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

787, Continental

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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30 comments on “Continental Announces Its First 787 Route and It’s an Exciting One

  1. Cranky: have you previously done a comparison between the 787 and the A380, in terms of which business model they are based on is more viable (i.e. the multiple smaller/regional airports vs the fewer, larger main hubs)?

    1. I know I’ve written about both of these before. The 787 does a lot more for this industry, and that’s shown by the massive number of orders. The A380 is a niche player and it probably won’t find very many additional buyers, I think.

  2. Also, competition on the LAX/SFO to Australia/New Zealand is heavy.

    You’ve got Qantas, V Australia, United, Delta, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, Hawaiian Airlines, and maybe even the Fiji carrier.

    Continental from Houston to Auckland means easier connections to the eastern US. Plus Continental will be the only one flying this route.

    Air New Zealand should be happy.

  3. Would an IAH-AKL-SYD/MEL/etc. routing make more sense?

    I’m surprised but excited about the announcement. The 787 is a “game-changer”, much like the 747 was. I look forward to seeing what other routes emerge in the coming years as airlines pick up their Dreamliners.

  4. “Also, competition on the LAX/SFO to Australia/New Zealand is heavy.”

    Competition from LAX to Australia/New Zealand is very heavy. Competition from SFO? Not nearly as much. The airlines make it so that you have to seriously consider flying down to LAX to go to either because the cuthroat competition means lower fares vs. SFO in many cases.

    But there’s something to this 787 route changer and I like Continental’s thinking even though this route doesn’t do anything for me. My question is how long before we get direct 787 service from SFO or LAX to Guam, bypassing Honolulu? Air Mike used to fly 747s out there but as Cranky noted, the cost is higher and Air Mike abandoned its 747s long ago.

    There will always be a need for Guam/Honolulu service and Honolulu/LAX or SFO service but I see a need for Mainland service to Guam for those who want to get out to Micronesia but currently have to sit around in Honolulu for a few hours to get there, which turns the trip into a real slog. Direct to Guam service from the Pacific Coast would cut that route from the 16-17 hours down to a more manageable 12-13. My only fear is Continental would start the route in Houston but a merger with United might force that flight to start on the Pacific coast instead because of United’s presence out there.

    Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

    1. Back in 1980 for a time Braniff (the original) flew a 747 service LAX-Guam two days a week that continued on to Hong Kong. The year before it was one stop via Honolulu, and by a 1981 Guam, Hong Kong and Seoul were no long on their route map. They also in 1980 did a LAX-SEL-HKG two days a week.

      So after all these years maybe a West Coast-Guam market isn’t there except for via HNL. But it would be fun to see a big bright orange 747SP flying around again.

      1. 30 years ago is a long time. Things have changed in Micronesia. The tourism industry is increasing as the local infrastructure has grown for Palau, Yap, Guam and other Caroline/Micronesian islands. Diving is the primary draw. The time may be approaching to revisit the matter.

    2. Doug/David, Ajira Airways currently offers a direct flight from LAX-Guam, using the 737-800.
      Do make note of the captain and the people sitting in first class before taking your seat though.
      And don’t worry about rumors of safety problems, their “missing” aircraft showed up at HNL early Monday morning, a little dirty, but intact.

      1. Yeah, but Ajira uses a 737-800, even with the winglets, its out of its range!

        (BTW) I found the beach set a few weeks ago on the N. Shore. The Ajira plane is styrofoam, and is only half a fuselage, the tail is never shown in close up shots and is CGI. The landing gear was real however. the wings were removed and wrapped up when I was there.

        1. BTW, the original plane from the pilot was a chopped up L-1011 and definitely not styrofoam. It’s one of the reasons why the pilot coast so much damn money. If you saw styrofoam it’s because they junked the original metal fuselage they used in the pilot.

  5. I’m wondering if a similar route will go to & from Newark as well. After all QS flights stop in Los Angeles before continuing on to Sydney. Now non-stop flights from the east coast are possible.

    1. Non stops from the East coast to Auckland? Or do you also mean Sydney? Auckland from Newark looks like it would be in range, but Newark to Sydney is 9930 miles, according to Great Circle Mapper…that’s beyond 787 range.

  6. I’m holding out for direct flights from Texas to India. The smaller 787 just might make a route like IAH-MAA or DFW-DEL feasible, and without the pain of dealing with a connection in ORD, EWR, or that godawful snakepit of an airport in Europe, FRA.

    1. MeanMeosh, I have to ask why FRA is a snakepit? I’ve never been there so don’t know anything except it might be very big. If ORD and EWR are just a pain (never been to EWR), FRA must really be bad.

      1. David – my main complaint has to do with the absolute chaos that is FRA security when trying to change planes to a U.S-bound flight (it’s usually OK the other way around). A change in FRA normally consists of getting dropped at a remote stand, then bused to the main terminal, then walking for about 10-15 minutes to a train, then going to the remote terminal where the U.S.-bound flights go from, then walking another 5 minutes or so – until you come to a complete stop at a random security cordon. You then stand around for 20 minutes or so, then they finally let you through for a security screening, which often takes upwards of an hour to get through. Twice, I almost missed my connection to DFW, despite a 2 hour layover.

    2. In my mind, routes to India will be most drastically changed by the 787. But I still wonder about the economics. Even with the 787, can you make much profit by flying ultra long haul with mostly coach class passengers?

      1. I certainly don’t hold myself out as an expert on airline economics, but my idea is based mostly on a “seat of the pants” observation thing. I usually fly to DEL via ORD, and I often see a fair number of connections to DFW on baggage tags. Plus, there’s a fairly substantial amount of business travel between Texas an India – there’s a bunch of consulting and IT companies in both DFW and metro Houston that do business in India, so there’d be at least some business travel you could capture. Would you be able to run a profitable route on a smaller 787? Honestly, I don’t know. But I sure think it would be worth studying for CO or AA.

    1. I scratched my head when I read that too. By “smaller” city I’d be surprised if we got a PDX or STL to Aukland, but a brimming metro area of 6M+ people and a major hub airport isn’t what I’d call small, and not a huge surprise. Additionally, it’a a major metro with a lot of corporate O/D traffic. Although oil bosses probably aren’t going to New Zealand on buiz anytime soon.

      The 787 excites me because it hopefully will eliminate the need to hop down to ORD or DFW or ATL or JFK or LAX to get anywhere in the world. Airports like ORD are the absolute mess that they are because everybody and their brother have to fly in there if they want to get anywhere. I have a hard time believing that even a city as large as Chicago really has the O/D traffic to justify all those 747’s flying out of there.

    2. Houston is probably a “smaller” city in context of international connections when you compare to a place like JFK, LAX, ORD, etc. Considering that both DFW and metro Houston are top 10 metro areas in terms of population, there’s actually not a lot of places in Europe or Asia you can get to directly from either (though IAH is better than DFW in that regard).

  7. am so excited about this!!!

    even though QF and ANZ are way better airlines than CO/UA …NOT having to do LAX from AKL will be fab! and HOU is an easy connection to DFW, ATL, PHL.

    PS I think FRA is fine-its big and confusing but not awful

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