Fares on the already competitive trans-Pacific market to Australia will remain under pressure after United Airlines announced it will launch ultra-long-haul flights between Houston and Sydney.
It will be a direct competitor to the Dallas-Fort Worth service flown by Qantas using Airbus A380s and wiill allow United to more conveniently connect cities on the US East Coast to Australia.
The US carrier currently serves Sydney non-stop through its West Coast hubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The 8596-mile (13,833km) route will be United’s second longest and is another example of airlines using the greater range of new aircraft to open up new routes previously not possible.
It also means United will fly the three longest routes of any US carrier: Los Angeles-Singapore, San Francisco-Singapore and Houston-Sydney.
The airline said the new route underscored its commitment to its Houston hub.
“Our Houston hub is stronger than ever and it continues to be an absolutely vital part of our industry-leading network,’’ United president Scott Kirby said in a statement.
“We are honored to have served this vibrant city for nearly half a century, and this exciting intercontinental flight is one more way we are demonstrating United’s commitment to our customers who call Houston home as well as the millions of customers who connect through Houston each year.
“This new route will serve more than 70 cities across North America making one-stop service to Sydney faster and more convenient than ever before.”
United gave the example of a customer originating in Charlotte, North Carolina, who would have to fly to Chicago and San Francisco to get Sydney.
That customer would be able to shave hours off the journey by flying to Houston and reducing the number of connections, it said.
Houston will be Sydney’s sixth US destination and the service will add about 184,000 seats a year on US routes.
“With Sydney Airport facilitating 58 per cent of the passenger movements between the US and Australia, we’re delighted to welcome United Airlines’ new service,” Sydney Airport chief executive Kerrie Mather said.
“Houston is an extremely powerful transport hub, with this service connecting Sydney to 70 cities in key US and South American destinations.”
The new flights will leave Houston at 8pm and arrive in Sydney at 6.30am two days later. They depart Sydney at 11.50am and arrive in Houston the same day at 10.35am.
United’s 787-9 will be fitted with 252 seats, including 48 Polaris flat-bed seats in business class, 63 Economy Plus seats and 141 in economy.
The airline’s Economy Plus seats have a 35-inch seat pitch while its economy seats on the 787-9 have a 32-inch pitch. However, both are narrow at 17.3 inches.
United Economy offers complimentary food, soft drinks, juices, beer and wine, tea, coffee and on-demand inflight entertainment.
A number of airlines have announced ultra-long-haul flights with Qantas planning to fly non-stop between Perth and London using the 787-9 and Singapore Airlines already flying to San Francisco with planned flights to Los Angeles and New York using an ultra long range version of the A350-900.