United Airlines is gearing up for a return for direct flights between Melbourne and the USA, with San Francisco first to appear on the departures board from 5 June - a slight delay from the originally pencilled date of May 10.
While the Star Alliance carrier's return to Melbourne will see the maiden service fly on a Sunday, the regular schedule going forward will see the 14.5-hour journey operate to Fog City on the more regular schedule of three times weekly on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
Flight UA61 will lift off from Tullamarine Airport at 9:30am, navigating across the Pacific to touch down just after 7am on the same day. The return journey takes wing at 10:45pm, descending into the Victorian capital at 7:30am two days later.
The newly restored link between Melbourne and San Francisco builds on the existing daily flights from Sydney which resumed in February.
The route will feature the modern Boeing 787 Dreamliner – the ticket to a quiet, comfortable and jetlag-diminishing ride across the Pacific – fitted with United’s latest Polaris business class seats.
Those seats adopt a 1-2-1 layout so every passenger enjoys direct access to the aisle, along with plenty of personal space and of course a fully flat bed for the overnight portion of the 14-15 hour journey.
Also making their debut on the route: United’s Premium Plus premium economy, set in its own cosy cabin of 21 seats (three rows of 2-3-2) with added legroom and seat recline plus upgraded meals, which all lift the experience a few notches above economy.
Putting Melbourne-San Francisco back onto its timetable gives United a slight leadtime advantage over Qantas, which has pushed back the return of its own Sydney-San Francisco service to late July and is yet to share when the Melbourne and Brisbane flights will resume.
A Qantas spokesperson told Executive Traveller the airline was “continually reviewing opportunities as demand comes back”.
United also plans to restart its flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles and Sydney to Houston later this year, the airline’s senior vice president of international network and alliances, Patrick Quayle, told Executive Traveller.
Those three cities will unlock the carrier’s ‘triple gateway’ for onwards flights offering one-stop service to other points on the United network – a factor which helped cement United Airlines as Virgin Australia’s new US partner as of April, replacing Delta Air Lines with its sole Sydney-LAX route.
“That all gives Virgin customers much more travel via one stop to virtually anywhere in North or South America because of United's vast network, they’re not having to double- connect or even triple-connect,” Quayle says. “It’s a real win for Virgin.”
United Airlines will not only allow Virgin’s frequent flyers to earn Velocity points and status credits on UA flights but also offer status-based perks such as access to United Club lounges plus priority check-in, security clearance and boarding, along with opening up Velocity point redemptions on its flights.
Additional reporting by Chris Ashton.