Catching up on Bay Area Travel News (March 3, 2013)


Big seat with a big smile from London to SFO in United Business Class last summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

LIE-FLAT SEATS ON UAL. United said this week that 87% of its international fleet now has true lie-flat business class seating, and it should reach 100% lie-flat seats by the end of March—beating out competitors in the race to all-flat biz class. Hooray for that! I think United’s new business class seats are some of the best out there—comfortable, roomy, excellent entertainment, plenty of room (and power) to get work done. What do you think?

IMPROVING ON-TIME PERFORMANCE. After a year of performance issues, United says that it’s improving, especially here by the Bay. As a matter of fact, employees received $100 bonuses when more than 80% of United flights (domestic and international) clocked in on time during February. Among United hubs, Cleveland performed best during February at 87%. SFO came in second at 83%. (So do you credit United… or Mother Nature? In February, we enjoyed record dry, non-foggy conditions in Northern California.)

New configuration for United PS 757's between SFO and JFK.

New configuration for United P.S. 757’s between SFO and JFK.

NEW PS FLIGHTS COMING TO SFO-JFK. After many fits and starts, it now seems that United’s newly configured PS flights may take off from SFO starting in June (at least according to the UAL website—PR is not committing to a date yet). The newly configured 757s will have 28 lie flat business class seats, 48 Economy Plus seats and 66 standard coach seats. The currently shabby-yet-comfortable P.S. 757 fleet offers only Economy Plus seats, which will be a big loss for non-Elite level flyers who’ve enjoyed the extra space at no extra cost.

DOUBLE POINTS ON SOUTHWEST. Sign up for Southwest’s double-tier-qualifying points promo and you’ll get 12 points (vs just six) on its cheapest fares, 20 points on its standard “anytime” fares and 24 points on business select fares. The promo is good for flights all the way through May 15! This is a no brainer, so get registered now.

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS COMING TO SFO. Scandinavian Star Alliance partner SAS kicks off new nonstops between SFO and its main hub at Copenhagen on April 8. The 11-hour-20-minute flight using an Airbus A340 will depart SFO six days a week (not on Tuesdays). It offers angled lie-flat biz class, premium economy and standard economy seats (see map). Current coach fares are as low as $813 round trip in April. To celebrate the arrival of a new carrier, San Francisco International is sponsoring a free ticket sweepstakes on Facebook. Have you flown SAS lately? How was it? Please leave your comments below. 

Amex "black" card.

Amex “black” card.

NEW AMEX “CENTURION” LOUNGE AT LAS. American Express told TravelSkills that it is “experimenting” with a new airport lounge concept for its super-spendy “black card” or Centurion cardmembers at Las Vegas McCarran Airport. The new Centurion Lounge is located in next to gate D4 in Concourse D (the one that floats between Terminals 1 and 3) used primarily by United, Delta and American. AMEX says that lounge guests enjoy dishes prepared by a celeb chef (like: polenta waffles with pumpkin compote,  or roast chicken with baby potatoes, shallots, and rosemary) and specialty cocktails prepared by a “mixologist.” Guests also enjoy free wi-fi and shower suites. While Centurion cardholders get in for free, any AMEX cardholder can pay a $50 fee to enter. Pay-to-play lounges are becoming de rigueur at McCarran—for example, if you are flying Virgin America (in the new Terminal 3) you can use Club at LAS for a daily fee of just $35. There’s also a Club at LAS in Terminal D.  Which one will you pick?

AIRPORT LOUNGES AT SFO. Speaking of posh lounges, have you been inside the new Emirates or Cathay Pacific lounges at SFO? Your BAT editor Chris McGinnis recently convinced CNN to come out to SFO for an interview and a look inside. Take a watch! TravelSkills on CNN! How about that? See below!

PLEASE, RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS. If you like TravelSkills, would you please tell your friends and colleagues about it? The ONLY way we grow is via word of mouth from happy readers. Like every online publication, we need more eyeballs and appreciate your support.  Here’s something you can copy and paste into an email TODAY!

Have you ever heard about TravelSkills—TravelSkills– for frequent travelers? It’s a free local travel blog that I subscribe to. It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us. For example, I first learned that PreCheck was coming to SFO, or that Virgin America was matching United Premier status from TravelSkills. I think it’s definitely something you could use. See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here. Thanks! ADD: *Your signature*

TSA PRECHECK EXPANDS: If you love PreCheck at Terminals 2 and 3 at SFO, you’ll be pleased to know that you can leave your shoes on when passing through security in five more airports: Austin, Memphis, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. PreCheck is now available at 40 US airports—however, it’s not in every terminal, and it’s still a random selection—you cannot count on getting it.  What’s been your batting average with PreCheck? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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  • John

    Just read that Virgin America is offering introductory $59 each way on their new SJC – LAX routes. This is good as the summer traffic picks up. They should consider at least one east coast route as well, and that is Washington DC as no carrier has nonstop service there from SJC. Jet Blue flies to Boston and JFK (red eyes) from SJC.

  • Brad

    Thanks for the heads up, John. Didn’t know about the return of China Eastern, but glad to hear it.

  • Cecilie

    Being a Eurobonus (SAS) Gold (Star Alliance Gold) member, I am probably biased when saying what I think of SAS.

    Their catering, both in business and economy has improved drastically lately. Flew CPH-IAD in May 2012 in economy. Was very disappointed with the food. Flew OSL-EWR in November 2012 in economy, and the food was probably the best I have ever had in economy.

    Some people here mentioned Lufthansa. Yes, sure, they have good connections throughout Europe, but so does SAS, especially through the CPH hub (and OSL hub if you need to get around Norway) LH’s business product is not as good as SAS in my opinion. The Lufthansa business seats are about the same as SAS’ but the food isn’t anywhere near the appearance and taste that what SAS offers.

  • Laurence

    Personally I have not had great experiences with SAS; I flew them to Stockholm and there was honestly nothing memorable about the experience at all (except perhaps for their lounges, which remind me of an Ikea showroom). Also, I’ve found them to be fairly expensive in the past; they need to become more like Finnair if they want to succeed IMHO – slim down the operation and encourage more connection traffic. Given the current sate of things and the Scandic governments’ own goals I doubt they will continue to be successful in general and I do not see this flight continuing for long – after all what links are there between the Bay Area and CPH? It’s not London, nor even Paris or Berlin for that matter. LH will serve the same European destinations, probably for cheaper, via FRA MUN an ZRH. I just don’t see it succeeding, sorry.

  • John

    After a few false starts, it is nice to see SK finally starting service into SFO. They still are not on solid financial ground. They laid off 6K employees over the past year. Here is hoping they have a long and successful business at SFO.

    On a side note, there is one more International carrier starting service next month. On April 26th, China Eastern (MU) returns to SFO on a daily PVG-SFO route. During the late 1990s, MU served SFO. Here is wishing them success.

  • chris

    Yeah, I agree that the 4 across the middle is not optimal, but if you are on the two-side, esp upstairs in the bubble of a 747, you are sittin pretty good! — chris

  • ted

    United business seats are on the low end. 4 across is hardly luxurious.