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United sends JetBlue a shot across the bow with a new route to London

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  • United Airlines is adding a new route between Boston and London later this year.
  • The start date is still unknown as travel between the countries is restricted due to the pandemic. 
  • JetBlue Airways, which just expanded a partnership with American Airlines, will also fly to London this year from Boston.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

United Airlines is growing its transatlantic presence later this year with a newly-announced route between Boston and London, UK.

Only one daily flight will serve the route with an overnight evening departure from Boston Logan International Airport at 10:00 p.m. arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport the next morning at 9:35 a.m. The return flight then departs London at 5:00 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. arrival in Boston. 

“We are thrilled to offer travelers a convenient, non-stop option between Boston and London with this addition to our global network,” Patrick Quayle, United’s vice president of international network and alliances, said. 

Operating the flight will be United’s Boeing 767-300ER, a wide-body aircraft, with an ultra-premium three-class interior. Passengers will be able to choose from the airline’s Polaris business class, Premium Plus premium economy class, and economy class. 

The route is geared towards business travelers with 46 business class seats available in a cabin that takes up most of the plane. All seats in business class are fully lie-flat and feature United’s Saks Fifth Avenue bedding to get the most sleep on the crossing. 

The premium-configured Boeing 767 is the same aircraft that United planned to use for its relaunch of transcontinental flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and the West Coast cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. That similarly premium service, however, has been pushed back twice already until at least March.

Flying the friendly skies?

A new Boston-London route is an odd addition for United, which rarely strays from its intercontinental hub-and-spoke route network with these kinds of point-to-point routes. All of the airline’s mainland US-originating intercontinental flights in 2019, for example, departed only from United hubs in Newark; San Francisco; Chicago; Washington, DC; Los Angeles; Houston, Texas; and Denver, Cirium data shows.

United has been making shifts by offering additional flights to Florida and Latin America from non-hubs, but this is a first for an intercontinental route addition during the pandemic. 

And while United’s former slogan might be “come fly the friendly skies,” the skies above the north Atlantic Ocean are about to get a lot more hostile for one airline. The new route comes just as competitor JetBlue Airways plans to launch its first-ever non-stop flights to Europe, from Boston and New York

JetBlue was forced to delay the route launch due to the pandemic but still has plans to launch London flights in 2021, just two years after the announcement was made. The airline’s goal is to disrupt fares on the route by introducing a low-cost, high frills option complete with a new Mint business class seat and service offering

United’s announcement also comes just days after JetBlue and American Airlines announced an expanded partnership that sees the world’s largest airline pre-pandemic and New York’s “hometown airline” partner on new routes, schedules, and frequent flyer programs, among others. JetBlue is not joining American’s transatlantic partnership with European airlines. 

And while United has answered the call to fly from Boston to London, was London actually calling? 

Americans arriving in the UK are subject to mandatory quarantine, hindering travel between the two countries. Most Britons, similarly, cannot enter the US due to travel restrictions dating back to March 2021 when former President Donald Trump closed American borders to Europe and later Ireland and the UK to stem the spread of coronavirus. 

United, for its part, has been pushing for a travel bubble between the US and London and has even trialed COVID-19 free flights between Newark and London through the use of pre-departure testing. But with restrictions not slated to lift anytime soon, it remains to be seen when this flight will actually launch.

“We will continue to monitor the demand recovery and travel restrictions as we finalize a start date for this service later in 2021,” Quayle said. 

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