CHICAGO : United Airlines, the world's biggest carrier with the most transoceanic flights, is expanding its connectivity with the Asia-Pacific region.
Taking off: The Boeing 787 will be a game-changing aircraft for United’s long-haul services.
The US airline will early next year launch two new routes _ Denver-Narita (Tokyo) and San Francisco-Taipei _ to cash in on the growing traffic demand between the two continents and offset slowing demand for air travel in the recession-hit euro zone.
"Asia has been an area of tremendous focus for us, and we will add more destinations as demand arises," United president Jeff Smisek told reporters at the airline's Chicago headquarters last week.
The two Asia-bound routes are among eight new international services United will begin from its US hubs between Dec 19 and April 11 next year, following the closing of its October 2010 merger with Continental Airlines to create the world's largest airline.
United has served Asia for decades, with Bangkok one of the earliest ports of call after inauguration in 1986.
The carrier operates more than 320 weekly flights across the Pacific and within the Asia-Pacific region from 33 cities in 14 countries.
Installation of flatbed seats in premium cabins is a key part of United’s $550-million plan for onboard improvement.
More specifically, the airline has nearly 180 weekly flights across the Pacific from eight cities in the region to Honolulu and Seattle, in addition to hubs in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark (New York), San Francisco and Washington DC, with onward connections to over 300 cities in the Americas.
The airline also offers over 140 weekly flights within Asia-Pacific, connecting 30 cities in the region.
On March 31 next year, United will begin daily service from Narita to Denver with one of its brand-new Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets.
On April 11, the carrier is due to commence daily flights from Taipei to San Francisco with the twin-engine Boeing 777-200.
The two new routes reinforce United's expansion in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific air travel market, which over the past two years saw it linking Los Angeles with Shanghai and Narita with Hong Kong.
James Mueller, United's vice-president for Atlantic and Pacific sales, said the airline will introduce more routes to Asia-Pacific in 2014 as it takes delivery of new aircraft, especially the Dreamliners whose fuel efficiency, range and size provide opportunities to serve non-stop routes that may not be practical on larger long-haul jets like the 777 and 747.
"The beauty of the 787 is its size and that it flies very far, giving us flexibility and being perfect for us in the trans-Pacific routes," he said, noting that the Narita-Denver route would not be possible without the 787 entering the fleet.
The airline took delivery of the first of 50 Boeing 787s on Sept 28 this year, becoming the first US carrier to operate the newest Boeing plane.
Smisek: More Asian destinations to come
United joins All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines, which began flying the new aircraft between Japan and the US earlier this year.
United is set to begin 787 service within the US market next month, before phasing in the new aircraft on its international flights between Los Angeles and Narita and Shanghai in the first quarter of next year.
The United Dreamliner is configured with 36 seats in business class, 70 in premium economy and 113 in economy.
Though the merger with Continental was completed on paper two years ago, Mr Smisek said the group is still integrating the operations of both carriers, which had extensive activity on their own.
There remain many changes to come that are difficult and require patience, he said.
The merger made United the biggest airline in terms of the traffic it carries: more than 2 million flights carrying 142 million passengers last year.
The airline operates an average of 5,574 flights a day to 377 airports on six continents from its US hubs.
Employing more than 85,000 people, United operates nearly 700 mainline aircraft and has orders for more than 270 aircraft deliveries through 2022, including 50 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, 25 Airbus A350XWBs and 100 Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes.
United's US$550-million investment in fleetwide enhancements to improve its competitive edge against other airlines is under way.
Improvements include the installation of flatbed seats in premium cabins on nearly 180 aircraft by early 2013, making United's the largest fleet with flatbed seats among US carriers.
About the author
- Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
Position: Deputy Editor Business