United Airlines is taking off with around-the-world flights similar to those once flown by aviation pioneer Pan Am, but analysts question the need for such service in the era of global mega-carriers.
United will link its vast Atlantic and Pacific networks with new service through New Delhi beginning Feb. 10, as it launches the globe-spanning flights United One, going westbound, and United Two, going eastbound.
"This single, round-the-world flight represents the crown jewel in United's global schedule," Chairman Stephen M. Wolf said Wednesday.
Pan American World Airways began offering such flights in 1947 but abandoned them about a decade ago when the now-defunct airline fell on hard times and began selling off its prized international routes, many of them to United.
London airline analysts dismissed United's announcement as little more than a marketing ploy based on an outdated image of the romanticism of air travel.
"What's the point?" asked James C. Halstead, a securities analyst who follows airlines for the financial house of Hoare Govett. "The last time we really saw this was Pan Am . . . as they expanded their network. It's now irrelevant."
Passengers will pay between $2,241 for economy seats and $4,159 for first class if they embark from the United States on United's new flights, according to a United spokesman who said the prices would likely fall later. Passengers leaving from London pay more, from $2,944 to $7,033.
Jerry Bridge, owner of Bridge the World Travel Centre in London, said he can route people around the globe for about a third less while giving them many more choices on the cities they visit.
"I'm not knocking any new deal United may be putting out, and as far as I'm concerned it's great news, but they're not going to sell a lot through travel specialists," Bridge said.
The eastbound journey takes 39 hours and 41 minutes--give or take a few minutes--including 11 hours and 19 minutes of layover time in some of the world's busiest airports.
Going west, a traveler would take 47 hours, with 13 hours of layover time.
United is not counting on people taking in the whole world at once. Leisure travelers are expected to spend at least several days in each destination.
Frequent fliers would chalk up 19,717 miles by spanning the globe.