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Airlines’ big jets will fly U.S. routes after virus forces redeployment from China

Boeing 787
A United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner takes off from Los Angeles International Airport.
(David McNew / Getty Images)

Aviation enthusiasts take note: Look for bigger jets flying around North America over the next two months as the coronavirus forces carriers to redeploy some of their largest aircraft from suspended China routes.

The U.S. carrier with the most service to China, United Airlines, is moving 19 wide-body aircraft to mainly domestic service through April 23, when discontinued flights are expected to resume.

The mix of Boeing Co. 777s and 787s will fly one daily round-trip in most cases — such as San Francisco to Cancun, Denver to Los Angeles and Las Vegas to Chicago — and then sit the rest of the day. United will also change service on some other routes, such as Denver to Omaha, from regional aircraft to larger single-aisle planes.

A United 777-300ER has 350 seats, including 204 in economy, compared with 166 seats on a 737-800, a model United flies on many domestic routes.

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American Airlines has about a dozen Boeing 787s and 777-300ERs that are on hiatus from Asia service. The carrier said it will swap from a 777-200 to a larger 777-300ER on some flights from its Dallas-Fort Worth hub and replace Airbus A321s with 777-200s on other flights between its hubs and to Europe. Some of the larger planes also will fly to high-traffic cities such as Cancun.

United and American both said the jets may also undergo heavy maintenance or be used as spares. United may also take advantage of the lull to paint some of the planes.

Delta Air Lines said it’s redeploying nine aircraft to fly bigger jets on “select trans-Atlantic routes.” The Atlanta-based carrier declined to comment on aircraft types or city pairs. It doesn’t plan to resume service to China until May 1.

Air Canada said Tuesday that it plans to redeploy its China-service aircraft — which represent 6% of total capacity — to European routes. Executives at Canada’s largest carrier don’t expect significant pressure on fares to Europe because it’s seeing greater demand there, and because the virus’ impact on Asia is expected to be shorter term.


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