It’s that time of year again when airlines start revealing their plans for summer 2022, and United has again taken this to a whole new level with teaser videos, contests, and more. This year’s teaser was harder than last, and if you’re like me, it may have driven you mad. If you didn’t see it, here it is.
There are a ton of clues in there, but there are also an incredible number of mis-directions. The good news is that you do not have to torture yourself, because I have answers. United today is announcing 5 new destinations, 3 new routes to existing destinations, and 7 route plans that were abandoned during COVID. Oh, and yes, there are 3 routes that are gone for good, rest in peace.
Three New Island Destinations
The five new destinations are all over the Atlantic, but only two of them get all the way across to a continent on the other side. Don’t worry, United isn’t ditching airplanes into the ocean. It’s just flying to three islands in the Atlantic, all from Newark.
- Newark – Palma de Mallorca 3x weekly on a 767-300ER starts June 2
- Newark – Ponta Delgada (Azores) 1x daily on a 737 MAX 8 starts May 13
- Newark – Tenerife/South 3x weekly on a 757-200 starts June 9
These routes are a mix of leisure and visiting friends/relatives with on obvious focus on US-origin leisure. Mallorca is a huge destination for Europeans, but it’s nothing for Americans. This route probably has the most to lose being flown by the biggest aircraft and being the furthest flight of the three. It’s also the most pure leisure destination in the mix.
Tenerife is a real swing in the dark since nobody has flown that from the US in ages. It’s again a popular place for Europeans, so United must be hoping it can get at least some Americans to give it a shot.
The Ponta Delgada flight is particularly interesting. Delta ran that in the summer of 2019, but it isn’t back in the schedule. United will try this one with the MAX 8, which is a smart play. It is not a long flight, only about the same distance as flying to San Francisco from Newark. The MAX is just hugely fuel efficient, so maybe it works out.
If this does work, United has real opportunity to branch out into other islands. I understand the dotted lines below are next on the list.
Two More New Cities with One Thing In Common: Tourism
On top of the island destinations, United will fly to two other new cities, one in Europe (also in the map above) and the other in the Middle East.
- Newark – Bergen 3x weekly on a 757-200 starts May 20
- Washington/Dulles – Amman 3x weekly on a 787-8 starts May 5
Bergen is quite the move since United doesn’t even fly to Oslo. But then again, Oslo is the political and business capital. Bergen is all about tourism. There’s big cruise business that touches Bergen, and there’s also a general outdoorsy play in the region, as I understand it.
Amman, on the other hand, is the political center of Jordan and that will do wonders for those needing to go back and forth between capitals. But Amman is also tourism opportunity in a place that’s not generally easy for Americans to visit by air. Royal Jordanian is the only airline to fly there from the US, and it doesn’t make it easy for travelers. It is catered more toward the Jordanian crowd. Meanwhile, you can connect there via Europe, but that makes for a two-stop journey for much of the US. This will create an easier single stop option.
Oh, and fun fact…, the outbound flight to Amman will be flight 525 which commemorates Jordan’s Independence Day on May 25, 1946.
Three New Routes Connect Existing Dots
In addition to the new destinations, United will also be connecting the dots between three existing destinations.
- Chicago/O’Hare – Milan/Malpensa 1x daily on 787-8 starts May 6
- Denver – Munich 1x daily on a 787-9 starts April 23
- Washington/Dulles – Berlin 1x daily on a 767-300ER starts May 6
The obvious no-brainer here is Denver – Munich, connecting United and Lufthansa hubs which seem able to absorb an incredible amount of capacity. That flight from Denver, by the way, is flight 760 named after the BMW M760i xDrive sedan. That one feels like a stretch, but then again, if this is a big route for BMW corporate, that might be a nice play for the business.
Washington/Dulles – Berlin would seem to fall into a similar category as Amman in the sense that it’s capital to capital service, but Berlin generally does very poorly over the Atlantic. Both Delta and United fly it from JFK and Newark respectively, at least during the summer.
Lastly, Chicago – Milan isn’t a bad one to try. That flight will complement service from other hubs as well as from Chicago to Rome. But is there really going to be enough traffic next summer to justify it? If enough people want to go to Lake Como…. This one, for the record, returns as flight 415 which so happens to be Leonardo Da Vinci’s birthday in 1452.
Odds and Ends
But wait, there’s more. Newark gets a second daily summer frequency to both Dublin (from April 23, flight 317 for, well, St Patrick’s Day) and Rome (from May 26, flight 510 for the year the Roman Republic was founded, BC). This will also mark the official return of plans that were previously in place until the pandemic interrupted them.
- Chicago/O’Hare – Zurich will start April 23
- Los Angeles – Tokyo/Haneda will start by March 26
- Newark – Frankfurt second daily will start April 23
- Newark – Nice will start April 29
- Newark – Tokyo/Haneda will start by March 26
- San Francisco – Bangalore will start May 26
- Washington/Dulles – Tokyo/Haneda will start by March 26
The End of the Line
There are three routes that haven’t been flying lately, but it wasn’t clear if they’d return. It is now confirmed that they will not, at least not anytime soon.
- Newark – Glasgow
- Newark – Manchester
- San Francisco – Dublin
Glasgow can be served via Edinburgh which is very close and generally more of interest to the US-based tourist crowd, Manchester just doesn’t have enough US origin traffic to work for an American carrier, and Dublin is served through multiple hubs already. That San Francisco flight was just a stretch too far with a second Newark flight seeming to make more sense.
Thinking Through Strategy
All of these moves seem to follow along with United’s recent strategy to serve leisure and VFR markets more. That’s always a good bet in the summer when business travel falls, but it’s especially true now when the business travel recovery timing is very uncertain.
The focus on the Atlantic is no coincidence. It is highly unlikely that borders between the US and Europe will close again, so next summer should be much better than this one. Asia is still further off from a real reopening across the board, and it’s too far to reach with some of United’s smaller airplanes anyway. There’s no reason to take that risk next summer. There isn’t any Latin America here, but that could be because United thinks it’s overheated. There has been enormous capacity growth in the Latin, and United may be expecting some of that traffic to redirect toward Europe next year.
United will mostly rely on the power of its Newark hub to push into small destinations in order to try to develop them. I will be shocked if all of these routes work out in the end, but there opportunity cost is low right now. United is taking a swing at this, and if even a handful workout, it’ll be a victory.