United Airlines is adding new flights between Chicago and two European cities, as the carrier eyes the return of international travel.

The two Chicago routes are part of a major trans-Atlantic expansion by United, which plans this spring to begin new or expanded service to multiple international cities and vacation destinations. That includes new service to Amman, Jordan; Bergen, Norway; the Azores and the Canary Islands, among others. Destinations that will get expanded service include Dublin and Frankfurt.

In Chicago, daily flights began this week to Zurich. The route was initially set to begin in March 2020, but was put on hold because of the pandemic.

The Boeing 767-300 aircraft that are flying the 9-hour route have extra space devoted to business class seats. The flight is intended to cater to both business travelers trying to reach the European financial center and leisure travelers, United executives said in a news release.

On May 6, United will also begin daily flights between Chicago and Milan. The airline currently flies between Milan and New York.

The new flights, announced in October, come as United anticipates the further return of international travel as pandemic restrictions ease. Along with business flights, international travel was especially hard hit during the pandemic.

United Airlines said last week it was “seeing indications that business travel is rapidly returning” and expects more upticks in international travel.

“This is really kind of the coming-out party for the real return of business travel and international travel in this quarter,” CEO Scott Kirby told analysts during an earnings call. “We are in the first inning of that recovery.”

The comments came as the carrier reported it expected to return to profitability in the current quarter, after a first quarter loss of $1.38 billion. United is still running fewer flights than pre-pandemic, but said it has reopened lounges, resumed more than a dozen international routes and restarted service to six cities that hadn’t been served since before the pandemic.

United executives also said they were pleased mask requirements had ended for airports, domestic flights and some international flights, depending on the arrival country’s mask rules. They called for an end to preflight COVID-19 test requirements, and said the elimination of those rules could make travel easier.

“While travel demand is surging, we believe eliminating these requirements will ease the travel experience for our customers,” United President Brett Hart said.

International business travel was increasing, and the airline expected good trans-Atlantic business travel levels compared with 2019, Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Nocella said. It hasn’t seen meaningful recovery in business travel to Asia.

While many of the new and expanded routes set to begin in the coming weeks are geared toward vacationers, some of the routes are targeted specifically toward business travelers, said Patrick Quayle, United’s vice president of international network. That includes the new Chicago-Zurich flight, and a route between Denver and Munich, he said.

“We are seeing strong demand and strong pickup for those flights,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed

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