From two airlines to four and airfares cut in half – 2009 sure has been an interesting year for carriers flying the 14-hour hop across the Pacific Ocean between Australia and the West Coast United States.

At the beginning of 2009, only Qantas and United were flying between Sydney and Los Angeles and airfares were hovering around the AUD$2000 mark. By mid-year, airfares had dropped to around AUD$900 including taxes and two new entrants, Delta and V Australia, had commenced services.

United Airlines

While it’s been a year of great deals, high loads and lower yields, stability and demand is returning to a route that desperately needs it.

United Airlines General Manager, Australia and New Zealand, Alison Espley, said the airline is finding demand on both sides of the Pacific, in a sign that the inbound American market could bounce back for 2010.

“Demand has been strong from inbound and outbound points of sale,” she told HM. “It’s been a year of high load factors driven by extremely competitive fares which have reduced average yields.

“Whilst corporate travel is still down, demand has picked up in the last few months (and) loads have shown significant increases year over year,” she said.

Espley is confident that the next twelve months will remain strong for United, particularly thanks to the airline’s competitive prices on offer in the market.

“Forward bookings suggest that demand will continue to be strong,” she said. “We have compelling fare offers already in the market for 2010 and together with the strong Australian dollar there has never been a better time to travel to the U.S.

“We also believe that corporate travel will continue to improve throughout 2010,” Espley said.

The best value cabin on the Sydney-Los Angeles and San Francisco routes in 2009 has been business class, with prices less than half of those on sale in 2008. For United, the year has meant a fall in business class airfares, but not a downgrade in quality. United has upgraded its on-board product, with the airline’s new, 180-degree flat beds now available on all flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco from Sydney.

Espley said the feedback from customers had been strong and that has no doubt led to increased demand – which at the end of the day results in increased load factors.

“We have been consistently operating our upgraded onboard product for nearly a year and our customers love it,” she said. “The business class offering includes 180 degree lie flat beds, over 150 hours of audio and a 15 inch TV monitor which guests can start watching from the moment they reach their seat.

With V Australia launching with flat-beds and Qantas offering fully-flat Skybeds on its A380s, an upgrade in product is something United had to do, but the airline has done it well. The service, food and entertainment is comparable to what the rival airlines offer and direct connections upon arrival to over 50 cities from Los Angeles and San Francisco means the airline offers a seamless flying experience.

Espley said the airline would be looking to grow all market segments across every cabin in 2010, particularly the MICE market, which looks at both business and economy classes for incentive travelers and conference delegates.

“The MICE market is indeed an area of the business which we are looking to grow at United,” she said. “We are actively outreached to this market and will be participating in AIME in March 2010 together with our colleagues from the Las Vegas Tourism.

“Group and MICE business has tended to come in later than in previous years, no doubt as a result of the economic uncertainty. Interest remains high and as confidence returns the U.S. will definitely be a great option for this market sector.

“With highly competitive economy and business class fares, coupled with the availability of great hotel deals, not to mention the variety of destinations on offer, now is undoubtedly a great time to consider the U.S. for the MICE market,” she said.

United flies daily to Los Angeles and San Francisco from Sydney and daily to Los Angeles from Melbourne via Sydney. Visit www.unitedairlines.com.au