Qantas, Virgin Australia remain soft on San Francisco

By David Flynn, May 20 2015
Qantas, Virgin Australia remain soft on San Francisco

United Airlines looks set to retain its monopoly on flights from Sydney to San Francisco for some time, with neither Qantas or Virgin Australia eager to add Fog City to their respective network maps.

Qantas shuttered its San Fran service in May 2011 in favour of a new direct flight to Dallas/Fort Worth hub of partner American Airlines in order to funnel travellers onto the American's network for flights to the US east coast.

At the time, a Qantas spokesman told Australian Business Traveller that the popular direct Sydney-San Francisco service "has not been a failure from a route perspective, but from a strategic growth perspective for Qantas, DFW is the better plan for the future."

That decision's been borne out in the years since, with the route proving so successful that it was last year upgraded from a Boeing 747 to the airline's flagship Airbus A380 superjumbo.

VA says no to SFO

And while Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti says he's looked at the route, it's not on the radar.

"What we need to remember is that there are two types of people who go to the west coast" Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller earlier this year: "the ones that stay on the west coast and the ones that move on."

"Now the ones that move on need good connections, and there's no point in us going to San Francisco when it's a United hub and Virgin America has only a limited network out of there, you're certainly not going to hit the 200+ cities like you can out of LAX with Delta and where where we also have Virgin America."

"So Los Angeles works very well for us, particularly now that we've moved to the new Tom Bradley terminal, which is amazing."

San Fran fans and Silicon Valley-bounded travellers remain hopeful that Qantas' impending order for the Boeing 787-9 – which some expect to be announced later this year – could see a Dreamliner rostered onto the route from 2017.

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David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Until the Australian airlines get their act together I will continue to hop across to AKL and take AirNZ to SFO.  I can't help but feel that Qantas and Virgin Australia are missing out though, and actually I've always found Virgin America quite good from SFO. They fly direct to New York, Las Vegas, Seattle and countless other major cities in the US.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Oct 2012

Total posts 9

Out of curiosity, what's the difference between SYD (assumed) - AKL - SFO and SYD - LAX - SFO ... they're both one stop over? Or is it because LAX - SFO is too short a flight?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Nov 2011

Total posts 122

I'd say connecting in AKL is much better than doing the shuffle through LAX... Going through TBIT last month was nicer overall, the time it took to be processed through Immigration made the connection times needed much longer than say going through AKL.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Oct 2012

Total posts 9

Oh I forgot about that! After going through Immigration at LAX last month ... I now understand exactly what you mean!!

I avoid LA where possble. And the AirNZ Premium Economy spaceseats are awesome.

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 738

Well, you gotta go through US immigration eventually. With the new Bradley terminal I don't think it takes any longer at LAX than at SFO on average. It's now a partly-automated procedure... though the automation just seems to add an extra step, you still need to get into a second line to talk to some surly dude.

The domestic terminals you'll wind up schlepping your way to aren't nearly as nice as the AKL terminal. But then again, AKL means more time in the air.

I've done the AKL route a bunch of times now, but I tried the LAX route last month and I'm starting to be convinced of the LAX route's wisdom. I'm not overly fussed though and would definitely take AKL again if I can get a decent price on NZ premium economy. In regular economy, though, I'll no longer fly NZ since they "upgraded" to a 10-abreast config.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 457

Another one and this is one I cannot speak highly of is Via HNL do your US Immigration there and continue onwards to the US West Coast there and that is Hawaiian Airlines.Granted unlike UA It is a one stop option but you have the advantage of getting onwards TO San Francisco at a Sensible Hour.From Memory You had Continental,United and American when they existed on the service from Australia to Honolulu offer such options.The arrival of the 747-400 CHANGED ALL THAT.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Sep 2012

Total posts 132

Actually, SYD-LAX-SFO is now great with QF/AA.

TBIT arrivals is now less painless with the electronic kiosks on arrival. Baggage is now good. Brief fresh air walk from TBIT to T4, and the AA Lounge at LAX for WP's is rather acceptible. 

A couple of hours refresh in LAX is pretty good after the 14 hours from SYD.

Coming back is even nicer. The SFO AA Lounge is ok for a non OW hub, and one now gets the FLounge at LAX. 

Win Win! 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

31 Jan 2012

Total posts 107

remember the stake NZ his in VA they wouldnt compete againts them

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1251

Yeah, Qantas doesn't have any spare planes to launch a new route. A 787 would be a good plane for that route. 

17 Feb 2015

Total posts 6

It'd be awesome if VA could fly into ATL at some point.. Would be great to have access to such a huge DL hub and Hotlanta makes a fun stopover city.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 341

I don't think VA have a plane that can manage the 14,900km flight from Sydney to Atlanta mate.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Mar 2015

Total posts 19

It will be interesting to see where/if the VIrgin and Delta alliance expands. Obviously it could be all a pipe dream, but with Delta wanting to expand Seattle and also the possibility of them to tap into the departure by VA from Melbourne, it will be great to see an expansion of the "Widget" Down Under. 

This is disappointing.

I hate LAX. TBIT may have been upgraded but having to change terminals to connect to a domestic flight is a REAL pain in the butt when in LAX. LAX's other terminals are generally atrocious, etc.

LAX is Virgin America's secondary hub and most of Virgin America's routes can be accessed via LAX as well, so VAus doesn't really need to go to SFO to plug into most of VAm's network. I get that. However, if VAus ever gets Dreamliners I would like to see a service to SFO. It would probably not be a daily service but alternating between BNE/SYD/MEL on different days would perhaps be doable and provide a less painful alternative to LAX.

As for Qantas, well they could use Cathay Pacific's lounge at SFO and put a Dreamliner on that route. Sure, DFW has the advantage of plugging into AA's network and opening up a lot of other potential destinations in the South, I get that, but SFO as a secondary route seems more than possible with a 787.

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1251

I think that's the point. Qantas can't do anything with SFO atm as they have no spare capacity. They can hardly say we will launch SFO with a 787 when they are still negotiating with their unions before actually actioning their options. They would lose a bargaining chip.

I suspect that QF's return to SFO a few times a week will happen one day...

As for VA, I doubt we will see any international long-haul growth any time soon. They seem pretty happy to work off their 'virtual network'.

You're right, that's very true regarding Qantas' capacity issues. With the A330s being retrofitted (and I don't think A330s have sufficient range for trans-pacific anyway), its obvious that apart from the flights to London-via-Dubai, LA, and Dallas, they won't be able to service the route at all until Dreamliners are in the fleet.

Plus the union issue also makes things difficult. The negotiation process will take time.

At least there's the possibility of QF returning to SFO. I hope it happens.

As for VA's growth, it does seem they're happy partnering with Etihad on Europe/North Africa routes, and Delta on American routes. Asia's a huge gap in their network though... I guess they don't want to compete with Singapore Airlines (due to the partial ownership) or Qantas too aggressively, however I think with modern aircraft they'd be able to launch perhaps a route to Hong Kong (where they wouldn't be competing with any of their partial owners).  But on the other hand, maybe they're happy to just let Qantas and the Asian airlines cater to that (a reasonable choice I think).


07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1251

A330's aren't a vailable option from Australia non-stop. QF used to do SYD>AKL>LAX in an A330.

They won't need all the 787's to start a SFO route. QF is likely to keep the 9 refurb 747's for another 5 years or so.. the routes they fly may change though. But you'd suspect that SCL, JNB, HND and YVR are routes that may remain with the 747 in the short/medium term. HKG maybe too?

I suspect the 787's (if actioned) will be used for a mixture of current and growth routes. Further penetration of DFW comes to mind. As does SFO.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 457

I was thinking they could extend the QF3 AND QF4 like the old days onto San Francisco.Using the A330 even if it means from Honolulu back to Sydney on the return journey leaving there after midnight to get back between 7 and 9am dependent on time of year.

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1251

What does that achieve for them?

No local pick up rights. You'll need to reserve some seats for SFO bound passengers (hence reduce seats for HNL passengers) and then fly a less than full plane between HNL-SFO... and it's still one stop! 

SFO must be served non-stop to be competitive.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 457

I must be thinking of an old promotion ad I saw somewhere of fly Qantas 747B instead of Panam 747sp dating back to the seventies or eighties and all it's advantages.I will be keen in this day and age if and when they do the same thing but with QF using a 787 and UA using an A350 nonstop if more or less the same kind of promotion will exist.

11 Feb 2015

Total posts 1

I'd like to see Qantas do a BNE-SFO service in the new 787. Would be a great route and I'm sure United is considering it from their hub in SFO.

14 Apr 2014

Total posts 46

Not sure if they'll consider BNE-SFO if they're soft on SYD-SFO. United can launch it profitably because it has the huge domestic network out of SFO where they can generate feed, but since AA only has a few routes, Qantas can only operate to SFO with O&D traffic, therefore making it less important.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Feb 2015

Total posts 20

Here's an idea virgin America could by some 787's and add competition though they would have to change to a full service for that flight 

12 Jun 2013

Total posts 738

That's a pretty random idea, on the par with "Here's an idea, *you* could start an airline!"

11 Feb 2016

Total posts 15

Shame about Virgin's attitudes toward SFO. They would have extensive onward connections with Delta and Virgin America through SFO (newsflash: folks in the middle of nowhere aren't flying to Australia en masse, so there's little value to "200+" destinations). I'm another person who avoids LAX, so I'll continue to fly Qantas from SFO > SYD for my trips to Melbourne. I do think Virgin would do well to offer flights to alternating destinations throughout the week.

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