United Airlines launched its first non-stop Melbourne-Los Angeles flights with a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner - the longest Dreamliner route in the world - with a cake and ribbon-cutting ceremony at Melbourne Airport on Tuesday.
Passengers were greeted with red, white and blue balloons upon check-in and invited to join executives from United, Melbourne Airport, Boeing and Los Angeles Tourism for champagne and cake to celebrate the new flights. Each passenger was also given a certificate to mark the occasion.
The stretch version of the Dreamliner seats 252 passengers, with 48 in business class and 204 in economy - including 88 "economy plus" seats with added legroom and extra personal space.
United senior vice president of sales Dave Hilfman, who arrived in Melbourne on Tuesday on the westbound flight from Los Angeles, said the new route was a sign of the airline's ongoing commitment to the Australian market.
"We're excited to offer Melbourne passengers a non-stop service to our Los Angeles hub for the first time and to deliver a new level of in-flight comfort to our passengers with the 787-9 Dreamliner," he said.
United had previously served the Melbourne-Los Angeles route via Sydney. As a result of the new Melbourne flight, United has retimed its Sydney departures to Los Angeles and San Francisco to offer a greater range of connections for passengers.
Mr Hilfman said some of the most popular cities beyond Los Angeles included New York, Chicago and Denver. The new flight will offer one-stop connections to more than 37 cities.
United will fly six return flights a week on the Melbourne-Los Angeles route until March, when it will become a daily flight. Its entry into the route comes after Virgin Australia pulled out of its three weekly Melbourne-Los Angeles flights from Sunday to allow it to offer daily Brisbane-Los Angeles services.
Qantas Airways will boost its flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles to 10 weekly returns from seven in January.
Until mid-November, United will use a slightly smaller 787-8 on the Melbourne-Los Angeles route for three days a week due to aircraft availability issues. Melbourne-Los Angeles is the airline's first 787-9 international route.
The writer travelled to Melbourne as a guest of United Airlines.