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United expands San Francisco with four new international points

United Airlines continues responding to strong demand at its San Francisco hub with international growth, planning four new routes in 2019.

The Star Alliance carrier will add daily service to Amsterdam from 30 March; three-times-weekly service to Melbourne, Australia from 29 October; daily seasonal service to New Delhi from 5 December; and twice-daily service to Toronto from 31 March, it announces today.

The former three routes will be flown with a Boeing 787-9, and the latter with a 737-800.

In addition, United will add four weekly flights to Seoul, for 11 flights weekly, from 1 April, and increase Auckland and Tahiti service to year-round from seasonal status from March. It will operate a Boeing 777-200 on the additional Auckland and Seoul flights, and a 787-8 on the Tahiti flights.

The Amsterdam route and the extension of Tahiti to year-round service were previously disclosed by the airline.

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"We're announcing the largest international expansion we've ever done in San Francisco," says Oscar Munoz, chief executive of the Chicago-based carrier, during a media call.

The expansion's only historical comparison is United's acquisition of Pan Am's Pacific assets in 1986, a move that saw United connect San Francisco to Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo all at once.

The new flights are part of a broader expansion strategy by United, which aims to grow 4-6% annually through 2020. While most of that expansion is focused on domestic connectivity over hubs in Chicago, Denver and Houston, executives continue to emphasise United's international reach, which is larger than any other US carrier.

"United's strategy is working," says Munoz on the growth plans, citing improved financial performance and increases in the carrier's stock price.

San Francisco is United's third largest international gateway in terms of seats after Newark and Houston in 2018, FlightGlobal Diio schedules show. International seats made up 17% of its capacity from the airport.

United does face challenges in San Francisco. The airport, while not slot-constrained, is congested and frequently sees arriving flights waiting for free gates during peak times. The first section of a rebuilt terminal 1 will open in 2019, however, the facility will be used by other domestic carriers, including American.

"We're cognizant of that," says Munoz of the congestion. The airline is working with the airport to address the issue, he adds.

United is doing "creative things" with its schedule to free widebody aircraft for the new routes, says vice-president of international network Patrick Quayle on the call. He declines to comment about United's fleet plan for 2019.

The carrier is scheduled to take just two widebody aircraft, both 787-10s, in 2019, Flight Fleets Analyzer shows. However, it may also introduce three used Boeing 767-300ERs that it acquired from Hawaiian Airlines this year.

United is taking delivery of its first three 787-10s this year. It has not detailed plans for retiring any widebody aircraft.

The airline will face competition on the four new routes from San Francisco, schedules show. From San Francisco, KLM serves Amsterdam, Qantas serves Melbourne, Air India serves New Delhi and Air Canada serves Toronto.

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