By Frank Whitman
United Airlines anticipates returning its Japan-Guam flight schedule to pre-pandemic capacity levels by the middle of June, according to Doreen Burse, senior vice president of worldwide sales for United Airlines.
By the end of June, the airline will be serving Narita, Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya. “Of course, in May, with the lifting of the quarantine restrictions and the U.S. vaccine requirements lifting, we’ve already seen an increase in demand for travel overall,” said Burse, who is on Guam this week to mark the celebration of United’s 55 years as Guam’s hometown airline.
Burse met with Guam customers, business partners, local officials and others. “Equally important, we spent time with our employees,” she said. “We conducted a town hall and thanked them for all they do to make the airline and the market successful.”
The airline began its Guam service in May 1968 as Air Micronesia.
United has 1,000 employees in the region, 800 of whom are in Guam, making it one of the largest private employers on the island, Burse said.
Burse said there are no regional schedule changes planned for the foreseeable future. But, “we’re always monitoring demand and always working with our network planners and (others) on our route schedule.”
The airline operated the island hopper throughout the pandemic, though there was a pause in Yap service due to “extensive measures to get into Yap,” said Paula Monk, senior sales manager for United in Guam and Micronesia. Weekly Yap service has been. reinstated – from a twice-monthly schedule.
The military continues to be a “very strong” market for the airline, Burse said, noting that United has a positive relationship with local military leadership.
“We did spend some time with them talking about what they predicted would be the increase in military personnel presence on the island,” she said. “I think how that translates to travel, specifically for commercial airlines versus private, is something we’re staying close to.”
She said a significant increase in personnel is expected to include all military branches.
Burse also said airline officials are aware of and are looking to resolve local complaints about airport requirements that passengers from Guam in Honolulu transiting to the U.S. mainland claim their luggage and re-check it.
She said two of the airline’s operations executives had accompanied her on her trip to Guam and “stopped off in Honolulu to take a look at that.”
“It was a decision made to reduce the congestion. It was initiated by the airport; we’re continuing to look at it," Burse said. "(We’re) working together with the airport authority.”
United continues to implement its carbon-reduction initiatives in support of its commitment to be carbon-neutral by 2050, Burse said.
United’s new aircraft are already double-digit percentages more fuel efficient than older aircraft. Several of the airline’s initiatives include the use of sustainable aviation fuel.
“United has been invested in sustainable aviation fuel for over a decade,” Burse said. “Out of our Los Angeles operations, every departing flight is powered in part by sustainable aviation fuel. We just announced recently we are doing the same thing in San Francisco. In 2022 we announced our operations in Amsterdam and, I believe, London Heathrow is on the horizon.”
However, the amount of sustainable fuel currently available is woefully inadequate compared to the amount required to meet the airlines’ needs.
“We have made a commitment to purchase more (sustainable fuel) than any other airline,” Burse said. “But even if we had 100 percent of that aviation fuel it’s still less than 1 percent of the fuel we actually need to run our airline.”
United is also investing in such emerging technologies as carbon sequestration – the removal of carbon from the atmosphere so it can be pumped into the ground - and electric taxis and planes.
On the airline’s website – United.com - consumers are able to contribute to a fund to help produce sustainable emerging technologies.
“Travelers tell us that (sustainability) is important to them,” she said. “We’re really leaders in this space as it relates to reducing carbon emissions, and sustainable fuel is a large way that we do that.”
The airline is also moving forward with its United Next strategy under which it has committed to purchase up to 700 aircraft over the next 10 years. It plans to take possession of 100 aircraft this year and 150 in 2024. The purchase will make it difficult for other airlines to order aircraft with so many on order for United, she said.
“When we receive all of those aircraft, we’ll have 30 percent more premium seating than our next two competitors combined,” Burse said. “It’s a real statement about our commitment to the future.