Continental Announces Its First 787 Route and It’s an Exciting One

Continental yesterday became the first airline to announce a definitive first route for its 787 aircraft. That route? Houston to Auckland, and it will begin in November 2011. This is just the first Maori Cowboyexample of the new routes that are going to be opened up by the 787.

Flying from Houston to Auckland is not something you’d expect to see from an airline. I mean, Continental’s marriage partner United dropped LA to Auckland years ago, so Houston – Auckland? Sounds insane.

But is it really? Houston is a huge operation for Continental and it provides one stop service to Auckland for many places around the midwest and south that can’t get there today. In addition, as a Star Alliance member, Continental can feed people into the Air New Zealand network in Auckland, so there are good opportunities on both sides.

So if it sounds so good, why wasn’t it flown before? It wasn’t really an option. Sure, you could have slapped a 747 on the route, but that’s a huge airplane and it would have bled badly.

A 767 might be the right size, but you’ll inconveniently run out of gas somewhere over the vast Pacific. That’s probably not a sound business strategy.

Enter the 787. This bad boy gives you 747 range in a 767 body. So routes like Houston to Auckland become possible when they really weren’t an option before.

Now why the heck is Continental announcing this so early? It probably is looking to drum up merger support. After all, it does say in the release:

On May 3, Continental announced that it has agreed to merge with United Airlines in a merger of equals to create the world’s leading airline. The success of the Houston-Auckland route will be enhanced by the additional traffic flows through Houston that are expected to result from the merger.

So I suppose there’s no guarantee that this will ever start, but I’d like to think it will. Hopefully this will be a good example of what we can look forward to when more 787s start flying. Smaller cities will be able to have nonstop flights to cities that previously wouldn’t have been considered or even possible. That’s a great thing.

[Original photo via Flickr user geoftheref]

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