United Will Fly Los Angeles – Sydney With Just 50 Passengers Every Flight

United Airlines is bringing back Los Angeles – Sydney service starting September 10, three days a week – Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It’s part of larger growth in their schedule that includes a return of Chicago – Hong Kong and starting up Chicago – Tel Aviv.

But there’s something really interesting about the Los Angeles – Sydney service. They’re apparently doing it primarily for cargo. Australia has some of the most stringent entry requirements in the world. They’re not permitting standard business or tourism visitors at all (such as with a clean test for COVID-19). Even their own residents returning to the country have to go into 14-day quarantine at government-designated hotels.

Despite such onerous restrictions Australia has a limited new outbreak in Victoria after quarantine guards had sex with the passengers they were watching after, caught the virus themselves, went home and spread it. (Qantas flight attendants are replacing the contract guards.) The country has gone from daily cases of 7-20 up to 180 or so per day.

While there’s only a limited set of people who can travel to Australia currently, there’s going to be a government-imposed cap of 50 passengers per flight, as the beneficent Brian Sumers reports.

That’s not very many passengers on a Boeing 787-9 which seats over 250 people. Fortunately for the airline, their own crew working the flight don’t count against this total. Although I’d suggest that on an aircraft with 48 business class seats, upgrades shouldn’t be very hard to come by.

The irony here is that United was the first of the large U.S. airlines, and the most vociferous, arguing against any form of social distancing on aircraft. Now it’s being imposed on them by the Australian government.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Sydney is being restricted to 450 international arrivals per day, total ( …and that could reduce further) from all points of origin. The compulsory quarantine scheme is at capacity. There’s very little…virtually zero…chance of change before 2021
    Melbourne has no incoming international flights for at least the next few weeks.

  2. Just goes to show that it takes just ONE person to start an outbreak, so, and please don’t be defensively, because, in your heart, you know this to be common sense….


  3. disagree about upgrades. Anyone paying for biz will want a full row for distancing so that limits the cabin from the get go. Would be insane to pack out the biz cabin and leave 2 people in the rest of the plane. Good chance everyone gets a full row, though 3x3x3 is not great for poor mans biz as the row is a little short to fully stretch out

  4. As Mr. Leff points out we don’t have a choice to make and none of us can travel to Australia as a tourist anyway.

  5. I don’t think unemployed Qantas staff are being used as guards at that hotel. They are delivering food to rooms & other customer service needs.

  6. Unless those QF CAs quit and joined Corrections Victoria, they aren’t providing security. They are, however, providing support services. According to the news media, the whole thing is a dog’s dinner anyway. And now Victoria is on a nice six week lockdown.

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