United Airlines cancels Transpacific Flying by Fall

United Airlines cut its flight schedule for the Pacific in the fall. These reductions, especially for flights to China and Oceania, are not surprising, but representative of the overall demand environment, and significant travel restrictions have left many unable to travel.

United Airlines implements significant budget cuts in the Pacific

Schedules uploaded to Cirium and verified on the airline’s websites show United has made another round of international budget cuts. These mainly affect transpacific operations:

  • Chicago (ORD) to Beijing (PEK) resumption moved to October 29
  • Chicago (ORD) to Shanghai (PVG) resumption moved to October 29
  • Houston (IAH) to Sydney (SYD) resumption moved to October 28
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL) resumption date shifted to October 28
  • Resumption from Los Angeles (LAX) to Shanghai (PVG) moved to October 29
  • Resumption from Newark (EWR) to Beijing (PEK) moved to October 29
  • Newark (EWR) to Hong Kong (HKG) resumption postponed to August 1
  • Resumption from Newark (EWR) to Shanghai (PVG) moved to October 29
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Beijing (PEK) resumption moved to October 28
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Chengdu (CTU) resumption postponed to October 30
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Hong Kong (HKG) resumes May 28 with one daily flight (from two)
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul (ICN) reduced to one daily flight until the end of October
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Shanghai (PVG) continues to drive via Seoul (ICN) four times a week
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN) reduced to one daily flight from May to October
  • Washington DC (IAD) to Beijing (PEK) resumption postponed to October 29


United have made budget cuts, either dropping routes completely or cutting frequencies, for these transpacific operations. Photo: Cirium

An unsurprising series of cuts

United has maintained a larger transpacific booking schedule compared to its counterparts at Delta and American. Unsurprisingly, the airline is making these cuts, bringing it more in line with other airlines and the general demand environment.

China has taken a very strict approach to the pandemic. It has forced airlines to cancel flights if arriving passengers later test positive, which affected United, and has strict rules that have forced US airlines to route their China flights via Seoul to avoid crew stopovers in China. Even as Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics, foreign spectators are largely not allowed to attend, and the traditional increase in capacity and flights to Olympic destinations have failed to materialize.

United B787 SFO

United Airlines will operate a significantly shortened transpacific schedule, primarily around SFO. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Easy flying

Meanwhile, Australia has also taken a relatively strict approach to the pandemic. However, it is now starting to show signs of reopening. The country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, recently made comments indicating that the country was looking at a reopening in April or earlier. However, no fixed date has yet been announced. United still flies to Australia from its San Francisco and Los Angeles hubs. However, the long flight from Houston to Sydney carries greater financial risk and requires a more robust demand environment to support the service.

UA 787-9

United is still looking to offer these routes when the demand environment is right. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Easy flying

United’s international fame

Of the three major US airlines, United Airlines has the highest international exposure. This posed a barrier early on and raised questions about how United would respond to the border closures and travel restrictions. However, when early 2021 hit and a path to international reopenings began to appear, United took a very optimistic view of its international business. Arguing that there were fewer airlines and less competitive capacity in most markets, the airline began to chart a return of its international system, supported by a unique lack of wide-body aircraft exits.

United has shown that it is willing to add flights if there is a demand for them. For now, however, the airline decides to make these cuts and will investigate the overall return of passengers to airspace over the Pacific.

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