Now more than ever, airlines are able to exercise the abilities of newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is crafted from environmentally friendly materials. This allows airlines to expand their horizons to certain routes that may not have been economically viable in the past.
Take United Airlines, for example. The carrier is launching five new long-haul routes from its San Francisco hub alone this year thanks to its fleet of new 787 aircraft. That is a massive undertaking and expansion—but then again, United has 28 Dreamliner planes, more than any other U.S. airline.
Of the new routes, two are in China (Xi’an and Hangzhou) and one is the longest Dreamliner flight in the world, connecting SFO and Singapore. United also launched nonstop Dreamliner service to Auckland and Tel Aviv from its West Coast hub this year.
Why should you care?
Often, airlines make route announcements as much as a year in advance. This can give you a jump start on getting some of the best fares (sometimes there are discounts for buying a new route early) or even redeeming your frequent flier miles before others realize the route exists.
It also means you can keep your eye on the competition. When Norwegian launched flights from Los Angeles to Stockholm and Copenhagen, other airlines like American matched its deeply discounted fares. This means if you play your cards right, you can fly a full-service airline for much less when it is up against a new low-fare entrant.
If you’re really excited about a new route, you can even buy a ticket for the inaugural flight. Often, these flights have preflight celebrations with goodie bags for passengers and sometimes better catering and free drinks on board.
Who hatches the idea for a new route?
According to Howard Pickett, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the San Francisco Travel Association, launching a new route is not as easy as plotting a line between two points. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes action that takes place.
“We have a strategic alliance with the airport to secure and maintain nonstop international air service,” says Pickett. “Efforts include meeting with airline executives at their home offices as well as attending airline conferences where SFO develops and strengthens airline contacts with the goal of possible new service.”
Intensive economic studies go into route planning, often beginning years in advance. Airports reach out to airlines all the time to secure new service, but ultimately, an airline needs to guarantee that it can turn a profit (whether with passengers or cargo). The Dreamliner makes turning a profit easier due to its more efficient fuel consumption.
Sometimes, passengers get in on the action to promote a new route. In the case of the new SFO to Tel Aviv nonstop, hopeful fliers launched a Facebook page entitled “Direct SFO-Tel Aviv flight” that garnered significant attention from fans and spurred an online petition to show the strong interest.
Air travel follows the ebbs and flows of business patterns, but summer is one of the hottest seasons for airlines to test new routes. Due to the burst of leisure travelers that take to the skies, it is an excellent time to determine whether an airline can withstand operation on these new routes. Couple that with low fuel prices, and you have even better odds.
Bay Area runways are getting busier
United kicked off service to Xi’an and Hangzhou this year, a continuation of the airline’s strategy to reach into mainland China’s so-called secondary cities. These nonstop flights help fliers bypass larger hubs and reach a destination with fewer connections.
United’s Star Alliance partner Air India also began nonstop flights between SFO and Delhi, while Fiji Airways is instituting service from its Pacific hub in Nadi. Fiji’s flight is an excellent hidden gem when it comes to redeeming American miles to reach Australia from the U.S.—not many people, including agents, realize that Fiji Airways is a partner of American.
Newcomer Wow Air is dragging prices down on flights to Europe thanks to its low-fare approach and new nonstop flights. Think of it as the Spirit Airlines of Iceland: You can score a really low fare to Reykjavik from its new gateways of San Francisco and Los Angeles—or even to destinations beyond like London.
Across the bay, Norwegian started new flights between Oakland and London Gatwick. And down south in San Jose, British Airways launched service to London Heathrow while Lufthansa added a flight to Frankfurt.
What other new routes are out there?
Aer Lingus has launched a trio of new routes from its hub in Dublin to San Francisco, Newark, and Hartford, Connecticut (the latter being the northeastern airport’s only transatlantic flights). Fliers can earn and redeem United miles or British Airways Avios points when flying Aer Lingus.
American took off for the first time between Los Angeles and Auckland, New Zealand. Norwegian launched flights between Las Vegas and London Gatwick (becoming the third scheduled operator on the route; watch for big discounts as airlines duke it out).
Delta launched a pair of new transatlantic flights from its Minneapolis/St. Paul hub to both Reykjavik and Rome and is also connecting two automotive powerhouse destinations, Detroit and Munich, with a nonstop flight.
On the East Coast, United ramps up new service from Washington Dulles to Barcelona and Lisbon, while Qatar Airways famously launched a new flight between Atlanta and Doha, much to the chagrin of hometown carrier American.
South of the border, LATAM launched new flights between Washington Dulles and Lima, Peru. Air Serbia is flying round-trips between JFK and Belgrade, a return to flying the nonstop route after more than two decades.