Cadillacs on the tarmac + 2nd Ebola case in US + Dallas Love Field recap + Virgin hotels splash

This is Part 2 of this week’s Catching up on Travel News with TravelSkills! Here’s Part 1.  (Sorry if you get this email more than once today…we are still getting the hang of our email distribution system)

AIRLINES

American will soon be picking up its best passengers at LAX in Caddies.

American will soon be picking up its best passengers at LAX in Caddies like this one. (Source: GM)

American Airlines teams up with Cadillac. Following the lead of Delta’s partnership with Porsche and United’s with Mercedes-Benz, American Airlines is teaming up with Cadillac to provide rides across the tarmac to connecting flights — starting at Los Angeles International — for ConciergeKey members with tight transfer times. AA said it will expand the service next to Dallas/Ft. Worth and New York’s LaGuardia and JFK, using Cadillac CTS, SRX or Escalade models. Also, as part of the promo AAdvantage members can earn 7,500 miles for test-driving a new Cadillac.

Breaking news: A health care worker in Dallas has contracted Ebola according to health officials there. If confirmed by CDC, this would be the first case of Ebola transmitted in the US. Hmm. I’m wondering how many TravelSkills readers (including yours truly) might want to change their answer to our recent Ebola fear poll from “not fearful” to “somewhat fearful” after hearing this news. One thing you can count on: Increased Ebola screening at airports that could cause long lines.

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

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(click on the vote button or the clear looking button to cast your vote)

Love Field route recap. October 13 marks the end of the Wright Amendment at Dallas Love Field, and here’s a reminder of what’s happening there route-wise.

  • Virgin America, which moves operations from DFW to DAL, will have three daily flights starting Monday, October 13 from DAL to SFO, LAX and DCA, adding four daily DAL-LGA roundtrips October 28. (Still no word on when it will add flights to Chicago.)
  • Southwest on Monday starts five daily roundtrips between DAL and Chicago Midway; three each to LAX, Baltimore, Denver, Las Vegas and Washington National; and two to Orlando.
  • On November 2, Southwest adds one more daily frequency to Midway, Las Vegas, LAX and Orlando, and boosts DAL-DCA to six a day. Also on November 2, Southwest begins service from DAL to Atlanta (4x/day), LGA (3x), PHX (4x), Ft Lauderdale (2x), Nashville (2x), San Diego (2x), Orange County (1x) and Tampa (2x).

All-you-can-fly airline comes to OAK. California’s Surf Air, which charges a flat fee starting at $1,750 a month for unlimited flights in its Pilatus turboprops, is expanding to two more airports — Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar (CRQ) north of San Diego on November 18 and Oakland (OAK) on December 15, with flights to Hawthorne, Santa Barbara and other locations. “Both markets were added based on the high current and potential member demand–with more than 100 deposits already placed for membership in these regions and relatively limited service by other carriers to either market,” Surf Air said.

Love your United FA, then say so via the carrier's website (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Love your United FA, then say so via the carrier’s website (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Thank your flight attendants. Members of the flight crew seem to be regularly bashed by frequent fliers more times than they are appreciated. Here is a way you can quickly send your message praising a flight attendant who served you well on a recent flight via United’s web site. Although this topic is primarily for passengers of United Airlines, other airlines are discussed in this MilePoint string as well. Have you thanked a flight attendant lately?

HOTELS

The brand new Conrad Seoul hotel is on the south side of the Han River which bisects the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The brand new Conrad Seoul hotel is on the south side of the Han River which bisects the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis just returned from a business trip to Seoul, South Korea with a big batch of great pics and news about this burgeoning, modern, high-tech (and quirky) Asian city. Stay tuned for a few fun trip reports and another in our series of new hotel updates. Have you been to Seoul recently? What did you think? Please leave comments below or email Chris. 

The first Virgin Hotel will be located in this Chicago building.

The first Virgin Hotel will be located in this Chicago building. (Virgin Hotels)

First Virgin Hotel opening soon. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has been working for years on a hotel subsidiary, and its first property — in downtown Chicago — is set to open January 15. The 250-room property (including 42 suites) is in the Old Dearborn Bank Building at 203 N. Wabash. Rooms start at $209 and bookings are open now through a new website at http://virginhotels.com.

In Case You Missed It…

>Looks like a major renovation is in store for New York’s iconic Waldorf-Astoria following its sale by Hilton to a Chinese insurance company for nearly $2 billion.

>Airline lounge memberships: Why they’re not for everyone.

>Try these tips for catching some Zs in your hotel room.

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and  LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it! 

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Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Please join the 80,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

 

Delta raises bar for Medallions + More LAX flights + Ebola poll results + Delta back in Love

This is part one of this weekend’s Catching Up on Travel News (part 2 comes tomorrow)

AIRLINES

Delta keeps making moves to improve the ride for it's customers with deepest pockets.

Delta keeps making moves to improve the ride for it’s customers with deepest pockets. (Photo: Jim Glab)

Delta tightens SkyMiles rules — again. Will United? In the latest tweak to its ever-changing SkyMiles program, Delta is increasing by 20 percent the minimum spend required during 2015 to achieve 2016 Medallion status — e.g., Medallion Qualifying Dollar requirements go from $2,500 to $3,000 for Silver status and so on, up to $15,000 for Diamond from the current $12,500. Delta says it is upping the ante to increase exclusivity of higher status– much like it’s done with more restrictions on guests allowed in Sky Clubs to control crowding. And keep an eye on United, which in keeping with it’s WWDD (What Would Delta Do) policy of mimicking every Delta move, could impose similar higher spending requirements. Is it working to make the experience more exclusive? We frequently hear from both sides of this issue, so please leave your comments below.

Another Delta squeeze. In another change, Delta will downgrade its Basic Economy fares (E fares). Effective February 15, passengers on those low-cost fares (typically on fares where the carrier competes with the likes of Spirit or Frontier) will not be able to get free Medallion upgrades, paid upgrades or advance seat selection; no refunds, changes or same-day standbys are allowed; and Preferred and Economy Comfort seats are off-limits.

Delta gets more time at DAL. Instead of being forced out of Dallas Love Field on October 13 as reported earlier, Delta will now get a reprieve at least until January 6 to keep operating its five daily DAL-ATL flights. What changed? Southwest Airlines — which controls 16 of DAL’s 20 gates — agreed to let Delta use one of them for a few months, and United anted up ticket counter space as well. Delta has been subleasing two gates from American Airlines, but those will be transferred to Virgin America this week.

An American Airlines B737-800 will soon fly ATL-LAX (Photo: BriYYZ / Flickr)

An American Airlines B737-800 will soon fly ATL-LAX (Photo: BriYYZ / Flickr)

American adds another key ATL route. A week ago, American revealed plans to revive LaGuardia-Atlanta service on January 6. And now AA announced another stab at the heart of Delta’s network: It will begin three flights a day between Atlanta and its Los Angeles International hub on March 5, and is already taking reservations. LAX-ATL will be a mainline AA route, operated with 737-800s. So for those of you who say you are ready to dump Delta for a carrier that (so far) has not made the move toward revenue-based frequent flyer rewards, you now have more options.

Ebola fears in check. Based on our recent Ebola Fear Poll and post, it sounds like frequent travelers are not too alarmed about the possibility of contracting Ebola. With nearly 500 votes from TravelSkills readers in so far, 68% say that they are not fearful about Ebola, 22% say they are somewhat fearful and just 10% say that they are very fearful. Have you participated in the poll? In case you missed it, here’s one of the most viral travel videos this week showing hazmat crews entering a plane where a passenger joked about having ebola. VIDEO

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

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(click on the vote button or the clear looking button to cast your vote)

wipesSpeaking of germs, we got a kick out of this email from TravelSkills reader MM about a recent flight where she was seated next to one of the 10% who are very fearful of Ebola: Dear Chris: I had to share an inflight experience I had tonight traveling from DFW to the ATL.  So I am seated on a three seat row, when a passenger seated beside me (I was stuck in the middle seat) gets to her aisle seat to settle in. I said a quick hello and continued looking at my phone.  She then began to pluck what I appeared to be antibacterial wipes from a container…they were ALCOHOL wipes—big ones!!  She proceeded to stand up and wipe down her entire seat…every inch…seat belt included..straps too.  Then she wiped down her tray table, light and ac controls, arm rests…the whole kit-kat and caboodle!  By this time, I am having flashbacks to having my ears pierced in seventh grade at Rich’s department store where they doused you in alcohol.  Then she neatly sat down.  There were so many fumes that I felt like I needed the pull down the oxygen mask before take off!  This is what happens when the fear of germs affects the quality of flight I thought to myself. Then I smiled and thought…I couldn’t wait to email TravelSkills about this!  I am anti-germy myself but keep my hand sanitizer neatly tucked away.  This woman was ready to do battle with bacteria!  Oh, the stories that will emerge from all this…”

HOTELS

Marriott's new wireless charger

Marriott’s new Kube wireless charger

Marriott tries a new tech amenity. if you see an odd black box in a Marriott lobby, don’t hesitate to put your phone on it — that’s what it’s for. Marriott installed Kube Systems wireless charging stations in the lobbies of 29 hotels, acting on a suggestion from customers at its idea website, www.TravelBrilliantly.com. Besides the wireless charging surface, the boxes have built-in connectors to power up to six devices.

In Case You Missed It…

>Looks like a major renovation is in store for New York’s iconic Waldorf-Astoria following its sale by Hilton to a Chinese insurance company for nearly $2 billion.

>Airline lounge memberships: Why they’re not for everyone.

>Try these tips for catching some Zs in your hotel room.

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and  LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it! 

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Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Please join the 80,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

 

5 reasons NOT to join airline lounge programs

The new American Express Centurion Lounge at New York La Guardia. Daily fee: $50 (Photo: American Express)

The new American Express Centurion Lounge at New York La Guardia offers full hot meals and nice views. Free for Platinum card members, or walk in for just $50 with any American Express card

The valuable perks of airline lounges may tempt you to splurge on an annual memberships. 

But as cushy and convenient as they are, they may not be right for everyone.

In fact, there are some very good reasons not to join an airline lounge program.

Before taking the plunge, consider a few critical questions, such as how often you plan on traveling, and which airports you will be traveling to over the next year. Smartphone app LoungeBuddy can help determine specifics, such as domestic and international lounge locations, and the amenities they offer.

With so many new alternatives to annual memberships, you’ll likely find better ways to gain lounge access depending on your travel needs and budget. Below, we’ve compiled a list of five reasons why an annual airline lounge membership may not be right for you:

(We asked Loungebuddy’s Garrett Lu to help us out with this guest post)

The Plaza Premium Lounge at Vancouver International Airport

The 6,800 square foot Plaza Premium Lounge at Vancouver International Airport- a Priority Pass partner. Walk in fee: $36 (2 hours)

  • They don’t come cheap – Airline lounge memberships are not for the budget conscious. There is often discount pricing available to elite status members, but if you are among the hoard of unwashed masses, be prepared to pony up around $500 for a new annual membership. To make matters worse, some programs, such as Delta Sky Club, no longer include complimentary guest privileges for their basic membership.
  • They can tie you down – While U.S. airline lounge programs provide access to their lounges regardless of the carrier you are flying, be aware that you still have to be able to physically access their locations within the terminals. This means that if travel plans change during the year and you are forced to start flying a different airline, you could be stuck at an airport or terminal without the program lounges you need. And certainly don’t expect airlines to refund a portion of your membership fees!
  • You have elite status and travel internationally – If you are a frequent flyer with mid or top-tier elite status, and your travels are mainly international, there may be no need to purchase an airline lounge membership since you likely have access to a network of worldwide alliance lounges already. The downside, of course, is that when traveling within the U.S., lounge access is typically not granted to domestic lounges, except on select transcontinental routes in premium cabins, or if your elite status is provided by an international carrier.
  • You have alternative credit cards – Many credit cards offer lounge access for a comparable annual fee, but with added perks. Take, for example, the Chase United MileagePlus Club Card. For $395, you not only receive a full United Club membership, but you also get two free checked bags as well as premier access included. Or the American Express Platinum Card, where $450 nets you a Priority Pass Select membership, Delta Sky Club access (in conjunction with same-day travel on a flight operated by Delta), and The Centurion Lounge access. It pays to shop around since airline lounge memberships are often times not the best deals in town.
  • You cannot expense the cost – Business travelers can often expense one-off travel costs such as airline tickets, hotel costs, and meals. However, one thing that most business travelers can’t expense is the cost of an airline lounge membership or even the annual fee on a credit card. In these cases, it may be wiser to look for alternative (and expensable) options for lounge access, such as one-time passes.
The colorful Servisair lounge at Copenhagen airport

The colorful Servisair lounge at Copenhagen Airport- walk in for just $32.

Plenty of airlines and independent lounges offer one-time passes for $25-$75, so if you don’t plan on frequent visits, don’t bother with an airline lounge membership. Third party lounge operators like The Centurion Lounge, The Club, Plaza Premium, and Servisair are growing ever more

The Loungebuddy smartphone app uses geolocation to find nearby airport lounges

The Loungebuddy smartphone app uses geolocation to find nearby airport lounges

popular, providing travelers with a premium airport lounge experience regardless of airline or class of service.

With so many different lounge choices available, along with a veritable web of access rule intricacies, determining which lounges you have access to can be challenging. By utilizing a smartphone app like LoungeBuddythe guesswork is taken out of the equation. Simply enter your elite statuses, lounge memberships, and the credit cards you have, andLoungeBuddy will show you the lounges you can access for free or for a one-time fee. Best of all, the app provides detailed lounge profiles with reviews, photos, and amenities, so you can find exactly what you’re looking for, whether it’s a business center to catch up on work, a refreshing shower, or a well-deserved cocktail.

As airlines further unbundle their services and the cost of airport amenities continue to rise, lounge access represents one of the best added values travelers can invest in these days. However, much like an unlimited data plan or an all-you-can-eat buffet, annual airline lounge memberships may not always be the most suitable option. Depending on your travel pattern, budget, and amenity preferences, an à la carte strategy of one-time passes may help you come out ahead in the end.

How do YOU get in airport lounges? Annual membership, perk included with a credit card, or one-time passes? Please leave your comments below!

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and  LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it! 

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Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Please join the 80,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Delta doesn’t do Dallas + New ATL-LGA flights + Virgin America goes east + More JetBlue @ SFO

San Francisco gets a new nonstop to Vegas, baby with low intro fares (Photo: Jim Glab)

San Francisco gets a new nonstop to Vegas, baby, with low intro fares (Photo: Jim Glab)

This is part 2 of our weekend catch up! Here’s part 1. 

AIRLINES

Virgin America bets on winter leisure routes. Stepping away from its bases at SFO and LAX, Virgin America will add a pair of new seasonal routes this winter — daily New York JFK-Ft. Lauderdale flights from mid-December through April, and four weekly Boston-Las Vegas roundtrips from January 8 through April; it will also boost JFK-LAS frequencies from seven to nine a week January 5-April 28. To free up aircraft, Virgin will make what a spokesman calls “a temporary reduction” in SFO-Chicago O’Hare and LAX-ORD to just one daily roundtrip apiece, down from three and two respectively. And last week, Virgin terminated its daily Philadelphia flights from SFO and LAX.

JetBlue taps SFO-LAS. Maybe Virgin America thinks its seven daily SFO-Las Vegas flights are plenty, but rival JetBlue sees an opening there; it will jump into the market January 5 with two daily roundtrips, and introductory fares as low as $76. Speaking of SFO, we’re getting close to the launch of JetBlue’s premium-cabin Mint service on its SFO-JFK route, set for October 26. JetBlue will boost SFO-JFK frequencies from three a day to five by early next year. JetBlue is also growing at LAS, adding daily non-stops to Ft. Lauderdale October 29.

No love for Delta in Dallas. Delta’s five daily flights from Dallas’ close-in Love Field to Atlanta will end on October 13. That’s when the Wright Amendment expires, and when American Airlines’ two gates at DAL — which Delta has been subleasing — will be transferred to Virgin America. With all the expansion at DAL, not only by Southwest and Virgin America, but also by United — which plans to double its daily DAL-Houston Intercontinental schedule to 10 flights — there was no room left for Delta. The change doesn’t affect Delta’s operations at DFW. Virgin CEO David Cush said this week that the carrier might fly to two more cities from DAL– while we are hoping one might be Atlanta, Cush wouldn’t say.

American Airlines CRJ flights between ATL and La Guardia are coming back (Photo: David Montiverdi)

American Airlines CRJ flights between ATL and La Guardia are coming back (Photo: David Montiverdi)

AA revives LGA-ATL. American Airlines, which abandoned LaGuardia-Atlanta service earlier this year as part of a reshuffling related to its merger with US Airways, plans to revive that key business route January 6, with four daily American Eagle roundtrips. AA said the new Eagle service will use CRJ-700s with nine first class and 54 economy seats, operating out of ATL’s North Terminal T Concourse. American also announced new service starting March 5 from Miami to Austin, Kansas City, Salt Lake City and San Antonio. And last week, American started new Eagle service between Chicago O’Hare-Bismarck, N.D. and DFW-Bismarck, while affiliate US Airways Express kicked off new routes from Charlotte to Evansville and Ft. Wayne, Ind.; and Philadelphia-Ft. Wayne, and US Airways began mainline Phoenix-Cleveland service.

Delta point transfers capped. if you’re sitting on hundreds of thousands of American Express Membership Rewards points that you plan to transfer into your Delta SkyMiles account, better act fast. Effective January 1, Delta is limiting the amount of point transfers into SkyMiles accounts from partner companies to 250,000 a year. See the announcement on Delta’s website (click on General Program Updates/Transferring points from SkyMiles partners).

The Qantas A380  DFW-SYD nonstop is now the longest flight from the US (Photo: Qantas)

The Qantas A380 DFW-SYD nonstop is now the longest flight from the US (Photo: Qantas)

Double A380s at DFW. Qantas last week replaced the 747 on its Dallas/Ft. Worth-Sydney route with an Airbus A380 super-jumbo, giving it 10 percent more seats in the market, which Qantas flies six days a week (except Tuesdays). The aircraft has 14 first class seats, 64 in business, 35 in premium economy and 371 in regular coach. The 7,452 nautical mile, nearly 14-16 hour DFW-SYD flight is now the longest from the US, bumping Delta’s ATL-Johannesburg nonstop to #2 at 7,329 nautical miles. Qantas is a partner in American Airlines’ Oneworld alliance. Two days later, Emirates brought DFW its second A380, with daily nonstop service to Dubai.

Related: Emirates to fly A380s to San Francisco and Houston in December!

Frontier keeps adding new markets. It seems like almost every week, Frontier Airlines announces more new routes. In its latest volley, the airline said it will start flying out of Miami December 20/21 to Chicago O’Hare, Denver, LaGuardia and Philadelphia, all with one or two flights a day. It will also launch PHL-Orlando and PHL-Tampa flights December 20, followed in the spring by new service from PHL to ATL, CLT and ORD. Other new O’Hare routes starting December 20 are Las Vegas and Tampa.

Please participate in this week’s poll on how fearful you are about ebola:

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

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(click on the vote button or the clear looking button to cast your vote)

In Case You Missed It…

>Are you ready for BYOD (bring your own device) in-flight entertainment?

>Tracking the ebola risk for air travelers.

>Chris explains what’s new at Hawaiian Airlines.

>Direct flight? Non-stop? What’s the difference

New: A limited time 70,000 point sign up bonus from Chase

.

>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and  LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it! 

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Would you rather get TravelSkills Weekly instead of Daily? No probs! click here to sign up for TravelSkills Weekly. 

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Please join the 80,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Marriott jams wi-fi + Hilton-AA bond + New InterConti LA + Lufthansa moves at LHR

This is part 1 of our weekend catch-up! Part 2 arrives tomorrow…

Marriott's big, bright, glass-top Gaylord Opryland hotel blocked guest wi-fi (Photo: Marriott)

Marriott’s big, bright, glass-top Gaylord Opryland hotel blocked guest wi-fi (Photo: Marriott)

Marriott caught blocking guests’ wi-fi. The Federal Communications Commission has slapped Marriott with a $600,000 fine for allegedly blocking Wi-Fi access for guests with personal wi-fi hotspots who were attending meetings at the chain’s Opryland Hotel in Nashville last year. The blocked access reportedly affected meeting rooms and ballrooms, but not guest rooms. Why would the hotel do that? Because conference organizers would then have to pay $250 to $1,000 per access point to use the hotel’s wi-fi system. Marriott says it was just trying to protect guests from “rogue wireless hotspots.” We’d love to hear your thoughts about this… please leave them below….

Hilton, AA offer targeted promotion to loyalists. Hilton’s HHonors program is tightening its bond with American’s AAdvantage plan by offering AA Platinum status until January 31, 2015, to selected members who register by October 15. The targeted promotion will let participants extend that Platinum status for another year, and pick up 20,000 HHonors points, if they accumulate 9,000 elite-qualifying AAdvantage miles by January 31.

Here's a mock up of Korean Air's new Wilshire Grand Center in downtown LA

Here’s a mock up of the tippy top of Korean Air’s new Wilshire Grand Center in downtown LA

New InterContinental coming to L.A. The $1.1 billion, 73-floor Wilshire Grand Center in downtown Los Angeles will include a 900-room InterContinental Hotel from the 31st to 73rd floors. Owned by Korean Air and its parent company, the building will be the tallest in the western U.S. when it opens in 2017.

Lufthansa moves at Heathrow. Star Alliance member Lufthansa has joined up with its partner carriers at London Heathrow, moving its operations there last week into the new Terminal 2. Star members United, Air Canada, ANA and Air China moved to T2 when it opened in June and all Star Alliance partners at LHR will be in T2 by the end of October. Lufthansa said its facilities at LHR T2 include “its largest lounge outside Germany” — a Senator and Business Lounge that can accommodate up to 350 travelers in 1,600 square meters. The new London lounge will also welcome Star Alliance Gold Customers as well as those traveling in First or Business Class on any Star Alliance member carrier from Heathrow

Related: TravelSkills sneak peek at United’s new first & business class lounges at Heathrow T2

The dining room at British Airway's swish new lounge at Dulles (Photo: British Airways)

The dining room at British Airway’s swish new lounge at Dulles (Photo: British Airways)

BA enhances IAD service. British Airways has unveiled a new and improved business and first class lounge at Washington Dulles. The 10,000 square foot facility can accommodate up to 200 premium travelers, offering free alcoholic beverages, work areas, showers, a VIP area and dining. The opening of the new lounge was timed to coincide with BA’s introduction of the Airbus A380 on its London Heathrow-Washington Dulles route last week.

Please participate in this week’s poll on how fearful you are about ebola:

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

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(click on the vote button or the clear looking button to cast your vote)

In Case You Missed It…

>Are you ready for BYOD (bring your own device) in-flight entertainment?

>Tracking the ebola risk for air travelers. (please take our fear poll!)

>Chris explains what’s new at Hawaiian Airlines.

>Direct flight? Non-stop? What’s the difference

>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and  LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it! 

facebook like

Would you rather get TravelSkills Weekly instead of Daily? No probs! click here to sign up for TravelSkills Weekly. 

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Please join the 80,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Tracking ebola: How safe am I? (POLL)

Ebola infect Thomas Duncan flew from Monrovia to Brussels on an Airbus A330 like this one (Photo: Maarten Visser / Flickr)

Ebola infected Thomas Duncan flew from Monrovia to Brussels on an Airbus A330 like this one (Photo: Maarten Visser / Flickr)

In this post: Track ebola flights, rate your level of fear in a poll, learn how you can protect yourself. 

On September 19, a traveler infected with the Ebola virus flew overnight from Monrovia, Liberia on SN Brussels Airlines flight 1247 (an Airbus A330) arriving in Belgium on September 20. (Flight tracking history here)

He departed Brussels at noon on September 20 on United flight 951 (a Boeing 777) and arrived at 2:10pm at Washington Dulles. (Flight history here)

From Washington, he flew on United 822 (an Airbus A320) from Dulles to Dallas Ft Worth according to CNN. (Flight history here)

The key bit of calming information that has emerged from the hysteria is that the passenger, Thomas Duncan, was not ill or exhibiting any symptoms during the flight. The New York Times reports that Duncan likely became infected with the virus when helping to transport an ailing woman to the hospital in Monrovia a few days before his flight.

In a statement, United Airlines said, “The director of the [Centers for Disease Control ] CDC has stated there is ‘zero risk of transmission’ on any flight on which the patient flew because he was not symptomatic until several days after his trip and could not have been contagious on the dates he traveled. While the CDC states it is unnecessary for it or the airline to contact others who were on the patient’s flights, United is providing information about the flights United believes the patient took, based on information provided by the CDC.”

NOTE: Please rate your fear of contracting ebola in our poll at the end of this post

A United A320 like this one transported an ebola infected patient on September 21 (Photo: Ms. P / Flickr)

A United A320 like this one transported an ebola infected patient on September 21 (Photo: Ms. P / Flickr)

While it’s difficult to determine whether or not your next United flight is one of the flights that Duncan took…or whether anyone else flying near you might be infected with ebola, here’s what you can do to protect yourself.

>Don’t freak out. We’ve been here before. Remember SARS and H1N1? Both potentially deadly viruses produced similar hysteria but were quickly contained with little or no impact on the lives of frequent travelers.

>CDC’s Thomas Frieden, MD said that Duncan had, “no symptoms and was tested for fever at the airport before boarding the plane. In fact, all patients leaving African airports in infected areas are now being tested. If they have a fever, they are not allowed to board the plane,” reports long-time TravelSkills reader Lynne Peterson who writes Trends-in-Medicine (www.trends-in-medicine.com) The International Air Transport Association adds that, “It is highly unlikely that someone suffering [ebola] symptoms would feel well enough to travel.”

>The CDC says that there is no evidence that Ebola is transmitted via air–  it only spreads via bodily fluids, such as saliva, blood or urine of infected patients. But regarding the possibility of aerosolized transmission, Peterson’s report points out that Frieden has said that “there are theoretical situations where someone who sneezes and touches his eye, mouth or nose– it would not be impossible that it could be spread that way.”  Of course, all types of bodily fluids can show up in airplane cabins or hotel rooms. You can protect yourself with frequent hand washing and use of readily available antibacterial wipes, gels and sprays which effectively kill the virus.

>To be extra careful, you can travel with a pair of latex gloves or surgical masks in the rare case you encounter a fellow traveler exhibiting symptoms of infection. This would be especially helpful if you are exposed to vomit on a flight. Flight attendant Heather Poole told ABC News, “When was the last time somebody threw up on you? Happens all the time where I work.”

>Trends-in-Medicine also reports that when the CDC’s Dr Frieden was asked how likely ebola is to be a concern with people coming back from the region who are not showing symptoms, he said, “As long as there continue to be cases in west Africa, the reality is that patients travel, individuals travel, and, as appears to have happened here, people travel before symptoms appear.”

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

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–Chris McGinnis

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Big day in big D + New carrier for ATL? + New LAX lounge + NYC grand dame facelift

Will Turkish Airlines land in Atlanta any time soon? (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

Will Turkish Airlines land in Atlanta any time soon? (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

AIRLINES

Big day approaches in Big D. In two weeks — on October 13 — the Wright Amendment expires, opening up Dallas’ close-in Love Field to a new era of long-haul domestic routes, and the major players are getting ready. Virgin America teamed up with ride-finding service Uber and with HotelTonight to offer discounts and digital promotions at a special website, www.ShareTheLoveDallas.com. Southwest has scheduled a series of concerts and a golf tournament, and will give away prizes in-flight to passengers during the first week of service. Southwest set up a website detailing its new DAL routes at www.nonstoplove.com.

Turkish Airlines eyes ATL service. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil said the fast-growing carrier plans to start flying from Istanbul to Atlanta, although he gave no date for the service. The airline already announced it will begin San Francisco flights next April. Kotil said the carrier also plans to add more frequencies to Chicago, Washington Dulles and LAX. Turkish is part of the Star Alliance, and its other U.S. routes include New York, Boston and Houston. Turkish giving the fast growing Gulf carriers like Emirates or Etihad a run for their money competing for passengers headed to the Middle East, India and Africa. A new carrier in ATL might help the airport retain its title as “world’s busiest,” which this NPR story says might be in jeopardy.

Air France strike ends. According to AP, the painful Air France strike has ended.  Meanwhile, Lufthansa braces for it’s own pilots to strike by canceling a raft of transatlantic flights.

Big smiles at Delta. If  you notice that your Delta flight attendants or gate agents have a bit more spring in their step in coming months, it could be because Delta is giving all employees a nice 5% profit-sharing payout for 2014 and has promised a 3-4% payout next year. Forbes reports: Delta will report record profitability in 2014, while its stock is a top twenty S&P 500 performer and its operational reliability and customer satisfaction are at the top of the industry.” In similar news, United Airlines announced Monday that it will offer its thousands of flight attendants an early and voluntary buyout option, a lump-sum payout worth up to $100,000. Time reports that United would not disclose the criteria needed to earn the maximum buyout but is hoping at least 2,100 employees take advantage of the offer. 

Frontier Airlines is expanding from its Denver stomping grounds with new nonstops in SFO & PHX.  (

Frontier Airlines is expanding from its Denver stomping grounds with new nonstops in SFO & PHX. (Phot0: Jim Glab)

Frontier grows at SFO, PHX. Frontier Airlines — whose strategy as a new ultra-low-cost carrier (along the lines of Spirit Air) is to nibble at the edges of major business markets — plans to start flying from San Francisco International to Houston Bush Intercontinental and Phoenix November 20. Technically, the service will break up United’s SFO-IAH monopoly and could impact its high fares, but it’s hardly a big threat since Frontier plans one flight a day vs. United’s 10 — and since Frontier levies some heavy fees, like a carry-on bag charge for low-fare passengers. SFO-Phoenix is dominated by Southwest and American/US Airways, with dozens of daily flights vs. Frontier’s planned single departure. Also on November 20, Frontier will add once-a-day flights between PHX-Houston and PHX-Salt Lake City.

People Express suspends service. After a big kick off last summer, Virginia-based People Express is already hitting hard times. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the carrier suspended service suddenly last week. But it said that it might crank up again by Oct 16 according to a press release. Hmm.

Cost of a disrupted trip: $1,475. The most common “travel mishap,” according to a new survey of 500 business travelers, is a flight disrupted by a delay, cancellation or missed connection (like those entangled in the Chicago air traffic shutdown on Friday) — and the average cost to the traveler caught up in the problem is $1,475 in missed work and out-of-pocket expenses, according to the Global Business Travel Association. If the mishap occurs overseas, the average cost jumps to $2,148. When a mishap causes the traveler to miss work, the average time lost is 2.3 days. What was your worst ‘travel mishap’ and how did it impact your schedule?

Plan now: How to get a free trip home for the holidays

AA plans DFW-Beijing flights. American Airlines wants to add Beijing as the newest transpacific spoke from its Dallas/Ft. Worth hub. The carrier last week filed for government approval to begin daily 777-200ER flights from DFW to Beijing’s Capital International Airport sometime next summer. AA already flies from DFW to Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo, and it serves Beijing from Chicago O’Hare.

JetBlueFlyFilogoWi-Fi progress at JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic. JetBlue has only installed its super-speed Fly-Fi Internet service on 70 planes thus far — and is adding a dozen aircraft a month — but it said more than a million devices have already connected to the free Ka-band satellite service. “On JetBlue we see 40 percent of customers logged on, while other airlines get single-digits only,” a JetBlue official said. Fly-Fi claims data speeds of 12 to 20 Mbps …. Wi-Fi provider Gogo said Virgin Atlantic has signed on to become the first European carrier to install its satellite-based 2Ku Wi-Fi service fleetwide, offering “unprecedented bandwidth.”

Lower fares at ATL thanks to Spirit. Ultra low-fare carrier Spirit Air’s entry into the Atlanta-Detroit market has resulted in lower fares on not just Spirit, but on Delta and Southwest, which had significantly jacked up fares over the last two years, according to the Detroit Free Press. In related news, when United announced a big downsizing of its Cleveland operation several months back, Frontier started beefing up its presence there, and now Spirit Airlines is doing the same. Spirit will begin new CLE service in mid-January to Orlando, Tampa and Ft. Myers; on February 5 to Ft. Lauderdale, DFW and Las Vegas; and April 16 to Los Angeles and Myrtle Beach.

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AIRPORTS

Southwest's expansion at Denver

Southwest’s expansion at Denver International’s Terminal C (Photo DIA)

Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at LAX. In airport news this week, Virgin Atlantic will build its own Clubhouse for Upper Class passengers at Los Angeles International. No details yet, but it will occupy 4,000 square feet and open next spring. Currently, the airline’s premium flyers use Virgin America’s and Air New Zealand’s LAX lounges …Los Angeles International has installed 40 of those new automated passport control kiosks for arriving passengers in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, and Delta opened up 10 of the devices in Terminal 5 .

Uber, Lyft, Sidecar back in hot water. Ride sharing companies are facing a new round of legal threats from city officials in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Seems like a never ending story… and thankfully, Uber and others seem to just ignore the threats and continue hauling business travelers around town and to the airport. In a related note, Uber has reportedly reinstated it’s flat $65 fare between San Francisco and SFO. TravelSkills riders in Pacific Heights had complained loudly about airport trips costing $95 or more… apparently Uber heard the squawks and fares are back down. Have you noticed? 

Southwest grows at DEN.Denver International cut the ribbon on a five-gate expansion of Terminal C, allowing Southwest Airlines to expand…pushing Frontier into other cities and keeping United on its toes.

Free wi-fi at Houston airports. Houston started rolling out free Wi-Fi at its airports; it’s now available in all terminal areas at Hobby, and in Terminals A and D at Bush Intercontinental; it should be in all IAH spaces by year’s end …

Speeding up at Ft Lauderdale Flight delays at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International should ease up considerably following the opening last week of a new 8,000-foot runway there.

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HOTELS

The grand old InterConti is going dark for an extensive (and much needed) 18-month facelift.

Manhattan’s  grand old Barclay InterContinental is going dark for an extensive (and much needed) 18-month facelift. (Photo: IHG)

NYC property closes; new Ritz-Carlton in Florida. The InterContinental New York Barclay Hotel in Midtown Manhattan has closed its doors for a much needed,  18-month, $175 million renovation. (The Barclay is located alongside another NYC grand dame that needs the same type of loving restoration…which hotel are wer referring to?? Leave your guesses and comments below!) In other hotel news: Florida’s One Bal Harbour Resort north of Miami Beach will become The Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour, Miami effective October 2 … A former Sheraton a mile from Washington’s Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., is now the Westin Crystal City.

In Case You Missed It…

>Here’s how to save money on overseas mobile roaming.

>The latest on the great in-flight voice calling debate. (Check out your comments! They’re great. Thanks!)

>Try these tips for making free or low-cost calls from overseas.

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis


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Taxi usage down 65% + Newark, LAX upgrades + Plush transfers at DEN + TSA wait times decline

United's upgraded terminal at Newark could soon look a lot like this one-- which is Delta's a La Guardia. (Photo: OTG)

United’s upgraded terminal at Newark could soon look a lot like this one–> Delta’s Terminals C&D  at La Guardia. (Photo: OTG)

Terminal renovations at Newark. United Airlines is teaming up with OTG Management for a $120 million overhaul of Newark Liberty’s Terminal C over the next 18 months. UA’s hub terminal will get 55 new dining venues, and passengers will have free access to thousands of iPads “to track their flight, order from chef-created menus, and purchase travel amenities for delivery directly to their seat in the terminal while browsing the Internet,” United said. (This set up should sound very similar to Delta flyers who use New York La Guardia airport frequently– it’s the exact same concept.)

LAX upgrade. Meanwhile, LAX officials last week marked the groundbreaking for a $508 million makeover of Southwest’s Terminal 1 at that airport. It will get a new 12-lane security checkpoint, automated checked bag system, new and expanded dining and retail concessions; and relocation of the terminal entrances to the west end of the building.

Air France Update: Over the weekend, Air France pilots extended their crippling strike until Sept 26. The French carrier is flying about 40% of its flights.

SF Taxi biz down a whopping 65% (Photo: Athan / Flickr)

SF Taxi biz down a whopping 65% (Photo: Athan / Flickr)

Taxi usage in SF down 65%! Ride-finding apps like Uber and Lyft have become so popular in tech-savvy San Francisco (where Uber launched in 2009)  that the city’s traditional taxi business is in a downward spiral. A new report presented to city transportation officials said that the number of taxi trips in San Francisco has plummeted by 65 percent over the past 15 months. Have you switch away from cabs in favor of Uber, Lyft or other services in SF or elsewhere? Please leave your comments below. For me, I’m currently stuck in Las Vegas, a surprisingly non-Uber city, and feel lost without it! (Want $30 off your first Uber ride? Click here!)

Mercedes tarmac transfers at DEN. United’s best customers (Global First flyers and Global Services members) now have the opportunity for Mercedes-Benz SUV tarmac transfers to their connecting flights at Denver International. The service is already available at Chicago, Houston, Newark, San Francisco, LA and Dulles. (Something else that should be familiar to Delta’s ultra-elites who get tarmac transfers in Porsches.)

Runway closure at ATL. The northernmost runway at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson closed down last week for paving work that will continue through October 15. Four runways remain open, and because September and October are slow traffic months, “the runway closure is not expected to significantly affect flight traffic,” a spokesman said. However, TravelSkills reader RD begs to differ: On Sunday morning he wrote: “Just landed this morning at ATL and this is already creating a mess for arrivals. It added about 10 minutes to our taxi time.”

Inside the first class section of a United E175 (Embraer)

Inside the first class section of a United E175 (Embraer)

United adds more 76-seat jets. United Airlines is broadening its commitment to the Embraer 175 by ordering another 50 of the two-class, 76-seat aircraft for United Express, to be operated by a subsidiary of Republic Airways Holdings. The carrier is already taking delivery of its first batch of 70 E175s; the next 50 will come online from 2015 through 2017. The aircraft offer first class, Economy Plus and regular economy seats. Next year, United Express will start to remove 31 Q400 turboprops from its fleet. Last week, United Express started deploying the E175 at San Francisco, on the SFO-St Louis route; on October 26, it will put the planes on SFO-Austin, Dallas and Minneapolis flights.

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WestJet, Air Canada add bag fees. Canadian carrier WestJet, which flies to a number of U.S. cities and has code-sharing pacts with Delta and American, is ending its “first checked bag free” policy for passengers who buy its bottom-tier Econo fares. The new $25 fee for the first checked bag is effective for travel starting October 29. The carrier also launched a new WestJet Rewards tier program with three levels — teal, silver and gold — starting October 29; it’s based on spending rather than miles flown. In response, Air Canada — which already has a first-bag fee on transborder flights — said it would impose a similar $25 bag fee starting November 2 on domestic passengers traveling on its economy class Tango fares.

Routes: DL grows in Texas; Frontier comes to ORD. Delta Connection/Compass Airlines will begin four daily LAX-DFW flights on November 3; add a third daily LAX-Austin roundtrip November 2; and start twice-daily LAX-San Antonio flights April 7, 2015 … Frontier Airlines started flying out of Chicago O’Hare last week, with six flights a week to Washington Dulles.

So, what do you think of Spirit Airlines flamboyant new livery? Comments below, please! (Photo: Spirit)

So, what do you think of Spirit Airlines flamboyant new livery? Comments below, please! (Photo: Spirit)

AIRPORTS

TSA: Line times are down. The TSA says it is meeting its goal of getting all travelers through security after a wait of less than 20 minutes. From June through August of this year, the agency said, 99.6 percent of all travelers waited in security lines less than 20 minutes — and 99.98 percent of those in the expedited PreCheck lanes “moved through the checkpoint in less than 10 minutes.” And that’s with a total of 173 million persons screened during those summer months. Do TSA’s numbers about waiting times sound right to you, based on your experience?

SFO encourages networking, brainstorming. The newest public facility at San Francisco International is oddly called “#Converge@flySFO” — an 850-square-foot space in the International Terminal, boarding area G, on Level 3 near Gate G93. Equipped with tables, chairs, power outlets, Wi-Fi and a wall-sized white board with markers, “the space is designed to allow travelers to meet and exchange thoughts on technology, shared economies, and ideas that could make the world a better place,” a spokesman said. Persons who want to use it should post their topic, date and time via social media channels using the hashtag #Converge, and tagging @flySFO so the airport can repost it.

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HOTELS

Marriott wants maids tipped. In thousands of Marriott hotel rooms across the group’s various brands, guests will soon start seeing envelopes encouraging them to tip their maid. Housekeeping workers reportedly receive tips less often than other hotel staff, and the company wants to make sure they’re not forgotten. It suggests $1 to $5 a night, depending on the room rate. We’d love to hear you sound off about hotel tipping and Marriott’s moves. Please leave your comments below.

In Case You Missed It…

>Nostalgia buffs can have dinner in a Pan Am 747.

>New airport concept: Park for free, rent your car while you’re away.

>Here’s a credit card for travelers with big bonuses and easy redemptions.

>Here’s how to find widebodies on domestic routes

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

CLICK>>Take a scroll thru what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <CLICK

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Free inflight texting + Another 747 flies away + Lufthansa’s new premium economy + PreCheck not so special

AIRLINES

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert addresses the media at the Un-carrier 7.0 event  in San Francisco. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert reveals new Gogo partnership in San Francisco. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

Free inflight texting & voicemail. Starting September 17, T-Mobile customers can get free in-flight texting and voicemail service on all 2,000 U.S. aircraft equipped with Gogo Inflight Internet Wi-Fi. “To access the free messaging and voicemail services, T-Mobile customers will need to have their Wi-Fi Calling-enabled phone in airplane mode and connected to Gogo Wi-Fi.  From there, they simply launch their browser, verify they’re a T-Mobile customer, and follow the instructions,” Gogo told TravelSkills. (Interesting side: Gogo’s stock jumped 10% after this new deal became public last week.) If you don’t already use T-Mobile, does this make you want to switch? Leave your comments below. 

Click to see TVOne news report on Air New Zealand's final 747 flight from SFO

Click to see TVOne news report on Air New Zealand’s final 747 flight from SFO

End of an era at Air New Zealand. The latest airline to mothball its last 747 is Air New Zealand, which has flown the Boeing jumbos for 33 years. Its final 747-400 left San Francisco for Auckland last week, then was taken out of service. The carrier now uses 777s and 787s on transpacific routes. Meanwhile, Air New Zealand will add a third daily roundtrip to its LAX-Auckland route three days a week from April through October 2015.

Southwest boosts on-time record. Has Southwest Airlines figured out how to overcome its recent problems with late flights? The airline’s August performance showed a big improvement in on-time operations, up 10 percentage points from July when it (and JetBlue) were stuck at the very bottom of the the DOT’s on-time performance rankings.

Recent: How to choose the best new carry-on bag

Lufthansa's new premium economy seat on display at the Global Business Travel Association convention in August (Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa’s new premium economy seat on display at the Global Business Travel Association convention in August (Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa details premium economy service. Star Alliance member Lufthansa will debut its long-promised premium economy section in a few months, and it has posted a new website with details of what the service will provide to passengers and its planned schedule of deployment on international routes. It will be introduced starting in December on 747-8s from FRA to ORD, LAX and IAD; by late April on A380s to IAH, JFK, MIA and SFO; and in May 2015 on A340-600s to LAX, EWR and SFO.

Airline Wi-Fi searches. If you’re flying on United and you’d like to know in advance whether or not your aircraft is Wi-Fi equipped, you can look it up on this United website.  Passengers on Southwest can do the same thing with the carrier’s online Wi-Fi Finder. United & Southwest have taken the proactive step of notifying passengers on the day before their flight if the plane has wi-fi. (Whether or not the wi-fi is operational is another question ….)

Popular on TravelSkills: Another British Airways A380 for the US

The new soy ginger marinated salmon salad now onboard Virgin America (Photo: Virgin America)

The new soy ginger marinated salmon salad now onboard Virgin America (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America enhances front cabin menus. First class flyers on Virgin America will see a slate of new menu options this fall from celebrity chefs like Hiro Sone, Staffan Terje, Chris Beerman and Elizabeth Binder. New entrees include things like a grilled mushroom medley, soy ginger marinated salmon salad, roasted chicken with artichokes, ginger pepper noodles, and Marrakesh chicken salad. NOTE: If you fly Virgin America into San Francisco before Dec 14, bring your boarding pass to the Humphry Slocombe ice cream store in the Ferry Building marketplace for a free scoop! (It’s also served onboard flights departing SFO.)

Texas all-you-can-fly air service plans autumn start. A Texas entrepreneur plans to launch a new small-plane air service this fall with an all-you-can-fly policy for flat-fee memberships, according to the Dallas Business Journal. Called Rise, its eight-passenger Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprops will initially concentrate on the busy Dallas-Houston market with high-frequency service. Memberships will cost $1,650 to $2,650 a month, and Rise will use its own terminal at Love Field. The former CEO of California’s Surf Air — which has a similar business model — is executive chairman of Rise.

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AIRPORTS

Mock up of what the new dining terrace at LAX Terminal 2 will look like

Mock up of what the new dining terrace at LAX Terminal 2 will look like

LAX shows plans for T2 overhaul. The Westfield Group, in partnership with Los Angeles World Airports, has created a video showcasing its plans for bringing 20 new retail and dining concessionaires to LAX’s Terminal 2. The revamped T2 will have a dozen dining outlets — twice as many as it has now — and will feature outlets of several local restaurants. The project, now underway, should be finished next year. (Currently, T2 primarily serves international carriers.) Terminal 2 is home to ten domestic and international airlines, including Aeroméxico, Air Canada, Hawaiian Air and Virgin Atlantic. 

Wi-Fi Update: Sites monitor airports, hotels. The folks at Cheapflights.com have compiled a handy guide to Wi-Fi at 25 major U.S. airports, including how to access it, whether it’s free or paid. Meanwhile, hotelwifitest.com — which lets users see the data speeds typically achieved at major hotels — enhanced its service so the results can be viewed directly by users of major hotel booking sites. “After a one-click install, the extension will automatically display the WiFi information block whenever you open a hotel page on Hotels.com, Expedia, Booking.com, or TripAdvisor,” the company told us.

SECURITY

TSA: Most travelers now use expedited lanes. Remember the early days of TSA’s PreCheck program when you were whisked through expedited screening while everyone else lingered in long lines? Those days are gone: TSA now sends more than half of all travelers through the expedited checks — not just PreCheck members, but various categories of low-risk flyers and persons selected randomly from regular lines. This is reportedly reducing wait times for all passengers — but early adopters of PreCheck certainly don’t feel so special any more.

CARS

Volkswagen's sporty new GTI now in the National fleet (Photo: VW)

Volkswagen’s sporty new GTI now in the National fleet (Photo: VW)

New cars at National. Members of National’s Emerald Club will have access starting this fall to new 2015 models in the company’s Emerald Aisle locations nationwide, including the Volkswagen GTI, Chrysler 200, Dodge Challenger, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda6, Mustang and Lincoln MKC. Some locations will also offer new Mazda MX-5 Miatas and Hyundai Velosters.

HOTELS

Marriott innovation: Healthy food from a machine. Hotel vending machines typically dispense candy bars and high-sodium snacks. But the Chicago Marriott O’Hare is trying out a new option: Fresh, healthy food from a vending machine. Priced from $3 to $12, options include things like the Detox Salad (kale, quinoa, fruits and beans); low-fat Greek yogurt with berries; and chicken breast from antibiotic-free, humanely raised birds.

In Case You Missed It…

Chris evaluates Virgin America’s LAX Loft lounge.

British Airways is bringing its A380 to San Francisco.

You can pile up bonus points with these fall hotel promotions

Southwest Airlines unveils a new logo and aircraft livery

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How to choose the best carry-on bag

A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Another British Airways A380 for the US

British Airways to spruce up its 747s

CLEAR opens security fast lane at SF Giants’ AT&T Park

United’s newest jet + More Delta to UK + New Asian carrier at SFO + Grand plans for ATL & MEX airports

Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Virgin America's Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America’s Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Anyone who has flown through Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport knows that, despite efforts to gussy it up, it is a hulking relic from the 1960s.

To get inside, you must first pass through a TSA screening area wedged in a cramped, low-ceilinged and awkward space (that luckily has a mostly fast-moving PreCheck line). Once inside, there’s a Burger King, a Starbucks, a grab and go bakery and a few Hudson’s news shops. The outpost of LA’s popular Gladstone’s seafood restaurant is nice, but there’s frequently a line to get in, especially when flights are delayed.

Terminal 3 is the LAX home of Allegiant, Virgin America, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines- all low-cost, low-fare carriers that don’t really have the funds for deep terminal renovations like Delta has underway at Terminal 5…or that the major international carriers (and the city) have created at the outstanding new Bradley International terminal.

Virgin's LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin’s LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Standing out from the drab dreariness of Terminal 3 is Virgin America’s colorful LAX Loft. I have known about the Loft for a while– via Virgin’s PR machine, from TravelSkills readers, and from reading the lounge’s mixed reviews in the blogosphere. It’s been open since 2012.

Since I’ve had relatively good luck with flight delays at LAX, I have never had reason to decamp from the main terminal, so I’d never seen it in person.

When Virgin invited me to check it out during my recent trip to LA, I jumped at the chance.

Here’s the lowdown:

Entering the Virgins' LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entering the Virgins’ LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entry: Anyone traveling on Virgin America or its partner airlines can pay a $40 fee to enter the Loft. Full-fare first class passengers on long haul flights get in free. So do Gold and Silver Elevate members with their annually allotted day passes. Priority Pass or Lounge Club cardholders (plus companions) can also get in without a fee by presenting a valid membership card.

It’s located on the upper level of the terminal main gate area, accessible by elevators or a staircase and is open daily from 6am to 11pm. LAX is one of Virgin’s two primary hubs, so there is a steady stream of passengers all day long who might duck into the club.

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The views: The club’s most outstanding feature? The breathtaking runway views. Plane-spotters can just sit back, relax and watch those colorful tails LAX is known for float by on the runway. Endlessly entertaining!

Wi-fi: free, password-protected, very fast and much better than the LAX’s free wi-fi. Plus, in Virgin style, there there are plenty of power plugs all over the place.

Design: It’s fun, mood lit and very much in keeping with what you see onboard Virgin America flights- lots of red, white and black. Modern furnishings (like Frank Gehry tables and big red Vitra sofas) float on a glossy gray (recycled material) floor. Regrettably, there is scant desk or table space for business travelers planning to get some work done. There’s a lively bar area, several separate seating areas, bathrooms, a marble-topped snack buffet and big views out to runways. There’s even a pair of powerful binoculars to check out what’s happening outside the big floor to ceiling windows.

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Food: Basic but good. There used to be a more elaborate buffet when Virgin Australia passengers used this lounge. But since that carrier moved into the Bradley International terminal last December, the repast is now on par with what you may find at most domestic US airline lounges- the current Loft menu in the morning includes pastries, bagels, breads, yogurt, fresh fruits, juices, cereal, and an espresso bar. In the afternoon/evenings, there is hot soup, breads, a cheese platter, fresh fruit, cookies and grab-and-go snacks like Krave Jerky and mixed nuts.

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what's going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what’s going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Cocktails: Complimentary! I noted booze brands such as Glenfiddich, Jack Daniels, Tanqueray Sapphire, Bacardi and Sauza. Plus there are a couple vats of fruited, iced waters and an espresso bar. In addition to the usual beverages  you can also order “Lofty Libations” crafted by the bartender that include the Virgintini, Mile-High Margarita and Runway Ruddy Mary.

If you were stuck at LAX would you pony up the $40 for a visit? Have you visited Virgin’s LAX Loft? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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Another British Airways A380 for the US

On BA's A380, business class is an upstairs-downstairs affair (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On BA’s A380, business class is an upstairs-downstairs affair (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

British Airways announced today that it will deploy a brand-new Airbus A380 double-decker between San Francisco International and London Heathrow starting in April 2015.

This will be BA’s third US destination to get the big bird, after Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

BA’s Sean Doyle, EVP, Americas, told TravelSkills that the decision to put the A380 on the SFO run was an easy one, “This helps bring together the burgeoning innovation economies in the Bay Area and London. It’s a logical fit and a sophisticated product for a sophisticated market,” he told us, citing the aircraft’s advanced inflight entertainment system, fuel efficiency and smooth, quiet ride.

The A380’s two decks carry a whopping 469 passengers, with 14 suites in first, 97  seats in business, 55 in premium economy and 303 in economy. (See BA’s A380 page)

What makes BA’s A380 unique is that all premium seats are at the front of the plane: first class is downstairs (“main deck”) in the nose, and business class is both upstairs and downstairs. Economy sections are in the rear half of the plane. Most other airlines with A380s put all business or first class seats upstairs only.

Related: Emirates to bring its big A380 to San Francisco & Houston | Trip Report: LAX-London on a BA A380

Premium economy onboard BA's new Airbus A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on BA’s new Airbus A380 is configured 3-4-3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

British Airways has two daily flights between SFO and London. Starting in April 2015 (no firm date announced yet), BA will operate the A380 on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (#286). On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, BA will operate its Boeing 747-400. BA will continue to use a 747 for its second daily flight from SFO (#284).

BA’s Doyle told TravelSkills that the A380 and 747 will share the route “for the moment” but could not elaborate on longer term aircraft deployments in the SFO-LHR market. (Click here for news about a big refurb for BA’s 747s)

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British Airways posh first class suites onboard its new Airbus A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

British Airways nice, big first class suites onboard its new Airbus A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fares on both the A380 and the 747 will be the same, but Doyle expects there to be more demand for the newer aircraft. Plus, of BA’s two daily flights, the A380 is the later one in both directions, allowing more time in either San Francisco or London.

When BA launched A380 service from Los Angeles on what it calls the “Red Carpet Route” to London last fall, TravelSkills was there. Here’s our trip report from that fun ride!

Have you flown on an A380 yet? What did you think? Will you give this new flight a try instead of competitors like United or Virgin Atlantic? Please leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis

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British Airways to spruce up its 747s

A British Airways 747 prepares for takeoff at San Francisco International (Photo: Angelo Angelo - Flickr)

A British Airways 747 prepares for takeoff at San Francisco International (Photo: Angelo Angelo – Flickr)

Good news for passengers used to flying British Airways’ Boeing 747 jets from San Francisco, New York and elsewhere. BA is helping the “Queen of the Skies” age gracefully with plans to outfit eighteen 747-400s with new entertainment throughout, and upgrade seats in the economy and premium economy cabins.

BA admits these “much-loved” planes, which “have a special place in the heart of many of our customers” need sprucing up to compare favorably with the draw of younger birds, such as its big new A380s, 787 Dreamliners, or its shiny new 777s like the ones recently put into service on the Atlanta-Heathrow run.

The big news for passengers, especially those whose travel budgets don’t stretch to the airline’s business class cabin, is an upgrade to the entertainment and power systems on board. BA’s “next-generation” entertainment system will offer  twice as much content and a brand new tablet-style interface. BA’s introduced its unusual forward-and-rear-facing business class seats in 2000, but the current version dates to 2006.

Most of BA’s 747s have seen refurbs of the first class section in recent years, and the airline isn’t currently selling the “old” First cabin as First Class. Instead, lucky high-status business class flyers will get to sit in what used to be first class, though they’ll see the business class service. British Airways confirmed to TravelSkills that the very small number of 747s that still carry the “old” first cabin will be withdrawn from service next year.

Related: British Airways adds a new A380 in the US

British Airway's inflight entertainment getting an upgrade in coach (Photo: John Walton)

British Airway’s inflight entertainment getting an upgrade in coach (Photo: John Walton)

British Airways has been concentrating on its inflight entertainment recently, with the addition of content from HBO and the Discovery Channel, with new programming like a “paws and relax” section for the pet lovers, or a video showing the relaxing monotony of the sights you’d see on a Norwegian train journey.

Also in the cards: a full universal (UK, US, EU, etc) power outlet in premium economy, and a USB socket in economy. That’s a big step up from the annoying (and aged) EmPower port in premium economy and a big fat nothing down the back.

As for the seats, unfortunately there’s no upgrade planned to bring the seats up to the standard set in BA’s newer A380 or 777-300ER planes — see here— although the airline will try to make them look similar.

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BA's premium economy seats (British Airways)

BA’s premium economy seats (British Airways)

They’ll still be the same seats, but “new seat foams will be installed in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus to increase customer comfort and new style seat covers fitted to improve appearance and match those on the A380 and 787,” BA says.

Related: Boeing 747s slowly disappearing from US

The refurb is going to take a while: British Airways says 18 refits won’t begin until August 2015, and will be completed a year later, in August 2016. Unfortunately, since the seats are a like-for-like refit, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to tell if you’ll have a refurbished bird when booking.

The airline has nearly 50 747s still in use, though as more Airbus A380, Boeing 787 and particularly Airbus A350 aircraft reach the fleet the older planes (which date back as far as 1989) will be retired. According to Flightglobal, BA will speed up the retirement of older planes as larger 787-9 planes and the bigger A350s start arriving from 2017.

In the meantime, hope is not lost for a more modern experience on British Airways, which has finished taking delivery of a fleet of 12 Boeing 777-300ER planes with new seats and all the mod cons. These new planes started flying on BA’s Atlanta flights just this month. And of course, there’s BA’s new A380s from LAX, soon from Washington, Dulles, and from San Francisco next April.

-John Walton

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CLEAR opens security fast lane at SF Giants’ AT&T Park

You'll soon see something like this at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Starting September 9, you’ll see something like this at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

From frequent flyers to fly balls, a special fast track lane for ballpark security is coming to AT&T Park, home to the San Francisco Giants.

A pilot program starting September 9th and running through the end of the season will be operated by CLEAR, the pay-to-enter trusted traveler airport security company currently operating at nine airports nationwide.

At AT&T Park, all fans have been screened with metal detectors or handheld wands this season, with the Major League Baseball organization requiring that all ballparks begin using metal detectors by the start of the 2015 season. Sometimes all that special screening can lead to backups.

“Ballparks are similar to airports as a lot of fans are going through security in a short time period,” CEO Caryn Seidman Becker tells TravelSkills. “During this pop up pilot, CLEAR members should expect the same great experience they have at the airport. CLEAR is all about making this process more efficient and effective.”

Related: Should I renew my CLEAR card?

How? After registering with the program, “CLEAR’s secure identity platform ensures you are who you say you are and you can use that identity in the airport and beyond. CLEAR is focused on bringing members an easier, faster, more efficient experience where they live, work and travel,” Seidman Becker promises — but wouldn’t say exactly how much time she expects members to save.

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Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 10.40.37 AM

Pre-game queues swell at AT&T Park (Photo: BullCityDave / Flickr)

But here’s how things will work at AT&T Park:

• The CLEAR lane can be found at the Marina Gate.

• The pilot will begin Tuesday, September 9th and run for the last 10 games of the season.

• CLEAR members must bring their CLEAR card to use the new pop up lane.

• If they bring a friend who is not a member, their +1 can use the line directly next to CLEAR.

CLEAR’s usefulness at airports gets a mixed reception from frequent flyers — and TravelSkills readers on our recent article about renewing CLEAR.

TSA PreCheck proved part of CLEAR’s undoing five years ago–  but with PreCheck lines increasingly choked by passengers unfamiliar with how the process works, CLEAR is starting to look more attractive again.

CLEAR lane

Not sure whether you want to spring for the $179 annual membership? “As busy travelers return to the grind, they can enroll with a two month free trial and get other “travel pro” tools as well for free until September 15th,” Seidman Becker tells us. “Just use code PROTRAVEL at checkout.  Members can always add a family member for only $50 more. All children under 18 are free and don’t require a CLEARcard. Kids can accompany CLEARmembers through the pop-up CLEARlane.”

Bottom line: if you fly frequently to the nine airports where CLEAR operates, you might find it useful. That’s especially true at airports where security can be swamped with vacationers, like Orlando or (soon) Las Vegas.

And now, AT&T Park.

–John Walton

UPDATE: Clear has published its own web page about the new fast lane at AT&T Park.

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United’s newest jet + More Delta to UK + New Asian carrier at SFO + Grand plans for ATL & MEX airports

 

United's "stretch" version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is headed for Melbourne (Photo: United)

United’s “stretch” version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is headed for Melbourne (Photo: United)

AIRLINES

United gets its first 787-9. Seems like just yesterday that airlines started flying the initially troubled 787 Dreamliner. But now United has taken delivery of the first new version, a stretched model called the 787-9 that can accommodate more passengers and fly longer distances (8,550 miles v. 8,200 for the 787-8). United’s version will have 48 BusinessFirst seats and 204 in economy (88 of them extra-legroom Economy Plus seats). The first of UA’s 26 787-9s will initially operate mostly between LAX and Houston, but it will begin regular international service October 26 between LAX and Melbourne.

Related: 5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows | ANA’s new Dreamliner to Tokyo

Delta adds transatlantic routes. As part of a route realignment with joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic, Delta will take over one of Virgin’s two daily Newark-London Heathrow flights starting March 29, 2015, and start its own daily JFK-Manchester service beginning June 2. For its part, Virgin plans to eliminate its Asian routes from LHR to Tokyo and Mumbai in order to beef up transatlantic services in several markets, as we reported last week.

China Southern to launch new SFO nonstops in December (Photo: Wikimedia)

China Southern to launch new SFO nonstops in December (Photo: Wikimedia)

New Routes: SAS, China Southern, Alaska. SAS has started flying six times a week between Houston Bush Intercontinental and Stavanger, Norway, using a 44-seat Boeing Business Jet (a specially configured 737-700 with all-business-class service, regrettably with angled lie-flat seats) for energy industry execs headed to Scandinavia’s gateway city for North Sea drilling operations China Southern plans to start a new North American route to San Francisco from Guangzhou and Wuhan three times a week starting December 16, with a 787. China Southern is part of the Delta-led SkyTeam alliance … Alaska Airlines last week added a new transcontinental spoke to its Seattle hub, operating one daily roundtrip between SEA and Baltimore-Washington International. Alaska also kicked off daily SEA-Detroit flights last week, and will add SEA-Albuquerque September 18.

Survey: Travelers want fee transparency. Do you have a hard time finding all the details about airlines’ various fees and charges when you book a ticket? A new survey of 1,000 air travelers found that consumers overwhelmingly support a proposed Transportation Department rule that would require airlines to share their fees for baggage and seat assignments through travel agents and on third-party websites. In fact, the survey found most consumers believe airlines should be required to sell ancillary services “wherever they sell their tickets,” and not just on their own websites.

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AIRPORTS

ATL will get more parking, other improvements. An Atlanta City Council committee last week heard a report on planned improvements coming to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Among first — due in the next couple of years — are a project to more than double parking capacity by replacing the existing four-story north and south parking garages with new ones of eight or nine stories; and the addition of a new taxiway that should speed up aircraft movements. Longer term, the master plan calls for building up to nine more gates east of the international terminal and eventually adding a sixth runway.

Futuristic new airport for Mexico City arriving soon (Photo: )

Futuristic new airport for Mexico City arriving soon (Photo: Foster & Partners  )

Mexico unveils plans for new airport. Officials in Mexico City have revealed the winning design for a new airport that will replace the aging Benito Juarez International. Plans call for a $9.2 billion facility that should have three runways operating by 2020 on a dry lakebed site close to the existing airport. Its first phase will handle 50 million passengers a year (vs. the current airport’s 32 million), but expansion plans over several decades call for a six-runway airport that could accommodate 100 million. The design from U.K. architect Norman Foster and Mexico’s Fernando Romero calls for a single large terminal with soaring interior spaces.

Related: BBC Business Trip: Mexico City

HOTELS

Hotel rates keep going up, up, up. Have you finalized your 2015 travel budget yet? Maybe you should allow more for hotel costs. Lodging specialists at PwC US say they expect U.S. hotels to achieve their highest occupancy level in 20 years in 2015 — 64.8 percent — and that will drive room rates up by an average of 5.7 percent next year. That’s on top of a 4.4 percent increase in 2014, and it represents the biggest rate increase since the pre-recessionary boom year of 2006. The company said hotels expect to see especially strong gains in group business — i.e., meetings and conventions.

Big US brands like Hyatt are making major inroads into Asia-- this is the new Hyatt in Suzhou (Photo:  Hyatt)

Sleek designs at the brand new Hyatt Regency Suzhou (Photo: Hyatt)

Rebranding in London; new hotels in China. Less than two years after it opened, central London’s InterContinental Westminster is ending its affiliation with InterContinental this month and taking on a new identity with the Hilton family as the Conrad London St. JamesGot business in China?Three major chains have openings there this month, including Marriott’s Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing, overlooking Beijing’s Forbidden City; Starwood’s St. Regis Chengdu in “the Silicon Valley of China;” and the new Hyatt Regency Suzhou in eastern China’s Suzhou Industrial Park, an hour by car from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.

In Case You Missed It …

> Delta partner Virgin Atlantic has revealed U.S. expansion plans for 2015.

> Airline change fees are getting ridiculous. Should they be waived for elites?

> Chris checks out the changes on Larry Ellison’s Hawaiian island of Lanai.

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic A330-300 with the 1-2-1 reverse herringbone config (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic A330-300 with the 1-2-1 herringbone configuration (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Virgin Atlantic announced some major network changes today that will mean more opportunities for Delta flyers to give the popular Virgin product a try…and earn or burn SkyMiles while doing so. 

Here’s what’s coming our way in 2015:

>A year-round daily roundtrip between London Heathrow and Detroit

>A new daily nonstop between Atlanta and Manchester

>An additional summertime nonstop between London and Atlanta and San Francisco 

>Additional frequencies on the busy routes between London and New York JFK and Los Angeles

>An additional daily flight between London and Miami

The Upper Class bar on a new Virgin Atlantic A330-300 (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

The Upper Class bar on a new Virgin Atlantic A330-300 (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Some notes:

Flights are not yet loaded and bookable, but soon the added capacity will mean more award seats for Delta SkyMiles members.

Virgin’s nonstops between Atlanta and Heathrow (announced last May) begin on October 26 using Airbus A330s.

Virgin has also announced that it will build a new Clubhouse airport lounge at LAX.

It’s aging fleet of Airbus A340s will soon be replaced with 16 new Boeing 787 Dreamliners– the first of which will be deployed 0n Boston-London in October.

In order to bulk up in the U.S., Virgin is withdrawing from several markets elsewhere– it will cease flying from London to Tokyo, Mumbai, Vancouver, and Cape Town.

Related: Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta! 

Here's how Virgin's flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s how Virgin’s flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s a look at Virgin Atlantic’s new long haul network in the U.S. including the new flights which come on board in 2015:

  • Atlanta/Heathrow
  • Atlanta/Manchester
  • Boston/Heathrow
  • Chicago/Heathrow
  • Detroit/Heathrow
  • Las Vegas/ Manchester
  • Las Vegas/Glasgow
  • Los Angeles/Heathrow
  • Miami/Heathrow
  • New York (JFK)/Heathrow
  • New York (Newark)/Heathrow
  • Orlando/Belfast
  • Orlando/Glasgow
  • Orlando/Manchester
  • San Francisco/Heathrow
  • Washington DC/Heathrow
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Here's how Virgin Atlantic flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s how Virgin Atlantic flights ATL-LHR appear on Delta.com

For now, Delta flyers can earn SkyMiles (including MQMs) or burn SkyMiles for Virgin Atlantic flights– when you book flights on Delta.com, Virgin flights are shown as options. However, it’s still uncertain when or if Delta Medallions will be able to use miles or Global Upgrade certificates for upgrades. Delta SkyMiles Gold Medallion (and higher) members get dedicated check in, priority security, boarding and baggage when flying Virgin Atlantic. 

In the past, Virgin’s Upper Class business class product and over-the-top lounges far exceeded anything Delta could offer. But since Delta has been upping its game lately, the product and service gap is narrowing. In what situations would you choose Virgin over Delta… or vice versa? Please leave your comments below.

– Chris McGinnis

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United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

BYO device entertainment systems working on United flights (Photo: United)

BYO device entertainment systems finally working on more United flights (Photo: United)

AIRLINES

United expands in-flight streaming. Passengers on most United Airlines A319s and A320s can now (finally) stream entertainment in-flight. A United official said at an industry conference in Las Vegas that the airline recently activated in-flight entertainment streaming on almost three-fourths of its 152 Airbus narrow-bodies, with the rest coming soon. In-flight streaming — which is already available on UA’s 23 747-400s and all 777-200s to Hawaii — was dependent on completing the installation of in-flight Wi-Fi equipment, he noted. (Have you tried it yet? How did it work?)

ATL flyers short-changed by merger? Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran could prove to be more costly than beneficial for Atlanta-area flyers, according to an analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The paper said that when the government approved the combination, it didn’t foresee Southwest’s drawdown of service at ATL, giving more of the market to an already-dominant Delta. The report said Southwest/AirTran has already cut competition on more than a dozen routes out of ATL, and that Delta’s market share there has grown from 78 to 83 percent.

Ryanair rolls out business fares. Business travelers have never been too fond of Ryanair, the intra-European airline known for ultra-low fares and its broad range of ancillary passenger fees. But now the carrier has come out with a new category of business fares. They’re significantly higher than base fares, but include a menu of services that would otherwise incur hefty fees, like a checked bag, priority boarding, access to premium seats, and, perhaps most significant: a waiver of change fees.

hawaiianbagtag

Print your bag tag at home, insert it into special bag tag sleeve at airport, and bypass long luggage check in lines. (Photo: Hawaiian Air)

Hawaiian tries out self-checked luggage. The latest carrier to start testing a procedure for passengers to check their own bags is Hawaiian Airlines. For two months, travelers on its flights from Seattle and Oakland to four Hawaiian destinations can use the TAG@HOME option, which lets them print out bag tags at home when they check in for flights. At the airport, they’ll find a stand with reusable sleeves; tags are slipped into them and attached to the luggage, which is taken to a bag drop. Alaska Airlines offers a similar option for home printing called Self-Tag Express, and United has started offering a self-tagged bag procedure at Chicago O’Hare, but with tags printed at the airport.

Earlier boarding for uber elite? This just in from TravelSkills reader EJ: “When the Delta gate agent called for first class boarding on a recent flight to New York, she invited Diamond Medallion members to board the flight with first class passengers. The agent then waited two minutes before inviting other Sky Priority passengers — Platinum, Gold — to board. As a Diamond flyer with Delta, the invite to board with first class passengers was a pleasant surprise. I’ve had issues with Delta over the years, but Delta deserves kudos in this case. Delta seems to me upping its game on multiple fronts.” Has anyone else received special treatment like this?

This week’s most popular post

Hawaiian, Frontier add routes. Members of American’s AAdvantage program in the San Francisco area are getting a new option for award travel to Maui. AAdvantage partner Hawaiian Airlines said it plans to begin four weekly flights between SFO-Maui on November 20, increasing to daily December 17, using a 294-seat A330-200. Meanwhile, Frontier announced new service starting in late October from Cincinnati to DFW, Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Ft Lauderdale; from Chicago O’Hare to Phoenix and Salt Lake City and from DFW to Memphis.

Secret spaces on new jets: TravelSkills in London’s Daily Mail. Last week, London’s popular Daily Mail website post on a story we brought you two years ago: An inside look at airline crew rest areas. The Mail story included several images as well as our 8 Best Beds video we created in 2012 when invited on a Cathay Pacific B777 delivery flight from the Boeing factory in Seattle to Hong Kong. The post was hugely popular… as a matter of fact, view on our video jumped from around 90,000 to over 240,000 in just a few days.

SECURITY

TSA PreCheck hits a milestone. TSA said last week its PreCheck program, now about nine months old, has passed the half-million mark in approved members. What’s more, Customs and Border Protection now has more than 3 million members in its own trusted traveler programs, which include Global Entry for international airport arrivals. TSA said PreCheck is currently available at 118 U.S. airports, while Global Entry can be used at 51 U.S. airports and at preclearance stations in Canada. TSA has opened more than 300 PreCheck application centers nationwide.

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HOTELS

Fees on hotel guests hit a new record. A new study by NYU’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management finds U.S. hotels are on track to haul in a record $2.25 billion in fees and surcharges from guests in 2014 — up from $1.7 billion just four years ago. “Fees and surcharges are highly profitable; most have incremental profitability of 80 to 90 percent or more of the amounts collected,” the study noted. Hotel charges include things like resort fees, early departure fees, Internet fees, room service surcharges and business center fees, among others. Have you been seeing new hotel fees lately? Which ones irritate you the most? 

In Case You Missed It…

>Check out this amusing video about the controversial “Knee Defender” incident on United last week.

>Check out these interesting facts about airline flight numbers.

Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

Big fare sale + Fancy food on United + Uber raises fares + Cuts at Qantas + Better biz class on AA

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

Delta shuttle changes + Virgin beefs up Dallas + 747 quickly disappearing + Posh NYC hotel perch + DFW gets rapid rail

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

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Big fare sale + Fancy food on United + Uber raises fares + Cuts at Qantas + Better biz class on AA

United upgrades first class fare with items like this caprese on Asiago baguette (Photo: United)

United upgrades first class fare with items like this caprese on Asiago baguette (Photo: United)

(TravelSkills is based in the Bay Area and yes, we felt the earthquake early Sunday morning! Thankfully no damage here at HQ. The rumble felt like riding along a dirt road in a Winnebago in the dark.)

AIRLINES

Big fare sale. As a busy summer comes to a close, all airlines have put fall and winter flights on sale, and most of these fares represent good value if you can book ahead of time. To get the deal, you must book by Thursday, August 28. Discounts are good for trips from early September all the way through early March. As usual, they do not include holiday season flights and include other limitations (like Saturday night stays) that make them mostly unusable for business travelers. But if you have a flexible schedule, you’ll like what you see here. United | Delta | American | Southwest | Virgin America NOTE: Many of the best deals are already sold out. To stay up to day on newsy updates and alerts like this, be sure to LIKE TravelSkills on Facebook. 

United revamps food & beverage. Premium travelers on United Airlines will see improvements in in-flight meals and drinks in the weeks ahead, as the airline unveiled plans for new options. The changes are aimed at first and business class customers on North American routes longer than 800 miles, who this month started seeing premium salads, and in September will be offered premium sandwiches and wraps like prosciutto on tomato focaccia, Thai chicken wrap, and Cobb salad wrap. This fall, United will add Prosecco sparkling wine to the beverage list, and next year it will extend the changes to the front cabins of shorter flights and United Express. In other news, United has introduced self-service bag tagging at its Chicago O’Hare hub. (What do you think of United’s first class food? Will the improvements change your booking habits?)

American starts refitting 777-200s. American Airlines has started work on a previously announced change to its international fleet, expanding the number of lie-flat business class seats on its 777-200s and eliminating first class. The change — which will leave AA’s 14 new 777-300ERs as the only ones in its fleet offering three-class service — follows a trend among major U.S. to scale back or eliminate the traditional front cabin to meet the changing demands of the business travel marketplace. (This makes me wonder how long it will take AA to yank those first class seats on its A321Ts flying between California and JFK, and replace them with business class.)

(Image: WoodlyWonderWorks Flickr)

(Image: WoodlyWonderWorks Flickr)

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Cathay adds BOS, remakes lounge. Boston travelers will get their first direct access to Hong Kong next spring, when Cathay Pacific is slated to start non-stop service on the route with a 777-300ER. Cathay will fly the route — its sixth U.S. gateway — four times a week, starting May 15, 2015. Meanwhile, Cathay also revealed plans to overhaul The Pier, its first class lounge at Hong Kong International Airport, remaking it to resemble a luxury apartment, with several rooms devoted to different purposes.

Big cuts coming at Qantas. Qantas announced this week that it would cut costs in its international division to the tune of a whopping $1 billion. The reasons for a massive cuts include overcapacity, competition from foreign carriers (especially UAE carriers) and weakened demand for flights between Australia and Asia. How will this affect the US to Australia market? The Sydney Morning Herald reports that one of Qantas two Sydney-Los Angeles flights will shift from a morning to an evening departure and it will add three weekly flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles in January. “The capacity increase comes as Virgin Australia recently announced it would withdraw its three weekly Melbourne-Los Angeles 777 flights from October in favour of a daily offering on the Brisbane-Los Angeles route. United Airlines will launch new 787-9 flights from Melbourne to Los Angeles around the same time,” the newspaper reports.

Frontier overhauls its elite status. Frontier Airlines told members of its EarlyReturns loyalty program that it is changing the requirements and benefits of elite status effective February 20, 2015. The existing Ascent and Summit levels will be replaced with a single status called simply Frontier Elite, and to achieve it, members have to fly 20,000 miles or 25 segments during this calendar year. Members will no longer get a free checked bag, but they will get a free carry-on (the airline now charges for carry-ons), and elite benefits will no longer be extended to members’ traveling companions. The airline also said it will impose a fee for redeeming miles, starting October 31, 2014.

CARS

(Photo: Uber)

UberBLACK prices soar in SF. (Photo: Uber)

UberBLACK raising fares. Last week we were alerted to a 7% hike in UberBLACK fares and the disappearance of flat fares to the airport by a TravelSkills reader in San Francisco who wrote, “Wanted to ask you whether you were aware that Uber has quietly dropped flat fares to SFO?  It apparently happened this week. I was unpleasantly surprised tonight when I was charged a $92 fare from lower Pacific Heights to SFO in Uber black car.  In fairness, the company dropped it to $65 when I emailed them tonight to complain, but buyer beware.  These are the new fees.  A 50% increase is beyond a rip off.  I’ll be going back to my regular limo company that charged the same $65.” We did find this blurb on its blog about the increase: “As we make UberBLACK even better, we’re updating how we present pricing. Starting today we’re slightly increasing prices by 7% and transitioning away from flat rates. We know you rely on UberBLACK and you trust us to get you where you need to go.” Uber told TravelSkills that “each market is different” and that this post was written specifically for San Francisco. Have you noticed any changes in recent Uber pricing in other cities? What do you think? Please leave your comments below. 

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Uber links bookings to United, Hyatt apps. Uber  is expanding its reach to a much wider market, especially business travelers, by releasing an application programming interface that links its booking service to the mobile apps of other companies. Its 11 launch partners include United Airlines and Hyatt Hotels, as well as other apps used frequently by business travelers like restaurant finder OpenTable, TripAdvisor, and even Starbucks. Users who sign up for Uber through the new partner links will get an incentive discount, and United is offering 1,000 bonus miles.

National offers free rental days. Members of National Car Rental’s Emerald Club can earn free days with the company’s Rent Rent Reward promotion. Registered members will get one free rental day for every two qualifying rentals of a mid-sized or larger vehicle for two days or more from now through January 31, 2015.

AIRPORTS

Phony TSA agent at SFO gets off. A Bay Area executive took airport hi-jinks a little too far when he had too much to drink and decided to pose as a TSA agent, then patted down a couple of female travelers. He was arrested, but charges were dropped because the two women had flown off and couldn’t be located. Another interesting fact emerged from the incident: While it is against the law to impersonate a cop, it’s not illegal to pretend you’re a TSA agent.

Southwest finishes move to new DAL terminal. In preparation for its big expansion of service October 13 to a number of long-haul routes out of Dallas’ Love Field, Southwest Airlines has completed the move of all flight operations out of the airport’s old terminal into the new one. The old building is now slated for demolition. Southwest was only using two gates in the old terminal; it will occupy 16 of the 20 gates in the shiny new one.

In Case You Missed It

>United will fly a Newark-San Francisco using a new 787-9 Dreamliner flight on October 20

>Will air travel to Europe be disrupted again by a new Icelandic volcano eruption, as it was in 2010?

>Ramsey takes a look at Airbus’ new A350-900 widebody.

>Virgin America is moving into the big leagues of airline competition.

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

Delta shuttle changes + Virgin beefs up Dallas + 747 quickly disappearing + Posh NYC hotel perch + DFW gets rapid rail

How to deal with Americans

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Better Sky Club snacks + New LaGuardia lounge + Marriott MegaBonus back + Nifty new ATL arrivals app

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

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SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Delta cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + Uber for business

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

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What golden age of travel?

The Ponape Lounge onboard a Continental 747 (Photo: 1950sUnlimited / Flickr)

The Ponape Lounge onboard a Continental 747 (Photo: 1950sUnlimited / Flickr)

Was there really a “golden age of travel?” My favorite travel apps? Key advice for a newbie biz traveler? My most memorable trip? I’m on a mini-vacation this weekend, so I thought you all would like to read a recent Q&A with me that appeared in InsideFlyer magazine.

InsideFlyer
Do you feel that the “golden days” have come and gone for the frequent traveler?

Chris McGinnis
I cringe when I hear people talking about the so-called “golden age of travel.” When I began my career as a business traveler in the 1980s planes were filled with smoke, on-time performance stunk and there was no such thing as “lie-flat” business class. Passengers fought over the handful of magazines provided as inflight entertainment. Most airports were dull, dark and institutional. Hotels had yet to provide basics like in-room coffeemakers or desktop plugs. Nonetheless, I loved traveling then as much as I love it now. And now I get to enjoy things that I couldn’t even dream of back then like inflight WiFi, spectacular, architecturally significant airports (and airport lounges), big, bright business class hotels and checking in for flights and having my boarding pass stored on my mobile phone. Of course, there’s a downside: these days flights are more crowded, airport security is a bear (but improving) and it’s expensive. Nonetheless, I believe we are now living in the golden age of travel.

InsideFlyer
What are some of your favorite travel apps for business travelers?

McGinnis

UberLogoAlthough the media focus primarily on the air travel side of the business travel experience, the reality is that most business trips are by car. For that reason, I love the Waze app, which uses crowdsourced info from other “wazers” on the road to alert you to speed traps, traffic, etc. I use it all the time. When I attended the Freddie Awards in Seattle this spring, I used another favorite app, Hotel Tonight, to snag a significant last-minute deal at a posh hotel near Sea-Tac that I’d never heard of, but really liked. (Cedarbrook Lodge, which used to be a training retreat for Washington Mutual and is now a very nice hotel.) And I also have to mention Tripit Pro, which helps keep my crazy travel schedule organized, alerts me to changes or delays, and keeps my family informed of my whereabouts. Oh! And one more: Uber has completely changed the way I get to/from the airport. Push button on mobile phone, car arrives. Take nice ride. Get out. Thanks! No money changes hands and receipt arrives via email. It’s like magic! (Get $30 off your first Uber ride here)

InsideFlyer
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is new to business travel?

McGinnis
Always be nice. It will come back to you.

InsideFlyer
Do you have a favorite frequent flyer program? And if so, which program is your favorite and why?

McGinnis
All frequent flyer programs are pretty much alike, so it’s tough to name a favorite. However, since my business travel career began in Atlanta, I’ve kept a close eye on the Delta program over the years and watched and reported as it turned from an industry follower to a leader. I’ve earned more miles on Delta than others, but that’s changing now that I live in San Francisco and fly Virgin America and United the most.

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

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.

InsideFlyer
What is your opinion on the recent changes to Delta SkyMiles to align the program to revenue rather than miles flown?

McGinnis
I know I’ll catch a lot of flack for saying this, but I think what Delta (and Virgin America, Southwest, JetBlue) did makes a lot of sense and will improve the loyalty experience for true frequent business travelers in coming years. The airlines made a mistake when they started distributing applications for “frequent flyer” programs to everyone—even those who fly once or twice a year. That diluted the loyalty experience for the airlines’ best customers … the ones who pay the most (not those who flew the farthest). It opened the door to a wily generation of “gamers” who figured out how to snag more than they were entitled to by manipulating an admittedly imperfect system. The move to revenue-based programs realigns the system back to its initial premise: to reward truly frequent business travelers, those who fly 10+ times per year on non-discounted fares. If that’s not you, then sorry. If that is you, then get ready for things to get better. But it will take a while.

Chris & JohnnyJet host the weekly #TravelSkills chat on Twitter

Chris & JohnnyJet host the weekly #TravelSkills chat on Twitter

InsideFlyer
Tell us about your weekly #Travelskills chat on Twitter. What types of resources do you offer travelers?

McGinnis
I partnered up with popular travel blogger John E. DiScala (aka Johnny Jet) last year to create the #TravelSkills chat and it’s taken off like a rocket! Our weekly chats draw hundreds of travel enthusiasts and media in a free-for-all online conversation about a wide variety of topics. Since it’s called “TravelSkills” we always try to be sure that the chats are newsy, informative and teach participants new things. Recent popular chats covered: New York City, In-flight etiquette and hygiene and finding travel deals. Since the chats draw such big crowds and create millions of impressions, we’re lucky that a steady stream of some of the biggest travel industry brands have lined up to sponsor them. Please join the fun! Follow the #TravelSkills hash tag Fridays at noon eastern, 9am Pacific or see www.travelskills.com/chat.

InsideFlyer
With the changes and devaluations of frequent flyer programs, how can members still derive value from their memberships?

McGinnis
As I just mentioned, members who are true frequent travelers (10+ flights per year on non-discounted fares) will get the most value from the programs in the future. If that’s not you, and you have a big stack of miles sitting in your account(s), I advise you to redeem them as soon as you can because they will continue to lose value over time.

InsideFlyer
Do you have any insider advice for booking award travel?

McGinnis
I’m a frequent flyer program enthusiast, but I’m not an expert. When it comes to advice about frequent flyer programs, I would suggest turning to my fellow bloggers like Gary “View from the Wing” Leff, Ben “Lucky” Schlapping or Bryan “The Points Guy” Kelly. I’m impressed with their ability to track the minutiae of these programs and find little “aha!” gems I’d never see.

Landing at Tokyo- exiting the brand new 787 via stairs vs jetway was exciting! (Photo Chris McGinnis)

Landing at Tokyo- exiting the brand new 787 via stairs vs jetway was exciting! (Photo Chris McGinnis)

InsideFlyer
For our final question, we are asking everyone we interview—please tell us about one particularly memorable trip you took.

McGinnis
All trips are memorable to me for one reason or another. But my most recent memorable trip was to Tokyo. ANA invited me and a group of travel writers on its brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from San Jose to Narita last winter. The trip over (in business class on a brand new plane) was outstanding. But on the day after we arrived, the 787 was grounded worldwide due to battery issues. And there was a rare blizzard in Tokyo. Nonetheless, the trip was a success, made for some great blog posts on TravelSkills and we made it safely back to SFO on a Boeing 777.

–Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

Delta shuttle changes + Virgin beefs up Dallas + 747 quickly disappearing + Posh NYC hotel perch + DFW gets rapid rail

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

Better Sky Club snacks + New LaGuardia lounge + Marriott MegaBonus back + Nifty new ATL arrivals app

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Delta cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Please join the 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

A spin around the new Airbus A350

A350

The most noticeable feature of the new Airbus A350 is the unusual swoop of the winglet (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

The world’s newest long-haul, wide body commercial jet, the Airbus A350-900, recently completed its route-proving mission in Helsinki and TravelSkills was invited along to take a look at the first of the “XWB” family of aircraft to debut.

Finnair will be the first European carrier to get its hands on the new bird when it takes delivery of its first of 11 in 2015. Initially, Finnair plans to deploy the A350 on routes between Helsinki and Bangkok, Beijing, and Shanghai. (Qatar Airways will be the first airline to operate the A350 later this year.)

In the US, both American and United are in line to add the A350 to their fleets with deliveries currently set for 2017 and 2018, respectively. There is no clear word from Delta regarding its interest in the A350, but with its recent retirement of four Boeing 747s and the need for more wide bodies, you never know! At a recent event in San Francisco, Cathay Pacific said that it plans to replace its fleet of Boeing 747s in part with the A350.

Airbus A350

High ceilings and a 3-3-3 configuration in economy make the A350 feel spacious (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Airbus designed the A350 XWB family to compete with Boeing’s popular and efficient Dreamliner (787) and 777. These smaller, lighter aircraft give airlines the flexibility to fly nonstop on “long, thin routes” where there’s not enough demand to fill a jumbo like the 747 or A380.

Disclosure: Ramsey was a guest of Finnair in Helsinki

The A350-900 has a range of 8,250 nautical miles (which means it can fly nonstop from the US East coast to cities in China or southern Africa) and will carry roughly 276 passengers in a standard two-class configuration. Since this plane can fly farther and holds a smaller number of passengers than larger aircraft, it gives airlines the chance to open new routes that may not have made sense before. The Wall Street Journal reports that 38 airlines have ordered over 700 A350s– its highest total ever for a new jet that has yet to enter service.

The “XWB” suffix stands for “Extra Wide Body,” referring to the interior of the cabin. The A350-900 is 18.3 feet wide “from armrest to armrest” which is six inches wider than the cabin of a Dreamliner, Airbus claims. Not a huge difference, but every inch counts when it comes to cabin space these days, right?

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A350_XWB_msn005_wing

An unusual curved winglet is the distinguishing feature of the new Airbus A350

In Helsinki, the first thing that drew my attention were the plane’s curved winglets, which reduce drag inflight. (See photo above.) They are not rigidly bent upward in the same way other aircraft winglets are; rather they curve upward and swoosh backward. This is supposed to improve the fuel economy that existing winglets already provide. Also, the shape of the aircraft nose is also unusually pointy,  something not found on other Airbus aircraft, and a characteristic that will make it easy to identify.

Related: A look at Finnair’s interior designs for the A350

Aside from the nose and the winglets, the aircraft looks very similar to the A330 family since it is a twin-engine aircraft. The cabin is wider and the windows are larger than its older sibling, however, which are two features that passengers will appreciate.

A sense of spaciousness is immediately notable on entering the plane. I attribute this to the  high ceiling, which is in part due to the way the overhead bins fold away into the ceiling of the aircraft. The bins are very deep and tall allowing more space for baggage.

A350

Another feature: a cabin that’s 220 inches wide… which can accommodate either 9 or 10 seats across in economy. Let’s hope airlines opt for the 9 abreast seen here.

Of course, each airline will decide how they want to configure the interior seating and cabins, which plays a role in the sense of space as well. The A350 is wide enough to have 10 seats across in the main cabin, if an airline chooses to do that. We hope airlines stick with a 9-abreast option to truly take advantage of the extra wide cabin and not pack us in like sardines. Thankfully, Finnair will have a 3-3-3 configuration in economy and a 1-2-1 design in business class. (Airbus feels that an 18 inch wide seat should be the standard and has launched a campaign to encourage airlines to adopt it.)

Like the Dreamliner, the A350 is a game changer because it is 25% more fuel efficient than similarly sized aircraft, which makes airlines (and environmentalists) happy. Airbus’s main selling point is that, when compared to the Dreamliner, the A350 burns 9% less fuel, yet still carries more passengers.

A350 XWB - ROUTE PROVING - TRIP 2 - HONG KONG THROUGH THE WINDOW

Windows on the A350 are larger than on other Airbus planes, but not as big as those on the Boeing 787.

In addition to the plane’s pleasing girth, passengers will notice larger windows than other Airbus aircraft (Airbus windows are noticeably smaller than those on Boeing and Embraer planes). Still, the windows are not as large windows those on a Dreamliner, and they don’t have electronic dimming capability.

A350

High ceilings and mood lighting add to cabin comfort on the new A350 (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

LED lighting in the cabin can produce nearly 200 shades of color, which airlines can use for branding purposes or to create a more soothing atmosphere. Cabin lights will gradually become brighter as they are turned on. Lighting like this should offer flight attendants a gentle alternative to just blasting the lights on to wake everyone up for a meal.

The A350 airframe is crafted of composite materials that are corrosion and fatigue free. Like the Dreamliner, this makes it lighter. An advanced air filtration system will refresh cabin air completely every two to three minutes, which should help to combat dry skin and reduce the effects of jet lag. The cabin will be pressurized at 6,000 feet, which is similar to Boeing’s Dreamliner.

Related: Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

Finnair’s new aircraft will come equipped with wifi access, which will help to make those long flights feel shorter. Also, engineers integrated the inflight entertainment systems and wiring underneath the floor so there are none of those irritating boxes underneath economy class seats stealing your precious leg room! (There must have been a few frequent flyers at the drawing board, right!)

Overall, when the A350 takes to the skies with airlines in 2015, its passengers should be pleasantly surprised with the modern interior and sense of space…and airlines will be elated at the jet’s efficiency.

–Ramsey Qubein

 

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facebook like

Would you rather get TravelSkills Weekly instead of Daily? No probs! click here to sign up for TravelSkills Weekly. 

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Delta shuttle changes + Virgin beefs up Dallas + 747 quickly disappearing + Posh NYC hotel perch + DFW gets rapid rail

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

Better Sky Club snacks + New LaGuardia lounge + Marriott MegaBonus back + Nifty new ATL arrivals app

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Delta cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

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Delta shuttle changes + Virgin beefs up Dallas + 747 quickly disappearing + Posh NYC hotel perch + DFW gets rapid rail

The art deco Marine Air Terminal at New York LaGuardia (Photo: Matt Green / Flickr)

The art deco Marine Air Terminal at New York LaGuardia (Photo: Matt Green / Flickr)

AIRLINES

Delta upgrades LGA-BOS Shuttle. On November 2, Delta will move its New York LaGuardia-Boston Logan Delta Shuttle from LGA’s remote (and cooly art-deco) Marine Air Terminal to Terminal C, and will upgrade its aircraft to 110-passenger Boeing 717s. (Those 717s used to belong to AirTran.)  Delta Shuttle’s LGA-Washington and LGA-Chicago flights will remain at the Marine Air Terminal and continue using Delta Connection/Shuttle America E-175s. Besides the larger planes (with three classes of seating, configured 2-3 in the back + wi-fi + power outlets), LGA-BOS Shuttle passengers will enjoy easier connections and a wider array of terminal services. (Any comments on the improvements Delta has made at LGA lately?)

Virgin expands DAL schedule. Virgin America beefed up is flight skeds from Dallas Love Field (DAL) not long after Southwest said it, too plans to start DAL-SFO/OAK flights. These higher daily frequencies are designed to make Virgin more appealing to business travelers. Virgin’s initial schedule at DAL starts in October, with three flights a day to SFO, LAX and DCA, and four to LGA. Now Virgin says it will add a fourth daily roundtrip to SFO, LAX and DCA starting April 29. (Unconfirmed reports suggest Virgin might end its SFO-Ft. Lauderdale route to free up aircraft for DAL; Virgin is also suspending SFO-PHL and LAX-PHL October 6.) It will also continue its twice-daily SFO-Austin service.

Legacy carriers cut routes… Delta and United are both eliminating some key business routes from their networks. At Memphis — once a Northwest hub — Delta plans to end service next month to Denver and to Austin, although it will add two more daily flights to its ATL hub. Meanwhile, United is due to end its daily non-stop Pittsburgh-Los Angeles flight on August 18, and its two daily Chicago O’Hare-Topeka flights on September 2, leaving that Kansas airport without scheduled passenger service.

…While low-cost airlines add them. Southwest Airlines last week kicked off six daily roundtrips between Chicago Midway and Washington Reagan National, plus three a day between DCA-Nashville and two from DCA to New Orleans. Southwest will add Cleveland-Phoenix service November 2, and just took over more Mexico routes from rapidly disappearing subsidiary AirTran … Spirit Airlines has started service from Kansas City to ORD, DFW, DTW, LAS and IAH, and announced new daily service linking Detroit-ATL and Detroit-New Orleans starting in November, as well as new once-daily service between ORD-ATL, ORD-MSY and ORD-BWI … Frontier said it will begin service on 10 new routes from northern cities to sun destinations this winter.

Alaska Airlines

An alert sent to TravelSkills by Alaska Airlines this week

Reminder: At SFO, all Alaska Airlines flights will move to the International Terminal, Boarding Area A, effective Wednesday, August 20. Details regarding lounge access for Board Room members are still up in the air, however. Stay tuned.

INTERNATIONAL

A fond farewell to Cathay's Queen of the Skies (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A fond farewell to Cathay’s Queen of the Skies (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Cathay Pacific bids farewell to the B747. On August 31, the Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400 will make its final departure from SFO, marking Cathay’s retirement of the graceful “Queen of the Skies” from long haul service. At a bittersweet farewell event at San Francisco International this week, Cathay’s Americas head Tom Owen said that Cathy is shedding itself of the B747 in “one of the fastest fleet replacements in history.” Why so fast? Owen said that while the company credits the 747 as the tool that made it a truly global carrier in the 1990s, “it was designed in an era when a barrel of oil cost $15-$20.” With oil currently hovering around the $100/bbl mark, Cathay is moving to the Boeing 777-300ER and the soon-to-be-released Airbus A350 (both of which are 25% more efficient than the 747) for its long haul flights. Cathay’s remaining 747s will be deployed on intra-Asia routes for the next two years, and will then disappear.

Related: Sad to see the graceful 747 fade away! 

Mockup of Aer Lingus' new true lie flat business class seat coming in 2015 (Aer Lingus)

Mockup of Aer Lingus’ new true lie flat business class seat coming in 2015 (Aer Lingus)

New biz classes at Aer Lingus, Finnair.  Aer Lingus has detailed its plans for a (much needed) revamped business class to debut in 2015, with fully-flat seats, free Wi-Fi, 16-inch hi-def touchscreens and Irish cuisine. Meanwhile, Finnair has unveiled the interior designs for its long-haul fleet of Airbus’ new A350 XWB (extra wide body) aircraft, which the Finnish carrier will start flying in 2015. The 297-seat A350s will have a 46-seat 1-2-1 business class with flat-bed seats, 16-inch touchscreens, Wi-Fi and more.  (TravelSkills contributor Ramsey Qubein recently flew to Helsinki for a first hand look at the first A350– stay tuned for his review later this week!)

Did you see our post on How to Deal With Americans? This is one of those cases where reader feedback is even better than the post! :) Check it out here.

AIRPORTS

New DART rapid rail connection at DFW

New DART rapid rail connection at DFW (Photo: Dallas Area Rapid Transit)

DFW gets a rail link. August 18 marks the opening of the DFW Airport Station, the terminus for a five-mile extension of Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s light rail. The station, part of DFW’s Terminal A, is opening four months ahead of schedule. The new Orange Line extension runs from the airport to Belt Line Station, with continuing service to Irving-Las Colinas, Dallas Market Center and downtown Dallas. It will make DFW the third-largest U.S. airport with a direct rail link to the city center.

HOTELS

A posh new perch in NYC

The striking new Park Hyatt: A posh new perch in NYC (Photo: Hyatt)

NYC Park Hyatt opens next week. An August 19 debut is slated for Hyatt’s new flagship property, the Park Hyatt New York, across from Carnegie Hall on West 57th Street. The posh property takes up the first 25 floors of a 90-story glass tower that reshapes the Midtown skyline; the floors above contain ultra-expensive condos. The Park Hyatt has 210 extra-large rooms (standard rooms average around 500 square feet), including lots of suite options; rates start at $700-$800 a night.

Rebranded Chicago-area hotels. There’s lots of hotel rebranding in and around Chicago this month. Downtown, the former Crowne Plaza at 160 E. Huron was remade into a dual-branded Hilton — the Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile … The former InterContinental Chicago O’Hare Hotel, a 556-room property across from the Donald Stephens Convention Center in suburban Rosemont, has been acquired by Loews Hotels and converted to the Loews brand … In the western suburb of Oak Brook, the former Renaissance has been converted by Starwood into Le Meridien Chicago-Oak Brook Center after a $25 million renovation; and the former Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center is now the Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills.

In Case You Missed It…

>Ten little things that make a difference in a hotel stay.

>Hawaiian Airlines will start SFO-Maui A330 service four times a week November 20, increasing to daily December 17.

>TravelSkills contributor has mixed results with a recent Airbnb booking for a business trip

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

SFO runways reopen + Fewer amateurs in PreCheck + Delta cocktails now $8 + United’s cool passport scan app

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Are you in the market for a new credit card? Looking for a fat points or mileage bonus to sweeten your balance? Then check out our BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR BUSINESS TRAVELERS and scoop up the deals!

Please join the 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

 

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