United grows European network from Chicago
Hot off the press, courtesy of United Hub, the carriers’ news source reported today that summer seasonal service between Chicago O’Hare and Edinburgh is scheduled to commence on May 22, 2014. Service will initially launch as a 5x-weekly operation and then transition to a daily flight on June 11. The flight will reduce down to 4x-weekly from September 2 to October 5.
The ORD-EDI flight will join United’s current service from Chicago to Shannon, Ireland as a route operated by a transatlantic-configured 757-200 flight operated from a non-coastal United hub. These 757 frames feature 16 flat-bed seats in United BusinessFirst, 45 Economy Plus seats and 108 Economy seats, which equate to 169 total.
Schedule is as follows:
UA118 ORD1805 – 0745+1EDI 752
UA119 EDI1025 – 1250ORD 752
United currently operates a daily 757 flight from its Newark hub to Edinburgh, as well as nearby Glasgow airport in the Scotland region. While United has never served the Chicago to Scotland corridor in the past, one of its biggest hub competitors at O’Hare, American Airlines, has previously served non-London markets in the British Isles in the past. American once operated nonstop services to Glasgow, Scotland, Birmingham, U.K. and Shannon, Ireland, but has only retained a single daily nonstop flight to Manchester, U.K. and a seasonal flight to Dublin, Ireland, in addition to its 3/4 daily London Heathrow flights at the present.
Continental merger facilitates these new Chicago routes
Having greater fleet flexibility upon completing its merger with Continental Airlines, United was able to experiment with launching new European flights from its Chicago O’Hare hub using narrow-body planes. Prior to the merger, United’s 757 fleet did not have the legs to complete a one-way journey across the pond, due to Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) limitations of 240Klbs, whereas pre-merger Continental’s 757 fleet has a higher MTOW at 255Klbs.
Additionally, Continental’s 757s have Rolls Royce engines with an extra thrust, whereas pre-merger United’s 757s have Pratt and Whitney engines that are rated at a lower thrust. This creates challenges when you have an aircraft loaded with fuel preparing to take-off from a runway headed towards the Atlantic.
Finally, twin engine aircraft such as the 757 require an ETOPS (Extended range Twin Operations) certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, which allows them to fly onroutes that are a certain amount of flying time away from the nearest suitable airport. Such certifications are expensive to obtain, particularly for older aircraft. Continental’s 757 family is much newer than United’s, along with an updated interior, lie-flat seats, in-flight entertainment across all cabins and a generally satisfactory product.
New EDI flight likely points to success of seasonal SNN experiment
The EDI announcement seems to hint at the likely success of the summer seasonal flight to Shannon which United tested out this year. Carriers representing both sides of the Atlantic have generally stuck to a model of flying only from the Eastern US/Canada to non-core markets in the U.K., Scotland and Ireland. The Chicago to Shannon flight was the first re-attempt at linking the midwestern U.S. to the West Coast of Ireland since Aer Lingus withdrew from the market in 2009.
While the Chicago to Edinburgh announcement was unexpected, it is certainly not unprecedented. EDI is a highly seasonal market, but likely has sufficient tourism demand from the U.S. and parts of Canada, and Chicago will serve as a greater transit hub to capture flows from more regions across North America over the delay-prone and congested Newark airport.
Should this flight perform well in S14, this could pave way for future United 757 flights from Chicago, perhaps to Birmingham, Belfast, Dublin, Manchester and Glasgow? United may even be creative and re-attempt ultra-thin markets like Cardiff, Wales or Bristol, UK, the latter which was previously attempted by Continental from Newark, but pulled in 2008.
United may want to capitalize on its market position in Chicago over American
In Chicago, American has pretty much dismantled plans to grow more transatlantic routes from its O’Hare hub, as the carrier is down to just serving a few core O&D markets like London and Paris, along with Manchester and Dusseldorf, and seasonal routes to Helsinki, Rome and Dublin. In light of the merger delays with US Airways, American is distracted, and even with the merger, will probably leverage its Philadelphia hub to operate more US-Europe flights. This would be a good time for United to pounce on the situation in Chicago by opening up new routes for fliers.
All in all, exciting times ahead for travelers between Scotland and the U.S.!