Here are my SFO-SYD airlines in order of decreasing recommendedness:
- Air New Zealand. Best airline on the route by far and voted world’s best airline this year and last year. Modern aircraft, well-equipped, friendly, professional service. Their business class and Premium Economy fares are cheaper than Qantas and Virgin. Yes, I know it’s cool to fly coach when you’re a startup co-founder but their business class is very good value and you may be, like me, of a taller persuasion. Better quality than first class on any US domestic airline. Their route includes a stopover in Auckland for an hour on your way to Sydney but it’s the world’s easiest stop over. Gate is literally 2mins walk from shops/cafes. Tiny, modern, clean airport with friendly people. When you look up your gate on the departures board at Auckland airport, if your flight isn’t boarding yet, the flight status is listed as “Relax”. Yes, really. New Zealand is scary friendly. YouTube Air New Zealand’s in-flight safety videos if you haven’t seen one before. You will thank me for telling you to watch an inflight-safety video on YouTube.
- Virgin — Not as good as Air New Zealand and a bit more expensive, but if you have miles with Virgin it can be worth doing because one thing a 16 hour flight is good for is mileage points. Good modern aircraft, comfy seating, fairly friendly staff, and a dash of that saucy Bransonness that sometimes makes things feel slightly Playboy Mansion Rebooted. Major downside is a stopover of varying duration in LAX, which is firstly a pain in the ass because on the way home, you got on the plane in SF only about an hour ago, Sydney’s still 15 hours away, and not everybody knows but LAX was originally designed as a 15th level of Hell by Heironymous Bosch. Delays, lengthy treks between gates, baseball game-quality food, queues filled with stressed selfish Jersey Shore crowd scene trying to get back home for their neice’s second wedding and prepared to walk over your dead body if you so much as think about getting in their way. Not like Auckland airport in any way except in the sense that airplanes land and take-off there.
- United. Often a bit cheaper than Air NZ in Business and a lot cheaper in Coach. Flies SYD-SFO direct and arrives in the morning so you can do a full day there when you land. Old aircraft, crappy seats and entertainment, and bad food served by people old enough to be your grandparents who stopped caring about your comfort 20 years ago.
- Delta. I’ve never flown but online reviews are not encouraging.
- Qantas. Crazy expensive. Just fly Virgin.