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The trans-Pacific run between Melbourne and Los Angeles was probably not anybody’s guess for the inaugural route of United Airlines’ first Boeing 787-9, but the airline says it’s all part of a plan to bolster its share of the Australian market.
“This is part of a larger business plan that we have for Australia, and one we have been working on for quite a long time now” Matt Miller, United’s Managing Director, Japan and Pacific Sales, tells Australian Business Traveller.
The Boeing 787-9’s move onto Melbourne-LA from October 28th also upgrades it to a direct route compared to today's time-consuming and just plain bothersome Sydney stop-over.
This gives the US carrier three direct services between Australia and the US west coast, allowing United to take on Qantas and Virgin Australia, plus US competitor Delta from Sydney.
(It also remains the only airline flying direct from Sydney to San Francisco since Qantas axed its San Fran service in May 2011.)
“Melbourne to LA is a market that we have wanted to serve non-stop for many years” Miller says, describing the route as “a perfect fit for the Boeing 787-9. It’s the right size, the right range and the right economics.”
So why not Sydney for the Dreamliner’s debut?
“We wanted consistency in our product out of Sydney if you’re flying to either LA or San Francisco” Miller explains.
“We also heard that the three-cabin Boeing 747 aircraft with first class which we’re flying today day was still important for Sydney, so we maintain that same three-class configuration in the Boeing 777.”
“And the majority of customers we’re flying out of Melbourne are going to LA, so we want to capitalise on that.”
Miller hopes the Melbourne-Los Angeles service will be bumped up from the initial six flights a week to daily status next year when United takes delivery of more Boeing 787-9s.
“As soon as we continue to take more of the 787-9s we will up it to a daily service” Miller says. “We’re looking to do that sometime in 2015, that’s our goal.”
Replacing the Boeing 747s which currently run between Sydney and the US with Boeing 777s from April 1st is another element in United’s overhaul of its Aussie routes.
Miller is well aware that the Boeing 747’s track record for delays and cancellations out of Sydney is a sore point with business travellers.
“I’ll certainly admit that we’ve had some challenges with the 747 but the 777 is going to be a great plane for Sydney” he affirms.
“The 777-200 is the backbone of our long-haul international services all around the world and we have leading on-time statistics in the countries we’re using this aircraft, so we’re really confident that it’s going to exceed expectations, especially in terms of reliability.”
Sydney flights re-timed
When Melbourne goes direct to Los Angeles from October 28 and loses its ‘tag’ flight to Sydney, United will adjust the schedule for both Sydney flights.
“We’ll retime these flights for an earlier departure out of Sydney, which means an earlier arrival on the west coast and easier connections to New York and the rest of the east coast, to get you there before dinner time” Miller says.
“That’s something we’re not able to do today when you’re waiting for that Melbourne flight to come up and connect with Sydney.”
While United is “still working through” the revised schedule, the flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco will probably be staggered “to give our customers more of a choice.”
“We’ll probably have one that turns around on arrival (from the US) and goes back in the morning, and another one leaving an hour or two later” Miller expects.
However, Miller is non-committal on the prospects of the direct Houston-Auckland route which United had previously tagged for the Boeing 787’s debut.
“We do have a very large customer base in New Zealand and now we’ll be able to serve them via Sydney or Melbourne direct to the west coast, so the situation is a little bit different then it originally was when we looked at Houston to Auckland.”
“But Houston is still a really important hub for us, and Auckland is as well, so we’ll continue to look at that.”
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