United Airlines increases flights for European travel comeback

A United Airlines passenger plane arrives over the top of residential buildings to land at Heathrow Airport in west London, UK, on ​​March 13, 2020.

Matthew Childs | Reuters

United Airlines says demand for transatlantic travel is rising despite higher fuel prices and the Ukraine war.

The airline plans to fly 25% more across the Atlantic this high spring and summer travel season compared to 2019, including new destinations it unveiled last fall, such as Bergen, Norway; Amman, Jordan; and the Azores of Portugal. United adds new routes and frequencies, including service to London, Zurich, Munich, Milan and Nice, France.

The stronger demand “was something we expected and it is something we are seeing results from,” Patrick Quayle, United’s senior vice president of international networks and alliances, said in an interview with reporters on Monday.

United is stepping up its schedule as the airline faces several challenges: the longer-than-expected process of resuming flights with its 52 Pratt & Whitney-powered Boeing 777s after an engine failure last year, delivery delays of new Boeing Dreamliners, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a increase in costs.

“We have not seen any softness in terms of demand,” Quayle said of the airline’s easternmost European destinations, such as Germany or Croatia. However, he added, there may be some impact on the demand for connections to cities further east in countries such as Poland and Romania, served by United partner Lufthansa.

Quayle also said United is logging on to a “robust” demand for more expensive products like Polaris’ business class and premium economy class for transatlantic flights. He also said business travel across the Atlantic is returning.

The grounded 777s are set to return in mid-May, and the airline does not plan to increase capacity beyond its current schedule if they return earlier. However, Quayle said the planes could be used for cargo flights, which have been a bright spot during the Covid pandemic.

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