Why is the success of CO's or UA's flight to HKG dependent only on the US point of origin, Newark or JFK? It should also be dependent on the traffic each hopes to generate from Chinese Nationals or HK residents, originating in HK. Aren't we forgetting that the flight serves two O&D markets? New York and Hong Kong!
At the moment, Cathay does not service the New York market with a non-stop flight. (It's flight to NY, I think , stops in Vancouver.) So, I suppose Continental stands as good a chance as United of capturing whatever O&D traffic Cathay currently does not serve by flying non-stop to New York.
But, one has to wonder what kind of traffic that will be, since a single flight a day from HK isn't going to be as appealing to a time-senstive traveler as the current thinking makes it out to be. Time-sensitive travelers often tend to be your high-yield passengers. And, from my research, these travellers are less impressed with direct flights as they are by the frequency of flights offered by a single airline and the connection opportunities on a single airline through a specific airport.
On the first count, both Cathay and United have an edge in Hong Kong over CO. On the second count, Cathay clearly has the advantage over both United and CO, since HK is its hub.
Now, let me explain why United and Cathay win on the first count.
CO is hoping their direct flight appeals to the time-sensitive traveler who wants to reduce the amount of time he or she spends traveling between New York and HK. Good enough. But, how attractive is that single flight a day to New York to the HK traveller if he or she does not intend to go to NY, but let's say the West Coast? Furthermore, how attractive is that flight if there is always the potential in the mind of that time-senstive traveller that he or she might be stuck in NY for a whole day if he or she should be unable to make the single return flight to Hong Kong? How attractive indeed if both UA and Cathay can still get him or her on the same day, and throughout the day, to HK from Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Vancouver, which he or she can reach from any point in the US via United or American (Cathay's alliance partner). (Note these considerations are as valid for the traveler originating in the US, especially from the West Coast, as they are for the traveler originating in HK.)
That brings us, of course, to the issue of connection opportunties. Though CO has worked out some deal with DragonAir, HK is still Cathay's hub. When Cathay begins non-stop flights to New York, it won't matter that it entered the market last, since it has a marketing edge with Chinese nationals and HK residents innured to its market dominance. When that happens, in fact, things will get much worse for the third player in this market, most likely Continental, not only because Cathay can leverage the connection opportunities it offers from HK to other parts of Asia on a single ticket, on a single fare, against the third player, but also because one assumes that Cathay will also offer this service with some type of cooperation with American (e.g., codeshare or frequent-flyer). Yes, American, one of CO chief competitors in the New York area, and a proven source of high-yield traffic in and out of the New York area.
In the long term, United can probably compete with Cathay in the HK market: First of all, because it has what some have called "brand recognition"; and second of all, because I foresee the HK Aviation Authority agreeing this year to some liberalized aviation agreement with the US that provides for code-sharing through HK. United with its Star Alliance partners has already planned to do so. American, of course, would codeshare with Cathay, China Eastern, and EVA through HK. For Cathay, codesharing with American would mean that it would have as big of a share of the O&D market in New York as it does in HK. The odd man out would be Continental.
Hence, I wouldn't be surprised to see Continental lobbying against a liberalized aviation agreement with HK on any terms, even if, and especially if, it allows for codesharing, because that would basically lock it out of the market, just as it was locked out of the Santiago, Chile market after the US government allowed AA to codeshare with Lan Chile. Mind you, when Continental pulled out of the Chile maket, it was by everyone's estimates the second largest US carrier in Latin America – mind you, bigger than United, which still flies to Santiago. Continental is nowhere near being that big, or having the brand recognition or marketing power that comes with that, in Asia.