United Airlines eye Lagos, Nigeria touch down to capture diasporas in diversity push

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New York stock exchange listed United Airlines Holdings Inc. is planning new nonstop flights from Lagos Nigeria to India to serve customers visiting diaspora visitors including friends and relatives, as the carrier revamps an international network beset by weak business traffic.

Destinations such as Lagos, Nigeria, and Bangalore, India, will focus on large diasporas living in the U.S. and will give United greater network diversity, said Patrick Quayle, vice president of international network and alliances. Traffic from trips to see friends and family has withstood the coronavirus pandemic better than other segments, particularly corporate travel, he said.

“It’s us rebuilding our network in a new way,” Quayle said. “We’re not just going to put the chess pieces back on the board the way they used to be.”

Most of the new routes reflect United’s plans for a smaller North Atlantic schedule in summer 2021, given heavy travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. and European governments. The airline expects that its European schedule next summer will largely reflect the capacity it has deployed this fall, Quayle said. Internationally, United will fly about 40% of its 2019 schedule next month.

Next year, United plans new service three times a week from Washington to Lagos and to Accra, Ghana, as well as a new daily flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Johannesburg. That flight will complement seasonal service from Newark to Cape Town that United began in December 2019.

Delta Air Lines Inc. serves Johannesburg nonstop from Atlanta and both Accra and Lagos from New York’s John F. Kennedy International. In October, Delta will add a seasonal one-stop Cape Town flight on its service from Johannesburg to Atlanta. State-owned South African Airways is insolvent and hasn’t operated for more than five months.

Meanwhile Nigeria reopened its airports for international flights from Aug. 29, its aviation minister said on Monday.

The airports have been closed since March 23 to all but essential international flights as part of the country’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika said four flights would begin landing daily in Lagos, and four in Abuja, with strict protocols. He did not say where they would be coming from.

“It is safe to fly, if we observe all those protocols in place,” Sirika said at a briefing in Abuja.

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