aviation industry

More routes to the US: United’s first direct US-Manila flight lands in Philippines

Lance Spencer Yu

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More routes to the US: United’s first direct US-Manila flight lands in Philippines

MAIDEN FLIGHT. United's pilots and crew pose with US and Philippine flags to mark the arrival of the airline's first flight between San Francisco and Manila on October 30, 2023.

United Airlines

With the opening of United’s route, passengers traveling between the Philippines and US now have more choices of airlines to fly with, though they may not necessarily be cheaper

MANILA, Philippines – United Airlines (United) flight UA-191 landed in Manila early Monday morning, October 30, marking the first-ever nonstop flight by a United States carrier from continental US to the Philippines.

The flight, which had a full passenger and cargo load, arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 at 5:20 am, carrying 325 passengers. The next flight back to San Francisco with 334 passengers was scheduled to depart from Manila at 9:55 am, Monday with the estimated time of arrival in the US at 7:20 am, Monday.

“The San Francisco-Manila flight is indeed the first time a US airline has flown between the US mainland and the Philippines, Manila. So, we are just really, really pleased to be high in the air and to be leading this new service,” Marcel Fuchs, United’s managing director of international sales, told reporters on Monday.

Here is the schedule of United’s flights:

FlightDeparture timeArrival time
UA190Manila – 9:55 amSan Francisco – 6:20 am
UA191San Francisco – 11:35 pmManila – 6:50 am

The daily nonstop flights will be operated using a Boeing 777-300ER, the airline’s largest aircraft. The plane has 60 seats in the United Polaris business cabin, 24 seats in the United Premium Plus cabin, and 266 seats in the United Economy cabin. Passengers on the 15-hour flight will also be served Filipino-inspired meals.

The team na nag-create ng menu for this flight is headed by a Filipino kaya our customers can expect to enjoy Filipino dishes – heavy sa rice,” Pam Navarro, United’s country manager for Philippine sales, told Rappler.

(The team that created the menu for this flight is headed by a Filipino so our customers can expect to enjoy Filipino dishes – heavy on rice.)

The Manila route marks United’s 16th non-stop destination from the US to the Asia-Pacific region. Earlier, on October 28, United also launched more routes to Hong Kong and Tokyo (Narita), Japan.

Asked whether United has considered opening more Philippine routes, Fuchs said there were no specific plans yet, although the current route seems to be doing well.

“This is the first day we started our service, and clearly we are convinced that this service will do well, but it probably wouldn’t be the right opportunity today to speculate about additional services,” Fuchs said. 

“We got to make Manila-San Francisco work. Everything we see – from the support of the travel, trade, and business community – would suggest that we’re going to be successful in this market.”

More airline choices for US travelers

The US hosts one of the largest communities of overseas Filipinos, with remittances from the country accounting for 41.2% of all cash remittances. Filipinos who have permanently migrated to the US, and those who work there temporarily often travel between the Philippines and the US. 

With the opening of the United route, passengers traveling between the Philippines and continental US now have more choices of airlines to fly with. US Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson said that United’s flight would be the “first of many more air links between our countries.”

“President Biden talked about the importance when he met with President Marcos back in May, elevating our people-to-people ties, including through air transport. And we’re very excited to be here today to inaugurate this first-ever transpacific flight by a US carrier,” Carlson told reporters.

United will be competing against Philippine Airlines (PAL), which also operates the following routes from Manila to these US destinations: double daily flights to Los Angeles, daily flights to San Francisco and Guam, and several weekly flights to New York and Honolulu.

In a statement released back in July, around the same time that United’s route was first announced, PAL said that it “welcomes additional competition on transpacific routes.” 

On the part of United, it said it would compete with the Philippines’ flag carrier through customer service and route network. Lower fares, however, might not be its edge.

“We want to be competitive in the market, but you’ll find that we’re not going to lead with our pricing points because our customer service, our product, has an outstanding value,” Fuchs said.

A quick comparison of prices for a roundtrip direct economy flight for one adult with a departure on December 5 and return on December 12 shows that both airlines have comparable prices, with a PAL flight at $2,139 and a United flight at $2,160.

Besides United and PAL, Cebu Pacific previously operated a Manila–Guam route, which was discontinued in 2019. The low-cost carrier confirmed with Rappler that it currently has no plans to reopen a route to the US. – Rappler.com

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.