United Airlines: why Melbourne got our first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

By David Flynn, March 10 2014
United Airlines: why Melbourne got our first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

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.”

United says first class remains popular with Sydney travellers
United says first class remains popular with Sydney travellers

“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.”

Jumbo's farewell

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.”

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT


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.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 342

I just read another story about a B787 having to make an emergency landing on Reuters. JAL flight to SFO had to divert to Honolulu because of an oil pressure issues.


Boeing have really seem to have bombed with the so called "Dreamliner"... I think Airlines are finding out the hard way that it's more like the nightmareliner.


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1513

And yet 787 sell like hot cakes – carriers in hope to save money flying plastic-fantastic and do not really care that new technologies is not yet mature.

25 Jan 2014

Total posts 9

Well this sounds like an engine issue, not an actual Boeing issue. The customer buying the plane chose what engines are installed. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has a lot of new tecnology and like the Airbus A380 there have been teething issues, which will only get better for both airlline manufacturers as the years go by, as it has been since aircraft were first built.

08 Nov 2013

Total posts 5

Recently had a short 4 hr flight on the 787 and was not impressed by the narrow and uncomfortable seats, they are truely average at best and certainly detracts from the overall experience.   My experience is that a380's seem to have a more comfortable interior closely followed by the 777 and the venerable 330.   Just sayin !!   


Air NZ Airpoints

12 Mar 2014

Total posts 36

It's great for MEL to be getting more non-stops to the US.

However, the above comment re IAH-AKL is the ultimate non-answer. How are they planning to serve the US west coast from AKL via SYD or MEL? By pax taking NZ to SYD or MEL and doubling back? Why just not take NZ direct to LAX or SFO then? Yes, the NZ long-haul economy product is increasingly cramped etc. etc., but does adding five + hours to the trip make sense?

Even more, the statement

“But Houston is still a really important hub for us, and Auckland is as well, so we’ll continue to look at that.”

is utterly nonsensical. UA doesn't serve AKL with its own metal at the moment, so how can they say AKL is important to it? Bizarre.

AKL-IAH would be a new route that would surely open many new opportunities for UA. (I for one would be a customer from day one). CO thought it was such a great opportunity they made it one of the two priority routes for the 788. Then post-merger, all of a sudden it doesn't matter any more. Bizarre heaped upon bizarre.

AusBT, please keep hassling UA re AKL-IAH!!!

09 Sep 2012

Total posts 139

They may well have "a very large customer base in Queensland and far-northern NSW" (which contains a population larger than the entire foreign country mentioned) as well" which they signally fail to mention or service.

Any "hassling" to be dome by AusBT should be directed ay this failing by United: it is AUSTRALIAN Business Traveller after all.

03 May 2012

Total posts 11

Ick! The real downside is getting from MEL to SFO means either that horrible terminal change in Sydney or the interminable immigration wait and treatment at Immigration and TSA in LAX. Pack a cut lunch and pray your baggage makes it in either case.

I really liked the current tail / leg into Melbourne. Check in at International, a straight gate change with time for leg stretch in Sydney and do Immigation at SFO, which far more civilised and faster.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 470

It doesn't have to be that way.I did the USA trip back in the days of Continental in 1989 which meant immigration was done at Honolulu prior to continuing onto the US west coast but that was quite a long time ago now.These days if you wish to avoid LAX out of Melbourne with the changes coming later this year the choice is simple really NZ to Auckland and then continue onwards to SFO.

21 Jul 2012

Total posts 128

SYD is one of the few airports that could probably justify a US pre-clearance facility (certainly more than Shannon or Abu Dhabi).

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