United Airlines will suspend its service between Boston and London at the conclusion of the summer schedule, a rare international route between two non-hubs that simply proved unviable in a highly-competitive landscape.
United Airlines Will Suspend Boston – London Route On October 29, 2023
In April 2022, United Airlines launched its BOS-LHR route utilizing a Boeing 767-300 “High J” aircraft with 46 seats in business class, 22 in premium economy class, and only 99 in economy class (with 47 of those extra-legroom seats). Not coincidentally, United launched this route after JetBlue announced a big expansion in Newark (EWR), one of United’s fortress hubs on the East Coast. As of October 29, 2023, United will suspend its Boston – London flight, at least based upon its currently filed scheduled.
I do not think United launched this route purely to spite JetBlue, though I expect that was part of the calculus. Rather, I think Patrick Quayle, Untied’s Senior Vice President of Global Network Planning and Alliances, saw an opportunity to test out an under-utilized Heathrow slot and this route served as a test for expanding London service to a focus city.
After all, Boston – London is already heavily served by British Airways (oneworld), American (oneworld), Delta (SkyTeam), Virgin Atlantic (SkyTeam), and JetBlue. Norse Atlantic Airways also flies to London Gatwick. But United had a unique opportunity as the only Star Alliance carrier on the route and London Heathrow does serve as a hub (of sorts) for connecting Star Alliance traffic to many major European and Asian cities.
In other words, it was worth a shot and United now has found better uses for that particular Heathrow slot.
United indicated that the rebound of traffic to London Heathrow has been slower than to other Atlantic/European destinations, but the Boston – London route has historically been about the easiest upgrade in the system. With mostly point-to-point traffic, United faced a similar problem using the same aircraft at JFK: not enough demand in part because of the limited schedule. Filling a flight without connecting passengers beyond hubs (which already have service to London) is difficult. Doing so while commanding a pricing premium is even more difficult.
United Airlines will suspend service to London Heathrow on October 29, 2023, the end of the IATA summer travel season for the Northern Hemisphere. It is a shame this route did not ultimately prove durable, but also not a surprise considering the limited connecting traffic in Boston and the fierce competition on the route from carriers more established at Boston Logan.
It is not clear how United will utilize the extra slot, but if fungible, my guess is another flight from Newark, where United can compete on schedule with nearly hourly-service in the evening. This might have also been a remedy slot reserved solely for Boston in recognition of the strength of American-British Airways on the route.
image: Mark Harkin