Qantas and United Finally Getting Competition to Australia

For the last few years, Qantas and United have been the only two airlines to get passengers nonstop from the mainland US to Australia (Hawaiian will get you from Honolulu as well). While Qantas may have a good onboard product, its fares are high. United, on the other hand, has both high fares and a poor product. As we look forward to next year, we’re finally going to see some competition on these routes, and it will be interesting to see how this changes the route dynamic.

Beginning on February 27, V Australia will begin flights from LAX to Sydney. Brisbane flights will follow soon after. The airline is owned by Australian-based carrier Virgin Blue, and it will form the last link in the Virgin Group’s ability to get you around the world. (Virgin Atlantic can get you from LA to London to Sydney.)

V Australia will fly 777-300s in three classes. Fortunately, the third class in this case means Premium Economy, and I have to think that on such a long route, this will do well for them. All seats have audio/video on demand, and, uh, mood lighting. (This IS a Virgin airline after all.) In Business Class, there is a flat bed, but it’s not the excellent Virgin Atlantic seat they’re using.

They’ve come in with some pretty low fares, but there’s a problem. As of right now, they can’t get you anywhere beyond LA. In Australia they’re in good shape since they’re owned by Virgin Blue and can feed the network nicely, but in the US they have nothing. It is assumed that they’ll have an agreement with Virgin America since they’re both Virgin companies and they’re in the same terminal at LAX, but nothing has been finalized. Even if that happens, it will only get you to San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, New York, and Boston. Everyone else in the US will still have to fly United or Qantas (with its American codeshare) . . . or not.

Delta, in its quest to replicate Pan Am’s global domination (that didn’t end well), is going to start flights from LA to Sydney this summer. Delta will have its usual two class product on the route, but since it’s operating 777-200LRs on it, business class will have the flat bed Virgin Atlantic-style seats up front and audio/video on demand throughout the plane.

Here is what all the airlines will be flying between the US and Australia during the northern summer in 2009. Remember, this is low season for Qantas, so during the rest of the year it often has even more flights.

Airline Dep City Dep Time Arr City Arr Time Days
Jetstar Honolulu 915a Sydney 350p Mon/Tue/Thu/Sat
Qantas Honolulu 1050a Sydney 530p Wed/Fri/Sun
Hawaiian Honolulu 1255p Sydney 720p Tue/Thu/Sat
V Australia Los Angeles 1030p Brisbane 540a Mon/Wed/Fri
Qantas Los Angeles 1030p Sydney 605a All
United Los Angeles 1035p Sydney 610a All
Qantas San Francisco 1040p Sydney 620a ex Tue/Thu
Delta Los Angeles 1040p Sydney 640a All
United San Francisco 1058p Sydney 625a All
Qantas Los Angeles 1120p Brisbane 605a All
V Australia Los Angeles 1130p Sydney 715a All
Qantas Los Angeles 1140p Melbourne 755a All
Qantas Los Angeles 1150p Sydney 725a All
Delta Sydney 915a Los Angeles 600a All
Qantas Sydney 1020a Los Angeles 640a All
Qantas Melbourne 1025a Los Angeles 730a All
V Australia Brisbane 1050a Los Angeles 700a Wed/Fri/Sun
Qantas Brisbane 1105a Los Angeles 700a All
Qantas Sydney 120p Los Angeles 945a All
Qantas Sydney 155p San Francisco 1015a ex Tue/Thu
United Sydney 155p Los Angeles 1026a All
United Sydney 240p San Francisco 1106a All
Jetstar Sydney 555p Honolulu 740a Mon/Tue
Jetstar Sydney 600p Honolulu 745a Thu/Sat
Qantas Sydney 745p Honolulu 930a Wed/Fri/Sun
V Australia Sydney 805p Los Angeles 500p All
Hawaiian Sydney 920p Honolulu 1110a Wed/Fri/Sun

The Delta and V Australia flights really seem to be designed for connections. The flights from LA are redeyes, as is every other flight on the route these days (an afternoon Qantas flight doesn’t seem to be running this summer), so that’s easy to connect into at night or out of in the morning. But the flights back from Sydney provide more time flexibility.

The Delta flight leaves early from Sydney and lands very early as well. That’s awful for people coming from elsewhere in Australia but great for people connecting to the east coast who want to get in at a decent hour, and it’s going to make it attractive for those people.  The V Australia flight, on the other hand, leaves Sydney after 8p, long after any other airline and arrives at 5p.  This is great for collecting connecting passengers from around Australia, but it makes for a limited number of connections upon arriving in LAX at 5p.  Clearly, both these airlines are playing to their bases, as they should be.

It’s likely that these airlines won’t make a huge dent in Qantas’s offerings since Qantas has so many seats in the market and such entrenched loyalty, but United stands to be the big loser here. Its inferior product in coach will be put under severe pressure as these other airlines bring down fares and offer much better products.

Will this be successful for everyone? I’d be surprised. My guess is that Delta will have a hard time of making this work, but they are hell bent on flying everywhere these days. I’m not sure that there’s room for this many airlines on the route in the long term, but for now it should help bring fares down significantly and improve the travel experience for many.

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