United, one of three airlines operating on the India-USA route, has chosen to temporarily cease using Russian airspace for overflights to its destinations.
This move appears to be made in preparation for the US declaring a restriction on Russian aircraft using its territory (announced by POTUS in his State of the Union speech on March 1), which would very definitely be followed by a tit-for-tat blockade on US aircraft entering Russian airspace.
Although American Airlines does not fly via Russian airspace due to a lack of licenses to fly between Delhi and New York JFK, United has done so for a long time. On February 28, 2022, they attempted to fly the aircraft via a different path, avoiding Russian territory, and it took them an hour longer to accomplish the mission.
Travellers should keep in mind that these flights are being operated by specially modified Boeing 787-9 aircraft, which have had their operating range boosted somewhat more than usual thanks to a software upgrade. For example, on the Mumbai-Newark leg running as a return on March 2, 2022, with the jet that brought in passengers on February 28, 2022, the plane is now needing to detour to Bangor to refuel in order to eventually get passengers into EWR.
It is not surprising, then, that United has opted to temporarily halt overflying Russian airspace in order to conduct flights to Mumbai and Delhi. For the time being, the following flights have been cancelled.
- March 1 – 6, 2022, San Francisco – Delhi (and return) (UA867)
- March 1 – 11, 2022, Newark – Mumbai (and return) (UA829/UA830)
It is worth noting that only these two flights are being cancelled, and they are both operated with the 787-9 aircraft, as new routings would push the operations to the limit and frequent fuel stops will be required. In an internal communication circulated by United, they stated,
“United has decided to temporarily suspend transiting Russian airspace to operate our flights to and from BOM (Mumbai) and DEL (Delhi) India. While some routes are possible to fly, we are unable to operate our full India operation. Our SFO-DEL and EWR-BOM routes will be cancelled for the next few days, as we evaluate any available options for those unique routes.
We do, however, have available routes outside Russia, which allow us to continually operate the ORD-DEL and EWR-DEL routes.
We may have additional adjustments to our flight schedule for India in the days ahead as the situation develops, but we remain in close communication with our crews in India.”
While it is unclear how travellers booked to fly on the EWR-BOM, SFO-DEL, and other routes will be affected, they should be able to seek a refund, reschedule, or rebook on United’s existing operations into India (ORD-DEL or EWR-DEL and v.v.).
United will temporarily cancel flights from San Francisco to Delhi and Newark to Mumbai as it seeks to figure out how to run those routes without passing through Russian airspace. Travellers may have already been rebooked by United in the meanwhile, or they can contact United for a more convenient route if this does not work for them.
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