Airport news: LAX, Alaska lounge deal, O’Hare, Phoenix, Vancouver, Pittsburgh

The CLEAR trusted traveler program has opened at LAX. (Image: CLEAR)

In airport news, CLEAR comes to Los Angeles International and United opens a new check-in area there for Global Services members; Alaska Airlines and Qantas introduce airport lounge reciprocity; American Airlines passengers will have an easier time connecting to international flights at Chicago O’Hare; a new carry-on scanner being tested at Phoenix could be a game-changer for security threats; Vancouver will get a new SkyTeam lounge; and a pay-per-use lounge opens at Pittsburgh International.

CLEAR, the biometric-based trusted traveler program that gives members fast access to security checkpoints, has opened at Los Angeles International. The company said it has opened CLEAR lanes in Terminals 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 at LAX (not the TBIT), and it is coming soon to T1 and T5. LAX is the 22nd airport to join the CLEAR network. CLEAR – which is partly owned by Delta Air Lines – uses fingerprint and iris scans to verify members’ identities. Persons who sign up to join CLEAR at the airport will get a one-month free trial, the company said. An annual membership costs $179, with discounts available to SkyMiles elites.

United’s new LAX check-in area for Global Services members. (Image: United)

Also at Los Angeles International, United Airlines has just cut the ribbon on a new Global Reception area a premium check-in facility for the airline’s elite Global Services members. From the Global Reception area, members can go to the front of the line for security screening. The new facility is decorated with vintage airline photos. It’s the fourth newly designed Global Reception area for United; others are at Houston Bush Intercontinental, Chicago O’Hare and San Francisco, with one coming soon at Newark Liberty International.

More airport comforts are now available to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan elites (MVP Golds, MVP 75Ks) and Alaska Lounge members: Effective immediately, they have access to 13 Qantas international business class lounges around the world as well as two dozen Qantas Clubs in Australia when they fly on Qantas. At the same time, Qantas Club members and Qantas loyalty plan members who have attained Gold status or higher now have access to Alaska’s airport lounges at LAX, Portland, Seattle and Anchorage when they fly Alaska on a connection to or from an international Qantas flight.

Contest: Fly free to Hong Kong & write about it! Here’s how.

Passengers at O’Hare can now get post-security transfers from American’s T3 to T5. (Image: Chicago Dept. of Aviation)

Before June 19, American Airlines passengers connecting from a domestic arrival at Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal 3 to an international departure out of Terminal 5 had to go through a security re-screening at the latter terminal. But now they don’t, thanks to a new Terminal Transfer Bus service introduced by the Chicago Department of Aviation. The bus takes travelers from the secure side of T3 (near Gates G17 and K20) to the post-security side of T5 (at the M Concourse). The buses run from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

A new security checkpoint scanner now being tested at Phoenix Sky Harbor could alleviate the Department of Homeland Security’s fears of sophisticated explosive devices in laptops, and could also speed up passenger processing by ending the requirements to take liquids and laptops out of carry-ons. TSA is working with American Airlines to try out a computed tomography (CT) scanner at one checkpoint lane in Terminal 4, giving the security agent a 3-D image of a bag’s contents. TSA currently uses CT scanners to examine checked bags for explosive materials; the one being tested at the security checkpoint is smaller, but should be equally effective, TSA said. A similar test is expected to start at Boston Logan later this month.

Delta’s SkyTeam global alliance has selected Vancouver International as the location for its seventh branded airport lounge and its first in North America. The new SkyTeam lounge is expected to open sometime later this year, the alliance said. It will be available to first class, business class and Elite Plus customers flying on any of the nine SkyTeam carriers that serve Vancouver (Delta, Air France, Aeromexico, China Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, KLM, Korean and Xiamen). Existing SkyTeam lounges are in Beijing, Dubai, Hong Kong, Istanbul, London Heathrow and Sydney.

The new Club lounge at Pittsburgh is in Concourse C. (Image: Airport Lounge Development)

Travelers at Pittsburgh International have a new lounge option. Airport Lounge Development Inc. has opened a lounge called The Club, the 17th in its growing network of pay-per-use airport facilities. The Pittsburgh Club is in Concourse C between Gates C54-C56, and is also accessible from Concourses A, B and D. The current Club location is temporary; a permanent Club will open this fall across from Gate C52. The temporary lounge can accommodate 35 persons. It has a food-and-drink zone, a work zone with electrical outlets and a workstation, and a relaxation zone. A day pass costs $40, but the Club is also open to members of Priority Pass, Lounge Key, Lounge Club and Diners Club as well as AAA Discount Reward members.

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Contest: 2 Singapore Airlines tickets to Hong Kong!

Hong Kong

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

UPDATE: Contest is now closed to entries. We’ll announce the winner on Friday, June 30. WINNER ANNOUNCED!

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

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

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

Singapore Airlines A350 premium economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions? Ask Chris

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

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

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Fly thru SFO’s new on-airport Hyatt hotel

A brand new on-airport Grand Hyatt coming to SFO in 2019. Scroll down for fly-thru (Photo: SFO)

San Francisco International Airport broke ground this week on the new Grand Hyatt at San Francisco International Airport, a new luxury hotel located on airport grounds, which should open in mid-2019.

The hotel will be located to the right of the airport’s roadway entrance, adjacent to the International Terminal parking garage. (Don’t miss the fly-thru below!)

It will face the large apron area behind the International Terminal A, offering  fantastic views of Boeing 747s from British Airways, KLM and Qantas (among others).

Here’s what rooms will look like at SFO’s new Grand Hyatt (Rendering: SFO)

The hotel will have direct access to the airport AirTrain rail system– Hyatt expects that 60 percent of hotel visitors will arrive via the AirTrain to the lobby on the fourth floor. The roadway entrance will face the airport, with the noses of big jets peering over the blast fencing from the apron. Guests arriving by road will take elevators up to the fourth floor lobby.

The hotel will be built on the same site as the old Hilton Inn at SFO, which was built in 1959. For a reminiscent look at the old low-slung Hilton, and to see the dramatic expansion of the airport since then, check out this image from the SFO Museum. Anyone remember the hotel’s famous Tiger-A-Go-Go nightclub?

Grand Hyatt at SFO will feature 351 rooms, 15,000 square feet of meeting space, several restaurants, a Grand Club lounge and an extensive fitness center.  Regrettably, there will be no viewing deck on the roof as previously hoped. But views from rooms, conference facilities and dining venue will be outstanding. Not sure I could pay much attention in a meeting when there’s a 747 lumbering past outside the window!

Check out the video below for a fly around the exterior of the new hotel.

The $237 million Grand Hyatt at SFO is being designed by San Francisco-based architecture firm Hornberger + Worstell with ED2 International, and constructed by Webcor Builders.  The construction is expected to provide 350 jobs followed by an anticipated 200 hospitality jobs once the hotel opens.

What do you think? Are you an airport hotel regular… or not? Please leave your comments below. 

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Amex Platinum lands a new lounge at Reno-Tahoe

The developers of Oakland’s Escape Lounge, pictured here, are opening one in Reno, which will be part of the Amex Platinum lounge network. (Photo: K Taylor)

The folks who brought you the Escape lounge at Oakland International Airport will soon open another one at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

MAG USA, which also operates pay-per-use passenger lounges at Minneapolis-St. Paul International and Connecticut’s Bradley International, was picked by the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority to build and operate a $1 million, 1,700-square-foot lounge – the airport’s first — but with with vague opening date of just “this winter.”

The company is expected to charge a walk-up fee of $45 for use of the lounge, or $40 if the visit is booked online (www.escapelounges.com). Like the Oakland Escape lounge, the Reno lounge will offer free access to American Express Platinum Card members and up to two companions.

The company’s Escape lounges offer free hot and cold food and beverages, abundant power outlets, free high-speed Wi-Fi and flight information screens. “In addition, premium food and beverage options are available for a fee,” a spokesperson said.

Oakland’s Escape lounge made its debut last fall. Here’s a slideshow we posted not long after it opened.

The facility will be located at the connector between the B and C concourses, just past the airport’s security checkpoint, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“Common-use airport lounges are still a relatively new concept in North America and we look forward to working with more airports as they improve their passenger amenities,” said MAG USA CEO Rosemarie Andolino.

Reno-Tahoe Airport, which primarily serves Nevada and Northern California, is the second busiest airport in Nevada and has seen impressive passenger growth with passenger numbers up 10 percent on 2016; this was also the highest year-over-year annual growth since 2004 for the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wow Air A321 (Image: Wow Air)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another Mideast carrier cuts U.S. service

Etihad 777-200

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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United adds 11 new nonstops to Hawaii

United Hawaii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader Report: Final ride on a Delta 747

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

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

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

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

Major transformation at Denver International + more airport news

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

United’s longest flight won’t have this

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

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

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

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

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

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

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

Yellow Taxi sharing goes live in NYC

Travelers growing accustomed to terror?

Best Western testing in-room Alexa

PricewaterhouseCoopers sees an end to U.S. airline consolidation

Hilton picks AmEx as exclusive provider of Honors  credit cards

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

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

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

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

KLM starts offering boarding passes, flight status updates via Twitter

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

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

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

Rendering of the main floor of Denver’s re-imagined Jeppeson Terminal. (Image: Denver International Airport)

In the latest airport developments, Denver International outlines a major transformation coming to its main terminal building; American Airlines plans big improvements for Terminals 4 and 5 at Los Angeles International; San Diego will debut airport-wide gate delivery service for passenger purchases; Las Vegas McCarran gets a new access road; and American Airlines opens an Admirals Club at Houston Bush Intercontinental.

Denver International Airport officials have revealed details to the Denver Post about their big plans for a massive $1.2 billion overhaul of the airport’s Jeppeson Terminal – i.e., the main terminal building. Assuming the city council approves the plan next month, work would start next year on a three-year project that would relocate the airport’s two main security checkpoints from the main floor of the Jeppeson Terminal to the north end of the upper level. Ticket counters on the upper level would be consolidated at the south end. That will open up a huge amount of space on the main floor for additional concessions. There’s even talk about installing a Colorado-oriented theme activity in the space like a climbing wall or a zip line. Here’s a fly-through video (click to skip the ad): https://youtu.be/hzB2hTQlctc

American’s rebuilt T4 and 5 at LAX will have a link to a new people-mover system. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

Los Angeles World Airport and American Airlines are working on a new 15-year lease that would provide for $1.6 billion in improvements to AA’s Terminals 4 and 5 at Los Angeles International. The project, which would happen over the next seven to 10 years, calls for the gradual demolition of the T4 and T5 lobby areas. They would be replaced by a new facility including a new “vertical circulation core” connected to the airport’s planned landside Automated People Mover train system. The project would also provide combined passenger check-in and baggage claim areas for the two terminals; a centralized security screening checkpoint for both terminals on the level of the people-mover system; and connecting the two terminals on both the landside and airside, including an above-ground connector that runs from the T4/Bradley Terminal connector to T5 on the airside. The new lease would also provide for American to add more gates at LAX in the future.

San Diego Airport users will be able to shop from the gate this summer. (Image: San Diego Airport)

A new service for travelers at San Diego International will let them order food or retail items via their phone and have it delivered to their gate, anywhere in the airport. The new service is expected to launch this summer, using the mobile ordering app called Grab and delivery service provided by a vendor called AtYourGate. “The app enables time-pressed travelers to pre-order restaurant and retail service items for pick-up.  AtYourGate will take the service one step further by delivering items to busy travelers and flight crews while they wait at their gate,” the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority said. It’s believed that SAN will be the first major airport in the country to offer the service.

It had a soft opening several weeks ago, but June 12 marks the grand opening of an American Airlines Admirals Club in Terminal A at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport.  Since American only has a few dozen flights a day at IAH, it’s not a huge facility – about 4,400 square feet — but it offers seating for 87 persons, a business center, and lots of outlets for recharging devices. Free snacks and alcoholic beverages are provided in the club, and so are salads and sandwiches for purchase.

Have you ever been stuck in traffic heading south out of Las Vegas McCarran Airport on the so-called Airport Connector tunnel to the eastbound lanes of the I-215 Beltway? Those traffic problems should be eased following the opening this week of a new half-mile-long “flyover” ramp that links the Connector to 215. Before the ramp opened, vehicles had to slow down to navigate a sharply looping ramp from the tunnel to the Beltway. Las Vegas officials said some 20,000 cars a day are expected to benefit from the new ramp, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rise King Air 200. (Image: Rise)

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

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

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

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

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

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Reader Report: Final ride on a Delta 747

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Row 74 on the upper deck (Photo: Jeff)

 

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

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

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

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

Pushback was right on time.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Main course beef (Photo: Jeff)

Delicious!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Big late summer/fall airfare sale takes off

Southwest Airlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample approximate round trip fares include:

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

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

Southwest at Oakland

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

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

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

Details of Southwest’s 72-hour sale:

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

>Travel window: August 22- December 13

>Lowest fares not available on Fridays or Sundays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reconstruction of New York’s JFK Airport is on the drawing boards — pending financing. (Image: New York Governor’s Office)

Remember the airport “passenger facility charge” (PFC)? It’s a user fee on each U.S. airline ticket used to improve and upgrade airports; it has been capped at $4.50 for more than 15 years, and airports are now asking the Trump administration to lift that limit so they can charge more.

The two leading airport industry trade and lobbying groups – Airports Council International-North America and the American Association of Airport Executives – sent a letter  to the White House last week asking Trump to support elimination of the $4.50 cap. Airports want to be able to charge up to $8.50 per ticket so they can move ahead with badly needed infrastructure improvements.

“It is clear that doing away with this outdated and unnecessary federal restriction would allow airports to become more financially independent from the federal government and help them leverage private sector funding for significant capital projects – goals that correspond directly with principles you have identified for an eventual infrastructure investment package,” the groups wrote.

The airports argued that eliminating the ceiling on PFCs would reduce their dependence on federal funding for improvement projects and would help them secure more private sector funding – something Trump has advocated in proposing a major infrastructure spending program.

Construction of a new LaGuardia Airport secured lots of private sector financing. (Image: New York Governor’s Office)

They cited the example of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and its $4 billion reconstruction of LaGuardia Airport. The airport is providing $1.5 billion, including $1 billion from passenger facility charges, and securing the rest from the private sector rather than the government.

“In other words, the PANYNJ was able to use PFC revenue to leverage private investment,” the airports wrote. “Eliminating the cap could open the door for even more private investment.”

“Eliminating this unnecessary and antiquated federal restriction would allow airports to finance a greater share of capital projects with local funds instead of scarce federal resources,” they said.

There’s already a bill in Congress that would get rid of the PFC cap, according to The Hill, although it would also require budget cuts for the federal Airport Improvement Program. The airline industry has traditionally opposed any increase in airport PFCs since it would raise ticket prices– and could impact demand.

What do you think? Would you be willing to pay more for your airline tickets to fund better airport infrastructure? Please leave your comments below. 

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

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

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

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

United’s longest flight won’t have this

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

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

Quiz: Test your planespotting skills

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

Virgin/Alaska expands carry-on bag sizes

Watch for big changes in TSA screening procedures

Can Oakland cope with global growth?

United upgrading new “Premium Transcontinental Service”

10 Should airlines lock seats upright?

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

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

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

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

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

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

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

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

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

Cuba kiss

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

Hilton creates a guest room for fitness fanatics

Take a look at the world’s largest airplane

Qantas uses crowdsourcing to solicit names for its Dreamliners

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

Former tech exec wants to build a chain of underwater hotels

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

Finnair A330

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

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

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

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

Here’s what Finnair business class looks like:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can Oakland cope with global growth?

777 Oakland

British Airways Boeing 777 landing at Oakland International Airport (Photo: Port of Oakland)

Oakland International Airport today adds another transatlantic competitor as new low-cost Level begins Barcelona service. It’s the latest in a growing roster of international flights at OAK, and it makes us wonder how much the airport can handle in its current state.

The new service from Level – with a two-class, 314-passenger A330 flying the route three days a week – comes just five days ahead of new twice-weekly Oakland-Barcelona flights from Norwegian, which has settled on the East Bay airport as its preferred home in the Bay Area. (OAK-BCN fares started as low as $400 round trip, but are now running $500-$700 for peak summer season trips.)

Level’s parent, International Airlines Group (which owns British Airways and Iberia), has also settled on Oakland — as the gateway where it will fight back against the low-cost flights of Norwegian. At the end of March, British Airways started four weekly flights from Oakland to London Gatwicka route that Norwegian has flown for more than a year, and will boost from three flights a week to four this fall.

Level is flying A330s from Oakland to Barcelona. (Image: IAG)

On the same day that BA launched those OAK-Gatwick flights, Norwegian started twice-weekly service from Oakland to Copenhagen; it already flies from OAK to Oslo and Stockholm.

Is your mind sufficiently boggled by all that?

That’s just part of the burgeoning international growth at Oakland. In addition:

  • Norwegian just announced plans to begin twice-weekly service next February from Oakland to Rome Fiumicino – the first Bay Area non-stops to Italy in many years. There is some speculation that IAG’s Level could decide to go head-to-head with Norwegian on that route as well.
  • In February, Southwest Airlines kicked off its first international service from Oakland, with daily flights to Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo/Los Cabos, Mexico.
  • Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris recently won rights to operate from Oakland to Mexico City, with service expected to begin by summer of 2018.

Norwegian flies Boeing 787 Dreamliners on its routes from Oakland to Europe.

With all the new transatlantic service, Oakland has surpassed San Diego to become California’s third-largest gateway to Europe.  The airport is doing its part this year to give those carriers a boost: Through August 15, it is offering five free days of parking, worth $120, to travelers flying roundtrip to Europe.

But all that growth comes at a cost: We’ve been hearing some grousing from readers about long waiting times at Customs and Immigration at Oakland airport.

Here are some select quotes from emails sent from the plane waiting on the OAK tarmac from reader SS: Trapped w/babies on sweltering Southwest flight from Puerto Vallarta. Customs can’t handle our flight & another big Norwegian flight that came in. So we’re stuck on plane. 

Later, SS wrote: There were TWO 200-300 passenger widebodies processed ahead of us. Norwegian Air & British Airways.  Only four customs agents processing passengers when we arrived to customs- three for US citizens, and one for non-US.  OAK clearly unprepared for this new level of international arrivals. Even customs hall wasn’t large enough to handle us well.

Emails like that make us wonder about the ability of OAK’s international terminal to handle all the growth (the airport recently reported that its overall passenger numbers during April jumped almost 13 percent  year-over-year).

We reached out to airport spokesperson Keonnis Taylor about this, and she wrote: The events of last evening were partially the result of irregular operations.  Southwest Airlines Flight 125 arrived 20 minutes early and the international arrival gates were occupied by other flights.  Unfortunately, about the same time as this early arrival, a system-wide outage of CBP’s APC (Automated Passport Control) kiosks occurred. The outage, which was not limited to OAK, required all passengers arriving on international flights to be processed through Customs without the benefit of the APCs, which streamline the process otherwise fully conducted by its agents.  This kiosk outage caused delays in passenger processing and, subsequently, a long period of waiting for other aircraft that had arrived, which were not able to access the International Arrivals Building until after previous international arrivals had deplaned all passengers.

Fortunately, OAK is hard at work on a $35 million expansion of its international arrivals facility, which should be finished this summer. Plus, Oakland does have Global Entry, which should help when things get backed up!

Have you flown from Oakland yet? Would you? Please leave your comments below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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United’s longest flight won’t have this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norwegian Air 787 Dreamliner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economy class seating on Norwegian

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

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

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

 

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Laptop ban update: yes, no and maybe

Laptop

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

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

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


Original post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch for big changes in TSA screening procedures 

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

Reader Report: SAS new business class to Copenhagen

Planespotting: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

Planespotting: Airbus A320 family differences

Fiji Airways SFO

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

Delta adds flexibility to upgrades

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

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

The ultimate luxury: LAX’s new private terminal

10 Lyft goes black in bid for business travelers

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

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

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

Foot bins: The solution to cabin storage problems?

Progress on ATL’s showy new canopies project

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

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

United Economy B777-300ER

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

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

American’s new first class dining room at JFK

Best Western now largest hotel chain in Sweden

Georgia Peanut Commission not happy about Delta’s new snacks 

TSA adds Singapore, Turkish & other airlines to PreCheck program

Turkish Air SFO

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

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

Delta brings new beverage options to domestic flights

FAA orders removal of potentially unsafe seats from smaller jets

Star Alliance develops online award booking platform across all member airlines

Russia, China team up to build a new jumbo jet

Uber integrates local mass transit information into its app

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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

Part of American’s renovated and expanded Flagship Lounge at New York JFK. (Image: American)

American Airlines has cut the ribbon on its first new Flagship Lounge at New York JFK; faster TSA lanes have opened at JFK’s Terminals 2 and 4; Chicago Midway gets a bunch of new food and beverage outlets and stores; Philadelphia International moves ahead with a big improvements project; more details on the new hotel coming to Minneapolis-St. Paul; and Charlotte unveils a long-term development program including an on-site hotel.

American has opened the first of several new premium airport lounges at its New York JFK Terminal 8. The newly renovated and enlarged Flagship Lounge is now available not just to first class flyers but also to business class passengers on international and transcontinental flights. (But first class travelers do have exclusive access to the new sit-down dining experience at the lounge’s new Flagship First Dining facility.) The Flagship Lounge offers quiet rooms, individual work pods, showers, a hot and cold food buffet, and made-to-order dining entrees. There’s also a “make your own cocktail” station. Later this year, American will open renovated Flagship Lounges at Los Angeles, Chicago O’Hare and Miami; and in 2018 at Dallas/Ft. Worth, Philadelphia and London Heathrow.

Elsewhere at JFK, Delta’s Terminals 2 and 4 are now equipped with those new “smart lanes” at TSA security checkpoints. Offering automated conveyor belts, larger bins, and the ability for more travelers to load up bins for the x-rays simultaneously, the new lanes are estimated to speed up the lines by 30 percent.

New restaurants have opened at Philadelphia’s Terminal B. (Image: American)

Three new restaurants have opened in Terminal B at Philadelphia International, with more improvements on the way. They include an Italian restaurant, a French pastry café and a German beer garden, and all feature iPads for ordering – a trend that is spreading quickly at major airport food outlets. (Passengers seem to love or hate iPads in equal measure.) They are among a total of eight new restaurants coming to the facility, all iPad-equipped, as part of a $33 million terminal redesign. That’s just a piece of a larger $900 million airport improvement project at PHL that will include substantial enhancements to basic infrastructure like elevators and escalators, along with plans by American to build a new front entrance to replace the Terminal B and C ticketing areas.

Chicago’s Midway Airport is bringing on 21 new food and beverage outlets and retail stores, the airport announced this month – all part of an ongoing $75 million improvements program. The project will increase the number of full-service sit-down restaurants at MDW from one to three, and will add other dining options ranging from a sushi outlet to a burriteria to a Dunkin Donuts. New retail stores at the airport include Tech on the Go and Sweet Indulgences. Other outlets will feature well-known Chicago brands like the Home Run Inn and Go Go White Sox.

Rendering of the InterContinental Hotel under construction at Minneapolis-St. Paul. (Image: InterContinental)

An airport hotel with its own TSA security checkpoint? That’s one of the innovations coming for the hotel under construction at Minneapolis-St. Paul International, due to open in the summer of 2018. InterContinental Hotels Group said this month that its new InterContinental Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport will be linked to Concourse C of the airport’s Lindbergh Terminal via a climate-controlled skybridge. The 12-story, 291-room hotel will also offer two restaurants, an upper-floor “observation bar,” an InterContinental Club Lounge, business and fitness centers, and a spa. Companies will be able to schedule same-day, fly-in, fly-out meetings, since the hotel will have 20,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 10,800-square foot ballroom.

New on-site airport hotels are also coming at San Francisco, Atlanta and New York JFK, and now one has been announced for Charlotte Douglas International in North Carolina. Airport officials said this week they plan to build a full-service hotel on the site of the airport’s existing control tower, which the FAA will replace with a new structure in 2020. The tower is just north of CLT’s new hourly parking deck adjacent to the terminal. In a presentation to the Charlotte city council, airport officials said their new long-term development plan also calls for construction of an automated people-mover that would run from the hourly parking deck through the hotel to Wilkinson Boulevard, where to would link up with a new light rail line planned by the Charlotte Area Transit System.

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Reader Report: SAS new business class to Copenhagen

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

This is a TravelSkills Reader Report submitted by RW.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fly through SAS’ new business class in this video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Get ready: Busy summer ahead

Airport gate crowd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Source: Gasbuddy.com)

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

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

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

TIPS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yosemite

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SF

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

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

United beefs up by the Bay to counter Alaska/Virgin

Planespotting: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320 differences

American Express Platinum adds 3 new lounges

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

5 top jobs for those who love to travel

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

LAX’s Big Move was a Big Success

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

Marriott, Starwood, Ritz roll out big summer promotion

The ultimate luxury: LAX’s new private terminal

10 Planespotting: Boeing 757, 767

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

Sea plane

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

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

Why Delta decided to stop being the mean airline

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

Southwest Airlines: Hawaii flights are a high priority 

Big Sheraton hotel to be leveled at ATL for runway

Uber back in Austin

Few hitches on big LAX move

U.S. airlines predict record travel volume this summer

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

Delta will introduce gluten-free main cabin snacks next month

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

Survey: Most consumers feel no loyalty to any single airline

Cvent lists top meeting destinations worldwide

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

Korean Air sets higher fees for “overweight pet companions”

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

Air France reveals more plans for its new Boost subsidiary

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LAX’s Big Move was a Big Success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Munich Munchen airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The ultimate luxury: LAX’s new private terminal

LAX’s The Private Suite offers exclusive posh waiting areas. (Image: The Private Suite)

You think you’re an elite traveler with your Diamond status, your First Class Lounge access and such? A newly opened private terminal at Los Angeles International Airport has just raised the bar a lot higher– for those who can afford it.

It’s not just for passengers flying on private jets– it’s for passengers traveling in first or business class on commercial flights, too.

Called The Private Suite, the new passenger terminal is located on the other side of the runways from LAX terminals used by the faceless mobs; and besides all the luxury and exclusive services, it has one other big benefit for its customers: “They don’t deal with paparazzi,” the company notes on its website. (Like a gated community, The Private Suite has a gated entrance to keep out unauthorized vehicles.)

In an era of rising inequality, this place is even more one-percenter exclusive than British Airways’ new “millionaire’s door” at London Heathrow (which we recently covered on the blog).

Departing customers get to hang out before their flight in one of the facility’s posh private suites, each equipped with a private bathroom, food service pantry, two-person daybed, several plush chairs, and a view of the runway.

The facility has its own TSA checkpoint. (Image: The Private Suite)

Users never set foot in the regular terminals, even for security screening, because The Private Suite has its own TSA checkpoint just for its customers. Luggage? Don’t even think about it—they take care of it for you. And when it’s time to board, a Private Suite employee drives you across the tarmac to your commercial flight in a BMW 7 Series sedan. The process works in reverse for arriving passengers.

You can gain access to The Private Suite as a “trial member” at a fee of $3,500 per group (up to three people) if you’re on a domestic flight, or $4,000 for international trips. If you’re willing to share a lounge, the rate drops to $2,000/$2,500 per person.

The facility is across the runway to the south of main terminals. (Image: The Private Suite)

If you expect to use the facility frequently, you can buy an annual membership for $7,500. That brings your per-use fee down to $2,700/$3,000 per group (up to four persons). Members can book up to six months in advance, and can take advantage of other benefits, like preferential pricing from XOJET private jet service, personal car storage, even the ability to book a free pre-flight massage, manicure, hair styling or makeup service.

Only members can get through the entrance gate. (Image: The Private Suite)

 

Customers are driven to their aircraft in a BMW. (Image: The Private Suite)

The only thing that comes close to this in my experience was the time I flew Concorde between New York and London- with Sting! 

I can’t wait to be waiting to take off at LAX and look down from my window seat and see the Private Suite limo pull up to the side of the plane…and wonder who that is boarding! 

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American Express Platinum adds 3 new lounges

Oakland

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Lounge Hartford

Escape Lounge Minneapolis

Escape Lounge Oakland

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

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

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

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

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

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

H/T: USA Today

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

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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

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

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

Laptop Ban Update

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

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

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

4 Still no firm answers- Russian mystery plane at SFO

Antonov An-124 Volga Dnepr

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

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

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

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

8 Fewer big seats- Delta reveals plans for 777 makeovers

9 Tight squeeze- Should airlines lock seats upright?

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

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

Alaska Airlines Havana

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

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

United dragging mess has no impact on bottom line

Qantas CEO gets a pie in the face in Perth

JetBlue Has a New Points Partner: Icelandair 

Emirates: Profits down a whopping 80%

Fun new ad campaign from Orbitz- Showbizzzzz!

Hey whining airline passenger: Look in the mirror! 

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

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

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

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

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

Southwest reports no problems in switching over to new reservations system

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

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Laptop ban delayed- but for how long?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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

Redesigned check-in area coming to British Airways’ Terminal 7 at JFK. (Image: British Airways)

In U.S. airport developments, New York JFK’s British Airways terminal is getting a makeover, and some airlines change locations there; LaGuardia will move ahead with a mass transit link; Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson gets more “smart” TSA screening lanes; Los Angeles International upgrades Wi-Fi service; and Baltimore-Washington gets a new passenger lounge.

British Airways revealed plans to spend $65 million on an overhaul of its Terminal 7 at New York JFK. Due for completion late next year, the project will give the terminal a renovated, more spacious check-in area; a new check-in zone for premium passengers with a fast-track security lane; new gate seating areas with more power outlets; and the development of “an authentic New York culinary experience with local food and beverage concepts.” Lounges for business class, first class, and Gold and Silver Executive Club cardholders will get a total makeover, “with more space and restaurant-style pre-flight dining,” the airline said.

Speaking of JFK’s Terminal 7, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America revealed plans to move their JFK operations there by October, giving up their current locations in Terminals 8 and 4 respectively. Terminal 7 is home to Alaska Global Partners British Airways, Qantas and Icelandair. Alaska and Virgin together operate 14 flights a day to JFK from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Aeromexico has also moved at JFK – into Terminal 4, where it will be close to joint venture partner Delta.

Don’t miss: Alaska Airlines sweetens perk for cardholders

The new LaGuardia will replace separate terminals with a unified structure. (Image: New York Governor’s Office)

A 30-minute ride between New York City’s Grand Central or Penn Station and LaGuardia Airport? That’s the goal for a new mass transit link in the works as part of that massive rebuilding of LGA that is now in progress. The New York Governor’s Office said it has just awarded a $14.6 million contract for preliminary analysis and design of the planned AirTrain, which will move people between the LGA terminals and the Willets Point stations of the Long Island Rail Road and the Number 7 subway line, where they can transfer for the trip into Midtown Manhattan.

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson was the very first location for two of those “smart lanes” at security screening checkpoints – lanes that keep passengers moving faster by using powered conveyor belts, stations for five people to load security bins at once, automated return belts for empty bins, etc. They have since spread to several other major hub airports, and now ATL has expanded its own smart lanes as well. The airport now has 22 of the fast lanes installed, out of a total of 27 lanes at three security checkpoints in the domestic terminal. They reportedly reduce passenger waiting times by 30 percent.

Los Angeles International plans to improve Wi-Fi access for travelers in its terminals. The LA Board of Airport Commissioners has approved changes in the LAX concessions agreement with Boingo Wireless that will let users access the airport’s free Wi-Fi with a single click instead of the several clicks currently needed. Boingo also agreed to install another 12 Wi-Fi access points in the Federal Inspection Services area of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. “The new access points will help arriving international travelers move through the customs and immigration clearance process faster and more easily with the Mobile Passport app,” an airport spokesman said.

Refreshments area at the new Club BWI. (Image: Airport Lounge Development)

Airport Lounge Development, which builds pay-per-use airport passenger lounges, has just cut the ribbon on its latest effort, The Club BWI at Baltimore-Washington International. The new facility is it eleventh U.S. airport location. The 2,200 square foot BWI club is in Concourse D near Gate 10. It seats 50, and is divided into a “relaxing zone” with comfortable chairs and power outlets; a “resting zone” where travelers can “put your feet up and take a quick break;” a “productivity zone” for working; and a “replenish zone” with food and beverages. A day pass costs $40. The facility is also open to members of Priority Pass, LoungeKey and Lounge Club.

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Heads up: The Big Move at LAX starts

In just a few days, Delta and other airlines will be switching locations at LAX. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

We’ve advised you a couple of times that many airlines would be switching terminals at Los Angeles International this spring, and now those moving days are almost here: The big move starts this Friday night (May 12, 2017) and will continue the nights of May 14 and May 16.

The relocations are all a result of Delta’s big plans to shift its LAX operations from Terminals 5 and 6 to Terminals 2 and 3, displacing a lot of other airlines.

Delta will move portions of its operations on each of the three nights – May 12, 14, 16. The carrier says that during the moving period, it will be operating flights from all four affected terminals, so it plans to maintain “constant communications” with customers regarding gate locations through its app, texts and emails. (See below for a map.)

Flying to/from or through LAX during the Big Move? Delta suggests the following:

  • Check terminal and gate information prior to arriving at LAX. Delta customers should use the Fly Delta app or delta.com and reconfirm gate information upon arrival at the airport.
  • Arrive early. Delta recommends arriving three hours prior to domestic departures and four hours prior to international departures.
  • When in doubt, ask for help. Delta and LAWA will have hundreds of employees and volunteers stationed throughout the impacted terminals to assist customers. They will wear bright green vests that say “Ask Me.”

The Delta Sky Club located in Terminal 5 will remain open through the end of scheduled operations on May 16. The Delta Sky Club location in Terminal 2 will open on May 13, and the location in Terminal 3 will open on May 17.

The Delta One “movie star” check-in facility located at Terminal 5 will remain open through the end of scheduled operations on May 16. After May 16, Delta will temporarily offer dedicated check-in space in Terminal 2 while a long-term Delta One experience is finalized.

Delta tells TravelSkills that it’s going to smooth frequent flyer feathers ruffled by the move with free massages, meditation pods, cucumber water, pressed juices, Kind bars and lavender scented mists. LAWA will also have dogs at the airport to provide stress relief and comfort to passengers through their Pets Unstressing Passengers program.

Source: Los Angeles World Airports

A few moves have already happened: China’s Hainan Airlines has moved from T2 to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT); Copa’s flights still leave from the TBIT, but check-in for flights moved from T6 to T3. And American in January dropped four gates in T6 and picked up four in T5.

Los Angeles World Airports has released a day-by-day schedule of the additional airline moves starting later this week, and here it is:

>Moving on May 12-13 (Friday-Saturday) are:

Allegiant, Frontier and Sun Country (from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5), Boutique Air and Virgin America (from Terminal 3 to Terminal 6), and Virgin Australia (moving from Terminal 3 to TBIT (passengers bused from T2 to TBIT for check in, with flights continuing to depart from TBIT). Additionally, Volaris will move its aircraft from Terminal 2 to TBIT. Check-in will continue at Terminal 2 and passengers will access their flights via post-security bus service to TBIT.

>Moving on May 14-15 (Sunday-Monday) are:

Avianca and Interjet (from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 for check-in, with passengers walking to TBIT to catch their flights) and Spirit (from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5).

>Moving on May 16-17 (Tuesday-Wednesday) are:

Air Canada (from Terminal 2 to Terminal 6), Hawaiian (from Terminal 2 to Terminal 5) and JetBlue (from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5).

The final change will be XL France, which will move from Terminal 2 to Terminal 6 when it resumes seasonal service June 4.

LAX Terminals 2 and 3 will be Delta’s new home at the airport. (Image: Delta)

Airport officials note that on some days during the moving period, Delta flights will be operating out of as many as four terminals (2, 3, 5 and 6). Other airlines should be completing their move in just one night, as shown in the above schedule.

Work on all construction projects in LAX’s central terminal area will be suspended during the moves, officials said, but they are advising travelers to arrive at the airport earlier than normal from May 12 through the end of the month as they get used to the new airline locations.

What do you think of all the changes happening at LAX these days? Are you curious, or avoiding it? Please leave your comments below. 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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United beefs up by the Bay to counter Alaska/Virgin

United is adding more flights and larger aircraft like this Boeing 737 on many domestic San Francisco routes. (Image: United)

Faced with increasing competition at its San Francisco hub from Alaska Airlines/Virgin America, United Airlines just announced another growth spurt for its domestic SFO schedules this summer, focusing not on new destinations but on increased capacity in existing markets.

The escalating battle at SFO will mean more choice of flights for local travelers. Whether it will also mean lower fares remains to be seen.

It’s the second round of SFO expansion to be announced by United this year. In February, the company said it would add seven new domestic destinations from SFO in June and July. Less than two weeks later, Alaska/Virgin unveiled plans to start 13 new routes from SFO and San Jose in late summer.

And now United says it will schedule additional frequencies from SFO in eight domestic markets, and switch from regional jets to larger mainline planes in 10 others.

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United SFO

United beefing up by the Bay (Image: United)

On August 1, the carrier will boost San Francisco-Seattle frequencies to 10 a day, and on August 15 will increase schedules to nine flights a day to Portland, three a day to Philadelphia and Kansas City, and two a day to Albuquerque, Baltimore/Washington, Indianapolis and Nashville. United flies E175s to Albuquerque and Kansas City; the other routes use A319/320s.

 Effective June 8, United said, it will switch from regional jets to 737s for service from San Francisco to Burbank and Palm Springs, and to A320s on routes from SFO to Dallas/Ft. Worth and Minneapolis-St. Paul, as well as SFO-Calgary and SFO-Kansas City for the summer. On July 1, United switches to 737s for SFO-Sacramento flights, and for seasonal SFO-Bozeman service. And on August 15 it shifts to 737s for SFO-Fresno service.

Alaska Airlines/Virgin America are also planning significant growth at SFO. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Some of those same routes are being added by Alaska/Virgin, including mainline service from SFO to Philadelphia (starting August 31), Nashville (September 5), Indianapolis (September 26) and Baltimore/Washington (October 16); and new E175 service from SFO to Albuquerque and Kansas City effective September 18.

Earlier, United announced new year-round daily service beginning June 8 from SFO to Cincinnati, Detroit, Santa Rosa and Spokane, along with new seasonal service from SFO to Hartford and Kalispell, Montana. It also said it would add summer service and expand to year-round daily flights from SFO to New Orleans, a market that Alaska/Virgin will enter on September 21 with daily mainline flights.

Starting May 24, United will launch nonstop, seasonal service between San Francisco and Munich (MUC) using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

As we asked when Alaska made its big announcement, Where are all those new flights going to fit at SFO’s limited number of gates? That remains to be seen and I wonder if we’ll be faced with more frustrating waits on the tarmac waiting… hmmm

So whaddya think? Do more flights on bigger planes make you less likely to stray to the emerging Alaska/Virgin beast which has stated is desire to be the west coast’s preferred carrier? Please leave your comments below.

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Most popular: Mystery plane + Phone searches + Cheap awards + New routes + Legroom

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) wants your mobile phone password (Image: CBP)

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

Russian mystery plane at SFO – this post was picked up by Drudge Report and snagged 150,000 views on Thursday! Still no official word on what exactly all these Antonov planes are doing at SFO- but there’s plenty of speculation in the comments! 

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

5 cushy crew rest areas: Cathay Pacific, United, Singapore, Qantas, Delta

Best airlines, best days for cheap award travel

5 Domestic Routes: Delta, JetBlue, United, Virgin America, Alaska, Southwest, American

Qatar Airways plans to use a 777-200LR on its new SFO route. (Image: Darren Koch/Wikimedia Commons)

6 International Routes: Qatar Airways to SFO + United 787s, Delta, Copa, AA, Virgin Atlantic

Economy class legroom: How low can it go?

A new(ish) look for Hawaiian Airlines

6 SFO secrets you should know

10 The big difference between direct & nonstop flights

New African-American #history #museum in #washington #dc is hottest ticket in town. #soldout #travel

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

Have you been to the new African American History Museum on Washington, DC yet? Read about how a trip there took editor Chris McGinnis on a journey through time to his adolescence and reminded him of a guardian angel! From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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

Hawaii Renames Honolulu Airport to Honor Late US Senator

New renderings of the Grand Hyatt on airport at SFO, breaking ground later this year 

Luxury lounge coming to LAX

What? Delta’s new JFK-Manhattan helicopter costs $1,300 one way

San Francisco International celebrates 90 years!

China’s new aircraft will compete with the 737, A320

Grand Hyatt SFO

A new Grand Hyatt is coming to SFO terminals (Photo: SFO)

Canada’s WestJet orders 787-9s; eyes new Asia, South America routes

Qatar Airways offers free Doha stopover to transit passengers, including hotel stay

Southwest’s new president pledges carrier will not impose baggage fees

British Airways adds perks for Executive Club members

DFW Airport loses millions in parking revenues due to Uber, Lyft

‘Squeezed’ passenger sues AA for seating him next to obese travelers on 14-hour flight

Emergency bridge loan keeps Alitalia flying — for now

Qantas will introduce its own Platinum MasterCard

Spectacularly cool! Nation’s tallest public art to top Salesforce Tower (IMAGE)

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Routes: Delta, JetBlue, United, Virgin America, Alaska, Southwest, American

Boston will get new Delta Connection service to four cities. (Image: SkyWest)

In domestic route developments, Delta and JetBlue both announce more service out of Boston; United expands Basic Economy to more routes; Virgin America starts flying new A321neos; Alaska adds a pair of Seattle markets; Southwest adds service at Sacramento; and American grows at Santa Rosa and Charlotte.

Boston travelers are the beneficiaries of an ongoing battle for market share between Delta and JetBlue. In the latest round, Delta unveiled new or expanded service on several BOS routes, in addition to its previously announced plans to start Boston-San Francisco flights on June 8. The carrier said its summer schedule this year will include new mainline service from Boston to Austin, along with new Delta Connection flights to Kansas City, Jacksonville, Buffalo and Norfolk. And on September 10, Delta will add a second daily roundtrip between Boston and Nashville.

And there’s more to come next winter: Delta said effective December 21, its Boston-West Palm Beach and BOS-Ft. Myers service will increase from weekend-only to daily, and Boston-Ft. Lauderdale will increase from weekends-only to twice-daily.  The expanded schedule will give Delta 12 new destinations out of Boston since November of last year.

A few days later, JetBlue announced its own expansion plans for Boston-Florida routes, including the addition of one more seasonal daily roundtrip from Boston to Jacksonville, to Palm Beach and to Ft. Myers. JetBlue had already announced that it will lay on a fourth daily Boston-Los Angeles Mint roundtrip in October, and will start Boston-San Diego Mint service in December. At Ft. Lauderdale, meanwhile, JetBlue said it will begin a daily roundtrip to Salt Lake City beginning November 16.

Lie-flat front cabin seating on a Delta 757-200. (Image: Delta)

Speaking of Delta, we noticed a couple of unusual entries on Routesonline.com, which tracks all airlines’ filings of new routes and service changes. Routesonline said Delta plans to put a 757-200 with flat-bed Delta One seats into service on one of its daily Boston-Minneapolis flights starting January 3 of next year. And from this month through October, Delta will use the same aircraft on one of its three daily New York JFK-Philadelphia flights; the other two still use Endeavor Air regional jets. Are these domestic legs of international flights? Any ideas, readers?

When United started offering bare-bones Basic Economy fares earlier this year, it did so mainly on routes between Minneapolis-St. Paul and its major hubs. But now United has started selling the ultra-low, no-frills fares in more than 100 domestic markets, mainly from its hubs to leisure destinations and to other hubs, for travel beginning May 9.  That includes routes like Newark-Orlando, Chicago-Denver, Washington Dulles-Orlando, Denver-Houston, San Francisco-Orlando and Chicago-Ft. Lauderdale. We’ve even heard they are in markets without ultra-low-cost-carriers such as LAX-SFO. 

An Airbus A321neo in Virgin America livery. (Image: Virgin America)

Although it’s now technically part of Alaska Airlines Group, Virgin America remains a separate brand and operating unit with its own new aircraft deliveries. And over the next several weeks, Virgin will put its newest aircraft type into service – the Airbus A321neo.  (The neo stands for New Engine Option.) The company said the new A321neos – it has ordered 10 of them – will have 185 seats. That will make it the largest in Virgin’s fleet; its current A320s have 146-149 seats, while its A319s have 119. The first A321neo will go into service May 31 between San Francisco and Washington Reagan National, and the second will start flying June 14 between SFO and New York JFK.

Speaking of Alaska Airlines, it recently started service on a pair of new routes out of its Seattle hub.  That includes one daily roundtrip from Seattle to San Luis Obispo and one between Seattle and Wichita. Both routes are operated by SkyWest with 76-seat, three-class E175s.

Southwest Airlines is growing at Sacramento. Besides new twice-daily flights between Sacramento and Long Beach starting August 1, the airline will also start daily Sacramento-Spokane service on the same date. And on June 5, Southwest will add more frequencies in two other markets, boosting its Sacramento-Seattle schedule to as many as six flights a day, and increasing Sacramento-San Diego to as many as 11 a day.

American Airlines’ new service (started in February) between its Phoenix hub and Sonoma County, California’s Charles Schulz Airport in Santa Rosa has been filling up fast, so the carrier plans to add a second daily flight in the market starting July 5. The Santa Rosa flights use American Eagle 70-seat, two-class CRJ-700s. Elsewhere, American plans to add two new American Eagle routes out of its Charlotte hub on August 22, with two flights a day to Shreveport, La., and two a day to Toledo, Ohio. Both will use CRJ-200s operated by PSA Airlines.

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Routes: Qatar Airways to SFO + United 787s, Delta, Copa, AA, Virgin Atlantic

Qatar Airways plans to start San Francisco service next year- image of Qatar’s current business class seat from a travel conference trade show floor. (Image: Chris McGinnis)

In international route news, Qatar Airways will add San Francisco service and delay Las Vegas; United plans changes to 787 schedules at SFO in 2018; Delta’s code goes onto a long-haul Air France route; Copa adds a new U.S. gateway; American will suspend its Auckland route for a while; Virgin Atlantic trims an Atlanta route; Spirit gives up a Caribbean destination; and United and American start up several seasonal Europe routes this week.

Laptop ban or no laptop ban, Qatar Airways plans to add service to another new U.S. destination next year: San Francisco. Company officials said at a travel show in Dubai last week that Qatar plans to bring a dozen new destinations onto its route map in 2018, including SFO – although it did not say exactly when the flights would start or what type of aircraft it would use. SFO tells TravelSkills that the service will be daily and could start in the second quarter of 2018 using a Boeing 777. Meanwhile, Qatar’s previously announced plan to start flying to Las Vegas on January 8 of next year has been pushed back to sometime in the second quarter. Qatar plans to fly the LAS-Doha route four times a week with a 777-200LR. Qatar Airways is a member of the Oneworld Alliance. 

United will add 787-9s to more San Francisco routes next year. (Image: United)

United will make some changes in its 787 schedules at San Francisco next year, according to Routesonline.com. The carrier plans to deploy 787-9 Dreamliners on its daily flights from SFO to Seoul on March 18 and to Taipei on May 4, 2018, replacing 777-200ERs on both routes. At the same time, 787-9s will replace 787-8s on the SFO-Munich route May 4, 2018 and on the SFO-Chengdu, China route May 2. Also on March 24, United will switch from a 787-9 to a 787-8 on its Washington Dulles-London Heathrow route.

Delta last week gave its customers a new way to get to Singapore. In an expansion of code-sharing with joint venture partner Air France, Delta started putting its code onto Air France’s daily Paris CDG-Singapore flight. Meanwhile, Air France added new code-shares with Singapore Airlines, putting its code onto the latter’s flights beyond Singapore to Melbourne and Sydney, and on sister carrier SilkAir’s service to Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Phuket.

Copa Airlines economy class on a 737-800 (Image: Copa)

Panama’s Copa Airlines has set a December 11 start for new service between Denver and Panama City, which will be its thirteenth U.S. gateway. The carrier plans to fly the route four times a week with a 737-800.

Going to New Zealand later this year? American Airlines filed plans to suspend its Los Angeles-Auckland service for a while – specifically, from August 5 to October 4. When the flight resumes on October 5, it will use a 787-9 instead of the current 787-8. In another service cutback, Delta partner Virgin Atlantic will trim its Atlanta-Manchester schedule this winter. From October 29 through March 24, Virgin will fly the route three times a week instead of daily. And Spirit Airlines is giving up the ghost on Cuba: The carrier will terminate its Ft. Lauderdale-Havana flights effective May 31, citing weak demand.

It’s time for major carriers to start up their seasonal summer routes to Europe, and both United and American will launch a bunch of them this week.  On May 5, United will kick off seasonal service from its Newark hub to Edinburgh, Venice, Stockholm and Hamburg; from Washington Dulles to Lisbon and Madrid; and from Chicago O’Hare to Rome and Dublin.  Also on May 5, American Airlines will begin seasonal flights from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Amsterdam and Rome; and from Chicago O’Hare to Barcelona.

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Trip Report: Oakland-London, British Airways business class

BART

First stop on my journey to London: BART’s 24th Street station in San Francisco where I caught a train to Oakland International (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last month I jumped on British Airways’ new Oakland-London Gatwick nonstop for a quick two-day business trip. I’ve never flown to Europe from Oakland, so I was eager to give it a go and share my experience here.

I was also eager to test taking BART from San Francisco to Oakland Airport. And in another test, I skipped my normal practice of taking sleep aids on this overnight flight. 

On the OAK-LGW route, British Airways is following in the contrails of Norwegian Air, which launched its Oakland-London Boeing 787 Dreamliner nonstops in May 2016 at rock bottom fares– as low as $400 round trip, but with many extra fees.

Currently, the cheapest BA fares on OAK-LGW are running about $975 for economy class roundtrips in June. These economy class fares pretty much match Norwegian’s fares when you add in all Norwegian’s extras. Premium economy runs about $1,450 roundtrip. The least expensive business class seats are going for about $3,700 roundtrip, but in some cases climb as high as $7,000. When BA first announced the nonstops it offered a special economy fare of just $500 round trip, but that fare is long gone now that peak summer season approaches.

British Airways’ new Oakland-Gatwick flights operate four days a week using a Boeing 777-200ER that seats 275 passengers: 203 in economy,  24 in premium economy and  48 in business class. British Airways’ premium economy (aka World Traveller Plus) is in a separate cabin, bigger seats with 38-inch pitch, in-seat power, and choice of meals from the business class menu. BA is the only carrier at OAK offering lie-flat business class seats to Europe.

BA Club World (business class) travelers flying out of Oakland receive up to five days of free parking in OAK’s Premier Lot, an added value of $190. They also get complimentary access to a new Escape lounge located in Terminal 1 near BA gates. One-time passes to the lounge go for $45.

Note: Chris McGinnis was a guest of British Airways for this trip to London to attend a press briefing. Here’s what that was all about!

BART’s Coliseum station is where passengers connect to the new BART Connector to Oakland Airport (Chris McGinnis)

When taking BART to Oakland International Airport, you get off at Coliseum station. From there you walk up the steps to the new Oakland Airport Connector station for the short spur ride to the front door of the airport. (Fares vary from your starting point, but run in the $10 range) Wanna see what that ride is like? Watch the video below!

Here’s the ride from BART Coliseum to Oakland Airport

British Airways check in counters are located in an unusual spot near airport security in Oakland’s Terminal 1 (Chris McGinnis)

British Airways operates out of Oakland’s Terminal 1. When I first walked in I could not find the British Airways ticket counter among all the other counters in the main corridor. When I asked,  I discovered that BA’s counter is in a new space (currently under construction) closer to the security screening lines.

I picked up my boarding pass at the counter, breezed through security– I did not get PreCheck for this flight, although it is available at OAK– but did not really need it since there were only about 10 people in line at midday.

Total transit time from the BART station in SF to the Escape lounge beyond security just 70 minutes. Not bad!

After security I headed straight to the new Escape Lounge– since I was flying business class, I had comp access to the lounge which was a nice quiet oasis from the hubbub of the terminal.

When I checked my watch, I was pleased to see that the entire journey from the BART station in SF, under the Bay in a train, connecting to the airport spur, checking in, going through security and walking to the gate took just 70 minutes! That’s faster and easier than I expected, and the ease of the trip probably had a lot to do with the time of day I was there (midday). If it had been morning or evening rush hours, it would have probably taken a bit longer.

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

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

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

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

Now let’s go jump onboard! BA 2278 was scheduled to depart at 3:10 pm but was delayed until 3:50 pm. Flight time to London is 10.5 hours, and is scheduled to land at 9:30 am.

British Airways deploys a Boeing 777-200ER on the Oakland-London Gatwich route (Chris McGinnis)

The Boeing 777-200ER deployed on this route is not a new plane, but the interior felt like it had been through a recent refresh. There were 48 business class seats in two cabins separated by a galley  and it felt airy and bright with huge overhead bins.

Luckily business class was only about 1/3 full so I was able to get a rear-facing window seat and did not have to face a fellow forward-facing passenger during take off and landing. To make life easier on the flight attendants, I left the translucent screen separating passengers down for the entire flight.

British Airways signature forward and rear facing business class seats (Chris McGinnis)

To me, the window seats in British Airways business class are the best because they are so private– you are really tucked away in your own cocoon over there (My seat is off to the right in the photo above- 3A). Aisle seats are much more exposed to activity in the aisle. Seats are configured 2-4-2.

The downside to this set up is that window seat passengers must step over the legs of the aisle seat passenger to get out. That’s long been a bone of contention among BA business flyers, however, that should be changing soon. The reason I was on this trip in the first place was to meet with BA’s CEO Alex Cruz– and during that meeting he revealed that the next generation business class section would offer 100% aisle access- what was less clear is if the new seats would be forward and rear facing.

British Airways seats 3A (mine by the window) and 3B (unoccupied) on OAK-LGW (Chris McGinnis)

Something interesting about those translucent screens– see below? When flight attendants look down from the aisle, the screen is transparent. But from the passenger level, it’s translucent, so when it’s up you can only see shadows of the passenger seated next to you.

The translucent divider separating business class passengers goes up and down (Chris McGinnis)

One interesting thing about taking off from Oakland Airport vs SFO… taxi time! From the time the door closed and we backed up, taxied and took off felt like about 10 minutes. Plus there were plenty of nice views of the marshes surrounding OAK from the windows.

A glass of Albarino and a bag of nuts to start the meal service (Chris McGinnis)

Shortly after take off, flight attendants came around with a drinks cart and nuts. On this flight, the Kendall-Jackson California chardonnay listed on the wine menu was not in stock, so I settled for an Spanish Albarino.

In-seat stowage space in BA’s business class is limited to this drawer by your feet– it’s big enough for a laptop, magazines, phone, headphones, camera, etc. Kinda difficult to access, but good to have.

British Airways does not currently offer in-flight wi-fi on any flights… which seems strange given its global reach and reputation. It was sorely missed on this flight. However, on this trip we learned that BA is aiming to have nearly all its fleet outfitted with wi-fi within two years.

In seat stowage space limited to a small drawer by your feet (Chris McGinnis)

First course was a fresh and colorful salad and as an appetizer I chose a “deconstructed Greek salad” of feta, black olive tapenade, tomatoes, carved cucumbers, onions and watercress.

Tossed salad and as an app: Descontructed Greek Salad with olive tapenade and pea shoots (Chris McGinnis)

I’m usually not much of a beef eater so I chose the haddock. While the presentation of the meal was lacking, it tasted really good– creamy, cheese-y and fishy with a nice side of fava beans and rice. I asked flight attendants if I could see what the steak looked like– and to snap a photo. They happily obliged. Shoulda chosen the steak!

Other mains included Pappardelle pasta tossed with kale pesto or a nicoise salad with grilled chicken.

Haddock in white wine herb risotto, fava beans with smoked bacon and chive beurre blanc (Chris McGinnis)

 

Seared fillet of midwest beef with red wine jus, chorizo potato rosti and roasted root vegetables (Chris McGinnis)

 

Triple mousse cake with chocolate sauce (Chris McGinnis)

Some nice American cheeses with a tomato jelly and oatmeal wafers for dessert. I passed on the chocolate mousse since I thought it might interfere with the sleep I hoped to get on this flight.

Krystal cave aged cheddar and Wisconsin blue with green tomato jam (Chris McGinnis)

After dinner I took a stroll through the plane and found it pretty empty. When I checked in, agents told me that there were only 95 passengers (out of 275 seats) in economy class. Not surprising considering this was during slow season, and only the first week of the flight.

In premium economy there were only four passengers. It’s a quiet, cozy cabin located between economy and business class. seats are configured 2-4-2. Passengers can choose from the business class menu. Downside: When seats are empty, you can’t lie down flat across the rows due to the fixed arm rests.

Premium economy on British Airways B777-200ER (Chris McGinnis)

At the back in economy, this British Airways B777 is configured 3-3-3– thankfully not the emerging 10-across (3-4-3) standard- but that could change. In our meeting with Cruz, he indicated that Gatwick flights, which are more leisure oriented and price driven, could soon see 10-across, too. Time will tell.

Since this flight was so empty, many coach passengers (who likely paid just $500 roundtrip) were able to snag what business class passengers pay dearly for: a long flat surface for sleeping. In the photo below, it may look like that middle cabin is empty, but there’s a body sprawled across each row!

Economy class seats configured 3-3-3 on BA’s B777-200ER (Chris McGinnis)

Back in my business class cocoon, I laid my six-foot frame flat and comfortably for 4-5 hours, but did not get much sleep. I experimented with not taking any sleep aids on this flight and learned my lesson! It did not help that flight attendants kept the cabin very warm for the overnight flight– for some reason nearly all European carrier flights are kept WAY too warm for good sleep. I would have loved to cuddle under the nice quilt provided, but used it as a pillow instead.

Our flight landed at London Gatwick about 30 minutes late at around 10 am. Unlike British Airways flights arriving at Heathrow, there is no Fast Track through customs and immigration for business class passengers. Since other flights were arriving at the same time and lots of passengers to process, this meant waiting in line for about 30 minutes.

If you want to avoid that wait, you can pay about $13 for Gatwick Premium access to get in a fast lane  which was empty when I was there. Had I known about this, I would gladly have paid the $13 to speed through!

Once I got through immigration, I sped through customs with my carry on bag and exited to the busy south terminal. Finding my way to the Gatwick Express train was easy– the service has recently been updated, so there’s a dedicated ticket line in the airport.

Gatwick express train

New Gatwick Express trains depart every 15 minutes for the 30 minute trip to Victoria Station (Chris McGinnis)

At Gatwick, BA uses the recently renovated South Terminal — recent improvements include a brand new business class lounge, and upgraded check in area, and easier access to the Gatwick Express.

Gatwick Airport (LGW) is 28 miles south of central London but still convenient and even preferred by many travelers. Why? Because the easy 30-minute, approximately $25 Gatwick Express train whisks you from the airport to Victoria Station in the heart of the city every 15 minutes. There’s free wi-fi onboard– which makes it easy to catch up on emails that have arrived overnight.

Clean, new and modern trains on the Gatwick Express (Chris McGinnis)

 

British Airways put us up at The Corinthia, one of my favorite London hotels, for two nights. It’s located on the banks of the Thames near the Embankment and Charing Cross stations. The taxi fare from Victoria station to the hotel was about $15.

Here’s my bedroom at the Corinthia, but check out the view from my window!

Early morning view from my #hotel room #jetlag #london #travel #sunrise

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

 

Have you flown British Airways before? What did you think? Would you give it a go on the new Oakland-Gatwick flight? Please leave your comments below! 

Disclosure: Chris McGinnis was a guest of British Airways for this trip, which included roundtrip air transportation and two nights hotel. TravelSkills covered all other costs related to the trip.

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What is Thomas Cook Airlines?

Thomas Cook Airlines is expanding U.S.-U.K. service this summer. (Image: Thomas Cook Airlines)

We mentioned recently that Thomas Cook Airlines will begin San Francisco-Manchester, U.K. service this spring. But it’s also planning lots of other new summer service between the U.S. and the U.K., with relatively low fares.

So what is Thomas Cook Airlines, how does it compare to other low-cost transatlantic airlines, and what does it have to do with Thomas Cook, the venerable U.K.-based travel agency group?

First, let’s look at its summer schedule. Besides twice-weekly (Thurs & Sun only) SFO-Manchester service starting May 14, the airline will start flying to Manchester from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York JFK on May 1, with schedules ranging from three flights a week to daily, as well as Orlando-London Gatwick. On May 3, it adds Orlando-Manchester and Las Vegas-Glasgow, followed by Boston-Manchester May 16; Miami-Manchester June 15; Orlando-Belfast June 25; and Las Vegas-London Stansted August 3.

Thomas Cook Airlines

Premium economy on Thomas Cook Airlines

The carrier uses Airbus A330-200s widebodies on its U.S. routes, with economy and premium economy seating.  To Manchester, it cites one-way fares of $279 economy/$419 premium from San Francisco, $279/$359 from Los Angeles and $249/$349 from JFK, for example.

And does that buy you nothing but a seat as on low fare carriers like Norwegian or WOW? Nope: “All tickets include a minimum of 50 pounds checked luggage and 13 pounds of cabin luggage, as well as meals. Inflight entertainment is available on seat-back screens, with a choice of free or paid-for content, featuring more than 30 movies and 50 TV shows,” a spokesman said. On airlines like Norwegian and WOW, those things cost extra for economy class travelers.

According to Seatguru.com, premium economy in Thomas Cook Airlines’ two-class A330-200s has 49 “recliner seats” (seven across) that are 19.7 inches wide, with 35-inch pitch; and 273 regular economy seats (eight across) that are 18.2 inches wide with 31-inch pitch (pretty much the industry standard for economy class these days).

Seating on a Thomas Cook A330-200. (Image: Thomas Cook Airlines)

The airline is part of the U.K.-based Thomas Cook Group, a travel conglomerate that evolved out of the original travel agency chain. Besides Thomas Cook Airlines, the group also owns Germany’s Condor Airlines, both catering to the leisure market. Condor is an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan partner as of last winter, too!

Thomas Cook Group has five operating divisions across Europe; besides the airlines and the travel agency chain, it also has several tour operators and a hotel booking website. And it’s huge: The group has total sales of more than $10 billion and more than 21,000 employees.

The airline’s U.S. routes are largely seasonal. Its winter 2017/2018 schedule shows U.S. service only to New York JFK and Las Vegas from Manchester, and to Orlando from Manchester and London Gatwick.

More about Thomas Cook Airlines here. 

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Emirates cuts flights to US

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis having fun with Emirates flight attendants during the A380 tour at SFO

Today Dubai-based Emirates Airline announced that it would cut frequencies to five US cities in the wake of tanking demand due to the laptop ban and Trump’s attempts to ban travelers from certain Muslim countries.

It’s important to note that Emirates is only cutting back on service– but not eliminating it on flights between Dubai and Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Orlando and Ft Lauderdale. The cutbacks (25 flights total) go into effect in May and June. So you can still “get there from here” but it won’t be as convenient.

Emirates’s service to other US cities will (so far) not be affected. It also flies to Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, DC. Late last year Emirates closed most of its US sales and marketing offices, laying off workers.

A sea of business class seats on the Emirates A380 upper deck– 76 of them, all true lie-flat (Photo: Chris McGinnis(

U.S. Carriers have been flighting against the incursion of the big three Middle East carriers (ME3) for years, so this could be a sign that those efforts, along with recent actions by Trump, are succeeding.  The two other ME3 carriers are Etihad and Qatar Airways.

Etihad has already been scaling back in the US— for example, its B777 nonstops between SFO and Abu Dhabi are down to just 2-3 times per week. It also announced layoffs and other cutbacks back in December.

Since much of the ME3 carriers business is involved in transporting people to and from India, carriers that fly there are likely beneficiaries. For example, Air India is likely killing it on the SFO-Delhi route. Lufthansa is no doubt lapping up the biz on its many connecting flights from the US which continue on to  India. From the west coast, Asian carriers such as Cathay Pacific are likely getting travelers to India via its hub in Hong Kong.

Check out what Delta posted today on its website about this as part of its Partnership for Open & Fair Skies.

Don’t miss! The opulent party Emirates threw in SF to welcome its A380

Emirates laid out its plans in a statement to Business Insider: “Emirates can confirm that we will be reducing flights to five of the 12 US cities we currently serve. From 1 May and 23 May respectively, our Fort Lauderdale and Orlando operations will move from daily services to five a week. From 1 and 2 June respectively, our Seattle and Boston operations will move from twice-daily services, to a daily service. From 1 July, our operations to Los Angeles will move from twice-daily to a daily service.”

How do you feel about this? Are you a frequent flier on Emirates or other gulf carriers? 

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Charting progress of big LAX move starting now

LAX Terminals 2 and 3 will be Delta’s new home at the airport. (Image: Delta)

That massive move of airlines at Los Angeles International is just a few weeks away, but a few changes have already started – and the airport authority has put out a new chart of who’s going where.

As we reported earlier, the relocations are all a result of Delta’s big plans to shift its LAX operations from Terminals 5 and 6 to Terminals 2 and 3, displacing a lot of other tenants. The changes will affect a total of 28 airlines.

Most of the moves will take place in the overnight hours of May 12, 14 and 16. But a few have already happened. China’s Hainan Airlines has just moved from T2 to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). Copa’s flights still leave from the TBIT, but check-in for flights moved last week from T6 to T3. And American in January dropped four gates in T6 and picked up four in T5. Later this month, Qatar Airways is slated to move from T2 to the Bradley Terminal.

When the major moves begin next month, Delta will be operating flights on some days from four terminals (2, 3, 5 and 6).

Here’s a chart from the airports authority of who’s moving where, followed by a map of how the terminals will shake out when it’s all finished.

“During the relocation and in the weeks following, passengers are advised to check-in online, print boarding passes, and check terminal and gate information before coming to LAX,” Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) said. “They should also arrive to the airport earlier than normal.  Once at LAX, passengers should check flight and gate status on flight information display boards in each terminal to ensure they are in the correct location.”

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Third “real” United Polaris flight revealed

United B777-300ER

United’s third Boeing 777-300ER will go into service between San Francisco and Tokyo.(Photo: United)

As United takes delivery of more 777-300ERs, it will be bringing its new Polaris business cabin to additional international routes – and it just released word of a big transpacific change coming in a couple of months.

Routesonline.com reports that United will put a 777-300ER with the new cabin onto the San Francisco-Tokyo Narita route effective June 14. The new aircraft will be used for UA 837/838, replacing the current 747-400; United’s other daily SFO-NRT flight uses a 787-9.

The Tokyo service will be the third international route to offer United’s new premium cabin and service. Last month, the new aircraft started flying between San Francisco-Hong Kong, and in early May, it will be used for one of United’s two daily Newark-Tel Aviv flights. The aircraft going onto the Tel Aviv route is temporarily being used for Newark-San Francisco flights.

United Polaris

A window seat in United’s “real” Polaris cabin on B777-300ER (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Real” Polaris? United rebranded its entire business class experience (both old and new) last fall and now calls both Polaris. This has led to a lot of confusion and misplaced excitement when passengers book business class on United and see “Polaris” on their itinerary or boarding pass. Many mistakenly think that they are going to get the new seat (seen above) when in fact they will get the old business class seat, but the new “soft” Polaris products like upgraded pillows and blankets, more elaborate food & drink offerings like wine flights or bloody mary carts.

So remember that for now and the near future, you’ll only get the new or “real” Polaris business class seat if you are flying from SFO to Hong Kong or Tokyo, or from Newark to Tel Aviv. 

Current “old” business class onboard United’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is also called Polaris (Photo: United Airlines)

United has ordered 14 of the new 777-300ERs, all due for delivery this year, but it hasn’t yet said where they will be used beyond the routes mentioned above. They are expected to go mainly onto transpacific routes.

A few weeks ago, word came out that deployment of the new planes might be pushed back later than the original timetable because of a supply problem. Specifically, the European manufacturer of the new Polaris seats is having trouble producing them on time.

Here’s our first look at the interior of the 777-300ER, including all classes of seating, with plenty of photos. United eventually plans to remake the premium cabins of its other long-haul aircraft models with the same new Polaris lie-flat seats that are going into the 777-300ERs.

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Airport news: San Jose, LAX, Boston, San Francisco, DFW

A new baggage carousel in Mineta San Jose’s expanded international arrivals facility. (Image: Mineta San Jose Airport)

In airport news, San Jose opens an expanded international arrivals space; Boston Logan’s Terminal E gets an overhaul and a pair of new premium lounges; Virgin America will lose its Loft at LAX; San Francisco International can record your license plate; and Dallas/Ft. Worth is greatly expanding a much-needed passenger amenity.

After a year of construction, Mineta San Jose International Airport this week cut the ribbon on an expanded International Arrivals Building. The project added 2,700 square feet and a second baggage carousel in the secure Customs area, along with a 3,100 square foot enclosed area for people waiting to meet inbound passengers. Airport officials said the larger space was needed because the number of carriers with international service at SJC has grown from three to nine in the past two years.

Virgin America will lose its Loft lounge at LAX next month. (Image: Virgin America)

That big multi-airline move at Los Angeles International coming next month will eliminate one of the airport’s favorite spaces for Virgin America customers: the airline’s popular Loft in Terminal 3. That’s because the move will take Virgin from T3 to Terminal 6, where it will co-locate with its new owner, Alaska Airlines. But the Travel Codex blog reports that persons who enjoy free access to the Virgin America Loft – i.e., first class and Gold Elite customers – will get the same privileges at the Alaska Airlines lounge in T6, and Virgin’s Elevate Silver members will get a reduced entry rate of $15.

At Boston Logan, work has been finished on an expansion of Terminal E. The project added three more gates to the facility, and gives it the capability of handling Airbus A380 jumbos. Along with the extra space, travelers will be seeing improvements in Terminal E concessions as well. A new Hudson News has opened, to be followed in June by a new duty free store. New restaurants coming this summer include a Legal Sea Bar seafood eatery and a branch of Stephanie’s, a popular dining spot on Boston’s Newbury Street. The project also brought some new space for premium international flyers, including a British Airways lounge for first and business class customers (including those of partner carriers Iberia, Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific); and a new Lufthansa lounge for first and business class flyers and elite-level customers, including those of Star Alliance partners at BOS like SAS, TAP and Turkish Airlines.

Part of Luftnhansa’s new lounge at Boston Logan’s Terminal E. (Image: Lufthansa)

Do you drive to San Francisco International? If so, your license plate data could be captured and stored electronically for up to four years. according to Endgadget.com, the city’s Airport Commission OK’d the data collection plan to help in monitoring revenues from commercial operations like parking and taxis, but it’s not clear why it needs anyone else’s plate numbers, or why it needs to be kept for years. The airport apparently also has permission to release relevant data to law enforcement authorities, and the whole thing is stirring up some concerns among privacy and civil liberty groups.

Passengers at Dallas/Ft. Worth International will find it easier to plug in during the coming months. The airport plans to spend $1 million on the installation of another 2,750 power outlets at the gate areas in all five terminals. Electrical plugs are currently available at 10 to 15 percent of the gate area seats, but this project should expand that to 40-50 percent.

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Routes: Airberlin delays at SFO/LAX, Virgin Australia, Austrian, AA, United + more

Airberlin is delaying its new Berlin service from San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Image: Airberlin)

In international route news, Airberlin is pushing back the start date of its new West Coast service to Berlin; Virgin Australia adds a Los Angeles route; Austrian Airline starts LAX flights; American plans an aircraft switch for some west coast service; United shifts Dreamliners to Washington Dulles and begins seasonal flights to Europe from San Francisco and Houston; Xiamen expands service; and JetBlue adds a Caribbean route.

Airberlin is delaying the start-up dates for its new service from Berlin to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The service from Berlin Tegel to San Francisco, originally set to begin May 1, has been pushed back to May 29; and the Berlin-Los Angeles flights, due to launch May 2, have been postponed to May 16. Passengers scheduled to travel on the earlier flights are being rebooked onto other flights via Dusseldorf, the company said. Airberlin blamed the delays on problems with its new ground handling company at Tegel Airport. The carrier plans to operate four flights a week from SFO; the LAX schedule calls for two flights a week from mid-May, with a third frequency starting in June.

Virgin Australia this week kicked off new non-stop service from Los Angeles to Melbourne. The Australian carrier will fly the route five days a week with a 777-300ER, as part of its joint venture operation with Delta. On the other coast, Delta partner Virgin Atlantic plans to convert its New York JFK-Manchester service from a seasonal to a year-round operation, with plans to continue flying the route four times a week after October 29 with an A330, then dropping down to three a week from January 14 through March 22, 2018. Delta will no longer fly the route, according to Routesonline.com.

Austrian Airlines started 777 service from LAX to Vienna. (Image: Austrian Airlines)

Austrian Airlines this week kicked off new service from Los Angeles International to Vienna. The airline’s 777-200 service starts off with five flights a week through June 12, then increases to daily frequencies. The route marks Austrian’s first non-stop service to the West Coast. The 308-seat 777 includes 48 business class seats with lie-flat seat-beds.

American Airlines is planning to change equipment on a couple of international routes out of Los Angeles later this year, according to Airlineroutes.com. Plans call for American to put 787-9s into service starting November 5 on the LAX-Sao Paulo route, and increasing frequencies from five to six a week; and on the LAX-Tokyo Narita route from August 4 to October 27. In both cases, the Dreamliners will replace 777-200ERs.

United Boeing 787 Dreamliner

United is shifting some 787s from Houston to Washington Dulles. (Photo: United)

Speaking of 787s, FlightGlobal reports that United Airlines plans to shift Dreamliner flying from Houston Bush Intercontinental to Washington Dulles this coming winter, citing a letter to pilots from UA management. The carrier will reportedly close its 787 pilots’ base at Houston. Effective with United’s winter schedule October 29, that means in addition to its existing 787 service from IAD to London and Paris, United will also use the Dreamliner for flights from Dulles to Beijing (replacing a 777-200) and to Sao Paulo (replacing a 767-400ER), while a 777-200 will go onto Houston-Frankfurt and a 767-300ER will be used for Houston-Buenos Aires. Meanwhile, United is due to begin seasonal service April 20 from Houston to Munich and from San Francisco to Frankfurt, with both routes continuing through October 27. Have you flown a United Dreamliner yet? Let us know what you think in the comments.

China’s Xiamen Airlines is due to start 787-9 service from Los Angeles to Xiamen three times a week on June 28. That schedule will increase to four a week from July 19 through August 24 with the addition of a 787-8 flight, according to Routesonline.com.

JetBlue already flies to Port-au-Prince, Haiti from New York, Boston and Ft. Lauderdale, and now it plans to add the only non-stop service to Port-au-Prince from Orlando beginning in December, subject to government approvals. The carrier said it will use a 100-seat E190 for the new service.

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United: Will 3 wrongs make a right?

United jets on the ramp at Newark Terminal C (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The three primary characters in this week’s gruesome tale of airline passenger bashing made mistakes: United should have sought a better solution to its oversold/overbooked/crewing situation, David Dao should have gotten off the plane, and the police should have used less force.

On a busy Sunday night at O’Hare, these three mistakes coalesced to create a perfect storm onboard the plane. The end result we’ve all seen play out on viral videos that elicit a visceral, emotional reaction and created a social media firestorm.

United was wrong: United (or Republic) should never have boarded the plane before asking for volunteers. United should have increased the compensation it was offering for passengers to give up their seats until it got a few takers. It should have considered alternatives for getting its crew to Louisville– it could have rented a car and had them there in five hours. United should have tried harder to fix the situation before calling in law enforcement.

David Dao was wrong: But the least wrong of the three. As the Wall Street Journal said this week, “airplanes are dictatorships.” As lopsided and unfair as the situation was and as angry as Dao may have been, he should have gotten off the plane when instructed to do so. By refusing to get off, he was breaking federal law. Once off the plane, he could have possibly plead his case with gate agents, letting them know that he was a doctor with patients to see in the morning and that he was traveling with his daughter. Who  knows, they may have taken that into consideration, let him back on board or put him on another flight or arranged to have a car take him to Louisville. UPDATE: Do airlines have the right to throw you off the plane even though you’ve done nothing wrong? As wrong as it may seem, the answer is: Yes. Travel industry analyst and former airline executive Henry Harteveldt helps explain, “Just as airplanes defy the law of gravity when they take off, air travel has its own unique sets of rules that passengers must follow. Among the rules are following airline employees’ directions and commands. If you deliberately disobey an airline employee’s instructions, it can result in a fine, being removed from a plane, or even being put on a ‘black list’ and not being able to fly that carrier ever again.” For more background on this, see: Can an airline really just yank you off a plane? Plus: Legal minds are picking apart this premise.

Chicago Department of Aviation officers were wrong: As I write this, much of the media focus (and blame) is zeroing in on the Chicago Department of Aviation officers who brutalized Dao. Some force may have been necessary to get him off the plane, but not that much force. Tom Demetrio, Dao’s attorney, said that the 69-year-old “lost two front teeth, broke his nose, and suffered a concussion.” That’s grotesquely excessive. Today Business Insider reports that the union representing United pilots stated, “This violent incident should never have happened and was a result of gross excessive force by Chicago Department of Aviation personnel…For reasons unknown to us, instead of trained Chicago Police Department officers being dispatched to the scene, Chicago Department of Aviation personnel responded. At this point, without direction and outside the control of United Airlines or the Republic crew, the Chicago Department of Aviation forcibly removed the passenger.”

Will three wrongs make a right? Will United change? Will federal rules change? Will passenger behavior change? We’ll have to wait and see. But we are already seeing evidence of a policy change at United. Today the airline outlined procedural changes in a statement:

First, we are committing that United will not ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from our flights unless it is a matter of safety and security. Second, we’ve started a thorough review of policies that govern crew movement, incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement.  Third, we will fully review and improve our training programs to ensure our employees are prepared and empowered to put our customers first.  Our values – not just systems – will guide everything we do.  We’ll communicate the results of our review and the actions we will take by April 30.    

UPDATE Friday: Delta has now increased compensation limits for voluntary denied boardings — gate agents can now offer up to $2,000 worth of vouchers, while supervisors can offer up to $9,950 worth of vouchers (per OMATT)

Some of the latest stories to note:

United Consumer perception plummets to lowest level in a decade (Ad Age)

United promising to make major customer service changes (Business Insider)

The Eagle has landed: Who is the lawyer taking on United Airlines? (NBC)

United Airlines did nothing wrong…so what’s all the fuss about? (The Street)

(Image: Emma Baum)

Remember this guy? Delta didn’t forcibly remove him and took social media heat for it (TravelSkills)

Dao’s lawyer and daughter speak at press conference (NBC)

Dao: The Asian Rosa Parks (USA Today)

How much authority do flight crews have over passengers? (TravelPulse)

Current United stock price (Google)

What do you think will happen? Will this lead to truly major reforms or will it blow over? Please leave your comments below. 

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The sooner the better for summer travel planning

San Jose Airport SJC

With more nonstops to more places than ever, San Jose’s striking Terminal B is the first step to a great summer vacation! (Photo: SJC)

Several factors are coming together in 2017 to make this one of the busiest summers ever for vacation travel: tough fare competition among airlines, low fuel prices, and an improving economy. But don’t make the mistake of waiting too long before you firm up your plans.

Airlines are adding more flights and destinations from the Bay Area’s airports – especially Mineta San Jose International (now the nation’s fastest growing airport)– giving travelers a better selection of non-stop vacation possibilities. (Check its rapidly expanding destination roster here)

But increased demand means those flights will fill up fast, and so will the most desirable hotel rooms and rental cars. So as soon as you’ve settled on a destination and approximate dates (flexibility in your days of travel can work to your advantage), get on your mobile phone or laptop and start investigating options for all the elements of your trip. A delay in planning and booking could mean settling for a connection instead of a non-stop flight, a room facing the parking lot instead of the ocean, and a rental car that’s bigger or smaller than you really need.

Keep in mind, too, that prices for the various elements of your vacation are likely to increase the longer you wait. Airfares, hotel rates and rental car prices are not fixed; they change every day based on fluctuations in supply and demand. So as more air seats, rooms and cars are booked up for the summer, the cost of the remaining ones tends to go up.

Air China

Air China now offers nonstops to Shanghai from San Jose International (Photo: SJC)

The peak time for summer vacations is July through mid-August, so you might save some money and find greater availability if you schedule your trip before or after those times – before June 15, say, or after August 15.

Got a big international trip in mind? There are several new non-stop destinations from Mineta San Jose in 2017. Last year, British Airways started flights from SJC to London, Lufthansa began flying to Frankfurt, and Air China added non-stop service to Shanghai. If you want to head south of the border, look for new Aeromexico daily flights to Guadalajara beginning July 1- the city’s high altitude makes for a cool summer destination. To the north, Air Canada’s service from SJC to one of Canada’s hottest destinations – Vancouver – will be increased with a third daily roundtrip starting May 2.

Manhattan Bridge

United and Alaska Airlines  now offer nonstops between Silicon Valley and the Big Apple- check out Brooklyn while you are there!  (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Closer to home, there are lots of new options. If the Big Apple is on your wish list, both United and Alaska Airlines started daily flights to Newark in March. United also added daily SJC-Chicago O’Hare service. If southern California’s your preference, JetBlue recently started four flights a day from SJC to Long Beach, and Alaska last month introduced three flights a day to Burbank (both of them nice alternatives to overcrowded and under construction LAX).

Southwest will add San Jose-Reno to its network on June 4, with one daily roundtrip. And American Airlines will kick off seasonal daily flights from SJC to its Charlotte hub on May 5.

So get off the fence, check your calendar, and nail down your summer vacation plans before it’s too late.

Have you flown in or out of San Jose lately? Why or why not? Are you more likely to give SJC a try now that it’s added this slew of new flights? Please leave your comments below. 

This post is sponsored by Mineta San Jose International Airport  

San Jose Airport banner

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


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Alaska targets Texas for growth spurt: Why?

Alaska/Virgin America will expand service at Dallas Love Field. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Alaska Airlines officials said last week they had no intention of giving up Virgin America’s gates at Dallas’ close-in Love Field – even though Alaska already flies to Dallas/Ft. Worth International – and this week they explained why: They are planning a significant expansion of service at Love.

The company said it plans to add four new West Coast routes out of Love starting later this summer and into next year, and to keep most of the DAL routes that Virgin already has, although with some changes of aircraft.

On August 27, Alaska will begin twice-daily flights between Seattle and DAL, using a Virgin A320 for one of them and an E175 for the second. The airline will also use three-class E175s for the other new routes, including daily service from Portland to DAL starting August 28, along with San Diego-DAL and San Jose-DAL, both starting February 16.

Southwest, the dominant airline at Love Field, also dominates all four of those routes, with multiple daily flights in each market; and American does the same from DFW. Alaska currently flies to Seattle and Portland from DFW, and will continue to do so.

Virgin America’s first class check-in at Love Field. (Image: Virgin America)

Alaska and Virgin America also plan on “streamlining the airlines’ route network at Love Field” with aircraft changes. This summer, the company will start replacing Virgin America mainline jets with E175s out of Love Field. The changeover is set for August 27 for the three daily DAL-New York LaGuardia flights, with a fourth frequency added October 28. On February 18, two daily DAL-Washington Reagan National flights will make the switch from mainline to E175s, with the third one doing the same March 11.

One additional tweak to Alaska/Virgin’s Love Field schedule: Service to Las Vegas will be dropped August 26. The company will continue operating Virgin’s current schedule of three daily flights from DAL to both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Alaska has ordered a number of new three-class E175s. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Switching to E175s frees up mainline Virgin aircraft from Love Field to fly Alaska’s previously announced new routes from San Francisco to Philadelphia, New Orleans, Nashville, Indianapolis Raleigh-Durham and Kona, and new LAX-Philadelphia flights.

“Prior to merger, Virgin America lacked a regional aircraft to take advantage of mid-sized routes. The fuel-efficient E175 jet has the same amenities and features of a mainline jet and is perfectly suited for Love Field,” said John Kirby, Alaska’s vp-capacity planning.

Virgin America moved its Dallas flights from DFW to Love Field in 2014 after regulatory changes opened up the close-in airport to more long-distance flights beyond the states bordering Texas.

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Most popular: 747 + New Hawaiian seats + British Airways biz class + Polaris snag + Lav seats

Tourists London

Despite terrorism, tourism in London is strong- Chris notes that Westminster was packed as ever last week (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

1 A long-term love affair: First look deep inside a Delta 747-400 [PHOTOS]

2 Wide seats on narrow bodies: Hawaiian Airlines unveils new A321s for west coast routes

3 Exclusive look! British Airways’ posh plans for business class [PHOTOS] See comments

Chris McGinnis

Chris took the best seat on a BA 787 Dreamliner – 1K- for landing during a London press conference

4 Sit back, relax, and wait: United’s Polaris business class rollout hits turbulence

5 More Mint: JetBlue sets next wave of Mint expansion

Routes: New Alaska transcons + Delta, Southwest, AA, Frontier

7 Upgrades? Nope: Delta, JetBlue lay on more lie-flat seats, but…

Routes: Norwegian SEA/DEN-London $199; LOT, JAL, United, EVA + more

9 Oh, jeez: DHS warning: Laptop ban could be expanded

10 Contro: Airplane lavatory seats: Up or down?

Do you follow Chris on Instagram? Come on and join the fun! Click here

Early morning view from my #hotel room #jetlag #london #travel #sunrise

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

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

United will move 787s from Houston to Washington Dulles routes

Alaska will keep Virgin America’s gates at Dallas Love Field

Delta extends Porsche transfers to Delta Private Jet customers

How the I-85 freeway collapse in Atlanta is affecting Delta 

New Airbus A380 interior option would let airlines cram in more seats

Wallethub ranks best and worst U.S. airlines

Analyst: Basic economy fares could be a big bait-and-switch tactic

United getting new coach seats

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British Airways’ posh plans for business class [PHOTOS]

British Airways 787

British Airways has posh plans for the pointy end of the plane (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

With $490 million in his pocket, British Airways’ CEO Alex Cruz has big plans to snag more business travelers with a massive product upgrade rolling out now.

To show off what he’s talking about, Cruz invited 40 travel writers, bloggers and media personalities from around the world to London for an action- and content-packed one-day event. TravelSkills was there! (Chris flew over on British Airways’ new Oakland-Gatwick nonstop–stay tuned for his Trip Report!)

In the morning, we met in BA’s newest lounge at Gatwick Airport. From there we boarded a brand new four-class Dreamliner for lunch and a press conference on a two-hour joyride over the bright green English countryside up to Scotland and back.

On board, BA offered a sneak-peek of its upgraded inflight food/beverage offerings, and Cruz revealed news about the airline’s new business class seat and its plans for a rapid roll-out of inflight wi-fi, among other juicy details. After that, we landed at Heathrow Airport for a chat in BA’s busy arrivals lounge (with a whopping 78 showers!) and then walked through its exclusive new “First Wing” located in the far right end of Terminal 5.

A most unusual boarding pass: Check the origin and destination! (Chris McGinnis)

Here are highlights:

BA has taken its lumps recently for implementing something that Americans have long been used to: Buy-on-board food, or “Bob” as Cruz called it. (See new menu and prices here.) Now that it does, the British are going bonkers. This day was Cruz’s chance to show how the cutbacks that economy class passengers may feel will not be felt at the front of the plane. He said, “We need to focus on enhancing premium – offering contemporary service, improved catering and lounges, and a consistent service experience. In economy, where we know that price is the driver, we need to focus our efforts on delivering more seats at the lowest fares and giving customers choices.”

British Airways First class

British Airways’ latest version of first class on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New Planes: We took a ride on a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner with four classes of service: First, business, premium economy and economy. The plane was gorgeous and quiet. It now flies to San Jose and Newark from London. But the biggest change in fleet will come when BA gets its new Airbus A350s this summer. These big wide-bodies will soon be the workhorses of BA’s long haul fleet, replacing the carrier’s much-loved but long-in-the-tooth Boeing 747s. Cruz said that with oil at $50 per barrel, there is less incentive to get rid of these gas-guzzlers; but nonetheless, they’ll likely be phased out in the next five years. The last 747s will disappear from U.S. carriers at the end of this year. (See Delta’s 747 Experience here.) It also sounds like BA will be moving to a 10-across economy configuration on its 777s. “A 10-across 777 is an incredibly competitive machine, especially on leisure routes out of Gatwick,” he said. Currently, the 777-200 on OAK-LGW is nine-across.

British Airways business class

At one time, British Airways’ forward- and rear-facing seats were considered innovative. They’ll soon be retired. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New seats: The biggest news that Cruz broke is that BA will move away from its famous forward/rear-facing business class seats. To me, the seats are fine, but make for awkward moments during takeoff and landing when you feel weirdly in the personal space of your seatmate and his or her direct gaze. Cruz would not offer specifics (other that saying the new seats will offer 100% aisle access), but said, “The time has come for us to change. We are falling behind our competitors and intend to catch up with a new design.” BA was the first airline to introduce lie-flat business class seats in 1999, which revolutionized long-haul travel. In a veiled reference to United’s recent issues with the delayed roll-out of its new Polaris seats, Cruz told me, “We will not over-promise on our new seat like some of our competitors have done. Instead we intend to over-deliver.”

New flights: Last month IAG, which owns British Airways and Iberia, created a new low-fare carrier called Level, which will be based in Barcelona. This summer it will offer cheap non-stops to Oakland and Los Angeles. When Cruz and I discussed this, I told him I thought it was great to get non-stops from the Bay to Barcelona, but that Norwegian was already in that game. I said what we really need in the Bay Area is a non-stop to Italy. His reply? “I think Level will take care of that need very soon.” Stay tuned for more on that!

Metallic walls separate first class passengers from the riffraff at London Heathrow Terminal 5 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New First Wing: These days nearly everyone is a super elite, business or first class passenger — or so it seems when you enter the so-called “fast” lanes at airport security. The same thing has been happening at British Airways’ big Terminal 5 at Heathrow. In order to better serve its paid first class passengers, gold-level Executive Club members and Oneworld Emeralds, BA has carved out a new, exclusive lane called the First Wing. After checking in, First and Gold members proceed to an adjacent sleekly designed private security area for screening. (Sorry, no photos: Photography not allowed.) After that, they walk a few hundred feet through a wood-paneled corridor and directly into BA’s first class lounge, where they can relax, eat, work or proceed directly to their flights. Nice touch! An executive told me that about 2,000 passengers per day will use the First Wing.

British Airways’ big, bright first and business class lounges–big views, high ceilings and a few pink crushed velvet chairs (Chris McGinnis)

New/Refurbished lounges: BA bragged about its new lounge at Boston, which I’ve not seen. But apparently it’s big, bright and has a horseshoe bar that passengers are raving about—not only for the drinks, but also for the fantastic sunset views through a wall of west-facing windows. Plus it has direct access to the plane. BA’s lounge at New York JFK is slated for a $65 million redo that should be completed in two years. BA’s lounge at SFO has been bursting at the seams since the carrier introduced its A380—there’s simply not enough room to accommodate all the business, first and elite flyers (from BA and partners) at peak times. BA execs told me that the plan is still to add a new mezzanine level, but they could not offer a firm date about when that might occur, or how they will accommodate passengers displaced when construction begins. “We are working with the airport to explore temporary accommodations,” said one. At Heathrow, BA’s massive lounge complex in Terminal 5 is now 10 years old—still nice, but due for a makeover, according to Cruz, although no timetable has been set for the upgrade.

Alex Cruz

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis and British Airways CEO Alex Cruz on a Dreamliner joyride (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New Gatwick Lounge: BA recently moved from the north to the south terminal at London Gatwick and has opened a mod new two-level rooftop lounge with fantastic runway views, modern furnishings (including new pink crushed velvet chairs) and a generous buffet with a very British “Toast” bar (yes, a buffet line consisting of toast only. So Brrritish!). The lounge is 40% larger than the old one in the south terminal, but on the day we were there, it was quite full at around noon.

More wi-fi: Believe it or not, BA has only one aircraft outfitted with inflight wi-fi at the moment, but that will soon change. Cruz said that 90% of its short- and long-haul aircraft will get wi-fi in the next two years. He said that long-haul flights will use a satellite-based system and short-haul European flights will use a ground-based one. Similar to what we see at hotels, BA will offer two tiers of wi-fi–basic starting at 5 pounds per hour,  and full service for 8 pounds (including streaming).

There’s a nice heft to BA’s new cocktail tumblers (Chris McGinnis)

British Airways bread

Bread served in a small silver basket instead of a plate (Chris McGinnis)

Meals served from tier trolleys instead of boxy blue carts (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dessert on British Airways

British Airways has teamed up with Do & Co for catering– it’s the same company that works with Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chrisi McGinnis)

Cheese

Cheeses served on slate-like plates (Photo: Chris McGinnis

Better food and drink: Cruz said that BA will invest heavily in business class food and drink, which passengers will begin to notice this summer. On our flight up to Scotland and back, we were served some of the new food—for example, instead of bread on a plate, you get a warm roll served in a small silver basket. Champagne is served from big bowls of ice. Instead of bulky carts, flight attendants roll starters and dessert options on tiered trolleys– a great show. (Reminds me of how Turkish Airlines does it.) Part of the upgrade includes all-new cups, glasses and cutlery, with larger wine glasses for fuller pours and hefty cut crystal-like tumblers for cocktails. (See photos above.) BA’s busy New York-London flights will be the first to see the upgrades as soon as this summer, and it will roll out to other routes later in 2018.

Better sleep: Also on the way: bigger pillows, new mattress toppers, duvets, ear plugs and eye masks as well as revised inflight service schedules designed to maximize good sleep (sounds like United Polaris to me!). Regrettably, none of these features were on our joyride, so no photos.

New self boarding gates at Heathrow use your boarding pass and facial recognition (Image: British Airways)

More self-boarding gates: Currently, BA has three automated boarding gates at Heathrow. These gates operate turnstile-like entry points activated by facial recognition and the bar code on your boarding pass. (At Heathrow, your photo is taken when you enter security, and is matched with another photo taken when you board. If they don’t match, you don’t board.) Cruz said that based on the success and positive feedback from business travelers, there will soon be more of these.

British Airways created a hashtag for the event and coverage of its new investment—check it out here” #BAinvesting4U

Are you a regular on British Airways? What do you think of the changes? Please leave your comments below.

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Routes: Norwegian SEA/DEN-London $199; LOT, JAL, United, EVA + more

Norwegian will fly 787-9s to London from Seattle and Denver. (Image: Norwegian)

In international route news, Norwegian is adding two more U.S. gateways with low-cost service to London; LOT Polish starts new west coast service; Japan Airlines adds a new route out of New York; United will drop an intra-Asian route; Eva adds more flights to San Francisco; a European leisure carrier plans San Diego-Zurich service; and an Avianca affiliate adds a Miami route to Brazil.

Transatlantic low-cost carrier Norwegian just keeps adding more routes to the U.S.  In its latest foray, the airline said it will start flying to London Gatwick from both Seattle and Denver beginning in mid-September. It will use 787-9s on both routes. The schedule calls for Denver service to start September 16 with two flights a week, increasing to three on November 2. From Seattle, Norwegian will start flying on September 17 with four weekly non-stops to LGW.

Norwegian’s “launch fares” on both routes start at $199 one-way in economy, including taxes; and $839 one-way in its Premium Cabin. Flying economy can bring lots of add-ons for various services and amenities; the premium fare includes a luggage allowance, lounge access, priority boarding, sleeper seats, and all meals and drinks. Seats are on sale now at www.Norwegian.com/us.

Those two routes are just the latest in an onslaught of U.S. service for Norwegian in 2017. In June, it will start flying to Barcelona from Los Angeles, Newark and Oakland; and in June and July it will kick off a slew of 737MAX routes from three smaller northeastern airports (Newburgh, N.Y.; Providence, R.I.; and Hartford, Conn.) to points in Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Norway. Orlando-Paris and Ft. Lauderdale-Barcelona start later in the summer.

Business class on a LOT 787-8. (Image: LOT Polish)

LOT Polish this week began service from Los Angeles to Warsaw, using a 787-8 to fly the route four times a week. The 6,500-mile route is the longest in LOT’s network. The Polish carrier – a member of the Star Alliance — is due to start Newark-Warsaw flights at the end of April, and to begin Chicago-Krakow service in August.

Japan Airlines this month started flying from New York JFK to Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport. The daily flight to Haneda is in addition to JAL’s daily service from JFK to Tokyo Narita. The new Haneda flight uses a 244-seat 777-300ER, and JAL switched its JFK-Narita flight from a 787-8 to a 777-300ER as well. The larger 777 has a first class cabin that the Dreamliner doesn’t, along with business class, premium economy and regular economy seating.

At the end of October, United Airlines is planning to discontinue service on its route from Tokyo Narita to Seoul Incheon, which it serves once a day with a 737-800. The route will continue to be served by United’s Star Alliance partner Asiana.

Taiwan’s EVA Air has filed plans to boost frequencies on its route from Taipei to San Francisco. The carrier currently flies the route twice a day, and plans to increase that to 17 a week starting November 5. The extra flights will use a 777-300ER. EVA is a member of the Star Alliance.

Edelweiss will use an A340-300 for San Diego-Zurich seasonal service. (Image: Edelweiss

Ever hear of Edelweiss? Yes, it’s a small mountain flower and a song in ‘The Sound of Music’, but it’s also a leisure carrier affiliated with Swiss International (www.flyedelweiss.com). And it plans to start seasonal service June 9 between San Diego and Zurich. Edelweiss will use an A340-300 to fly the route twice a week, with SAN departures on Fridays and Mondays. The aircraft has a business class with lie-flat seats along with premium economy and regular economy seating.

Avianca’s Brazilian affiliate, Avianca Brasil, has started taking reservations for a new route between Miami and Sao Paulo Guarulhos, which it will start flying June 23. The service will operate once a day with an A330-200.

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Next wave of airport technology: facial recognition

British Airways has opened self-service boarding gates at London Heathrow. (Image: British Airways)

Three of Europe’s largest airports – London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris CDG —have started testing or using facial recognition technology as a way of speeding up passenger processing and boarding.

British Airways said this week that it has opened three self-service boarding gates at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, relying on digital facial scans as part of the process. The three domestic gates allow passengers to scan their own boarding passes at the gate and just walk onto the aircraft without the intervention of human gate agents.

BA said the process involves taking a digital facial scan of the passenger when he or she travels through the security checkpoint; when the traveler arrives at the departure gate, another digital image of their face taken there is checked against the earlier one. If the two match, the passenger is allowed through the gate and onto the aircraft.

The airline said it will extend the technology to three more domestic gates at LHR by mid-June, “with a view to rollout the scheme on international flights in the future.”

A facial recognition kiosk at an Amsterdam Schiphol boarding gate. (Image: KLM)

At Amsterdam Schiphol, the airport and KLM are conducting a three-month test of similar technology at one departure gate. Passengers who have registered in advance go to a special kiosk near the gate where they scan their boarding passes, passports and faces as part of the boarding process. Participants then board the aircraft through a special door that uses digital technology to recognize their faces.

“Schiphol and KLM want to study the technology of facial recognition – the system’s speed, reliability, and user-friendliness,” the airline said. “They will also examine the boarding process and the passenger experience. The ultimate aim is to make the boarding process as quick and easy as possible for our passengers.” The airline said that all data and images collected from passengers will be quickly erased.

At Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the airports authority has started testing facial recognition software as a way to speed up passenger processing after terrorist attacks in the past two years prompted the French government to tighten security requirements for travelers. The tougher requirements led to big increases in waiting time at border control, with many travelers waiting an extra hour to get through.

The CDG test involves the use of new software from a vendor called Vision-Box, and is used for clearing immigration rather than for aircraft boarding. The software compares passengers’ passport photos with their faces, and it can be used for travelers from the 28 European Union member nations. If the tests work well and the government gives a nod to the technology, it could be used to speed up clearance for up to 20 percent of the airport’s passengers.

In the U.S., the CLEAR trusted traveler program uses biometrics but not facial recognition. (Image: CLEAR)

In the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security a few months ago issued a solicitation for vendors who can provide mounted facial recognition cameras to be used in airports. However, the purpose of that project is not to speed up boarding or passenger processing, but rather to help Customs and Border Protection catch persons who are not in the U.S. legally.

 Currently, the biggest user of biometric technology in U.S. airports is probably Clear, which relies on iris and fingerprint scans rather than facial recognition to speed its members into the security checkpoints.

Readers: Would you trust facial recognition technology if it is used to speed up the boarding process? How about if it is collected by government authorities for immigration and security purposes?

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