United Airlines became the first US carrier to fly into the South Island today with the arrival in Christchurch of UA730 from San Francisco.
The Dreamliner aircraft arrived around 30 minutes early after the 11,100km flight.
United is now the only airline to offer direct flights between the South Island and the US and it is the first to offer direct San Francisco services. Air New Zealand was the last airline to link Christchurch to the US, with services to Los Angeles ending the 2002.
The new United direct route is three times a week using a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner during summer although it will use the larger 9-series of the plane for the first flight. To commemorate the inaugural flight, the aircraft has been adorned with a symbolic silver fern. Arriving passengers were given toy kiwi.
Christchurch Airport has said that based on government data, the seasonal service is forecast to bring in $44 million in visitor spending for New Zealand, with $32 million of that in South Island regions.
The inaugural aircraft has been christened with the name ‘Kiwi Cruiser’, featuring the fern, signifying a ‘‘defining moment’' in aviation history, and the strengthening of United Airlines’ relationship with New Zealand.
The United Airlines service is part of a big push by US airlines into New Zealand over the summer, with Delta Air Lines entering the market into Auckland for the first time and American Airlines returning with an expanded service.
Patrick Quayle, United’s senior vice president of global network planning and alliances, said he had wanted to see the Christchurch route for a long time.
“I had the opportunity to backpack in New Zealand earlier in my life and it’s such a special destination that offers travellers an experience unlike anywhere else in the world,” Quayle said.
Christchurch Airport chief executive Justin Watson said the service will supercharge tourism in the region.
‘‘The American travel market is buoyant, with Americans travelling widely again and we know they want to experience what the South Island offers. In addition, the service brings much-needed air freight capacity for South Island producers and enables South Islanders direct access to the US and beyond.”
Because of United’s partnership with Air New Zealand, customers can easily connect from Christchurch to 19 other destinations across New Zealand.
By the end of 2023, United will operate 66 flights between the US and the South Pacific region each week.
With nearly 50 per cent growth over the past year, the airline says it is the largest expansion to the region in US aviation history.
The Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner has 28 Polaris business class, 21 Premium Plus, 36 Economy Plus and 158 Economy seats.
The airline also flies into Auckland.
United is the world’s biggest airline by available seat kilometres.
Air New Zealand chief transformation and alliances officer Mike Williams said the new direct Christchurch to San Francisco service is an expansion of the already strong alliance partnership between the airlines.
“This new route is great news for customers, who now have even more connection options between New Zealand and the US.”
UA731 will depart Christchurch on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays at 2.15pm and UA730 will depart San Francisco on Fridays, Sundays and Wednesdays at 11.30pm.
Grant Bradley has worked at the Herald since 1993. He is the Business Herald’s deputy editor and covers aviation and tourism