Word has leaked that United Airlines will soon announce new six-times-weekly non-stop service between Los Angeles and Melbourne to begin on October 26, 2014. The flight will be operated by the new Boeing 787-9 aircraft, be staffed by legacy Continental crews, and will mean the end of United’s tag flights between Sydney and Melbourne.
United is the North American launch customer for the 787-9 and the aircraft will be configured with 252 seats: 48 in United BusinessFirst and 204 in United Economy, including 63 Economy Plus seats. That’s not a bad upgrade ratio. Power outlets will be located throughout the plane and the aircraft will feature AVOD–no word whether internet will be available. Still, a welcome upgrade in economy class from the 747-400s which feature no personal IFE or in-seat power.
Legacy United used to operate a Los Angeles – Melbourne non-stop during the Australian high season using a 747-400, but has not since Delta and Virgin Australia entered the LAX-SYD market and added a glut of additional seats.
Later this year, the mechanical delay-prone 747-400s will switch out to 777-200s operated by legacy United crews on the SFO/LAX-SYD routes, but this additional 787-9 makes up for the lost capacity.
Some are fuming that they will now have to connect in LAX (rather than SYD) if they are traveling to Melbourne, but the mood should be celebratory instead. I wish United would have challenged Air New Zealand’s dominance at Auckland, but this is addition to the route map will be a benefit to many traveling to Melbourne and also trying to redeem their frequent flyer miles.
United has indicated that the flight will be loaded into the system tomorrow, so keep an eye out for premium award space on the route–usually when United announces a new route (like when it began service to Istanbul), a fair number of award seats are released in both cabins. Premium cabin award space to Australia without going through Seoul, Beijing, or Bangkok is extremely difficult to come across, but if you keep a close eye on the new United flight, I have a feeling we are going to see some award space.