United Airlines expands into Asia-Pacific
CHICAGO, Illinois—United Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, eyes the aggressive expansion of its network in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region amid slowing demand for air travel in Europe due to the continent’s economic woes.
Proof of the airline’s commitment to the region is the fielding of its newest aircraft, the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner,” to several Asian routes, said Jeff Smisek, CEO of United Airlines’ operator United Continental Holdings.
“Asia remains a big area of focus for us. We have been flying to Asia for decades,” said Smisek in a press conference at the airline’s Chicago headquarters this week.
The Boeing 787, a 200-seat plane for long-haul flights, gives United Airlines the capability to mount routes that are impossible on other narrow-body aircraft.
The new plane also allows the carrier to mount long-haul flights that might not be mature enough to warrant using bigger aircraft like the company’s Boeing 777s or Boeing 747 jumbo jets.
United Airlines took delivery of its first of 50 Boeing 787s last September 28, currently serving domestic routes in the United States. By the end of the year, the airline will have four more planes.
Starting the first quarter of 2013, United Airlines plans to start the 787 on flights between Los Angeles and Narita, Japan, and Shanghai, China; and flights between Denver and Narita.
By April next year, the company also plans to have non-stop flights between San Francisco and Taipei, Taiwan. The company also recently partnered with Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways for flights between Hong Kong and Tokyo-Narita.
United Airlines currently flies once a week from Manila to Guam, one of the company’s 12 major hubs. All Nippon, for its part, has daily flights between Manila and Japan.
In October of 2010, United Airlines and rival Continental Airlines Inc. became wholly owned subsidiaries of United Continental Holdings Inc., creating the world’s largest airline.
Despite the merger being completed two years ago, Smisek said the group was still integrating the operations of both carriers that had extensive operations on their own.
A recent initiative is a $550-million investment in fleet-wide in-flight improvements. On international routes, passengers will benefit from the installation of flat-bed seats in premium cabins on nearly 180 aircraft starting early 2013. This would give United Airlines the most flat-bed seats among US carriers.
United Airlines, using 700 aircraft, has 5,574 flights a day to 377 airports on six continents. The company has hubs in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Guam, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., in the US. The company also has a hub in Tokyo-Narita, Japan.