United Airlines will run domestic US flights of its Boeing 787-9 later this year ahead of the Dreamliner's debut on a new Melbourne-Los Angeles direct service from October 28.
The stateside services are expected to begin in August and will see United's first two 787-9s flitting between Denver, Houston and Los Angeles, United Airlines exec Matt Miller tells Australian Business Traveller.
"We will take delivery of both 787-9s in summer, we actually get the first on in July, and we'll be flying them domestically before we launch (Melbourne-Los Angeles) at the end of October" explains Miller, UA's Managing Director for Japan and Pacific Sales.
"For certification it's really just a variant of the 787-8, which we are very comfortable with – we've already taken delivery of nine 'dash 8s' – so as soon as we take delivery of those aircraft we can start using them immediately."
Make a date with a Dreamliner
Miller says the 787-9 flights will operate as scheduled services rather than 'surprise and delight' flights, "similar to what we did with the 787-8... our domestic customers will certainly look for them and will want to fly them."
"You will probably see them flying hub to hub in the US, between Houston, Denver and LA, you will see them moving around our system" Miller confirmed to Australian Business Traveller, adding that the flights will include "some training elements for both the ground staff and flight crew."
The stretched Dreamliners may also appear on United's international routes to Shanghai and Tokyo, which are current served by the airline's Boeing 787s.
"The network team and operations team will decide if and when we need to fly those internationally" Miller suggests. "They will probably go to an existing 787 market because those destinations are used to handling the 787."
Why Melbourne got United's first Boeing 787-9
The trans-Pacific run between Melbourne and Los Angeles was probably not anybody’s guess for the inaugural route of United Airlines’ first Boeing 787-9, but Miller says it’s all part of a plan to bolster its share of the Australian market.
The Boeing 787-9’s move onto Melbourne-LA from October 28th also upgrades it to a direct route compared to today's time-consuming and just plain bothersome Sydney stop-over and gives the airline three direct services between Australia and the US west coast.
“Melbourne to LA is a market that we have wanted to serve non-stop for many years” Miller says, describing the route as “a perfect fit for the Boeing 787-9. It’s the right size, the right range and the right economics.”
So why not Sydney for the Dreamliner’s debut?
“We wanted consistency in our product out of Sydney if you’re flying to either LA or San Francisco” Miller explains.
“We also heard that the three-cabin Boeing 747 aircraft with first class which we’re flying today day was still important for Sydney, so we maintain that same three-class configuration in the Boeing 777.”
“And the majority of customers we’re flying out of Melbourne are going to LA, so we want to capitalise on that.”
Miller hopes the Melbourne-Los Angeles service will be bumped up from the initial six flights a week to daily status next year when United takes delivery of more Boeing 787-9s.
“As soon as we continue to take more of the 787-9s we will up it to a daily service” Miller says. “We’re looking to do that sometime in 2015, that’s our goal.”
However, Miller is non-committal on the prospects of the direct Houston-Auckland route which United had previously tagged for the Boeing 787’s debut.
“We do have a very large customer base in New Zealand and now we’ll be able to serve them via Sydney or Melbourne direct to the west coast, so the situation is a little bit different then it originally was when we looked at Houston to Auckland.”
“But Houston is still a really important hub for us, and Auckland is as well, so we’ll continue to look at that.”
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.