A couple interesting route announcements from United

A couple changes loaded in to the schedule over the weekend for United Airlines affecting long-haul service. In one case a new Dreamliner route is being implemented; the other is a route disappearing from service.

Buh-bye Buenos Aires

Service between Newark and Buenos Aires will cease as of 29 September. The route was shifted from IAD-EZE to EWR-EZE following the merger but it apparently hasn’t drawn sufficient traffic to remain viable. Service to EZE will remain on United but only via Houston. Both the EWR and IAH routes are currently operated by 2-cabin 767-300 planes. I know that there were some operational reliability issues with the service out of EWR but it doesn’t seem that’s enough of a reason to kill the route. It will be interesting to see if other routes are added or augmented with the freed up aircraft.

Tokyo Dreams

Service between Tokyo and Seattle will shift to a 787 Dreamliner as of 5 November. The route is currently operated by a 3-cabin 777-200. ANA recently started service on the route and Delta has recently increased lift on the route, up-gauging service to a 747-400. That’s a lot of lift on a somewhat thin route. ANA will be switching back to a 787 on the route later this year as well. The SEA-NRT was, from most arm-chair CEO metrics, the worst performing route from United into Narita. Among other things, it was the last route to get the new IPTE cabin upgrades and often had award seats available. ANA and United share revenue on their trans-Pacific operations now so this may be a move towards coordinating the scheduling and fares on those flights.

The change also raises some questions about aircraft and crew routing. Currently only legacy Continental crews are working the 787s and there is no base in Seattle. Also, the timetable does not currently show a plane flying Houston – Seattle. It is possible with the scheduling to have an aircraft do IAH-DEN-NRT-SEA and back, trading in Tokyo as needed to get planes back to Houston for maintenance and such. One flight attendant is reporting that the cabin crews will rotate in to Tokyo from either Houston or Newark and then to Seattle, back to Tokyo and back to their base. For pilots it is a bit more complicated as they don’t swap across aircraft types the way the cabin crew can.

This change, along with the updates to the "domestic" 777s will also change the service between Tokyo and Honolulu. The flights are currently served with an old config 777. They shift to a 744 in August and back to a 777 in mid-February. The seat map shows that as a 3-cabin 777 so it doesn’t look like a service downgrade on that route as of yet but the planes were flying SFO-HNL-NRT and back for a while so it is possible that could change, I suppose.

Turkish un-delight

This one hits me a little harder personally given my love for Istanbul; The EWR-IST route is no longer operating as of 2 November (last eastbound is 1 November). That’s another 767-300 that will be available for other services. This one is less surprising to me given the massive capacity dump Turkish Airlines has put in the market, plus Delta also offers service to JFK. Add in the political unrest in Turkey these days and this is no real shock. But it is a bummer. (Thanks MB for sharing this news.)

So, where are these spare planes going? Anyone seen any new routes on the list.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Actually the HNL-NRT is now being operated by the new IPTE 777 as of last week, IIRC.

  2. Good to know, JJ; they were pulling the old config via SFO-HNL rather than the new config via NRT for a while. With the non-IPTE birds now in the shop for updates I guess it makes sense that there aren’t enough to add that route in.

  3. I had a reward flight booked on the IST – EWR direct flight on the 767 which out of luck (because I received no e-mail) I saw was cancelled. For whatever reason I was rebooked automatically on a direct flight Frankfurt – EWR???? But I got it changed to another carrier out of IST. The morale of this story is that the IST – EWR is not flying in November according to the agent I spoke with.

  4. Wow thanks Seth… Every change here impacts me in a way or another, and obviously no word from United–thanks so much for reporting this!

    Talked to a very nice agent, but it took a bit of work to convince her that was a due a refund given the downgrade from F to C on NRT/SEA… And I also had them open a F award on SEA/IAH since their automatic offer was SEA/EWR/IAH. Glad I got this done asap.

  5. It does somewhat surprise me to see the 787 on SEA-NRT instead of a 767. Seems like a 787 would be better utilized on a longer haul flight like SFO-CTU/CAN/CDG.

  6. I am surprised that EWR-IST route gave up so easily. It lasted only 15 months.

    Turkish Delight is a name of a confection based on gel, starch and sugar. So the sub-title could have been “No more Turkish Delight.”

  7. @Kris: There are two theories I can come up with on why to put the 787 on the SEA-NRT route. One is that SEA is closer to PAE so the planes can go back to Boeing for maintenance on a regular basis. Obviously that’s not really it, but why not laugh a little on a Sunday morning.

    Seriously, though, because of the crew considerations it likely makes sense to keep the 787s somewhat consolidated in terms of operations. And this does that. Until the pilots and FAs have integrated such that there aren’t legacy crew base considerations the operations will remain less than perfectly optimized. I could also make an argument for the 787 appealing to the Japanese market given how many of the type ANA and JAL are operating but I don’t actually think most customers consider plane type when buying tickets.

    @Rumeli: It was a short-lived run but I’m not all that surprised EWR-IST has folded. The route was marginal in terms of yields given the competitive fares and large number of seats Turkish has offered in to IAH/LAX/IAD/ORD and JFK. Add in the political unrest in Turkey these days (whether real or just hyped by the media) and I can see the market shrinking a bit there.

    I’m more intrigued by what UA is going to do with the “spare” planes now. TPE gets service soon (in theory) so that will be part of it but it will be interesting to watch.

  8. It is too bad about losing the IST service. But maybe not surprising as the airfares are always so low, perhaps due to TK’s aggressive pricing, and given the flight length, UA couldn’t get the yields to make the route pencil out. The schedule was also awkward with the return flight reaching EWR too late to make many onward connections.

    Losing an EZE service isn’t surprising given the economic disaster unfolding in Argentina, which the gov’t seems intent to continue.

    Perhaps the 787 is better sized for the SEA-NRT demand given the entry of NH. I imagine that either there must be enough demand for cargo or some worthwhile corporate accounts that require that flight. UA’s very first intercontinental route was SEA-NRT started in the 1980’s, before UA bought any Pan Am routes.

    Given the arrival of the 787 I was expecting to read about new route openings, not contractions. Besides DEN-NRT, has UA announced any new long-haul routes?

  9. United’s EWR-IST was the bane of my existence at the end of last year. I had several flights, and more often than not, the flight was delayed by more than an hour, and one time, it was simply cancelled. United tried to do 90-minute turnarounds in EWR to go back to IST, and not surprisingly, the flight was usually delayed.

  10. Any chance that this could be the first step in UA adding a few Int’l routes from SEA? (make it a mini-787 base)

    DL has quite a bit of Int’l ex-SEA… I wonder if at any point UA will decide to put more focus here? (DL: Amsterdam, Atlanta, Beijing-Capital, Osaka-Kansai, Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Shanghai-Pudong, Tokyo-Haneda, Tokyo-Narita)

    The more likely answer is that any UA response will be from their strengths at SFO… Perhaps the 787 may change this calculation though?

    1. Don’t think so. IAH is the MX base for the 787’s not PAE. But UA is getting more 787’s and more routes to add!

  11. That is a bummer on the EWR-IST route. I flew that earlier this year and loved it!

  12. While I wish that UA would increase service and routes in SEA – it’s a growing market and UA has a historical flyer base here – unfortunately I don’t see that happening anytime soon. DL & AS are pretty strong here, and UA just moved into a new gate area that doesn’t seem to allow for a lot of growth. Certainly the size of the new United Club doesn’t imply they were planning for any growth. SEA will mainly be an important spoke, linked to all UA hubs. It has a bit larger role as a diversion airport, and a connecting point toward ANC during the low season when ANC doesn’t warrant many non-stops. Let’s hope we keep NRT, and I’d love to see FRA, but not holding my breath on that one.

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