United Airlines has delayed its new long-haul service between San Francisco and Bangalore even further. The service, primarily targeting tech travelers from the Bay Area looking to fly to India’s growing tech hub, United is pushing back the flight as corporate travel and international flying has taken a hit from the recent wave of cases around the world.
United delays San Francisco to Bangalore
In schedules filed over the weekend at Cirium and viewed at United’s website, the airline has pushed back the launch of what will be the carrier’s longest route from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Kempegowda International Airport (BLR) in Bangalore, India. Originally scheduled on May 6th, the service will now launch on October 28th with a Boeing 787-9.
United’s current schedule sees SFO-BLR launch with daily operations. The airline has pushed the launch of scheduled flights between the two airports a few times since the route was first launched. The latest push will delay one of the most highly-anticipated new nonstop routes out of the United States.
The 787-9s that United will use on the route have room for 257 passengers. This includes 48 in the airline’s new Polaris business class hard product that offers a lie-flat seat and direct aisle access for all passengers. Following this are 21 premium economy seats, which is branded as Premium Plus. Following this are 39 extra-legroom economy seats and 149 standard economy seats. WiFi, power, and seatback entertainment are available to all passengers.
United’s new route
United Airlines first announced flights between SFO and BLR in September of 2020. The airline announced the route as part of a new expansion that targeted Africa, India, and Hawaii. Bangalore was initially set to launch in the spring of 2021 using a Boeing 787-9 with daily service.
United has long been the largest US airline flying between India and the United States. In December of 2020, it launched a new flight between Chicago and New Delhi. Meanwhile, San Francisco received flights to New Delhi in 2019, with Bangalore becoming the second destination United would serve in India from San Francisco.
The route is heavily reliant on corporate travel. Connecting two major tech hubs, United is expecting that higher-yield business travelers will help push the route to profitability by offering a convenient, nonstop way to get between the two cities. It would also help blunt against any loss of traffic from American’s announced Seattle to Bangalore flight, which has also been delayed.
Corporate travel is yet to make a full comeback and will likely take some more time to come back. Recent uncertainty surrounding the global health situation has delayed some returns to the office and left some major corporate companies wary about sending their employees back on the road. United will continue to offer flights to Bangalore via a connection, primarily through Europe on its partners in Lufthansa, until the demand environment becomes favorable for the new nonstop route to launch.
Nonstop ultra-long-haul flights are not an easy launch for any airline. Between the costs of operating the service and the required commitment of assets, United is waiting for the right time to launch the route. The current delay indicates that United is feeling less confident of the return of corporate travel to bolster the route in the nearer term. However, as is shown from the United launch to Singapore, the airline is willing to bring flights up if the demand environment materializes.
Nonstops are still available
While United Airlines is not operating the nonstop flight, Air India is. Through the end of March, Air India has scheduled a single weekly flight between SFO and BLR using a Boeing 777-200LR. In late March, that grows to two flights per week. Air India’s 777-200LRs feature 238 seats onboard, including eight in first class, 35 in business, and 195 in economy class.
Air India first launched flights in January 2021 between these two routes. The route came after United announced it would launch service on the route. While both airlines are part of the Star Alliance, Air India and United do not closely cooperate, however.
United Airlines is not giving up on the route, but it is being realistic in relation to the overall demand environment and recognizing the limitations of launching the route in time for the summer. United is still betting on the transatlantic routes it announced in October, which are targeting more leisure-oriented travelers over business ones.