Peak summer + United TP mess + SFO’s best food + Virgin at SJC

PRICEY SUMMER. This is expected to be the busiest summer travel season since before the recession of 2008. The peak of the peak summer travel season, which runs from roughly June 21 through August 10 this year, is now upon us. Summer got off to a slow start at SFO this week, with the rainy weather resulting in ground stops and delays of up to 2-3 hours, while Oakland and San Jose Airports were operating normally.  Airlines say that the busiest days of this summer will be Thursdays and Fridays, so avoid those if you can. Since this is THE most expensive, most crowded time of year to travel, try to postpone trips until late August if you can, and you may get through this summer with your wallet and sanity intact. (Check out the above video, which is part of a summer travel project I’ve been working on with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.)

United flight attendants improvisation when toilet paper ran low. (Credit: Unknown)

United flight attendants improvised when toilet paper ran low on an London-SFO flight (Credit: Unknown)

UNUSUAL TP ON UNITED? By now you’ve likely heard about United flight 931 from London to San Francisco that somehow took off… without enough toilet paper. United uses a 747-400 on the 10-hour daylight flight from Heathrow, which has nine lavatories. Over the last week, the story has gone viral. A quick Google news search using “United Toilet Paper” shows at least 28 stories have run so far.While it appears that the Bay Area’s KGO Channel 7 scooped this story locally (which was originally posted on FlyerTalk), here’s our favorite take on it, from the Daily Beast: “Is it us, or does flying keep getting crappier? Every airline seems to be cutting back on something, but United took it to a whole new level by taking off for a ten-hour flight without [enough] toilet paper on board. Some quick thinking flight attendants stocked the bathrooms with cocktail napkins, but the effort didn’t sit well with passengers. In a statement, United said, ‘We apologize to our customers on this flight for the inconvenience and would like the opportunity to welcome them back.’” Another good headline from USA Today: “United is wiping up after a customer service mess.” CNN confirmed that the lavatories lacking TP were in the coach section, not in business or first class. Thoughts please! Leave them below in the comments section. 

Precheck logo TMPRE-CHECK AT SFO TERMINAL 1. The TSA’s super-popular PreCheck lanes are coming to Delta’s gate area at SFO’s Terminal 1, boarding area C, by mid-July according to SFO spokesman Doug Yakel. This means that PreCheck will now have lanes in all three domestic terminals at SFO; however, PreCheck will NOT have a lane in Terminal 1, boarding area B used primarily by United Express, Southwest and US Airways. PreCheck is one part of the No Hassle Travel Trifecta that every frequent traveler in the Bay Area should be a part of!

BEST FOOD AT SFO?. One of our favorite foodie blogs, Eater SF, recently chose the top 5 dining standouts at SFO. Do you agree with the following assessment? What’s your favorite place to grab a meal at SFO?

  1. Piq.  Italian influenced café and bakery in Terminal 1
  2. Ebisu. Hard-core sushi in the International Terminal G-side (United side).
  3. Burger Joint. Above average burgers in Terminal 2
  4. Yankee Pier. Good ole standby seafood house located near security lanes in United’s Terminal 3
  5. Cat Cora’s Kitchen. Upscale comfort food (like lobster mac and cheese) in Terminal 2

SUMMER DEALS TO ASIA. Singapore Airlines launched an interesting “Early Bird” sale for late summer and early fall travel this month. Every week, it puts a new Asian destination on sale. It started out with Singapore at $999 round trip, and has followed with Thailand and Vietnam at $1100 round trip. You must book tickets by June 29th and travel between August 18 and November 15. Singapore Air also posts last minute deals for trips as soon as July 16 to its stopover cities (Hong Kong and Seoul) for $784 to $964 roundtrip. (Fares are “all in”– including all taxes and fees.) These deals are not bad considering a roundtrip nonstops from SFO to Europe are in the $1,500 range for late August trips.

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TAKE BART TO THE AIRPORT? You may want to start thinking about alternatives starting next week as a strike looms. SFgate reports: With a BART strike appearing increasingly possible, Bay Area transportation officials are urging commuters to start planning for the gridlock and chaos that could be unleashed on Monday morning. Labor agreements with BART and its five unions expire at midnight Sunday.”

WILL YOU MAKE PREMIER? Based on our recent poll, TravelSkills reader are split regarding the impact of United’s recently announced spending thresholds for Premier status. Over half of you (57%) said that you’ll be able to maintain status (easily or just barely) while 43% said that you would not be able to meet the new spending requirements. See the poll (and vote!) here.

VIRGIN WINNING SJC-LAX. Remember when Virgin America announced that it would enter the San Jose-Los Angeles market with new nonstops on May 1? As soon as Virgin made that move, other airlines pounced, adding new service or beefing up existing flights, making the route one of the most competitive in the country with multiple daily flights from Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest and Virgin. At a recent Bay Area/Silicon Valley Business Travel Association meeting, John MacLeod, Virgin’s SVP Planning & Sales, told TravelSkills that according to ARC data (which does not include Southwest), Virgin already has the highest share of passengers on the route. However, MacLeod is not resting easy, adding, “Despite our low costs we’ll need it to be even higher to make a profit on the route. It’s very competitive.” Where’s all the biz coming from? MacLeod says that more Silicon Valley travelers than expected are driving to San Jose International and then flying Virgin to LAX to connect to transcon flights instead of facing the traffic-clogged 101 north to SFO.

United employees in new duds (Photo: United Airlines)

United employees in new duds (Photo: United Airlines)

NEW DUDS FOR UNITED. United employees will don new uniforms today. Here’s how a United press release describes them: Flight Attendants: The uniform includes a core wardrobe of black trousers, skirts, sweaters, vests and blazers with two rows of silver braid on the sleeves. Female flight attendants will also wear sweaters, vests, short sleeve jackets and two styles of dresses, including a signature blue dress with a black stripe detail. Outerwear for male and female flight attendants includes a black all-season coat and an optional gray double-breasted wool coat. Customer Service Agents: The uniform includes a wardrobe of black blazers, trousers, sweaters, vests and skirts. Agents will also wear colored shirts and distinctive neckwear that vary depending on their job responsibilities. What do you think? Please leave your comments below. 

NEW PLANES FOR UNITED. At the Paris Air Show earlier this month, United announced that it would order 35 of a “stretch” version of the new Airbus A350, the 350-seat Airbus A350-1000. A350s are new super-efficient composite aircraft introduced to compete with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Deliveries of the new plane will not begin until 2018. United already has 65 Dreamliners in the pipeline—20 of which will be the newer, larger 787-10 stretch version. All of these new planes will be used for long-haul international flying.

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NO MORE RENO-OAKLAND. Southwest Airlines is eliminating its 2x daily nonstops between Reno and Oakland this month due to lack of interest. However, you can still fly to Reno from San Jose (on Alaska) and SFO (on United).

The apple-sized Beacon Phoenix wireless speaker in my NYC hotel room (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The apple-sized Beacon Phoenix wireless speaker in my NYC hotel room (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

PORTABLE BLUETOOTH SPEAKERS. Last month Beacon Audio sent me one of their new, fist-sized, Phoenix Bluetooth speakers ($49-$99 depending on where you buy it) for a test drive. I’m no audiophile, but this tough, rubberized, rechargeable and travel-friendly speaker packs a wallop of sound that’s great for jamming on iTunes in the hotel shower—it also adds a deeper dimension to watching videos on my iPad. I plan on bringing it to the beach later this summer. Do you pack a portable speaker for your listening pleasure when on the road? What’s your speaker of choice? Why? Please leave your comments below.

MORE MEGA-MILE BONUSES. Remember when I wrote about Rocketmiles and Pointshound—two new hotel booking sites that offer mega-mileage bonuses at select hotels? Well both have some out with news this month. First, Rocketmiles has teamed up with Virgin America, and is offering Elevate elites a big 5,000-point bonus for the first hotel booking; regular members get a 3,000-point bonus. Details on the bonus here. Pointshound is offering a 500-point bonus on Virgin America, United and several other carriers, but only for bookings made by the end of June. (Note: We have posted affiliate links to these sites and earn bonus points, too, when readers book trips. So help us out!)

United's new half bottles of wine. Would you?

United’s new half bottles of wine. Would you?

BIG JUGS ON UNITED. Have you seen the new 375 ml half bottles of wine that United is serving on p.s. flights? Each bottle (2.5 glasses) costs $15.99. Currently on offer: Meiomi Pinot Noir 2011 or St Supery Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Both rate 91+ on Wine Spectator. In a related story, Spirit Air is now selling canned wine onboard—in white or strawberry moscato at $7 per can. The press release says, “This new category is defined by delectable wine products in a convenient, environmentally-friendly container with six percent alcohol content.

NEW STAR ALLIANCE PARTNER. Taipei-based EVA Air has officially joined Star Alliance, which means you can earn and burn United miles, albeit at reduced levels, when flying on EVA’s Boeing 777 SFO-TPE nonstops. United’s planned nonstops between SFO and TPE, which were to have cranked up this past April, have been shelved until (at least) next March.

EMIRATES A380 TO LAX. SFO? Emirates announced last month that it would begin flying a double-decker, 489-seat, Airbus A380 between Los Angeles and Dubai starting December 2. As soon as I heard that, I wanted to know when it might bring the big bird in to replace the current B777s on SFO-DXB, but received the following non-committal answer from Emirates PR reps, “Emirates has not announced plans to bring the A380 into any additional US destinations but continues to review destinations as more A380s are delivered. Emirates, the largest A380 operator in the world, has 34 A380s in service and an additional 56 A380s on order; receiving one A380 delivery per month, on average.” While having an Emirates A380 at SFO would be great, keep in mind that the behemoth with have to dock at the far end of the international terminal, which would mean elimination of allowing business and first class passengers to board the plane directly from SFO’s enormous 9,500 sq ft Emirates lounge (which is located in the middle, not the end of the terminal).

Chris McGinnis


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  • Simon

    I think I’d pick their 777’s over their increasingly antiquated 747’s…either way, whatever gets you there safely is good I suppose! Good flying Dragon!

  • Mikey

    It will take a lot more than guaranteed toilet paper for me to fly on United. I used to patronize the airline when I could actually sit down without my knees wrapped around my ears and not get nickel-dimed into bankruptcy. Those were the good old days before the bean counters ran the airlines. If they ever build a railroad to Europe I’ll be the first one to board!

  • Brad

    Jambox is the best portable Bluetooth speaker. :)

  • Nat

    I’m on Virgin Australia on the way out, so I imagine I’ll be in the Virgin American/Virgin Australia terminal this weekend anyway. If I ever end up on Delta to AUS again, that would be nice though.

  • Dragon

    Sorry – yes, you’re right – a 777 overwater. My mistake.

    I haven’t ridden in a 747 since I was a wee dragonette, though. :)

  • teo5

    those new uniforms are a snoozefest. lots of black and a little dark blue, boring same-old shape and cut. not really a surprise from united … and that tp debacle? even less of a surprise! they have been falling down on the job every time i’ve flown them in the past 2 years. finally decided to stop flying them even though they kept giving me mileage bonuses and travel certs for all the terrible experiences.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    On new uniforms for UA people – I just can’t care about them, the UA people always look nice, who pays attention to exactly what they’re wearing? I’m sure the employees are happy with a new look, probably thoroughly tired of the old ones, but the rest of us? Kind of like repainting the airplane … who cares except the people directly involved?

  • Kacee

    So how did United “wipe up the mess”? I see nothing more than a mealy mouthed semi-apology. No explanation how this occurred, nothing about the steps they are taking to ensure it won’t happen again. Pretty pathetic.

  • Chris McGinnis

    You’ve put a pizza hex on me with your comment. Must have it for lunch now! :) — chris

  • Chris McGinnis

    Thank you, thinker for the feedback. These updates take a lot of work and it’s good to hear that they are appreciated! Keept reading and tell your friends about The BAT! — chris

  • Chris McGinnis

    Thanks for your comments, ML! Good to see you here on The BAT!

  • Chris McGinnis

    Thanks, Nat! One day soon you’ll get to see that new int’l terminal at LAX opening later this summer. Looks super snazzy! –chris

  • Nat

    Re the United debacle, this is just another reason to me why United’s international economy service is crap (no pun intended, really). Unless United’s price is absurdly lower, I will always fly someone else on international long haul routes from SFO (Virgin or British to London, Air France to Paris, etc.).

    Even though United has a direct from SFO to Sydney, I’m flying to LAX and then to SYD on Virgin Australia rather than spend 15hrs in economy with no personal entertainment system. Even Delta on their international routes has better amenities.

  • Michael Laflamme

    So…a shortage of toilet paper, but they have enough money to redesign and issue a new uniform? If they are skimping on TP, what DON’T we see that is being skimped? It’s the things I **can’t** see that worries me!

  • thinker

    Really like these Bay Area travel news roundups — please keep them coming!

    Also, Andalé in T3 and Intl. G airside is my go-to SFO restaurant.

  • Simon

    You can’t fly a 737 from SFO – LHR, you mean the 777-200….UA commonly run the 744 (747-400) during the busier demand periods (such as now).

  • Chris McGinnis

    JK: You need to get Global Entry, which will qualify you as PreCheck for Delta and all other participating airlines. Fee for Global Entry is $100 for 5 years. See the link in the post to the No Hassle Travel Trifecta.

  • JK

    Chris – As a Delta MM with only Silver status at this point, how do I go about getting TSA Pre-Check status for Terminal 1? Do I have to wait for Delta to invite me? (and if so, what are my chances with just Silver status?)

  • Dragon

    Holy cow – 931 is the flight I usually take when I’m lucky enough to go to London. I cannot imagine the chaos if it ran out of tp. (Of course, I’ve never had that flight be on a 747, either; they’re usually 737 overwaters in my experience.) I always fly with several travel packs of tissues, since I’m an inveterate noseblower, but I doubt most people are that prepared.

    As for food in SFO, I love the pizza at Willow Creek in T3. My love for their pizza was once noted by my company’s t&e department, who couldn’t believe that I really went there for lunch before almost every trip :)