Skift Take

The decision to cancel a major transatlantic route launch with just a few weeks' notice will not have been taken lightly by the airline.

United Airlines has scrapped plans for a new transatlantic route this summer, just weeks ahead of its maiden flight. The highly unusual decision to cancel the service comes amid an audit of the company by U.S. regulators.

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration said it was increasing its oversight of United following a string of safety incidents.

As well as greater scrutiny of its processes and procedures, the audit also restricts certain operational and certification activities. This can make it harder for the airline to start flying to new destinations. 

Which United Routes Are Affected?

United’s new summer service from its Newark hub to Faro in southern Portugal is the highest-profile route casualty of the audit so far.

The four-times weekly link was due to launch in late May. However, the carrier confirmed to Skift that it will not be operating at all this year. United said it still plans to serve the Portuguese city for summer 2025, although flights are not yet on sale.

Faro isn’t the only destination impacted by the FAA’s increased scrutiny. Just last month, United announced plans to fly from Tokyo to Cebu in the Philippines. The daily service was to begin on July 31, however, this too has been delayed. It is now due to begin on October 27. 

Does This Affect All New Routes?

No. United said new international services which are scheduled for this winter are unaffected. The airline will still fly to Medellin, Colombia, and Marrakech, Morocco from late October. 

The airline also clarified that contrary to social media reports, adjustments to its domestic network are unrelated to the FAA audit. It said changes to services from Hartford, Connecticut; Boise, Idaho; and Key West, Florida were instead part of routine fine-tuning of operations.

In a statement to Skift, a United spokesperson said: “We’ve delayed the start of our new routes between Tokyo and Cebu, Philippines and between Newark and Faro, Portugal. Impacted customers can receive full refunds or we will rebook their travel on one of our partner airlines without a fee.”

What Sparked United’s FAA Audit?

United experienced multiple safety incidents last month. In one case, an external panel fell off a Boeing 737-800 that landed in Medford, Oregon.

In another, a United Boeing 737-900ER departing from Houston had to make an emergency landing after an engine started emitting flames. Another flight from Houston, this time a 737 Max, slid off the runway in a separate incident. A Boeing 777 also lost a wheel during takeoff from San Francisco. 

All airlines encounter mechanical issues and maintenance mishaps. However, the nature of the incidents in relatively quick succession has raised questions.

In an interview with NBC News in March, FAA chief Mike Whitaker said: “We’re going to look at each one of the incidents and see if we see a pattern.”

What Have United Execs Said?

Last month United CEO Scott Kirby addressed the issue in a letter to customers, saying safety is the airline’s highest priority.

He added that the carrier would take stock of its safety training, which included hosting an extra training day for pilots and a centralized training curriculum for maintenance technicians. 

“Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, our airline has experienced a number of incidents that are reminders of the importance of safety,” Kirby said in the message. “While they are all unrelated, I want you to know that these incidents have our attention and have sharpened our focus.”

Additional reporting by Meghna Maharishi 

Airlines Sector Stock Index Performance Year-to-Date

What am I looking at? The performance of airline sector stocks within the ST200. The index includes companies publicly traded across global markets including network carriers, low-cost carriers, and other related companies.

The Skift Travel 200 (ST200) combines the financial performance of nearly 200 travel companies worth more than a trillion dollars into a single number. See more airlines sector financial performance

Read the full methodology behind the Skift Travel 200.


Jet Stream Newsletter

Airline news moves fast. Don’t miss a beat with our weekly airline newsletter. Landing in your inbox every Saturday.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: airlines, Boeing, faa, philippines, portugal, routes, Scott Kirby, united airlines

Photo credit: United Airlines United Airlines

Up Next

Loading next stories