United Airlines announced a major expansion from this summer, the latest step in a turn-around effort by the USA’s No. 3 airline.
The sweeping expansion will bring United to four destinations it does not currently serve and add 16 non-stop routes to the carrier’s route map. The airline also unveiled the addition of six seasonal routes and plans to boost flights on 15 routes it’s already flying. United also confirmed plans to renew a relationship with former affiliate Air Wisconsin, which would fly up to 65 regional jets under the United Express brand.
United hopes its shift into expansion mode – coupled with recent service and product upgrades – will help it win back customers it’s lost to rivals American and Delta since its “rocky” merger with Continental in 2010.
“We’ve been shrinking, and our competitors have been growing at our expense,” Scott Kirby, who jumped from president of American Airlines to the same job at United in August, tells The Associated Press. “We’re going back on offense.”
As part of that “offensive,” United will add more flights and bigger planes to key business routes it pared during broader cost-cutting initiatives.
“A decade ago, for instance,” AP writes, “United flew eight daily flights on Boeing 737s between Atlanta and Newark, a big business route where it competes with Delta. By 2013, United flew six times a day on small regional jets or turboprops.”
Aside from simply being less comfortable than full-size jets, regional jets are unpopular with business travelers because they tend to suffer higher cancellation rates than the full-size jets and because their reduced overhead bin space can force fliers to lose time by checking bags that normally would make it onto bigger jets as carry-ons .
“Our best customers started abandoning us and flying on the competition, who had a better product,” Kirby says to AP. “We…