United to offer nonstops from Newark to Johannesburg and Maui

The New York-New Jersey area has the highest demand for flights to South Africa of any region in the U.S.

Who knew? People such as Patrick Qualye knew.

Quayle is United Airlines’ vice president of international network planning. It’s his job to use data to determine new routes — which is the reason United announced a nonstop flight from Newark to Johannesburg on Wednesday morning. This, less than a year after announcing a seasonal nonstop from Newark to Cape Town, the first nonstop route in North America to that city.

The Johannesburg flight, which will begin in the spring of 2021, was part of a big day of announcements for the airline, which counts Newark as one of is biggest hubs. It also announced it was adding a nonstop from Newark to Maui. (Other new routes from other hubs are listed below.)

The announcement was not directly caused by COVID-19. The airline, after all, makes changes on a regular basis. But it was another example of the airline industry recalibrating itself during a downturn caused by the pandemic.

“Our goal is to offer convenient service to and from the cities where there’s a lot of demand, and to be able to simplify the travel experience and give travelers time back so they’re not having to connect in a third country,” Qualye told ROI-NJ. “Passengers were saving as much as eight hours round trip on flying to Cape Town because they don’t have to connect in Europe any longer.”

To be clear, adding new routes is not necessarily a one-and-done game. Adding international nonstops into Newark helps the airline become more convenient on numerous routes.

“Looking coming back on the inaugural flight to Cape Town to Newark, we had connections to more than 65 cities in the United States when they landed in Newark,” Quayle said.

This is just what economic development leaders in New Jersey are eager to hear. They have long pitched Newark’s ease of use (compared to New York, not Nashville) as a reason for international companies to set up a base in the state. And they have worked with United in the past on being an economic development tool.

It’s a conversation Quayle said the airline would like to continue.

“I think there’s a lot more opportunity there that local leaders and local government can do with us,” he said. “We have had a really good relationship with them and have worked well with them, but I think there’s more opportunity to work closer in the future.

“We would welcome more engagement and more interaction.”

It’s part of the unknown future of air travel, which has been down by as much as 80-90% at times during the pandemic.

Analysts and experts are convinced the business travel will come back. When — and in what fashion — is not as certain. Quayle said as much.

“Rather than have a timeline, what I would say is, we think that there’s not going to be a substantial rebound until there’s a vaccine and there’s therapeutics that are widely distributed and widely available to the U.S. population,” he said. “Until then, we’re going to hunker down and stay relatively small, because there’s not much travel demand.

“So, rather than set a specific date, it’s really going to be set off of key events that are taking place, such as when the drugs can be available, when are the vaccines going to be available — not only available, but widely accessible and widely distributed. If you don’t have the distribution, if you don’t have people that are getting vaccinated, we’re not going to be out of this thing.”

The data is still there. And people such as Quayle will still analyze it.

Usually, adding a new route means taking another one off. Now, with a reduced schedule, Quayle has time to see what is working and when — and adjust accordingly.

Here’s hoping that will mean more flights to Maui.

Changes in global route network

United announced new nonstop service to Africa, India and Hawaii on Wednesday. With these new routes, United will offer more nonstop service to India and South Africa than any other U.S. carrier and remains the largest carrier between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii.

  • Africa: New nonstop service between Washington, D.C., and Accra, Ghana, and Lagos, Nigeria; and from Newark to Johannesburg, South Africa;
  • India: First-ever nonstop service to Bangalore, India (from San Francisco), and new service between Chicago and New Delhi, India;
  • Hawaii: First-ever nonstop service between Chicago and Kona, Hawaii, and a nonstop from Newark to Maui, Hawaii.