United Airlines has inaugurated flights between Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport (LOS). The airline will be flying a Boeing 787-8 on the route three times per week. On Monday, at Dulles, the airline sent the flight off with a grand celebration and reached the next chapter in the airline’s Africa expansion.
United’s new flight to Lagos takes off
On Monday, November 29th, United Airlines officially inaugurated flights to Lagos from Washington D.C. First announced in September 2020, the route finally went on sale a year later and launched today. It marked the airline’s third route launch to Africa this year.
The flight will operate three times per week from the carrier’s Dulles hub on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The airline has scheduled its flights to run on 243-seat Boeing 787-8s. These planes feature 28 of the airline’s newest Polaris lie-flat hard product. There are also 21 premium economy seats onboard.
United also offers two economy products on this plane: 36 extra-legroom economy seats and 158 standard economy seats. Polaris is in a 1-2-1 configuration, giving all passengers direct aisle access. Premium economy, which is similar to a domestic recliner-style first class cabin, is in a 2-3-2 configuration. Lastly, the economy cabin is in a 3-3-3 configuration.
According to data from RadarBox.com, the flight took off from IAD at 19:02. At the time of writing, the aircraft was expected to land in Lagos at 10:48 (all times local). This works out to a flight time of just under ten hours.
A celebratory mood
At gate C1 in IAD, the mood was quite celebratory. As is traditional with long-haul international route launches, United organized a traditional performance filled with song and dance. Several passengers even got involved, turning the gate area around C1 into a festive preflight celebration.
A special Yoruba (Oyo) dance for a kings and queens, United's esteemed passengers 👑👑.
— Lagos Airport (@LOSairport) November 29, 2021
There were then several speeches commemorating the launch. In attendance was Patrick Quayle, Senior Vice President, International Network and Alliances, at United Airlines.
Mr. Quayle leads the team that put this route on the map. He cast the expansion as part of United’s broader moves in Africa. The airline inaugurated flights to Accra and Johannesburg earlier this year, which were also announced at the same time as Lagos. Flights to Cape Town will resume on December 1st.
Strategically, adding this route from Dulles also enables connections across the airline’s network. He stated the following on the connecting aspect:
“This is a fantastic hub because in this bank, we can connect more than 80 cities. 80 different cities across the United States and Canada can come in here and now have one-stop service to Lagos. On top of that, there is a huge market in the greater Washington area, as well as the Nigerian embassy right here in Washington D.C. So this is a quick, easy way to get home to Nigeria.”
Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Uzoma Emenike, was also in attendance and celebrated the launch. She highlighted the strong business ties between the United States and Nigeria and the importance of this service for government business.
More opportunities to grow
United Airlines is only operating three weekly services between Washington D.C. and Lagos. This was the same frequency the airline initially offered to Accra, Ghana, when it launched the route early this year from IAD. Now, Accra is moving to daily services around the winter holidays and then will be permanently upgraded to daily service next summer.
United Airlines could undoubtedly continue to grow. The enthusiasm and load on the flight to Lagos indicate that the route could be a long-term success on an aircraft as efficient as the Boeing 787-8. One of the more immediate ways United could grow would be to add more frequencies, perhaps bringing Lagos up to daily service if flights work well. Another way could be for United to expand service to Lagos from another hub.
Delta Air Lines also flies to Lagos from the United States. It operates daily flights from its hub in Atlanta. It has also offered three weekly flights from New York to Lagos, making United the second airline and third route to Nigeria.
The Ambassador certainly welcomed the potential for new services. She stated:
“United Airlines, we wish in the near future that you consider the inclusion of other cities, such as Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kano.”
Kano, Abuja, and Port Harcourt are major cities in the country. Abuja, the Ambassador’s personal favorite for a new flight to the United States, given that it is the capital of the country and she has to travel often for official government business to Abuja. United does not currently serve Abuja, nor has it announced any intention to serve the capital city.
Africa is a growing air market. Nonstop flights between the US and Africa are relatively slim, and no Nigerian airline flies to the US from Nigeria. Delta and United are also the only two US airlines serving Africa. United’s Star Alliance partner, Ethiopian Airlines, has the most extensive portfolio of services between the US and Africa, though due to the geography of its hub in Addis Ababa, a decent number of its services are one-stop operations. Nevertheless, the airline still has a large share of traffic.
United Airlines has added three new routes to the continent this year. When Cape Town resumes, it will have four routes to Africa from the US, although Cape Town operates seasonally. Africa does suffer from some structural issues, including limited infrastructure links. African airlines have also had difficulties remaining profitable and growing out large connecting hubs like airports in Europe, Asia, and North America have done.
Foreign airlines are typically some of the most important ones for getting passengers to and from Africa. Before United launched this nonstop service, it would route its passengers to Lagos via a connection, often in Europe. The new nonstop will shave off a significant amount of time on flying between Washington D.C. and Lagos.
With this route finally launched, the airline has reached a new milestone in its Africa network. Though it is not the first time the airline has served Nigeria, it is abundantly confident that it has the right mix of route, aircraft, and frequency to make it work, and more could come.