United Airlines will not resume flights to both New Delhi and Mumbai until at least October 26, 2019. This may have more to do with the 737 MAX than the closure of Pakistani airspace.
Yesterday afternoon, United announced it would extend the suspension of its India flights until late October. Just hours later, Pakistan re-opened its airspace. What can we expect going forward?
In a note to employees obtained by Live and Let’s Fly, United explained its rationale for the extended cancellation:
Due to the continued restriction of Pakistani airspace, we are extending our suspension of service between EWR and BOM (Mumbai) and DEL (New Delhi) until Oct. 26, 2019 (eastbound). We are continuing to keep employees at our stations in India, as well as affected crew members, updated as we make service adjustments.
We are contacting our customers to update them and assisting those who may need to make other travel arrangements, including rebooking on other airlines or offering full refunds. We will remain in close contact with relevant government authorities in order to provide our customers with the latest updates and most efficient travel experience under these circumstances.
We still expect to begin our third nonstop flight to India in December with the launch of seasonal service between SFO and DEL – the only nonstop service by a U.S. airline from the West Coast to Delhi.
The last paragraph is positive news. The affirmation of United’s new San Francisco to Delhi flight is a good sign. Note also that United is offer rebooking options on other airlines. Please don’t let any agent tell you your only option is a refund or rescheduling beyond October 26th.
737 MAX = Culprit?
I have to wonder, at this point, whether the 737 MAX has something to do with the extended delay. October 26th is not just a random date. Instead, it marks the start of the IATA winter season. Put another way, it marks the end of the post-summer shoulder season and generally represents a cutoff for seasonal service. While most United seasonal routes will end earlier in the month, the last week of the month represents the end of service on some routes, like Washington to Lisbon.
Therefore, it is reasonable to draw a link between the start of the winter schedule and the return of service to India. United theoretically could resume its India flights tomorrow, but this three-month buffer gives it the chance to sell more tickets while continuing to utilize the four aircraft needed for these routes on other routes.
I mentioned last week that United is cancelling over 8,000 flights due to continuing issues with the 737 MAX. The use of aircraft originally intended for India to fill other routes has helped to alleviate some of the capacity constraints from the grounded Boeing jets.
Since Pakistan’s announcements came after United extended its India suspension, I suppose it is possible United may revise its service resumption date. But my guess is that United has better uses for these aircraft and will hold off on resuming flights to India until October 26th.