United takes the lead in air travel to Europe: Travel Weekly
A substantial expansion by United this summer into the transatlantic market will transform the carrier into the largest US airline in terms of service between the United States and Europe.
It remains to be seen whether the change turns out to be largely short-term and tactical as opposed to a long-term strategic maneuver.
“It’s a continuation of the ‘fly where you can and where you think the demand is going to be’ strategy. It’s just moved from sand and sun to Europe,” the consultant said. airline industry Bob Mann of RW Mann & Co, referring to the substantial changes airlines have made to their route maps throughout the pandemic as demand patterns have been disrupted. “But I think in the long run it’s also a strategy to take Delta for primacy on the global network side.”
From June to August 2019, United offered fewer seats than American and Delta between the United States and Europe. Delta’s offer that summer of 3.9 million U.S.-Europe or Europe-U.S. seats was more than 600,000 higher than United and Cirium flight schedule data.
But this year, United is expected to fly 3.7 million seats in the US-Europe market, a 12.8% increase from 2019. Meanwhile, Delta is expected to offer 17% fewer seats than in 2019, while American forecast 15.3% fewer seats.
The result, according to Cirium data, is that United will have nearly 300,000 seats above Delta in this key aviation market this summer and a solid 900,000 seats ahead of American.
How did United Airlines rise to the top?
As United strengthens its offer in Europe, it will fly to five new destinations: Bergen, Norway; Nice, France; Ponta Delgada on the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; and Tenerife in the Spanish Canary Islands.
The carrier is also bolstering its transatlantic service beyond Europe, including the addition earlier this month of thrice-weekly service between Washington Dulles and Amman, Jordan.
In total, United is launching 10 new transatlantic routes between April and June.
Airline industry analyst Brett Snyder, who writes the Cranky Flier blog, said the buildup is partly a manifestation of aircraft availability. As before the pandemic, United is by far the largest US carrier in terms of service to Asia. But with the resumption of travel to Asia well behind Europe, United has a particularly large number of planes that would normally serve Asia to redeploy.
Additionally, United retained its entire wide-body fleet during the pandemic, while Delta discontinued its Boeing 777s and American got rid of its Airbus A330s and Boeing 767s as well as its narrow-body Boeing 757s. , which have the capacity to serve certain European routes.
American is further crippled in Europe this summer as Boeing scrambles to gain FAA approval to resume deliveries of 787 Dreamliners after manufacturing defects were discovered in 2020. Delays in deliveries of 13 787s forced American to eliminate planned summer service to Edinburgh, Scotland; Shannon, Ireland; Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Prague, Czech Republic.
Meanwhile, United’s potential in Europe was given a boost this month when the FAA cleared the way for the carrier to return 52 Boeing 777s to service. The planes had been grounded since February 2021 due to a power failure. Pratt & Whitney engine that sent debris to the Denver suburb of Broomfield.
Will United’s dominance last?
Snyder said he expects the current momentum, with United offering the most European lift and Americans a distant third, to be short term.
“Give the Americans more planes and they’ll come back,” he said.
Still, he expects United to stick around in some of the experiential European markets he’s launching this year.
“I would be shocked if it all came back next year. Some will probably do better than others,” he said of routes including the Canary Islands, Mallorca and the Azores. “But United are going that way thinking it can work.”
Mann said United were trying to dominate in the long term.
“Kirby is a big fan of Newark Airport,” he said of the United CEO. “He thinks they can be the No. 1 carrier internationally in the future. He’s dismissed American as a competitor, basically, and he’s aiming to surpass Delta’s primacy.”