United Airlines is adding overseas routes in the coming months, including flights between Chicago and New Delhi, India, and Kona, Hawaii, even as the coronavirus pandemic takes a toll on travel.
Daily flights between Chicago and New Delhi are scheduled to start this winter, the airline said Wednesday. United plans to start flying between Chicago and Kona four times per week next summer. Five other new routes connect cities on the East and West coasts to cities in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa and other destinations in Hawaii and India.
While there has been “moderate improvement” in demand for domestic leisure flights and some shorter international flights to the Caribbean and Latin America, United is scheduling 70% less flying capacity during the third quarter and expects passenger revenues to be down 85% compared with last year, the airline said in a regulatory filing Wednesday.
United said it is bracing for travel to remain at roughly half last year’s level until a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment is widely available. In the meantime, it’s burning through roughly $25 million a day, and plans to furlough 16,370 employees Oct. 1 without additional federal aid.
Even with the grim outlook for travel during the pandemic, the new destinations are routes United wants to serve long-term, said Patrick Quayle, United’s vice president of international network and alliances. Flights between Chicago and New Delhi will give passengers an option to fly directly from the middle of the U.S. to India, reducing overall travel time for connecting travelers.
“We’re focused on making the journey easier, linking up key business centers and population groups,” he said.
Business travel remains sharply down during the pandemic, but United expects people will start traveling to visit relatives and friends overseas, Quayle said.
Some of United’s new destinations still have travel restrictions. India is only issuing certain types of emergency visas and requires travelers to quarantine on arrival, and Israel is limiting travel to citizens and permanent residents, according to the State Department. United begins flying to Tel Aviv this week.
Quayle said United hopes restrictions will have lifted by the time the routes launch, and all destinations are ones the airline wants to serve long-term.