United Airlines is betting big on Spain: On December 6, the carrier announced that for the first time, it is launching new nonstop service between San Francisco and Barcelona for summer 2024. Together with its other Spain routes, that marks a 30 percent increase in flights to Spain in 2024 compared to 2023.
Starting on May 23, 2024, United will begin flying daily between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Josep Tarradellas Barcelona–El Prat Airport (BCN) with its Boeing 777-200ER planes. The new flights are currently available to book on United.com.
The San Francisco–Barcelona service is in addition to a brand-new seasonal flight between Newark, New Jersey, and Málaga in Spain’s southern Costa del Sol region, which kicked off this year. United now offers direct flights to five cities in Spain. Last year, the airline added new nonstop flights from Newark to Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, a volcanic archipelago off the west coast of Africa, and Palma de Mallorca in Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, in addition to existing service to Madrid.
United already flies nonstop to Barcelona from Newark, Chicago O’Hare, and Washington/Dulles.
Currently, the only other carriers that fly nonstop between San Francisco and Spain are Spain’s national carrier Iberia, with seasonal flights to Madrid, and Spanish low-cost carrier Level, with seasonal flights to Barcelona. United is the only U.S. airline to operate nonstop flights between San Francisco and Europe.
With the new Barcelona flights, United will offer nonstop service to eight cities in Europe from San Francisco in 2024:
- Amsterdam (seasonal)
- Barcelona (seasonal)
- Rome (seasonal)
- Zurich (seasonal)
Upgrades to United’s Polaris business-class seats for international travel
The added service to Spain comes as United recently unveiled several upgrades to its Polaris international business-class seats, having partnered with Saks Fifth Avenue and Therabody to introduce new bedding and onboard amenity kits for travelers on longer-haul journeys.
Those flying overseas in Polaris will receive a duvet and two pillows, one of which will be cooling gel pillow, by Saks Fifth Avenue. And they will be offered a new amenity kit complete with eye serum, hydrating face spray, hand cream, and a cleansing towelette from wellness technology brand Therabody. The pod-like United Polaris seats convert into lie-flat beds and feature 16-inch seatback screens with noise-reducing headphones.
Additionally, regardless of cabin class, all United international fliers will be able to access Therabody content on their seatback screens, including exercises, breathwork, and meditation videos. And Therabody hand cream and face spray will be available in the onboard bathrooms throughout the entire cabin.
United is investing in the Polaris product as demand for premium seats is on the rise: The airline reports that it has seen bookings for United Polaris and United Premium Plus jump 30 percent this year when compared to 2022.
“We believe that the future is to continue to grow into this premium space both on the business side and on the leisure side,” Mark Muren, United’s managing director of identity, product, and loyalty, tells AFAR.
United anticipates a very strong road ahead for international travel, Muren says. Consequently, the airline is on a major international growth path in the aftermath of the pandemic, including increasing the amount of service it provides from the United States to Australia and New Zealand by more than 40 percent this year compared to 2022. And its Latin America network is currently 10 percent larger than it was prepandemic.
Polaris fliers can also expect better food and beverage offerings when crossing the pond. According to Muren, United has added more than 100 new menu items, including having recently reintroduced the popular ice cream sundae service and completely overhauling its entire wine program.
Says Muren, “For many of our customers, that is a core part of the experience, having a great glass of wine and a great seat crossing the world.”