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.

Southbound
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
Northbound
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.

39 Responses to Qantas and United Finally Getting Competition to Australia

  1. Zach says:

    When mood lighting is involved, everybody wins.

  2. Hmm.. This is the low season to Australia? I’d think that US travelers would in general be flocking south for the nice weather….

  3. A says:

    Is there a reason that all flights to Australia from the mainland US originate from California? If I recall correctly variants of the 777 can fly over 14,000 km. There is a Houston to Dubai flight that is over 13,000 km’s. Sydney to Denver or Dallas or Houston isn’t much farther. Wouldn’t it make sense to add a route like this and tap a more east-of-the-rockies route structure?

  4. CF says:

    Nicholas – Northern summer is the lower season for Australians, and that’s why Qantas has more lift during the southern summer. I would assume that US carriers would fly more Americans down so the northern summer would be a higher season for them, but I don’t know details off hand.

    A – I think it’s just following the population flows. There has long been talk of Qantas flying nonstop to Dallas to serve the American hub, but that was always a problem of range. As Qantas gets longer range aircraft, this becomes possible, and it probably makes a great deal of sense for them. Denver isn’t a big enough market for it, and Houston would really only matter if Continental wanted to fly the route. Delta’s 777 continues on to Atlanta, but I doubt they could support a nonstop from Australia.

  5. AN says:

    Given the number of safety issues and incidents Qantas has had over the past few months, I’d fly V in a heartbeat.

  6. AN says:

    Given the number of safety issues and incidents Qantas has had over the past few months, I’d fly V in a heartbeat.

  7. Axelsarki says:

    we are finally going to see some nice stuff here in LA

  8. Bobber says:

    I got a great fare on United round-trip to Sydney, and also had to fly Qantas on the same trip. United were fine, Qantas were awful. The Virgin product is not everyone’s cup of tea – I haven’t flown V America or V Australia, but V Atlantic irritate the f- out of me as despite having a great set of planes with excellent entertainment, the box under the seat that houses it robs you of precious leg room. Plus V Atlantic is always full of Brits on holiday – something to avoid at all costs.

  9. yo says:

    What happened to Air New Zealand? They used to go LAX-SYD, I flew it, it was good.

    But cheers to V Australia, good to have some competition!

  10. CF says:

    yo – Air New Zealand pulled out right around September 11, I believe. Frequent readers know I’m a fan of Air New Zealand and would certainly fly them when I can, but that route just didn’t work out for them.

  11. More competition is always good — unless you’re United, of course. Now maybe we’ll get lucky and the EU will bash cabotage rights out of the US soon. (Which would upset a lot of owners-of-politicians on this side of the pond, but you never know.)

  12. Agreed, Brad. Competition provides for better fares, new innovation, and more flight times. As evidence from the comments here, Qantas needs a slighty push to get it’s act together.

  13. CF, the interesting thing which you haven’t mentioned is that Virgin Blue announced at the launch of V Australia that they would feed passengers through Northwest’s network and that NW would codeshare on their services, and in Australia there hasn’t been any word yet if that agreement is still going to go ahead. Personally, I think it would make sense for DL to honour it and also establish a codeshare with Virgin Blue to feed the service at SYD. Overall, for us in Australia who are used to high fares (from QF) and poor service (UA), it will be a very interesting year ahead.

  14. CF says:

    Ellis – Good point about the Northwest agreement. I remembered something being signed, but when I saw no reference to it on the V Australia site, I assumed it wasn’t significant at this point. A little more digging brought up that the original agreement was simply a ticketing and baggage agreement that would allow for interlining. I would imagine we’ll still see that stay in place.

    Will it morph into codesharing between Delta and Virgin Blue? That’s not actually a bad idea. You give more choices to the travelers on both sides, especially on the northbound flight where the times differ dramatically. It really could help for them, but there may be other considerations.

    Remember, Virgin Blue still has a partnership feeding United’s flights! Will they walk away from that now that they’re competing directly? It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

  15. KM says:

    Now that Australia will be well-served from North America (save for the lack of an evening arrival in Sydney), is anyone eyeing up the New Zealand market?

    This is somewhere between a monopoly and a duopoly: Air New Zealand runs all of the North America-New Zealand flights but one. The exception is Qantas’ lone Los Angeles-Auckland flight, which is frequently more expensive.

  16. CF says:

    KM – Great point. Auckland used to be served by United, but it’s been years. Now it is just Air New Zealand alongside the single lonely Qantas flight which is often on an A330. Of course, Auckland is a much smaller market, so others just haven’t found it worthwhile yet. Then again, Delta does want to go everywhere . . . . If Sydney works, that might be on their radar.

  17. David says:

    Bobber – what’s wrong with Brits on holiday ? I thought we were usually quite nice ! :-)

  18. Bobber says:

    No we’re not, David (perhaps you and I try to be!).

  19. James says:

    United fly to Melbourne as well. It stops at Sydney each way.

    I picked up a friend from the airport in Melbourne last week who had just flown the United flight. I was amazed to find out that they are still showing films on projector screens.

  20. Bobber says:

    James – it’s because they still use the decrepit 747-400’s – to be avoided at all cost on United in economy.

  21. Benji says:

    So what’s the point of the V Australia brand? I understand that Singapore won’t let the Virgin company use the word “Virgin” on international routes (such a weird stipulation), but why launch a separate brand for the Aussie/US run? Why not just truncate the name in general to V Blue, which people know would mean Virgin Blue?

    I guess their naming competition was kind of silly.

  22. A says:

    Bobber – don’t blame the 747-400, blame United. Many airlines are still flying the ‘400’s but have them nicely equipped in coach.

  23. CF says:

    Benji – I actually never quite understood this either. They already have their Pacific Blue subsidiary flying to New Zealand and the South Pacific, so why couldn’t they have just kept that name? Maybe they thought the long haul vs short haul product was different enough that it needed a new name, but that seems like a wasted branding exercise to me.

  24. marek says:

    There’s an important piece of the jigsaw missing from this – Air Canada from Sydney to Vancouver. I know many Australians who will go out of their way to take that route, particularly to east coast US final destinations, just to avoid the hell which is LAX international arrivals (that’s the lowest key description I have hear from them – I have not direct experience, since I have only ever gone the other way round).

  25. Bobber says:

    A,
    I entirely agree – economy in a UA 747 truly sucks. F and C are bearable, but they still suck compared to the 777’s or even the 767’s. Shame, really, as it should really be their flagship plane, given they’re not going to be spending money anytime soon on 787’s or A380’s/A350’s.

  26. Benji says:

    Oh, I like Pacific Blue as a name. Somehow I missed THAT subsidiary. Too many. Virgin needs a unified product, if it’s all from the same company and offering the same mood lighting. I never understood why Virgin America was separate from Virgin Atlantic. Just make the whole damn world Virgin Atlantic (can you tell that I like them?) and scrap the mini-brands.

  27. Benji,
    They’ve got different names since they’re all different legal entities. Remember many countries only allow intra-country flights to be flown by airlines based there. That why there are four airlines that have the virgin name – Blue, Atlantic, America, and Nigeria. Singapore airlines also has their thumb in Atlantic to quite a degree as well. And Nigeria has close relations to Atlantic…

  28. Wayno says:

    Having flown Qantas and United between Sydney and L.A. I would take Qantas every day of the week if they were not so damn expensive. United on the the other suck the life out of their passengers i’ve never felt so depressed flying like I was that long trip but I don’t know if Delta would be any better. They would be good for me because Atlanta is my second home but I would still rather fly on Korean via Seoul

  29. The Traveling Optimist says:

    I love New Zealand, often calling it my own secret paradise. With a total population virtually the same as all of Sydney, however, it is destined to remain a smaller market made up primarily of agribusiness and eco-tourism. Good for them, I say…Paradise Preserved!

    With all these new flights you’d almost think someone was suffering from delusions of London grandeur. Not likely Australia will ever approach the volumes of the US – UK market but hey, bring on the cheap fares!

    As for the carriers, UA will lose to DL but DL had better learn quickly that customers are used to at least 3-cabin options for that market. Not having Premium Economy or at least something to match Economy Plus will hurt. As for V Australia, they’re also a bit delusional if they think 32″ pitch in Coach is “innovative and superior” accommodation.

    Maybe UA should add the afternoon trip QF discontinued. Perfect for locals and West Coast feed, which they still have a lot of.

    Finally, QF itself seems to have signaled the end of top-dollar fares simply by bringing the A380 in to play. Just like the 747 inaugural some 40 years ago, they need to fill that beast. Not an easy thing to do in this economy much less their low season coming up.

  30. KM says:

    @ The Traveling Optimist: One wonders if the eventual launch of the 787 will make an afternoon trip viable again. (Not to mention what new routes might emerge.)

    I once went out of my way to take that QF afternoon flight, and didn’t regret it. By arriving in the evening and going straight to sleep, I suffered virtually no jet lag.

    This happened to coincide with the end of school holidays, so that particular flight was full. But apparently the loads weren’t so great the rest of the time.

  31. The Traveling Optimist says:

    KM – The 787 might indeed make the afternoon trip to Sydney something for QF to reconsider. The one time I flew that trip there were over 100 empty seats, making for a very comfortable flight indeed.

    The 787 makes all kinds of options open up, such as Dallas, Chicago and possibly Atlanta. Given the age of alliances, only the first two might work thanks to the QF/AA partnership. I also see HKG to DFW and ORD on AA, again exploiting the oneworld hook-up with Cathay. Neither airline flies it right now. In the other direction, DFW to DXB would be intriguing as well as JFK to Jo’Burg.

    If QF really wanted to do something innovative, the 787 might open up LAX to Perth, offering nonstops to both sides of the country for the first time but that would probably be more showing off than a serious money maker.

  32. Joe says:

    United now flies non stop melbourne to LA. They do 3 flights day, syd to sf and la, and mel to la. Also the syd to lax flight leaves at 10:13 and gets in at 7:50 am, just did it.

    And I love united, but they are stupid not to put in on demand tvs in coach. Is it really that expensive to do?

  33. CF says:

    Joe – That Melbourne flight is temporary. The schedule I posted above is for the northern summer, and at least check, those flight times were as posted.

  34. The Traveling Optimist says:

    If UA were to buy the 787 anytime soon, there may be some interesting new routes in store for them as well:

    SFO-SIN/BKK
    LAX-CAN
    LAX/SFO-MEL
    LAX-BNE (They’re down now but won’t give up Australia without a fight)
    ORD-KWI
    IAD-JNB (Finally!)

    Having already pulled out of India twice I can’t see them going back much less having the local market trust them enough to stick around.

  35. have wings,will fly says:

    Hi! new here, finding it all very interesting!!!
    just one comment – have not flown UA, but I cant believe that 767’s are better to fly in than 747’s as Bobber suggests – if this is the case I would hate to see their 747’s, as in comparison with QF, a 747 flight is sooo much better than a 767.
    I shudder to think of a 74 being worse than a 76!!! Could anyone tell me what its like on UA 747??

  36. CF says:

    have wings, will fly – Welcome to the discussion! I think the general feeling is that United’s international 767s are far superior to the 747s in coach. They both have the same crummy legroom, but the 747 has narrower seats. Also, the 767 has personal screens in coach whereas the 747 only has overhead screens.

  37. Omar says:

    If you try to check in online with Qantas, and miss the small print that says its only for domestic, they ask alot of questions to waste your time without just saying: ‘YOU CAN’T DO THIS” When you ring up at vast expense, waiting for ever, they eventually say you can only check in 3 hours ahead, so with a family of four we got there right on time – only to discover that you could in fact check in ten hours ahead – and many had done so. And if you have loads of luggage when you arrive at Sydney – tough – you’ll have to push your luggage in relays of those small trolleys.

  38. Wayno says:

    Have wings will fly- a trip on a United 47 is a 14 hour flight from hell. Asides from the fact they only ever put on the very senior crew (talking an average age of 100 from the looks of them) who couldn’t give a toss about service and pretty much throw your food into your lap and then ignore you as soon as the lights go out, there is less leg room and very basic entertainment. They have the old school projectors that half the time don’t work and show older than old movies and tv shows- i mean who doesn’t want to watch CSI Miami at 3am when you can not sleep because your legs are numb?

  39. Jeremy says:

    I am sending you this message from the American Airlines/ Qantas lounge at LAX while awaiting the departure of flight QA 26 to Auckland. This is to be my first time flying Qantas and I was excited about the experience. Unfortunately, my interactions with Qantas staff here in Los Angeles have been disappointing to say the least.

    I live in Seattle and am a loyal Alaska Airlines customer. So loyal, in fact, that I was able to book a ticket in Qantas business class using my Alaska frequent flyer miles. At the time of booking only a premium economy seat was available. My return flight is a business class seat. I was told by both Alaska Partner desk and Qantas customer service to ask for a business class seat when I arrived in Los Angeles.

    After an amazing flight on Alaska from SEA to LAX, I checked in at the Qantas desk. I was told business class was very empty, however only Alaska could change my seat. Surprisingly, the Qantas agent, Hazel, was totally unhelpful and very rude. She said to have Alaska call Qantas. I dutifully called the Alaska Partner Desk where the Alaska agent, Vivian, called Qantas customer service who told her that only the check in gate can reassign me a seat. Qantas customer service also verified that that business class was nearly empty. Yet, no one was able to assign one of those empty seats to me, despite my having reserved a business class ticket. Hazel reaffirmed that there was nothing she could do.

    All of this transpired at approximately 6pm. Since my flight was not scheduled to depart until 11, I requested access to the business class lounge, since I was traveling under a business class award. Again, Hazel gave me a flat out no. I then asked her if I should have flown V Australia, and her response was “ Yes please fly them next time.”

    Why couldn’t I have access to the lounge at the very least. I have access on my return flight and this is a business class award. I ended up just paying
    I am completely shocked by the dysfunctional and unacceptable level of service I received. If I am flying using a business class award and business class is empty, why can’t they put me in business class. There is no loss of revenue to Qantas and the brand good will would be enormous. I am a marketing professional and I know that Happy Customers = Return customers.

    As a loyal Alaska customer, I have to ask myself I Alaska wants a partner that treats their best customers this way. My experience runs contrary to everything I have heard about Qantas. In fact, it is the type of experience that would encourage me to consider other carriers – and encourage my friends to do the same. Just as an aside, the friends who I am meeting in New Zealand flew V Australia…I’m looking forward to comparing notes.

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