As air travel continues to slowly pick up amid the ongoing pandemic, many airlines are completely reimagining their route networks. For United Airlines, that means announcing seven new long-haul routes, including three new destinations in Africa.
United says it’s adding international flights where there’s existing demand, especially tapping into traffic from travelers from the African diaspora visiting their friends and families.

“We’re really focused on rethinking the network,” says Patrick Quayle, United Airlines’ vice president of international network and alliances. “We’re not just looking at adding everything back the way it was prior to the coronavirus, and so what we’re looking at trying to do is come up with more convenient travel.”

Part of that strategy includes launching new nonstop routes to Accra, Ghana, and Lagos, Nigeria, from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. The routes will operate three times a week on Boeing Dreamliner 787-8s starting in spring 2021. The airline is also launching a year-round, daily nonstop from Newark Liberty International Airport to Johannesburg. When the route launches next spring, it will be the only roundtrip nonstop to the South African city operated by a U.S. airline. Typically, U.S. fliers heading to countries in Africa have to connect in Europe or the Middle East.

“It’s long been a dream to serve Jo-Burg nonstop from the U.S.,” Quayle says. But until recently, the airline didn’t have the technology in its fleet to operate the route without a layover. “We’ve been working closely with Boeing and closely with GE, and there are some new technological enhancements and engine enhancements” on the Boeing Dreamliner 787-9 jet, Quayle says. “That has unlocked the ability to serve Johannesburg nonstop roundtrip.” When the route launches, it will make United the largest U.S. airline serving South Africa, following last year’s launch of a seasonal nonstop route to Cape Town.

The airline also announced two new flights to India: a route from Chicago to New Delhi starting in December 2020, and a San Francisco-to-Bangalore flight launching next spring. United will also be adding additional long-haul flights to Hawaii, including Newark to Maui and Chicago to Kona in summer 2021.

Last week, the carrier announced that it would end change fees for all domestic flights in premium and regular economy cabins. On Wednesday, it also expanded that policy to flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.

As of September, United will be operating 30 percent of its international route network—a significant increase from the April nadir of just 5 percent. As the COVID-19 outbreak has stretched on, the airline has been primarily focused on operating cargo and repatriation flights—since the pandemic began, it has flown 5,000 cargo flights and 750 repatriation flights—and has recently been more aggressive about rebuilding its international network.

We’re reporting on how COVID-19 impacts travel on a daily basis. Find all of our coronavirus coverage and travel resources here.