United Airlines Cuts More Hong Kong Flights

Chicago based United Airlines has decided to cut its capacity on flights to Hong Kong due to the on-going protests in the former British Colony. The increasingly violent civil unrest, now into its fifth month, has led to thousands of people either deferring travel to Hong Kong or canceling their trips altogether.

United Airlines suspends its Chicago to Hong Kong flight. Photo: United Airlines

Hong Kong Based Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines are, of course, suffering worse than most. Hong Kong Airlines is even grounding planes in an attempt to save money. Other international carriers are better suited to deal with a decrease in demand by cutting capacity to one of Asia’s most important financial centers.

Airlines are reluctant to stop flying to Hong Kong

Realizing the long-term desirability of the Hong Kong marketplace, airlines outside of Hong Kong are reluctant to stop flying there. Rather than stopping flying to Hong Kong, airlines have been cutting back on the number of flights as well as putting smaller aircraft on the routes, in an attempt to be more efficient.

polaris business class seats
United will replace 777-300ERs with Polaris seats to 777-200s that don’t have them for Hong Kong flights. Photo: United Airlines

Rarely do carriers cut the number of seats available on highly profitable routes like Hong Kong unless as a last resort to curb mounting costs. In the case of United Airlines, it had already cut back on capacity into Hong Kong but has just announced that it is taking further steps to streamline operations.

Before the protests started, Hong Kong was high on United Airlines’ list of places where it wanted to increase service. It already operated daily flights from Newark, Chicago, and San Francisco.

How has United Airlines reacted to the Hong Kong protests?

One of the first moves United Airlines made was to indefinitely suspend its Chicago to Hong Kong flights, starting on September 8th, 2019.

Starting on December 3rd, 2019, United will operate an older 777-200 on the Newark to Hong Kong instead of the 777-300ER it had been using. This change to an aircraft with United’s old business class seats will operate on the route until March 27th, 2020.

united airlines hub
United Airlines flies twice daily from SFO to HKG. Photo: United Airlines

Starting December 4th, 2019 United’s flights from San Francisco to Hong Kong will operate using 777-200s that are yet to be fitted with the new Polaris business seats. These aircraft will operate on the route until March 27th, 2020.

As well as the downgrading of aircraft, United Airlines will also be cutting back on the number of flights between the United States and Hong Kong. Rather than operating the Newark to Hong Kong flights on a daily basis, it will be scaled back to just two or three flights per week during the winter.

For the most part, it will be three times weekly except for the weeks starting January 19th, February 9th, and February 16th. With regards to the flights out of San Francisco, United Airlines has trimmed back, but not as drastically as the Newark Liberty flights.

For two weeks in January and February United will temporarily drop one of its twice-daily flights scheduling one flight for every day and the other five times per week.


With the situation in Hong Kong, the way it is, United Airlines is doing its best to keep flying there despite seeing a decrease in the number of passengers. The worry is that you may book a ticket on a specific flight only to see United cancel it later on. At the moment, this could happen with any airline flying to Hong Kong though, not just United Airlines.

Some good news may come out of the recent Hong Kong elections where the majority of people voted for pro-democracy candidates. The trouble with this is that Beijing ultimately wants to establish full control over Hong Kong rather than respecting the guaranteed high degree of autonomy that was promised when the colony returned to Chinese rule.

If changes do not come about after the elections, the people of Hong Kong will once more take to the streets. They have already shown how shutting down the airport can be a valuable tool and is something that could happen again at any time.

At least, for now, there is a calmness to the place, but how long it will last no one can tell.