Americans’ desire to visit the Asia-Pacific region has reached a high, and airlines are rushing to provide new routes that capture the rising interest.
Earlier this month, United Airlines unveiled a historic route expansion to the Pacific, calling the recent demand for the region “unprecedented.” The expansion includes dozens of new flights to countries throughout Asia and the Pacific, including destinations never before served by a US airline. In fact, United has grown its transpacific route network so much this winter that it’s 94 percent larger than last winter, the carrier said in a release.
“United is in the midst of the largest South Pacific expansion in aviation history,” the release said. The airline has added 15 daily nonstop flights across the Pacific region and will operate a total of 66 flights between the US and Australia and New Zealand—a 40 percent increase compared to last winter. “This will make United's Asia-Pacific network larger than pre-COVID for the first time.”
Indeed, the significant uptick in interest is a lingering consequence of borders shutting down during the pandemic. “The Pacific region was the last to effectively open post-COVID,” says Patrick Quayle, senior vice president of global network planning and alliances for United Airlines. “What we saw all over the world is when countries open borders, demand surged. Asia-Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, and right now China, are really the last that are opening up.”
The region didn’t start fully reopening until well into 2022. (Hong Kong and Japan, for instance, didn’t restart regular travel until September and October 2022.) Compare that to some places in Europe that were reopened as early as 2021, and it’s easy to see why the region is still in the midst of its post-COVID boom.
United is now betting big on the region, adding new destinations and additional flights to existing cities on its route map. “Across the Pacific, United's network this winter is 61 percent larger than all other US airlines combined,” the carrier states. (Although that comparison excludes flights to mainland China.)
One of the blockbusters among the new offerings is a nonstop flight from San Francisco to Christchurch, New Zealand. When it launches on December 8, it will be the first and only nonstop flight between North America and New Zealand’s South Island.
“We see people want to go to the South Island, whether they’re going to Queenstown, Nelson (which is more of the wine region), or to Abel Tasman National Park,” Quayle says. “[These are] people who are looking out for a different experience, a unique experience, getting out of the city and spending more time outdoors. When we look at our passenger data, we see that people who go to New Zealand spend one to two weeks there, and they’re flying between the North Island and the South Island.” The new Christchurch route will be a more convenient way for US travelers to check both islands off their itineraries.
There will also be a new service from San Francisco to Manila, Philippines (which will be the first-ever nonstop for a US carrier), as well as Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand, and Brisbane, Australia, added to the lineup, plus new daily flights from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, and the resumption of daily direct flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo-Narita. The carrier also filed requests with the Department of Transportation to launch daily nonstop flights from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport to Tokyo-Haneda.
Most of the new flights will be operated by the airline’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which offer plenty of options for travelers. The planes will be fitted with United’s beloved business class, Polaris, which features lie-flat seats all with direct aisle access and Saks Fifth Avenue bedding—an enticing perk on these long-haul flights that can stretch up to 17 or 18 hours. Outside of business, there are three other cabin classes, including Premium Plus, the carrier’s premium economy product with more comfort and recline than coach, the extra-legroom offering Economy Plus, and regular economy.
There should be plenty of eager travelers to fill out those seats: In 2023, flight searches to the Asia Pacific skyrocketed year-over-year, according to Kayak. Searches for destinations like Tokyo, Auckland, and Ho Chi Minh City grew by 150 percent, 272 percent, and 769 percent, respectively—numbers that Kayak says aren’t slowing down whatsoever for 2024.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler