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United Airlines upgrades Sydney flights to Boeing 787

By David Flynn     Filed under: United Airlines, sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Sydney travellers will be able put the Boeing 787's jetlag-smashing capabilities to the ultimate test from this weekend when United Airlines upgrades its Los Angeles and San Francisco flights to the advanced jet.

United's Dreamliner will go up against Qantas' older Boeing 747 on the Sydney-San Fran route, while the Star Alliance member also believes the Dreamliner will help cut a clearer path through the competitive trans-Pacific market to Los Angeles.

Alison Espley, United Airlines’ Managing Director of Sales for Asia, sees plenty of upside for trans-Pacific travellers.

“Passengers will appreciate the feeling of space in the cabin, the fact that wherever you’re sitting you can see out of the window, and the pressurisation that reduces and in some instance, people say, completely removes that feeling of jetlag.”

Of her own flights on the Boeing 787-9 Espley says “from the point of view of the higher humidity and pressurisation I feel much better, and I also appreciate the larger bathrooms, which are significantly larger than on the Boeing 777s.”

Sky-high WiFi

The Dreamliners also offer inflight Internet with a flat-rate US$17 charge for the entire flight.

"WiFi is no longer something that’s just ‘nice to have’ but an expectation, because people want to be connected if they choose" Espley tells Australian Business Traveller.

“The take-up differs depending on the direction you’re flying and also the day of the week, if it’s a working day or weekend” Espley notes.

United’s Boeing 787s also sport forward-facing business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration (below), compared to the Boeing 777’s higher-density 2-4-2 layout with alternate backward-facing rows, which Espley describes as "a significant move forward.”

Read: The best business class seats on United's Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

First class dropped

“We believe the mixture of our network, our schedule, the on-board product, connectivity through our west coast gateway and the superiority of the Boeing 787 will continue to win over our customers” Espley says.

United also faces renewed competition from Qantas between Sydney and San Francisco, but Espley won’t entertain thoughts of any impact on UA’s bookings for the route.

“Bookings are still very strong and we have have strong relationships with a number of corporations based in the San Francisco area,” she says.

“San Francisco is our largest west coast hub with over 150 onwards destinations, and we see that as a considerable strength.”

The airline last year rescheduled its Sydney-San Francisco flights to dovetail into earlier east coast services “so that customers could arrive into New York in time for dinner.”

Review: United Boeing 787 BusinessFirst: Melbourne-Los Angeles

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT


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.


Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 11/2/16 by sgb

Brand new aircraft and Business First is 2-2-2, that's very nostalgic.

1 on 11/2/16 by Chris_PER

Yup, I get very sick too when I look at the pointy end of any of Uniteds aircraft.

1 on 11/2/16 by elchriss0

it would be perfectly fine if their J product was cheaper than the competitors...but i've not seen any evidence of this.  Having said the when looking at MEL-LAX, the only other competitor is QF also with 2-2-2.   If flying J, then i'd go with united and the 787.  If flying Y then i'd go QF A380 exit row.  Having just tried a dummy booking for mid-week in october, both QF and UA are $6k for J, both also cost $1150 for Y.

1 on 12/2/16 by moecat

i would take the Qantas Mk 2 skybed over the J offering of united any day...given they are both 2-2-2 layout QF is ahead of the game for sure. Plus when you add in the Food & Service its a no brainer.

1 on 12/2/16 by sgb


2 on 11/2/16 by Serg

Why on the Earth changing 777 to 787 is considered as an "upgrade"? 777 is wider, no wonder they dropped first class, it simply not fit. They change aircraft because they believe that it will consume less fuel and have to drop first class because it not fit, but all of the sudden it became "upgrade". This “upgrade” is no more than marketing rubbish. 777 is not only wider, but carry more pax - 787 up to 300 when 777 up to 400. Not saying that something wrong with 787, but "upgrade"?

1 on 11/2/16 by Chris

It's an upgrade for business travellers (our core audience) owing to the significant improvement to the business class seats (seeing the end of the almost economy-like 2-4-2 layout of the Boeing 777 to a more palatable 2-2-2 on the 787), plus the other passenger-pleasing benefits the Dreamliner brings like the lower cabin pressure, larger windows etc.

Our primary focus isn't with how many passengers airlines can squeeze onto an aircraft or how wide the body is: it's on the experience passengers have once on board, and for business travellers, that experience is better on United's 787 than the 777, thus, 'upgrade'.

1 on 11/2/16 by Serg

Upgrade of seats or upgrade of layout, but not aircraft. If they start flying 737 and put 1-1 seats it also be considered as an "upgrade"? And BTW 787 uses HIGHER cabin pressure, not lower - it equivalent to lower apparent altitude.

1 on 11/2/16 by Chris

We're not an avgeek site, Serg, and we've said that before. For business travellers United's Boeing 787 represents an upgraded experience and that's what we write about.

(And yes, lower altitude, higher pressure – you know what I meant. The odd comment mistake is bound to happen outside of hours.) :)

Your comments on the 'upgrade' have been noted, so in line with our published comment policy, please direct any further editorial comments to editor David Flynn by email ([email protected]).

2 on 23/3/16 by Herman

Chris, I just want to be clear to understand this site a bit more. Are you talking that Business Class passengers are your core audience? or,  are business travelers whom matter here? becuase not all the time business travelers fly Business / First class? Probably I'm in the wrong site. Thank you so much.

1 on 23/3/16 by Chris

Hi Herman, thanks for your question. For the most part we do focus on premium travel (that's premium economy, business class and first class – we don't review economy flights, for example) but we also focus on the business traveller as the individual, not just business travel, per se, and in that regard we also cover things like frequent flyer programs, travel tech, lounges that frequent flyers can access even if flying in economy (by way of frequent flyer status or paid lounge membership), general travel tips and tricks, credit cards with travel appeal and a broad range of topics for the 'business traveller', not just the 'business class traveller'.

On the other hand, we don't write about aviation itself, which we appreciate is a difficult distinction to make, but means we're more interested in things like passenger experience than aspects like fuel efficiency, capacity, route economics, aircraft engines and that type of thing. :)

2 on 11/2/16 by David

Let me see:

  • Boeing 777 in 2-4-2 business class (and possibly facing backwards, not that it worries me that much, but some people don't like it); or...
  • Boeing 787 in 2-2-2 business class (facing forward if you care for that), quieter smoother rider, fresher air  and arriving in San Francisco feeling a lot better (due to jetlag-mitigating tricks such as higher humidity and lower effective cabin altitude).

I know which one almost any business traveller would choose. I know which one I'd choose. Sounds like an 'upgrade' to me, alright.

1 on 11/2/16 by Serg

As per my post above - IMHO it is cabin upgrade, not aircraft. So IMHO it should sounds like "United replacing 777 to 787 with upgraded business cabin" as least because on 787 economy, although inch longer almost whole inch narrower - ouch! - and also because First been dropped altogether. Yes, I know it is BUSINESS travelers site, but I still believe that it is incorrect to say that 787 is an upgrade over 777 - later is heavier, take more pax and can fly longer distances. You cannot say "upgrade" unless it is the same family (like 330-340) or direct replacement (like 737 - 737NG) or bigger version of the same aircraft (like 777-200 - 777-300). Basically "upgrade" should be as least the same or better, but not worse/different in any aspect. How I can say that Rolls Royce is an upgrade to Ferrari (or other way around if you prefer)? Though your view may vary.

2 on 12/2/16 by tronixstuff

One also needs to consider these new flights from the perspective of the airline's home country. That is, UA's new offering is very good considering the state of the US market. UA is an American airline whose primary focus is getting the USA to the world (and back again). UA know what they're doing, and have offered a major upgrade with these new 787s. Good for them for raising the bar. 

3 on 11/2/16 by Jedinak K

If the load factors are good I wonder if United Airlines would deploy their A350-1000s onto Australian flights? I would much rather fly in 3-3-3 cattle class in the A350 than the B787 

4 on 11/2/16 by moa999

Great to see WiFi and reasonably priced as well on the route.

Hopefully this puts some pressure on a few other airlines to introduce similar offerings.

5 on 12/2/16 by flyOFTEN

as United ARE the airline of last resort to the USA, it makes sense to use aircraft with less seats, but how many less exactly ?

6 on 12/2/16 by Shoudy

7 on 13/2/16 by Herman

How can comparing QF to UA? That is an insult to QF!!! There is no comparison there…QF is much better product, even with 2-2-2 the privacy and comfort in QF is superior, the professionalism of QF crew is outstanding, high enough to not even reach UA first class service on international flights. There is a clearly one winner QF… SFO-SYD, LAX-SYD, LAX-MEL, LAX-BNE.

1 on 13/2/16 by flyOFTEN

QF cuts to SYD/LAX (AA is not QF) mean QF losing market share to USA.

1 on 13/2/16 by moecat

Changed 1 QF flight to AA. Added SYD - SFO. Hardly what u may call loosing market share. In any case they won't be loosing customers to UA based on a 788 "upgrade"

1 on 13/2/16 by flyOFTEN

most Australians DON'T want to fly U.S. carriers. They kill way too many people.

Don't have % but QF metal capacity to USA has dropped.

787 is best aircraft out there by far. Qantas should have them now not junkstar.

Qantas is Sydney centric as well. No one wants to fly to SYD to go anywhere.

1 on 23/3/16 by Rishi

  • Carriers like AA do give Qantas a run for their money in J so I guess Australians would fly US airlines, although maybe only AA.
  • As Moecat said before, QF capacity is around the same and once the 789s come even more expansion to ORD and DFW might follow.
  • I would personally fly the A350 over 787 anyday, I don't hate Boeing but I prefer the A350 a tad bit more.
  • Based in Melbourne, I also hate Qantas is Sydney centric but it's the biggest city in Australia and arguably the only Australian city people in other countries could name, and also is a tourist hotspot. It's still making them money so I guess there's not much we can do about it.

1 on 24/3/16 by FLX

"....would personally fly the A350 over 787 anyday..."

And I would personally fly 1 or the other anyday because objectively, neither enjoys a distinct tech nor design superiority over the other.  They both come fm the same aircraft+cabin tech design generation and in terms of pax experience, much fewer  diff between this pair than say, the 777 vs 330 fm a generation ago.

"..I prefer the A350 a tad bit more."

Possibly because the 350 cabin is a "tad bit" wider than a grand total of 5inches /2.3%(Or less than the length of a Samsung Galaxy smartphone).

2 on 25/3/16 by crosscourt

You can't be serious about carriers like AA giving QF a run for its money. Service on no US carrier is up to standard irrespective the premium cabin you fly in. Three weeks ago I was on AA to LAX, what a mistake - poor on board, some gate staff like the witches of eastwick and I can go on. Can't wait for QF DFW/SYD in 10 days.

1 on 25/3/16 by Rishi

Yes I do agree that AA has nothing on QF but you have to admit they do give QF a run for their money in J in terms of hard product. Soft product has never been core strength of US carriers (maybe other than PanAm).

1 on 26/3/16 by Chris

Let's swing this discussion back to the topic at hand, which is United Airlines' Boeing 787 flights to Australia.

1 on 29/3/16 by crosscourt

sure ... i would agree with you that it could be seen as a hardware upgrade

2 on 29/3/16 by crosscourt

analogy if you are buying a laptop to replace an old one you would be "upgrading" to a new and better product

2 on 29/3/16 by crosscourt

[Deleted by admin - off-topic after notice]

1 on 29/3/16 by Chris

Crosscourt, please note our request above:

Let's swing this discussion back to the topic at hand, which is United Airlines' Boeing 787 flights to Australia.

Comments below this reminder which were unrelated to the topic have also been deleted.

8 on 13/2/16 by ArnoldMarsupial

The B787's cabin is 6000' pressure altitude rather than B777's 8000' pressure altitude, the B787's humidity is 55% instead of B777's 5-10%, and the B787's pressurisation and air conditioning are supplied electrically. All other pressurised aircrafts pressurisation and air conditioning is supplied via bleed air fed from the high pressure core of the aircrafts engines. That equates to zero possibility of cockpit/cabin contamination from potentially deadly engine biproducts being fed into the fuselage of a B787. This is without question an 'upgrade' in my books.

9 on 23/3/16 by styelonthego

I flew the UA 98 LAX-MEL on the 787-9 last month and returned from SYD on QF, all the way to New York via LAX. Both flights were very good (on time, no issues). The United 787 is a vast improvement over anything they have long haul and has a few things going for it. First, it's true. The higher humidity does make a difference on arrival. The internet service at $19.99 for the duration of the 15.5 hour journey from LAX to MEL worked just like high speed internet at home. Reliably. The service was typical of US carriers. Casual, no polish, and service levels from the crew working the Business First cabin ranged from pleasant and cheerful to making it clear that the passenger is an inconvience but overall this was a very good flight. Departed right on schedule and arrived 35 minutes ahead of schedule. Plane was 3 months old. Very clean. Seats were comfortable. Everything is utilitarian but it does improve the experience dramatically over the 747-400 and 777-200ER they used to operate on this route. 

10 on 23/3/16 by lind26

Have you noticed since they started flying direct to LAX from MEL that if you try to book MEL to SFO they always route you through LAX rather than Sydney. Is it because there's no local Star Alliance partner?

1 on 23/3/16 by aviation

Every airline is going to send you on services operated fully by themselves before any codeshare or partner airlines. Basically because the add-on billing rate the other airline charges will invariably always be higher. 

1 on 23/3/16 by lind26

Yes - I don't like transferring at SYD but I still prefer it to transferring at LAX

1 on 24/3/16 by FLX

Normally(And in general) agree but not in the case of UA.

For an itin MEL-SYD-SFO regardless of which carrier(s), connection @ SYD involves 2 terminals on opposite sides of the main rwy and a long bus ride in between.

For an UA itin MEL-LAX-SFO, connection @ LAX involves 2 terminals(T7+T8) sitting right nex to each other & internally connected.  By today's std, T7 @ LAX is nothing to write home about(Though it'll be moderately rebuilt by Dec17) but it is on-par with SYD T1(@ least the QF/Oneworld side).

2 on 24/3/16 by FLX

"...if you try to book MEL to SFO they always route you through LAX rather than Sydney."

Assuming U're talking about UA booking, I'd be extremely surprised if UA route U through anywhere else other than LAX.

1st of all, LAX is a large UA hub(e.g. 20gates exclusively used by UA) while SYD clearly is not.  2ndly, if UA somehow/hypothetically route U thru SYD, how do U suggest UA(Or its Rev$-sharing JV partner....the only way UA can offer U its lowest fare for MEL-XXX-SFO) to carry U fm MEL to SYD?  It's kinda like when U try to book SFO to BNE and wonder why QF always route U thru SYD rather than LAX(Despite QF CAN carry U fm SFO to LAX via JV partner AA).

1 on 26/3/16 by lind26

QF does have arrangements with UA for onward travel from LAX. I'd like to see a similar thing this end with for MEL to SYD

1 on 26/3/16 by lind26

with UA

2 on 31/3/16 by FLX

U can always book such an itin(i.e. QF+UA "arrangements") but typically regardless of which cabin class, U just hv to pay more than an itin by a single carrier.

11 on 24/3/16 by Roger

The dreamliner should be a big improvement on the 777 for passenger comfort. Even the 2-2-2 seating should  be ok, I just flew the business class on the Thai 787 , the seating was 2-2-2 and comfort is great. I would think the United 787 product would be similar( with the exception of the service!)

1 on 24/3/16 by FLX

"I would think the United 787 product would be similar..."

Not similar.  They are the SAME seat design by the same developer/manufacturer also selected by LH, CA, etc. for the best J cabins in their fleets.

12 on 24/3/16 by Chris McKellar

Doesn't suprise me, that UA will be operating 789 on SFO/SYD and LAX/SYD, as UA will be using 788 on SFO/AKL from 3 Jul 16 and 789 later in the year when the service goes 7 days weeks. Air NZ 772 will be competing with UA 788/789 SFO/AKL.The trans-pacific services from USA to NZ and Aust is becoming more competative, so UA wants to build the their trans-pacific routes with a quality product.With additional three 789's this year, I suspect that Air NZ will replace their current 772 with 789 to match UA 789 on the SFO/AKL route.AA is using 773 on the their trans-pacific services from the USA to NZ and Aust.

1 on 24/3/16 by aviation

"Air NZ 772 will be competing with UA 788/789 SFO/AKL."

Not exactly. They are working together promoting this route and others between USA and NZ as part of a joint venture.

I doubt Air NZ will use the 789's on flights to the USA. The on board product is identical on the 772's, and Air NZ have said the 777's are designed for long-haul whilst the 789's are designed for mid-haul (Asia, HNL, PER).

1 on 24/3/16 by FLX

"They are working together.."

100% agree.  UA entering SFO-AKL route is essentially part of the strategy to bulk-up on frequency(i.e. fm daily by NZ to @ least double daily by NZ+UA) and connectivity for the UA+NZ JV to fight the QF+AA JV.  It's especially attractive to pax traveling to/fm AU cities outside SYD who are keen to avoid SYD for connection(AKL is far superior in that role) and not hand-cuffed to an Oneworld FFP(More difficult to find among Australian travellers due to QF dominance...).

Folks who claim UA will be competing with NZ on SFO-AKL  don't really understand why JV exists nor how it works.  They tend to focus purely on the OD traffic between the 2 cities and completely forgot about the wider connecting traffic opportunities/potentials in the overall Trans-Pcf network.

"I doubt Air NZ will use the 789's on flights to the USA."

Not long ago, NZ CEO did raised that possibility in aviation media re future 789 deliveries.

"Air NZ have said the 777's....whilst the 789's are designed for mid-haul..."

Not exactly.  If I recall correctly, NZ hv never said "789's are designed for mid-haul".  If true, it'll be very difficult to explain how UA is gonna deploy its std config 789 on SFO->SIN(16:20hrs or just 0.5hr shorter than DFW->SYD) only 2mths fm now.

What I did recall was NZ said all their current 789s(i.e. delivered+on firm backlog) are CONFIGURED for mid-haul.  Designed for and configured for are not the same can't be changed but reconfig happens all the time(And relatively low cost) as mission requirements evolve @ an operator.  On the other hand, NZ as of today do hv @ least 4 options for 789 not yet exercised into firm order but already priced @ their original 2004 Boeing contract level when 787 was extremely cheap.  Unless NZ go broke within the nex 5yrs(Highly unlikey per current NZ financial trajectory), NZ hv to be very dumb to forfeit any of these 789 options.  As a result, a diff cabin config(i.e. lower density) for future 789 deliveries @ NZ is entirely possible.  789 seatcount+longhaul route examples across a few operators today:

NZ=302seats, AKL->PVG, 12hrs+ (Hardly mid-haul when AKL->LAX @ 12hrs is considered longhaul) 

AC=298seats, YYZ->HND, 13hrs

UA=252seats, LAX->MEL, 16hrs


1 on 25/3/16 by aviation

Actually, the UA-NZ agreement/alliance doesn't extend to Australia, it is purely based on sales from US to NZ or v.v. To/from Australia, UA and NZ still are considered competitors.

You're getting a little picky with my words. Put it this way, when they "designed their configuration", it was for mid-haul. And of course anyone can change the's called a re-fit!

I agree, the PVG/NRT routes aren't exactly mid-haul, but they're not in the 13-16 hour range. It's certainly possible that the next few 789's delivered have a slightly different configuration to better suit that flight time.

1 on 31/3/16 by FLX

May not hv a JV re U.S.-AU mkt specifically but widespread codesharing is in place.....UA codes placed on most Trans-Tasman flights operated by NZ.

If UA and NZ are truly competitors, codesharing wouldn't occur.

"...anyone can change the's called a re-fit"

Actually in practice, no one can or @ least astronomically cost prohibitive for an operator to do so.  I was referring to the tech engineering design of a 789 airframe which dictates its payload/range performance specs.   Only manufacturer will do such design changes(e.g. 788 -> 789 and later, -> 78J) and will require a super-costly type certification process.  In contrast, a cabin reconfig(Possibly what U referred to as re-fit) is relatively dirt cheap, can occur frequently and most importantly, require no type cert process.  Redesign(akin to rebuilding a house) and Reconfig(akin to redecorating spaces inside a house) are NOT the same thing by aerosapce industry definition.

"PVG/NRT routes...they're not in the 13-17 hour range..."

Neither is AKL->LAX.....mid-haul eastbound, long-haul west bound?

1 on 31/3/16 by aviation

Going to have to agree to disagree. Yes, they codeshare on many services, but as I said, the JV agreement doesn't extend to AU, so your suggestion about AU pax connecting through AKL onto UA SFO services is wrong. Ex AU, there is no codeshare arrangement for Tasman and Pacific flights.

And regarding the design, I was talking about the on-board design and product setup, so once again, going to agree to disagree.

13 on 26/3/16 by Chris McKellar

[Deleted by admin: off-topic]

1 on 26/3/16 by Chris

Hi Chris,

We'd already posted the following message above, so your post, although well-considered, has been removed in line with this request and our published comment policy:

Let's swing this discussion back to the topic at hand, which is United Airlines' Boeing 787 flights to Australia.


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