Nearly every country in the world can be directly accessed by flight. With close to 42,000 airports around the world, only a handful of countries – such as Andorra, Monaco, and Vatican City – do not have airports. Still, there are no direct connections between some popular city pairs.
Of the top 10 largest unserved routes by passenger volume, eight either start or end in North America. In fact, the two largest routes, catering to almost 200,000 passengers between August 2021 and July 2022, end in North America.
Photo: Getty Images
Other significant routes that include the US are Los Angeles – Yerevan, which serve the significant expatriate Armenian community, and Toronto – Tehran, with close to 82,000 passengers traveling indirectly over a 12-month period.
The longest unserved route on the list is Ho Chi Minh City – Los Angeles, at 8,169 mi (13,147 km); while the shortest is Taipei – Jeju, a 662-mi (1,065 km) route.
Note: there will be direct flights between Taipei and Jeju by the end of November, operated by Tigerair Taiwan.
Quito and New York John F Kennedy International Airport (UIO – JFK)
San Francisco de Quito is Ecuador’s capital and most populous city. The city’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport is among the busiest airports in South America. Yet, there are no direct flights to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, which is located 2,820 mi (4,538 km) away.
Despite having more than enough passengers to potentially sustain a direct service, coupled with strong bilateral ties between Ecuador and the United States (Ecuador was fully dollarized in 2000), there are no airlines serving the route between the Ecuadorian capital and the US’s most populous city.
Photo: Getty Images
All UIO-JFK flights involve at least one layover: Bogotá, Colombia (Avianca), Florida, US (jetblue), and Panama City, Panama (Copa Airlines).
Travelers looking to fly direct to JFK from Ecuador will need to depart from José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil, the country’s second most populous city. Getting from Quito to Guayaquil takes almost an hour’s flight – or over seven hours’ drive.
In the long-run, one factor that may drive increasing demand for connectivity between Quito and New York is the growing population of Ecuadorians in the US. Since 2000, the Ecuadorian-origin population in the US has increased by almost 200%.
Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles International Airport (SGN – LAX)
Despite there being a large population of Vietnamese living in the US, there were no direct flights between the countries until 2021. While ultra-long-range airliners like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 can operate the 8,169-mi (13,147 km) flight between Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles, demand for direct flights on this route may have paled in comparison to operating costs.
Travelers on this route are often tourists, relatives, or students, for whom transits are fairly inconsequential – unlike on other long-haul routes such as New York – Singapore, which serve business travelers who, due to tight schedules, are willing to pay a premium for direct flights.
For 20 years, the Southeast Asian nation’s aviation industry had been preparing to open a regular air route to the US. It was only in 2019 that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Vietnam a Category 1 rating under the agency’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program. This means the FAA now recognizes that Vietnam’s civil aviation authority meets International CiviI Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards for personnel licensing, operations, and airworthiness.
On November 4, 2021, the FAA officially granted the flag carrier, Vietnam Airlines, permission to operate non-stop commercial flight services between the two nations. Later in the month, the first flight to San Francisco took off from Ho Chi Minh City.
Since then, Vietnam Airlines has also introduced direct flights from its base in Hanoi to San Francisco. The flag carrier is rivaled on this route by Bamboo Airways, an up-and-coming airline that has grown rapidly since its launch in 2017.
Bamboo Airways has also obtained slots with plans to connect Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles, so layovers may soon be a thing of the past for passengers on this unserved route.
London Heathrow Airport and Kathmandu (LHR – KTM)
London Heathrow recently regained its crown as the Busiest Airport in Europe, after dropping to tenth place last year due to the pandemic. Still, there are no direct flights from this busy hub to Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Photo: Getty Images
However, considering there are no direct flights to Kathmandu from anywhere in Europe (except Turkey), the US, and Australia, this comes as no surprise. Traveling to Nepal usually requires a layover in Asia or the Middle East.
Most travelers from Europe will have to transit via Doha, Dubai, or Oman. Some might choose to fly to other Asian countries, such as India, Malaysia, or Thailand, before taking a connecting flight to Nepal. Additionally, because Nepal is a landlocked country, many adventurous travelers opt to cross its border via bus from neighboring India – a much cheaper alternative to flying.
The LHR – KTM route is served by major airlines, including Emirates (flydubai interline), Turkish Airlines, and Kuwait Airways, with layovers in Dubai, Istanbul, and Kuwait City, respectively.
Nepal’s flag carrier, Nepal Airlines, flies to only 10 international destinations, all of which are in Asia and the Middle East. Another Nepalese airline, Himalaya Airlines, flies to 12 international destinations, serving several of the same routes as Nepal Airlines.
Unlike developments in the SGN-LAX route, the 4,582-mi (7,374 km) direct route between London and Kathmandu may remain unserved in the near future.
Opportunities for growth
While these popular routes remain unserved, air travel has allowed us to reach some of the most remote locations in the world. As technological advancements and the demand for air travel continue to spur global air connectivity, the list of unserved routes will eventually diminish.
Until then, close to a million yearly passengers traveling on these 10 largest unserved routes will have to continue flying with stopovers.