United Airlines aims to lure Australians back to the US with local beers, partnership with Virgin Australia

Aussie craft brew Beach Beer Bondi on board, investing in fuels made from trash, a heap of new destinations and a partnership with Virgin Australia … America's United Airlines is making an unprecedented play for Australians' business.

And after it became the only US company to continue daily passenger flights to, and from, Australia during the pandemic, and made a lauded stand on the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations, it feels it's in pole position.

"The Australian market is extremely important to us and that's exemplified by the way we continued to fly throughout the pandemic which we felt, as the US's flagship airline, was the right thing to do," said Luc Bondar, United's president of MileagePlus and vice-president of marketing and loyalty, who happens to hail from Adelaide.

"It was important for the business and customers and communities we service and we adapted to the lack of passengers by flying more cargo, PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] and even vaccines between some of our markets. It was important to keep the world moving in terms of trade and the global supply chain and we knew if we didn't continue flying it would cut Australia off from North America and that would create negative knock-on effects."

United Airlines has now signed a partnership with Virgin Australia after the previous agreement between the Australian airline and US carrier Delta faltered during the pandemic. It means daily flights between Sydney and San Francisco and LA will take place either on United's fleet of Dreamliners or the larger Boeing 777s, depending on demand for seats.

There could be special offers launched too in order to keep the planes as full as possible, as well as advertising campaigns – once travel frees up from Omicron – to lure Australians back to the US, traditionally one of our favourite destinations.

As a member of the world's biggest loyalty program, the Star Alliance, and with a huge network of domestic flights around the US on an upgraded fleet, Mr Bondar is convinced Australians will embrace the airline, particularly for that unbroken COVID service.

At one point, United even flew Queensland frozen beef products from Sydney to California for processing into bovine materials used for potentially life-saving heart transplants.

"Australians have always been great travellers and I think the pandemic has made everyone sit up and realise that life is short and they need to get out and see the world," Mr Bondar said. "We have a commitment to welcome Australians back to the US.

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"We're now seeing a growth in the leisure market, mostly at the moment for people going to visit family and friends, but we're expecting it to grow more later. During the pandemic, the world has grown further apart, with borders going up and quarantine and vaccination restraints, but we feel a responsibility to reconnect people and unite the world."

To celebrate the new tie-in, Australian craft beer Beach Beer Bondi XPA will be served on all direct flights between the two nations, and there will be no change fees for all economy and premium tickets for travel within the US.

United's upgrade of its planes also means they'll have larger overhead bins for luggage, seatback entertainment for every seat and Wi-Fi, while there are new routes now being launched to southern Europe and Scandinavia.

The company also aims to be a world-leader in sustainable travel by investing in sustainable aviation fuels – from rubbish, hydrocarbon and electricity – and being carbon-zero by 2050. In addition, it funds special flying academies to improve diversity and increase the number of female pilots and pilots of colour, and was the first US airline to make a public stand supporting vaccination, and mandating them for employees.

"Once upon a time, United Airline was one of the great iconic brands in aviation," Mr Bondar said. "Now we are back on the trajectory of being the best airline in the history of aviation."

See also: First class makes a comeback as A380s return to the skies

See also: World's safest airlines named as Qantas drops in rankings

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