Chicago based United Airlines is closing its long-haul pilot base at Los Angeles International Airport. It is a significant move by the U.S. mega carrier. LAX is usually the second busiest airport in the United States and a jumping-off point for long-haul flights across the Pacific and elsewhere. But United Airlines is slashing its pilot workforce, and indicators are there won’t be any long-haul flying out of LAX for at least a year.
The news is being reported in Live And Lets Fly. In that story, the writer asks whether United Airlines’ long-haul flying will ever return to Los Angeles. You’d be a brave punter to write off the chances of that. But the writer also raises the prospects of LAX losing its long-haul hub status. The chances of that happening are shorter.
United Airlines shifts its focus to San Francisco
Theories about the future of United’s LAX hub have been swirling for years. For some time, the airline has been pumping flights and resources into its nearby San Francisco hub. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the airline faces fierce competition. That competition comes not only from other airlines but United’s alternative hubs in the western half of the United States; Denver, Houston, and San Francisco. United Airlines has been funneling passengers into and onto long-haul flights out of those three alternative hubs at the expense of Los Angeles.
On the weekend, Simple Flying revisited the possibility of United Airlines closing its LAX long-haul base. United has now confirmed this. The airline will be closing its 757, 767, and 787 pilot base at LAX. The decision will see 80 Captains and 180 First Officers retrained to other aircraft types and reassigned to other bases.
In the run-up to 2020’s travel downturn, United Airlines’ long-haul operations from Los Angeles included flights to London Heathrow, Melbourne, Shanghai, Sydney, and Tokyo. In contrast, United Airlines usually flies to twenty plus long-haul destinations from San Francisco.
Aircraft types grounded and pilot bases closed
United Airlines says it does not expect to be flying its long-haul Boeing 787 Dreamliners out of LAX for at least a year. That aircraft will become the mainstay of United’s short term long-haul international operations – they just won’t be flying out of LAX. Also, United Airlines will stop operating its Boeing 757s and Boeing 767s altogether. United’s fleet of Boeing 777s will be flying out of Newark and San Francisco only. All up, the broader capacity cuts mean a lot more pilots than those based at LAX will be facing reassignment or redundancy.
What does this say about the future of United Airlines long-haul flying from LAX?
The decision to close the pilot bases in Los Angeles is an interesting one. In light of the current operating environment, it’s perfectly understandable. But the travel downturn and capacity cuts do allow United Airlines (and any other airline) to realign its future priorities.
And while it’s valid to say United Airlines is focusing on San Francisco as a long-haul hub at the expense of Los Angeles, the sheer amount of connecting domestic traffic out of Los Angeles does make that airport a handy connector airport for long-haul arrivals and departures.
Connector traffic is one of the lifebloods of long-haul flying. So while LAX may be down, it certainly isn’t out, and I wouldn’t be writing it off quite yet as a jumping-off point for future United Airlines long-haul flights.