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Sep 8, 2017

United enters the long haul endurance stakes for Australia-US flights

United's non-stops between Sydney and Houston may actually be about Air NZ's ambitions to do Auckland-New York City

A United 787-8, which is also uncomfortable in economy at nine across.

A somewhat unequal contest for epic flights between America and Australia has broken out with United announcing non-stops between Sydney and Houston with daily Boeing 787-9s from January 20 next year.

Houston is slightly closer to Sydney than Dallas Fort Worth, which has become very well established as a US gateway route for Qantas, which flies it daily with Airbus A380s.

There is really no contest when it comes to passenger amenity between the much larger and better appointed Qantas airliner and that of United, and as Australian Business Traveller points out, the US carrier’s flights will apparently not feature its latest premium cabin product when this new service begins.

However, despite various controversies, such as the smashing of passenger guitars, and the dragging of a paying passenger screaming off one of its jets to make way for staff to travel, the compassionate and caring US carrier commands a broad customer base in America, where flying is character building and people are big, and tough, and happy to get screwed into the ground because it’s a freedom thang. Where Qantas, despite years of high level diplomatic representations, still gets spelled with a U at times, and gets confused with koala bears in a land where some learned folk think ‘girt by sea’ Australia is actually Austria, even though it is girt between Bavaria and South Tyrol and primarily German speaking.

Qantas also adds its brand new 787-9s to the US route mix later this year, with Melbourne-Los Angeles services and its application of further Dreamliners to Melbourne-Dallas Fort Worth flights has been widely anticipated at some later stage to augment the SYD-DFW A380s.

Unless someone starts non-stop flights between Australian cities and, let’s guess, Denver or Chicago, in the next year, Dallas Fort Worth and Houston look set to be the deepest routes into the continental US until someone like Delta or United who have A350s on order decide to acquire some of the ultra long range versions of that Airbus available from late next year, and try for Atlanta, Georgia.

Atlanta hosts the world’s largest airport, where Delta, the world’s largest airline, has America’s largest range of domestic US connections. Delta’s Australian commercial partner Virgin Australia has been silent on the need for the big American to upstage Qantas and United with a veritable shuttle service of non-stop widebodies to Atlanta.

The jet that will fly both ways non-stop between any of New York City’s airports and Sydney with a commercially viable load hasn’t been devised, as yet, despite Qantas encouraging Airbus and Boeing to go the extra thousand miles or so since late 2005. That’s 12 years of being told to ‘get lost’ by the big jet makers. Qantas deserves an award for persistence. (And it will win through, one day.)

Airbus and Boeing really need to pay more attention to what Qantas wants, which is a few billion dollars worth of additional investment by the aircraft and jet engine makers. As a reward, Qantas might need six such jets to provide customers in Melbourne and Sydney with their own daily non-stop to the big Apple. And another half dozen to do the same for London non-stops. The big jet makers just don’t get it. They could get a Qantas order for a dozen jets with a unit development cost of a mere $US half billion each.

More seriously, United’s move may well reflect an effort to minimise any future loss of traffic should Air NZ launch Auckland-New York City non-stops and thus aggregate Australia originating traffic for such a route at a much more civilised airport than would be possible at any continental US gateway short of NYC.

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32 thoughts on “United enters the long haul endurance stakes for Australia-US flights

  1. Tom the first and best

    Denver-Australia may be only seasonally viable in the snow season in the area surrounding Denver (possibly unless Australia starts successfully promoting snow holidays in its snow season to Americans).

    The economics of Chicago, Atlanta and other major airports in the USA reachable from Australia would be interesting.

    Australia-Northern/Western Europe and Australia-USA North-East are unlikely to be the only very long routes that would be viable with longer range planes. USA-South-East Asia and East Asia-South America are other potential markets. If there is long enough range available, Air NZ may even want to do Auckland-London in a single hop.

    1. Dan Dair

      Presumably ANZ will fly over the antarctic to New York.?
      That being so,? I was wondering how much further flying London would be, using a similar polar route.?

      1. Jacob HSR

        Dan Dair, you can muck around on GCmap. com to have a look. AKL is 18,354 km from LHR. A polar route would be the way to go – just east of Japan but over Russia.

        1. Tango

          Antarctic’s Polar or Artic?

        2. ghostwhowalksnz

          Airbus A340-200 did a non stop test flight from Paris to Auckland that way, polar route and then down the pacific.
          “At the Paris airshow of 1993, Airbus pulled off a show case stunt with an A340 200 called World Ranger. With extra fuel tanks and 22 people on board the aircraft lifted off just before lunch at 11:58 on 16 June 1993 and flew non-stop to Auckland, New Zealand, where it refueled and flew straight back to Paris where it arrived in time for lunch 2 days later with a flying time of 48 hours and 22 minutes. The flight broke 6 world records, including the longest non-stop flight by an airliner at 19,277 km (10,409 nm). [thats out of date now]- Modern airliners com

          1. ghostwhowalksnz

            As an addendum, the polar and then down the pacific to Australia or NZ looks to avoid paying for overflight rights that you would have going Indian ocean and then Middle east-Europe along with all the ATC delays they have.

      2. Tom the first and best

        Auckland-New York seems to be a route over Mexico and the South-East of the USA. Given that both cities are between the 40S and 45N, I think that it is unlikely a polar route would be most efficient.

        Air New Zealand`s current stopover for Auckland-London is LAX, so a polar route may be less efficient, for a few potential reasons. Weather, distance, UK Airport, politics, air traffic control costs, etc.

    2. ghostwhowalksnz

      Air NZ will never do Auckland London in a single hop. They have 5th freedom rights on LAX to Heathrow which is important source of traffic.
      Dont think Qantas is eligible for that same concession if it did decide to takes its 380s onwards from LA.

      1. Tom the first and best

        Is the Air New Zealand USA-UK 5th freedom exclusively LAX-LHR or would an extension of their planned Auckland-New York flight to London also have 5th freedom rights?

  2. Jacob HSR

    Ben, I am puzzled as to why you said nothing in May and nothing in June regarding the direct daily flights from MEL to CMB.

    You wrote an article in June about Adelaidians being able to get to LAX and SFO via Fiji. Is Ceylon not a tropical island too?

    You mention AusBT in this article. Well, AusBT wrote an article about the Colombo flights: ausbt.com.au/srilankan-airlines-to-fly-colombo-melbourne-from-october

    Sri Lankan seems to offer the cheapest tickets to London. $1000/return. The comments under the AusBT article suggest that it is a fairly good airline. What I like is the balanced legs – no leg is longer than 12 hours.

    1. comet

      Not this Colombo argument again.

    2. Ben Sandilands

      Jacob,
      It’s not my policy to join in every conversation that occurs in Plane Talking, but to provide but one of many such forums that offer to host comments. I thought you put the case for Colombo well, and that readers responded well to it whether or not they agreed in full or in part.

  3. patrick kilby

    I am not sure how traffic rights work but would a Perth-Auckland-New York QF flight work with connections from any number of East Coast cities. That would shake ANZ plans.

    1. Dan Dair

      I would have thought that Qantas could do it on 5th freedom rights,
      but IMO it makes more sense for ANZ to do it than QF.

      Surely Qantas would be better served by flying to a Western US city & then pushing-onto New York from there,?
      Or flying a number of connecting services from across Australia to Hawaii & consolidating passengers into a few US destinations, one of which would be NY.?

      1. patrick kilby

        Dan they already fly to a west coast city and push on from there. Auckland provides the advantage of being a smaller airport (and less of a hassle) as well as providing more connections such as Perth Adelaide and even Canberra all more than enough for a 789.

  4. nonscenic

    It seems to me that extra long haul flights are a marketing con to make cost cutting seem more palatable while in practice its more painful. United Airlines and a 787 configuration add to the pain. Having a stop halfway along a flight may cost a bit more for the airlines and add a few hours to the travel time but its a healthier option for both passengers and crew.

    1. Tom the first and best

      Extra long haul flights are also about competing with intermediate hub carriers by offering a service they cannot.

  5. Tango

    The reality is that there are very few super long distance non stop flights that you can do and charge.

    Singapore to NY is going to have all of 172 paying passengers on an aircraft that runs about 200 million a copy.

    I still wonder that a stop is such a big deal. Set up the stop in the right location and you can leverage to more passengers and more revenue.

    ME has been doing well with that.

    It seems the 777-8 is a more viable way to go, certainly carries a lot more passengers than an A350 at 172.

    1. Ben Sandilands

      Tango,
      Boeing has to build the 777-8. It has f*cked up the 737 MAX program for the past 10 years, produced a 748-I that couldn’t do for Qantas what a 747-400 did because of a range payload trade off, and despite voluminous b*llshit from the top, hasn’t defined nor started an MoM, an NMA or whatever. The immediate prospects of the 777-X depend on the ME3 that US carriers that haven’t ordered a single -X yet want to exclude from their major market, the jet when it happens may be as far off as 2023 (but I hope not) and the A350 URL will be available in the second half of next year. Dream on. Boeing management is still trying to sort out the freeking tanker to everyone’s satisfaction, and their preoccupation seems to be the short term share price. I’m not convinced that this management will deliver the future we both see shimmering like a mirage that keeps moving ahead of us the further we go down the highway.

    2. moa999

      The question though is – is it worth it for either Boeing or Airbus to spend the extra $$s (probably in the billions) for an aircraft that will be a low-seller. Apart from QF who will buy this aircraft over what is already planned?
      e.g. I believe the current proposed designs could do AKL-JFK for example

      1. Tom the first and best

        East Asian and South American airlines that want non-stop routes between South America and East Asia. Demand is most likely to be on China-South America routes given the growing size of the Chinese and South American business and tourist markets and transit visa requirements for Chinese Citizens (especially for the vast majority not from Special Administrative Regions) at most to all intermediate airports in the Pacific.

        1. Dan Dair

          TtF&B,
          The question on my lips is will Chinese or more particularly South American passengers be prepared to pay the premium fares for ULR flight.
          Sure you can build the aircraft, but if you can’t fill it, you won’t make any money.
          I think it’s a real issue about cost-effectiveness for the manufacturers. No sense in investing the first cent, if you’re not actually going to make more than that back in ‘all-new’ aircraft sales. (as opposed to a changed order, you’d have won anyway.?)

          and it appears, once again, that Boeing are on the back-foot, this time over ULR aircraft development.?
          Lots of talk, no substance.? where’ve I heard that before.????…. Oh yes, Boeings MoM.!

          1. Tom the first and best

            The Chinese Government may wish for their to be a direct flights to South America from Eastern China, for strategic reasons and make that happen. However they may not and maybe direct flights from Kashgar (Also known as Kashi, near the western extremity of China) may suffice, at least for parts of South America (however the longest routes would require some very long ranges as well and Africa and South-West Asia have their own political issues and flight costs).

            South American passengers have fewer transit visa requirements and so may be harder to get on longer haul flights but the balance of passengers may well be increasingly Chinese tourists and business people flying to South America, given the structure of the global economy and comparative populations.

    3. Dan Dair

      Tango,
      Ben has previously drawn attention to Singapore’s decision to operate the route at possibly only break-even, because it takes away premium customers from other (mostly US) carriers & it lands these premium-payers, in Singapore’s hub, ready to fly on to destinations all across Asia & Australasia.

      Singapore Airlines obviously believe in this Newark-Singapore flight as they’ve dropped it once & picked it up again just as soon as the A350 became available. They also seem to believe in the cost-effectiveness of their 172 seat aircraft & if nothing else, they should get bloody amazing resale values on their stunningly low-cycles aircraft.!!!

      I agree about the value of leveraging a one-stop strategy, but equally, there’s evidently more than one ULR route that airlines consider to be commercially viable.?

  6. Jacob HSR

    Maybe QF should fly to Seattle. It is only a 229 km drive from Vancouver.

    Air Canada flies daily from YVR to BNE and SYD.

    It could work – there are no flights from SEA to SYD at present. If you have a monopoly on a particular route, you can command a massive premium.

    1. Ben Sandilands

      Jacob,
      I’m told the border and anti-terrorism protocols between Vancouver and Seattle are thorough and incredibly time consuming. While I don’t require an electronic visa to come and go to the US most Australian nationals using an Australian passport do and I understand that those using the electronic visa need to be fully informed and very careful about meeting the rules that apply to crossing the Canadian border during the total period allowed for your visit to the US with such a visa. I haven’t researched these rules, but if you do intended to cross that border make sure you understand and comply with all the rules whatever they are.

      1. Tom the first and best

        It would be even worse for people travelling between Australia and Canada who are not eligible for the the Visa Waver Program as they would need a US visa (even if flying directly from Seattle Airport as the USA does not have the sterile transit area arraignments available in most other nations). Considering that nationals of many nations with significant immigrant communities in Canada and/or Australia are not eligible for the Visa Waver Program, as well as Australians or Canadians (including dual citizens of both) with criminal records, it would be a considerable hindrance for many Australia-Canada travellers.

      2. Jacob HSR

        Ah, thanks for the info Ben. Not trusting 3rd world passports is one thing – but Aussie passports? Instead of complaining about the ME3, the US carriers should look at the rotten airports in USA along with the sordid visa laws regarding Aussies/Kiwis. As if anyone with an Aussie passport would want to live in a nation with no healthcare anyway.

        1. Dan Dair

          Jacob,
          That’s not very fair,
          the USA has brilliant healthcare……
          So long as you’ve got a lot of money or good insurance. (or possibly both.?)

      3. Goat Guy

        Ben,
        I’ve crossed that border a number of times. The main crossing can get pretty clogged at peak times (Sunday afternoon/evening for example) but flows well at others. There are other crossings a bit further inland that are much better. I have never had an issue with US immigration going or coming from Canada crossing there. The drive is ok but there are plenty of flights and SEATAC is not the worst airport in the US. Seattle would be worthwhile for Qantas to look at, the tech industry there drives a lot of travel. Microsoft, Amazon and to a lesser extent Google all have a significant presence.

        1. Tom the first and best

          Seattle may well be worth a look from Qantas, however the economics of scale probably favour US airlines on smaller USA-Australia routes because they already have hubs in the US cities and thus operating from as many of them as possible to just 3 Australian eastern capitals is likely more cost effective than setting up multiple US destinations is for Qantas.

  7. J_sh

    I did a number of trips on the United 747s including a couple in Business and upstairs it wasn’t bad, 2-2 across. The rearward facing seats were actually better for sleeping in than the foward facing seats. I didn’t mind economy even though there was no seat back IFE, just a couple of monitors hanging from the ceiling as my personal preference was to zen out, helped along by taking a couple of dozeiles and slumbering away to classical music as a form of white noise.

    One thing though which was always a consideration for United passengers more so than Qantas was the issues which arose when flights had to be diverted from Sydney and/or Melbourne to Brisbane or Canberra when the former were fogged in and it pertains to the crew hitting their maximum hours but with United there being no local temporary flight crew to park the plane whereas Qantas could get a crew together. What this meant was one flight unloading its passengers under the wing at Fairbairn in nice dry Canberra mild summer weather of 23C but a year or two before both Sydney and Melbourne flights were diverted to Brisbane in mid February, high humidity and 35C. The flight crews immediately decamped leaving the passengers at the mercy of the airport management who forced the passengers to stay on board for more than 7 hours with the two aircraft parked out on the field ‘for their own safety’ said the airport management, to cover up the fact they had no idea what to do. Eventually United were able to get a temporary crew together in Brisbane to move the aircraft to gates. But it would have been a Black Hole of Calcutta experience in a Brisbane February day. With passengers squeezed tighter in the B787 than in the B747 it would be a dreadful situation to be caught up in. One hopes United have done some risk planning after those events.

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