With Qantas cutting its flights to San Francisco, business travellers from Australia to the Bay Area have been left scrambling to find decent alternatives.
Although Qantas is pushing flights via Los Angeles on its partner American Airlines, anyone who has connected through LAX -- voted world's third-worst airport in the Zagat 2010 airport rankings -- will agree that it's an airport to avoid.
Australian Business Traveller has been poring over route maps and flight schedules to find the best options for you: direct from Sydney to SFO on United, or connecting on other airlines via Auckland, Honolulu or Vancouver.
We did also look at connecting via Asia, but it takes significantly longer. A more comfortable seat -- even Cathay Pacific's new business class -- isn't enough to keep us on a plane for an extra ten hours compared with United, eight hours more than connecting in Hawai'i, or six hours more than via Auckland.
The difference in distance between connecting in Auckland, Honolulu or Vancouver is less than 650 km, so the connection times and service levels will be key to picking a route.
United (direct Sydney-San Francisco)
The only direct flight from Australia to San Francisco will now be on United Airlines. UA870 leaves Sydney at 1445 and arrives in San Francisco at 1101 the same day (thanks to crossing the International Date Line). In the other direction, UA863 leaves SFO at 2250 and arrives into SYD at 0625 two days later.
- direct flight: faster, less connection hassle and no connection unreliability
- United's business class seats are good
- Flying economy? Too bad -- United's own CEO admits his 747 economy class between Sydney and San Francisco is "unacceptable".
Connecting on Air New Zealand via Auckland is our best recommendation for anyone not flying from Sydney, for premium economy and for business class.
- flights to Auckland from Adelaide, Cairns, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth, Sydney
- Air New Zealand's new long-haul seats are fantastic, although they'll be rolled out to SFO when older aircraft are refurbished
- Even the older seats are great in business and pretty good in premium economy
- Koru Lounge in Auckland is excellent
- two backup options via LAX if the SFO flight is delayed
- Air New Zealand's trans-Tasman service on A320s has no business class
Connecting via Honolulu on a handful of airlines is our best recommendation for anyone heading for Silicon Valley, Oakland or the East Bay area.
- flights to Honolulu on Hawaiian, Jetstar and Qantas
- direct flights to San Jose (for Silicon Valley) and Oakland (for East Bay) on Hawaiian can cut travel time in SFO
- connection time on Hawaiian in Honolulu is two hours or less
- flights to San Francisco on American, Hawaiian, Delta, United
- multiple onward connection options give some schedule redundancy
- layover in Hawai'i -- aloha long weekend!
- layover in Hawai'i -- apart from Hawaiian, connections aren't planned, so timings aren't particularly convenient
- flights to Honolulu only depart from Sydney, and not all airlines fly to Honolulu every day
- Honolulu-US leg on US domestic aircraft with domestic seats and service
Business travellers not familiar with Hawaiian Airlines will be interested to learn that they can earn miles on American Airlines, Continental, Delta, United, US Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Blue by flying on Hawaiian.
Connecting on Air Canada via Vancouver is good for business class seats and miles better than going via LAX, but is otherwise firmly in third place.
- Air Canada has good business class seats (in diagonal pod style)
- no faster than going via LAX
- the flight to Vancouver only departs from Sydney
- only one daily flight to Vancouver with no backup option
The extra time to connect through East and Southeast Asian hubs is a dealbreaker for us, since options with less flight time are available.
However, connection options are available through major Asian hubs:
- Beijing: Air China
- Hong Kong: Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines
- Manila: Philippine Airlines
- Seoul: Asiana, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines
- Singapore: Singapore Airlines
- Taipei: China Airlines, EVA Air
- Tokyo: ANA, Japan Airlines
Which of our options would you pick? Or would you pick United, or even choose to travel via LAX?