Tallest hotel in the West opens: InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown

Breakfast overlooking LA from the 70th floor Club lounge of the new InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown (Chris McGinnis)

Hello from the 70th floor of the new Wilshire Grand Center in downtown Los Angeles, home to the new InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown. TravelSkills buzzed into LA this week to watch Delta sign its new joint venture agreement with Korean Air and to watch InterContinental open its newest, tallest hotel– all in the same spot.

How are the two related? Well, Korean Air, which is part of the giant Korean conglomerate Hanjin, is the owner of the Wilshire Grand Center. So when it came time to do the deal with Delta, Korean Air chose its newest real estate gem for the occasion. It just so happened that the joint venture announcement and the hotel opening coincided, so it was quite a big deal with CEOs of both Delta and Korean Air in attendance.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian and Korean Air YH Cho sign joint venture deal at new LA hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown is in the the new Wilshire Grand Center, a gleaming glass tower that is now the tallest building west of the Mississippi at 1,100 feet. (It beats out the US Bank Tower, which stands at 1,018 feet.) InterContinental runs the hotel part (floors 31-73) of the building.

The $1.2 billion mixed-use complex also houses five floors of meeting space, office space, retail stores, and observation decks. The new tower at 900 West Wilshire Boulevard is on the site of the old Wilshire Grand Hotel, which closed in 2011 and was demolished in 2013.

Check in on the 70th floor lobby of the new InterConti LA- a concept familiar to those who’ve stayed at Asian skyscraper hotels (Chris McGinnis)

The InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown is big, with 889 guest rooms and suites. The guest rooms are located below the hotel’s public areas, which include a “sky lobby” for check-in on the 70th floor (a 50-second ride on the hotel’s high-speed, double-decker elevators).

The hotel has five restaurants and bars, including a French steakhouse, La Boiucherie, on the 71st floor (with pink velvet banquettes) and an open-air rooftop bar on floor 73 with whimsical designer touches like astroturf chairs.  On the 69th floor you’ll find a sushi restaurant called Sora and an upscale restaurant called Dekkadance with a variety of traditional and comfort foods.

Pink banquettes at La Boucherie in the InterConti LA (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Quirky furnishings at dramatic rooftop bar include shaggy astroturf chairs (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Don’t forget your sunglasses when you come to LA, or dine in the new Dekkadance restaurant with big sweeping views during day, twinkling lights at night (Chris McGinnis)

Other features of the hotel include 94,000 square feet of meeting space (including a 21,000 square foot ballroom), a business center, and valet parking. The hotel also has upgraded Club InterContinental rooms and suites with extra amenities and services, as well as a Club lounge on floor 70 (see photo at top) with free breakfast, all-day refreshments, afternoon tea, and evening cocktails.

My double room at the InterConti LA- first person to sleep here! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Standard rooms at the InterContinental start at 385 square feet, with beginning rates of $289 double. One-bedroom suites go for $495.

The hotel is in the city’s financial district, but is also close to popular sports and entertainment venues like the Staples Center and L.A. Live, as well as the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Lobby of new InterContinental LA Downtown #hotel #design #la #dtla #travel

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

Disclosure: Chris McGinnis was a guest of Korean Air for this trip, which included airfare from SFO and hotel for 2 nights. 

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New food options coming at United, Delta, JetBlue

New United package: Uno’s pizza and Miller Light. (Image: United)

We recently provided an in-depth look at United’s cheeseburger , introduced in January and now the most requested item in the airline’s Bistro on Board menu. Now United is refreshing its food-for-purchase options starting July 1, Delta is expanding its free economy class meal options on transcon routes, and JetBlue is offering a new set of boxed snacks for sale.

United is rolling out another likely winner in the comfort-food category: pizza. If you’re a pizza aficionado and you travel to Chicago, you’ve probably dined at the iconic deep-dish pizzeria Uno’s (or its sister location, Due’s). And that’s the vendor United will use for its in-flight pies.

The spinach-and-garlic pizza from Uno’s (sorry, no substitutions) will be available for purchase on United flights of more than three and a half hours. They’ll be priced at $9.99 – or you can add a Miller Light for a total cost of $13.99.

Elements of United’s protein box. (Image: United)

Other selections coming to United’s Bistro on Board menu July 1 include a Thai-style chicken ciabatta sandwich, an egg-white flatbread, and a “protein box” with hummus, tabbouleh salad, almonds and pretzel sticks. The cheeseburger will still be there, and so will United’s breakfast sandwich (egg, cheese and sausage).

Delta just announced it is increasing the number of free Main Cabin meal offerings on a dozen transcontinental routes from the current six options to 18. The airline said it will offer “distinct breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that vary on eastbound and westbound flights.” Some of the items on the new menu include a cheese plate, a Luvo Harissa roasted veggie wrap, a Greek Meze plate, a beef pastrami sandwich and a sesame noodle salad. You can see the full menu here.

A fruit, cheese and cookies plate from Delta. (Image: Delta)

In March, Delta started offering free meals in coach on its prime transcon routes between JFK-San Francisco and JFK-Los Angeles. A month later, it expanded the service to Boston-San Francisco, Boston-LAX and Boston-Seattle; Washington Reagan National-LAX; JFK-Seattle and JFK-Portland; Seattle-Ft. Lauderdale, Seattle-Orlando and Seattle-Raleigh/Durham.

JetBlue, meanwhile, is coming out with new “EatUp” boxed snack selections July 1 on flights of more than two hours, available for purchase by passengers who can’t seem to fill up on the airline’s free and unlimited snacks.

JetBlue’s new boxed snack selections. (Image: JetBlue)

The new boxed snacks include the Big Up (an RXBAR bar, coconut toffee candy, turkey jerkey, roasted chickpeas and parmesan cheese crisps); the MixItUp (a KIND granola bar, ranch crackers, a turkey stick and fruit snacks); the AmpUp (gluten-free, vegan and kosher items including red pepper hummus Mary’s Gone crackers, a MadeGood chocolate crispy rice square, Greek olives, roasted almonds and a fruit bar); and the CatchUp (salt and pepper cashews, popcorn, brownie crisps and jellybeans).

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Contest: 2 Singapore Airlines tickets to Hong Kong!

Hong Kong

We’re giving away a trip for two to Hong Kong this summer! Ready to go? (Image: Pixabay)

We are thrilled to announce that TravelSkills and Singapore Airlines have teamed up to offer TWO round trip tickets between San Francisco and Hong Kong to a very lucky reader!

Singapore Air’s new premium economy seat and service will debut on the busy San Francisco-Hong Kong route on July 22. (Flights SQ1 and SQ2) That introduction will complete the carrier’s rollout of the popular new service on all flights from all four of its U.S. gateways: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Houston.

Would you like to give the new seat a try (for free) and write about it?

Singapore Airlines A350 premium economy

Singapore Airlines new Premium Economy seats on my A350 inaugural SFO-SIN flight last fall. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s how our contest works: Regular readers of the TravelSkills blog are familiar with our famous Trip Reports— where we chronicle inflight experiences on a wide variety of airlines. Over the last year, a growing  number of TravelSkills readers have submitted their own Reader Reports— many of which have become some of the blog’s most popular posts!

To find the right reader for this trip, we’ve created a contest and will pick a winner for the two tickets.

Interested? Then fill out the entry form below by June 28 and tell us why YOU would be the best person for this mission. We’ll review all entries by June 30 and choose a winner based on several factors: Cleverness, eagerness, writing style, ability to take good photos with a phone or camera, and an explanation of what a trip like this would mean to you personally. (Keep your entries to less than 300 words, please.)

All we ask the winner to do is to take notes, plenty of photos and then write about your premium economy experience on Singapore Airlines. (Submitting a report to us within two weeks of your return.) That’s it! Don’t worry if you’re not a professional writer– I’m happy to help the winner craft and edit his or her Report.

Some important notes: We are only providing air transportation for this trip. The winner is responsible for all other costs related to this trip such as hotels, visas, transfers, food, etc. Both tickets must be booked together. We are not responsible for additional costs due to irregular operations such as delays and cancellations. The winner is responsible for obtaining proper visas or any other documents needed for travel to Hong Kong. We’d prefer that the winner travel on the inaugural outbound flight from SFO (Friday, July 21) to enjoy the airport and inflight festivities celebrating the service. But we realize that may not be possible– so the winner could take the trip any time before August 30. (Note: Be sure to read the full official contest rules at the bottom of the entry form!)

Singapore Airlines new premium economy seat will soon be onboard all its Airbus A350, A380 and B777-300ER aircraft from the U.S. With a 2-4-2 configuration you’ll get 38-inches of pitch with eight-inches of recline. For entertainment, there are big 13.3-inch touchscreen HD monitors, noise-canceling headsets, power outlets, and two USB ports. Dining? You can reserve your main course from a variety of “Book the Cook” dishes up to 24 hours before you fly, or select from three meal choices on board– all served with Champagne.

Currently, roundtrip premium economy fares on Singapore Airlines for late summer trips are running about $1,900.

Learn more about Singapore Air’s premium economy seats on a special website.

Ready to go? Then fill out the form embedded below (or click here)… and hurry! The contest ends  midnight PT on Wednesday, June 28. We’ll select the winner by Friday June 30! And the winner will take off for Hong Kong as soon as July 22!

Increase your chances of winning by sending this post to your potential trip companions- so they can enter, too! 🙂

Questions? Ask Chris

Don’t see a form embedded below? Then click here.


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Seats (and suites) for sale on new Delta A350

The first new A350 with Delta livery recently came out of the paint shop. (Image: Delta)

Want to be the first to fly on Delta’s new Airbus A350, which will introduce new in-flight seating products?  Now’s your chance, but act fast.

Delta just started selling seats on the first flight of its first new A350 wide-body, which will take to the skies on October 30 from Detroit to Tokyo Narita. (Cheapest Delta One fare we could find for November trips: $7,600 round trip)

In addition to Delta’s new Delta One front cabin, which features innovative passenger “suites,” the aircraft will also debut the Delta Premium Select seating category – the airline’s new international premium economy product. ($2,400 round trip in November)

A passenger suite in the new Delta One cabin. (Image: Delta)

“In addition to the DTW-NRT flight, Delta Premium Select will be sold on select flights from DTW to Incheon (ICN) for flights scheduled Nov. 16, 2017, and beyond, as well as on select flights from DTW to Beijing (PEK) for flights scheduled Jan. 17, 2018, and beyond,” Delta said.

The new Premium Select (true premium economy) seats will be up to 19 inches wide, with pitch of up to 38 inches, up to seven inches of recline, and adjustable leg and head rests. Premium Select travelers will get noise-cancelling headphones, pre-departure drink service, upgraded meal service, free in-flight entertainment selections on a 13.3-inch screen, in-seat power ports, and Delta’s Sky Priority treatment (expedited check-in, baggage and security screening, and premium boarding).

As Delta’s long-haul aircraft get the new Premium Select seating, they will no longer offer Comfort+ extra-legroom economy seating. But during the transition period, things could get confusing for travelers who want an upgraded economy option, depending on how and where they book. See this interesting analysis from Runway Girl for a detailed explanation. (Comfort+ roundtrips are $1,700 in November. Main cabin fares are $1,300. Oddly, Basic economy is $1,300 too.)

Delta’s new international premium economy seats will debut on the A350. (Image: delta)

The new Delta One Suites will each provide fully-flat seat-beds; aisle access; a “full-height door;” privacy dividers between the two center suites; customizable lighting; special stowage compartments for shoes, headphones and laptops; 18-inch video monitors, and power and USB outlets.

Delta’s new Airbus A350s will come equipped with the new design, and the company also plans to retrofit its existing 777-200 fleet with the Delta One Suites and Premium Select seating over time.

What do you think of the new Delta One suite with a sliding door? Have you flown on an A350? Please leave your comments below. 

Delta One

Top down look at the new Delta One suite (Image: Delta)

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Most popular: Marriott policy change + Domestic 747 + Cheeseburgers + American inch

Le Meridien Atlanta

Starting June 15 a new cancellation policy went into effect at all Marriott and Starwood properties like the Le Meridien in Atlanta (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

Marriott/Starwood confirms restrictive new cancellation policy

United adds 11 new nonstops to Hawaii

Routes: United, Domestic Delta 747 flight, Virgin America, Southwest, Frontier

Alaska’s new double miles partner promotion

Cheeseburgers, pizza take off in economy class

A back of the bus burger on United– very good! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Another Mideast carrier cuts U.S. service

Airport news: Denver, LAX, San Diego, Houston, Las Vegas

American gives back an inch

Delta, TSA test fingerprints as boarding passes

10 Reader Report: Final ride on a Delta 747

Watch Boeing show off its sleek and nimble new jets in this video released for this week’s Paris Air Show.

 

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Beware when connecting through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport! Here’s a tip from reader D.M.:

You may have addressed this earlier and I missed it but Europe travelers need to know to avoid connections at CDG at all costs. I recently went to Venice, via CDG, and even though it was through Delta (and adhered to their minimum connection times at CDG) it still took nearly two hours to connect to an Air France flight into VCE. Needless to say, we missed the original connection and had to take a later flight. Upon returning to ATL, I discussed this with three other frequent Europe travelers who confirmed that they had the same recent experiences in CDG. Part of the problem is the layout and part is the fact that, with about 200 people attempting to connect to other concourses, the French police only had two agents checking passports and documents for intra-airport passengers.

Air France’s bhub at Paris Charles de Gaulle. (Image: Parisinfo.com)

Trump’s new travel ban- on Americans

“Manspreading” banned in Spain

Take a look at Delta’s newest bird: The Airbus A350

Expansion plans Atlanta’s popular Concourse T, housing United, American & Delta gates

Oy: United flight attendants to earn $50 for hawking Chase cards on planes

United: More than 30 percent of main cabin customers are buying Basic Economy

DOT saw a spike in passenger complaints after release of United ‘dragging’ video

Southwest tests dual-door deplaning at two California airports

See a United 767 spewing fuel from a wing just before takeoff at Newark

First look: Cabin designs for El Al’s new Dreamliners

How hotels are upgrading their fitness facilities

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Routes: United Polaris at SFO + Lufthansa, Hainan, Edelweiss, WOW

A window seat in United’s new Polaris business class. (Image: United)

In international route developments, United puts more aircraft with its new Polaris business cabin into service from San Francisco; San Diego gets new Europe service from two carriers; Hainan Airlines plans a New York route; and WOW adds another U.S. gateway.

United Airlines has taken delivery of more 777-300ERs equipped with its new Polaris international business class seat, and it is putting them into service. The airline is focusing on transpacific flights out of San Francisco for the new planes. This week, it put a new Polaris-equipped 777-300ER into service between San Francisco and Tokyo Narita, and another is due to start flying later this month from SFO to Taipei. United already uses the 777-300ER on its San Francisco-Hong Kong and Newark-Tel Aviv routes.

Lufthansa will out an A380 onto its Los Angeles-Munich route. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa has some big plans for California in 2018. For one thing, the airline said it will begin service next summer between San Diego and Frankfurt. It will operate five flights a week on the route, but it didn’t say what kind of aircraft it would use. Meanwhile, Lufthansa is planning to shift five of its 14 Airbus A380 super-jumbos from Frankfurt to Munich next year, and it will put one of them onto its Munich-Los Angeles route next summer, where it currently uses an A340. Lufthansa currently uses an A380 for one of its two daily LAX-Frankfurt flights.

Last week, another airline started flying from San Diego to Europe: Edelweiss is operating two flights a week (Mondays and Fridays) from SAN to Zurich. The seasonal service will continue through September 18, using a two-class, 314-passenger A340-300. What is Edelweiss? It’s a sister company of Swiss International Air Lines (and thus part of the Lufthansa family) that concentrates on the leisure market.

Speaking of Lufthansa, the German carrier is reportedly planning to try out a new pricing concept for long-haul trips through its European hubs. It’s called a “flexible routing” fare, and persons who buy it would get a discount in exchange for agreeing to let Lufthansa change their flight and routing from a connection through Frankfurt to one at another Lufthansa-family hub like Munich, Vienna or Zurich. The point is to give the airline more flexibility in steering traffic away from Frankfurt, where operating costs are higher, and still get the passenger from his desired point A to point B.

China’s Hainan Airlines has filed a schedule to start service this fall between New York JFK and Chongqing. The carrier is planning to offer two flights a week beginning October 20, using a two-class 787-8.

A Wow Air A321 (Image: Wow Air)

Iceland’s low-cost WOW Air continues its U.S. growth. This week, WOW started flying from Pittsburgh to Reykjavik , with one-way base fares starting as low as $99 (plus ancillary fees for everything from carrying on a bag to selecting a seat assignment in advance). Onward connections are available at Reykjavik to several European cities. WOW will fly the route five days a week, using a 220-passenger A321. Next month, WOW is due to add Chicago O’Hare to its route map.

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Routes: United, Domestic Delta 747 flight, Virgin America, Southwest, Frontier

United has started service on a dozen new domestic routes. (Image: United)

In domestic route news, United kicks off service in several new markets; Delta adds a Seattle spoke, and schedules a one-off 747 flight; Virgin America deploys more A321neos; Southwest’s new 737 MAXs will take to the skies this fall; and Frontier drops a San Francisco route.

Those new domestic routes that United announced last winter started operations last week. From San Francisco, United has added new daily service to Cincinnati, Detroit and Hartford Bradley, as well as three short hops (65 miles) a day to Santa Rosa, California. New service from United’s Chicago O’Hare hub includes three flights a day to Rochester, Minn., and three to Champaign/Urbana, Ill., as well as daily service to Spokane, Reno, and Charlottesville, Va. Other new routes include twice-daily flights from Washington Dulles to Springfield, Mo.; daily service between Newark-Sacramento; and daily flights from Denver to San Luis Obispo, Calif.

United has also extended some formerly seasonal routes to year-round operation, including San Francisco-New Orleans, Chicago-Tucson, Washington Dulles-Ft. Lauderdale, Newark-Salt Lake City and Denver-Kona.

On June 12, Delta added another spoke from its growing Seattle hub. The carrier started a daily A319 roundtrip between Seattle and Austin-Bergstrom International in Texas. Delta apparently sees Austin as a growth market; three months ago, it started flying to Raleigh-Durham as its seventh route from Austin, and in September it plans to add flights from Austin to Boston.

Delta has scheduled an unusual one-time domestic 747 flight from LAX. (Photo: Delta)

Speaking of Delta, we noticed a scheduling anomaly in Routesonline.com that might be of interest to readers who want to get in a convenient final 747 flight before those jumbos disappear from U.S. carriers’ fleets. Delta has reportedly scheduled a one-way, one-time 747-400 flight from Los Angeles to Detroit. It is due to lift off from LAX on September 5. NOTE: We found the Tuesday/Wednesday red-eye 747 flight DL1352 available on Delta.com for $317 one way. Ready to go?

If old planes aren’t your thing, how about new ones? We reported earlier that Virgin America started flying its first Airbus A321neo at the end of May on one daily San Francisco-Washington Reagan National flight, and it did the same this week on one daily SFO-New York JFK flight (VX022/29). Now Routesonlone.com reports that Virgin will put one of the new planes onto one daily San Francisco-Honolulu flight starting August 27, and one daily LAX-Newark flight as of October 15.  The A321neo (which stands for New Engine Option) is the largest aircraft in Virgin’s fleet, with 185 seats, vs. 146-149 for its A320s; it has ordered 10 of them.

Southwest will start to deploy its new 737MAX aircraft this fall. (Image: Southwest)

Another airline with a new aircraft model coming online is Southwest, which is the U.S. launch customer for Boeing’s fuel-efficient 737MAX 8.  Southwest has ordered 170 of the new planes, which will have the same number of seats at Southwest’s 737-800s (175), but they’re quieter, 14 percent more fuel-efficient and can fly 500 nautical miles farther. Southwest is putting them into service on scores of U.S. routes this fall and winter; you can look here to see the full roster of 737MAX 8 routes.

Frontier Airlines, which operates one daily flight between San Francisco and Houston Bush Intercontinental, will eliminate that service effective July 14.

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Cheeseburgers, pizza take off in economy class

chris mcginnis cheeseburger

Chris McGinnis trying United’s new $12 cheeseburger- It’s a mouthful and requires a lot of elbow room (Photo: Barkley Dean)

How about a hot, juicy cheeseburger on your next transcon flight? In economy class at that?

United introduced a new $12 cheeseburger option to its buy-on-board menu in January, and it seems to be taking off.

United spokesperson Jonathan Guerin told TravelSkills that the cheeseburger is now one of the most popular Bistro on Board items, with the airline now serving more than 2,000 per day.  The carrier serves the cheeseburger on most North American flights longer than 3.5 hours.

United describes it as “an old fashioned all-beef patty with cheese on a pretzel bun. Served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup, must and mayonnaise. It’s cooked onboard between 22-25 minutes in a 350F oven.”

I describe it as surprisingly good and very filling. And from what I’ve heard and seen onboard, lots of passengers feel the same way.

My economy class cheeseburger on SFO-ATL last week- surprisingly good! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last week on an ATL-SFO flight, I noticed that two first class passengers asked flight attendants to bring them cheeseburgers from the back of the bus—choosing the burger over their plated meals.

When I queried my social media streams about the burgers, most comments came back positive: “I love a good cheeseburger & compared to most plane alternatives, especially a cold option (gasp), I’ll happily devour a half-decent burger,” wrote @MilesTalk.

And it’s not just the cheeseburger United serves, it’s the fries that come with it. Somehow food scientists have figured out a way to make French-fries that bag up like potato chips, but look just like the real thing. And you know how at restaurants there are usually only a few french fries that are super crunchy? Well the whole bag crunches like those do. As the bag says, “Cut like a french fry, crunch like a chip.”

Check out the slideshow below to see how United is able to serve a hot cheeseburger in flight without it coming out a big wet mess.

United Cheeseburger

Hot burger, cool condiments and a bag of french fries (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Flight attendants deliver the hot $12 cheeseburger in a brown paper wrapper. In a separate cool container, you get the lettuce, tomato, pickle,  and condiments along with a bag of the fries. You also get utensils and a napkin, which is necessary because this burger is actually juicy.

Inside the bag, the hot part of the burger is already assembled: pretzel roll (which is nice and chewy and holds up well), the beef patty (which looks like it’s been grilled, but I suspect those grill marks are fake), and the cheddar cheese, which surprisingly stays mostly in place.

United Cheeseburger

Probably not the healthiest or most organic of choices, but what is when you are on a plane? (Chris McGinnis)

 

United Cheeseburger

Miraculously crunchy fries (Chris McGinnis)

 

United Cheeseburger

Cool condiments served separately (Chris McGinnis)

 

United Cheeseburger

The bare burger in its brown paper bag, which serves as a protective barrier (Chris McGinnis)

Eating a cheeseburger in economy class on United requires that you clear your entire tray table– it takes a lot of room to set this meal up. First you have to tear open the paper bag to get to it. Then use the bag as a plate since you don’t want your burger touching that nasty tray table top.

The whole rigamarole might be annoying to neighbors who are not eating or who are vegan. And when all three passengers in a row get the cheeseburger, get ready to knock elbows!

United Cheeseburger

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The top comes off easily, making room for the condiments. The bottom is pretty much glued to the patty by the cheddar cheese.

United Cheeseburger

You can create a beautiful burger on your tray table 😉 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Get it all dressed up, add ketchup, mustard and mayo and voila! Cheeseburger in paradise!

United Cheeseburger

Cheeseburger-Cheeseburger! And fries. In economy class. Not bad! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out how nice those crunchy fries look next to that juicy burger!

 If you like the cheeseburger, you will probably like what United has in store starting in July: Uno’s deep dish pizza (an icon in the Chicago pizza scene). A spokesperson told TravelSkills that it will be “A spinach and garlic deep dish pizza for $9.99.Available on on all flights within the U.S. over 3.5 hrs and on flights from the U.S. to Canada; Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. It’ll be prepared and served in our skillet dish to help the cheese brown and keep the crust crispy. And we’re planning a ‘Pizza and Beer combo’ for $13.99 pairing the pizza with a Miller Lite.”

Uno Pizza served on United flights starting in July

United is not the only airline serving burgers in the air. Alaska Airlines offers its popular $7 Angus Cheeseburger on its flights to/from Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico. I’ve not partaken of this burger yet, but I’ve heard from passengers who say it’s equally good– and made with Oregon’s famous Tillamook Cheddar cheese. Spokesperson Bobbie Egan told TravelSkills: “We’ve been serving the burger out of Mexico continuously for more than a decade. Here’s a fun fact about the cheeseburger – it’s what we served people on our rescue flights from Los Cabo after the 2014 hurricane. People CRIED. The cheeseburgers (and beer and the flight itself) were complimentary.”

Have you had a burger in flight? Would you pay for one when flying in economy class? Please leave your comments below.

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Delta, TSA test fingerprints as boarding passes

TSA is testing fingerprint ID verification for PreCheck members at Denver and Atlanta. (Image: TSA)

In the latest efforts to test biometric identifiers for airline passengers, the Transportation Security Administration this week started using fingerprint scanners to verify identities at the Atlanta and Denver airports, and Delta said it will work with Customs and Border Protection on a test of facial recognition technology at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson and New York JFK.

TSA said its tests will be conducted at one PreCheck lane at Atlanta and one at Denver. TSA already has electronic fingerprints of persons who joined PreCheck, and it will match those records with a fingerprint scan taken at the checkpoint to verify identity. The technology also precludes the need for a boarding pass.

“Once the technology finds a fingerprint match, it is able to obtain the passenger’s boarding pass information through Secure Flight,” TSA said. “Participation is voluntary and all passengers who choose to participate will then be subject to the standard ticket document checking process of showing their boarding pass and identification document.” The technology ultimately could automate the document checking process by eliminating the need for an ID check and a boarding pass, TSA noted.

Delta said its facial recognition testing with CBP will be used this summer for passengers departing on international flights. Passengers at the test gates will have an image of their face captured by a camera at the same time they self-scan their boarding pass. The technology will compare the individual’s identity as verified by the facial scan with itinerary information in Delta’s ticketing database.

Here’s a look at Delta’s facial recognition gates at JFK’s Terminal 4 (Image: Delta)

“Upon successful screening at JFK, the eGate will open for individual customers to pass into the boarding area,” Delta said. “In Atlanta, a self-contained unit will capture and verify customer’s identity before the customer continues on to boarding. All customer data is securely managed by CBP.”

The JFK test started this week at Delta’s Gate B24, and will be deployed at Atlanta’s gates E10 and E12 later this summer.

JetBlue recently announced similar testing of facial recognition technology for its flights from Boston to Aruba starting this month, and Delta is testing fingerprint scans for entry to its Sky Club at Washington Reagan National for SkyMiles members who also participate in the CLEAR trusted traveler program.

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Another Mideast carrier cuts U.S. service

Etihad 777-200

Etihad will end its 777 flights from San Francisco to Abu Dhabi. (Photo: Peter Biaggi / SFO)

Could this be the latest impact of the U.S. “laptop ban” on non-stop flights from the Middle East? Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways said it will eliminate service to San Francisco effective October 29.

Etihad didn’t mention the laptop ban in its announcement, instead blaming the decision on lower-than-expected passenger levels and fares on the route. Earlier this year, Etihad had reduced frequencies on the SFO-Abu Dhabi route from daily to three flights a week.

Etihad’s presence at SFO got off to an inauspicious start. When it arrived in San Francisco in November of 2014, it used an older 777 borrowed from India’s Jet Airways, in which Etihad has partial ownership- this led to the nickname “Jetihad.” Back then we posted a TravelSkills Trip Report about a Jetihad flight which confirmed what many travelers feared- service that was not quite up to Etihad standards.

Eventually, it put one of its own 777s on the route.

Etihad said it will refund or rebook passengers booked on SFO flights after October 29, and that it will continue service on its other U.S. routes.

Emirates has cut back frequencies on several U.S. routes. (Image: Emirates)

Two  months ago, Emirates said it planned to reduce its U.S. service this spring by 25 flights a week on routes from Dubai to Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale – although it did not eliminate any of those routes.

Emirates placed the blame on declining passenger demand, which it attributed to the laptop ban and on the Trump Administration’s efforts to ban travel from select Muslim-majority countries.

Every reduction in U.S. service by the Big Three Middle Eastern airlines (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways) is expected to benefit Air India, since a considerable amount of U.S.-India traffic flows through the Gulf States on those carriers.

Air India’s first flight from New Delhi arrived at SFO in December 2015. (Image: Peter Biaggi)

Next month, Air India will launch new service between Delhi and Washington Dulles, and recent reports indicate it plans to start flying from Delhi to Los Angeles in September and possibly to Dallas/Ft. Worth later this year. The Indian carrier was reportedly encouraged to expand its U.S. presence by the success of its San Francisco-Delhi route.

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways – which has maintained an aggressive growth strategy for the U.S. – said in April that it is planning to add Doha-San Francisco service in 2018. It already flies to 14 U.S. cities. Qatar officials said the airline’s load factor on U.S. routes fell by only half a point since the laptop ban was imposed.

However, Qatar Airways announced those plans before encountering a crisis this month when several of its regional neighbors – including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar, banning its airline from flying into their airports or through their airspace.

Thoughts, please! Have you flown Etihad or Jetihad? What did you think? 

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American gives back an inch

A Boeing 737 MAX in American Airlines livery. (Image: Boeing)

Several weeks ago, news broke that some seats on American Airlines’ new 737 MAX aircraft would have a 29-inch pitch – marking a new legroom low for major U.S. carriers. But now American has apparently had a change of heart.

That could be due to a raft of comments on TravelSkills and elsewhere that fiercely condemned the move. On our post, PP wrote: “I hate the thought of more regulation, but seriously — it’s like they’re asking for the Feds to step in….”

American sent out a memo stating that based on feedback from customers and employees, it has decided to scrap the 29-inch pitch, which would have affected three rows of seats on the new planes. The other seats in regular economy would have 30-inch pitch.

That’s the good news. On the other hand, American will reportedly stand by its plan to provide a 30-inch pitch for regular economy seating on the new planes, giving just an extra inch to those three tight rows. American currently provides 31-inch pitch on its 737-800s in economy class, and pitches of 30-31 inches on A319s, 31 on A320s and 31-32 on A321s.

AA’s Main Cabin Extra seats have 35-37 inch pitch. (Image: American)

And giving back that extra inch will also mean a reconfiguration for AA’s 737 MAXs. They’ll still have 172 seats, but the Main Cabin Extra seating (American’s extra-legroom economy product) will be reduced from 36 to 30 (one row), while regular economy will increase from 120 to 126 seats. The new aircraft will still have 16 first class seats.

As for the standard 30-inch pitch throughout the economy section, American’s memo said the MAX seats will make more efficient use of space, so that “a 30-inch pitch will feel more like today’s 31 inches.” (That’s what she said! LOL. Sorry I could not resist…) 

American has ordered 100 of the next-generation 737 MAX aircraft from Boeing.

Small as American’s giveback may be in the pitch department, at least it might prevent its legacy competitors from transitioning to a 29-inch pitch, which would effectively eliminate one of the key differences between them and the ultra-low-cost airlines.

Why do you think American caved on this one? Please leave your comments below. 

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United adds 11 new nonstops to Hawaii

United Hawaii

Cruising into Lihue Airport on Kauai from SFO on United will get easier with two flights per day (Chris McGinnis)

United is making a big grab for the lucrative Hawaii market, adding 11 new nonstops from the mainland, and adding even more lie-flat seats on overnight flights. It is also making its Denver hub a major, year-round gateway to Hawaii from the midwest.

More flights usually results two things important to frequent travelers: lower fares and more opportunities to redeem points to get to paradise. However, demand for Hawaii trips has increased so much recently that the additional capacity might not result in significantly lower fares or redemptions. Time will tell. However, it never hurts to set up fare alerts and keep an eye out for cheaper mileage redemptions in light of this announcement.

With the addition of the 11 flights, United says that it now offers the most flights between the mainland and Hawaii than any other carrier.

But flights to Hawaii are not cheap! Looking at August roundtrips in United economy class, Chicago-Maui and Denver-Maui are running a cool $1,400. Houston-Maui is $930. Cheapest SFO-Maui is $460, and LAX-Maui is about $570.

United adding more lie-flat seats on Hawaii flights (Chris McGinnis)

Starting this summer, all overnight flights between Hawaii and Chicago, Denver, Houston, Newark and Washington will have lie-flat seats up front. (Hawaiian Airlines is now offering lie-flat seats on some of its mainland-to-Hawaii flights. American recently added lie-flat seats on flights between Honolulu, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Delta flies lie-flat between ATL and Honolulu. United has had lie-flat seats on its SFO-Lihue 757 flights for a while now, but it appears that those flights, as well as most all non-Honolulu flights will be be served with 737s from SFO.)

Here’s what’s coming starting December 20 (these are in addition to existing Honolulu flights):

  • Denver’s seasonal flights to Kona, Lihue and Maui will convert to daily, year-round service.
  • From San Francisco, Maui nonstops increase from three to five times per day. Lihue increases to two per day. Kona increases from twice to three times per day.
  • Chicago-Maui service increases to 5x per week, up from 3x.
  • From Los Angeles, Kona and Maui get three flights per day, up from two and Hilo gets daily roundtrips

United’s expanded service to Hawaii starting Dec 20 (Image: United)

How do you fly to Hawaii? Have you been lately? How much did you pay…or how many miles did you redeem to get there? I recently snagged SFO-LIH for 45,000 United miles, which felt like a steal. You?

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Alaska’s new double miles partner promotion

Alaska Airlines is offering double miles on Mileage Plan international partners. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines’ newest Mileage Plan promotion offers members the chance to earn double miles on international trips.

The promotion provides double miles on qualifying economy fares for trips on any of 10 international partner carriers that participate in Mileage Plan. The carriers are British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Fiji Airways, Hainan Airlines, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, LAN and Qantas.

Qualifying international flights depart from West Coast cities including Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland and Vancouver.

Participants must register for the promotion here; the page also shows the qualifying routes and fare classes. The offer applies to international travel from June 1 through September 30.

The travel industry news site Skift.com suggested that the promotion is likely targeted at the growing number of Virgin Atlantic regulars who are transitioning to Mileage Plan, to make them aware of the global connecting possibilities on Alaska’s partner airlines.

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Most popular: Delta 747 + Fare sale + New routes + Longest United flight + New Bev Hills hotel

United Airlines showing its true colors for Pride month (Image: United)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

Reader Report: Final ride on a Delta 747

Big late summer/fall airfare sale takes off (Expired)

Routes: Southwest, AA, Delta, Alaska, + a new 787 route

Routes: JetBlue to Europe + AA, Delta, Norwegian, United, Avianca, Etihad

Two rare birds land by the Bay- with ultra cheap fares

Major transformation at Denver International + more airport news

7 Airports ask Trump for a raise, but you’ll pay for it

United’s longest flight won’t have this

3 U.S. cities get cheap new nonstops to Rome

10 New: Hilton-Beverly Hills, Hyatt-NYC, Marriott-Phoenix, Westin-Milwaukee, Choice-Chicago

Don’t miss: Global travelers shrug off political, terror concerns

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis took some time off for a family reunion in North Carolina this week at the High Hampton Inn– nice! And not like any Hampton Inn he’s ever stayed in before!

Blue Ridge Mountain time #travel #northcarolina #mountains #blueridge #summer

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Yellow Taxi sharing goes live in NYC

Travelers growing accustomed to terror?

Best Western testing in-room Alexa

PricewaterhouseCoopers sees an end to U.S. airline consolidation

Hilton picks AmEx as exclusive provider of Honors  credit cards

Delta recruits L.A. celebrity chefs for Delta One transcon in-fight service

Gogo says its high-speed 2Ku satellite Wi-Fi service is now on more than 200 aircraft

Here are the 20 longest flights operated by U.S. carriers

British Airways cabin crews plan four-day walkout in mid-June

KLM starts offering boarding passes, flight status updates via Twitter

Wyndham Hotels starts a new brand for three- and four-star independent properties

Take a look at the new ‘Canopy Park’ coming to Singapore’s Changi Airport

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Routes: JetBlue to Europe + AA, Delta, Norwegian, United, Avianca, Etihad

Will a larger Mint cabin on a new A321 model make Europe flights work for JetBlue? (Image: JetBlue)

In international route developments, JetBlue sees possibilities for Europe with new planes, more Mint; American’s new premium economy seating spreads to more routes; Delta kicks off Seoul service from its home base; Norwegian begins Barcelona flights this week; United drops a U.S.-South America route and Avianca adds one; and Etihad goes all-A380 on a key U.S. route.

JetBlue is in the midst of an analysis about how it can operate profitably on routes to Europe, according to an article in The Motley Fool, and the carrier reportedly sees two keys to making transatlantic flights work. One is the right aircraft – and JetBlue has taken steps in that direction by amending an aircraft order with Airbus to secure some A321LRs starting in 2019. With their longer range, those planes would let JetBlue fly from its Boston and New York JFK bases to major cities in western Europe. (How customers would react to a transatlantic flight on a single-aisle plane is another matter.)

The second key is competing not against ultra-low-cost operations like Norwegian and WOW, but against mainstream airlines’ premium cabins by offering business travelers a front cabin with more flat-bed Mint seats than the 16 that its domestic flights offer.  JetBlue sees its domestic Mint deployment as a major competitive success story, and wants to repeat it.  “Airbus’ Cabin-Flex concept will give airlines full discretion on how big to make their premium cabins by rearranging the locations of the emergency exits,” the article noted, and JetBlue is said to be looking at boosting Mint seating to 22 if it goes transatlantic.

American’s new Premium Economy section, with 2-3-2 leather seats, is coming to more routes later his year. (Image: American Airlines)

We noted recently that American Airlines has started installing its new international premium economy seating on its 777-200ERs, and Airlineroute.com reports that the carrier is taking reservations for premium economy travel starting December 15 on a number of routes. (The new section has initially been available only on select routes where AA uses new 787-9s.) In mid-December, the premium economy seats will be available on AA’s 777-200ER routes from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Buenos Aires, Frankfurt and Tokyo Narita; from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita and Tokyo Haneda; and from Miami to Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santiago (Chile).

Delta has launched new daily transpacific service from its Atlanta hub to Seoul Incheon, supplementing the daily flight in the same market operated by its partner Korean Air. The Delta flight uses a 777-200LR featuring a Delta One cabin with 37 lie-flat seats; 36 Comfort+ extra-legroom economy seats; and 218 main cabin seats in a nine-across layout. All seats have power ports and entertainment on demand, and satellite Wi-Fi is available.

Low-cost transatlantic specialist Norwegian kicked off three new U.S. routes this week, all of them to Barcelona with 787 Dreamliners. The carrier is operating twice a week to Barcelona from Los Angeles (increasing to three a week in August); twice a week from Newark (going up to four a week in August); and twice a week from Oakland (increasing to three in August). Norwegian’s Oakland-Barcelona route is already facing competition from new entrant Level, a low-cost subsidiary of British Airways/Iberia parent International Airlines Group.

Venezuela has been going through unprecedented political and economic turmoil in recent months, and travel to that country has suffered as a result. The latest evidence: United Airlines plans to end its daily flights to Caracas from Houston Bush Intercontinental effective July 1. United is just the latest of several carriers that have suspended Venezuela flights, in part because they have had trouble getting money from ticket sales out of the country.

Avianca added A319 service to Boston from Bogota. (Image: Avianca)

Avianca has launched new U.S. service between Bogota, Colombia and Boston Logan. The Star Alliance member flies the route four times a week from Terminal E at BOS, using a two-class A319 with 12 business class seats and 108 in economy. The flight operates on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from Boston, and is the only non-stop service between the two cities.

Etihad Airways has put an Airbus A380 onto its second daily New York JFK-Abu Dhabi  flight, replacing a 777-300ER. The other daily flight has been using an A380 since late 2015, so the aircraft change makes JFK-Abu Dhabi one of the airline’s few all-A380 routes, along with Abu Dhabi-London and Abu Dhabi-Sydney.

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California, Texas ‘all-you-can-fly’ airlines merge

Surf Air offers private aircraft flights around California. (Image: Surf Air)

Small airlines in California and Texas that use a similar business model – charging a monthly membership fee for “all-you-can-fly” service – are merging.

Santa Monica-based Surf Air said it has acquired Texas-based Rise; Surf Air offers small private aircraft flights in intra-California markets, and Rise does the same in Texas.

 The company said that together, Surf Air and Rise will operate 445 flights a week to 17 destinations.

The companies will also add new markets: “As part of the agreement, the combined entities also announced plans to quickly expand to additional markets within the next 18 months,” Surf Air said, including Las Vegas, Nev.; Bentonville, Ark. (home of Walmart headquarters); Midland, Tex. (a major energy center); New Orleans, La.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Taos, N.M. Certain membership levels will also qualify for weekend service to leisure destinations like Cabo San Lucas, Aspen and Sun Valley, the company said.

A Rise King Air 200. (Image: Rise)

The Rise brand will be changed to Surf Air, and “a new fleet of Surf Air aircraft will be brought to Texas to fly the scheduled Rise routes between Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio,” Surf Air said.

Destinations currently served by Surf Air include the Los Angeles area (Hawthorne and Burbank), Santa Barbara, the Bay Area (Oakland, San Carlos and San Jose), Napa Valley, Truckee/Lake Tahoe, San Diego, Carlsbad, Palm Springs and Monterey. The carrier operates up to 90 flights a day in California.

Surf Air said that after the merger is complete, it expects to link up its California and Texas networks. A Surf Air membership starts at $1,950 a month. Both companies also offer “block pricing” that allows travelers to purchase a package of a specific number of flights without committing to a monthly membership.

The company has set up a page on its website  where members and prospective members can vote on specific new routes they’d like to see added to the existing network.

To find out more, you can check out the “frequently asked questions” sections on the websites of Surf Air and Rise.

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Global travelers shrug off political, terror concerns

No sign of a Trump Slump yet in international visitor arrivals to the U.S. (Image: Jim Glab)

The U.S. travel industry has been predicting a “Trump slump” – i.e., a drop-off in foreign visitors due to the Administration’s tougher entry policies – and terrorist events in Europe were also expected to inhibit international travel. But so far, none of that seems to be happening.

U.S. travel officials expected to see evidence of the so-called Trump slump starting in April, following the Administration’s attempts – subsequently thwarted by the courts – to ban arrivals from several Muslim-majority countries and to generally impose “extreme vetting” on foreign arrivals.

But the U.S. Travel Association (USTA) said this week that instead of dropping, the number of foreign visitors to the U.S. actually increased in April by 4 percent over the same month a year ago.

USTA president Roger Dow admitted that the organization is “surprised” by that increase, citing it as ”evidence of the U.S. travel sector’s remarkable resilience.” Still, he urged the Trump Administration to make it clear that foreign visitors are still welcome.

“Even though we’re encouraged by these strong figures, we’ll continue to urge the administration to more publicly send the message that while the U.S. is closed to terror, it remains open for business,” Dow said. “We should not take it for granted that this trend will sustain, and the 15.3 million American jobs that depend on travel are not worth putting at risk. A simple and clear welcome message will go a long way in that regard.”

That rise in international arrivals did not hold true in all markets. April arrivals from the U.K. were down 6 percent – and that was well before the latest flap between Trump and London’s mayor. The U.S. ban on in-cabin laptops on flights from the Middle East and North Africa is also likely hurting traveler numbers in those markets, as evidenced by Emirates’ recent decision to scale back flight frequencies to the U.S.

Terror events in Europe haven’t hurt tourism either. (Image: Jim Glab)

The travel industry news website Skift.com reported a similar finding from the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – the leading global airline trade organization — this week in Cancun. Skift interviewed airline CEOs from Europe and Latin America and found no indications of a Trump slump in their traffic to the U.S.

Bloomberg News was also at the IATA conference, and its interviews with the chiefs of International Airlines Group (parent of British Airways and Iberia) and Lufthansa likewise found no evidence that that the latest terror attacks in Europe were having a negative impact on inbound traffic. Similar events in previous years were usually followed by a fall-off in visitors.

“It would be terrible if people start just considering that this is routine or normal, but we haven’t seen an impact on bookings,” IAG CEO Willie Walsh told Bloomberg News. “In the past, we would expect it to have some impact, but we haven’t seen anything.”

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Reader Report: Final ride on a Delta 747

A Delta 747-400 preparing to take off from Seoul (Photo: Jeff)

Last month I was glad to have the opportunity to fly on The Queen of the Skies before her wings are clipped by the U.S. carriers later this year. I flew upstairs in business class on Delta 158 from Seoul Incheon (ICN) to Detroit (DTW). Upstairs in Delta One on the 747 is only way to fly!!  My initial seat assignment was 11A downstairs, but through close monitoring of seats on the Delta app, I snagged a ride upstairs instead in seat 74K. 

To me, Seoul Incheon is one of the best airports in the world if not the best. On this trip, I stayed at the Grand Hyatt Incheon adjacent to the airport. I’ve also stayed at the nearby Best Western Premier, and both have easy access to the airport, which makes either a must when staying over the evening before your flight. Both offer regular shuttles for the 10-minute ride to the airport. 

TravelSkills reader Jeff submitted this Reader Report- He bought a fully refundable $4,800 economy class roundtrip for his ATL-SEA-ICN-DTW-ATL trip and used global certificates to upgrade. Here he reports on the leg from Seoul to Detroit. Since Jeff took this trip, Delta has launched new nonstops between Seoul and Atlanta using a Boeing 777. 

Seoul Incheon is one of the world’s best airports (Photo: Jeff)

Finding your carrier is a little tricky with the poor signage in ICN’s main terminal but just ask and you will be directed promptly. I checked in at the SkyPriority line and was immediately attended to, then headed to security. I’m in the Korean Smart Entry Service (SES) program (like Global Entry). It used to be good but now is overcrowded as they have not increased the machines available for processing. Saying that, if you travel to Korea often it may be worth it especially if you arrive in ICN when all of the flights from China arrive also and immigration lines can be swamped.

Security screening can be a bit of a mosh pit, but not always. Warning- wear cool clothing. The concept of air conditioning is different than in U.S. You will sweat everywhere at the airport, especially in the security line.  Rarely do they weigh the bags now but if it looks overstuffed they have people just before you enter security kinda watching out.

I cleared security in about 15 minutes. I carry all kinds of things cables, small tools, meters but the thing that freaks them out are my keys every time. Go figure.

I had a pass to the Korean Air Prestige lounge, and there are two to choose from at ICN. I think the lounge in the main terminal is the best one (less crowded, more comfortable, but still a little warm by my standards), but I went to the one in the international terminal because I was a little short on time. There is a train from the main concourse to the international carriers concourse (gates 100+). 

I loved the walk to the departure gate, looking out at the elegance of aviation through huge windows.

Looking out the window at the elegance of aviation (Photo: Jeff)

 

Boarding at ICN’s international terminal (Photo: Jeff)

 

Stairway to heaven aboard Delta 747-400 (Photo: Jeff)

 

Inside the business class bubble in the upper deck of a Delta 747 (Photo: Jeff)

 

Row 74 on the upper deck (Photo: Jeff)

 

Seat map of Delta’s 747-400 (Image: SeatGuru)

I boarded the plane and climbed the stairway to the upper deck. I found the overhead bins a little small so if you have an overstuffed bag they won’t fit but there is ample closet space at the back. 

On this flight is seemed like it took the flight attendants forever to start the preflight refreshments. Had to actually go back to the galley for a second glass of champagne.

Champagne and warm nuts after take off (Photo: Jeff)

Pushback was right on time.

As we departed, I peeked out my right side window and watched the engines as the captain scrolled the turbo fans up. Four engines given full thrust, release brakes, and rumble down the 10,000-foot runway. 60 seconds later we are in the sky looking forward to 12 more hours. 

The captain immediately makes a hard right turn (due east) which isn’t typical but I’m sure it’s to navigate well south out the DMZ.

The view was wonderful. Incheon (the city) then Seoul, past the mountainous country side and then to the beach lined coast.

Flying over South Korea, then a hard left north (Photo: Jeff)

 

Looking down at Seoul ICN shortly after take off (Photo: Jeff)

 

Flying over Korea’s mountains and beaches enroute to Detroit (Photo: Jeff)

I love the upper deck with the view and solitude. It harkens me back to travel when I was a kid (not that we ever flew in first but we did fly). It never feels crowded up here. Even in business class on other planes I always feel cramped and jostled. Not so when riding in the bubble! Travel seems elegant again. Pardon, but the 4th glass of champagne has made me nostalgic. They actually just gave me the bottle to save time and to stop me from ringing the call button I think.

The meal came about 20 minutes later. I selected the beef as I have been in Korea for 14 days and was desirous of the bovine.  The asparagus soup was very good and hot. The salad which was quite tasty with a good mix of leafy greens, pistachio nuts and citrus. I added the vinaigrette dressing which I really enjoy on Delta. The smoked duck was pleasant but the vegetable wrap had a sweet taste to it which threw me off. Not bad but not how I wanted to end the appetizers course.

Mixed salad, smoked duck to start (Photo: Jeff)

 

Main course beef (Photo: Jeff)

Delicious!

Meal arrived. I’m not sure if it was me or what but I could not eat it at all. Took one bite and stopped. It may have been my pallet with the Korean food all week but everything on the plate tasted odd.

Had another glass of champagne just in case. Odd thing was the FA’s didn’t even ask me why I ate so little.  Well no sense in worrying as the desert cart was rolling out. The selections were vanilla ice cream, chocolate cake and fruit/cheese. I had the chocolate cake and fruit/cheese. I always find the ice cream rock hard. These tasted absolutely fine!  No offer of wine or port…so I rang the call button and got a nice 10-year-old Port. 

Dessert, cheese platter, Champagne! (Photo: Jeff)

Sleep eludes me even on long flights. Half way through the flight flight attendants served a grilled chicken sandwich with Gouda cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms on rye. Quite good. We departed The Land of Morning Calm and flew over The Land of the Rising Sun.  The Queen continued to reach her full stride in full trim. Sadly, my hopes of seeing Mount Fuji were not realized on the route.  I settled back to the thrum of the Pratt & Whitney power plants moving us through the stratosphere. Soon after crossing Japan we were in a 100 mph tailwind jetting the USA on the greatest aircraft ever produced.  

On our way to Detroit, I looked down at Alaska, The Yukon Territory, Alberta, Manitoba with our entry in the the lower 48 at Minnesota. Breakfast is Served! Quiche with chicken sausage. As a note, if God had intended chickens to be used for sausage He would not have created the pig. But the sausage was good.

About 12 hours between ICN and DTW (Photo: Jeff)

 

Jeff enjoying one more glass of Champagne upstairs in the business class bubble! Will it be the last? (Photo: Jeff)

We arrived on a cloudy day in Motor City. Landing was perfect. Touch down almost undetectable on this graceful bird. We made our long slow taxi to gate 36. The two dings, and I rose from my seat, bags in hand, then walked out and looked back at one of the most beautiful sights in aviation: the elegant curves of a Boeing 747. I’ll miss that!

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Big late summer/fall airfare sale takes off

Southwest Airlines

Southwest kicks off big summer sale- we expect others airlines to match it (Image: Southwest Airlines)

While fares to Europe have tumbled this summer, domestic tickets have remained stubbornly high on many routes.

If you feel priced out of peak summer season, or have plans for trips in late summer or fall, Southwest Airlines has an airfare sale for you– on its domestic as well as its growing list of international destinations.

Southwest kicked it off today with with fares starting at $100 roundtrip. From there, roundtrip fares rise in three more steps: $160, $200, and $260. 

As usual, expect other airlines to match this sale. TravelSkills will monitor their responses at the bottom of this post. (Scroll down…)

What’s nice about this sale is that it’s good for late summer trips starting as early as August 22— keep in mind that Labor Day is on Monday, September 4 this year.

And summer is not officially over until September 21. That’s a nice window for a late summer trip!

Take a look at what Southwest has on offer during the slower fall months as well as the “dead weeks” before and after Thanksgiving.

Sample approximate round trip fares include:

  • $100 Between San Francisco & Oakland and Burbank, Los Angeles, Portland, Reno, San Diego (and most other intra-California and Vegas routes)
  • $116 Boston-Atlanta
  • $160 Atlanta-Washington DC Reagan National, Orlando, Ft Lauderdale
  • $200 New York LaGuardia-Nashville, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St Louis, plus Sacramento-Portland, Austin-Atlanta
  • $208 between Oakland and Puerto Vallarta
  • $260 between Houston and Phoenix, or Oakland, Austin
  • $300 between Oakland and Atlanta, Nashville, New Orleans (Most transcon in the $300 range)

Keep in mind that Rapid Rewards redemptions are cheaper now, too because the SWA program is based on ticket prices.

Southwest at Oakland

Southwest Airlines jets at Oakland International Airport (Photo: Port of Oakland)

We expect other major airlines to match these low fares over the next 24-48 hours. (We’ll update this page with competitive matches as they roll out…see below)

Note that Southwest does not charge for the first or second bag, and does not impose change fees like most other airlines. When major airlines match these fares, they’ll likely do it with “basic economy” fares that have even more fees and restrictions.

Details of Southwest’s 72-hour sale:

>Must buy your tickets between now and Thurs, June 8 at 11:59 p.m. (in originating city).

>Travel window: August 22- December 13

>Lowest fares not available on Fridays or Sundays

>Blackout dates for domestic flights: September 1 and 4, and November 17-28, 2016 (this varies on a handful of routes)

>International fares are only available on Tuesdays and Thursdays; blacked out Sept 4-6, Nov 25-28

>Only a handful of seats on each flight are on sale- you snooze, you lose.

>See Southwest website for other rules and restrictions, or to book trips.

Stay tuned for UPDATES: Airlines matching this sale so far include: Alaska AirVirgin America (with slightly higher fares) | United

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Routes: Southwest, AA, Delta, Alaska, + a new 787 route

Southwest just added several new California routes. (Image: Jim Glab)

In domestic route developments, Southwest adds Cincinnati to its route map and adds service in several new California markets; American adds some regional routes and will put a wide-body on a SFO transcon; Delta adds more Comfort+ seats to regional aircraft; Alaska starts up its latest East Coast route; Spirit grows at Oakland; Frontier comes to Providence; and Air Canada pits a Dreamliner on a key SFO route.

Southwest Airlines this week added Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to its route map with an initial schedule of eight flights a day – five to Chicago Midway and three to Baltimore/Washington. At the same time, the airline’s route map eliminated Dayton, where Southwest had been running a few flights a day to Midway.

As the airline’s summer schedule kicks in this week, Southwest also inaugurated new non-stop service in several California markets, including San Francisco-Portland, San Jose-Reno, San Diego-Boise and San Diego-Salt Lake City. New seasonal summer routes active as of this week include Oakland-Newark, San Diego-Newark, San Diego-Spokane and San Diego-Indianapolis. Elsewhere, Southwest started daily service between Denver and Charleston, S.C.; weekend flights between Denver-Pensacola; and seasonal flights between Denver and Norfolk. At Nashville, Southwest kicked off new daily flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul and seasonal service to Seattle.

After all the hubbub about airlines putting flat-bed seating into the front cabins on more domestic routes – notably Boston-San Francisco – readers of Flyertalk discovered another entry into the fully-reclining transcon competition: An American Airlines listing for A330-200 service between San Francisco and its Philadelphia hub starting in early October. Could this be just a seasonal redeployment of excess transatlantic aircraft, or a permanent thing?

American has new Eagle service at Billings and Medford. (Image: American Airlines)

Meanwhile, American just added some new regional service, including daily flights between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Billings, Montana using a 76-seat American Eagle E175; and new Eagle service from Medford, Oregon to both Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Delta continues to roll out its Comfort+ extra-legroom economy seating to more regional aircraft. Earlier this year, it finished installing the seats on its CRJ-200s, and now it has started selling Comfort+ on its E-175s and CRJ-900s. The extra-legroom seats are also now on sale for travel starting June 15 on Delta’s E-170 and CRJ-700 aircraft. “Delta remains engaged with distribution partners to allow Delta Comfort+ to be purchased through travel agents and in consumer direct shopping displays,” the airline said.

Alaska Airlines has started flying its newest transcontinental route. The carrier is offering daily seasonal non-stop service from Portland to Philadelphia, using a 737. The Portland-PHL flights will continue through August 26. It’s Alaska’s 58th destination from Portland.

Air Canada has deployed a new 787 Dreamliner between SFO and Toronto (Image: Air Canada)

There’s something new in the skies between San Francisco and Toronto : Air Canada has just put a 787-9 Dreamliner into service on one of its six daily flights in the market. It’s scheduled on the airline’s 11:55 a.m. departure from SFO and its 8:15 a.m. westbound flight from Toronto. See more about this beautiful bird here. 

Spirit Airlines introduced a number of new domestic markets. (Image: Spirit Airlines)

Spirit Airlines has kicked off new seasonal service from Oakland International to Baltimore/Washington and to Detroit, along with seasonal flights between Detroit and Seattle. New year-round markets just introduced by the low-cost carrier include San Diego-Baltimore/Washington, Seattle-BWI, New Orleans-BWI, New Orleans-Cleveland and New Orleans-Orlando. Spirit has also added Pittsburgh to its route map, launching new daily flights to Dallas/Ft. Worth, Orlando, Las Vegas, Houston Bush Intercontinental and Los Angeles, along with three flights a week to Ft. Lauderdale and daily seasonal service to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Low-cost Frontier Airlines has announced some new routes starting in mid-August. The carrier will start flying out of Providence’s T.F. Green Airport on August 14 with daily flights to Denver and Orlando, and out of Islip, Long Island’s MacArthur Airport August 16 with daily service to Orlando.

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Most popular: Cheap Rome flights + Longest Dreamliner flight + United dumps p.s. + Rare birds by the Bay

Finally! Some cheap flights from the US to Rome coming soon (Image: Pixabay)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

3 U.S. cities get cheap new nonstops to Rome

United’s longest flight won’t have this

Ultra-cheap fares on two new rare birds landing by the Bay

Routes: Delta, Aeromexico, Finnair, Qatar, Alitalia, Norwegian, United + more

Quiz: Test your planespotting skills

Can you easily identify this plane? Then take our quiz! (Chris McGinnis)

Virgin/Alaska expands carry-on bag sizes

Watch for big changes in TSA screening procedures

Can Oakland cope with global growth?

United upgrading new “Premium Transcontinental Service”

10 Should airlines lock seats upright?

Don’t miss! Add buffer days to avoid traveler burnout

Been to SF lately? Check out the changes in the skyline here on Chris McGinnis’s Instagram…and follow him!

San Francisco’s new skyline #sf #sanfrancisco #onlyinsf #skyscrapers #travel #salesforcetower

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

New website lets users bid for business & first class discounts (Tried it yet? Let us know!)

Russian test of new 200-passenger plane takes airline industry by surprise

Local Atlanta restaurant to supply meals on Delta’s new Seoul nonstop

Trump poised to reverse Obama era’s opening of American travel to Cuba

Cuba kiss

Chris gets a warm welcome in Havana, Cuba last May… but travel there might get harder (Image: Chris McGinnis)

Hilton creates a guest room for fitness fanatics

Take a look at the world’s largest airplane

Qantas uses crowdsourcing to solicit names for its Dreamliners

Marriott starts rolling out mobile check-in for Starwood Preferred Guest members

Former tech exec wants to build a chain of underwater hotels

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Two rare birds land by the Bay- with ultra cheap fares

Finnair A330

Finnair’s inaugural Airbus A330 arrives at San Francisco International on Thursday (Photo: Peter Biaggi / SFO)

This week two rare birds touched down in the Bay Area. Both are offering super cheap transatlantic fares for summer trips.

On Thursday, Finnair landed at SFO, flying in from Helsinki, Finland. Over at Oakland, a brand new airline called Level arrived from Barcelona.

Finnair is flying into SFO with seasonal service– three times a week during summer months only. Currently the lowest roundtrip economy fares between SFO and HEL are running about $1,200 to $1,500 for peak summer flights– not a bad deal for the 11-hour flight.  Business class fares are about $2,900 roundtrip.

Here’s what Finnair business class looks like:

Finnair business class on an Airbus A330 (Photo: Finnair)

Next up, we have Level, which breezed into Oakland from Barcelona on Friday with some of the cheapest fares we’ve seen this summer. Its A330 holds 314 passengers and economy and premium economy configuration (no business or first class).

A Level A330 arrives at Oakland International from Barcelona (Photo: Port of Oakland)

Level is a new low-fare subsidiary of IAG, which owns British Airways and Iberia, and is offering some remarkable fares on the first ever nonstops between the Bay Area and Spain.

For summer trips, it’s offering startlingly low fares of just $400 round trip (seriously!) all the way through August! Get ’em while they are hot! Note that you’ll pay extra for checked bags, seat selection and food- see this. The cheapest premium economy fares we could find this weekend for summer trips are in the $1,200 to $1,500 range– a very good deal for a bigger seat, better service, and fewer fees!

What’s it like to fly Level? Good Trip Report here. 

More about this bird and all of Oakland’s cheap new flights to Europe here. 

A Picasso-inspired inaugural cake served at the gate at Oakland Airport (Photo: Port of Oakland)

If you are interested in a cheap trip to Europe this summer, now’s the time to pounce on these new flights– to fill seats, airlines have lowered fares to levels rarely seen before for deep summer trips.

Take a ride on these new birds and report back to us at TravelSkills about your experiences!

NOTE: The fares mentioned here are available on Saturday, June 3 and subject to change. We use Google Flights to find low fares.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Virgin/Alaska expands carry-on bag sizes

Alaska Airlines more generous carry on rules now apply to Virgin America flights (Photo: Boeing)

One of the many nice things about flying on Virgin America over the years has been its generosity when it comes to carry-on bag sizes.

Virgin has been able to do this because its new(ish) Airbus fleet comes with oversized carry-on bins. Its maximum bag dimensions have been 10 x 16 x 24 inches while most major carriers are stingier at 9 x 14 x 22. And as we all know, two inches can make a big difference when it comes to carry-on bags 😉

Sometimes my trusty Briggs & Riley Transcend wheeled carry-on gets a little bulgy, especially in winter, when packing heavier clothing and shoes. When flying Virgin America, I never worry about the baggage police forcing me to check it. But I get really nervous when I try to breeze by wary gate agents when boarding United, Delta or American! (Or most European carriers which are much stricter than US carriers when it comes to carry-ons.)

Advice: How to choose the best carry-on bag

Since I’ve not flown Alaska Airlines very much, I had forgotten that it offers even larger carry-ons— its maximum allowable dimensions are 10 x 17 x 24 inches. And today Alaska announced that its more generous dimensions now apply to Virgin America flights. (Southwest also offers more generous dimensions.)

To me, that’s a nice kiss on the cheek of business travelers from Alaska Air, since one of our most frequently followed “rules of the road” is “Never check a bag!” Right?

How big is your bag? Do you check it? Ever get hassled by the baggage police? Please leave your comments below.

Also, Alaska announced more  instances where its rules are replacing Virgin rules: Check in cutoff and boarding times, onboard pet policies and unaccompanied minor travel. For details see the Alaska Airlines blog 

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Routes: Delta, Aeromexico, Finnair, Qatar, Alitalia, Norwegian, United + more

Flight from HEL: Finnair rolled out VWs and surfboards at HEL to launch its new Helsinki-San Francisco flights today (Image: Finnair / Twitter)

In international route developments, Delta starts up Europe routes and teams with Aeromexico to add transborder markets; Finnair comes to San Francisco; Qatar delays the addition of a new U.S. gateway; Alitalia extends its Los Angeles schedule; Norwegian alters some U.S. schedules and boosts London frequencies; Southwest expands Mexico service this winter; United adds an Asian code-share; and Air Canada starts a new U.S. route.

Delta has started service on several seasonal routes to Europe. One new seasonal route this summer is Portland, Oregon to London Heathrow, now operating four days a week with a 767-300. Other new Delta seasonal routes to Europe include daily service from Boston to Dublin and from New York JFK to Glasgow (in addition to its JFK-Edinburgh service). Delta has also resumed seasonal daily flights from JFK to Berlin and to Lisbon. In other Europe news, Delta plans to scale back its Salt Lake City-London Heathrow route to seasonal status, discontinuing the flights from October 29 to March 23.

Meanwhile, Delta also announced plans to start selling its Comfort+ extra-legroom economy seating as a separate fare category on more international routes. The seats are now on sale for travel beginning September 20 on routes from North America to Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile; and to China and Hong Kong.

The Delta-Aeromexico joint venture will add transborder routes and frequencies. (Image: Delta)

That new joint venture between Delta and Aeromexico has announced plans to start service on five new transborder routes sometime this fall, after they get government approval. The five routes, all to be operated by Aeromexico, include Atlanta-Merida, Atlanta-Queretaro, Los Angeles-Leon, Seattle-Mexico City and Portland-Mexico City.  The joint venture will also add a second daily flight between LAX and Los Cabos, and a third between New York JFK and Cancun, both operated by Delta; and a second daily flight from Atlanta to both Leon and Guadalajara, both operated by Aeromexico. With the two airlines now operating as one in terms of scheduling and pricing, these changes could mean higher fares for travelers to Mexico – but the extra flights could also mean fewer connecting hassles at Mexico City’s congested airport.

Finally, Delta is adding more service to Southeast Asia – not on its own, but through new code-shares with transatlantic joint venture partner Air France. According to Routesonline.com, Delta’s code has gone onto Air France’s Paris CDG-Bangkok service, and will do the same October 3 on Air France’s Paris-Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam flight.

Finnair is using an A330 on its seasonal San Francisco route. (Image: Finnair)

San Francisco International’s newest transatlantic route is to Helsinki, Finland. Finnair this week introduced seasonal service from SFO to the Finnish capital, using an Airbus A330-300 to fly the route three times a week, departing SFO on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The Helsinki flights will continue through September.

We reported a while ago that Qatar Airways was planning to add another U.S. gateway in early January with the addition of service between Doha, Qatar and Las Vegas. But the carrier’s latest schedule filings now show that launch date has been pushed back to June 1, 2018. Qatar still expects to fly the route four days a week with a 777-200LR.

It looks like Alitalia will turn its seasonal Los Angeles-Rome service into a year-round operation — almost. Alitalia, a member of Delta’s Skyteam alliance, filed a new schedule showing its LAX-Rome service will not end October 29 as previously planned, but will continue after that three times a week – at least until January 15, when it goes on hiatus until March 6.

We’ve reported previously on the big plans by Norwegian Air International to begin new low-fare service in June from the northeastern U.S. to various points in Europe using its brand-new, longer-range 737MAX 8 aircraft. But Boeing has warned the carrier of delays in delivering the new planes, so Norwegian has been scrambling to adjust its fleet plans.  Instead of the new 737MAX 8s, the company now plans to substitute Norwegian Air Shuttle 737-800s for much of the summer on new service from Providence to Bergen, Norway; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Shannon, Cork and Dublin, Ireland, as well as service from Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y. to Shannon, Dublin, Edinburgh and Bergen.

Norwegian will increase 787 frequencies on U.S.-London Gatwick routes this winter. (Image: Norwegian)

Meanwhile, Norwegian is also planning to increase frequencies on several U.S. routes to London Gatwick when its winter schedule kicks in on October 29. All the affected routes use 787-9s. Norwegian will boost Oakland-London service from three flights a week to four, while Los Angeles-LGW increases from five flights a week to daily service; Orlando-LGW goes from one a week to two; Ft. Lauderdale-LGW increases from three a week to four; and Boston-Gatwick from four a week to five.

Although Delta and Aeromexico are tightening their grip on the transborder market, other competitors are stepping up their game as well. Southwest Airlines’ winter schedule, effective November 5, shows an increase of its Houston Hobby-Mexico City schedule from three flights a day to four, while its weekly flights from Denver to Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos both go to daily frequencies. On November 11, Southwest will kick off new weekly flights to Cancun from both Nashville and St. Louis. Interjet, the low-cost Mexican carrier, plans to boost its service between New York JFK and Mexico City from 18 flights a week to 25 starting June 15. And United on December 17 will introduce seasonal weekly flights (on Saturdays) between its Denver hub and Cozumel.

Speaking of United, here are a couple of new developments to Asia: United has put its code onto Star Alliance partner ANA’s daily 787 service between Tokyo Narita and Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and United’s aircraft switch on its San Francisco-Seoul flight effective October 29 from a 747-400 to a 777-200ER has changed; the carrier now plans to use a 787-9 instead of a 777. And today we shared the news about what’s missing on United’s new Los Angeles-Singapore nonstops in another post. 

Air Canada has added a new destination from Denver. The carrier recently started Air Canada Express service twice a day from Denver to Vancouver, using a 75-passenger CRJ705.The schedule will drop back to once a day September 10.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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United’s longest flight won’t have this

United’s new nonstop LAX-SIN will take about 18 hours (Image: United)

United will introduce daily nonstop flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) on October 27, 2017 using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.  

The flight between LAX and SIN will set the new distance record for any airline operating a flight to or from the United States, at 8,700 miles. Flying times will be approximately 17 hours, 55 minutes westbound and 15 hours, 15 minutes eastbound.

Fare info is currently not available since the flights still require government approval. But for an idea of what they may be, let’s look at SFO-SIN. Currently, the lowest roundtrip economy fares for July flights are about $850. Business class is about $4,200.

Even though this will be United’s looooongest flight, business class passengers will not fly in the new Polaris business class seat. Eventually United will get around to installing the new seats on its Dreamliner fleet, but for now, the new seat is only found on its newest Boeing 777s, currently deployed on SFO-Hong Kong, Newark-Tel Aviv, and soon, SFO-Tokyo.

United will use a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner on LAX-SIN. (Image: United)

United’s existing service between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and SIN started one year ago and holds the current record for the longest scheduled 787 Dreamliner flight operated by any airline and is currently the longest scheduled flight operated by any U.S. carrier, at 8,446 miles. 

With the launch of SIN-LAX nonstop, United will terminate its service between Hong Kong and Singapore.

UA 37 will depart Los Angeles at 8:55 p.m. daily, arriving in Singapore at 6:50 a.m. two days later (all times local). The return flight, UA 38, will depart Singapore’s Changi Airport at 11:00 a.m. daily, arriving at Los Angeles International Airport at 10:15 a.m. the same day.

United will have flat bed business class seats like this (configured 2-2-2) between LAX and SIN starting in October (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Sneaky: It’s important to note again that United will NOT offer its much ballyhooed new seat on this flight. We’ve written before about the confusing way United markets its Polaris business class. Last fall it rebranded all its business class as “Polaris business class.” This means that when you see “Polaris” when booking your flight, or on your boarding pass, you will not necessarily fly on a plane with the new Polaris seats– as a matter of fact, for the next several years, it’s more likely that you WON’T fly in the new seat.

Here’s the wording from United’s press release about the LAX-SIN flights… sneaky or not?

United’s 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft will feature a total of 252 seats – 48 United Polaris business class, 204 United Economy, including 88 Economy Plus. United Polaris business class, a reinvention of the airline’s international premium cabin travel experience, offers elevated comfort and service for a restful night’s sleep in the air.

Singapore Airlines now flies nonstop between San Francisco and Singapore using a new Airbus A350. TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis was on that inaugural flight, so check out how he survived the 17 hour flight in a business class playpen!

Eventually, Singapore Airlines will also offer nonstops between LAX and Singapore, as well as New York and Singapore when it get’s its newest, longest range Airbus A350.

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Using your face or finger as a boarding pass

Here’s how JetBlue’s facial recognition system will work. (Image: JetBlue)

Two months ago, we reported on the first deployments of biometric technologies for passenger processing at some European airports and airlines. And now JetBlue and Delta are trying out similar methods in the U.S.

JetBlue said it will team up with airport technology specialist SITA and with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) beginning in June to test a “paperless and deviceless self-boarding process” for international flights from Boston to Aruba.

No enrollment or preregistration is required. Passengers who want to try the new facial recognition process for boarding without a boarding pass or a passport check will simply step up to a camera near the boarding gate and have their image captured.

“The custom-designed camera station will connect to CBP to instantly match the image to passport, visa or immigration photos in the CBP database and verify flight details,” JetBlue said. “The customer will be notified on an integrated screen above the camera when they are cleared to proceed to the jet bridge.”

Delta’s biometric test at Washington Reagan National uses fingerprints.(Image: CLEAR)

Delta’s test at Washington Reagan National involves stored biometric fingerprints instead of facial recognition. Participation is limited to SkyMiles members who are enrolled in the CLEAR trusted traveler program, in which Delta holds an equity stake. CLEAR members already have their digitized fingerprints stored in the system.

In the first phase of Delta’s test at DCA, already underway, participants can use fingerprints as a proof of identity at the Delta Sky Club instead of showing a boarding pass or ID. In the next phase, the fingerprint scan could also be used to check a bag and board a flight. The DCA test will help Delta fine-tune the integration of its own passenger database with CLEAR’s member records and biometrics.

Delta is testing facial recognition with new self-service bag drops at Minneapolis-St. Paul. (Image: Delta)

And this summer, Delta plans to use facial recognition technology  at one of four self-service bag-drop stations it is installing at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. That device will provide identification verification by matching customers’ digital images with their passport photos.

“We’re rapidly moving toward a day when your fingerprint, iris or face will become the only ID you’ll need for any number of transactions throughout a given day,” said Gil West, Delta’s chief operating officer.

How do you feel about this new tech? A great convenience, or an invasion of privacy? Please leave your comments below. 

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3 U.S. cities get cheap new nonstops to Rome

Norwegian Air 787 Dreamliner

A Norwegian Air 787 Dreamliner parked at Oakland International Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Norwegian Air today announced it will launch flights from Los Angeles, Newark and Oakland to ROME starting later this year and into 2018. This is the first time the Bay Area will see nonstops to Italy since Alitalia’s SFO-Rome service ended many years ago.

Rome-Fiumicino will be Norwegian’s seventh long-haul European destination from the U.S. following Barcelona, which will launch this June; Paris; London; and the three Scandinavian capitals of Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm.

Norwegian says that one way fares from all three cities to Rome will start as low as $189-$229— but keep in mind that you will rarely find fares that low to return, and you’ll also be faced with a panoply of fees for checked bags, seat assignments, etc.

However, checking today, we found a fare for just $419.80 (including taxes) for a March 2018 round trip between Oakland and Rome. That’s a great deal that will not last.

Norwegian will fly its brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliners offering both an Economy and Premium cabin on the route. Norwegian’s  premium service is a good low-cost option for business travelers– especially those from the Bay Area who’d prefer to take a nonstop flight.

Flights from Oakland International Airport to Rome will launch on February 6, 2018, with a twice weekly service. Fares from Oakland start from $229 one-way, including taxes. Premium fares from Oakland start from $719 one-way including taxes.

Flights from Newark Liberty International Airport will launch on November 9, 2017, and operate four times a week until the early February 2018 when it increases to six times per week. Economy launch fares to Rome from Newark start as low as $189 one-way, including taxes. The lowest fares in Norwegian’s Premium Cabin to Rome from Newark start at $539 one-way including taxes.

Service from Los Angeles International Airport will launch on November 11, 2017, and operate twice weekly until February, when it becomes a thrice weekly service. Fares from Los Angeles start from $229 one-way, including taxes. Premium fares from Los Angeles start from $719 one-way including taxes.

Economy class seating on Norwegian

All fares are now available for sale on Norwegian’s website. Additionally, the website’s low fare calendar displays the lowest available fares to all of Norwegian’s destinations.

Have you flown Norwegian yet? How was it? Will you consider it for your next flight to Rome? 

Here’s a 360 degree YouTube video tour of Norwegian’s premium cabin:

 

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United upgrading new “Premium Transcontinental Service”

United Transcontinental

Hot cookies in business class on United 757 between SFO EWR (Chris McGinnis)

Responding to new creature comforts its competitors are offering on prime transcontinental routes, United said it will introduce hot meals for Economy Plus passengers and will add San Francisco-Boston to its premium transcon network, with flat-bed seats in the front cabin on all flights.

In doing so, it will eliminate its longstanding premium branded service product known as “p.s.,”and refer to the new product as simply Premium Transcontinental Service.

The airline said that effective July 1, in-flight food and beverage service for passengers in its extra-legroom Economy Plus seating on Premium Transcontinental routes (Newark-SFO/LAX and now Boston-SFO) will include a free hot entrée, dessert and fruit, pre-arrival snack, and alcoholic drinks. 

The upgraded flights are available for booking today. As with United’s premium flights into Newark, elite level members of Mileage Plus can use their status to upgrade to Economy Plus. But status won’t get you into the cozy confines in those big seats at the front of the plane– you have to pay for that. Checking today, the cheapest round trip business class nonstop between SFO and BOS is running at about $1,200. Economy class is is about $450.

United will have flat bed business class seats like this on all between SFO and BOS starting in July (United)

Its new Boston-San Francisco schedule will use mostly 757-200s. But it will also have 777s on the route (“the market’s only widebody service,” United noted), including early-morning departures from both cities, an 8:30 p.m. departure from Boston and several red-eyes from San Francisco. “The most popular timings in peak periods will operate with widebody Boeing 777 aircraft including 8 a.m. service from San Francisco and an early evening Boston departure, ideal for business customers traveling at the end of the work day,” United said.

Back to the upgraded food offerings… “Sample menu selections include savory roasted chicken with a smoked barbecue sauce and butternut squash tortellini with sage cream sauce. Dessert options will include New York’s favorite sweet treat, cheesecake, as well as a chocolate brownie and fresh seasonal fruit,” United said.

Seatmap on United 777 SFO-BOS in August

In recent weeks, both Delta and American announced free meals for main cabin passengers in transcontinental markets. Delta said it would offer the amenity on a dozen coast-to-coast routes, while American limited it to JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO. The difference in United’s announcement: Delta and American are serving up free cold meals to all economy passengers; United will offer hot meals, but only to those with Economy Plus seats, not all main cabin passengers.

By adding Boston-San Francisco to its premium transcontinental network, United is promising flat-bed business class seating on all flights in that market. The flat-bed battle for SFO-BOS customers started when JetBlue expanded its premium transcontinental Mint front-cabin service to BOS-SFO; then Delta announced it would jump back into the Boston-San Francisco market on June 8, offering two flights a day using 757-200s configured with front-cabin flat-bed seats.

United said that in addition to flat-bed seats, its SFO-BOS business class service will provide duvets and pillows from Saks Fifth Avenue; new amenity kits, also from Saks; a signature Moscow Mule cocktail; hot towel service; and seasonally refreshed cuisine from a network of celebrity chefs.

After suffering through years of flying on United’s oldest, tattiest 757s on frequent trips to Boston, this is great news– mostly because those 6-7 hour slogs are so painful. What do you think of the new service? Which airline will you likely fly between California and Boston? Please leave your comments below. 

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Laptop ban update: yes, no and maybe

Laptop

Would you go on an international flight without a laptop or tablet? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

UPDATE 10:30 am PT May 30: Politico Europe is reporting that the U.S. has told its EU counterparts that there will be no laptop ban for now. The post states that “this matter is closed for now. However, the decision not to impose the ban could change based on future intelligence.” We will monitor this for confirmation, but here’s the latest: http://www.politico.eu/article/us-tells-eu-no-laptop-ban-2/ 

UPDATE #2 Noon PT May 30: Regarding the Politico report above: A DHS spokesperson says that story is “absolutely wrong,” and that DHS Secretary John Kelly “made it clear that an expansion (of the ban) is still on the table.” Here’s the latest, as reported by USA Today.


Original post:

Worried about the Department of Homeland Security’s much-discussed plans to expand its ban on in-cabin laptops and tablets to inbound flights from Europe? Well, now you’ve got a whole lot more to worry about.

Appearing on Fox News this past weekend, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said he is now thinking about possibly extending the ban to all international flights in and out of the U.S.

Meanwhile, there could be some hope on the technological horizon that improved screening devices might eventually make such a ban unnecessary.

Kelly said in an interview that he “might” make the ban a global one, claiming that terrorist groups working on laptop computer bombs pose a “real threat” to commercial aviation. Kelly said terror groups “are obsessed with…the idea of knocking down an airplane in flight, particularly if it’s a U.S. carrier.”

Currently, the U.S. ban on in-cabin laptops and tablets only applies to inbound non-stop flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa. DHS was said to be on the verge of extending the ban to inbound flights from Europe earlier this month, but that plan was put on hold – at least temporarily – as the U.S. carries on discussions with European security officials about the wisdom and necessity of such an action.

Middle Eastern carriers are offering loaner laptops to premium passengers. (Image: Qatar Airways)

When the discussion was limited to a ban on in-cabin electronic devices aboard flights from Europe, the aviation and business travel industries were predicting “havoc” for transatlantic travel, with business travelers staying home, and airlines losing money and trimming routes. That chorus of complaints from both sides of the Atlantic about the impact of a ban seemed to have worked- and kept it at bay– until Kelly’s remarks on Sunday.

An expansion of the ban to all international flights would increase those concerns by many orders of magnitude and would lead to wholesale changes in the way people travel.

A passenger survey conducted in 2016 found that 38 percent of international travelers worldwide carry a laptop onboard, and 42 percent of those with a laptop use it during the flight. For tablets, the comparable numbers were 43 percent who carry one on, and 70 percent of those use one in-flight.

Meanwhile, manufacturers of airport security screening devices say technology has improved so much in recent years that a new generation of scanning machines could easily detect explosive materials in carry-on laptops and liquids, according to Bloomberg News.

But that might not bring an easy solution to DHS’s immediate concerns. For one thing, it would take a long time to manufacture and deploy the next-generation scanners to airports in the U.S. and abroad. For another, Congress would have to approve funding for the purchase and installation of such equipment, which could cost an estimated $1 billion.

Do you think a laptop ban is imminent? How will it change the way you travel? Please leave your comments below. 

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Most popular: TSA changes + Reader report + Delta upgrades + Planespotting + Summer advice

A long hot summer ahead! We’ve got advice for you below… (Image: Jim Glab)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

Watch for big changes in TSA screening procedures 

Routes: Alaska, Southwest, Finnair, United, American, Air India, Avianca

Reader Report: SAS new business class to Copenhagen

Planespotting: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

Planespotting: Airbus A320 family differences

Fiji Airways SFO

Can you identify this plane? If not, read out planespotting series! (Photo: Peter Biaggi/SFO)

Delta adds flexibility to upgrades

Airport news: AA’s new JFK lounge + Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Charlotte

American’s premium economy: 777-200s are next

The ultimate luxury: LAX’s new private terminal

10 Lyft goes black in bid for business travelers

Don’t miss! Advice for navigating, and saving, in the busy summer ahead

British Airways CEO apologizes for Saturday’s worldwide shut down, asks travelers to stay away from airports…

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Foot bins: The solution to cabin storage problems?

Progress on ATL’s showy new canopies project

What it’s like to be an female Uber driver in Vegas

Don’t like tight economy seats? Tough. Get used to it.

United Economy B777-300ER

10-abreast on United’s new B777-300ER (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Bloomberg: Why you really need to give Alaska Airlines a try

American’s new first class dining room at JFK

Best Western now largest hotel chain in Sweden

Georgia Peanut Commission not happy about Delta’s new snacks 

TSA adds Singapore, Turkish & other airlines to PreCheck program

Turkish Air SFO

Turkish Air now part of TSA PreCheck program (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s why you should be careful taking in-flight photos/videos

Delta brings new beverage options to domestic flights

FAA orders removal of potentially unsafe seats from smaller jets

Star Alliance develops online award booking platform across all member airlines

Russia, China team up to build a new jumbo jet

Uber integrates local mass transit information into its app

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Quiz: Test your planespotting skills

A Delta 767 taking off from SFO (InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Did you know that’s a Boeing 767? Take our quiz to hone those planespotting skills! (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Over the last week we ran our popular planespotting series. Did you pay attention? Now it’s time for a fun TravelSkills quiz!

We ran this quiz last year and over 7,000 people took it. Did you? How’d you score? Feel free to take it again!

This time, we are testing your ability to identify the planes you see in the skies or at the airport. Can you tell the difference between a Airbus A320 and Airbus A321? A Boeing 757 or 767? What’s the most distinguishing feature of a Boeing 777? Take our easy 3-minute, 10-question quiz below.

(Scroll down for some help studying for the quiz if you need it. (We offer plenty of planespotting tips!) If you can’t see the embedded quiz below, here’s a link to it. 

If you’d like to bone up on your skills before you take the quiz, here are links to our recent planespotting posts:

A320 family differences

Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 differences

Boeing 757, 767

Boeing 717, MD-80/90

Take the quiz and get your score! Based on your performance, you’ll be named Aviation Geek, Aviation Nerd, Aviation Enthusiast, Pretty Good Plane Spotter or Novice Plane Spotter. Which one are you? Share your status and YOUR best planespotting tips with us in the comments below!

If you have fun with this, take our previous quizzes, too!

NAME THAT AIRPORT quiz

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT quiz 

–Chris McGinnis

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Planespotting: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

The good old DC9 was the model for a long line of modern jets (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

The good old DC9 spawned a long line of modern jets (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

Pilots, planespotters and aviation buffs can quickly recognize nearly every aircraft type from the ground or in the air.

But it’s not so easy for the rest of us. To help TravelSkills readers confidently recognize what they see overhead or out on the runway, we offer a series of posts dedicated to planespotting.

Today, let’s take a look at the Boeing 717, MD-80/90 series. All were based on the good old DC-9 (built between 1965 and 1982), which means they all look very similar to the untrained eye.

Delta retired its last DC-9 in January 2014.

Boeing 717 (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

A Norwegian Blue Boeing 717 with Star Alliance livery  (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

Hawaiian and Delta are the only two US airlines operating Boeing 717s (Prayitno / Flickr)

Hawaiian and Delta are the only two US airlines operating Boeing 717s (Prayitno / Flickr)

The most distinguishing feature of Boeing 717s, the smallest Boeing plane, is its T-shaped tail with engines at the back flanking either side of the tail.

717s are operated in the U.S. only by Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Air Lines. (AirTran’s 717s were retired at the end of 2014).

Inside the 717: Grab the bar instead of the seatback when maneuvering in or out of seats on Hawaiian Air’s B717s (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(This is a blast from the past- a previously popular post we want to share again. Enjoy!)

A Delta MD-80 (Mr.TinDC / Flickr)

The fuselage on an MD-80/90 tends to be longer than the 717  (Mr.TinDC / Flickr)

A Swiss MD-83 (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

A Swiss MD-83 (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

The MD-80 family (mostly flown by Allegiant and Delta) and MD-90 planes (mostly flown by Delta which has 65 of them) have similar features like the T-shaped tail with smaller, thinner engines on either side, and a “pinched” tailcone. (See the “pointy” cone on the DC-9 at the top to compare.) No other commercial aircraft has a T-shaped tail, with the exception of regional jets. American Airlines retired its substantial MD-80 fleet last year.

Look for the unpainted outline near the top of the T on the 717

Look for the unpainted outline near the top of the T on the 717

The easiest way to tell the difference between at MD-80/90 and a Boeing 717? The 717 has an unpainted outline near the “stabilizer” at the top of the tail’s T shape. See it on the Hawaiian Airlines 717 to the right? It’s not there on the MD80/90 series. Also, check the engines. The 717 engines are fatter compared to most MD80/90 engines which are narrower and have more tapered ends. Also, the fuselage on the MD-80/90 series tends to be longer than the 717.

What’s best about flying on one of these planes? I’d have to say sitting in first class– with the engines so far away from the front, all you can hear is the wind whistling by your window and the ice cubes tinkling in your cocktail 🙂 At the back of the plane, it’s always a little roomier in the 2 side versus the 3 side (they are configured 2-3).

Please share your planespotting tips or advice in the comments below! How do YOU tell the difference between a 717 and MD-80 or 90? 

Here are our other popular planespotting posts!

Planespotting: A320 family differences

Planespotting: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 differences

Planespotting: Boeing 757, 767

And don’t miss the TravelSkills Planespotting quiz— 7,000+ readers have taken it! Why not you?

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Delta adds flexibility to upgrades

Delta has new options for purchased and complimentary upgrades. (Image: delta)

Don’t you hate it when you get an automatic “upgrade” to a middle seat? Well, that won’t happen anymore on Delta.

Today Delta introduced new options that will let customers buy upgrades for all or any part of their trip after the ticket is purchased, and will let SkyMiles Medallions select seats for complimentary upgrades and accept or reject automatic upgrades based on seat assignment.

The way Delta’s automatic upgrade clearing process worked previously, SkyMiles Medallions would simply be assigned a seat with the upgrade, although it might be one they wouldn’t prefer, like a middle seat.

With the new procedure, Medallions can opt to pick their own upgrade seat when their eligibility window opens instead of going with an automatic assignment. “The seat map will also allow a Medallion Member to choose to revert back to Main Cabin with one touch if they aren’t happy with their upgrade seat assignment, for example, to a middle seat,” Delta said. “This improvement is designed for customers who value exact seat selection more than the ease of automation.”

In the other change, customers who want to buy an upgrade don’t have to make that decision at the time of ticket purchase, and they can purchase a premium seat product – including Comfort+ extra-legroom economy seats — on any or all legs of their flight. When they do so, they can use a different payment method than they did for the original ticket purchase.

Comfort+ upgrades can be bought after the ticket is issued, using a different payment method. (Image: Delta)

Customers can do this through Delta’s website or by calling the reservations number (and soon, through Delta’s app), requesting a higher seat category as an add-on, “regardless of where the original ticket was purchased,” Delta said. “The customer can select a premium product on any individual segment of their journey, or the entire trip, and use the same or a different method of payment for the transaction.”

This would presumably mean that if the ticket was bought by the traveler’s company travel agency, for instance, and billed to the company account, the traveler could buy a higher seat category after the ticket was issued, using his or her own credit card. Previously, Delta allowed directional upgrade purchases from origin to destination, but not segment-by-segment.

The company said the changes were made based on feedback from corporate travel customers.

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Reader Report: SAS new business class to Copenhagen

The 1-2-1 configuration provides ample room for each passenger. There are two cabins assigned to business class, with the first having eight rows and the second having two rows (Photo: RW)

This is a TravelSkills Reader Report submitted by RW.

Back in 2014, you wrote a trip report on the then-new SAS nonstop from SFO to Copenhagen (CPH).

My husband and I recently (April-May 2017) flew SFO-CPH and CPH-SFO nonstop on SAS in the new upgraded business classes seats on its Airbus 340-300 planes, so I thought you might want to know about the new service. Feel free to use any of this (or none of this) information on your blog. [Thanks, RW! We are using all of it 🙂 Great report!]

SAS business class passengers have access to the United Club lounge in the SFO international terminal, which is a nice respite from the terminal, but certainly is not in the same league as the SAS Star Alliance Gold lounges in Scandinavia (more about those lounges later).

The seat is adjustable to a completely 180-degree lie-flat bed. The side storage unit contains a reading light, a water bottle (stored behind the reading light panel), a hook for the provided headphones, and a small shelf for personal items. (Photo: RW)

The reconfigured A340-300s that SAS uses on SFO-CPH flights have 40 business-class seats with 180-degree recline, 28 “SAS Plus” seats with a 7-inch recline, and 179 standard economy seats with a 6-inch recline. [See SAS A340 on Seatguru]

SAS has a “business saver” fare for half of its full fare, but the tickets are nonrefundable. That said, for the leisure traveler or the business traveler with fixed plans, a roundtrip SFO-CPH business-class fare of $3,200 is quite reasonable, particularly when compared to nonstop flights to “major demand” cities such as London, Paris, or Frankfurt.

An SAS Airbus A340 with new business class seats (Image: SeatPlans.com

SAS has installed new business-class seats in at 1-2-1 configuration in two cabins. The forward cabin has eight rows and feels spacious and accommodating. The second business-class cabin has only two rows, so it has a sense Danish sense of hygge that you mentioned in your SAS review. [Hygge, pronounced hoo-gah, is roughly translated into English as “cozy.”] However, the second cabin was directly behind the galley, snack bar, and toilets, making is a very busy and noisy area.

The entertainment screen is large and can be controlled via touch or a wired remote tucked into the space in the side storage unit (Photo: RW)

The front of the plane appears to be the rest area and toilet for the crew, compounding the “busy-ness” at the galley/toilet area mid-plane and reducing the number of toilets for business-class passengers to only two.

The new business-class seats have ample room, large video screens, and a “side table” for storage of small items. There is still no in-seat storage space for hand luggage, but with the large cabin and new large overhead bins, there is plenty of room for luggage and the provided duvet, blanket, and pillows. The seat is quite comfortable with a large foot well. It favorably compares to many other airlines’ first or upgraded business class configurations.

In-flight entertainment provided some of the latest Hollywood films, as well as several “old favorites.” The television show offerings were nearly all American shows from the 2000s and early 2010s, e.g., Friends, Mike and Molly, and Two Broke Girls. I would have liked to have seen some Scandinavian entertainment offerings.

Related: 2014- SAS business class Trip Report SFO-CPH 

The amenity kit was quite basic, but contained the essentials of eye mask, socks, toothpaste and brush, ear plugs, lip balm, and moisturizer. The bag was small, but reusable for small items such as ear buds, a few electronics cords, etc.

Cocktails featured Danish vodka (Mikkeller), Norwegian gin (Harahorn), and Swedish whiskey (Mackmyra).

There is a special cocktail offered each season. The cocktail on the CPH-SFO segment was “A Taste of Norwegian Summer,” a combination of gin, rhubarb, tonic, and strawberry garnish (Photo: RW)

Wine offerings including Charles Heidsieck champagne from France, a verdicchio wine wine from Italy, a French sauvignon blanc, and, in the red category, there were a pinot noir and a corbières from France. A nice addition to the drinks menu was the nonalcoholic Gravenstein apple must from Norway, a rich, full-bodied, unfiltered apple juice.

The starter course for the dinner offering on the SFO-CPH leg included a mixed salad, plus a choice of either beet-cured salmon with cucumber and horseradish-chive crème or prosciutto with feta cheese, beets, and melon.

For my starter, I chose prosciutto with feta cheese, beets, and melon, along with ample choices from the frequently passed bread basket (Photo: RW)

Main course offerings included seared red snapper, grilled chicken breast, braised beef ribs, or vegetable ravioli.

The braised beef short ribs with Lyonnaise potatoes and roasted carrots was not particularly inspiring or tasty (Photo: RW)

Following a cheese course, passengers were offered dessert choices including a Bakewell tart with raspberry mascarpone, ice cream, or fruit.

On the return CPH-SFO flight, the starter course included a mixed salad, plus a choice of either salmon with picked root vegetables and mustard sauce or slices of dried pork, moose-and-juniper sausage, with a garnish of pickled onions and lingonberries (although the latter actually included only one pickled onion and one lingonberry).

My starter was slices of “dried pork” (prosciutto), moose-and-juniper sausage, and a picked onion and lingonberry. The dish was delicious (Photo; RW)

Arrival in Copenhagen was, as you described in your 2014 article, easy and efficient, with an efficient immigration/customs process, and a quick train trip to central Copenhagen. The only quirk in the arrivals area is finding where to pick up a Copenhagen Card, which provides transportation, admission to multiple museums and attractions, and discounts at restaurants and entertainment. Just look for the Tourist Information desk, and they have the Copenhagen Cards (either for pickup for those who purchased online ahead of their flight) or for purchase.

Fly through SAS’ new business class in this video

We took several internal Scandinavian flights during our trip, with all planes being configured in an “all economy seating” pattern. Even so, service was efficient and friendly.

Would you like to submit a Reader Report to TravelSkills? We’d love to hear from you, and so would readers! They are some of our most popular posts! Here are guidelines to submitting a report.

The SAS business-class lounge, available to Star Alliance gold members, has a wide array of food and beverage offerings, plenty of workspaces and chairs, all with easy access to an electrical outlet (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

We visited the SAS Star Alliance Gold lounge when we left Copenhagen to fly to Helsinki, as well as during our layover from Oslo before our CPH-SFO trip. The lounge is modern, the staff is friendly and professional, and the food offerings far exceed those of first-class lounges for U.S.-based airlines. Upstairs from the regular SAS lounge, the business-class lounge had multiple rooms for eating, resting, working, and a special play room for those traveling with children.

We also had the chance to visit the SAS lounge in Oslo, which was smaller than the one in Copenhagen, but still offering a wide array of food and beverage choices, along with work stations and comfortable seating options.

The SAS lounge in Oslo had a nice array of food and beverage options (Photo: RW)

Note that there is a new security procedure for passengers flying from Copenhagen to the United States. As noted on the SAS website, “United States authorities have tightened the security rules for entering US territory. As a result, an additional security check will be conducted at the gate when passengers board flights from Copenhagen Airport bound for US destinations. In particular, passengers must ensure that their smart phones, tablets, computers, digital cameras and other electronic devices are charged.” We found this process to be efficient, but be sure to allow time at the departure gate for this additional security procedure.

In conclusion, the business class experience on SAS was excellent. The staff on all our SAS flights were cheerful, courteous, friendly, and professional. In fact, given the savings we achieved by buying the “Business Saver” fare, we’re tempted to use CPH as our hub for future European travel.

Rich and Brad enjoy an outdoor lunch in Copenhagen at one of the restaurants along the Nyhavn waterfront, which was a 17th-century wharf that has been redeveloped into a trendy entertainment district, focusing mainly on restaurants and cafés. We had herring prepared in multiple ways in Heering, one of the outdoor cafés. While there were heaters, as well as blankets to cover our legs, we still kept our coats on all during their al fresco lunch – it was April and still chilly in Copenhagen (Photo: RW)

Have you flown on SAS in business class with the new seat yet? Let us know what you think in the comments below! 

Would you like to submit a Reader Report to TravelSkills? We’d love to hear from you, and so would readers! They are some of our most popular posts! Here are guidelines to submitting a report.

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Get ready: Busy summer ahead

Airport gate crowd

Will this be the busiest summer travel season…ever? Maybe (Photo: Chris McGinnis

For the past three years, we’ve seen one blockbuster summer after the other… with each season breaking records in terms of the number of travelers on the road and in the skies. It’s been crazy out there. But despite the heat and the crowds, we’ve all survived, had great vacations or business trips, and returned home safely.

This year, I predict we’ll see a similarly busy summer, but with some differences you should know about.

First, let’s take a look at demand, which remains healthy. How healthy? Well, according to Best Western Hotels & Resorts, advance bookings for peak summer season at its 2,000+ hotels in the U.S. are up 6.9 percent compared to this time last year.  Plus, travelers are staying longer— the number of room nights booked at Best Western’s U.S. hotels is up 9.9 percent. Advance bookings are even stronger in Canada– up 14.8 percent compared to last year, and room nights booked are up 20.5 percent.

Airlines in the U.S. will see a very busy season, too, with a record 234.1 million passengers expected in June, July and August, which is four percent more passengers than last summer according Airlines for America, the industry trade group. It also says that the nation’s airports will handle 100,000 more passengers per day than last summer. More competition and lower fuel costs are resulting in airfares that are flat to down slightly compared to last summer, which is attracting more flyers.

Consumers have spent $19 billion on airfare year-to-date, a 4.3% rise over the year-earlier period, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp.

Peak season hotel bookings in the U.S. are likely up due to a strong economy and increased interest in road trips after the string of airline customer service snafus exposed in social media this spring. In addition, low gasoline prices are making road trips an even more attractive option. A May 2017 Gasbuddy.com survey of 1,500 users found that 82 percent plan to take a road trip this year- that’s up 7 percent over last year. Gasbuddy points out that the normal springtime gasoline price increase was only 1.5 cents this year compared to the average spring season increase of 47 cents.

(Source: Gasbuddy.com)

With summer just around the corner, let’s take a look at the trends that will shape our travel experiences over the next four months.

First, expect a mass migration from the U.S. to Europe this summer. Transatlantic airfares have hit new lows due to increased competition from low fare carriers forcing established carriers to match the discounts. These days airlines can lower fares relatively painlessly because they are paying so little for jet fuel. In addition to airfares, the U.S. dollar is still very strong against European currencies, making summer trips across the pond even cheaper for Americans. The opposite is true in Europe, where a strong dollar is forcing Europeans to reconsider summer trips to the U.S. Lower demand from Europeans means lower airfares for Americans as airlines scramble to keep seats full.

Lower demand from Europeans should also help keep prices low in the U.S. cities and regions historically attractive to Europeans- think New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and the desert Southwest.

TIPS:

Be Flexible: Did you know that most Friday and Saturdays in July and August now outrank Thanksgiving as the busiest air travel days of the year? With demand like that, you can always expect to pay top dollar during the peak season, which generally runs about June 20 through August 20. If you have the flexibility to book summer business or vacation trips in early June, or late August, you may still find a few “deals.”

Fly midweek: If possible, try to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to avoid those lengthy lines at airport security checkpoints. Bonus: Fares for midweek trips are usually slightly less than those on more popular weekends.

Last minute: Low demand for European flights (by Europeans) could mean that we’ll see even lower last minute fares on transatlantic routes later this summer. Monitor this by signing up for fare alerts on specific routes on sites like Google Flights or Kayak.

Don’t wait: For domestic trips, make reservations NOW if you have specific dates and destinations in mind. The most convenient flights, the hotel rooms with ocean views, or the right size rental car for your family will likely sell out soon. Get to the front of the line and reserve now to get what you want. Otherwise you could be stuck with inconveniently timed flights, wrong-sized rental cars, or hotel rooms with parking lot views.

Be a smart airfare shopper: Overall transatlantic fares are down about 15 percent compared to last summer according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation. When comparing transatlantic fares, be sure you compare apples to apples. While low fare carriers like Level, Norwegian or Wow may advertise remarkably low fares, be on the lookout for things that more established carriers might include such as:

-Cheap one-way fares for the trip over, but expensive one-way fares for the trip back

-Fees for checked, or in some cases, carry-on bags with charges may apply per leg, which means you’ll pay four fees for a round trip from say, San Francisco to Paris via Reykjavik on Wow Air.

-Advance seat selection, meals, drinks and even bottled water

Go. Get. Rewarded: In addition to spending time with friends, family or colleagues this summer, it’s always nice to earn something more. For example, you can go get rewarded at all Best Western branded hotels this summer, earning a $10 gift card for every night, with no limit on how many nights you stay. Registration is required at BestWestern.com/summer. Plus, Best Western Rewards members save 10 percent when booking direct on bestwestern.com.

Pay more, get more: If you are headed to work when everyone else is going on vacation, treat yourself to an upgrade this summer. You can avoid the flip-flop and beach ball crowd by paying a fee (around $50) for a one-time pass to an airport club, or slightly higher rate for a hotel on a quieter concierge floor. Also, airlines frequently discount first and business class seats during summer months, so they end up not much more expensive than inflated economy class tickets—so don’t forget to compare when searching fares. Most important during summer: Ask for a room that does not face the noisy pool area.

Timing: While transatlantic fares are dropping, domestic fares are inching up. Airlines usually offer some pretty good fares for travelers willing to travel early or late in the summer, but those sales did not materialize this spring. That’s a sign to me that domestic demand is high and airlines don’t feel like the need to discount to fill their seats.

Yosemite

A busy summer ahead, especially at National Parks like Yosemite (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

More cars: Higher fares will push many domestic travelers to the highways instead of the skyways this summer, with low gasoline prices luring them. That means more cars on key summertime routes in or near National Parks, beaches, recreation areas and major cities.

During the peak of the peak season (June 20-August 20) road trippers should always make reservations for roadside hotels a day or two in advance if possible. Otherwise, you may end up finding a full house at the end of a long day and the possibility of having to drive later into the night than you want…or end up sleeping in your car!

Off the beaten path: If you are headed to Europe and don’t like crowds, try to stay away from Paris, London, Rome and Barcelona during the peak of the peak summer season. Consider countries such as Poland or Portugal instead, which you’ll find less crowded and less expensive.

This post originally appeared on Best Western’s YouMustBeTrippin.com blog

Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! We will periodically send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel.  Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication. 


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Routes: Alaska, Southwest, Finnair, United, American, Air India, Avianca

Alaska Airlines will start Mexico City nonstops from SFO and LAX in August. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

In international route developments, Alaska unveils plans for its new California-Mexico City flights; Southwest will add more international service from Ft. Lauderdale; Finnair is about to launch San Francisco flights; United schedules aircraft changes for some transpacific markets from SFO and launches more seasonal Europe service; American puts its code on new flights from the West Coast to Barcelona; Air India adds two U.S. gateways; and Avianca Brasil adds a U.S. route.

Alaska Airlines has won Transportation Department approval for Mexico City routes thanks to slots at MEX that Delta and joint venture partner Aeromexico had to give up, and now Alaska has released schedule plans for its new service. On August 8, Alaska will start flying one daily roundtrip from both San Francisco and Los Angeles to Mexico City; on November 6, it will add a second daily LAX-MEX flight, plus one a day from San Diego to Mexico City. The SFO flight and the first LAX flight will use 737s; the second LAX flight and the San Diego service will use E175s.

Southwest Airlines is due to cut the ribbon in a couple of weeks on a new international concourse at its Ft. Lauderdale base, when it will also add service from FLL to new international destinations including Montego Bay, Cancun, Belize and Grand Cayman. Now Southwest has announced two more international destinations from Ft. Lauderdale. In early November, it will begin daily flights from FLL to San Jose, Costa Rica and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. And on November 11, the carrier will also start Saturday-only service to Cancun from Nashville and St. Louis.

Finnair will use an A330 on its San Francisco route. (Image: Finnair)

June 1 is the launch date for seasonal Finnair service from San Francisco to Helsinki, operating three days a week through the end of September with an Airbus A330-300. Finnair is a member of the American/British Airways Oneworld alliance, and Alaska Airlines this week announced a frequent flyer partnership with Finnair as well. Members of Alaska Mileage Plan can begin earning miles on Finnair starting today,” the airline said. “Award redemption will commence later this year. Finnair Plus members can begin earning and redeeming points on Alaska Airlines starting today.”

United Airlines is planning some equipment changes on transpacific routes from San Francisco this winter, according to Routesonline.com. On August 1, United will pull the 747-400 from its daily SFO-Taipei flight, replacing it with a 777-300ER.  Starting October 28, one of United’s two daily SFO-Shanghai Pudong flights will use a three-class 777-200ER instead of the previously planned 787-9; the other will use a 787-9. On December 16, United will boost SFO-Auckland schedules from seven to 10 a week as previously announced, but will use a 787-9 instead of a 787-8 for the winter season. And starting December 20, United’s daily 787-9 service from SFO to Tokyo Haneda will switch to a 777-200ER.

Meanwhile, United on May 24 is due to kick off its next round of seasonal transatlantic service, including flights from Newark to Athens continuing through October 4; Washington Dulles to Barcelona through October 27; and San Francisco to Munich through September 3. On May 25, United adds Chicago O’Hare-Shannon service continuing through September 5, and Chicago-Edinburgh flights through October 4.

Level will fly A330s from Oakland and Los Angeles. (Image: IAG)

Remember that new low-fare service from the West Coast to Barcelona that we told you about in March on a carrier called Level? That’s a new low-cost operation from International Airlines Group, the parent of British Airways and Iberia, and it’s due to get off the ground next week, with twice-weekly Los Angeles-Barcelona flights beginning June 1 and three flights a week from Oakland to Barcelona starting June 2, both using two-class A330s. And now Routesonline.com reports that BA/Iberia’s joint venture partner American Airlines will put its AA code onto the Level flights.

Air India’s SFO-Delhi flight proving very popular (Image: Peter Biaggi)

Air India is said to be doing so well with its San Francisco-Delhi service that it plans to add two new U.S. gateways later this year, according to The Times of India. The carrier has already announced plans to start flying to Washington Dulles in July, and the newspaper said Air India now expects to begin non-stop Los Angeles-Delhi service September 1, followed by Dallas/Ft. Worth service sometime later this year.  The report said Air India is seeing a surge in passenger demand for U.S. service now that travelers cannot take their laptops into the cabins of the big Middle Eastern airlines on non-stop flights to the U.S. Besides its SFO service, Air India also flies to Delhi from New York and Chicago, and to Mumbai from Newark.

Avianca Brasil is due to kick off new daily flights between Miami and Sao Paulo June 23, with red-eye service in both directions.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Planespotting: Airbus A320 family differences

Can you identify JetBlue’s newest Airbus? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Pilots, planespotters and aviation buffs can quickly recognize nearly every aircraft type from the ground or in the air.

But it’s not so easy for the rest of us. To help TravelSkills readers confidently recognize what they see overhead or out on the runway, we offer a series of posts dedicated to planespotting. (See below for a list of our previous Planespotting posts)

The Airbus A320 family is near ubiquitous around the world, and increasingly so in the US. Airbus factories pump out a new A320 family aircraft every seven hours!

The largest of the pack, the A321, is rapidly replacing the aging Boeing 757 at many airlines. The A320 gives the workhorse Boeing 737 a run for its money. And the smaller A319 and A318s work for short haul markets, although British Airways operates a specially configured 32-seat, all business class A318 between London City Airport and New York-JFK once per day. (That’s down from twice daily)

How can you spot the differences among these planes? Well, first, you will want to know how to spot the difference between the A320 family and the similarly-sized Boeing 737, which we covered for you here: Planespotting: Airbus A320 vs Boeing 737 differences. (Hint: Look at the tail and cockpit windows.)

Once you’ve learned to distinguish the A320 family, you should then know how to spot the differences among the four models.

The easiest way to do that? Look at the doors.

A321: Four doors

The A321 is the largest member of the Airbus A320 family, and accommodates 185-220 passengers depending on configuration.

(This is a blast from the past- a previously popular post we want to share again. Enjoy!)

The Airbus A321 has four doors evenly spaced along the fuselage (Photo: Anna Zverena / Flickr)

The Airbus A321 has four doors evenly spaced along the fuselage (Photo: Anna Zverena / Flickr)

A320: Two over-wing emergency exits

The Airbus A320 is the mainstay of the family, and carries 150-180 passengers depending on configuration. Virgin America flies 53 Airbus A320s. United flies 97 A320s.

 

The Airbus A321 has two distinctive emergency exit doors over the wing (Photo: Lasta29 / Flickr)

The Airbus A320 has two distinctive emergency exit doors over the wing (Photo: Lasta29 / Flickr)

A319: One over-wing emergency exit

An exception to this one-door A319 is EasyJet, which had to retrofit its A319s with an extra emergency exit because it packs so many passengers on a plane.

 

The stubby Airbus A319 has only one emergency exit door over the wing (Photo: Andre Gembitzki / Flickr)

The Airbus A319 has only one emergency exit door over the wing (Photo: Andre Gembitzki / Flickr)

A318: short, stubby, super-cute- and one door

This little aircraft with only 100 seats is also known as the “baby bus” due to it’s size and cuteness factor.

 

(Photo: Bernal Saborio / Flickr)

The super stubby A318 has a single emergency exit, too. But it’s shorter than the A319 (Photo: Bernal Saborio / Flickr)

 

How do YOU tell the difference between the Airbus A320 family? Leave your comments below.

Here are our other popular planespotting posts!

Planespotting: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 differences

Planespotting: Boeing 757, 767

And don’t miss the TravelSkills Planespotting quiz— 7,000 readers have taken it! Why not you?

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Most popular: United growth + More Lounges + Planespotting + Travel jobs + LAX update

SF

Thursday was a great day for flying from a window seat over SF Bay! SFO>ATL on a United B737 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

United beefs up by the Bay to counter Alaska/Virgin

Planespotting: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 differences

American Express Platinum adds 3 new lounges

Nice selection of hot and cold dishes at Oakland’s Escape Lounge, now available to Amex Platinum card holders (Photo: Keonnis Taylor)

5 top jobs for those who love to travel

Routes: Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, Delta + seaplanes to Tahoe!

LAX’s Big Move was a Big Success

‘Economic tsunami’ and ‘havoc’ caused by laptop ban

Marriott, Starwood, Ritz roll out big summer promotion

The ultimate luxury: LAX’s new private terminal

10 Planespotting: Boeing 757, 767

Don’t miss out: Alaska Airlines Visa card sweetens a key perk! 

Sea plane

Blackbird’s seaplanes will fly from the waters of the SF Bay at Sausalito to the waters of Lake Tahoe for just $124 each way for the 75-minute flight. Scroll up to read the post! (Image: Blackbird)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Why Delta decided to stop being the mean airline

British Airways deep summer business class sale 2-4-1 (ENDS TONIGHT-SUNDAY MAY 21)

Southwest Airlines: Hawaii flights are a high priority 

Big Sheraton hotel to be leveled at ATL for runway

Uber back in Austin

Few hitches on big LAX move

U.S. airlines predict record travel volume this summer

Secret life of the King of the Netherlands: He flies for KLM as a copilot

Delta will introduce gluten-free main cabin snacks next month

Delta’s new gluten-free snacks = KIND bars (Image: Delta)

Survey: Most consumers feel no loyalty to any single airline

Cvent lists top meeting destinations worldwide

Star Alliance working to let flyers book seats across all legs of an itinerary

Korean Air sets higher fees for “overweight pet companions”

Air New Zealand developing “augmented reality” viewers for cabin crews

Air France reveals more plans for its new Boost subsidiary

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American’s premium economy: 777-200s are next

American’s new premium economy seating is currently on 787-9s in select markets. (Image: American Airlines).

Now that American Airlines started selling a new premium economy class of seating this month on its first 787-9s, the company has detailed the timetable for retrofitting its other wide-bodies with the new cabin.

American CFO Derek Kerr told an industry conference this week that the company will begin installing the new seats during the current quarter on 777-200s. The airline has 47 of those planes, comprising the largest segment of American’s long-haul fleet. Work on those aircraft should be finished by March of next year.

During the third quarter, work will start on the airline’s 15 Airbus A330-200s, due for completion in December of this year. Next in line will be AA’s 20 777-300ERs beginning in the fourth quarter and ending by June 2018, followed early next year by its 20 787-8s.

American is now estimating that its entire wide-body fleet will have the new cabin by the end of the third quarter of 2018; previously, it had targeted June 2018 for completion of the job.

Delta’s premium economy cabin will debut on its A350s later this year. (Image: Delta)

Although it is reconfiguring its wide-bodies with premium economy seating, American is planning to keep offering a Main Cabin Extra option as well – i.e., its extra-legroom seating in the economy cabin. While Main Cabin Extra provides up to six inches of extra seat pitch, AA’s Premium Economy product will offer slightly more – 38 inches, along with extendable foot, leg and head rests; larger touch-screens; and additional services and amenities including one checked bag free. Seating will be in a 2-3-2 layout.

Delta is planning to introduce its own international premium economy product later this year as it starts to take delivery of new Airbus A350s. Unlike American, Delta will not continue to offer extra-legroom Comfort+ seating in the economy cabin when premium economy is introduced. In 2018, Delta will extend the premium economy cabin to its 777s.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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LAX’s Big Move was a Big Success

Delta’s overhauls of T2 and T3 at LAX will feature a light, spacious design. (Image: Delta)

Los Angeles International Airport finished up its monumental relocation of 20 airlines this week with no significant problems reported, and carriers are now proceeding to freshen up their new digs.

Over a period of five days, airlines moved from one terminal to another to accommodate the largest piece of the project, Delta’s shift from Terminals 5 and 6 to Terminals 2 and 3. Only one little piece of the project is left – the planned June 4 move of XL France from T2 to T6.

Despite the scope of the operation, “There were no reported delays attributable to the airline move across all three operational periods,” an airport spokesperson said, “although some were initially reported due to East Coast weather conditions and previously-scheduled runway safety area construction.”

In the final stage of the project, on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, Delta completed its relocation into T2 and T3, and JetBlue, Hawaiian and Air Canada shifted their operations into T5 and T6. In addition, Southwest Airlines’ international flights now arrive and leave from the Bradley international terminal.

Delta said it is already seeing operational improvements from the move. “In the short-term, moving Delta’s operations closer to its partners has already improved its flight departure times and substantially lowered the time aircraft need to taxi before takeoff and arrival,” a spokesperson said. The move is the first step in what Delta is calling the Delta Sky Way at LAX, a $1.9 billion, seven-year project to modernize and connect T2, T3 and the Bradley Terminal.

Virgin America is now located near partner Alaska Airlines in T6. (Image: Alaska)

Also benefiting from the relocations is Alaska Airlines Group, as its Virgin America subsidiary moved close to sister company Alaska Airlines in Terminal 6. That will simplify Alaska Airlines Group’s plans to integrate the operations of the two carriers at LAX as their merger proceeds.

“By sharing the same space at LAX, it will be even easier for guests to make a connecting flight across the airlines’ combined network. Instead of changing terminals, guests will only need to walk a few steps,” Alaska said in a blog posting. “It also means that frequent flyers will have a new airport lounge to enjoy: The Alaska Lounge at Terminal 6.” That lounge is on T6’s mezzanine level near Gate 64.

JetBlue will remake its LAX T5 lobby to look like this one at its New York JFK Terminal 5 home base. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue, now in LAX’s Terminal 5, said it is planning  a series of redesign projects for its new check-in lobby there, using the same team that redeveloped the airline’s home base at New York JFK’s Terminal 5.

“The LAX plan will feature JetBlue’s new self-service lobby with ten check-in positions plus ten interactive self-service kiosks – both are more than double the number at Terminal 3,” JetBlue said. “The new interactive kiosks feature the latest personal, helpful and simple technology, including self-bag tagging and bag drop capabilities that increase efficiency and reduce frustrating airport lines. JetBlue Mint customers and Mosaic members will also have a dedicated check-in area.”

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Planespotting: Boeing 757, 767

A Delta 757-200 landing at Princess Juliana airport on St Maarten (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

A Delta 757-200 landing at Princess Juliana airport on St Maarten- note the beak & landing gear (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

Pilots, planespotters and aviation buffs can quickly recognize nearly every aircraft type from the ground or in the air.

But it’s not so easy for the rest of us. To help TravelSkills readers confidently recognize what they see overhead or out on the runway, we offer a series of posts dedicated to planespotting.

Nearly everyone has an opinion about the Boeing 757. Most economy class passengers loath the narrow body because of the tight 3×3 seating and length of the fuselage. (Have you ever had to squeeze into row 48? Ick.)

However, airlines love the 757 for its ability to haul large numbers of passengers (around 200) across long distances using as little fuel as possible. Some airlines even use 757s on transatlantic runs these days. First class passengers like the 757 because of the relative isolation and peace of the first class cabin, which is separated from economy by a galley or lavatory.

The 767 is more beloved because it is a wide body (two aisles) which gives it a much more open feel on the inside. Depending on version, it carries around 250 passengers. United flew the first 767 in 1982, and in 1985, it was the first two-engine aircraft allowed to fly transoceanic routes.

(This is a blast from the past- a previously popular post we want to share again. Enjoy!)

A Delta SkyTeam 767 taking off from SFO (Courtesy Robbie Plafker)

A Delta SkyTeam 767 landing at JFK-note the landing gear and chubbiness (Courtesy Robbie Plafker)

On the outside, the 757 and 767 look somewhat similar and can be easy to confuse, unless of course you see them side-by-side as you can here.

Why so easily confused? Well, both have two underwing engines and similar conical tail cones. Some airlines have installed tall winglets on both 757s and 767s, so that’s no longer a distinguishing feature.

As to the the differences, the narrow body 757 appears thinner  and longer than the wide body 767, which of course is fatter.

The 757 has a “dolphin” shaped nose (see the beak?) compared to the 767’s more conical nose.

See the dolphin shaped nose and the location of landing gear on this Thompson 757? (Photo: Andrew Thomas / Flickr)

See the dolphin shaped nose and the location of landing gear on this Thompson 757? (Photo: Andrew Thomas / Flickr)

Note the position of the front landing gear and conical shape of the nose on this 767? (Photo: Simon_Sees / Flickr)

Note the position of the front landing gear and conical shape of the nose on this 767? (Photo: Simon_Sees / Flickr)

The front landing gear on a 767 is far forward– almost underneath the cockpit, while on the 757 it is much further back– underneath the first passenger doorway. The 757 also has longer stork-like “legs” and appears to ride higher off the ground.

Boeing stopped making the 757 in 2005, but there are still 1,030 still in service. The aircraft most likely to replace the Boeing 757 seems to be the new Airbus A321. The Airbus equivalent of the Boeing 767 is the A330, plus there is Boeing’s own 787 Dreamliner.

Now that you’ve boned up on your Boeing 757 and 767- can you identify the plane below?

(Photo courtesy Robbie Plafker)

What is it? A Boeing 757 or 767? (Photo courtesy Robbie Plafker)

Have you been following our super popular series on planespotting? Check out our previous installments here:

Planespotting: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 differences

And don’t miss the TravelSkills Planespotting quiz— 7,000 readers have taken it! Why not you?

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Routes: Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, Delta + seaplanes to Tahoe!

Alaska Airlines will offer the first commercial service out of Paine Field next year. (Image: Alaska)

In domestic route developments, Alaska Airlines will start flying out of a new Seattle-area airport; JetBlue kicks off its newest transcontinental Mint route from San Francisco; Southwest adds some Milwaukee routes and drops one; Delta will enter a New England market from JFK; and Blackbird starts flying seaplanes from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe.

Travelers who live in Washington State’s northern Puget Sound region will get a new air travel option starting next year when Alaska Airlines begins operating out of Paine Field in Everett, Wash., also known as Snohomish County Airport. The carrier hasn’t yet announced routes, but said it expects to begin flying at Paine Field by the fall of 2018, operating nine flights a day with 737s and E175s. Alaska, which will be the first carrier to offer commercial service from Paine Field, said construction of a passenger terminal there will begin next month.

In other news, Alaska last week started service on the newest spoke from its Seattle hub, operating one daily 737 roundtrip to Indianapolis.

JetBlue’s front-cabin Mint service is expanding to more transcon routes. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue this week deployed a Mint-equipped A321 on another transcontinental route: San Francisco-Ft. Lauderdale.  According to the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, advance-purchase one-way fares on the route are in the $599 range, but can be found as low as $499. Two months ago, JetBlue introduced Mint service on its Los Angeles-Ft. Lauderdale route, and more Mint expansion will come later this year, including San Diego-New York JFK, San Diego-Boston and Las Vegas-JFK.

Southwest Airlines will make some changes to its Milwaukee operations starting November 5. The carrier will begin new service in two markets: Milwaukee-Nashville, with two flights a day; and Milwaukee-Cleveland, with two daily flights Sunday-Friday and one on Saturdays. At the same time, Southwest will boost Milwaukee-Denver frequencies from three a day to four, and will add a second daily Milwaukee-St. Louis flight. However, Southwest’s two daily Milwaukee-Minneapolis flights will be eliminated.

Delta plans to add another spoke to its New York JFK hub later this year, according to Routesonline.com. On September 10, the carrier is planning to begin one daily roundtrip between JFK and Portland, Maine, operated as a Delta Connection flight by Endeavor Air with a CRJ-900.

Blackbird’s seaplanes will fly from Sausalito to Lake Tahoe. (Image: Blackbird)

Who needs an airport? Blackbird Air, which offers small-plane service on several intra-California routes from the Bay Area, will introduce something new and totally different this summer: seaplane service from Sausalito to Lake Tahoe. Or as the company puts it, “Take off on the bay and land in the lake.” Blackbird has a downloadable app that can be used to book the service, which it says will start June 16 with fares from $124.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Expansion of laptop ban put on hold

Delta put up a sign at Cincinnati prematurely last week anticipating a larger laptop ban. (Source: FlyerTalk)

Travelers concerned about the U.S. banning in-cabin laptops and tablets on flights from Europe are breathing a sigh of relief – although it may be only temporary.

Just last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was said to be on the verge of expanding its laptop ban – currently in effect for flights from 10 Middle Eastern and North African airports – to include inbound flights from Europe as well. But after a crucial meeting in Brussels this week between U.S. and European security and aviation officials, those plans have apparently been put on hold for now.

The Associated Press quoted one official as saying after the meeting that the expanded laptop ban is ”off the table” for now.

In an official statement following the meeting, DHS and the European Commission said only that they had “reaffirmed their commitment to continue working closely together on aviation security generally,” and that they have scheduled another meeting next week in Washington D.C. “to further assess shared risks and solutions for protecting airline passengers, whilst ensuring the smooth functioning of global air travel.”

The U.S. is concerned that terrorist organizations like ISIS are refining methods of planting explosives inside electronic devices in such a way that they can’t be detected by existing airport security systems.

If laptops are a threat in the cabin, are they safe in checked bags? (Image: Jim Glab)

At their Brussels meeting, the two sides “exchanged information on the serious evolving threats to aviation security and approaches to confronting such threats,” the official statement said. “Participants provided insight into existing aviation security standards and detection capabilities as well as recent security enhancements on both sides of the Atlantic related to large electronic devices placed in checked baggage.”

The statement said nothing about the proposed expansion of the laptop ban.

The Europeans were known to be concerned about threats to aviation safety if large numbers of electronic devices with lithium batteries are stowed in the hold of an aircraft, since those batteries have been known to ignite.

The threat of an expanded laptop ban led to warnings from the airline and travel industries that transatlantic travel could suffer significant damage from such an order. The initial damage would be in the form of chaos at airports as travelers and airlines adapted to the ban, and longer term in a falloff of bookings, especially among higher-paying business travelers.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Delta adds a SkyMiles partner

Lyft is Delta’s newest SkyMiles partner. (Image: Delta/Lyft)

Delta has added ride-sharing company Lyft as the newest partner in its SkyMiles program.

The airline said members who link their SkyMiles and Lyft accounts (which you can do here) will earn one mile per dollar spent on all Lyft rides – including Lyft Line, Classic, Plus and Premier rides – with no limit on the amount to be earned.

Through August 31, customers with linked accounts will earn triple SkyMiles miles on Lyft rides to or from an airport (excluding taxes, tolls and tips).

Don’t miss: 5 key reasons to give Lyft Premier a try

SkyMiles members who are new to Lyft and link their accounts can get up to $20 in Lyft ride credits (i.e., two $10 credits) on their first and second Lyft rides within 60 days of signing up as a new Lyft user.

The addition of Lyft marks Delta’s second “sharing economy” partnership for SkyMiles in recent months. Last fall, SkyMiles teamed up with Airbnb, letting members earn miles for stays at that vendor’s properties.

Disclosure: Lyft is a recent TravelSkills sponsor

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Spending matters when it comes to AA upgrades

American has new priorities for AAdvantage upgrade requests. (Image: Jim Glab)

Now that American Airlines has converted its AAdvantage program to a spending-based model like its competitors, it is extending that same concept to upgrades.

On May 20, American said in a mailing to members, AAdvantage will revise the way it prioritizes upgrade requests.

First it will prioritize requests by the member’s elite status level, AA said, and then by the type of upgrade. (Systemwide and mileage award upgrades will get priority in this step, followed by 500-mile upgrades on purchased tickets and then 500-mile upgrades on award tickets.)

Within those groups, the next priority in sorting requests will be the member’s 12-month rolling EQDs (elite qualifying dollars spent) — not year-to-date EQDs. If members have the same level of EQDs, additional priority evaluations will be based on the booking code (with business class to first class upgrade requests given priority over main cabin upgrade requests), and then the date and time the request came in.

American spells out the specifics here. The old upgrade priority method put more emphasis on the time of the request, but now the member’s 12-month spending level will play a larger role.

Meanwhile, AAdvantage is also providing award ticket upgrades as a new benefit to Executive Platinums and ConciergeKey members.

The change will allow those top-level members to use complimentary 500-mile upgrades for themselves and one companion for moving up from main cabin to the next class of service on AAdvantage award tickets.

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‘Economic tsunami’ and ‘havoc’ caused by laptop ban

Munich Munchen airport

A larger laptop ban could mean four-hour advance check-in at European airports. (Photo: Flughafen Munchen)

U.S. and European aviation and security officials are meeting in Brussels today (May 17) to discuss the planned expansion of the U.S. “laptop ban” to European routes, and industry observers are predicting massive logistical problems and airline financial losses when the expansion starts.

The U.S. is reportedly planning to ban passengers from carrying electronic devices larger than a smartphone into the cabins of U.S.-bound flights from Europe, just like the ban it already has in place for non-stop flights from 10 Middle Eastern and North African airports into the US.

Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the U.S.-based Business Travel Coalition, spelled out the dangers of an expanded ban in a letter this week to Europe’s Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc.

Remember SARS? Zika? Or the Icelandic volcano that shut down transatlantic travel? If the ban is extended, “the economic risk to airlines and the travel and tourism industry is orders of magnitude greater than the threat from pandemics, volcanoes or wars,” Mitchell said. “This is serious.”

He noted that most companies, governments and universities “will not allow employees to check laptops, most of which have sensitive information on them,” and that could be a deal-breaker for many planned transatlantic trips. “That’s where a dramatic falloff in business travel demand would be based,” Mitchell said. “A monthly trip to London becomes a once-a-quarter one.”

In addition to that, all airlines specifically deny liability for electronics packed in checked bags in their contracts of carriage, so travelers are left with little or no protection unless they have travel insurance that covers such losses (many policies don’t).

Can you fly back from Europe without a laptop or tablet? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The result? Fewer business travelers will pay for the big seats up front. The loss of a handful of first and business class passengers on a transatlantic flight could easily make that flight unprofitable for the airline, he said, as flagging demand drives down yields.

“There is evidence that this already is happening,” Mitchell wrote. “Despite creative efforts by Gulf carriers such as gate-side (laptop) check-in, separate secure inflight storage and dedicated arrival pick-up, not to mention onboard loaner tablets, early indications are the negative impact on bookings has been significant.” (Emirates has already announced plans to reduce flight frequencies on several U.S. routes due to a falloff in demand.)

Mitchell urged the Europeans to “push back on this potential ban” and on the one already in place for the Middle East and North Africa.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association – a trade group of the world’s airlines – is predicting that an expanded ban would cost travelers more than $1 billion, including $655 in lost productivity, $216 million for longer travel times, and $195 million for renting laptops from airlines. IATA said extending the ban to Europe would affect 350 to 390 flights per day.

U.S. airline analyst Henry Harteveldt told Yahoo! News this week that an expansion of the ban to Europe would mean “a summer of international travel hell” for passengers. And for airlines, the ban would have an “extensive financial impact,” with falling demand and worker layoffs likely, he said.

Another analyst, Vinay Bhaskara, told Yahoo! News that if the U.S. ban is put into effect suddenly, without sufficient lead time for airlines to prepare, the result will be “havoc” for travelers and airlines.  “Airports will become zoos,” he said. “The additional security screening time may require passengers to arrive at airports four or more hours in advance of flights.”

Readers: If the expanded laptop ban takes effect, would you cut back on travel to Europe? Please leave your comments below. 

 

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Planespotting: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 differences

Can you tell the difference between the 737 and A320 in this shot? (Angelo DeSantis / Flickr)

Can you tell the difference between the A320 and the B737 in this shot? (Angelo DeSantis / Flickr)

Pilots, planespotters and aviation buffs can quickly recognize nearly every aircraft type from the ground or in the air.

But it’s not so easy for the rest of us. To help TravelSkills readers confidently recognize what they see overhead or out on the runway, we offer up a series of posts dedicated to one of our favorite pastimes-Planespotting!

Today let’s look at two ubiquitous planes – the Boeing 737 family and the Airbus A320 family. How can you tell them apart? 

The Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 are two of the most popular single-aisle planes flying. They are about the same size and look quite similar to the untrained eye.

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See the pointy nose on the Boeing 737? The dorsal-like fin leading up to the tail? (Photo: Colin Brown / Flickr)

 

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See the more bulbous nose on the Airbus? (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

The 737 is Boeing’s most widely produced aircraft and has nine variants flown by almost all major domestic airlines, especially Southwest, which operates only 737s and has 725 of ’em! Delta flies about 150.

The Airbus A320 (along with the similar A318, 319 and 321) is more popular overseas, but in the U.S., they comprise 100% of Virgin America’s fleet and much of JetBlue’s. American Airlines has the largest Airbus fleet in the world, including 384 in the A320 family. United has about 160. Delta has 141 A319s, A320s and A321s.

(This is a blast from the past- a previously popular post we want to share again. Enjoy!)

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Note the Airbus nose and windows (PurplePoulpe / Flickr)

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Note the pointy nose and angular window in the Boeing (PurplePoulpe / Flickr)

One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a 737 and an A320 is by looking at the nose of the plane. Boeing jets tend to have pointy noses compared to Airbus noses which are more rounded and bulbous.

You can also look at the outer edge of the cockpit windows. On a 737 (and most Boeing jets), the windows have a sharp diagonal corner while the A320s windows are more square.

Also, look at the tail of both jets. The 737 has tail has small dorsal- like fin that extends at a slight angle from the top of the fuselage to the tail. That’s absent on the A320’s smaller tail. See it? (scroll up)

The A320 also has a larger, more distinctive tail cone than the 737.

When flying the 737 or A320, do you notice much difference? Do you have a preference? Please leave your comments below. 

And don’t miss the TravelSkills Planespotting quiz— 7,000 readers have taken it! Why not you?

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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American Express Platinum adds 3 new lounges

Oakland

Oakland’s new Escape Lounge now open to Amex Platinum card holders (Photo: K Taylor)

American Express announced today that it will add access to three Escape Lounges as a new perk for Platinum cardholders.

In the U.S., Escape Lounges are located in Hartford, CT, Minneapolis and Oakland airports. (In Europe, there are three Escape lounges at Manchester and one each at East Midlands and Stansted airports- but these are not part of the Platinum plan.)

The new benefit starts today. Fine print says: Platinum Card Members receive complimentary access and may bring up to two guests. To enter the U.S. Escape Lounges, simply present your American Express Platinum Card, a same-day boarding pass and valid government issued I.D. to the front desk.

Escape Lounges are not affiliated with specific airlines, so anyone can enter for $45 per visit. Some Escape lounges have agreements with airlines in the airports where they operate to allow complimentary access to business or first class passengers. The lounges offer free wi-fi, hot and cold food and bar service.

Escape Lounge Hartford

Escape Lounge Minneapolis

Escape Lounge Oakland

This is welcome news for Platinum members, but I’m worried that the new benefit could result in crowding at the Escape lounges. Just last month I enjoyed the Escape Lounge in Oakland prior to a British Airways flight to London, and one of the highlights of the visit was that the lounge was only half full.

Below is a snippet from that Trip Report: Oakland-London, British Airways business class

Modern design, generous food and drink and views at Oakland’s new Escape Lounge (Chris McGinnis)

Last year Oakland International Airport opened a new Escape Lounge that’s open to all passengers for a $45 one-time-use fee. (British Airways business class passengers and Norwegian Air’s Premium passengers are comped.) It is located in Terminal 1 between gates 8 and 8A, across from gate 9. The 2,700-square-foot facility can accommodate 50 travelers, and has separate zones for relaxing, dining/drinking and work. It’s open daily from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Warm mac and cheese, avocado toast, cheese and crackers at the Escape Lounge (Chris McGinnis)

When I was there around lunchtime, The Escape lounge buffet had a nice selection of hot and cold items, including these cute cast iron ramekins of yummy macaroni and cheese, avocado toast, soup, salad, fresh fruit, cold cuts, crackers, cheese and chips. There’s also a separate full complimentary bar with waiter service. Food and drink is service on china and glass. Nice tarmac views out big windows. I found this lounge almost as nice as any Amex Centurion Lounge I’ve visited recently, but only half as crowded.

H/T: USA Today

Have you been to an Escape Lounge? What did you think? 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Most popular: Phone searches + United adds + Polaris report + Laptop ban + LAX

LAX might be in LaLa land this week as the Big Move is on! (Image: Los Angeles International Airport)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

Laptop Ban Update

1 Troubling- U.S. Customs: Show me your phone, or else…

2 Overkill? United beefs up by the Bay to counter Alaska/Virgin

3 Well, Chris I don’t think… Reader Report: United Polaris (new seat) to Hong Kong

4 Still no firm answers- Russian mystery plane at SFO

Antonov An-124 Volga Dnepr

A Russian Antonov An-124 parked at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

5 Stay tuned- DHS: Prepare for laptop ban on Europe flights

6 Helpful! Finally: Easier, cheaper roaming options for U.S. travelers

7 So far, so good- Heads up: The Big Move at LAX starts (LA Times reports all going smoothly)

8 Fewer big seats- Delta reveals plans for 777 makeovers

9 Tight squeeze- Should airlines lock seats upright?

10 Airport news: JFK, LaGuardia, Atlanta, LAX, Baltimore-Washington

Don’t miss out: Alaska Airlines Visa card sweetens key perk! 

Alaska Airlines Havana

Alaska Airlines has just sweetened a perk for new card holders- a free companion ticket! Use it to fly to Havana as shown here CLICK  (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

United dragging mess has no impact on bottom line

Qantas CEO gets a pie in the face in Perth

JetBlue Has a New Points Partner: Icelandair 

Emirates: Profits down a whopping 80%

Fun new ad campaign from Orbitz- Showbizzzzz!

Hey whining airline passenger: Look in the mirror! 

State Dept. expected to start limited online passport renewal program in 2018

Big new study suggests how far in advance to book for best fares

JetBlue adds new artisanal ice cream to the MINT menu. And it’s yummy! 

JetBlue delivered a sample of new Double Rainbow ice cream to TravelSkills offices this week. Thanks! (Photo: Kim Grimes)

U.S. may expand facial recognition systems at airports to U.S. citizens

Southwest reports no problems in switching over to new reservations system

Don’t miss out: Alaska Airlines Visa card sweetens key perk! 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Routes: United, JetBlue, AA, Emirates, Air China, El Al, LOT Polish

United will add service to Buenos Aires from Newark. (Image: Buenos Aires Tourism)

In international route news, United is adding a South American route from Newark; JetBlue expands Mexico City service and strengthens ties with Icelandair; American will sell premium economy seats from Chicago to Paris; Emirates trims its JFK schedule; Air China changes its mind about a new LAX route; El Al comes to Florida; and LOT adds Newark service.

United Airlines said it will begin new year-round daily service on October 28 between its Newark hub and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The route will use a 767-300 with business class, Economy Plus and regular economy seating. And both northbound and southbound flights will be red-eyes, with a 9:50 p.m. EWR departure and a 9 p.m. Buenos Aires departure time. United also said it will increase service between Newark and Bogota, Colombia from one flight a day to two for the summer season, June 8-August 14.

JetBlue will increase capacity between Florida and Mexico City  effective September 6, boosting its schedules from one flight a day to two from both Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, offering early morning and midday southbound departures on both routes.  Meanwhile, JetBlue has also enhanced its partnership with Icelandair to include frequent flyer reciprocity. Members of JetBlue’s TrueBlue program can now earn points on Icelandair flights, and vice-versa for Icelandair Saga Club members flying on JetBlue.

American’s new premium economy seating is on 787-9s in select markets. (Image: American Airlines).

American Airlines is reportedly planning to put a 787-9 equipped with its new premium economy cabin into service this summer between Chicago O’Hare and Paris. It’s currently offered only on a few routes out of Dallas/Ft. Worth. But the ORD-Paris debut of the new cabin is only for a short period: July 5 to August 5. American normally uses a 787-8 on the route.

A few weeks ago, Emirates said it was cutting frequencies on its routes from Dubai to five U.S. destinations (Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Seattle, Los Angeles and Boston), partly because the U.S. ban on in-flight electronic devices aboard inbound flights was taking a big toll on bookings. And now it is adding New York JFK to that list. According to Routesonline.com, Emirates will trim its Dubai-JFK non-stop schedule from three flights a day to two effective June 4 through at least the end of June.  The carrier also offers one-stop JFK-Dubai service via Milan.

Air China apparently never started taking reservations on the new Los Angeles-Shenzen service that it planned to start flying July 6, and it’s a good thing – because the carrier has now pulled the route from its schedule, Routesonline.com said. Air China had planned to operate the service three times a week with a 787-9.

El Al will start Tel Aviv service from Miami this fall. (Image: Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Miami will go back onto El Al’s route map in November, when it plans to start flying MIA-Tel Aviv three times a week. The Israeli carrier discontinued Miami service in 2008. Its other U.S. gateways include Boston, New York JFK, Newark and Los Angeles.

The newest U.S. route for LOT Polish Airlines is Newark-Warsaw, which it recently started flying four times a week with a two-class 767-300. It will upgrade the route to a three-class 787 in August, and boost frequencies to five a week.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Laptop ban delayed- but for how long?

Working on your laptop inflight from Europe might, or might not be, verboten (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

It looks like the Department of Homeland Security’s widely-reported plans to expand its in-flight laptop ban to Europe has been put off at least for a few days.

Earlier reports this week suggested that the ban’s announcement was expected by Thursday or Friday, and would apply to U.S.-bound flights from the continent and perhaps the U.K., prohibiting flyers from carrying anything larger than a smartphone into the cabin. (Yes, tablets would be forbidden, too.) That kind of ban is already in place for non-stop flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa.

There was even a notice at a Delta gate at Cincinnati on Friday that the ban would take effect May 12 (posted by SFO 1K on FlyerTalk), but that was premature. A DHS spokesperson referred all inquiries about the sign to Delta. Late Friday, Vocativ.com reported that a Delta spokesperson said the notice was posted by error and should be regarded as erroneous. (yeah, but…)

The sign, which has since been removed, said: Attention International Passengers. Effective May 12 passengers will only be permitted to carry a cell phone onboard flights returning to the United States. All other personal electronic devices with be required to be checked.

A sign at Cincinnati Airport spotted by FlyerTalk member SFO 1K on Friday morning (Source: FlyerTalk)

According to reports Friday from Reuters and Politico.com, DHS agreed to hold off on any order pending a meeting with European officials in Brussels next Wednesday (May 17).

EU officials are said to be concerned not only about the logistical problems that would be created by a sudden imposition of a laptop ban, but also about potential threats to safety if thousands of travelers start to put electronic devices into their checked luggage for stowage in the hold of the aircraft. The lithium-ion batteries in such devices are known to pose a small risk of igniting.

In fact, the European Aviation Safety Agency says on its website: “You should carry your portable electronic devices (PEDs, such as cameras, laptops and phones) in your hand baggage (carry-on), and not in your checked baggage,” because of the fire risk.

U.S. airline officials have been in talks with DHS in recent days about the looming announcement of a laptop ban for European flights, presumably to give them time to prepare their operations for such a possibility.

So we can all breath a sigh of relief … for now.

How will the laptop ban affect the way you travel? How or will you adapt? Please leave your questions and comments below. 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Testing Gogo

Gogo’s Boeing 737 flight lab named Jimmy Ray (Photo: Ian Livingston)

Tuesday afternoon, at Newark Liberty International Airport, I boarded a plane, took off, watched Planet Earth live on Netflix for 90 minutes. I then landed at Newark Liberty International Airport—a few hundred feet from where I’d taken off.

I ended the day where I started it, and that was the point. So was the Netflix. On this day, Gogo, the world’s leading provider of in-flight wi-fi, was sampling what is says is its newest, fastest, most reliable wi-fi product yet for aviation and travel journalists. Aboard Gogo’s white-and-sky-blue 737—the Jimmy Ray “flight lab,” named for Gogo’s founder—I joined about 20 others in testing “the next generation of 2Ku” Wi-Fi.

NYC-based travel writer Ian Livingston penned this post about his EWR-EWR roundtrip

Takeaway: Gogo’s in-flight Wi-Fi, powered by new modems and Intelsat IS32E satellites, is about to get much, much better.

Gogo says that right now only one Aeromexico jet is flying with the newest next-gen 2Ku system that we sampled. However, the company has aggressive plans for installation and says that 1,600 planes will have it by the end of 2018. Currently, about 170 planes worldwide are flying with its first generation 2Ku system—and 100 of those are Delta’s. Planes that are already equipped with first-gen 2Ku will, at the end of this cycle, be retrofitted with the new modems to bring their wi-fi up to what will soon be the new standard.

On Tuesday’s flight, my “gogoinflight” signal floated between 35Mbs and 64Mbs—stronger than what I’m writing with at home (37Mbs). And that was gate to gate, through takeoff and landing, nearly without interruption. For reference, you need about 4Mbs to watch Netflix programming. For general browsing and email, which require only periodic requests to servers, you need much less than that. I streamed Planet Earth episodes and VICE YouTube videos at the same time, while using email, with no discernible issue.

According to Gogo, the Wi-Fi at 30,000 feet on this day peaked at a blistering 93Mbs, though I did not measure that myself. Uploads peaked at just 8Mbs, but for me averaged around 4Mbs. All this, despite 20-some journalists on 53 devices trying their hardest to consume bandwidth.

(Photo: Ian Livingston)

That said, my VPN (iVPN) brought my internet bacchanal to a temporary halt. I was told by CTO Anand Chari that initially the new 2Ku technology is not yet optimized for all VPNs (which carry server requests indirectly, via multiple stops) for reasons related to latency. My attempts to FaceTime were also largely unsuccessful, though a few flying beside me managed better. Ed Baig of USA Today even Facebook Live’d for a while.

American Airlines, which not long ago nearly took Gogo to court, has signed on for 2Ku installation on 140 planes. Among the other airlines that will soon offer up to 100Mbs wi-fi in the air are Aer Lingus, Air France, Air Canada, British Airways, GOL, Iberia, Japan Transoceanic Air, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Australia.

Pricing for now will remain the same, though Gogo expects to reevaluate as passengers familiarize themselves with the new tech. As I understand it, Gogo’s current price structure is designed to limit the number of passengers consuming bandwidth (cheap/free access would mean more people clogging it up). With much more bandwidth soon available, and passenger expectations of Gogo set to change, it remains possible that more passengers will price into Gogo’s user base.

Until then, know what airplane you’re flying on. Your Gogo dollars may already take you further than they used to.

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Alaska Airlines cuts new parents a break

baby

Alaska has a new benefit for Mileage Plan elites. (Image: Pixaby – TawnyNina)

What happens when your frequent flying lifestyle (and cherished status) comes to a grinding halt due to a new baby? Not much on some airlines…

Alaska Airlines has a new perk for Mileage Plan members: preserving your elite status when your frequent travel schedule is interrupted by parenthood.

The concept of extending program status for parental leaves is gaining ground among foreign airlines. A similar offer is available to frequent flyers of Iberia, Qantas, and Virgin Atlantic, and more recently Air Canada and British Airways.

Under the terms of Alaska’s new benefit, “members who have taken or will take a parental leave that ends this year can extend their status through the end of 2018,” the company said. “In future years, status will be extended through the calendar year following the end of leave.”

Elite members who want to take advantage of the offer are instructed to email their full name, birth date, Mileage Plan number and proof of parental leave to flyer@alaskaair.com, and they will be registered in the program after their eligibility is verified.

What constitutes proof? “A note from your doctor or employer will do,” Alaska said.

You can see the full terms and conditions here.

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Delta reveals plans for 777 makeovers

Delta’s A350s will debut its new Delta One business cabin later this year. (Image: Delta)

Last year, Delta unveiled plans for all-suite business class seating on the new Airbus A350s it will start putting into service later this year; and now it has revealed details for bringing the same new Delta One cabin layout to its existing fleet of 777-200s.

According to FlightGlobal, Delta said in a filing with the FAA that installing the business class suites in its 777s will shrink passenger capacity in the front cabin from the current 37 lie-flat seats to 28 mini-suites with lie-flat seats.

Delta hasn’t yet issued a schedule for reconfiguring its 18 777-200s, but when it does, it will also give the planes 48 new premium economy seats and 220 economy seats. They currently have 36 extra-legroom Comfort+ coach seats and 220 regular economy.

The airline has said that when it puts the new premium economy section into its A350s and 777s, Comfort+ seating will no longer be offered in them. The premium economy section will offer up to 38 inches of pitch, 19-inch seat width and up to seven inches of recline.

Delta’s premium economy cabin will also debut on its A350s. (Image: Delta)

And here’s some good news for economy travelers: A company official told FlightGlobal that when the 777s are remade, they will continue to offer nine-across seating in economy instead of going to 10-across like some of its domestic and foreign competitors are doing with their 777s.

Delta has ordered 25 A350-900s, but the airline said this week it will defer deliveries for 10 of them by two to three years, pushing them back to 2021-2023. The company also said it has increased its A321-200 order to 30 new planes, boosting the total from 82 to 112 for delivery by 2021. Those aircraft will replace older planes on domestic routes.

The airline said it is still on track to begin its first A350 flights in the fourth quarter of this year.  The new wide-bodies are initially expected to fly on transpacific routes out of Delta’s Detroit hub.

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Lesson for airlines: Respond to social media

J.D. Power says airline passengers don’t like their social media posts being ignored. (Image: Jim Glab)

Airlines that don’t respond to customer comments on social media could be doing long-term harm to their brand and their business.

That’s one of the findings in the latest J.D. Power and Associates consumer survey on satisfaction with U.S. airlines.

The poll of more than 11,000 air travelers found that social media postings have become the “feedback tool of choice” for passengers. Some 21 percent of business travelers in the survey said they had posted a comment about their airline trip on social media, and so did 8 percent of leisure flyers. And almost three-quarters of all those comments were positive.

“When an airline responds to any social media post – whether it’s positive or negative – there is a noteworthy 121-point lift in passenger satisfaction” regarding that airline, J.D. Power said. The company rates airlines in its survey results on a 1,000-point scale.

It said that the social platform most commonly used by passengers is Facebook (81 percent), followed by Twitter (41 percent). Apparently the takeaway from these numbers is that customers really like to know that their airline listened to them and cared enough to reply. And they resent it when they’re ignored.

Besides having their posts ignored, there are a couple of other things that really bug travelers, the survey found. One is insufficient overhead bin space, cited by 14 percent of respondents who said they had ”an issue” with this. And when they do, their overall satisfaction level with the airline drops by 82 points.

“The problem is inversely related to age, as travelers in younger generations are more likely to experience a problem with overhead storage than are older travelers,” J.D. Power noted (possibly because older travelers have learned through bitter experience what will fit and what won’t).

The other thing is getting bumped from a flight. The levels of involuntary denied boardings have reached “historic lows,” J.D. Power observed, but when they do happen, “they have the greatest negative influence on overall satisfaction.”

Delta

Despite problems, customer satisfaction keeps going up. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Speaking of overall satisfaction, you’d think all the publicity these days about shrinking seat pitch, passenger misbehavior, fights with flight attendants, overcrowded planes and gate areas, etc. would mean a significant drop in passengers’ happiness with the air travel experience.

But J.D. Power found just the opposite: Overall satisfaction with the airlines in the latest survey jumped by 30 points over the previous year, to 756 points, “continuing a trend of steady performance increases that began in 2013.”

The company divides airlines into “traditional” and “low-cost,” although those divisions aren’t what they used to be. The highest-rated “traditional” airline was Alaska (for the tenth year in a row) with a score of 765, followed by Delta at 758. Ranking highest among “low-cost” carriers was Southwest at 807, closely followed by JetBlue at 803.

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Reader Report: United Polaris (new seat) to Hong Kong

A window seat in United’s new Polaris business class- but where do you store all that stuff? (Image: United)

Earlier this year I received a query from a colleague who travels to Europe and Asia in business class around twice a year. She had a trip to Hong Kong coming up and was wondering if she should try out the new United Polaris flight (with the new seats). Since the service was brand new, she was concerned that it might not be up to par and had some concerns about flying in a brand new plane over all that water. She was weighing her options for SFO-HKG nonstops that include United, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Air. “Which one do you suggest?” she asked

My reply: “I would have to say go United this time. Based on what I saw at SFO plane is really nice. Avoid the aisles and get a good window seat (per instructions in this post) and  I think you’ll be happy. Plus you’ll be one of the first folks to try it, so will have lots of cocktail party material when you get back. As for safety concerns, the plane is brand new, but it’s a B777– a real workhorse and has been around long enough for any kinks to be worked out.”

She took the flight last month, for which her company paid the $5,500 roundtrip fare. Here’s her report with some notes from me…

Well Chris, I don’t think people are going to be too happy with this new plane. Several passengers, on both legs of my journey, were complaining at the end that the seats “weren’t comfortable”– that they are too hard and they really miss the storage space provided in the previous iteration. That was my main complaint too, there’s nowhere to put anything. That small compartment isn’t cutting it, especially with the two blankets and two pillows piled on your seat at boarding. Where are you supposed to put those things if you aren’t using them? I also noticed that window seats no longer have those nice spacious bins under the windows like they did on the 747s. [Note: United recently reduced the number of items left on the seat at boarding. Passengers should now request extra pillows or blankets.]

On the positive side, the blankets were both very nice and felt expensive. They were warm and comforting as was the pillow. The chocolate before and after the flight is a nice touch.

United Polaris

A window seat in United’s new Polaris cabin on B777-300ER- note the long bar  (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Unite 747 bin

These are the window seat storage bins on United 747s – enjoy them while you can! 747s fly away in October (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

When it came to the seat, I found the long armrest bar along the window to be strange and I banged my arm against it while sleeping more than one time. It’s the bar they have going across where you can control your seat. It’s strange as it sort of floats at the end of the window.

Click here for images of “old” United BusinessFirst seats

Also the configuration of the seat didn’t allow me to put both arms on the rest at the same time. I felt like I had to lean to the left to the armrest closest to where my drink was, but because it’s sort of angled my arm wasn’t on the other arm rest.

I don’t know, I wasn’t in love with it and the seats felt hard and I couldn’t find the right configuration while just watching a movie to be comfortable. I miss the ottoman that joined with the area where your feet go (on the old planes).

United Polaris

Seating controls include a simple dial for adjusting recline as well as buttons for more specific movements, lumbar support, lighting, and do not disturb light (Scott Hintz)

Am not sure how to describe it all but I felt like the seat wasn’t great and many other people said the same thing. They couldn’t figure out how to control it, as to me the only controls that made sense were the rolling button and the leg lift. When pressing the other buttons I had no idea what they did and if they were doing something but I didn’t feel anything happening.

As for service, on our way out this NEW plane didn’t have wi-fi. People were PISSED in business class. (But they did compensate us with miles in the end– and they offered it to everyone on the whole plane, not just business class. I received 8,750 miles.)

The United Lounge at SFO is under construction and the part that is still open is very crowded and seems like a mess.

Inflight service on the first SFO to HKG leg was terrible. Flight attendants made no personal greeting once we got on the plane (like before) and none of them offered us the PJs or extra cool pillow option (which I read about on TravelSkills). Guess you have to read a blog or your brochure in order to know about it– and ask specifically for it.

United Polaris

Wine flights offered on departures after noon (Scott Hintz)

I tried a wine flight on the way out just because I saw it on your post, but again, the FA didn’t offer or suggest it— they were just pouring wine in individual glasses like before. I saw the three glass wine flights on the bottom of the drink cart and asked for one as did the person behind me. But if I had not asked, neither of us would have been given the option. Plus, the flight attendant knew nothing about the wines we were trying, and could not pronounce what they were. When I asked for a suggestion to replace the Chardonnay (which they were out of), she had no clue what to offer, saying “I know it’s white, but…” So I’m not exactly sure what I was drinking.

MORE: Images of a brand new United 777-300ER with new Polaris seats

I’m not sure the new plane itself is great, either. Every time flight attendants made an announcement a loud ringing happened or you could hear other flight attendants chattering in the background. It just seemed weird and some of the older, seasoned travelers were NOT happy about the new plane. People did like being in their own seat with aisle access, but I heard grumblings of “I wish they didn’t change the seats” and “where is all the storage!” Oh, and the FAs kept telling us the aisles were narrower and that it was difficult for them to reach into our pods to get to the tray tables…so they seemed to be a bit uncomfortable too.

This is what she was expecting, but … (Image: Matthew Klint)

As for food, it was fine– I had the beef shortrib and it was good as always. But get this- on this flight we did not get the standard ice cream sundae bar.  Instead they plopped down a Haagen-Dazs cardboard container and said go for it! I asked about the sundae bar and the flight attendant said, “We don’t have that anymore, they took it away last month.” And I was like, “Huh? It’s right there on your menu.” [Note: United is having some teething issues with the new bowls which are cracking and breaking so the lack of ice cream sundaes is likely temporary.)

So I think I will go Cathay next time to check it out!

Have you flown United Polaris with the new seat yet? Let us know what you think in the comments below! 

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Should airlines lock seats upright?

Delta

Life beyond the curtain. Seat 40D SFO>ATL (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I first noticed I might be a bit claustrophobic at about eight years old. Whenever I was especially obnoxious or irritating to my siblings, I’d get locked in a coat closet for a few minutes. In that tiny, dark space stuffed full of wool coats and mothballs, a sort of panic would set in. After a few minutes of almost ripping the door off its hinges, they’d let me escape.

These days, that same feeling returns when I don’t get the upgrade I was hoping for and end up wedged into a window seat in row 40 on a 757. Only there’s no escape on a five or six hour transcon flight.

And it’s not just the cramped seats….

What really sets me off in this situation is when the person in the seat in front of me reclines his or her seat all the way back. What are these people thinking? Probably something like, “It’s my seat, I paid for it, and I’m going to get every inch out of it.” Apparently, consideration for others in this new age of ever-tightening seat space never enters the equation.

As sort of a karmic protection, I’ve stopped reclining my own seat when flying economy, hoping the person in front of me won’t do it either. But sometimes it doesn’t work, and I find myself much closer to a stranger’s scalp than I really want to be.

Sometimes I have no choice but to just recline as well, risking similarly offending the person in the seat behind me, and perhaps setting off a domino effect all the way to the back of the plane.

I have a 6-foot-2 friend who’s a militant anti-recliner. He recalls a recent flight to Seattle in which the guy in front of him immediately reclined his seat after takeoff — then spent most of the flight leaning forward to work. Arrgh!  When the guy finally did sit back, my friend positioned his knees squarely in the offending passenger’s kidneys (easy to do with the newer, thinner “slimline” seats).

The average distance between seats is once again on the decline- last week American Airlines said it would reduce pitch in some economy class seats to a severe 29 inches. And as we all know planes are flying fuller than ever. Personal space is at a premium, creating tiny little wars throughout the coach cabin.

Why can’t airlines impose a partial truce by locking seats upright, at least for short flights?

I asked a handful of TravelSkills readers what they think about this. Many — especially taller ones — think it’s high time for a seat-back lockup. “It is already cramped enough at the ‘back of the bus, but to have your space encroached by the person in front of you for that extra two inches of non-space is terrible,” said reader A.E.

Reclining seats can also be a threat to laptop computers. P.B. from Atlanta said his laptop case was cracked “by some yahoo who thrust her seat back full force. … I had the screen resting against that dangerous well that houses the tray table.” Brown now asks for a “recline alert” from the person in front of him when working on his laptop.

Knee room in economy – non existent of passenger reclines (Chris McGinnis)

Some business travelers think a middle road would be best. P.V. suggests airlines adjust the seats so that they recline only half way. Many others suggested locking seats upright for short flights only. T.T. hates government intervention, but he thinks the solution is “a federal regulation providing a minimum amount of space between seats to permit comfortable reclining.”

Despite the recent outcry, complaints and congressional hearing, I doubt we’ll see much action on this issue. The airlines seem much more interested in revenue than comfort in economy class. None of the majors is likely to step out front with a seat lockup that would be criticized by some as another service reduction even though a it could be considered an enhancement. (Only the Ultra-Low-Cost carriers like Spirit and Allegiant have non-reclining seats.)

Maybe the best we can hope for is a little better application of the Golden Rule.

If you don’t like the idea of someone planting their scalp a few inches from your face, don’t do it to the person behind you. Think before you recline.  Recline slowly or only halfway.

In the meantime, I’ll be reminded of that coat closet every time I squeeze into my economy seat and have the misfortune of sitting behind a recliner. Unless, of course, I snag a roomy exit row, bulkhead seat or, better yet, luck into an upgrade premium economy or first/business class.

What do you think….Should airlines lock economy seats in the upright position? Halfway? Not at all? Should the feds set seat space standards? Please leave your comments below. 

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DHS: Prepare for laptop ban on Europe flights

Middle Eastern carriers are offering loaner laptops to premium passengers. (Image: Qatar Airways)

Reports are spreading on the Internet that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security could be on the verge of announcing a broad expansion of its so-called “laptop ban,” extending it to U.S.-Europe routes. Meanwhile, another airline affected by the ban has started loaning laptops to its business class flyers.

The ban was introduced in late March, prohibiting U.S.-bound travelers on flights out of 10 Middle Eastern and African airports from bringing laptops and tablets into the passenger cabin. The U.K. adopted a similar ban shortly thereafter.

UPDATE: Thursday> US Airlines meeting with DHS about expanding the ban. (Reuters)

UPDATE: Tuesday> U.S. officials have told airlines to “be prepared” for an expanded ban on carry-on electronic devices allowed on airplanes (Fox News, Bloomberg)

According to CBS News, the U.S. is said to be considering an expansion of the ban to include flights coming to the U.S. from continental Europe and possibly the U.K. Not good news as we enter the peak season for transatlantic flying. 

“Government officials have been meeting with U.S. airlines on a nearly weekly basis and intend to do so again later this week. Officials say a decision could come in the next few weeks,” CBS said. CBS got a non-answer from the Transportation Security Administration saying that it has made no decisions on extending the ban, but adding that it is “continuously reassessing security directives based on intelligence” and will make changes if it considers them necessary.

If a ban is indeed coming, perhaps the DHS is giving airlines some time to prepare for such a hit to their operations.

A laptop ban on flights from Europe would obviously pose a major problem for the business travel community, since laptops and tablets – anything larger than a smartphone – would have to be stowed in the hold with the passenger’s luggage (if he or she checked any).

Middle Eastern carriers affected by the initial ban have struggled to keep U.S.-bound business travelers by introducing new services like the option of gate-checking your laptop and picking it up at the destination. They have also started offering loaner devices to business and first class travelers for use during their flight; Qatar Airways, Etihad and Emirates all started doing so more than a month ago.

This week Turkish Airlines has started a similar loaner program for U.S.-bound business class flyers; it will extend the offer to U.K.-bound flights on May 12.

Maybe you don’t want to be traveling internationally with electronic devices these days anyway– read this post to find out why

Despite those programs, Middle Eastern airlines are taking a hit in bookings. Emirates announced a few weeks ago that it is cutting flight frequencies on five U.S. routes.

If many travelers are booking themselves from the Middle East to the U.S. via connections in Europe to avoid the laptop ban, what will they do if it is expanded? Canada does not currently impose a laptop ban… would it make sense for Americans to travel to/from Europe via Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal?

Readers: What would you do if the U.S. bans laptops and tablets from the passenger cabins of U.S.-bound flights from Europe?

Interesting: Here’s what started these rumors flying– a tweet from a brainy 20-year-old aviation enthusiast from the UK. In comments he states that the announcement could come from the White House by this Friday.

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United beefs up by the Bay to counter Alaska/Virgin

United is adding more flights and larger aircraft like this Boeing 737 on many domestic San Francisco routes. (Image: United)

Faced with increasing competition at its San Francisco hub from Alaska Airlines/Virgin America, United Airlines just announced another growth spurt for its domestic SFO schedules this summer, focusing not on new destinations but on increased capacity in existing markets.

The escalating battle at SFO will mean more choice of flights for local travelers. Whether it will also mean lower fares remains to be seen.

It’s the second round of SFO expansion to be announced by United this year. In February, the company said it would add seven new domestic destinations from SFO in June and July. Less than two weeks later, Alaska/Virgin unveiled plans to start 13 new routes from SFO and San Jose in late summer.

And now United says it will schedule additional frequencies from SFO in eight domestic markets, and switch from regional jets to larger mainline planes in 10 others.

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United SFO

United beefing up by the Bay (Image: United)

On August 1, the carrier will boost San Francisco-Seattle frequencies to 10 a day, and on August 15 will increase schedules to nine flights a day to Portland, three a day to Philadelphia and Kansas City, and two a day to Albuquerque, Baltimore/Washington, Indianapolis and Nashville. United flies E175s to Albuquerque and Kansas City; the other routes use A319/320s.

 Effective June 8, United said, it will switch from regional jets to 737s for service from San Francisco to Burbank and Palm Springs, and to A320s on routes from SFO to Dallas/Ft. Worth and Minneapolis-St. Paul, as well as SFO-Calgary and SFO-Kansas City for the summer. On July 1, United switches to 737s for SFO-Sacramento flights, and for seasonal SFO-Bozeman service. And on August 15 it shifts to 737s for SFO-Fresno service.

Alaska Airlines/Virgin America are also planning significant growth at SFO. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Some of those same routes are being added by Alaska/Virgin, including mainline service from SFO to Philadelphia (starting August 31), Nashville (September 5), Indianapolis (September 26) and Baltimore/Washington (October 16); and new E175 service from SFO to Albuquerque and Kansas City effective September 18.

Earlier, United announced new year-round daily service beginning June 8 from SFO to Cincinnati, Detroit, Santa Rosa and Spokane, along with new seasonal service from SFO to Hartford and Kalispell, Montana. It also said it would add summer service and expand to year-round daily flights from SFO to New Orleans, a market that Alaska/Virgin will enter on September 21 with daily mainline flights.

Starting May 24, United will launch nonstop, seasonal service between San Francisco and Munich (MUC) using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

As we asked when Alaska made its big announcement, Where are all those new flights going to fit at SFO’s limited number of gates? That remains to be seen and I wonder if we’ll be faced with more frustrating waits on the tarmac waiting… hmmm

So whaddya think? Do more flights on bigger planes make you less likely to stray to the emerging Alaska/Virgin beast which has stated is desire to be the west coast’s preferred carrier? Please leave your comments below.

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Most popular: Mystery plane + Phone searches + Cheap awards + New routes + Legroom

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) wants your mobile phone password (Image: CBP)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

Russian mystery plane at SFO – this post was picked up by Drudge Report and snagged 150,000 views on Thursday! Still no official word on what exactly all these Antonov planes are doing at SFO- but there’s plenty of speculation in the comments! 

U.S. Customs: Show me your phone, or else…

5 cushy crew rest areas: Cathay Pacific, United, Singapore, Qantas, Delta

Best airlines, best days for cheap award travel

5 Domestic Routes: Delta, JetBlue, United, Virgin America, Alaska, Southwest, American

Qatar Airways plans to use a 777-200LR on its new SFO route. (Image: Darren Koch/Wikimedia Commons)

6 International Routes: Qatar Airways to SFO + United 787s, Delta, Copa, AA, Virgin Atlantic

Economy class legroom: How low can it go?

A new(ish) look for Hawaiian Airlines

6 SFO secrets you should know

10 The big difference between direct & nonstop flights

New African-American #history #museum in #washington #dc is hottest ticket in town. #soldout #travel

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

Have you been to the new African American History Museum on Washington, DC yet? Read about how a trip there took editor Chris McGinnis on a journey through time to his adolescence and reminded him of a guardian angel! From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Hawaii Renames Honolulu Airport to Honor Late US Senator

New renderings of the Grand Hyatt on airport at SFO, breaking ground later this year 

Luxury lounge coming to LAX

What? Delta’s new JFK-Manhattan helicopter costs $1,300 one way

San Francisco International celebrates 90 years!

China’s new aircraft will compete with the 737, A320

Grand Hyatt SFO

A new Grand Hyatt is coming to SFO terminals (Photo: SFO)

Canada’s WestJet orders 787-9s; eyes new Asia, South America routes

Qatar Airways offers free Doha stopover to transit passengers, including hotel stay

Southwest’s new president pledges carrier will not impose baggage fees

British Airways adds perks for Executive Club members

DFW Airport loses millions in parking revenues due to Uber, Lyft

‘Squeezed’ passenger sues AA for seating him next to obese travelers on 14-hour flight

Emergency bridge loan keeps Alitalia flying — for now

Qantas will introduce its own Platinum MasterCard

Spectacularly cool! Nation’s tallest public art to top Salesforce Tower (IMAGE)

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Routes: Delta, JetBlue, United, Virgin America, Alaska, Southwest, American

Boston will get new Delta Connection service to four cities. (Image: SkyWest)

In domestic route developments, Delta and JetBlue both announce more service out of Boston; United expands Basic Economy to more routes; Virgin America starts flying new A321neos; Alaska adds a pair of Seattle markets; Southwest adds service at Sacramento; and American grows at Santa Rosa and Charlotte.

Boston travelers are the beneficiaries of an ongoing battle for market share between Delta and JetBlue. In the latest round, Delta unveiled new or expanded service on several BOS routes, in addition to its previously announced plans to start Boston-San Francisco flights on June 8. The carrier said its summer schedule this year will include new mainline service from Boston to Austin, along with new Delta Connection flights to Kansas City, Jacksonville, Buffalo and Norfolk. And on September 10, Delta will add a second daily roundtrip between Boston and Nashville.

And there’s more to come next winter: Delta said effective December 21, its Boston-West Palm Beach and BOS-Ft. Myers service will increase from weekend-only to daily, and Boston-Ft. Lauderdale will increase from weekends-only to twice-daily.  The expanded schedule will give Delta 12 new destinations out of Boston since November of last year.

A few days later, JetBlue announced its own expansion plans for Boston-Florida routes, including the addition of one more seasonal daily roundtrip from Boston to Jacksonville, to Palm Beach and to Ft. Myers. JetBlue had already announced that it will lay on a fourth daily Boston-Los Angeles Mint roundtrip in October, and will start Boston-San Diego Mint service in December. At Ft. Lauderdale, meanwhile, JetBlue said it will begin a daily roundtrip to Salt Lake City beginning November 16.

Lie-flat front cabin seating on a Delta 757-200. (Image: Delta)

Speaking of Delta, we noticed a couple of unusual entries on Routesonline.com, which tracks all airlines’ filings of new routes and service changes. Routesonline said Delta plans to put a 757-200 with flat-bed Delta One seats into service on one of its daily Boston-Minneapolis flights starting January 3 of next year. And from this month through October, Delta will use the same aircraft on one of its three daily New York JFK-Philadelphia flights; the other two still use Endeavor Air regional jets. Are these domestic legs of international flights? Any ideas, readers?

When United started offering bare-bones Basic Economy fares earlier this year, it did so mainly on routes between Minneapolis-St. Paul and its major hubs. But now United has started selling the ultra-low, no-frills fares in more than 100 domestic markets, mainly from its hubs to leisure destinations and to other hubs, for travel beginning May 9.  That includes routes like Newark-Orlando, Chicago-Denver, Washington Dulles-Orlando, Denver-Houston, San Francisco-Orlando and Chicago-Ft. Lauderdale. We’ve even heard they are in markets without ultra-low-cost-carriers such as LAX-SFO. 

An Airbus A321neo in Virgin America livery. (Image: Virgin America)

Although it’s now technically part of Alaska Airlines Group, Virgin America remains a separate brand and operating unit with its own new aircraft deliveries. And over the next several weeks, Virgin will put its newest aircraft type into service – the Airbus A321neo.  (The neo stands for New Engine Option.) The company said the new A321neos – it has ordered 10 of them – will have 185 seats. That will make it the largest in Virgin’s fleet; its current A320s have 146-149 seats, while its A319s have 119. The first A321neo will go into service May 31 between San Francisco and Washington Reagan National, and the second will start flying June 14 between SFO and New York JFK.

Speaking of Alaska Airlines, it recently started service on a pair of new routes out of its Seattle hub.  That includes one daily roundtrip from Seattle to San Luis Obispo and one between Seattle and Wichita. Both routes are operated by SkyWest with 76-seat, three-class E175s.

Southwest Airlines is growing at Sacramento. Besides new twice-daily flights between Sacramento and Long Beach starting August 1, the airline will also start daily Sacramento-Spokane service on the same date. And on June 5, Southwest will add more frequencies in two other markets, boosting its Sacramento-Seattle schedule to as many as six flights a day, and increasing Sacramento-San Diego to as many as 11 a day.

American Airlines’ new service (started in February) between its Phoenix hub and Sonoma County, California’s Charles Schulz Airport in Santa Rosa has been filling up fast, so the carrier plans to add a second daily flight in the market starting July 5. The Santa Rosa flights use American Eagle 70-seat, two-class CRJ-700s. Elsewhere, American plans to add two new American Eagle routes out of its Charlotte hub on August 22, with two flights a day to Shreveport, La., and two a day to Toledo, Ohio. Both will use CRJ-200s operated by PSA Airlines.

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Economy class legroom: How low can it go?

A 737 MAX in American Airlines livery. (Image: Boeing)

It’s ironic that word leaked out this week about American Airlines’ plans to reduce seat pitch on some of its new single-aisle aircraft. Ironic because it’s the same week that the House Transportation Committee held hearings in Washington about U.S. airlines’ poor treatment of passengers– and the possibility of regulating airline seating was discussed.

CNN said it learned that American plans to stuff more seats into its new 737 MAX aircraft by reducing seat pitch from the standard 31 inches to  a tight 29 inches on three rows in the economy cabin, and to 30 inches on the rest. The report said United Airlines “is considering a similar move.”

Our guess is that those three painful rows will be reserved for passengers who have booked the cheapest “basic economy” fares which the major airlines say they’ve introduced to compete with ultra low cost carriers. Since these will be the least desirable seats, and basic economy passengers are the last to board, they’ll end up in these seats by default. Another issue left up to speculation now is whether or not these seats will recline. I would hope not, but you never know.

Related: Should you ever book a Basic Economy fare? 

The new configuration will give American 170 seats on the new planes, vs. 160 on existing 737-800s, although they will still offer first class and Main Cabin Extra (with 35-37 inch pitch) seating.

According to the CNN report, 40 of the 100 737 MAX aircraft ordered by American are expected to join the fleet by the end of 2019, and the airline is reportedly thinking about reconfiguring economy seating in its older 737-800s to match the new planes.

“As the big airlines match each other move for move, the risk is that 29 inches becomes the standard (seat pitch) for flying economy in the United States,” CNN said.

JetBlue’s Airbus fleet has standard seat pitch of 32 to 34 inches. (Photo: JetBlue)

Frequent travelers know that an inch or two of more (or less) legroom can make a big difference in comfort, and if the legacy carriers were to reduce that number, they risk losing one of their main advantages over ultra-low-cost carriers.

Among the major airlines, seat pitches on single-aisle domestic aircraft generally range from 30 to 32 inches. Almost all airlines offer extra legroom seats with 34-36 inches of legroom for elite level members of frequent flyer programs or those who pay higher fares.

According to Seatguru.com, American offers 31-inch pitch on its 737-800s in economy class, and pitches of 30-31 inches on A319s, 31 on A320s and 31-32 on A321s. Delta’s economy pitch is 30-31 inches on 737-900s, and 31-32 inches on 737-800s and single-aisle Airbus planes. At United, 737-800s and -900s offer 30-31 inch pitch. Alaska’s 737-800s have 31-32 inches and 737-900s have from 31 to as much as 35 inches.

Spirit Airlines squeezes ’em in with a 28-inch seat pitch. (Image: Spirit Airlines)

JetBlue appears to be the most generous, with economy class legroom ranging from 32-33 inches on A321s to 34 inches on A320s. Southwest’s standard pitch is 31 inches on 737-700s and 32-33 on 737-800s. At Virgin America, economy seat pitch is 32 inches on A319s and 320s.

By contrast, low-cost Spirit Airlines has a standard pitch of 28 inches across its fleet of single-aisle Airbus planes. Frontier Airlines’ economy seat pitch is 28-31 inches on A319s, 28-29 on A320s and 30-32 on A321s.

What do you think about the tighter configurations? Is the new “get what you pay for” mentality among major airlines going to far? Should seat pitch minimums be regulated by the feds? 

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Russian mystery plane at SFO

Antonov An-124 Volga Dnepr

A Russian-made Antonov An-124 parked at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Departing SFO last week, I peered out my window at a rare site: a gigantic Russian Antonov An-124 cargo jet parked across the runways from airport terminals. I thought it was a one-time event, but I began hearing more about it from TravelSkills readers who have seen one or two of the behemoths over the last two weeks at SFO.

I reached out to airport officials at SFO to inquire about the planes, but only received vague replies: “Yes, we’ve had these Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft making semi-regular appearances over the past week, at times having two here simultaneously. None are here now, but the next one comes in tonight.”

When I asked why they are here, what they are transporting and where they are going, the airport said, “They’re coming from various locations, all for the same Bay Area company. I don’t have details on who…”

I’ve seen Antonovs at SFO before, but it’s been a very rare occurrence. What’s new now is that there are so many at SFO – sometimes two a day.

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So I did a little digging around and found out that aviation geeks are equally interested in what’s up with these big birds making regular appearances at SFO.

On Tuesday, the excellent flight tracking site/app FlightRadar24 shows one of the planes (VI4819) departing Leipzig, Germany for Milan on April 28. From Milan, it traveled to Goose Bay (Newfoundland), Canada, and from there it flew to SFO. From SFO, it flew to Kinston, North Carolina, (near the Atlantic coast), which boasts one of the longest runways in that part of the country. Update: From Kinston, it flew to Nantes, France.

Walking my dogs last night, believe it or not, I spotted another Antonov flying over the city en route to SFO. I fired up FlightRadar24 and found that this one (VI3022, RA82077) originated in Tokyo and stopped over in Anchorage before arriving at SFO around 8 pm.

Airliners.net has a new string inquiring about the Antonov at SFO where one user speculates that the planes are in the Bay Area to pick up Teslas. (More on that here.)

A planespotter near SFO was surprised at his luck seeing the Antonov and shot this video of it on April 24:

Compared to an Airbus A380, the Antonov An-124 is slightly smaller: It is 226 feet long vs the A380 at 238 feet. And its wingspan is a bit narrower: 241 feet for the An124 vs 261 for the Airbus A380.

The Antonovs at SFO are owned by Volga-Dnepr Airlines, which according to its website is: “The world leader in the specialis [sic] market of oversize and super-heavy cargo transportation…Our customers include governmental and commercial organizations, including leading global businesses in the oil and gas, energy, aerospace, agriculture and telecommunications industries as well as the humanitarian and emergency services sectors.”

Here’s more on the Antonov An-124, which can carry a payload of a whopping 150 tons! The Antonov website says, “The AN-124 has been used to deliver 90 ton hydraulic turbines, the Liebherr large dimension mobile crane, the USA Euclid mine truck, the fuselage of the Tu-204 passenger aircraft, a 109 ton locomotive, General Electric GE90 aircraft engines, various combat vehicles, Lynx anti-submarine helicopters, a spaceship in its container and other unique cargoes. It rescued refugees and people suffered from natural disasters, transported tanks and Christmas trees, elite fast horses and cruise yachts, concert equipment and reconnaissance aircraft, banknotes and pure gold. The list of its cargo is endless – in this sense it can be called as the most universal airplane in the whole history of aviation.”

Have you seen this plane at SFO? Know anything about it? Please leave your comments, tips or speculation below.

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Best airlines, best days for cheap award travel

Southwest had the lowest domestic award travel costs in a new study; Delta the most expensive international awards. (Image: Southwest Airlines)

Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards program last week was named Program of the Year in the annual Freddie Awards, and a new study from MileCards.com suggests part of the reason why it won.

The study found that the cost of a Southwest domestic reward flight is lower by far than the other four largest airlines, and the availability of the lowest-cost “saver” awards is far greater on Southwest as well.

The study examined award flight costs on 100,000 date/route combinations for domestic economy travel from March 1 through October 31 of this year. It found that the average roundtrip cost of a Southwest award flight was just 13,629 miles; the comparable average mileage cost on the other four largest airlines ranged from 27,871 on Delta to 47,017 on American. (It should be noted that competitors’ mileage costs were lower than average on routes where they compete against Southwest, but still not as low as Southwest’s.)

Source: MileCards.com

As for the availability of the lowest-cost “saver” awards, MileCards.com found that Southwest had them on 95 percent of the days checked, vs. 76 percent for Delta, 62 percent for Alaska, and just 48 percent for United and American.

“The catch – Southwest doesn’t fly to Hawaii, or some popular award destinations in the mainland U.S. like Vail and Anchorage,” MileCards.com said. “Delta SkyMiles, which operates to more destinations, came in second with an average price of 27,871 miles across all routes studied, and 20,001 miles roundtrip on routes where Southwest operates flights.”

Speaking of Hawaii – one of the most popular award travel destinations – the study found the lowest-cost award flights on Alaska, averaging 54,618 roundtrip. Delta wasn’t far behind at 57,020. “American AAdvantage charges the most, with an average price of 97,375 miles, and only 6% of dates available at the ‘Saver’ level price of 45,000 miles on its own flights,” MileCards.com said. See the full Milecards study here. 

Source: MileCards.com

Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program ties award travel costs to the prevailing air fares available at the time of travel, and thus doesn’t issue an award price chart. Delta took some criticism a few years ago when it stopped publishing a SkyMiles awards chart, but MileCards.com suggests that there are positive and negative aspects to Delta’s strategy.

“Now, domestic economy coach tickets (on Delta) can be found on many routes for just 10,000 miles roundtrip, and others at 15,000 miles roundtrip, while others cost more than the old 25,000 mile standard. By doing this, it has better flexibility to come closer to matching the point prices of Southwest, which doesn’t publish a menu of award prices,” MileCards said.

“The flip side is Delta has aggressively raised the prices of international business class awards that are not part of this study. A business class award to Europe on one of Delta’s partners now costs 170,000 miles roundtrip, up from 125,000 miles a year ago.”

As for United, the study suggests that MileagePlus members are better off saving their miles for international rather than domestic award flights because they’ll get more value out of them. The study praised American’s AAdvantage program for allowing members to change the dates of award travel for no fee, if it’s done 21 days in advance and costs the same.

But it criticized AAdvantage for having “the most inconsistent online search experience. Partner airlines like Alaska and Cathay Pacific are an important part of the value proposition of American miles and many are not readily visible when searching the AA.com website.” It added that AAdvantage “also causes headaches for international travelers by passing on large carrier surcharges from its primary partner to Europe, British Airways, which can add $700 or more onto a basic Economy Class award.”

The study turned up one interesting nugget about the best days to travel on award tickets: You’ll find the best deals for flights on Tuesdays, with an average cost of 30,574 miles; the highest average costs were on Sundays at 41,332 miles.

What’s the best “deal” you’ve found using miles recently? The worst deal? Please leave your comments below. 

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5 cushy crew rest areas: Cathay Pacific, United, Singapore, Qantas, Delta

Crew rest United 777

Climb this secret staircase to see the crew rest area in a brand new United Boeing 777-300ER (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

As the crowded, busy summer season approaches and we are all wondering what kind of spaces we’ll soon be traveling in, it seems time for another look at some of the secret spaces we’ve recently discovered onboard planes.

We have five to show you here:

CATHAY PACIFIC

I had the chance to ride on one of Cathay Pacific’s brand new Boeing 777-300ERs from the factory in Seattle to Hong Kong. We created a video of the crew rest area during that flight, which caused an internet sensation.

To this day, it is by far the most popular video we have produced, snagging nearly a million views so far.

A brand new Boeing 777-300 ER at the factory in Seattle (Chris McGinnis)

A brand new Boeing 777-300 ER at the factory in Seattle (Chris McGinnis)

I took the video on a “delivery flight” from the Boeing factory to Cathay Pacific’s HQ in Hong Kong, so there were only about 80 passengers on a jumbo jet that can carry about 350. While the seats and service were fine, I was curious to see the large crew rest area on this plane.

Since long-range aircraft like the Boeing 777 can fly nonstop for 16-18 hours, airlines are required to offer rest areas for inflight crews who work on shifts.

On the Cathay Pacific 777, the rest area is located above the economy class section at the rear of the plane. It’s accessed via a non-descript door in the galley area. There’s another rest area (which I did not see) for pilots at the front of the plane.

Cathay Pacific 777 crew rest

One of eight sleeping pods for flight attendants on a Cathay 777 (Chris McGinnis)

So go have a look— it might be the only time you’ll ever see a crew rest area since visits by passengers on regularly scheduled flights are forbidden.

crew rest area 777

The secret staircase at the back of a Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Luckily, that was not the only time I was allowed inside one of these secret spaces. Read on for more recent visits….

UNITED

Most recently, I took a spin through United’s new Boeing 777-300ER— the one with the new Polaris business class seats, which is now flying between SFO and Hong Kong.

United B777-300ER

United’s brand new Boeing 777-300ER arrives at SFO for the first time (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are two crew rest areas on this plane. One is upfront for pilots, the other is accessed by a secret door by the rear galley and contains six soundproof sleeping berths for flight attendants. This get-away-from-it-all space is cherished by crew, especially on those 12-15 our transpac long hauls!

SINGAPORE AIRLINES

We were also invited up to Seattle to see Singapore Airline’s newest B777 in 2013 to prepare this report and slideshow, and to grab this image of the peach pink confines of its crew rest area:

Singapore Airlines 777

A brand new Singapore Airlines Boeing 777 at the factory in Seattle (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Singapore Airlines crew rest area 777

We also stepped inside the peachy pink confines of Singapore Airlines B777 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS

You may recall that I recently flew on a Qantas 747 from San Francisco to Sydney in 2016Well, minutes before that flight departed, I was allowed onboard to photograph the interior of the plane.

View from the QANTAS jaw-dropping first class lounge in Sydney. Wow! Stay tuned for a trip report! (Chris McGinnis)

View from the QANTAS jaw-dropping first class lounge in Sydney. Crew rest area is located behind the windows on the bubble. (Chris McGinnis)

While doing so, I noticed flight attendants entering the secret staircase to the crew rest area and asked if I could slip in for a quick video, and they obliged! See below look at that!

crew rest area Qantas 747

A look inside the crew rest area on a Qantas 747-400 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s how we described the experience in that TravelSkills.com post: Due to my status as a travel writer, I received a special favor– I asked if I could board five minutes early so I could get some good photos of the plane before it filled up with passengers. At the last minute my wish was granted, so I scrambled on board, up the “stairway to heaven,” threw my bags down and took off with flight attendant Jerry for a quick tour of the plane INCLUDING a look at the secret crew rest area in the aft section of the “bubble” with access via a special stairway from the main deck. See that video here (or below). This big bird has a crew of 14 flight attendants and four pilots and on a 14+ hour flight, they need a place to hide!

DELTA

On my recent trip to the Delta Museum in Atlanta to see the new 747 Experience exhibit, I snapped a photo of the pilot’s crew rest area upstairs in the 747 bubble of the aircraft on display. There’s another crew rest area for flight attendants at the back of this plane, but the light was not good enough to capture a good image.

747 crew rest area

Looking back from the cockpit, you can look into the pilot crew rest area (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

So as we all prepare to depart on packed flights this summer, it’s nice to know that there are some spacious seats somewhere onboard! Have you ever seen one of these spacious spaces? Please leave your comments below. 

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Alaska Airlines sweetens a perk for new cardholders

Alaska Airlines 737 New Livery

Alaska Airlines has a special offer for new cardholders. (Image: Alaska)

Are you a Virgin America loyalist wondering what to do about your Virgin credit card? Alaska Airlines is sweetening the pot to get you to sign up for theirs — if you act fast.

The company said that those who apply for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card during May and June will get one free companion fare, paying only taxes and fees. It’s a step up from the card’s regular $99 companion fare perk, which is good anywhere Alaska and Virgin fly (plus taxes and fees, which are relatively minimal), with no blackout dates.

To qualify for the free companion fare, new cardholders must spend a minimum of $1,000 on the card within 90 days of opening the account. That spending will also get them 30,000 bonus miles in its Mileage Plan program.

Alaska has extended its Visa Signature card perks to Virgin America flights. (Photo: Virgin America)

Alaska has extended all the card’s benefits to trips on Virgin America, including the annual companion fare (when booked through alaskaair.com), a free checked bag for the cardholder and up to six others on the same booking, and three miles earned per dollar spent on Alaska and Virgin America purchases.

The card offers three points per dollar spent on Alaska or Virgin America. It’s annual fee is $75.

The Alaska card comes in two varieties – Visa Signature and Platinum Plus; the offers above apply only to the Visa Signature card.

Alaska Air executives told TravelSkills that the current Virgin America card will eventually phase out as the two brands merge in the coming year.

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Routes: Qatar Airways to SFO + United 787s, Delta, Copa, AA, Virgin Atlantic

Qatar Airways plans to start San Francisco service next year- image of Qatar’s current business class seat from a travel conference trade show floor. (Image: Chris McGinnis)

In international route news, Qatar Airways will add San Francisco service and delay Las Vegas; United plans changes to 787 schedules at SFO in 2018; Delta’s code goes onto a long-haul Air France route; Copa adds a new U.S. gateway; American will suspend its Auckland route for a while; Virgin Atlantic trims an Atlanta route; Spirit gives up a Caribbean destination; and United and American start up several seasonal Europe routes this week.

Laptop ban or no laptop ban, Qatar Airways plans to add service to another new U.S. destination next year: San Francisco. Company officials said at a travel show in Dubai last week that Qatar plans to bring a dozen new destinations onto its route map in 2018, including SFO – although it did not say exactly when the flights would start or what type of aircraft it would use. SFO tells TravelSkills that the service will be daily and could start in the second quarter of 2018 using a Boeing 777. Meanwhile, Qatar’s previously announced plan to start flying to Las Vegas on January 8 of next year has been pushed back to sometime in the second quarter. Qatar plans to fly the LAS-Doha route four times a week with a 777-200LR. Qatar Airways is a member of the Oneworld Alliance. 

United will add 787-9s to more San Francisco routes next year. (Image: United)

United will make some changes in its 787 schedules at San Francisco next year, according to Routesonline.com. The carrier plans to deploy 787-9 Dreamliners on its daily flights from SFO to Seoul on March 18 and to Taipei on May 4, 2018, replacing 777-200ERs on both routes. At the same time, 787-9s will replace 787-8s on the SFO-Munich route May 4, 2018 and on the SFO-Chengdu, China route May 2. Also on March 24, United will switch from a 787-9 to a 787-8 on its Washington Dulles-London Heathrow route.

Delta last week gave its customers a new way to get to Singapore. In an expansion of code-sharing with joint venture partner Air France, Delta started putting its code onto Air France’s daily Paris CDG-Singapore flight. Meanwhile, Air France added new code-shares with Singapore Airlines, putting its code onto the latter’s flights beyond Singapore to Melbourne and Sydney, and on sister carrier SilkAir’s service to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Phuket.

Copa Airlines economy class on a 737-800 (Image: Copa)

Panama’s Copa Airlines has set a December 11 start for new service between Denver and Panama City, which will be its thirteenth U.S. gateway. The carrier plans to fly the route four times a week with a 737-800.

Going to New Zealand later this year? American Airlines filed plans to suspend its Los Angeles-Auckland service for a while – specifically, from August 5 to October 4. When the flight resumes on October 5, it will use a 787-9 instead of the current 787-8. In another service cutback, Delta partner Virgin Atlantic will trim its Atlanta-Manchester schedule this winter. From October 29 through March 24, Virgin will fly the route three times a week instead of daily. And Spirit Airlines is giving up the ghost on Cuba: The carrier will terminate its Ft. Lauderdale-Havana flights effective May 31, citing weak demand.

It’s time for major carriers to start up their seasonal summer routes to Europe, and both United and American will launch a bunch of them this week.  On May 5, United will kick off seasonal service from its Newark hub to Edinburgh, Venice, Stockholm and Hamburg; from Washington Dulles to Lisbon and Madrid; and from Chicago O’Hare to Rome and Dublin.  Also on May 5, American Airlines will begin seasonal flights from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Amsterdam and Rome; and from Chicago O’Hare to Barcelona.

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‘Big Data’ tips for saving on summer travel

Start booking soon for best prices on summer vacation travel. (Image: Jim Glab)

Tech giant Adobe has come out with its annual travel report, compiled by sifting through enormous amounts of data from travel booking sites and social media, and it has offered some tips for getting the best deals on summer vacation trips.

For example, Adobe says that travelers looking to save on air fares should book domestic flights 76 to 112 days in advance, and international flights at least 125 days out, “assuming potential flight changes are not an issue.” Also, booking Saturday flights can save an average of 11 percent, while trips scheduled for Mondays can cost 11 percent more.

The absolute busiest travel period this summer (just like every year) will be the four-day Fourth of July holiday, when U.S. consumers will spend $3.7 billion on travel, Adobe said. That’s followed by the Memorial Day weekend ($2.9 billion) and Labor Day weekend ($2.8 billion).

But interestingly, Adobe says that growth in summer travel is down compared to last year. The report says, “Overall spending on summer travel by US consumers will grow by +5.1% (66% lower than last year), totaling $98.02B. Slower growth is mainly coming from nearly flat air and hotel bookings, likely the results of significant price increases. Growth has slowed for airlines and hotels mainly due to nearly flat number of airline reservations and decreasing hotels, but is bolstered by an increase in prices.”

Domestic air travel costs are running 4.8 percent higher than last year. (Image: Jim Glab)

As of March 2017, year-over-year domestic air fare prices have increased by 4.8 percent. International costs have gone up 4.7 percent, Adobe said, with one big exception: Fares for travel from the U.S. to Europe dropped 6.2 percent.

Domestic hotel prices went up by 3.7 percent over the same 12-month period, the report notes, and it recommends booking rooms 33 days in advance for the best price. Because most hotels have lenient cancellation policies “consumers can book earlier, but cancel if a better deal is found at day 33,” Adobe said.

U.S. travelers making domestic trips should see less competition for flights and hotel rooms from foreign visitors, Adobe said, noting that the cost of a trip to the U.S. is about 10 percent higher than it was a year ago. That’s mainly due to a stronger dollar, although “confusion over (U.S. government) travel restrictions may also play a role,” an Adobe spokesperson said. In the first quarter of 2017, international flight bookings to the U.S. from abroad have fallen by 6 percent.

The eclectic Adobe report has some other interesting nuggets about travel trends – car rentals, for instance.  It said that online car rentals in the first quarter of this year were down 14 percent over the same period a year ago, and it points a finger at car-sharing apps. From March to December 2016, Adobe said, social media mentions of Uber increased by 6 million, and during the same period, online car rentals fell by 28 percent – a 2 percent drop in rentals for each 10 percent increase in Uber social mentions.

Here’s where people are going. (Chart: Adobe)

Adobe also tracks destination trends by home market. For San Franciscans, the top domestic destination is Las Vegas, followed by Los Angeles and New York; and for New Yorkers, the top three are Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago.

And wherever or whenever you go, don’t forget to post something about your trip on social media – because everyone else does. Adobe said that every month, there are 14 million mentions of travel on social media – 1.7 times more than mentions of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift combined.

Speaking of social media, check out Chris’s Instagram feed for some nice images of his spring break in Hawaii!

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Trip Report: Oakland-London, British Airways business class

BART

First stop on my journey to London: BART’s 24th Street station in San Francisco where I caught a train to Oakland International (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last month I jumped on British Airways’ new Oakland-London Gatwick nonstop for a quick two-day business trip. I’ve never flown to Europe from Oakland, so I was eager to give it a go and share my experience here.

I was also eager to test taking BART from San Francisco to Oakland Airport. And in another test, I skipped my normal practice of taking sleep aids on this overnight flight. 

On the OAK-LGW route, British Airways is following in the contrails of Norwegian Air, which launched its Oakland-London Boeing 787 Dreamliner nonstops in May 2016 at rock bottom fares– as low as $400 round trip, but with many extra fees.

Currently, the cheapest BA fares on OAK-LGW are running about $975 for economy class roundtrips in June. These economy class fares pretty much match Norwegian’s fares when you add in all Norwegian’s extras. Premium economy runs about $1,450 roundtrip. The least expensive business class seats are going for about $3,700 roundtrip, but in some cases climb as high as $7,000. When BA first announced the nonstops it offered a special economy fare of just $500 round trip, but that fare is long gone now that peak summer season approaches.

British Airways’ new Oakland-Gatwick flights operate four days a week using a Boeing 777-200ER that seats 275 passengers: 203 in economy,  24 in premium economy and  48 in business class. British Airways’ premium economy (aka World Traveller Plus) is in a separate cabin, bigger seats with 38-inch pitch, in-seat power, and choice of meals from the business class menu. BA is the only carrier at OAK offering lie-flat business class seats to Europe.

BA Club World (business class) travelers flying out of Oakland receive up to five days of free parking in OAK’s Premier Lot, an added value of $190. They also get complimentary access to a new Escape lounge located in Terminal 1 near BA gates. One-time passes to the lounge go for $45.

Note: Chris McGinnis was a guest of British Airways for this trip to London to attend a press briefing. Here’s what that was all about!

BART’s Coliseum station is where passengers connect to the new BART Connector to Oakland Airport (Chris McGinnis)

When taking BART to Oakland International Airport, you get off at Coliseum station. From there you walk up the steps to the new Oakland Airport Connector station for the short spur ride to the front door of the airport. (Fares vary from your starting point, but run in the $10 range) Wanna see what that ride is like? Watch the video below!

Here’s the ride from BART Coliseum to Oakland Airport

British Airways check in counters are located in an unusual spot near airport security in Oakland’s Terminal 1 (Chris McGinnis)

British Airways operates out of Oakland’s Terminal 1. When I first walked in I could not find the British Airways ticket counter among all the other counters in the main corridor. When I asked,  I discovered that BA’s counter is in a new space (currently under construction) closer to the security screening lines.

I picked up my boarding pass at the counter, breezed through security– I did not get PreCheck for this flight, although it is available at OAK– but did not really need it since there were only about 10 people in line at midday.

Total transit time from the BART station in SF to the Escape lounge beyond security just 70 minutes. Not bad!

After security I headed straight to the new Escape Lounge– since I was flying business class, I had comp access to the lounge which was a nice quiet oasis from the hubbub of the terminal.

When I checked my watch, I was pleased to see that the entire journey from the BART station in SF, under the Bay in a train, connecting to the airport spur, checking in, going through security and walking to the gate took just 70 minutes! That’s faster and easier than I expected, and the ease of the trip probably had a lot to do with the time of day I was there (midday). If it had been morning or evening rush hours, it would have probably taken a bit longer.

Modern design, generous food and drink and views at Oakland’s new Escape Lounge (Chris McGinnis)

Last year Oakland International Airport opened a new Escape Lounge that’s open to all passengers for a $45 one-time-use fee. (British Airways business class passengers and Norwegian Air’s Premium passengers are comped.) It is located in Terminal 1 between gates 8 and 8A, across from gate 9. The 2,700-square-foot facility can accommodate 50 travelers, and has separate zones for relaxing, dining/drinking and work. It’s open daily from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m.

Warm mac and cheese, avocado toast, cheese and crackers at the Escape Lounge (Chris McGinnis)

When I was there around lunchtime, The Escape lounge buffet had a nice selection of hot and cold items, including these cute cast iron ramekins of yummy macaroni and cheese, avocado toast, soup, salad, fresh fruit, cold cuts, crackers, cheese and chips. There’s also a separate full complimentary bar with waiter service. Food and drink is service on china and glass. Nice tarmac views out big windows. I found this lounge almost as nice as any Amex Centurion Lounge I’ve visited recently, but only half as crowded.

Now let’s go jump onboard! BA 2278 was scheduled to depart at 3:10 pm but was delayed until 3:50 pm. Flight time to London is 10.5 hours, and is scheduled to land at 9:30 am.

British Airways deploys a Boeing 777-200ER on the Oakland-London Gatwich route (Chris McGinnis)

The Boeing 777-200ER deployed on this route is not a new plane, but the interior felt like it had been through a recent refresh. There were 48 business class seats in two cabins separated by a galley  and it felt airy and bright with huge overhead bins.

Luckily business class was only about 1/3 full so I was able to get a rear-facing window seat and did not have to face a fellow forward-facing passenger during take off and landing. To make life easier on the flight attendants, I left the translucent screen separating passengers down for the entire flight.

British Airways signature forward and rear facing business class seats (Chris McGinnis)

To me, the window seats in British Airways business class are the best because they are so private– you are really tucked away in your own cocoon over there (My seat is off to the right in the photo above- 3A). Aisle seats are much more exposed to activity in the aisle. Seats are configured 2-4-2.

The downside to this set up is that window seat passengers must step over the legs of the aisle seat passenger to get out. That’s long been a bone of contention among BA business flyers, however, that should be changing soon. The reason I was on this trip in the first place was to meet with BA’s CEO Alex Cruz– and during that meeting he revealed that the next generation business class section would offer 100% aisle access- what was less clear is if the new seats would be forward and rear facing.

British Airways seats 3A (mine by the window) and 3B (unoccupied) on OAK-LGW (Chris McGinnis)

Something interesting about those translucent screens– see below? When flight attendants look down from the aisle, the screen is transparent. But from the passenger level, it’s translucent, so when it’s up you can only see shadows of the passenger seated next to you.

The translucent divider separating business class passengers goes up and down (Chris McGinnis)

One interesting thing about taking off from Oakland Airport vs SFO… taxi time! From the time the door closed and we backed up, taxied and took off felt like about 10 minutes. Plus there were plenty of nice views of the marshes surrounding OAK from the windows.

A glass of Albarino and a bag of nuts to start the meal service (Chris McGinnis)

Shortly after take off, flight attendants came around with a drinks cart and nuts. On this flight, the Kendall-Jackson California chardonnay listed on the wine menu was not in stock, so I settled for an Spanish Albarino.

In-seat stowage space in BA’s business class is limited to this drawer by your feet– it’s big enough for a laptop, magazines, phone, headphones, camera, etc. Kinda difficult to access, but good to have.

British Airways does not currently offer in-flight wi-fi on any flights… which seems strange given its global reach and reputation. It was sorely missed on this flight. However, on this trip we learned that BA is aiming to have nearly all its fleet outfitted with wi-fi within two years.

In seat stowage space limited to a small drawer by your feet (Chris McGinnis)

First course was a fresh and colorful salad and as an appetizer I chose a “deconstructed Greek salad” of feta, black olive tapenade, tomatoes, carved cucumbers, onions and watercress.

Tossed salad and as an app: Descontructed Greek Salad with olive tapenade and pea shoots (Chris McGinnis)

I’m usually not much of a beef eater so I chose the haddock. While the presentation of the meal was lacking, it tasted really good– creamy, cheese-y and fishy with a nice side of fava beans and rice. I asked flight attendants if I could see what the steak looked like– and to snap a photo. They happily obliged. Shoulda chosen the steak!

Other mains included Pappardelle pasta tossed with kale pesto or a nicoise salad with grilled chicken.

Haddock in white wine herb risotto, fava beans with smoked bacon and chive beurre blanc (Chris McGinnis)

 

Seared fillet of midwest beef with red wine jus, chorizo potato rosti and roasted root vegetables (Chris McGinnis)

 

Triple mousse cake with chocolate sauce (Chris McGinnis)

Some nice American cheeses with a tomato jelly and oatmeal wafers for dessert. I passed on the chocolate mousse since I thought it might interfere with the sleep I hoped to get on this flight.

Krystal cave aged cheddar and Wisconsin blue with green tomato jam (Chris McGinnis)

After dinner I took a stroll through the plane and found it pretty empty. When I checked in, agents told me that there were only 95 passengers (out of 275 seats) in economy class. Not surprising considering this was during slow season, and only the first week of the flight.

In premium economy there were only four passengers. It’s a quiet, cozy cabin located between economy and business class. seats are configured 2-4-2. Passengers can choose from the business class menu. Downside: When seats are empty, you can’t lie down flat across the rows due to the fixed arm rests.

Premium economy on British Airways B777-200ER (Chris McGinnis)

At the back in economy, this British Airways B777 is configured 3-3-3– thankfully not the emerging 10-across (3-4-3) standard- but that could change. In our meeting with Cruz, he indicated that Gatwick flights, which are more leisure oriented and price driven, could soon see 10-across, too. Time will tell.

Since this flight was so empty, many coach passengers (who likely paid just $500 roundtrip) were able to snag what business class passengers pay dearly for: a long flat surface for sleeping. In the photo below, it may look like that middle cabin is empty, but there’s a body sprawled across each row!

Economy class seats configured 3-3-3 on BA’s B777-200ER (Chris McGinnis)

Back in my business class cocoon, I laid my six-foot frame flat and comfortably for 4-5 hours, but did not get much sleep. I experimented with not taking any sleep aids on this flight and learned my lesson! It did not help that flight attendants kept the cabin very warm for the overnight flight– for some reason nearly all European carrier flights are kept WAY too warm for good sleep. I would have loved to cuddle under the nice quilt provided, but used it as a pillow instead.

Our flight landed at London Gatwick about 30 minutes late at around 10 am. Unlike British Airways flights arriving at Heathrow, there is no Fast Track through customs and immigration for business class passengers. Since other flights were arriving at the same time and lots of passengers to process, this meant waiting in line for about 30 minutes.

If you want to avoid that wait, you can pay about $13 for Gatwick Premium access to get in a fast lane  which was empty when I was there. Had I known about this, I would gladly have paid the $13 to speed through!

Once I got through immigration, I sped through customs with my carry on bag and exited to the busy south terminal. Finding my way to the Gatwick Express train was easy– the service has recently been updated, so there’s a dedicated ticket line in the airport.

Gatwick express train

New Gatwick Express trains depart every 15 minutes for the 30 minute trip to Victoria Station (Chris McGinnis)

At Gatwick, BA uses the recently renovated South Terminal — recent improvements include a brand new business class lounge, and upgraded check in area, and easier access to the Gatwick Express.

Gatwick Airport (LGW) is 28 miles south of central London but still convenient and even preferred by many travelers. Why? Because the easy 30-minute, approximately $25 Gatwick Express train whisks you from the airport to Victoria Station in the heart of the city every 15 minutes. There’s free wi-fi onboard– which makes it easy to catch up on emails that have arrived overnight.

Clean, new and modern trains on the Gatwick Express (Chris McGinnis)

 

British Airways put us up at The Corinthia, one of my favorite London hotels, for two nights. It’s located on the banks of the Thames near the Embankment and Charing Cross stations. The taxi fare from Victoria station to the hotel was about $15.

Here’s my bedroom at the Corinthia, but check out the view from my window!

Early morning view from my #hotel room #jetlag #london #travel #sunrise

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

 

Have you flown British Airways before? What did you think? Would you give it a go on the new Oakland-Gatwick flight? Please leave your comments below! 

Disclosure: Chris McGinnis was a guest of British Airways for this trip, which included roundtrip air transportation and two nights hotel. TravelSkills covered all other costs related to the trip.

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Most popular: Onboard fight + United’s future + Emirates cuts + Hidden fare increase + Shirley

United B777-300ER

United’s brand new Boeing 777-300ER arrives at SFO for the first time (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

3 ways United plans to win back business travelers

Third “real” United Polaris flight revealed

Emirates cuts flights to US

Charting progress of big LAX move starting now

A hidden fare increase for business travelers

The problem with low fare flying

Norwegian Air Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Norwegian Air made a mark on Bay Area travel with ultra low fares, and lots of fees, for trips to Europe (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

What in the world is Thomas Cook Airlines? 

Uber could make tipping easier – but would you? POLL

United’s Polaris business class rollout hits turbulence

10 New hotels: Stunning London luxury, Hip option in LA, Design-forward in NYC + 3 more!

Don’t miss! Another onboard altercation fires up social media

Something you may not know about Chris! Don’t miss TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis’s memoir “Life with Shirley” in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about growing up in the 1970s in Atlanta. He was inspired to write it while on a business trip to Washington, DC last fall. Please bring your kleenexes and take a read and let Chris know what you think! chris@travelskills.com

San Francisco bound and need some great advice? Then check this out! 

A perfect app for a SF local or a visitor (Image: Lee Foster)

Can the travel destination app, which once flourished, make a comeback? Friend of TravelSkills Lee Foster thinks so. Lee has just released his new and improved travel content app on San Francisco, titled “SF Travel & Photo Guide.” The app is available for $3.99 through Apple and Google and has been announced on Lee’s website. Lee has also answered some questions about the app on his website. For further info on the app, contact Lee at lee@fostertravel.com.

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

United controls almost three-fourths of the takeoff/landing slots at Newark Liberty International Airport. (Image: new York/New Jersey Port Authority)

United Airlines President: Moving to Newark Liberty from New York’s JFK ‘Was the Wrong Decision’ 

How San Diego went from little airport to global stop

Crowded Austin-Bergstrom gets shiny new terminal

FCC Set to Ban Inflight Calls for Good

Phase 2 of Tampa’s billion dollar airport upgrade

Tampa International Airport

A gates at Tampa International are big bright and airy- but be aware of construction in main terminal (Chris McGinnis)

Delta now has 100 jets with speedy satellite based wi-fi

San Francisco official: Ban cops from hauling passengers off planes at SFO

Low-cost carrier Norwegian plans to start flying London-Singapore

Atlanta retains title as world’s busiest airport

No more lost planes; Malaysia Airlines will use satellites to track fleet

Canada’s WestJet plans to start a new low-cost airline

United promises detailed response April 30 to bumping incident

OAG debuts new on-time performance ratings for airlines, airports

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Another violent onboard altercation caught on video

A heated moment from a scene captured by Surain Adyanthaya and posted to Facebook

“Maybe you’ll get videotaped too and it will be all over the news,” shouted an angry passenger at a flight attendant on a recent San Francisco-Dallas flight on American Airlines caught on video. Apparently a flight attendant violently grabbed a baby stroller from a mother, which set off this incident of tears, shouting and a near physical altercation.

According to a Facebook video posted by Surain Adyanthaya (see below), here’s what happened: OMG! AA Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby. Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her. AA591 from SFO to DFW.

Dallas News station Q13FOX reports, “According to multiple witnesses, the woman, who is from Argentina and was flying internationally, brought her stroller on the plane. When the flight attendant attempted to remove the stroller from the plane, there was an altercation, which resulted in the stroller striking the woman and nearly hitting her child.”

After the widespread attention to last week’s United incident, prepare for newly empowered and enraged passengers to get feisty this summer as temperatures and tempers soar.

Here’s the full video from the American Airlines flight 591 incident on Friday night at SFO:

American Airlines responded quickly to the incident on Friday night, removing the flight attendant in question and posting the following statement on its website:

Statement from American Airlines

More details are emerging about the incident this morning and reported on the Q13Fox News site. 

You may be a veteran business traveler with millions of miles under your belt, but do you really know what your specific rights are if something goes wrong?

Following a tsunami of publicity about United Airlines dragging a passenger off a flight, the Transportation Department has put up a new web page that serves as a one-stop research center for air travelers’ rights.

Subjects covered on the new web resource include tarmac delays, flight delays/cancellations, reservations and ticketing issues, refunds, accessibility and discrimination, baggage issues, bumping and oversales, and passenger complaints. It also includes links to other consumer protection pages.

The updated DOT site goes into some detail about overbooking for example, it notes that airlines are required to conduct an auction to solicit volunteers who will surrender their seats. If there aren’t enough, “it is legal for airlines to involuntarily bump passengers,” DOT said. And “it is the airline’s responsibility to determine its own fair boarding priorities.”

When that happens, “an airline may deny you a seat on an aircraft based on criteria that it establishes, such as the passenger’s check-in time, the fare paid by the passenger, or the passenger’s frequent flyer status,” DOT said. “However, the criteria cannot subject a passenger to any unjust or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.  For example, an airline could not lawfully use a passenger’s race or ethnicity as a criterion.”

What do you think about these new incidents? Is this just a taste of what’s to come later this summer? Please leave your comments below. 

 

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What is Thomas Cook Airlines?

Thomas Cook Airlines is expanding U.S.-U.K. service this summer. (Image: Thomas Cook Airlines)

We mentioned recently that Thomas Cook Airlines will begin San Francisco-Manchester, U.K. service this spring. But it’s also planning lots of other new summer service between the U.S. and the U.K., with relatively low fares.

So what is Thomas Cook Airlines, how does it compare to other low-cost transatlantic airlines, and what does it have to do with Thomas Cook, the venerable U.K.-based travel agency group?

First, let’s look at its summer schedule. Besides twice-weekly (Thurs & Sun only) SFO-Manchester service starting May 14, the airline will start flying to Manchester from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York JFK on May 1, with schedules ranging from three flights a week to daily, as well as Orlando-London Gatwick. On May 3, it adds Orlando-Manchester and Las Vegas-Glasgow, followed by Boston-Manchester May 16; Miami-Manchester June 15; Orlando-Belfast June 25; and Las Vegas-London Stansted August 3.

Thomas Cook Airlines

Premium economy on Thomas Cook Airlines

The carrier uses Airbus A330-200s widebodies on its U.S. routes, with economy and premium economy seating.  To Manchester, it cites one-way fares of $279 economy/$419 premium from San Francisco, $279/$359 from Los Angeles and $249/$349 from JFK, for example.

And does that buy you nothing but a seat as on low fare carriers like Norwegian or WOW? Nope: “All tickets include a minimum of 50 pounds checked luggage and 13 pounds of cabin luggage, as well as meals. Inflight entertainment is available on seat-back screens, with a choice of free or paid-for content, featuring more than 30 movies and 50 TV shows,” a spokesman said. On airlines like Norwegian and WOW, those things cost extra for economy class travelers.

According to Seatguru.com, premium economy in Thomas Cook Airlines’ two-class A330-200s has 49 “recliner seats” (seven across) that are 19.7 inches wide, with 35-inch pitch; and 273 regular economy seats (eight across) that are 18.2 inches wide with 31-inch pitch (pretty much the industry standard for economy class these days).

Seating on a Thomas Cook A330-200. (Image: Thomas Cook Airlines)

The airline is part of the U.K.-based Thomas Cook Group, a travel conglomerate that evolved out of the original travel agency chain. Besides Thomas Cook Airlines, the group also owns Germany’s Condor Airlines, both catering to the leisure market. Condor is an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan partner as of last winter, too!

Thomas Cook Group has five operating divisions across Europe; besides the airlines and the travel agency chain, it also has several tour operators and a hotel booking website. And it’s huge: The group has total sales of more than $10 billion and more than 21,000 employees.

The airline’s U.S. routes are largely seasonal. Its winter 2017/2018 schedule shows U.S. service only to New York JFK and Las Vegas from Manchester, and to Orlando from Manchester and London Gatwick.

More about Thomas Cook Airlines here. 

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3 ways United plans to win back business travelers

United SFO

United plans some changes to its operations to win back domestic business travelers. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Executives at United Airlines have been making a lot of noise in recent months about becoming tougher competitors in domestic markets, especially in the business travel realm, and President Scott Kirby this week spelled out some specific tactics for achieving that goal.

Regrettably, that does not mean lower fares (as we learned in this TravelSkills post) — instead, United says it is going to work on making flying United easier.

In a conference call about the airline’s quarterly earnings, Kirby mentioned three strategies to bring more business travelers back to the carrier – all of them aimed at “restoring the domestic network to its natural share in our hubs,” as he put it. (In other words, winning back market share that United has lost to competitors.)

Business travelers should find more short-notice seats available on United.  But how much will they cost? (Image: Jim Glab)

Those strategies are:

1- Making it easier for us to find seats when we need them. Business travelers are notorious for not booking too far in advance, and Kirby said United has been selling off its inventory too early.  “If your goal is to keep bookings high, the easiest way to do that is to lower the prices, and that’s exactly what United was doing,” he said, relying heavily on sales of advance-purchase discount fares.

The problem with that was “we sold out too soon…we forced many of our best customers to fly on our competitors because we were sold out.” But now the airline is “willing to take much more risk that high-yield business customers are going to choose United if we just keep seats available for them.” That has worked in the first quarter, he said, with higher-revenue “close-in bookings” showing a 12 percent increase year-over-year. See what we mean about not lowering fares? 

United wants to take regional jets off key business routes . (Image: United)

2- Offering flights between major cities on larger, more comfortable aircraft. Kirby took a jab at United’s previous management for putting smaller jets on the wrong routes, and said that is changing. “United never should have been flying regional jets in markets like Chicago to Washington National or Newark to Atlanta,” he said.  The company is changing that pattern by using larger aircraft, “mostly in places where we historically did fly larger planes,” he noted. Smaller jets will be used mainly on “smaller markets that drive better connectivity to our hubs, places like Champaign, Illinois and Rochester, Minnesota.” Sounds like a good idea, but we’ve heard from plenty of TravelSkills readers who’ve grown to love United’s new 2-class Embraer aircraft with comfortable 2×2 seating in the back and big square windows…

3- Shorter layovers at its hubs. Later this year, Kirby said, United will begin “re-banking” flight schedules at its hub airports. That refers to the common industry practice of scheduling “banks” or clusters of inbound and outbound flights in specific time windows to maximize the number of quick connections without long layovers. The airline will reportedly begin the process at Chicago O’Hare, Houston Bush Intercontinental and Washington Dulles. Shorter layovers sound great, but when summer thunderstorms hit Chicago or Houston, better watch out… those tighter turnarounds tend to fall apart.

What else can United do to win you back…or keep you from fleeing to competitors? Would you pay more for United if its operations improve? Please leave your comments below. 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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A new fare increase for business travelers?

The view from the United Club at ATL (Chris McGinnis)

>Chris discovers that new Basic Economy fares don’t offer much of a discount at all- as a matter of fact, they are a thinly veiled price hike for some  travelers. 

For business and personal reasons, I fly between San Francisco and Atlanta a lot. For an upcoming four-day trip in mid-May I’ve been monitoring fares for the past month or so.

I waited to book this trip until after Easter because airlines usually lower fares for “shoulder season” travel at about this time.

But this year, that does not seem to be happening. As a matter of fact, a new wrinkle emerged this week: Basic economy fares now apply on this route. Even if you don’t fly this route at all, stick with me here, because it could soon apply in just about any market.

Here’s the lay of the land on SFO-ATL: Both Delta and United offer nonstops on the route. Delta offers several per day, and United offers two. Generally the lowest economy fares hover at around $350 roundtrip in economy. I usually favor United when flying this route because it has convenient flight times, and with my elite status, I sit in Economy Plus and occasionally get upgraded to first class for the 4-5 hour flight.

Over the last year Frontier (SFO) and Spirit (Oakland) jumped into the nonstop market with one (or fewer) flights per day. Both have offered some jaw-dropping deals… I’ve seen them as low (or lower) than $200 roundtrip. But of course you have to factor in the ultra-tight seating, fees and possibility of cancellation– reasons I shy away from these flights.

Frontier offers cheap nonstops in the SFO-ATL market (Image: Jim Glab)

For the past month, SFO-ATL roundtrips have sat stubbornly at around $420 on United and Delta. Spirit and Frontier’s fares were higher than normal, too. Around $360. (NOTE: These fares available on April 20 and subject to change.)

When fares did not come down by Tuesday this week, I was ready to throw in the towel and pay $420 on United. But something strange happened on Wednesday morning when I went to make my purchase: That $420 fare had increased to $470 and turned into a “basic economy” fare. If I wanted a regular economy fare, I’d have to pay $520, a $50 premium. On Delta, the basic economy fare was a steep $506, and the upgrade to main cabin was $26, so $532. Nothing cheap about that!

But wait… hold everything. I thought that United and Delta were adding a new low-fare option with basic economy. Not so in this case…both just slapped a basic economy label on the existing lowest fare and raised the standard economy fare. Neither of them actually lowered their fares to compete with Frontier’s lowest fare of $360.

When United pushed out its new fare category, it sounded like fares would come down in these markets— United even says so on its website: We’re introducing a new fare option, called Basic Economy, which is available on select routes and in addition to standard United Economy fares. Created for our customers who may be more price-sensitive, these lower-priced fares provide most of the same inflight services and amenities that are available with standard Economy.

When United introduced the unpopular new fares in Minneapolis earlier this year, president Scott Kirby said, “The launch of our Basic Economy product is transformational –  offering customers seeking the most budget-conscious fares United’s comfortable and reliable travel experience across our unmatched network of destinations. Basic Economy lets you go where you want to go at our lowest available fare while enjoying United’s Economy cabin and the exceptional inflight service that comes with it.”

Meh! In this case, it appears that the introduction of Basic Economy fares is a thinly veiled price hike for business travelers who need things like seat assignments, elite qualifying miles, refunds, overhead bin space and the opportunity to upgrade.

I’ll go ahead and pay the $520 fare, but I’m not happy about it…

Have you encountered a basic economy fare yet? How’d that go for you?

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Emirates cuts flights to US

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis having fun with Emirates flight attendants during the A380 tour at SFO

Today Dubai-based Emirates Airline announced that it would cut frequencies to five US cities in the wake of tanking demand due to the laptop ban and Trump’s attempts to ban travelers from certain Muslim countries.

It’s important to note that Emirates is only cutting back on service– but not eliminating it on flights between Dubai and Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Orlando and Ft Lauderdale. The cutbacks (25 flights total) go into effect in May and June. So you can still “get there from here” but it won’t be as convenient.

Emirates’s service to other US cities will (so far) not be affected. It also flies to Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC. Late last year Emirates closed most of its US sales and marketing offices, laying off workers.

A sea of business class seats on the Emirates A380 upper deck– 76 of them, all true lie-flat (Photo: Chris McGinnis(

U.S. Carriers have been flighting against the incursion of the big three Middle East carriers (ME3) for years, so this could be a sign that those efforts, along with recent actions by Trump, are succeeding.  The two other ME3 carriers are Etihad and Qatar Airways.

Etihad has already been scaling back in the US— for example, its B777 nonstops between SFO and Abu Dhabi are down to just 2-3 times per week. It also announced layoffs and other cutbacks back in December.

Since much of the ME3 carriers business is involved in transporting people to and from India, carriers that fly there are likely beneficiaries. For example, Air India is likely killing it on the SFO-Delhi route. Lufthansa is no doubt lapping up the biz on its many connecting flights from the US which continue on to  India. From the west coast, Asian carriers such as Cathay Pacific are likely getting travelers to India via its hub in Hong Kong.

Check out what Delta posted today on its website about this as part of its Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.

Don’t miss! The opulent party Emirates threw in SF to welcome its A380

Emirates laid out its plans in a statement to Business Insider: “Emirates can confirm that we will be reducing flights to five of the 12 US cities we currently serve. From 1 May and 23 May respectively, our Fort Lauderdale and Orlando operations will move from daily services to five a week. From 1 and 2 June respectively, our Seattle and Boston operations will move from twice-daily services, to a daily service. From 1 July, our operations to Los Angeles will move from twice-daily to a daily service.”

How do you feel about this? Are you a frequent flier on Emirates or other gulf carriers? 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Charting progress of big LAX move starting now

LAX Terminals 2 and 3 will be Delta’s new home at the airport. (Image: Delta)

That massive move of airlines at Los Angeles International is just a few weeks away, but a few changes have already started – and the airport authority has put out a new chart of who’s going where.

As we reported earlier, the relocations are all a result of Delta’s big plans to shift its LAX operations from Terminals 5 and 6 to Terminals 2 and 3, displacing a lot of other tenants. The changes will affect a total of 28 airlines.

Most of the moves will take place in the overnight hours of May 12, 14 and 16. But a few have already happened. China’s Hainan Airlines has just moved from T2 to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). Copa’s flights still leave from the TBIT, but check-in for flights moved last week from T6 to T3. And American in January dropped four gates in T6 and picked up four in T5. Later this month, Qatar Airways is slated to move from T2 to the Bradley Terminal.

When the major moves begin next month, Delta will be operating flights on some days from four terminals (2, 3, 5 and 6).

Here’s a chart from the airports authority of who’s moving where, followed by a map of how the terminals will shake out when it’s all finished.

“During the relocation and in the weeks following, passengers are advised to check-in online, print boarding passes, and check terminal and gate information before coming to LAX,” Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) said. “They should also arrive to the airport earlier than normal.  Once at LAX, passengers should check flight and gate status on flight information display boards in each terminal to ensure they are in the correct location.”

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Third “real” United Polaris flight revealed

United B777-300ER

United’s third Boeing 777-300ER will go into service between San Francisco and Tokyo.(Photo: United)

As United takes delivery of more 777-300ERs, it will be bringing its new Polaris business cabin to additional international routes – and it just released word of a big transpacific change coming in a couple of months.

Routesonline.com reports that United will put a 777-300ER with the new cabin onto the San Francisco-Tokyo Narita route effective June 14. The new aircraft will be used for UA 837/838, replacing the current 747-400; United’s other daily SFO-NRT flight uses a 787-9.

The Tokyo service will be the third international route to offer United’s new premium cabin and service. Last month, the new aircraft started flying between San Francisco-Hong Kong, and in early May, it will be used for one of United’s two daily Newark-Tel Aviv flights. The aircraft going onto the Tel Aviv route is temporarily being used for Newark-San Francisco flights.

United Polaris

A window seat in United’s “real” Polaris cabin on B777-300ER (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Real” Polaris? United rebranded its entire business class experience (both old and new) last fall and now calls both Polaris. This has led to a lot of confusion and misplaced excitement when passengers book business class on United and see “Polaris” on their itinerary or boarding pass. Many mistakenly think that they are going to get the new seat (seen above) when in fact they will get the old business class seat, but the new “soft” Polaris products like upgraded pillows and blankets, more elaborate food & drink offerings like wine flights or bloody mary carts.

So remember that for now and the near future, you’ll only get the new or “real” Polaris business class seat if you are flying from SFO to Hong Kong or Tokyo, or from Newark to Tel Aviv. 

Current “old” business class onboard United’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is also called Polaris (Photo: United Airlines)

United has ordered 14 of the new 777-300ERs, all due for delivery this year, but it hasn’t yet said where they will be used beyond the routes mentioned above. They are expected to go mainly onto transpacific routes.

A few weeks ago, word came out that deployment of the new planes might be pushed back later than the original timetable because of a supply problem. Specifically, the European manufacturer of the new Polaris seats is having trouble producing them on time.

Here’s our first look at the interior of the 777-300ER, including all classes of seating, with plenty of photos. United eventually plans to remake the premium cabins of its other long-haul aircraft models with the same new Polaris lie-flat seats that are going into the 777-300ERs.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Most popular: United mess + New Hawaiian planes + Low fare flying + Best mileage deals

United Airlines sign

A very dark week for United Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

United: Will 3 wrongs make a right?

Hawaiian Airlines unveils new A321s for west coast routes

The problem with low fare flying

Low fares are great, but what happens during irregular operations? (Image: Oakland International Airport)

Alaska targets Texas for latest expansion

Travelers’ rights: Involuntary bumping & the United drama

Routes: Airberlin delays at SFO/LAX, Virgin Australia, Austrian, AA, United + more

Uber faces shut-down in 2 European countries

Uber Newark

Finding a ride on Uber getting tougher in Europe- but there are alternatives (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

First look deep inside a Delta 747-400 [PHOTOS]

How to get the most for your miles this summer

10 British Airways’ posh plans for business class [PHOTOS]

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Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

How much could David Dao get from United lawsuit?

Delta raises cap on bump compensation to $10,000 in flight vouchers

Which is California’s most loved airline?

Delta quietly increases award prices (again)

Delta Atlanta

Delta raises rates, devalues SkyMiles again. Surprised? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Driving to the airport? SFO knows your number & keeps it for four years

Under Trump, Bay Area tourism could take a hit

A pilot explains what he thinks really happened on United flight 

Airlines argue against calls for a ban on overbooking

Travelers almost $1 million in loose change at TSA checkpoints last year

Customs & Border Protection sharply increases digital searches of personal devices

New FCC chief kills proposal to allow in-flight voice calls

Delta has new policy for guns in checked bags

Hyatt adds in-room streaming of Netflix, Hulu, etc.

United Polaris

United’s new wine flights on Polaris flights are popular… maybe too popular?  (Photo: Scott Hintz)

United’s Polaris passengers are drinking too much wine

Scorpion stings passenger on United flight to Canada

Air Asia X starting low-fare Honolulu flights, but has eyes on LAX, SFO

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Routes: Airberlin delays at SFO/LAX, Virgin Australia, Austrian, AA, United + more

Airberlin is delaying its new Berlin service from San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Image: Airberlin)

In international route news, Airberlin is pushing back the start date of its new West Coast service to Berlin; Virgin Australia adds a Los Angeles route; Austrian Airline starts LAX flights; American plans an aircraft switch for some west coast service; United shifts Dreamliners to Washington Dulles and begins seasonal flights to Europe from San Francisco and Houston; Xiamen expands service; and JetBlue adds a Caribbean route.

Airberlin is delaying the start-up dates for its new service from Berlin to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The service from Berlin Tegel to San Francisco, originally set to begin May 1, has been pushed back to May 29; and the Berlin-Los Angeles flights, due to launch May 2, have been postponed to May 16. Passengers scheduled to travel on the earlier flights are being rebooked onto other flights via Dusseldorf, the company said. Airberlin blamed the delays on problems with its new ground handling company at Tegel Airport. The carrier plans to operate four flights a week from SFO; the LAX schedule calls for two flights a week from mid-May, with a third frequency starting in June.

Virgin Australia this week kicked off new non-stop service from Los Angeles to Melbourne. The Australian carrier will fly the route five days a week with a 777-300ER, as part of its joint venture operation with Delta. On the other coast, Delta partner Virgin Atlantic plans to convert its New York JFK-Manchester service from a seasonal to a year-round operation, with plans to continue flying the route four times a week after October 29 with an A330, then dropping down to three a week from January 14 through March 22, 2018. Delta will no longer fly the route, according to Routesonline.com.

Austrian Airlines started 777 service from LAX to Vienna. (Image: Austrian Airlines)

Austrian Airlines this week kicked off new service from Los Angeles International to Vienna. The airline’s 777-200 service starts off with five flights a week through June 12, then increases to daily frequencies. The route marks Austrian’s first non-stop service to the West Coast. The 308-seat 777 includes 48 business class seats with lie-flat seat-beds.

American Airlines is planning to change equipment on a couple of international routes out of Los Angeles later this year, according to Airlineroutes.com. Plans call for American to put 787-9s into service starting November 5 on the LAX-Sao Paulo route, and increasing frequencies from five to six a week; and on the LAX-Tokyo Narita route from August 4 to October 27. In both cases, the Dreamliners will replace 777-200ERs.

United Boeing 787 Dreamliner

United is shifting some 787s from Houston to Washington Dulles. (Photo: United)

Speaking of 787s, FlightGlobal reports that United Airlines plans to shift Dreamliner flying from Houston Bush Intercontinental to Washington Dulles this coming winter, citing a letter to pilots from UA management. The carrier will reportedly close its 787 pilots’ base at Houston. Effective with United’s winter schedule October 29, that means in addition to its existing 787 service from IAD to London and Paris, United will also use the Dreamliner for flights from Dulles to Beijing (replacing a 777-200) and to Sao Paulo (replacing a 767-400ER), while a 777-200 will go onto Houston-Frankfurt and a 767-300ER will be used for Houston-Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, United is due to begin seasonal service April 20 from Houston to Munich and from San Francisco to Frankfurt, with both routes continuing through October 27. Have you flown a United Dreamliner yet? Let us know what you think in the comments.

China’s Xiamen Airlines is due to start 787-9 service from Los Angeles to Xiamen three times a week on June 28. That schedule will increase to four a week from July 19 through August 24 with the addition of a 787-8 flight, according to Routesonline.com.

JetBlue already flies to Port-au-Prince, Haiti from New York, Boston and Ft. Lauderdale, and now it plans to add the only non-stop service to Port-au-Prince from Orlando beginning in December, subject to government approvals. The carrier said it will use a 100-seat E190 for the new service.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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United: Will 3 wrongs make a right?

United jets on the ramp at Newark Terminal C (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The three primary characters in this week’s gruesome tale of airline passenger bashing made mistakes: United should have sought a better solution to its oversold/overbooked/crewing situation, David Dao should have gotten off the plane, and the police should have used less force.

On a busy Sunday night at O’Hare, these three mistakes coalesced to create a perfect storm onboard the plane. The end result we’ve all seen play out on viral videos that elicit a visceral, emotional reaction and created a social media firestorm.

United was wrong: United (or Republic) should never have boarded the plane before asking for volunteers. United should have increased the compensation it was offering for passengers to give up their seats until it got a few takers. It should have considered alternatives for getting its crew to Louisville– it could have rented a car and had them there in five hours. United should have tried harder to fix the situation before calling in law enforcement.

David Dao was wrong: But the least wrong of the three. As the Wall Street Journal said this week, “airplanes are dictatorships.” As lopsided and unfair as the situation was and as angry as Dao may have been, he should have gotten off the plane when instructed to do so. By refusing to get off, he was breaking federal law. Once off the plane, he could have possibly plead his case with gate agents, letting them know that he was a doctor with patients to see in the morning and that he was traveling with his daughter. Who  knows, they may have taken that into consideration, let him back on board or put him on another flight or arranged to have a car take him to Louisville. UPDATE: Do airlines have the right to throw you off the plane even though you’ve done nothing wrong? As wrong as it may seem, the answer is: Yes. Travel industry analyst and former airline executive Henry Harteveldt helps explain, “Just as airplanes defy the law of gravity when they take off, air travel has its own unique sets of rules that passengers must follow. Among the rules are following airline employees’ directions and commands. If you deliberately disobey an airline employee’s instructions, it can result in a fine, being removed from a plane, or even being put on a ‘black list’ and not being able to fly that carrier ever again.” For more background on this, see: Can an airline really just yank you off a plane? Plus: