UNITED AIRLINES hopes the recent announcement of a new direct flight from Australia to Houston will bring some cheer to the devastated city.
In an interview with Traveltalk, Alison Espley, Managing Director of Japan and Pacific Sales, said the company had around 11,000 employees based in and around Houston.
“All of our employees are safe – many of them without homes – but it has been a really challenging time. It has been incredible to see the family of United pulling through.”
Ms Espley revealed that close to a million dollars for disaster relief had been raised within the company, a sum matched by Oscar Munoz, CEO of United.
“We’ve operated nearly 40 flights to carry in much needed supplies and our hangar has been used as the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, so it’s been an amazing team effort.”
The airline announced last week that it will be starting a daily, nonstop service between Sydney and its Houston hub, beginning on January 20 next year. The flight will be United’s second longest and marks the airline’s third direct route from Sydney to the U.S., with the other routes providing direct daily nonstop access to west coast hubs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“The fact we have made the announcement about the new service at the same time as Houston has been going through its challenges is a reaffirmation of our support of Houston as well. The two things are very timely and fit well together.”
Ms Espley also said the new 787-9 Dreamliner service was also a sign of United’s commitment to the Australian market and would provide great connectivity for Aussies looking to explore more of America and beyond.
“We’ve been serving the Australian market consistently for 30 years and it’s particularly exciting that when our network planners were looking at where to put new aircraft, they chose Australia. They can see how important this market is.
“We operate nearly 500 flights a day out of Houston to 150 destinations. We’ll have around 70 one-stop destinations connecting from this new flight from Sydney.”
Connecting via the new flight to Houston, United will be the first airline to arrive into New York flying from Australia and this route will be marginally quicker than transiting from LA. In the south, cities such as Memphis, Atlanta, Miami and Tampa all come within easy reach.
“We also operate to 51 cities in the Caribbean and South and Central America, so you are one-stop from Sydney to Cuba. I think the message here is that we’re actually opening up another part of the U.S. with some really timely, efficient and comfortable connectivity.”
The airline’s annual trivia nights are a regular feature in the social diary of many travel agents and these will continue to provide updated information.
“We are very fortunate that being so established here we have strong relationships with the trade. A key focus for us is making sure they have the right tools and knowledge. We will be launching online training programs to make sure they are aware of this amazing connectivity and to maybe win some tickets to sample Houston for themselves.”
Ms Espley said pricing would be “competitive” with other operators flying into Texas but wouldn’t be drawn on whether further direct routes from Australia to America may follow down the track.
“The main focus at the moment is making sure this is a hugely successful route and obviously success breeds success. Our network planning guys are always looking for opportunities and are clearly encouraged by this part of the world.
“At the end of the day this is going to be one of the quickest, most comfortable and convenient ways to get to the end destination.”