR), Mumbai (BOM), Tel Aviv (TLV), and Tokyo Narita (NRT)
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Melbourne, Australia (MEL), Osaka Kansai (KIX), Singapore (SIN), Sydney (SYD), Tokyo Haneda (HND), and Tokyo Narita
  • Washington Dulles (IAD) – London Heathrow

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Comparatively, American Airlines plans to operate just three long-haul routes through at least May 6. Delta Air Lines will operate five transatlantic routes and has made dramatic reductions elsewhere in its network.

In the U.S. and Canada, United will continue to serve all of its domestic destinations, except Mammoth Lakes, California (MMH), despite a 42% capacity reduction in April. Many cities with service from several of the airline’s hubs will see some routes cut.

In addition, the airline will continue to fly many services to the Caribbean and Mexico.

Related: United Airlines cuts capacity by half through at least May

United long-haul, Feb 2020

United's long-haul routes in April 2020. (Image by Cirium)
United’s long-haul routes in February 2020 (above) and April 2020 (below). (Images by Cirium)


The cuts unveiled by United are deeper than those outlined by CEO Oscar Munoz and president Scott Kirby in a joint letter to employees on Sunday. In that communication, they anticipated a 50% capacity reduction but with the percent of seats filled hovering between 20% to 30%.

“We’re facing an unprecedented challenge,” they said. “When medical experts say that our health and safety depends on people staying home and practicing social distancing, it’s nearly impossible to run a business whose shared purpose is ‘Connecting people. Uniting the world.'”

In addition, Munoz and Kirby said they expect United’s “deep cuts to extend into the summer travel period.”

Related: Trans States Airlines to shut down April 1, first US carrier to close amid coronavirus crisis

U.S. airlines, represented by Airlines for America (A4A), have asked the government for at least $50 billion in aid to get them through the crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite this ask, International Air Transport Association (IATA) director general Alexandre de Juniac anticipates that some airlines will be “disappearing” due to the crisis.

United affiliate Trans States Airlines, which operated 43 Embraer ERJ-145s under the United Express banner at the end of 2019, is the first U.S. airline to close its doors during to the crisis. The 38-year old regional carrier will cease operations on April 1, eight months earlier than previously planned.

Related: United’s new flexible booking policy could leave you out a lot of cash

Featured image by Maxian / Getty Images.

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