United Airlines ends all long-haul flying in latest coronavirus cuts

Mar 21, 2020

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United Airlines will be primarily a domestic carrier for the first time in nearly four decades by the end of March with its decision to end all long-haul flying amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. As part of that, United will end all of its flights to London.

The Star Alliance carrier will suspend 95% of its international flying, including all of its flights to Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and South America by 28 March, United said late Friday. The only remaining international services will be a “small number of daytime flights” to Mexico, as well as some routes on the carrier’s island-hopper schedule from Guam.

The new schedule, available from 22 March, is a far cry from United’s slogan: “Connecting People. Uniting the World”.

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United’s latest long-haul reductions came hours after CEO Oscar Munoz and president Scott Kirby, as well as the leaders of the airlines’ labour unions, told employees in a letter that “even more cost-cutting measures will be required soon to keep our company afloat”.

“We continue to be among the most severely affected by the economic impact of this crisis, due to the outbreak’s breathtaking effect on travel demand”, they said. The airline has cut system capacity by at least 60% in April and May.

United’s international cuts are the deepest of the U.S. big three to date in the COVID-19 crisis. American Airlines is suspending all but three long-haul routes to London and Tokyo, and keeping some flights to the Caribbean and Mexico. Delta Air Lines is keeping the most international routes, including destinations on five continents, even as it winds down 70% of its operation.

However, the crisis remains dynamic and further cuts by airlines are likely.

The U.S. government has warned American citizens from travelling abroad, issuing a “do not travel” advisory on Thursday. In addition, it is closing both the Canadian and Mexico borders to all but cargo and essential travel to slow the spread of COVID-19.

United’s latest cuts will see its route map temporarily return to a nearly all-domestic state unseen since the early 1980s. The airline lacked any long-haul routes until flights to Hong Kong and Tokyo began in 1983, and it only became a major international player when it bought Pan Am’s Pacific operation in 1986.

Featured image by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images.

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