United Airlines has confirmed new non-stop flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles as the first route for its Boeing 787-9s, the new stretch version of the Dreamliner, in a move that should please passengers on both sides of the Pacific.
It represents a major upgrade in service from the US carrier, which had already announced plans to phase out its ageing 747s which lack seat-back in-flight entertainment in economy class from April. They will be replaced by newer 777s on the Melbourne-Sydney-Los Angeles and Sydney-San Francisco routes.
United will launch the new six-day-a-week flights on October 28, subject to government approvals.
The airline's vice president and chief revenue officer Jim Compton said the new service would benefit all of United's customers in Australia.
"Our Melbourne customers will enjoy faster journeys to Los Angeles and beyond, as well as improved inflight comfort and amenities, and at the same time we will seek to make changes to our Sydney schedule which will enable faster connections via our San Francisco and Los Angeles hubs to destinations throughout the Americas," he said.
United will continue its flights between Sydney and San Francisco and Sydney and Los Angeles but will no longer offer Melbourne-Sydney connections to that flight. It is the only airline offering direct flights from Australia to San Francisco.
United will re-time its Sydney-San Francisco and Sydney-Los Angeles flights to allow for a greater range of connections beyond the hubs and more convenient arrival times for passengers travelling on connecting flights to New York and other US east coast destinations.
The move by United to add non-stop flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles and to maintain two daily flights from Sydney will increase competition on the trans-Pacific route.
Qantas Airways had last year been buoyed by United's plans to downsize from 747s to 777s, in a move that cut the US carrier's capacity by 20 per cent. But the addition of the new Melbourne-Los Angeles flight, which offers 252 seats – 48 fully flat in business class and 204 in economy, including 63 with extra legspace – will reverse that change.
The Sydney-Los Angeles route is flown twice daily by Qantas, once daily by Virgin Australia Holdings and once daily by Virgin partner Delta Air Lines.
The Melbourne-Los Angeles route includes a daily A380 flight by Qantas and three weekly flights by Virgin. The new United flight will reportedly run six days a week.
Australia is proving a popular destination for the new 787-9 aircraft, which enters service in the middle of this year. Air NZ has as chosen Auckland-Perth as its first commercial route from October, with proving flights on shorter trans-Tasman routes like Auckland-Sydney expected before that date.
- Australian Financial Review