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Update 6/19/18: United has responded with the following statement:

“Sydney remains an important part of United’s global route network. As we continuously monitor the demand for travel in all of the markets we serve, we are adjusting our schedule on certain flights between Houston and Sydney in response to a weak demand in August, September and October. We are looking forward to returning to our normal, daily schedule between Houston and Sydney on October 22. United is the only US airline to offer nonstop service to Australia from Houston. We will continue to operate service to Sydney and Melbourne from our West Coast hubs (LAX and SFO). We are contacting our customers with reservations for travel on these dates to offer them alternate flight options to Sydney or provide refunds.”

Seasonal reductions in service are nothing out of the ordinary, but I am a bit surprised to see United cutting back its flagship Houston (IAH) route so soon after launch.

Per Routes Online, the carrier will operate a reduced schedule between IAH and Sydney (SYD) this summer, during Australia’s winter months. Between two and four flights have been removed from the schedule each week during August and September.

United operates a 787-9 Dreamliner on its three flights from the US to Sydney. Photo by Zach Honig.
United operates a 787-9 Dreamliner on its three flights from the US to Sydney. Photo by Zach Honig.

Additionally, flights to Sydney won’t operate on October 14, 16 and 21, while the return to Texas won’t fly on October 16, 18 and 23. The flight returns to daily service in November and operates every day through the end of the schedule in May 2019.

United’s reducing service from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney as well, with the outbound flight not operating on August 11, 20 and 24, in addition to September 1 and 3. Return legs to LAX won’t fly on August 13, 22 and 26, as well as September 3 and 5. There are no changes to the airline’s nonstop flight from San Francisco (SFO), and LAX to Melbourne (MEL) will continue to operate on a daily schedule.

Light loads are clearly to blame here, which isn’t all that unusual during the off-peak winter period in Australia. On days that the IAH-SYD flight does operate, award and upgrade seats are often wide open — especially for last-minute departures. Tonight’s flight to Sydney has at least nine business-class seats open for upgrades and awards, and likely even more available in the economy cabin. Business-class awards are priced at 80,000 miles each way, while economy seats will run you half that amount.

United operates a 787-9 on this route, which is the smallest aircraft capable of completing the 8,500-mile journey without a stop. The carrier’s extended-length Dreamliner offers 48 business seats, 88 in Economy Plus and 116 in coach. Extra inventory appears to be leading to light loads, so it makes sense that United’s decided to scale back during Australia’s winter. We’ve reached out to the airline to confirm.

If you’ve booked a United flight from Houston to Sydney this August or September, check your reservation to make sure your itinerary hasn’t been adjusted — if your flight is no longer operating, the airline will likely route you through LAX or SFO, instead, but you can likely choose to change or cancel your booking at no charge if you prefer.

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