United – of the three major US carriers, inaugrated its service between Chicago & New Delhi last Friday. This is part of the series of expansions the airline has undertaken to India – in both product and network, over the last couple of years.
The airline will operate Daily flights with the B787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. The announcement for the route was done in September. The announcement of a new route and subsequent start comes in as a surprise for many since it is right in the middle of a global pandemic and connects two countries which are the worst affected by the pandemic (by total number of cases).
This move by United helps it counter fellow Star Alliance member Air India – which is the capacity leader between India and USA and also pre-empts competition from Delta and American Airlines.
The inaugural flight was operated by N26967 – a four year old B787-9 Dreamliner. A small ceremony was held at the New Delhi Airport.
Undoubtedly the traffic is at all time low, yet of the few countries where India has worked out an air bubble arrangement – the United States has been one of the first ones. An open skies agreement and good traffic numbers, coupled with lack of competition from middle eastern and european carriers due to prevailing rules has meant that the demand for India – US traffic can only be fulfilled with a non-stop.
With oil prices lower than last year and fuel efficient aircraft available in the fleet, United could not have found a better time to start this flight.
The real test for the flight would be when the pandemic moves towards an end and international flight movements restart from India. Until then the only carrier which will be pinched hard will be Air India which has a long presence on this route but has a dated product with the B77W serving the route – without an upgraded IFE or internet offerings !
The flight timings are
UA898 DEL0155 – 0550ORD
UA899 ORD1825 – 2010(+1)DEL
United launched India routes in 2005 and until connecting San Francisco to New Delhi, operated only to Mumbai and New Delhi from Newark.