United is betting big on the South Pacific. On Tuesday, the airline announced the “largest South Pacific expansion in aviation history,” according to United and is increasing its service to Australia and New Zealand by 40 percent to a total of 66 flights per week, a move that makes United the largest airline to the South Pacific from the United States.
United started to rebuild its South Pacific network in 2022 after Australia and New Zealand opened back up to international travelers following nearly two years of pandemic-spurred border closures. Last year, United resumed its service between San Francisco and Auckland in New Zealand’s North Island and introduced direct flights between San Francisco and Brisbane, the capital of Australia’s eastern Queensland region, routes that have both performed very well, according to a United spokesperson.
But the latest expansion goes well beyond just rebuilding flights that were axed during the pandemic. After launching this new flock of flights to the region, United will have 70 percent more capacity in New Zealand than it had in 2019.
The goal, according to a spokesperson, is also to provide better connectivity to and from the South Pacific through airline partners Air New Zealand (United and Air New Zealand are both Star Alliance members) and Virgin Australia (United and Virgin Australia are codeshare partners as of May 2022). Those partnerships also make it easier for travelers based in Australia and New Zealand to connect from their cities to the USA.
United isn’t the only U.S. carrier increasing its service to the region. At the start of the year, Delta Air Lines announced that it is launching a new nonstop flight between Los Angeles and Auckland, starting on October 28, 2023.
Flights from California to New Zealand and Australia are no small investment in time and can take anywhere from 13 hours to close to 15 hours. Nevertheless, clearly the airlines see a rise in interest for these long-haul flights to destinations that were almost entirely closed off throughout the pandemic.
“While flight volume to places like Europe and Mexico are actually higher than prepandemic levels, the big laggard has been flights across the Pacific. Flights to Asia and Oceania are still down 45 percent compared to the same time in 2019, and that includes a sizable increase in the past couple months. There’s still a lot of room to rebound on Australia/New Zealand flights just to get back to where we were prepandemic,” says Scott Keyes, founder of Going.com (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights).
The good news, says Keyes, is that as more airlines build Australia and New Zealand capacity back up, the added competition should eventually work to push prices back down—at least somewhat.
“Competition is the primary driver of cheap flights, and so the decrease in volume has led to substantially higher Australia/New Zealand fares than we saw in 2019, when they were regularly dipping below $600 roundtrip,” says Keyes. “Nowadays, below $1,000 would be considered better than normal. But it’s those higher fares that are drawing airlines’ interest and leading many to stock up on more flights down under. I’d expect the increase in flight volume to have downward pressure on fares and for more sub-$900 roundtrip fares to pop up, especially from the Western U.S. But that’s a process that will likely play out over the next 18 months, rather than an overnight return to 2019-era fares.”
United’s new flights to Australia and New Zealand are currently available to be booked online or through the United app. They are launching just as winter in the United States begins, which is the start of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
United’s new flights to Australia and New Zealand
San Francisco to Christchurch, New Zealand
On December 1, United kicks off the only nonstop flight between the U.S. and New Zealand’s South Island. The three times weekly flights from San Francisco International Airport to Christchurch International Airport will operate on a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.
Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand
Starting on October 28, a new United route from Los Angeles to Auckland will join United’s existing service from San Francisco. United will fly between Los Angeles and Auckland (located in the northern area of New Zealand’s North Island) four times per week on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
Los Angeles to Brisbane, Australia
On November 29, United will begin flying between Los Angeles and Brisbane three times weekly on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
United’s expanded service to Australia and New Zealand
Increased service from San Francisco to Sydney and Brisbane
Starting October 28, United will offer daily flights between San Francisco and Brisbane on Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and will also fly twice daily between San Francisco and Sydney on Boeing 777-300ERs.
Increased capacity to Melbourne
After increasing its Melbourne service from 10 to 14 weekly round-trip flights last year (one daily flight each from San Francisco and Los Angeles), United’s San Francisco–Melbourne flights will get a capacity boost on October 28, when United will begin flying its largest aircraft, the Boeing 777-300ER, between the two cities, adding nearly 100 daily seats to each departure. With the introduction of the new aircraft, United will offer 65 percent more seats to the Australian city of Melbourne compared to winter 2019.
United adds more flights to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East
The new and expanded routes to Australia and New Zealand are on top of a larger global service expansion for United. In response to what United’s senior vice president of global network planning and alliances Patrick Quayle has said is “unprecedented demand for travel overseas” this year, United is also adding or bringing back several flights to Asia, including:
- San Francisco International Airport to Hong Kong
- San Francisco to Osaka, Japan
- Los Angeles International Airport to Tokyo
- Denver International Airport to Tokyo
- New Jersey’s Newark International Airport to Tokyo
- Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport to Tokyo
The transpacific additions come after United last fall announced several new international routes for 2023, including:
- Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Barcelona
- Chicago O’Hare to Shannon, Ireland
- Newark to Dubai
- Newark to Stockholm, Sweden
- Newark to Malaga, Spain
- San Francisco to Rome
- Washington Dulles to Berlin