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TravelUnited adds 3 new international destinations, including Marrakesh, Medellin

United adds 3 new international destinations, including Marrakesh, Medellin

United Airlines is once again flexing its muscle as the country’s largest and most diversified international carrier.

The Chicago-based carrier announced on Thursday a handful of flights to three all-new destinations: Marrakech, Morocco; Cebu, Philippines; and Medellin, Colombia.

At the same time, United is also boosting its existing service to Europe and Asia with additional frequencies on larger jets.

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You’ll catch all of the details below, but this is one of the airline’s most exciting network updates in the past two years. After a few blockbuster expansions during the pandemic, United’s upcoming summer schedule includes just one “new” destination and a few new and resuming routes.

So, it’s great to see United’s network planners back it once again. “This is your normal, exciting network planning team back in action,” said Patrick Quayle, United’s senior vice president of global network planning and alliances, in an interview with TPG.

Note that tickets for United’s new Cebu flights are now available on the United app and on the airline’s website, and Marrakesh and Medellin flights will be available in the coming weeks.


United flights to Marrakech, Morocco

United will add three-times-weekly winter seasonal service between Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and Marrakech, Morocco, beginning on Oct. 24.

The carrier will deploy one of its swankiest planes — the “high J” Boeing 767-300ER — on this new 3,664-mile route. The jet features a whopping 46 Polaris business-class pods, 22 Premium Plus recliners, 43 Economy Plus extra-legroom seats and 56 standard economy seats.

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Clearly, United thinks that this route will perform well with deep-pocketed leisure travelers who are willing to splurge for upgraded seats. Hopefully, with so many premium seats on this route, we’ll also see some saver award availability in Polaris business class.

Speaking about the choice to deploy its swankiest jet, Qualye said that “we specially made that airplane as a London Heathrow and Zurich airplane. And what we’ve found is that it is a perfect airplane for premium leisure as well.”

United will fly this jet to Marrakesh during the winter when demand for travel to Europe drops. This is a “utilization play,” said Quayle, explaining that “we’re taking an aircraft that would be flying to continental Europe in the winter, and we’re going to flip it to Marrakesh.”

When it launches, United will become the only airline consistently flying between the U.S. and Marrakech. Moroccan flag carrier Royal Air Maroc has a few one-off flights scheduled between Washington, D.C., and Marrakech in October, according to Cirium schedules, but nearly all of the airline’s service to the U.S. lands at its hub in Casablanca.

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For years, Royal Air Maroc has enjoyed a monopoly on nonstop service from the U.S. to Morocco. (The airline flies from Miami, New York and Washington, D.C.) Tourists looking to visit the country have always needed to begin their trips in Casablanca or connect onward from there to popular stops such as Marrakech and Fez.

But United’s new nonstop is quite literally pulling out all the stops. Given Morocco’s popularity as a tourist destination, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this new route succeed.

“It’s been on the shortlist, I’ve wanted to do this for a while,” explained Quayle. “What finally got it across the line was a couple of things lined up. And it was like the sun, the moon, the stars. You had CNN say it was one of the top places to visit. You had the New York Times say it was one of the top places to visit. You had The Points Guy say it was one of the top places to visit, and I had it on my shortlist, and it was like, yes, let’s do it.”

Plus, United is no stranger to launching and developing routes to Africa. The airline already flies to Accra, Ghana; Lagos, Nigeria; and Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa.

United flights to Cebu, Philippines

Beginning on July 31, United commence year-round nonstop service from Tokyo’s Narita International Airport (NRT) to Cebu, Philippines.

The service will operate onboard a Boeing 737-800 and will be staffed with pilots and flight attendants based in Guam.

Back in the day, United operated a hub in Tokyo after acquiring Pan Am’s Pacific assets in 1986. The airline effectively shuttered its hub operations there once it formed a transpacific joint venture in 2011 with Japanese carrier ANA.

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But now, this new service from Tokyo to Cebu will be timed to maximize onward connections to and from United’s transpacific service to Narita from Denver, Houston, Newark, Los Angeles and San Francisco. United will codeshare with ANA on this new route, and it can also sell this new flight as a point-to-point route for locals on either end, Quayle confirmed to TPG.

United is the only U.S. carrier flying to the Philippines, with daily flights from San Francisco, Guam and now Tokyo.

United will become the only Star Alliance carrier flying between Narita and Cebu. Cebu Pacific and Philippines Airlines already operate flights on this 2,033-mile route, Cirium schedules show.

United flights to Medellin, Colombia

Photo by Aaron Geddes Photography / Getty Images.Photo by Aaron Geddes Photography / Getty Images.

Finally, United will round out its expansion with new service to Medellin, Colombia.

The airline will connect its Houston hub and Medellin beginning on Oct. 27, with daily flights operated onboard the Boeing 737 MAX 8.

This will be the first time that United has ever flown to Medellin, and it expands the carrier’s presence in Colombia, complementing existing service from Houston and Newark to Bogota.

Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is the carrier’s main gateway to Latin America, so it makes sense that United will try this route from IAH, where it has the greatest shot at succeeding.

Plus, Quayle explained that adding service from Houston to Medellin will maximize the number of traffic flows that the airline can offer from “the western part of the U.S., or the mid-part of the continent.”

Right now, almost all U.S. traffic to Medellin connects via New York or Florida, but adding Houston means that a large swath of the country will now be just one convenient connection away from Medellin. (United’s flight will be perfectly timed for connections, according to Quayle. It’ll depart around 4 p.m. and leave the following morning around 11 a.m., Quayle said.)

Once Medellin service launches, United will serve 52 destinations in Latin America from Houston.

Medellin is already well served from the U.S. with nonstop flights from Fort Lauderdale, Miami and New York. American Airlines is currently the only Big 3 U.S. carrier flying to Medellin (from Miami), so it’ll be interesting to see if Delta matches American and United with service to this popular Colombian destination.

United’s expanded international schedule

In addition to United’s new routes, the airline is also expanding service in many existing markets.

This includes adding a second daily flight between Newark and Porto, Portugal, starting on May 23. United launched this route in 2018, and it’s expanding service in the market to “meet the strong demand for the summer season.”

The carrier will also add a second daily service between Los Angeles and Hong Kong beginning on Oct. 26, operated by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

Then, one day later, on Oct. 27, the airline will add a second daily flight between San Francisco and Seoul.

Finally, the carrier will boost its service to mainland China following the recent Chinese and U.S. government agreement to increase flights between the two countries.

The airline will restore four weekly flights between Los Angeles and Shanghai starting on Aug. 29, operated by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.

In total, United will offer 18 weekly flights to mainland China, including daily service between San Francisco and Shanghai and San Francisco and Beijing.

Bottom line

United’s network planning team is making some major moves.

The airline will add new service to cities in Morocco, the Philippines and Colombia, three all-new destinations for the carrier. United is also boosting flights on several existing routes as part of Thursday’s announcement.

This announcement furthers United’s superiority as the country’s top international airline, as it pushes forward with its mission to become what CEO Scott Kirby has proudly claimed “the flag carrier of the United States.”

“There are other U.S. airlines that will just fly into their partner hub, and what we’re trying to do at United is build something different and have a curated experience where you can use and redeem and earn miles to go to a nice destination where you’re not going to transfer in Europe,” Quayle said.

Quayle explained that this is just the latest in a long list of dream destinations that he’d like to see United flying to. “How do we curate unique content for people to spend their miles? And how do we create unique content for people who want to do something different,” he concluded.

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