United grabs top spot

posted on 5th June 2023
United grabs top spot

United Airlines claims to have managed the downturn better than most, not making any pilots redundant and building the largest new-airplane order book of any airline in aviation history.
Those claims came to fruition during March 2023 when United became the number one airline in the world based on seat mile capacity. American Airlines had held the top spot for the previous two years.
United now has 700 aircraft on delivery during the next decade, one every three days in 2023, and it took delivery of two aircraft – a Boeing 787 and a 737 Max – on the day that United Managing Director Network Planning Mark Weithofer spoke at Routes Americas in Chicago.
“Our network generates 15,000 unique city pairs every day, 5,000 international and 10,000 domestic,” Weithofer said. With 37 destinations to Europe, Africa and the Middle East, United’s international expansion this year will be 35% higher than 2019.
“It’s beyond adding Newark–Dubai and Washington Dulles–São Paulo,” he said. United and its joint venture partner Air Canada are working together to expand service to/from Canada with a new shuttle service, for example. New York–Toronto will have 15 daily flights, while San Francisco–Vancouver will feature 11 daily options.
United’s hubs in Denver, Chicago and Washington Dulles are all gaining more flights. “We’re building up O’Hare very quickly,” Weithofer said. Denver will expand to 295 daily flights and Washington Dulles will see the largest number of flights United has ever offered.
Just after the Chicago event, United announced its largest South Pacific network expansion ever to and from the continental US, including the first non-stop flight between San Francisco and Christchurch set to commence on 1 December.
The carrier is adding new direct flights from Los Angeles to Brisbane and Auckland and increasing service to the region from its San Francisco hub with daily flights to Brisbane and twice-daily flights to Sydney , as well as flying larger aircraft to Melbourne.
United was prescient before the pandemic, foreseeing a US regional airline pilot shortage, which prompted it to scale back on regional flying for the last several years. “We planned years ago to scale down regional flying, and the pilot shortage has expedited the replacement of smaller jets,” Weithofer said. “Before, 60% of domestic departures were on regional jets (RJs), and 40% were mainline. Now it’s flipped: 60% mainline, 40% regional.”
“We are trying to deploy as much capacity as we can. Starting in April 2023 we finally have more capacity than in 2019. Much of that is larger aircraft, with 20% more seats,” said Weithofer. The airline has now contracted for 90 gates at Denver.
United recently opened new crew bases in Las Vegas and Orlando, too. According to Weithofer: “We have our largest Florida schedule ever right now. You can see five widebody jets in Orlando every day, the largest widebody presence of any airline there.
“As we build our network, it makes sense to base pilots where the flights are,” he said. “Pilots like it, and it’s more efficient for us. There will be more of those [new bases] coming.”