United Cuts Deep On International Flights at Dulles

a building with a tower and clouds in the background

The pandemic has yielded plenty of unexpected decisions by airlines and hotel chains over the past year.  Recent moves by United Airlines aren’t all that surprising in general, but the depth of the cuts did surprise me.  It’s clear from these cuts that United doesn’t think international travel will come roaring back as more vaccines find their ways into people’s arms.

United Cuts International Flights At Dulles Airport

The Points Guy reported on a deep number of cuts on international flights at Dulles Airport.  Dulles Airport, located outside of Washington, DC has a sizable number of international routes, especially to Europe.  Unfortunately, the following destinations appear to be gone until the fall:

  • Amsterdam (AMS)
  • Beijing (PEK)
  • Dublin (DUB)
  • Edinburgh (EDI)
  • Geneva (GVA)
  • Lisbon (LIS)
  • Tel Aviv (TLV)
  • Tokyo (HND)

Beijing, Edinburgh and Tel Aviv aren’t huge surprises.  United has plenty of other flights to China from other parts of their network, and China isn’t exactly the funnest place to be for an American right now.  I can’t imagine Edinburgh demand is there right now.  And, Israel is still significantly restricting access into the country.

Lisbon is served by TAP out of Newark and JFK IIRC, and they’re a United partner.  Amsterdam is a bit of a surprise, along with Geneva.  Tokyo falls in that same category as China, in that you can reach it through other parts of United’s network.  But, I thought the Tokyo flights did well out of IAD.

an aerial view of a city

The Final Two Pennies

Washington-Dulles has long been a sort of stepchild for the United network from a hub standpoint.  There’s plenty of connecting flow for international flights, but some of these flights can’t be supported by local DC traffic alone.  And, with sizable hubs in Newark and Chicago O’Hare, United seems to be betting that they can route connecting passengers through one of those points to Europe without missing too many opportunities.  It also seems likely that the yields on these international flights are still too low.  Pulling out a big chunk of capacity like this from one hub seems drastic as opposed to marginal cuts across all hubs.  That would seem to reinforce the belief that Dulles is still a weaker hub for United.

They still retain service to places like Accra and Sao Paulo, two likely winners for them right now.  That’s along with service to more traditional international powerhouse destinations like London and Paris.  And, they still have connections to Lufthansa in Frankfurt and Munich.  Given how much Lufthansa has trimmed their operation, those routes could be in high demand for United now.

My bet is that all of these routes will come back on United out of Washington-Dulles at some point, but probably not served by the larger widebodies in the fleet.

IAD international flights were always relatively easy to grab business class award availability prior to the pandemic, which lends to the theory that these flights weren’t crushing it for United.  Folks who live in the DC area (or those who can easily connect) are all probably rooting for these flights to return. After all, the best value I get out of United miles are summer vacations with our family seated in the pointy end of the plane.

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  1. Well a lot of countries in Europe are still far behind about vaccination I don’t think the going to open up by this summer also for the rest of the world is the same except few countries
    Maybe by 2022 should be ok to travel to Europe
    I can’t wait to go eat good food and some real gelato

  2. Why would Geneva be surprising? Sure there will be no direct flight but lots of options to connect on Star Alliance partners like Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian.

      1. Who is flying for business right now? And business travel is typically weaker over the summer. Looks like United is holding out on some key tourist markets in Europe, but it looks like the business markets are going to have to wait until fall at least… and probably longer, as long as “guidance” for fully-vaccinated adults to continue (incongrously) to avoid travel.

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