United filling in route gaps at San Francisco

Adding a pair of routes from the West Coast to the Midwest doesn’t generally lead to a significant shift in passenger flows. But for United Airlines, two forthcoming new routes – San Francisco to Cincinnati and Detroit – are a strategic expansion and arguably a move to counter Delta Air Lines’ recent growth. They also take advantage of cuts to the latter carrier’s Pacific operations.

United will offer daily flights starting in June 2017 for each route, both flown on an Airbus A319. The company is playing up easier connections to Asia, though the flight times only partly make that work. The evening westbound service connects well to United’s late-night departures to Singapore, Sydney, Auckland and Shanghai. It misses the earlier Asia bank covering Hong Kong, Taipei, most of mainland China, Tokyo and Seoul. Eastbound, it also misses the Singapore connection. Delta still has a relatively strong Asia presence from Detroit and both carriers can connect some Cincinnati passengers one stop to larger Asian destinations. But with Delta’s recently announced cuts at Narita for onward Asia service, the United flights are well suited to pick up some travelers.

kontron newestDetroit is the largest market for San Francisco lacking United service today. In addition to enabling connections to its Asia flights, United is linking Detroit’s automotive industry with Silicon Valley’s driverless car technology efforts. It will face significant competition from Delta in the form of five daily flights on that route, all on larger aircraft.

The new service also happens to launch on the same day as Delta’s new twice-daily flights between San Francisco and Boston, a route United dominates but where it has felt increasing pressure from JetBlue. United still has the most flights on the route but JetBlue added its Mint premium service on the route in March 2016. United has held off upgrading the route to a premium product so far and Delta will be serving it with a normal domestic-configured plane as well.

United also announced seasonal service to Key West over the weekend. From 16 December 2016 to 4 May 2017, daily flights from Newark will be offered on Embraer E170 regional aircraft, while Chicago will see Saturday-only service from 7 January 2017 until 29 April 2017. These new flights will be the only non-stop service in the markets and will augment the codeshare service United offers today with partner Silver Airways via several airports in Florida.