United Airlines has killed my favorite flight. This was the flight formerly known as UAL055, the afternoon flight from San Francisco to Kailua-Kona. It worked on so many different levels: it allowed for connections from their afternoon departure from Victoria, and it meant there was a one-stop option to the Big Island that got me to Hawaii in less than 8 hours. It was great — it was ridiculously convenient and on-network, always a bonus when you’re thinking hard about mileage accumulation for your favorite frequent-flyer program.
Except that at some point in the past few months — like, between the end of June and now — that flight has disappeared. The only direct service to the Big Island from the west coast in the afternoon on Star Alliance now operates out of Los Angeles. Los Angeles itself is a one-stop destination from Vancouver Island. My super-convenient one-stop option has now turned into a 12 hour travel day featuring at least two, and on some occasions three, stops.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why this happened. I know Alaska has started up OAK/SJC-KOA services, and frequently at lower fares, so I suspect they’re probably stealing some of the origin/destination traffic from the San Francisco area. But I have to think that, for United, it makes more sense to flow passengers through SFO — which has better connections to the rest of the United States and Canada, to say nothing of the international services — than it does through Los Angeles. LAX’s Canadian services, to and from Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal, are all operated by Air Canada as United codeshares, so passenger flow through LAX is entirely dependent on another carrier.
Don’t get me wrong: I would a thousand times rather fly Air Canada to Los Angeles from Vancouver than United (the E90, for one thing, makes a huge difference in passenger comfort). But for me, this involves getting to Vancouver first. And that’s often not an easy proposition. Never mind that I can’t get United to sell me that ticket (YYJ-YVR-LAX-KOA) anyway. What United wants me to do is fly YYJ-SFO at 0622, fly SFO-LAX at 1200, and then fly LAX-KOA at 1545-ish. Either that, or spend on a hotel and have a 17-hour layover in San Francisco.
(This is one of those problems that would get immeasurably easier if I lived in Vancouver, where it is possible to get into San Francisco early enough to catch the morning SFO-KOA. Sadly, this isn’t an option for the Victoria departure, which leaves juuust late enough to make it an impossible connection, even with Global Entry, Star Alliance Gold status, and track shoes.)
So, fine. If I’m going to put up with a two- or three-stop harlequinade, I’ll fly both legs on Air Canada. The hard product is better, and this winter, at least, we’re getting the 767s with the new interiors, so if I decide to use my upgrades I’ll end up in a flat bed. Oh, wait, maybe I won’t: AC’s network managers continue to play with the timing of AC046/047, so that it is an awfully iffy proposition in and of itself, since the connections in HNL turn out to be incredibly tight. Gods help you if you’re checking bags on this route, since you’d better hope you can talk the AC check-in agent into interlining your bags through to Hawaiian (some will, some won’t); you don’t have time to claim and re-check. But hey, the free bag is going away on Air Canada transborder anyway, so maybe you won’t be checking bags to begin with.
Seriously. An hour earlier on departure would make all the difference in the world. That’s all I’m asking for.
I can’t shake the feeling that the Star Alliance carriers are trying to tell me something. That something seems to be “Fly Alaska.” AS has a hilariously convenient YYJ-SEA-KOA service — one stop, short travel time — that is often at a substantial discount to what I’m used to paying. Why don’t I fly them? Alliances, mostly, and miles. Which was an argument, back when the alliance actually got me to where I wanted to go without turning into an adventure and a half, but now I’m not so sure. (Also, I’ve done the West Coast-Hawaii route in a 737 before. I’d rather not do it again if I can get away with it.) Between the program changes at Aeroplan and this new schedule change with United affecting my most heavily traveled route, I guess I’m going to have to look hard at the numbers and see whether the perks I get from staying with Star carriers is worth it compared to the convenience I’d get and the money I’d potentially save on AS. (With the full knowledge that I can upgrade relatively cheaply on AS too.)
I guess at the end of the day what I’d really like is for that morning YYJ-SFO flight to leave earlier. As with the YVR-HNL on Air Canada, an hour would make all the difference in the world. For the want of an hour, though, I am once again thinking hard about jumping off-network, and I kinda suspect that at some point in the next year or so I’m going to take a test run on AS — probably once I’ve established I’m not going to make status for 2013 or something like that. And then I’ll go back to being just another price-sensitive customer with no particular loyalty to any airline or alliance, and that’ll be that.