Best & worst hotels, airports for Wi-Fi

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Free wi-fi is great, but you usually end up getting what you pay for, right? Well, maybe not, according to an interesting study by a Wefi, a mobile network management company.

According to the study, the hotel chains that offer the fastest wi-fi are in the budget and mid-priced category, with brands like Red Roof, Holiday Inn and Best Western leading the pack. These are also the brands that usually offer free wi-fi.

Those that offer the slowest wifi are primarily upscale or luxury brands. Hyatt, Marriott, Westin and Four Seasons rank near the bottom. Many of these upscale brands charge for wi-fi. Hilton appears to be the upscale chain with the fastest wifi.

I should point out that this is not an exhaustive study– several major brands do not appear at all. A Wefi spokesperson told TravelSkills that they studied wi-fi speeds at a minimum of 10 hotel locations per chain to determine the overall score– not a huge sample by any means. The following metrics are based on a 45-day average of Wi-Fi speeds for each location starting from April 1 to June 15, 2014.

Hotels Avg Bandwidth
Red Roof Inns  4.34
Sleep Inn  4.14
Ramada  3.69
Holiday Inn  3.68
Best Western  3.66
Aloft Hotels  3.42
Studio 6  3.22
Hilton  3.17
Quality Inns  3.15
4 Points by Sheraton  3.04
Comfort Inn  2.99
Candlewood Suites  2.69
Radisson  2.43
Clarion  2.42
Doubletree  2.32
Intercontinental  2.31
Wyndham hotels  2.05
Crowne plaza  1.92
Global hyatt  1.90
Marriott  1.70
Westin Hotels  1.65
Four Seasons  1.34
Motel 6  1.26
Airports avg bandwidth (mbps)
Detroit Metropolitan Airport, MI  4.63
Denver International Airport, CO  4.33
Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International FL  3.74
Los Angeles International Airport, CA  3.29
Washington Dulles International Airport, VA  3.09
Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, TX  2.88
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, WA  2.84
Houston George Bush Intercontinental TX  2.71
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, AZ  2.68
LaGuardia Airport, NY  2.67
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International GA  2.66
Boston Logan International Airport, MA  2.51
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport  2.45
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport  2.41
San Francisco International Airport, CA  2.29
Nashville International Airport, TN  2.14
Baltimore-Washington International Airport  2.01
Chicago O’Hare International Airport, IL  1.88
John F. Kennedy International Airport, NY  1.79
Raleigh-Durham International Airport, NC  1.69
Orlando International Airport, FL  1.54
Miami International Airport, FL  1.37
Philadelphia International Airport, PA  1.18
Sacramento International Airport, CA  0.82

These results are interesting to me because, while I’m always grateful for the free wi-fi at less expensive hotel chains, I do usually feel like I’m getting what I pay for with slow (and sometimes no) speeds and balky connections. When faced with a free, but slow hotel room connection, I frequently think, “Jeez, I’d gladly pay for a better or faster connection.”

Airports are a mixed bag. Over the last year or so, I’ve been very impressed with the speed of the wi-fi at my home base airport at SFO, but it only ranks middle of the pack here. I’m glad to see Detroit at the top of the list– despite the city’s woes, its airport is awesome– one of the best hubs in the US as far as I’m concerned. As we reported here, Atlanta recently rolled out a brand new, reportedly very fast and free wi-fi network.

What about you? Do these findings mirror what you’ve found on the road? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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

New Delta Sky Club rising at SFO

Delta's new post-security Sky Club rising in the shadow of SFO's new ATC Tower (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s new post-security Sky Club rising in the shadow of SFO’s new ATC Tower (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Delta has confirmed to TravelSkills that it will open a brand new Sky Club at San Francisco International Airport in 2015.

In the photo (above) that I snagged while boarding a Virgin America flight from a Terminal 2 jetway last week, it appears that the new club will be located on the upper level and will have a large picture window opening up to the tarmac.

From the inside of Delta’s Boarding Area C in Terminal 1, you can’t miss the construction of the new Sky Club as you enter the terminal just after security.

The Sky Club will be located in the area above what was once a luggage store near Gate 41. (It’s to the left as you walk down the ramp from security.) Since the club will be located one floor above the gate area, I assume we’ll access it by an elevator or escalator. 

The current Delta Sky Club at SFO is inconveniently located outside the T1 Boarding Area C checkpoint and its location has long been a thorn in the side of Sky Club members. 

Related: What’s next for SFO? 

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll also see that SFO is building a new post-security corridor that will connect Boarding Area C with Terminal 2 (home to Virgin America and American Airlines).  This is big boost for Delta flyers cooling their heels in the somewhat drab Boarding Area C– they will now have access to all the excellent post-security amenities of T2 (like a yoga room, fine dining restaurants and museum exhibits).

Stay tuned to TravelSkills for more details (including opening dates) as we get them… 

A new Delta Sky Club built in the shadow of SFO's new control tower (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A new Delta Sky Club built in the shadow of SFO’s new control tower (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

–Chris McGinnis

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How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

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

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Airline fees up 1,200% + Unusual new seat design + Wild Dreamliner ride + Secret Service warns about hotel PCs

Southwest Airlines turning its old leather seats into sneakers & soccer balls (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

Southwest Airlines is turning its old leather seats into sneakers & soccer balls (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

AIRLINES

‘Ancillary revenues’ skyrocket. In 2007, the world’s airlines took in $2.45 billion in “ancillary revenues” — those fees they charge for various amenities and services. By 2013, that figure had jumped to $31.5 billion — a 1,200 percent increase — according to the latest study by IdeaWorks Company. That’s $16 per passenger. United had the biggest haul, at $5.7 billion, followed by Delta ($2.5 billion) and American ($2 billion, not counting US Airways’ $1.1 billion). But the airline where ancillary revenues made up the biggest portion of total revenue was Spirit, at 38.4 percent. The bulk of ancillary revenue for all airlines (except Southwest) comes from those onerous $200 change fees and of course new checked baggage fees.

Recycle, recycle, recycle! The travel industry keeps finding ways to put things to good use. Southwest Airlines just started a project that will hire African youths to remake old leather seat covers into things like shoes and soccer balls for local communities. And in Atlanta, airport concessionaire HMSHost donates about a ton of unsold food from ATL each week to the Salvation Army to help feed the city’s hungry.

Boeing bares innovations. Visitors to the renowned Farnborough Air Show in the U.K. last week got to see some stunning aerobatics by Boeing’s 787-9, the newest version of its popular Dreamliner. Check out this video and be thankful (or jealous) you weren’t along for this wild demo ride. Meanwhile, Boeing also revealed some passenger-friendly design innovations for its upcoming 777X, like larger and higher windows, a wider cabin, next-generation LED lighting and improved humidity in the cabin air.

Alaska moves at SFO. Originally slated for June 25, Alaska Airlines now says that mid-August is the target date for its move from Terminal 1 to the International Terminal’s Boarding Area A at San Francisco International. The airline’s Board Room lounge has closed, but it plans to share lounge facilities with “one of our international Mileage Plan partners” at the new location once it makes the move, a spokesman said. In other news, TSA opened a PreCheck application office in SFO’s International Terminal, pre-security, G-side, near the BART station.

More cutbacks to Caracas. Delta and United are following the lead of American in reducing service to Venezuela, due to an unresolved dispute with the government about the airlines’ ability to take money out of the country. Delta on August 1 will cut its daily Atlanta-Caracas schedule to just one flight a week. And United’s daily Houston Intercontinental-Caracas operation will be pared from seven flights a week to four as of September 17.

newseat

Unusual new airline seat designed emerging. (source: Paper Clip Design, Hong Kong)

Seats of the future? How will airlines’ coach seating evolve in the years ahead? Airbus has filed a patent for short-haul “saddle seats” that look like glorified bicycle seats and are about as uncomfortable as they could get — although a lot more of them can be crammed into an aircraft. (The company notes that just because it filed for a patent doesn’t mean it intends to use them.) Meanwhile, a Hong Kong designer has come up with a long-haul economy seat concept that protects your knees during recline and even provides an easily-shared armrest.

I’m keeping my CLEAR card. Based on your reaction to Chris’s recent post asking whether or not to spend the $179 to renew his CLEAR card, he’s decided to keep it. Reader comments were mixed but leaned more toward keeping the card.

HOTELS

hotelbizcenter

Secret Service warning re hotel business center computers. (Photo: Hilton MSP)

Beware the Business Center computers. Do you use the computers in hotel business centers? Be careful what you do on them: The Secret Service sent a warning to hotels that scammers could be infecting their public computers with malware that logs users’ keystrokes and sends the data off to the bad guys by email. The agency especially warns against using the computers for personal business that requires you to input account information and passwords. Some scammers were arrested recently near Dallas for just this kind of crime.

Wi-Fi problems bug hotel guests. The biggest complaint by far from hotel guests is a slow or inconsistent Internet connection in their room, according to the just-released 2014 study of guest satisfaction by J.D. Power and Associates. But the biggest negative impact on a guest’s satisfaction is a room that’s not clean. Among the eight hotel categories rated, Four Seasons took the number one spot for luxury hotels, Kimpton for Upper Upscale, and Hilton Garden Inn for Upscale.

Best Credit Cards

If you are in the market for a new card, please do so via the links here. Remember, when you get a new credit card via the links provided here, TravelSkills earns a commission. This is what keeps us in business cranking out meaningful content and practical advice.  THANK YOU! Best all around cards for business travelers (and what Chris carries in his wallet): Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard. Both offer nice 40,000 mile sign up bonuses (after spending $3,000 in first three months), and you can use miles on several airlines, hotels and other travel providers. Neither charges irritating foreign transaction fees. And the Barclaycard now has Chip & PIN for easier use overseas. That 40,000 mile bonus with Chase Sapphire is good for $500 in travel when booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Try it, you’ll like it!

In Case You Missed It…

>Kimpton Hotels rolls out a new rewards program with lots of unique ways to earn points.

>A major Middle Eastern carrier will start flying to SFO this fall.

>Chris offers some thoughts on the Malaysia Airlines tragedy.

–Jim Glab

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How I watched the #MH17 tragedy unfold

Unusual ways to earn hotel rewards points

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

Bigger bins + Check-in not required + Beware LAX traffic mess + New low fare O’Hare flights + Big new build hotel LA Live +

World’s 5 most popular cities (and my comments)

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

More TSA scrutiny on cell phones + Southwest overseas + United carry-on enforcement + SF hotel rates soar + More Silvercar

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

CLEAR card renewal email

CLEAR card renewal email

Last week I received an email from CLEAR Card (see above) asking me to renew my $179 annual membership.

In the past, renewal for CLEAR was an easy decision. I always thought that $179 was a small price to pay to have CLEAR come to my rescue when surprised by an unusually long line at airport security. That $179 bought peace of mind that is invaluable to business travelers. In the back of my head, I always felt like I could push time limits and get to the airport late because, if need be, CLEAR could come to my rescue and get me through security in less than five minutes.

But over the last couple years as the TSA’s PreCheck program has expanded, I’ve found that I barely use my CLEAR Card at all any more. As a matter of fact, I prefer to go through the PreCheck lane because it does not require me to remove my belt, coat or shoes or take the laptop out of my carry on. Plus I don’t have to deal with having a CLEAR agent escort me to the front of the line, break me in front of other passengers and face their “who does that guy think he is” glares (a painful ritual my CLEAR-Card-carrying friend has referred to as the “walk of shame”). So PreCheck is always my first choice.

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

BUT…as most frequent travelers know all too well, PreCheck is based on “random” selection. It’s not guaranteed. I know I can’t rely on it. And every now and then, just when I think I’ll sail through security, I check in for my flight and can’t find that PreCheck logo on my boarding pass. That’s when I smile to myself and think I’m so smart for renewing my CLEAR Card. Or am I?

A CLEAR card entry point in SFO's Terminal 3 at about 8 pm last Monday (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A lonely CLEAR card entry point in SFO’s Terminal 3 at about 8 pm last Monday (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Almost every time I pass by a CLEAR kiosk or entry point at my hometown airport (SFO), there’s usually one or two employees standing there looking alternately bored and or eager to help. (Or there’s no one there at all.) Sometimes I feel like going through the CLEAR lane just to bring some joy to their work days. Recently I’ve begun to wonder if those going through CLEAR lines are less likely to be stopped by the newly empowered armies of airline baggage police? Despite what looks like a sinking ship, CLEAR claims that its 300,000 members in the U.S. have passed through CLEAR lanes almost two million times. It has a nifty new web site redesigned last September. Its website says that more than 250 companies have signed up to offer the CLEAR Card to their frequent travelers.

While I rarely need CLEAR Card assistance at SFO, it comes in most handy at airports where throngs of leisure travelers can overwhelm security lines, like Orlando. And CLEAR has just announced that it will soon be moving into McCarran-Las Vegas Airport where security lines can swell unexpectedly, such as on the last day of a city-wide convention. Or Sunday afternoons. That’s when the CLEAR Card could come in handy. CLEAR is currently in nine airports across the country and says that it is in serious talks with airport authorities in 12 other cities.

Still I wonder, should I spend the $179 for a CLEAR Card again this year? Help me.

Do you have a CLEAR Card? Will you renew it this year? If you’ve let your membership lapse, why? Please leave your comments about CLEAR below. 

Chris McGinnis

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P.S. Facebook is taking its time merging our previous pages into the new TravelSkills Facebook page. If you like to stay in touch and get breaking news/deals updates that way, please visit the page and LIKE it. Thanks!

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

Bigger bins + Check-in not required + Beware LAX traffic mess + New low fare O’Hare flights + Big new build hotel LA Live +

World’s 5 most popular cities (and my comments)

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

More TSA scrutiny on cell phones + Southwest overseas + United carry-on enforcement + SF hotel rates soar + More Silvercar

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

 

 

Bigger bins + Check-in not required + Beware LAX traffic mess + New low fare O’Hare flights + Big new build hotel LA Live +

New Boeing bins allow Alaska Air travelers to pack em in sideways (Photo: Boeing)

New Boeing bins allow Alaska Air travelers to pack em in sideways (Photo: Boeing)

AIRLINES

Alaska gets ‘Space Bins.’ Alaska Airlines said it will be the first carrier to install new “Space Bins” from Boeing — a new generation of overhead bins that will hold 48 percent more bags than the Boeing Sky interior pivot bins currently on Alaska’s planes. On a 737-900ER, that’s room for 174 standard bags, vs. 117 today. The new bins will be on Next-Generation 737 and 737 MAX aircraft scheduled for delivery to Alaska starting next year. They can even fit “non-standard items” like guitars, a spokesman said. (No word yet on whether larger bins will lead to relaxation of the recent wave of enforcement on oversized carry ons…just sayin’…)

What’s the big deal? After all the hoo-ha about the TSA’s new security procedures requiring some travelers to turn on cell phones, we’ve heard very little from travelers faced with having to do so. We’ve also heard very little about this causing any major delays. Have you? Please leave comments below. 

jetblue

(Photo: Jim Glab)

Skip a step when checking in. JetBlue customers who book extra-legroom ‘Even More Space’ seats are the first beneficiaries of automatic check-in technology the company introduced last week. Instead of going online to check in, “eligible customers will receive an email 24 hours before their scheduled departure with a ready-to-print boarding pass, as well as the option to download a mobile boarding pass via JetBlue iOS or Android mobile apps,” the company said. The service will be expanded to other passenger categories in 2015.

Frontier nibbles at Chicago-O’Hare routes. In its never-ending quest to find profitable markets, Frontier Airlines now has its eye on some plum Chicago O’Hare (ORD) routes — even though it already serves Chicago Midway. Two months ago, Frontier announced it would begin ORD-Washington Dulles service as one of 14 routes it will launch at Dulles in August and September. And now Frontier says it will begin O’Hare-Denver flights October 1 and O’Hare-Atlanta service October 2, but with only five weekly flights on the former route and four on the latter– not much help for business travelers who value frequent flights. Nonetheless, the competition should help keep fares in check.

Security fees increase. In addition to higher fares from airlines this summer, the Transportation Security Administration will increase the Sept. 11 security fee to $5.60 each way on July 21. The fee currently is $2.50 for a nonstop flight and $5 on a trip with connections. Under the new fees, trips with lengthy stopovers — more than four hours between two domestic flights — will see larger increases.

TRAVELSKILLS QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Is inflight food on long haul flights getting better…. or worse? Comments below, please!

My first class breakfast on United SFO-BOS flight last week. Not too pretty, but tasted good. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

My first class breakfast on United SFO-BOS flight last week. Not too pretty, but tasted good. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

My Main Cabin Select protein plate BOS-SFO last week. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

My Virgin America Main Cabin Select protein plate BOS-SFO last week. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BUSINESS TRAVEL

Group travel leads biz trip revival. In its latest analysis of U.S. business travel trends, the Global Business Travel Association notes that group travel — for meetings, conferences and the like — jumped a healthy 8.6 percent last year, much more than individual trips. This is “a significant indicator that the business travel industry is recovering from the Great Recession and increasing discretionary spending,” GBTA said. The number of individual business trips is forecast to grow by 2.3 percent this year, and spending by 5.6 percent, GBTA said. TravelSkills will be attending the big GBTA Annual Convention in Los Angeles later this month and will provide a full report of the news the trends we uncover! Stay tuned…

AIRPORTS

Travel advisories for ORD, LAX. Chicago O’Hare officials are notifying travelers that the airport’s internal people-mover system will partially close for the next three and a half months, starting July 15. Shuttle buses will be used instead of trains between Economy Parking Lots E/F and Terminals 1,2, 3 and 5. Inter-terminal trains will not be affected … July 25-28 in Los Angeles is being dubbed the “Century Crunch”, when Century Blvd. — a main road into LAX, used by one-third of all passengers — will close for demolition of an old railroad bridge. Officials advise everyone to avoid the area.

HOTELS

Marriott's newest megabuild near the LA Live complex downtown Los Angeles (Photo: Marriott)

Marriott’s newest megabuild near the LA Live complex downtown Los Angeles (Photo: Marriott)

Marriott adds LA twins; new Hilton in Miami. Marriott’s newest dual-branded property is the Courtyard and Residence Inn L.A. Live, now open at that big entertainment and dining complex in downtown Los Angeles … Hilton has cut the ribbon on the 231-room Hilton Cabana Miami Beach, at Collins Ave. and 62nd Street … Denver’s newest hotel is The Crawford at Union Station, part of the massive overhaul of downtown Denver‘s Amtrak station (which will soon feature light-rail service to DEN) … InterContinental Hotels Group opened its second wellness-oriented EVEN Hotel, this one in Rockville, Md.

The glamour of Glass. Are you a tech early adopter who can’t wait to try Google Glass? San Francisco’s Stanford Court Hotel has a new package made for you: It includes accommodations, breakfast, a couple of drinks and use of your own Google Glass device during your stay. Purchasers also get a tutorial and a handout that instructs overeager users on “how to not be a ‘glasshole,’” the hotel says.

In Case You Missed It…

>Have you been to all five of the world’s most popular cities?

>Virgin America’s new video tweaks frequent flyer programs.

>How safe are ‘sharing economy’ travel suppliers?

>Marriott Rewards’ new technology pushes geo-targeted offers to members’ mobile devices.

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

 

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P.S. Facebook is taking its time merging our previous pages into the new TravelSkills Facebook page. If you like to stay in touch and get breaking news/deals updates that way, please visit the page and LIKE it. Thanks!

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

World’s 5 most popular cities (and my comments)

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

More TSA scrutiny on cell phones + Southwest overseas + United carry-on enforcement + SF hotel rates soar + More Silvercar

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

More TSA scrutiny on cell phones + Southwest overseas + United carry-on enforcement + SF hotel rates soar + More Silvercar

Southwest Airlines 737's taking over many AirTran international routes (Photo: Jim Glab)

Southwest Airlines 737′s taking over many AirTran international routes (Photo: Jim Glab)

AIRLINES

Cell phone scrutiny. As part of newly enhanced security procedures, be sure your cell phone is charged up before going to the airport, especially when returning from the US from overseas. Sounds like the TSA has received credible information that electronics could be used in a terrorist act involving aviation. Here’s part of the new TSA Directive issued over the July 4 weekend: “As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers. During the security examination, officers may also ask that owners power up some devices, including cell phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft. The traveler may also undergo additional screening.”

Southwest goes international. Continuing to gobble up the network of its AirTran subsidiary, Southwest Airlines last week launched its first international flights, from Baltimore to Aruba, Jamaica and Nassau, Bahamas; from Atlanta to Aruba and Jamaica; and from Orlando to Jamaica. Southwest plans to add service in August from Orange County, Calif. to Los Cabos and from Milwaukee, ATL and Baltimore to Cancun. AirTran’s roomier business class cabin will surely be missed on these long flights! Southwest says that the AirTran will disappear completely by the end of this year.

Study: Passengers aren’t using devices more. The government earlier this year relaxed the rules so personal electronic devices can be used from gate to gate, but most passengers still aren’t using them much in-flight, according to a new study from DePaul University. “We expected the new policies to encourage more consumers to remain ‘powered up’ from gate to gate, but that simply didn’t happen,” said study co-author Joseph Schwieterman. Only about one-third of air travelers are using their devices at any given point, DePaul said. “Most passengers instead opted to devote their time to reading print material, eating, sleeping and relaxing.” How do you spend your in-flight time?

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 7.47.04 AM

Maybe you SHOULD be using your devices more. TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis will be flying around the U.S. on Virgin America during the month of July hoping to network with other flyers using the new Here on Biz app via the Gogo inflight network. I could probably come up with an better way to describe how Here on Biz works, but the easiest way to describe it: It’s sorta like Tinder or Grindr for business networking. Using geolocation, it finds and connects business people interested in networking and growing their enterprises.  Download the iOS app, find Chris on a Virgin flight this month and you might walk away with a surprise. First flight is TODAY BOS>SFO. Find me!

Virgin America is tops in T&L poll. San Francisco-based Virgin America Airlines captured the number one spot among domestic airlines in Travel + Leisure magazine’s annual “World’s Best” reader poll. JetBlue came in second, followed by Hawaiian and Southwest. Among international carriers, Singapore took the top spot, followed, in order, by Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic. The best U.S. airport was Portland, and the best overseas airport was Singapore Changi.

United’s carry-on pledge. United’s on-line check-in procedure now not only informs you about the specific maximum dimensions allowed for carry-on bags and personal items — it also requires you to acknowledge that you read and accepted the rules.

British Airways experimental blanket monitors passenger brainwaves

British Airways experimental blanket monitors passenger brainwaves (photo by Tim Maroney)

BA blanket tracks brain waves. British Airways started testing a high-tech wrap it calls the “happiness blanket” to measure passengers’ brain waves. It has neuro-sensors linked to fiber optics that change color to show the person’s state of agitation or relaxation. “The airline hopes monitoring a person’s sleep and relaxation patterns during a flight will inform decisions made to improve aspects of the in-flight service; from changing the timing of meals, what food is served and even the types of films shown,” a spokesman said.

AIRPORTS

US Airways moves at O’Hare. The latest step in the consolidation of merger partners American Airlines and US Airways comes at AA’s Chicago O’Hare hub, where US Airways has moved its flights from Terminal 2 to AA’s Terminal 3. For now, travelers who need to print US Airways boarding passes or check baggage must still do so at T2, clearing security there and walking to departure gates on T3′s H Concourse. Ticket counters should be relocated later this year.

HOTELS

Hotel rates are sky high in San Francisco these days. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hotel rates are sky high in San Francisco these days. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

San Francisco hotel rates spike. Got business in San Francisco? Be prepared to spend about $200 a night for your accommodations. The city says that’s now the average cost of a one-night stay in the City by the Bay — a jump of 40 percent (from $123) since 2009.  The reason? High costs and lengthy timelines for new hotel development have prevented the city’s room count from keeping pace with burgeoning demand.

New Crowne Plaza in Atlanta, Hyatt in D.C. The 500-room Melia Atlanta at 590 W. Peachtree is being converted to InterContinental Hotel Group’s Crowne Plaza brand and undergoing a massive renovation that will change part of the property to a 102-room Staybridge Suites by 2016 … The newly opened Hyatt Place Washington D.C./U.S. Capitol is in the city’s NoMa district just north of the Capitol Building, close to the NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro station … Hilton officials cut the ribbon on the 293-unit Homewood Suites New York/Midtown Manhattan Times Square-South on West 37th St. off Eighth Ave.

GROUND

audi

Audi A4 (from Silvercar)

Silvercar adds two locations. Silvercar, which rents nothing but silver Audi A4s, has opened a new location at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and will start operating at Miami International on July 14. The company also has locations at DFW, SFO, LAX, DAL and AUS. Customers use the company’s smartphone app to book vehicles and even to unlock the car doors. Rental rates include GPS navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio, in-car Wi-Fi and a toll tag.  Have you tried Silvercar? Would you? 

In Case You Missed It…

>Here’s an update on that runway construction project at San Francisco International.

>Ramsey shares some inside information about Delta after a visit with officials at its Atlanta headquarters.

>Worried about summer storm delays? Try following these tips Chris shared on CNN.

>American Airlines’ US Airways affiliate will add a second daily Charlotte-London Heathrow flight starting September 13.

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

Pay more for fewer hassles? + Delta’s big boast + United expands in Latin America + Lush new LAX lounge

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

Trip Report: SAS business class SFO-Copenhagen (PHOTOS)

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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7 ways to avoid summer storm delays (TravelSkills on CNN)

Don’t let peak season storms like Arthur spoil your well-laid travel plans. Just follow TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis’s advice as shared on CNN! (Click on arrow to launch video)

Watch the video to learn more about these seven tips:

1) Book the first flight of the day

2) Learn to live out of a carry on bag

3) Be sure airline has your updated contact info

4) Use apps like FlightStats, FlightAware and HotelTonight if stranded

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5) Buy day pass to airline airport club

6) Don’t stand in line! Get online or on the phone instead

7) Know when to ask for a FULL REFUND!

Have a nice holiday weekend!

–Chris McGinnis

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Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

Pay more for fewer hassles? + Delta’s big boast + United expands in Latin America + Lush new LAX lounge

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

Trip Report: SAS business class SFO-Copenhagen (PHOTOS)

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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San Francisco airport runway construction update

You must see this mesmerizing video of fog rolling over SF from Simon Christen.

On May 17, San Francisco International Airport shut down two of its four runways for federally mandated safety upgrades.

Since then, summer fog and heavy air traffic have caused occasional minor back ups, but significant delays have been minimal. Over the last month, I have noticed longer taxi times and airplane “traffic jams”  as they wait in line to depart at peak times. I’ve kinda enjoyed the new flight path for departures (a hard right immediately after take off). But I’ve heard from few travelers experiencing anything major, or ongoing. Have you? 

Due to a combination of weather and outdated runway design, SFO has one of the worst reputations for on-time performance among all major airports. That’s not great. But the fact that things have not gotten worse due to the construction project is good news.

“The project is moving along well; we’re a bit ahead of schedule, now looking at completion in late August. Delays are on-track with our expectations; averaging about 15-20 minutes when weather is not a factor, 30-35 minutes when we start the day with low clouds and fog,” airport spokesperson Doug Yakel told TravelSkills. 

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New flight paths are about the biggest change fliers have felt during SFO runway shutdow (Courtesy SFO)

New flight paths are about the biggest change fliers have felt during SFO runway shutdow (Courtesy SFO)

Virgin America says that the impact of the construction project on travelers has been eased through a combination of carriers altering summer schedules ahead of time and its proactive notification to guests. 

Last month TravelSkills obtained data from FlightStats that show that not much changed between April (prior to the shutdown) and early June (after the runway shutdown). Before the project began, 75-80% of arrivals and departures were on time, and the same held afterwards. When arrivals and departures are delayed, the average wait before and after the shutdown remained about the same, too, in the 45-60 minute range. Not great. But not bad enough to spoil a business trip. And not all that out of the ordinary. 

So it appears that so far, we have a non-event on our hands in San Francisco. What do you think? Have you experienced significant delays this summer at SFO or elsewhere? Leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis

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Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

Pay more for fewer hassles? + Delta’s big boast + United expands in Latin America + Lush new LAX lounge

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

Trip Report: SAS business class SFO-Copenhagen (PHOTOS)

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Free wi-fi NYC airports + New Star Alliance member + More food at ATL + Clear card in Vegas + UberX on sale

An increasingly common sight at airport customs and immgration halls (Photo: Customs 7 Border Protection)

An increasingly common sight at US airport customs and immigration halls (Photo: Customs 7 Border Protection)

AIRPORTS

Free Wi-Fi coming to NYC airports. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has renegotiated its contract with Boingo Wireless so passengers will be able to access limited free Wi-Fi starting this fall. Travelers at JFK, LaGuardia, Newark and Stewart airports will get 30 minutes of free access; after that, fees kick in. Currently, fees are $4.95 an hour or $7.95 a day.

CLEAR comes to LAS. CLEAR, the provider of biometric identity-based expedited access to airport security lanes, plans to add Las Vegas McCarran as its 10th location this summer. The $179-a-year service is already available at SFO, SJC, DFW, DEN, IAH, HOU, SAT, MCO and HPN. Do you use Clear? Is is still worth $179 per year? Leave comments below. 

Passport kiosks spreading fast. Those self-service Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosks that reduce waiting time for U.S. international arrivals by up to 40 percent are proving so popular that airlines and airports can’t install them fast enough. Delta, which put APC kiosks into its JFK terminal last fall, said last week it recently installed 74 of them at ATL, 30 at DTW, 20 at BOS and 10 at LAX, and is adding 14 of them at SEA, as the busy summer travel season kicks in. United announced that it just put 20 APCs into the Terminal C customs hall at its Newark transatlantic hub; it already has them at ORD and IAH. MIA plans to double the number of APCs there to 72 by year’s end. At San Francisco International, officials hope to have them in place by April 2015. The kiosks are for travelers who are not members of Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program.

New concessions at ATL. Atlanta airport officials last week unveiled an overhauled Terminal D concessions area with more than a dozen new offerings, including locally renowned Grindhouse Killer Burgers; Wolfgang Puck Fresh Express sandwiches/salads; Harvest & Grounds bakery/cafe; Jay Z’s 40/40 Club bar; and The Food Network Kitchen, among others. Meanwhile, Minute Suites — which offers small sleeping units on ATL’s Concourse B by the hour or overnight — will bring that concept to international concourses E and F next year.

 GROUND

UberUberX on sale. For a limited time this summer, UberX has dropped prices by 25% in several big markets like Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis and Washington DC. Uber says these new rates are about 40% less than taxi fares. Some examples:

  • Los Angeles- West Hollywood to LAX: Current UberX-$19; Standard UberX-$26; Taxi-$37
  • Denver-  Downtown to Cherry Creek: Current UberX-$10; Standard UberX -$14; Taxi-$16
  • Orange County-  Disneyland to John Wayne Airport: Current UberX -$20; Standard UberX -$27; Taxi-$36

Uber says no promo code is necessary. You’ll see this promotion automatically applied on your uberX receipt. Sign up for Uber via TravelSkills and get $30 off your first ride!

INTERNATIONAL

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

Air India joins Star Alliance. The global Star Alliance — including United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Singapore and others — has approved the addition of Air India to the group, effective July 11. That will add 400 flights a day and 35 new destinations to the alliance’s worldwide network, and will include reciprocal frequent flyer benefits with other Star carriers. With Air India’s less than stellar reputation…would you choose it? Have you flown it in the past? Please leave your comments below.

New routes to Qatar, Vienna, China. Qatar Airways, which just started Miami service, will add daily 777 flights between Doha and DFW July 1 … Austrian Airlines will supplement its Vienna-JFK flights with 767 service between Vienna and Newark starting July 2, offering five flights a week … China’s Hainan Airlines inaugurated service between Boston Logan and Beijing, with four 787 non-stops per week … July 1 is the launch date for new Air Canada daily 777 service from Toronto to Tokyo Haneda, switching to a 787 July 15.

HOTELS

Room with a view! A posh new Peninsula opens in Paris (Photo: Peninsula Hotels)

Room with a view! A posh new Peninsula opens in Paris (Photo: Peninsula Hotels)

Peninsula adds Paris location; IHG debuts EVEN. The old Hotel Majestic in central Paris — which opened in 1908 — has been reborn as the Peninsula Paris … The JW Marriott Hotel Beijing Central has opened in the heart of China’s capital … InterContinental Hotels Group debuted the first property in its EVEN Hotels brand, in Norwalk, Conn. EVEN, designed for “wellness-minded travelers to maintain their balance on the road,” will add a Rockville, Md., property shortly, followed by two in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn … A former federal courthouse in Tampa has been reborn as Le Meridien Tampa … The new Hampton Inn Downtown Financial District has opened in Manhattan at Pearl and Moore streets … Starwood’s popular W Chicago-Lakeshore has finally finished a $38 million overhaul, renovating all 520 rooms and adding a signature restaurant.

Ritz-Carlton’s fast path to elite status. Members of the Ritz-Carlton Rewards program have a new benefit: double credit for each night’s stay during 2014 (including those already completed), offering them “an accelerated journey to maintaining their current elite status or achieving a higher level,” the company said.

In Case You Missed It…

>Want to save money on in-flight Wi-Fi? Here are some suggestions.

>Delta is luring Medallion members to its upgraded transcon flights with comp upgrades.

>Here are six ways that infrequent travelers can drive you nuts in-flight.

>Looks like Delta can’t get exclusive rights to “the world’s most trusted airline” after all.

– Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

Pay more for fewer hassles? + Delta’s big boast + United expands in Latin America + Lush new LAX lounge

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

Trip Report: SAS business class SFO-Copenhagen (PHOTOS)

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Chengdu's modern airport is the fourth busiest in China (Photo: Christian Ortiz / Flickr)

Chengdu’s modern airport, 10 miles from downtown, is the fourth busiest in China (Photo: Christian Ortiz / Flickr)

Chicago’s “Second City” nickname reflects an age-old inferiority complex– it was the second largest city in the U.S. until overtaken by Los Angeles. So, when I began a trip from San Francisco to Chengdu, in southwest China and the capital of the Sichuan province, I wondered if what I’d heard about Chengdu was true.

What I had heard is that Chengdu could be considered “The Chicago of China” due to its central location and big industrial/manufacturing/transportation base as well as its “second tier” status (compared to Beijing and Shanghai) and laid back feel.

Would I find Chengdu to be at all like Chicago?

United Airlines is betting on Chengdu to be more than that. On June 9 the airline began nonstop service between San Francisco (SFO) and Chengdu (CTU) on Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, and I traveled on the inaugural flight (as a guest of United). The 14-hour flight is the first of any U.S. airline beyond Beijing or Shanghai and into China’s interior. United’s hope is to grow service from three times a week to daily.

Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province (PATA.org)

Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province (PATA.org)

My pre-trip question reflected my naïveté about China. And perhaps the biggest lesson is that there are few parallels between the U.S. and China.

True, Chengdu is considered a “second tier” city in China (an official government designation), and, to the casual observer, Chicago could be said to sit on the same tier. But the numbers show there’s no comparison: Chengdu’s population is 14 million, while Chicago’s is 9.5 million. (Updated) It’s important to note that those numbers are for “metro areas” (for Chengdu, the sub-provincial city population, and for Chicago the U.S. Census Bureau’s Consolidated MSA that includes counties in Indiana and Wisconsin). However, Chengdu’s metro area of 4,684 square miles is less than half of Chicago’s 10,874 square miles. So you can only imagine how dense Chengdu feels.

Like Chicago, Chengdu sits in the interior of a huge country and is often overlooked by travelers. An Asia-based United Airlines sales executive I spoke with said he finds the Chinese who have traveled to New York and Los Angeles, for example, feel they have “done” the U.S. The same could probably be said of Americans who’ve been to Beijing and Shanghai.

However, like Chicago, Chengdu offers a different kind of experience and an interesting jumping-off point for other travel. And according to my seatmate on one flight, a Brit who has lived five years in Chengdu, the city is an excellent starting base from which to explore the rest of Asia: Bhutan, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand.

Living the "panda life." Chengdu's relaxed lifestyle centers on its teahouse culture. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Living the “panda life.” Chengdu’s relaxed lifestyle centers on its teahouse culture. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

It could also be said these two cities share a relaxed lifestyle, relative to larger cities. Chicagoans are known for their friendly, aw-shucks nature, with pace a little slower than in New York. I found the same in Chengdu. Riffing on the popularity of the region’s largest tourist draw—the giant panda–Chengdu’s residents pride themselves on living “the panda life.” Pandas do little else but eat and sleep, and the lifestyle in Chengdu–with its dominant teahouse and mahjong cultures–is considered much slower-paced than Beijing or Shanghai’s.

But parallels stop there, I found.

What Chicago lacks in population, it makes up with charm. Chengdu does not. While I was pleasantly surprised by some tree-lined streets in Chengdu, the Gingkos do little to mitigate the concrete and steel as far as the eye can see. Compare this to Chicago’s anchor at Millennium Park and its long sweep of Lake Michigan shore, which make the city feel so livable. And once you’re out of the Loop and Magnificent Mile, brownstones and bungalows comprise friendly neighborhoods. By contrast, Chengdu is an intense city of high rises and more high rises. The only “charm” is the Chinese affection for lighting these skyscrapers: At night the Chengdu skyline is as jaw-dropping as Hong Kong’s.

Shopping is an obsession for the Chinese, but in Chengdu the luxury brands are everywhere, making Chicago’s Magnificent Mile feel focused and limiting. One of my favorite scenes in Chengdu is Tianfu Square, the city’s center plaza, where the almost-100-foot-tall statue of Mao Zedong stands squarely across from French jeweler Cartier. Such contrast–the story of a nation.

Chengdu will need to prove itself as a transport hub for Chinese travelers to the U.S. and vice versa. But as I said, it’s a pretty safe bet for United. San Francisco is a particularly favorable half of the city pair, with the route connecting the high-tech business of Silicon Valley with one of Asia’s major tech cities. (Seventy percent of the world’s iPads, for example, are manufactured in Chengdu.) But it’s also an untapped market for interior China’s new travelers to launch into the U.S. In fact, I met a number of people in Chengdu who had already booked the flight, thrilled to eliminate the need to connect elsewhere in Asia.

The 353-room Ritz-Carlton Chengdu opened October 2013 (Photo: Chris Cypert)

The 353-room Ritz-Carlton Chengdu (pictured here) opened October 2013 (Photo: Chris Cypert)

For American travelers like myself, the opportunity to visit a second-tier city was particularly interesting. One expert on China who was traveling with our group said the Chinese government is promoting the growth of “medium-sized” cities now, to take the heat off first-tier cities. American businesses investing in China are also seeing the growth opportunities in second-tier cities. For example, in October Ritz-Carlton opened properties in Chengdu (where I stayed) and Tianjin. The luxury market is robust in these cities.

If I had money to put on the table, I’d place United’s bet, too. The Chengdu/Chicago comparison may lose its parallels quickly, but both cities have matured to earn their place at the world economic table.

Have you been to Chengdu? If so, how do your impressions compare? Let us know in the comments.

–Nancy Branka

Disclosure: Nancy was a guest of United Airlines and Ritz-Carlton for this 3-day business trip. 

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

Pay more for fewer hassles? + Delta’s big boast + United expands in Latin America + Lush new LAX lounge

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

Trip Report: SAS business class SFO-Copenhagen (PHOTOS)

Is Uber illegal?

Biz Trip: Denver

Minty fresh transcons + AA US Upgrades + Salt Lake fight + United SFO consolidated + Amex/Uber tie up + Tokyo’s newest hotel

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

More transpac + Slim-line seats slammed + More A321s + New SFO club + ATL free wi-fi + New Hilton brand

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Minty fresh transcons + AA US Upgrades + Salt Lake fight + United SFO consolidated + Amex/Uber tie up + Tokyo’s newest hotel

New JetBlue Mint class cranks up on LAX-JFK; coming to SFO in October (Photo: JetBlue)

New JetBlue Mint class cranks up on LAX-JFK; coming to SFO in October (Photo: JetBlue)

AIRLINES

JetBlue introduces transcon business class. This week JetBlue operated the first transcontinental A321 equipped with its new Mint business class, offering 16 lie-flat seats (including four privacy suites) and an array of special amenities and perks. It’s designed to compete with the recently upgraded premium cabins of its transcon legacy competitors, but at a much lower price (currently starting at $599 one way). For now, it’s only on one daily JFK-Los Angeles flight, but will expand as the airline takes on more of the 11 specially-equipped A321s. It will start on the JFK-SFO route on October 26.

AA, US Airways start reciprocal upgrades. American said last week that AAdvantage elites can now upgrade to first class on US Airways within 24 hours of departure on domestic flights (except Hawaii) and those to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bermuda and Central America. And Preferred-level members of US Airways’ Dividend Miles can do the same on American. The size of carry-on bags on both was also standardized at 45 inches of combined dimensions. The programs are expected to merge fully in 2015, AA said.

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Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

Alaska invades SLC. Slapping back at Delta for encroaching on its Seattle base, Alaska Airlines last week and this week is laying on seven new routes from Delta’s Salt Lake City hub — Portland, Boise, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, plus a third daily SLC-SEA flight…Is American’s plan to put a two-class A321 onto the DFW-SFO route this fall a response to Virgin American’s new DAL-SFO service? … Since Delta failed to get the Love Field slots it wanted, it’s now planning four daily DFW-LAX flights instead, starting this fall.

More new international routes open up. Besides its new Dallas/Ft. Worth-Shanghai route, American also kicked off new daily service last week from DFW to Hong Kong with a three-class 777-300ER…Air China last week started flying from Washington Dulles to Beijing’s Capital International Airport four times a week, also with a 777-300ER … Qatar Airways has launched the only non-stops from Miami to the Mideast, flying a two-class 777-200 to Qatar’s new Hamad International Airport … AA’s US Airways unit began code-sharing with joint venture partner Iberia, putting the US code onto the latter’s flights to Madrid from JFK, MIA, BOS, ORD and LAX.

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AIRPORTS

United consolidates at SFO. Just a reminder: Now that United has finished renovating its Boarding Area E in Terminal 3 and added a new United Club there, all of its domestic flights now operate from T3, eliminating the need for connecting travelers to take that awful shuttle under the airport to or from Terminal 1.

Dramatic skyline view from the newest Hyatt in Tokyo (Photo: Hyatt Hotels)

Dramatic skyline view from the newest Hyatt in Tokyo (Photo: Hyatt Hotels)

HOTELS

New luxury hotels in Tokyo, Taipei. Hyatt has added a Tokyo hotel to its upscale Andaz brand. The newly opened, 164-room Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills occupies the upper floors of a 52-story tower with sweeping views of the city. It’s between Tokyo Tower and Imperial Palace, not far from the Ginza district. Meanwhile, the Mandarin Oriental Taipei has opened in the heart of Taiwan’s capital near Taipei Shongshan Airport.

Which credit card is currently offering $500 in free travel (among many other bennies) when you sign up? Click here to find out about this “no-brainer” offer! 

Chevy's new Spark CARS

AmEx forges a tie-in with Uber. American Express has inked a partnership deal with the popular ride-finding app Uber, which operates in five dozen U.S. cities. Membership Rewards members who register their cards in the newest version of Uber’s iOS app can earn double program points, or they can use points to pay for rides.

Hertz’ new EVs get 119 MPG equivalent. Hertz has added the 2014 Chevrolet Sparto its fleets at Los Angeles International and San Francisco International airports. The company says the subcompact electric vehicles achieve the greatest fuel efficiency of any EV — the equivalent of 119 MPG combined city and highway driving. They’re also being rolled out at Hertz’ local rental outlets throughout California.

In Case You Missed It

>United’s new transition of MileagePlus to a spending-based program is pretty much a carbon copy of Delta’s.

>Have you tried out Marriott’s new M Club Lounge concept yet? Here’s some background.

>Virgin America has rolled out an innovative redesign of its website.

>Amtrak is taking bids for a project to boost capacity and increase speeds of on-board Wi-Fi for its Northeast Corridor trains.

-Jim Glab

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P.S. Facebook is taking its time merging our previous pages into the new TravelSkills Facebook page. If you like to stay in touch and get breaking news/deals updates that way, please visit the page and LIKE it. Thanks!

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

More transpac + Slim-line seats slammed + More A321s + New SFO club + ATL free wi-fi + New Hilton brand

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges (PHOTOS)

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

The new United Club opened on Sunday, June 8 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new United Club opened on Sunday, June 8 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

United’s newest United Club opened last Sunday and TravelSkills was there with a camera! Check out the photos and deets on the new Club located at San Francisco International Airport, Terminal 3, on the mezzanine level between boarding areas E (the new one) and F.

On opening day, United was offering free champagne and mimosas to guests (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On opening day, United was offering free champagne and mimosas to guests (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The 5,000 square foot, 103-seat club is temporary. It will be open for just 16 months while a newer, larger (5,500 sq ft, 130 seat), brighter (tarmac facing windows), swankier club (like the new one in London) is built on the main level closer to the brand new Boarding Area E. The new club is scheduled to open in 2015. “The new United Club will have everything the London club has except [the replica of] Big Ben,” said Nina Moore, United’s Senior Manager of Airport Lounges who was at SFO from Chicago for the opening.

By comparison, the current United Club on the Rotunda in boarding Area F is 18,000 square feet with 274 seats.

While the new space is modern, super clean and well appointed, the lack of windows gives it a somewhat claustrophobic feel. What alleviates that are the oversize vintage black and white photos strategically placed on walls throughout the space which help open it up.  There are power outlets (standard and USB) by every seat and the free wi-fi is good and fast. Clusters of modern “egg chairs” give it a Scandinavian feel.

When I was there at around 10 am on Sunday, the breakfast offerings were standard United Club: Bagels, cream cheese, donuts, yogurt, cereal, coffee, some fresh fruit. And to celebrate the opening on Sunday, free champagne or mimosas. There’s also a full bar area with cafe style tables. Bathrooms, but no showers.

Recent: Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad | United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Checking in at the new United Club at SFO's T3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Checking in at the new United Club at SFO’s T3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new United Club color palette of gold, gray, white and putty on display (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new United Club color palette of gold, gray, white and putty on display (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Oversized vintage prints help open up the windowless space (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Oversized vintage prints help open up the windowless space (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Clusters of egg chairs lend a mod feel to the club (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Clusters of egg chairs lend a mod feel to the club (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A big bright full service bar with lighting similar to that in the new London club (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A big bright full service bar with lighting similar to that in the new London club (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Who gets to go to the United Club? Members, those on one-time $50 day passes, Priority Pass cardholders (but not including “Select” members who get cards as a credit card bennie), United MileagePlus Explorer Card holders, international first and business class passengers, Star Alliance Gold members and BusinessFirst passengers flying on United’s p.s. flights to New York-JFK. Also, United Star Gold member with valid Star Gold card and same day departing boarding pass in conjunction with Star operated INTERNATIONAL flight. Star Alliance Gold members with valid Star Gold member card and same day departing boarding card from SFO for Star operated flight. Here’s a link to help understand who gets in.

United is in the process of revamping and enhancing all its United Clubs. The latest to get the once over are at airports in Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, Boston and London. 

Are you a United Club member? What do you think of its Clubs? 

–Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

More transpac + Slim-line seats slammed + More A321s + New SFO club + ATL free wi-fi + New Hilton brand

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges (PHOTOS)

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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More transpac + Slim-line seats slammed + More A321s + New SFO club + ATL free wi-fi + New Hilton brand

Seattle (pictured)  nabs two new nonstops to Asia (Photo: Jim Glab)

Seattle (pictured) nabs two new nonstops to Asia (Photo: Jim Glab)

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AIRLINES

U.S. carriers launch new transpac routes. Transpacific travelers are getting several new options this month. Delta last week started daily non-stops from Seattle to Seoul, and on June 16 will add daily flights from SEA to Hong Kong. At San Francisco International, United plans a June 9 start for non-stop 787 service to Chengdu, China three times a week. (TravelSkills will be on the inaugural flight so stay tuned for our report!) And June 11 is the launch date for American’s new daily non-stops between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Shanghai Pudong. Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific last week added a fourth daily frequency to its LAX-Hong Kong route, and Etihad kicked off daily Los Angeles-Abu Dhabi transatlantic flights.

Survey slams slim-line seats. Those new slim-line seats that some airlines are installing in economy class aren’t a big hit with passengers, according to a new Tripadvisor survey of 4,300 flyers. Almost two-thirds said the slim-line seats are less comfortable than traditional seating. Uncomfortable seating remains air travelers’ top complaint (73 percent), followed by high fares and fees (66 percent), flight delays (45 percent), long waits at security (35 percent) and whiney kids (32 percent). Have you spent much time in slim-line seats yet? What did you think?

Delta's new A321s will be made in Mobile, Alabama (Airbus)

Delta’s new 195-seat Airbus A321s will be made in Mobile, Alabama (Airbus)

Airlines go for A321s. After years of adding Airbus A319 and A320 narrow-bodies to their fleets, U.S. carriers are now trending toward the larger A321. Delta just ordered 15 more (for a total of 45, starting in 2016); American selected specially-configured A321s for its new transcon fleet, and JetBlue will use them for its new premium-cabin (Mint) transcon service as well. What’s the attraction? They can carry many more passengers (e.g., 192 seats on Delta’s version, vs. 150 for its A320s) for almost the same amount of fuel burn.

Eagle getting new jets. American Airlines has taken delivery of the first of 30 new CRJ-900s that will fly under the American Eagle banner. They’ll have 12 first class, 32 Main Cabin Extra and 32 main cabin seats, and they’ll be equipped with Gogo Wi-Fi technology. No word yet on which routes get them first.

US Airways adds code-shares to Germany. American Airlines has long had code-sharing with oneworld partner airberlin, and now AA affiliate US Airways does too. US Airways’ code has gone onto airberlin flights from ORD, MIA and JFK to Berlin; and from MIA, JFK and Ft. Myers, Fla. to Dusseldorf.

2 most popular TravelSkills posts last week: 5 key questions to ask at hotel check in | Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

AIRPORTS

Free Champers at the brand new United Club at SFO on opening day! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Free Champers at the brand new United Club at SFO on opening day! Stay tuned to TravelSkills for a slideshow! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New UA Club at SFO. United recently opened a temporary 5,000-square-foot United Club at San Francisco International. It is located on the mezzanine level over the corridor connecting the new Boarding Area E with Boarding Area F. The temporary 100-seat club is expected to be open for only 16 months while a brand new United Club is being built nearby. It supplements existing Clubs in T3′s Boarding Area F Rotunda and the International Terminal. TravelSkills was there with a camera on opening day so stay tuned for a slideshow! 

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ATL offers free Wi-Fi. Travelers at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson can now access the Web anywhere, for no charge, using a system operated by ATL itself. Previously, a $4.95 fee applied. “The lack of free Wi-Fi put our airport at a competitive disadvantage and it was the number one complaint we would receive from our customers,” a spokesman said. Have you had a chance to try it yet? Let us know about your experience in the comments below! 

HOTELS

Hilton adds a new brand. Like Marriott’s Autograph Collection, Hilton Worldwide has created a new brand of independently owned and operated hotels that will participate in Hilton’s reservations and marketing networks and its HHonors program. Initial members of the new Curio-A Collection by Hilton are the SLS Las Vegas; Sam Houston Hotel, Houston; Hotel Alex Johnson, Rapid City, S.D.; and Franklin Hotel, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Which credit card is currently offering $500 in free travel (among many other bennies) when you sign up? Click here to find out about this “no-brainer” offer! 

The brand new Park Hyatt  Vienna is open! (Photo: Hyatt)

The brand new Park Hyatt Vienna is open! (Photo: Hyatt)

New hotels from Hyatt, Loews. Hyatt has opened its first hotel in Austria. The Park Hyatt Vienna, on Am Hof Square, is a rebuild of a 100-year-old bank. Meanwhile, an early July closing is expected for Loews Hotels’ acquisition of the Graves 601 Hotel Wyndham Grand in downtown Minneapolis; and the Radisson Plaza Hotel Minneapolis will be rechristened the Radisson Blu July 7 after a massive renovation.

In Case You Missed It…

>There are five questions you should always ask when checking into a hotel.

 >Take a tour of United’s first and business class lounges at London Heathrow’s brand-new Terminal 2.

>Pricing your summer trip to Europe? Be prepared for sticker shock!

>June 30 is the launch date for the reincarnation of 1980s low-fare carrier PEOPLExpress, operating three routes out of Newport News, Va.

–Jim Glab 

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges (PHOTOS)

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

JetBlue goes transpac? + Seattle battle + More 787s + Dirty planes + Centurion Lounge at MIA + New hotels for ATL SFO

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

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Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges (PHOTOS)

United's big bright new Club at London Heathrow Terminal 2. CLICK ON PHOTO FOR SLIDESHOW

United’s big bright new Club at London Heathrow Terminal 2. CLICK ON PHOTO FOR SLIDESHOW

United Airlines moves into London-Heathrow’s spiffy new Terminal 2 (The Queen’s Terminal) today and will open up its posh new business and first class lounges to passengers for the first time.

Last month United invited a small group of media folks (including TravelSkills!) to London for a preview of its brand new  United Global First Lounge and a United Club.

United is the first airline to operate from Terminal 2. Starting today it will finally bringing its 17 daily Heathrow flights – currently split between Terminals 1 and 4 – “under one roof.”  Later this year, the operations of United’s 22 Star Alliance partners at Heathrow will progressively move to Terminal 2, the alliance’s new home at the airport.

The airport is moving airlines in slowly at T2– it does not want a repeat of the fiasco that occurred when British Airways moved into the massive Terminal 5 overnight.

Conversation nook in United Club along with vintage photos (Chris McGinnis)

Conversation nook in United Club along with vintage photos (Chris McGinnis)

Together, the two lounges occupy 22,000 square feet of space near United’s gates in Terminal 2’s T2B satellite concourse. Both feature floor-to-ceiling windows with views of runways, modern décor and walls adorned with vintage black and white photos from United’s archives. Like T5, the Queen’s Terminal is comprised of a main terminal (T2A) and a satellite (T2B) connected by an underground walkway.

 

Warm canapes from the elaborate United Club buffet (Chris McGinnis)

Warm canapes from the elaborate United Club buffet (Chris McGinnis)

Both the Club and the Lounge will offer elaborate meals (unlike anything you’ll see stateside), plenty of high end booze, wine and, of course speedy, free Wi-Fi.  It remains to be seen whether the quality and quantity of the spread laid out for the media will be the ongoing standard.

Nearly every seat in the joint is within a foot or two of a power outlet. And there are seven private “phone booths” set up with desks and glass doors for private conversations.  See slideshow

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Global First Lounge

The United Global First Lounge is for United or Star Alliance customers traveling in first class. The centerpiece of the lounge is an oversized Big Ben-style clock in the tea lounge section.  Other features include a buffet area, an intimate dining room, private phone booths and a quiet zone with loungers and privacy drapes.

United Club

The United Club is for United Club members, those traveling in business class and Star Alliance Gold members. It’s the first Club outside the U.S. to feature the new United Club design concept– which we’ll likely see at SFO when the new United Club opens by T3E in 2015.

The Club has a big bright and open layout with seating over 280 guests.  Against a backdrop of runways is a 25-seat full service bar, two buffet areas, a TV lounge and seven private phone booths. See slideshow

There are eight well-appointed and spacious shower suites

There are eight well-appointed and spacious shower suites

There are eight spacious shower suites with complimentary toiletries and valet service– put your suit in the valet door while showering, and an attendant will press it and have it ready by the time you dry off.

While United executives would not reveal a dollar figure for the cost of the London clubs, they did say that this is part of a $50 million investment in club renovations across the system.

United operates 17 flights per day from Heathrow to six US cities: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington, D.C./Dulles. See slideshow

United laid out quite a spread for the media– and we’ve yet to determine if food of the abundance and quality we saw (See slideshow) during the media visit will be the standard. Let us know what you see! Does the addition of lounges like this make you more likely to choose United when flying to London? Please leave your comments below. 

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Chris McGinnis

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

JetBlue goes transpac? + Seattle battle + More 787s + Dirty planes + Centurion Lounge at MIA + New hotels for ATL SFO

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

Bigger, better RJs + Virgin website + More premium economy + ATL roadways + SFO on-airport hotel

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

Surviving “tourist season” at the airport: Chris on CNN

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

JetBlue goes transpac? + Seattle battle + More 787s + Dirty planes + Centurion Lounge at MIA + New hotels for ATL SFO

JetBlue hopes to be able to sell these Singapore Air seats as its very own with a proposed code share agreement (Photo:  Chris McGinnis)

JetBlue hopes to be able to sell these Singapore Air seats as its very own with a proposed code share agreement (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

JetBlue adds transpacific service (kinda). Most of JetBlue’s code-sharing deals with foreign carriers are unilateral — i.e., the partner’s code goes on domestic JetBlue flights, but not vice-versa. But now JetBlue wants government approval for a new partnership with Singapore Airlines that puts JetBlue’s code onto flights from San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong and via Seoul; from LAX to SIN via Tokyo Narita; and from New York JFK to SIN via Frankfurt. Singapore’s code would go onto 16 domestic JetBlue routes.

‘Battle for Seattle’ heats up. Alaska Airlines and Delta are ramping up efforts to outdo each other with new Seattle routes. In the latest round, Alaska said that next spring, it will add 27 more daily departures at SEA, to destinations including Boise, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fairbanks, Palm Springs and Sacramento. That’s in addition to new service starting this spring and summer to New Orleans, Tampa, Baltimore, Detroit and Albuquerque.

Southwest Airlines mobile boarding passes now available at all US airports

Southwest Airlines mobile boarding passes now available at all US airports

Meanwhile, Delta plans to add SEA service to Spokane and Calgary on November 3, and to Maui, Bozeman, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta on December 20.

Southwest finishes boarding pass rollout. Southwest Airlines said its passengers at airports throughout the U.S. can now use mobile boarding passes on smartphones and other electronic devices, and that its iOS and Android apps have been upgraded to provide flight status, boarding position and gate information. “Travel information will update in the app beginning 24 hours prior to a flight allowing customers to check in and access their mobile boarding pass from the homepage,” Southwest said.

New 787 routes coming. After the troubled rollout of the 787 Dreamliner, the FAA seems to be gaining confidence in the aircraft. Boeing said the agency will now allow 787s to fly routes that take them up to five and a half hours from the nearest airport; the previous limit was three hours. Air Canada, which starts flying its first 787 next month between Toronto-Tokyo Haneda, has revealed plans for the interiors of its international Dreamliners. And pilots at American Airlines have started 787 training; the first of its 42 Dreamliners arrives in November, although AA hasn’t yet said where it will fly them.

Study: Aircraft interiors are bug-friendly (esp seat pockets). Here’s a cautionary tale for travelers: A two-year FAA-funded study conducted by Auburn University found that dangerous bacteria can survive for up to a week on surfaces that passengers come in contact with aboard commercial airlines — “particularly the porous material such as arm rests and seat pockets,” the researchers said.  

AIRPORTS

Inside the big bright new Queen's Terminal (T2) at London Heathrow (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside the big bright new Queen’s Terminal (T2) at London Heathrow (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Heathrow’s new T2 opens. London Heathrow’s brand-new Terminal 2 will open for business this Wednesday, June 4, when United moves its operations there from Terminals 1 and 4. The new T2 will bring together all 23 Star Alliance carriers at LHR, as well as Aer Lingus, Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red and Germanwings, with moves scheduled over the next several months. The airport also issued a list of all the new shops and restaurants in T2. The spacious new terminal replaces the old T2, which was demolished in 2009. Known as the Queen’s Terminal, it will be dedicated by Her Majesty on June 23. Check out the TravelSkills slideshow from our sneak peek at United’s posh new business and first class lounges at T2!

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AmEx lounge coming to MIA. But who knows when? American Express announced plans to open an 8,000-square-foot Centurion Lounge — its fifth — at Miami International, although it didn’t give an opening date. AmEx already operates lounges at DFW and LAS, and plans to open others this year at New York LaGuardia and San Francisco International. For some strange reason, American Express is being coy about opening dates for all these lounges…

HOTELS

Atlanta, San Francisco get new hotels. Hyatt Hotels has cut the ribbon on what it calls “the first new full-service build in Atlanta’s Central Perimeter market in 25 years” — the 177-room Hyatt Atlanta Perimeter at Villa Christina. It’s inside the Perimeter and minutes from the Buckhead neighborhood at 4000 Summit Boulevard. In San Francisco, the 153-room boutique Hotel G has opened at 386 Geary Street; it’s a remake of the former Hotel Frank/Fielding Hotel.

In Case You Missed It…

>Check out our new guide to secret social media sites for business travel insiders.

>Is InterContinental Hotels Group going to be absorbed by Starwood?

>The 116 Protea Hotels in Africa and the Middle East that Marriott recently acquired can now be booked through Marriott central reservations and Marriott.com.

>Delta has resumed seasonal JFK-Copenhagen service, and United has done the same in the Chicago-Edinburgh market.

Please join the 25,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

–Jim Glab

P.S. Facebook is taking its sweet time merging our previous pages into the new TravelSkills Facebook page. If you like to stay in touch and get breaking news/deals updates that way, please visit the page and LIKE it. Thanks!

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

Bigger, better RJs + Virgin website + More premium economy + ATL roadways + SFO on-airport hotel

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

Surviving “tourist season” at the airport: Chris on CNN

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

Bigger, better RJs + Virgin website + More premium economy + ATL roadways + SFO on-airport hotel

2x2 economy seating (but tight overhead bin space) on a Delta Embraer 175 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

2×2 economy seating (but tight overhead bin space) on a Delta Embraer 175 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

More bigger, better regional jets. United’s first new 76-seat Embraer 175s started flying last week, configured with 12 seats in United First, 16 in Economy Plus and 48 seats in Economy Class.  Passengers flying in United First have access to in-seat power ports. United Express/SkyWest put the first aircraft into Chicago-Boston and Chicago-Washington D.C. (DCA) service; it will be used on the Chicago-Minneapolis route starting June 5; Chicago-Atlanta, Houston-Atlanta and Houston-New Orleans beginning June 15; and Chicago-New York LaGuardia June 23. These “regional” jets are actually pretty comfortable with larger windows and 2×2 economy seating. Delta currently uses the Embraer 175 jets on its popular California Shuttle flights. American recently put in an order for 60 more. One of the biggest downsides of the Embraers is limited overhead bin space. However, the Brazilian manufacturer is thankfully adding 40% more space in overhead bins on its next generation of E-jets– large enough to handle the standard carry-on size bag…and then some. Have you flown on an Embraer yet? Leave your comments below. 

New avatars and icons on the playful new Virgin America website

New avatars and icons on the playful new Virgin America website

New Virgin website sneak peek. Spunky Virgin America is currently beta-testing a new website with a group of its most frequent customers and business partners. As you might expect, the site is faster and feels fresh, visually appealing, a little funky and fun. Enhancements include colorful new avatars and icons, full-screen booking, and new responsive design that works across multiple device types. It also is introducing a new, foldable “back pocket boarding pass” that makes a lot of sense. The site is expected to go live in coming weeks. Which airline website do you like the best? Which one is the best designed? Please leave your comments below. 

Southwest opens books on new Love Field routes. Southwest Airlines has started selling its new routes out of Dallas Love Field, which will begin after the federal Wright Amendment expires this fall. It will offer multiple daily flights on all the routes, which include (starting October 13) Baltimore/Washington, Chicago Midway, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando and Washington Reagan National; and (starting November 2) Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Nashville, New York LaGuardia, Phoenix, San Diego, Orange County (Calif.) and Tampa Bay. Notably absent from this list (given all the noise about SFO-based Virgin America soon flying to Love Field) are nonstops to Bay Area airports.

DOT proposes new disclosure rules for airline pricing. Just as the U.S. airline industry is shepherding a bill through Congress to kill a Transportation Department rule that advertised air fares must include all government taxes and fees, DOT has now come out with a new proposed rule to make airlines be more upfront with travelers about the carriers’ own passenger fees. DOT wants airlines to clearly spell out their fees for first and second checked bags, carry-on items, and advance seat assignments. “Currently, fees for additional services are often difficult to determine when searching for airfares,” DOT said. Airline industry attempts to fight back on these pro-consumer moves claiming they want “more transparency” just does not pass the smell test.

Obama wants faster processing for international arrivals. Citing the success of automated passport control kiosks in cutting line time at airports like O’Hare and DFW, President Obama last week ordered federal agencies to work with airports and the private sector to reduce processing time for arriving passengers at 15 major gateway airports. “These action plans could include automating paper Customs and Border Protection Form I-94, implementing Automated Passport Control kiosks, expanding the DHS Global Entry program, and airports entering into voluntary partnerships with stakeholders to provide increased services on a reimbursable basis,” the White House said.

Please join the 25,000 people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!
Here's a look at a mock up of Lufthansa's new premium economy seats (Photo: Lufthansa)

Here’s a look at a mock up of Lufthansa’s new premium economy seats (Photo: Lufthansa)

Lufthansa starts selling Premium Economy seats. Lufthansa is now taking reservations for the first of its new Premium Economy seats, which will be available starting December 10 between Chicago-Frankfurt and Washington Dulles-Frankfurt, on the airline’s 747-8s. The seats are wider than regular economy seats and feature 38-inch pitch. Along the same lines… Singapore Airlines has announced that it will add premium economy to its B777 and A380s starting in late 2015.

Qatar introduces all-business-class service. The concept has been tried on transatlantic and transpacific routes with limited success, but now Qatar Airways is offering an all-business-class service on one of its six daily flights between Doha and London Heathrow. Qatar is using an Airbus A319 with 40 fully-flat reclining seats in a 2×2 configuration.

Dear Readers: We now have a new email distribution option allowing you to choose to get TravelSkills updates one time per day, OR one time per week. Click here to update your subscription

–Chris McGinnis

AIRPORTS

ATL expands roadway access from the north. Travelers approaching Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson from the north will have it easier now that the airport has opened a permanent three-lane roadway to the domestic terminal, replacing a temporary two-lane detour route that has been in place for the past several months.

SFO plans to build on-site hotel. San Francisco International Airport officials have started taking proposals from potential hotel operators to run a 400-room, four-star business hotel to be built on airport property near the Interstate 101 off-ramp. The hotel is expected to open in 2017.

New business hotels in Denver, Cleveland. The historic Colorado National Bank Building at 17th and Champa streets in downtown Denver has a new life as Marriott’s 230-room Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center, which opened this month. Meanwhile, Starwood Hotels cut the ribbon on the 484-room Westin Cleveland Downtown, next to the new Global Center for Health Innovation & Convention Center; it’s a $74 million rehab of the former Crowne Plaza.

In Case You Missed It…

>Delta and Virgin Atlantic will swap a pair of transatlantic routes this fall– bringing Virgin Atlantic flights to Atlanta for the first time

>Turkish Airlines has started flying from Boston to Istanbul.

>Holders of Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus and Ink Bold cards can now transfer Ultimate Rewards points to Singapore Airlines’ Krisflyer program.

>Air France will begin daily seasonal service from Minneapolis-St. Paul June 2.

Please join the 25,000 people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email per day updates!

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

Surviving “tourist season” at the airport: Chris on CNN

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

4 warning signs of a long hot summer

Which airlines are most generous with miles?

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

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Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

The contents of airline amenity kits have not changed much over the years. This is a United kit from the 1960s (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This is a United kit from the 1960s (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The airline inflight amenity kit has been a staple of business travel since the 1950′s when transoceanic air travel became relatively common.

The kits really came into their own in the 1950’s when a company called the AirTex of Des Moines, Iowa had a virtual monopoly on what it called R.O.N. (Remain Over Night) kits, which contained the essential accouterments for going to sleep and waking up refreshed.

Contents have evolved over the years, but the basics remain much the same. Back in the day, there were “his” and “her” kits. His contained deodorant, aftershave, hair cream, a razor and a comb. Hers included hair spray, cleansing cream, hand cream and nail polish remover.

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 2.45.00 PMOver the years, eye masks, towelettes, socks or booties, lip balm, mints and facial spritzers have made their way into and out of the kits. Airline branded soap and washcloths were there, too. Then there are the blankets, robes, kimonos and slippers.

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The SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport has one of the best collections of aviation memorabilia in the world, which it displays in a large space in the International Terminal and in various exhibitions in airport concourses.

Museum curator Dennis Sharp told TravelSkills, “The most unusual kit in the collection is the President Special, a sleek gold anodized tube that was given to first class passengers on Pan Am Stratocruiser ‘sleeperette’ service between New York and London.” (See photo below)

Currently, its collection of R.O.N. kits and similar inflight amenities is on display in at SFO’s Terminal 1, pre-security, near the corridor that connects it to the International Terminal.

For those who don’t have the time to drop by, here’s my take (and photos) of this unusual collection. (On display through September 30, 2014)

Do you have an old or unusual inflight amenity kit you’d like to donate to the collection? If so, the SFO Museum would love to hear from you. Contact Curator by clicking here. 

What do you do with your left over amenity kits? I store all mine in an old suitcase in my basement! I can’t bear the thought of throwing them away.  Please leave your comments below!

From now defunct Hughes Airwest. Check out the bottle of haircream and tube of deodorant! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A kit from the 1970s from now defunct Hughes Airwest. Check out the bottle of haircream and tube of deodorant! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Does anyone remember Alaska's Golden Nugget jets? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Does anyone remember Alaska’s Golden Nugget jets? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the BEDS upstairs on that mock up of a JAL 747 along w a collection of eye masks (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the BEDS upstairs on that mock up of a JAL 747 along w a collection of eye masks (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TWA's woolen sleep socks kept business class feet warm on cold overnight flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TWA’s woolen sleep socks kept business class feet warm on cold overnight flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Pan Am's President Special- a sleek anodized gold tube and razor (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Pan Am’s President Special- a sleek anodized gold tube and razor (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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More kits from the 1960s and 1970s. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

More kits from the 1960s and 1970s. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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Do you have an old or unusual inflight amenity kit you’d like to donate to the collection? If so, the SFO Museum would love to hear from you. Contact Curator by clicking here. 

What do you do with your left over amenity kits? I store all mine in an old suitcase in my basement! I can’t bear the thought of throwing them away.  Please leave your comments below!

–Chris McGinnis

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Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

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Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

SFO's North-South Runways 1R & 1L will close. Arrivals and departures will use 28R & 28L.

SFO’s North-South Runways 1R & 1L will close for 4 months. Arrivals and departures will use 28R & 28L.

On Saturday, May 17, San Francisco International Airport closed half of its runways for four months, which could result in significant flight delays, especially for those departing during peak hours.

Here’s what you need to know:

>SFO has four runways, two of which will be closed for about four months from Saturday, May 17 until mid-September.

>Runways are closed so the airport can construct new, federally mandated “Runway Safety Areas” (RSAs) at the end of runways 1L and 1R.

>While scheduling this work during peak summer travel season sounds insane, airport officials say that they can get the work done fastest during summer months, the Bay Area’s driest season of the year.

The engineered material arresting system – or EMAS – uses crushable concrete placed at the end of a runway to stop an aircraft that overruns the runway. The tires of the aircraft sink into the lightweight concrete and the aircraft is decelerated as it rolls through the material (Engineered Arresting Systems Corporation)

2010 photo from Charleston, WV runway overrun. The engineered material arresting system – or EMAS – uses crushable concrete placed at the end of a runway to stop an aircraft that overruns the runway. The tires of the aircraft sink into the lightweight concrete and the aircraft is decelerated as it rolls through the material (Engineered Arresting Systems Corporation)

>Inside each RSA will be large wide swaths of crushable concrete-like material known as EMAS (Engineered Materials Arrestor System), that are designed to allow aircraft that overshoot, undershoot or veer off the runway to come to safely come to a stop (and not barrel on to Highway 101 or into the Bay!). Think of them as runaway truck ramps like you see on freeways… but for planes.

>Every time it rains at SFO, the airport shifts to a two-runway pattern, so the closure is not unprecedented. As a matter of fact, airport officials say that SFO operated with only two runways 101 times in 2013. (That’s 101 times… not 101 full days, but still…)

(Related: 3 hot mess airports to avoid this summer)

>SFO says that has worked closely with the FAA and airlines to minimize delays associated with the closure. For example, Delta’s hourly shuttle service to LAX will not operate at 11 am or 1 pm this summer according to its schedule. Those flights resume in October. A Virgin America spokesperson said,  “We have proactively adjusted our schedules to allow for longer taxi times at SFO this summer and to minimize the impact for our guests.”

>SFO says that new flight procedures implemented last year to allow more planes to land during foggy conditions should help.

>Arriving flights will be given priority, which means that departures are most likely to be delayed. Those delays are most likely to occur during peak hours– between 10 am and 2 pm.

(Courtesy SFO)

(Courtesy SFO)

>All planes now take off to the west. Flights headed to Southern California and Asia depart SFO, fly up and over the San Bruno gap, then head out over the Pacific. Flights headed to the east and to Europe take off to the west, but make a sharp right turn shortly after take off, then head east over the Bay Bridge and Oakland. (It’s creating some awesome plane spotting from cars on Hwy 101!)

>The airport is implementing a metering system that will assign departure times during peak hours– this system will ensure that if your departure is delayed, you will wait at the gate area and not on the tarmac.

>Runways 28L and 28R had some minor adjustments made last year to meet the spatial requirements set by the federal government. This construction only required runway shutdown for a few days.

>When I asked airport spokesperson Doug Yakel if SFO’s delay problems might ever be permanently fixed by expansion into the Bay, he said no… “beyond the environmental concerns, building new runways out on the bay would simply be cost prohibitive.” He added that many of SFO’s delay issues would likely be solved by new technology instead of new runways.

UPDATE: Tuesday May 20: Flight delays reported by FAA at 8 am PDT (prior to mid-day peak): 

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 8.13.14 AM

click for latest data

How will this news impact your summer travel plans? Are you more likely to fly to/from Oakland or San Jose? Please leave your comments below!

--Chris McGinnis

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Check out the view from a desk in a room a London's newest hotel. See below for details (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the view from a desk in a guestroom a London’s newest, tallest hotel. It’s located south of the Thames. See below for details (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES

Delta boosts Europe service from JFK, ATL. On June 16, Delta will kick off new year-round daily service between New York JFK and Zurich, using a 767-300ER; the airline also recently started seasonal daily A330-300 flights from JFK to Rome. From its Atlanta hub, Delta said that this coming winter it plans to increase European frequencies as well, offering four flights a day to both Paris and Amsterdam in conjunction with joint venture partners Air France and KLM.

Southwest expands mobile boarding passes; relaunches credit card; will end AirTran program. Southwest Airlines, which was slow to start out with mobile boarding pass technology, is catching up. Previously available only in at Dallas-Love, Houston-Hobby and Austin airports, the airline’s mobile passes are now offered to passengers flying out of Baltimore/Washington, Phoenix, Orlando, Denver and Chicago Midway. Meanwhile, Southwest has started to notify members of subsidiary AirTran’s frequent flyer program that the latter’s A+ Rewards plan will be fully integrated into Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program in November. The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card is now offering a 25,000 points sign up bonus  (enough for a roundtrip flight) after spending just $1,000 in first three months, plus a 6,000 point bump every year on your cardmember anniversary. 

Survey: Alaska’s Mileage Plan is tops in member satisfaction. Members of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan frequent flyer program are more satisfied than those in other carrier loyalty programs, according to the results of a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates. Southwest’s Rapid Rewards ranked second, followed by JetBlue’s TrueBlue. J.D. Power doesn’t assign specific scores to United, Delta and American, but rather describes their loyalty member satisfaction levels as “about average.” It looks like United’s Mileage Plus program did a bit better than American AAdvantage and Delta SkyMiles, which tied. US Airways Dividend Miles program was at the bottom. Virgin America was not included in the survey, but there’s no explanation as to why not.

Frontier's animal emblazoned planes (tails and even winglets) coming to Dulles (Photo: Lynn Friedman / Flickr)

Frontier’s popular animal-emblazoned planes (tails and even winglets) coming to Dulles (Photo: Lynn Friedman / Flickr)

Frontier adds a big presence at Washington Dulles. Denver-based Frontier Airlines, now an ultra-low-cost carrier (i.e., it recently started charging a fee for overhead bin carry-on bags), will invade new turf this summer when it starts flying out of Washington Dulles to 14 destinations. On August 19, it will begin service from IAD to Atlanta (6x per week), Charlotte, Orlando, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Tampa. On September 8, it will add flights to Chicago O’Hare, Cincinnati, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Memphis, Fort Myers, St. Louis and Jacksonville/St. Augustine.

American unveils new routes for the fall. American Airlines will add eight new routes to its domestic network in the months ahead, operated as American Eagle or US Airways Express service. Grand Rapids-Charlotte and Grand Rapids-Philadelphia flights start September 3. Routes kicking off October 2 include Charlotte-Evansville, Ind.; Charlotte-Ft. Wayne, Ind.; Chicago-Bismarck, N.D.; Dallas/Ft Worth-Bismarck; Philadelphia-Ft. Wayne and Phoenix-Cleveland.

AIRPORTS

United and Delta offering posh pick ups at LAX (Photo: United)

United and Delta offering posh planeside pick ups at LAX (Photo: United)

United adds tarmac transfers at LAX. Selected United Global Services and United Global First customers at Los Angeles International Airport can now make flight connections in style via a chauffeur-driven Mercedes across the tarmac. This new trend in premium pampering was started by Delta (with Porsches) and then picked up by United, which already offers it at Chicago-ORD, Houston-IAH, Newark-EWR and SFO.

Atlanta & Charlotte airports get new automated passport kiosks. Both Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson and Charlotte Douglas International Airport have deployed new automated passport control kiosks that should help to speed up the entry process for U.S. citizens who are not members of Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry trusted traveler program. The self-service touch-screen kiosks can reduce line time by 20 to 50 percent. Charlotte also got a new application center for travelers who want to join TSA’s PreCheck program.

New American Eagle gates debut at DFW. Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport this month opened a new 10-gate concourse extension of Terminal B to handle American Eagle regional jet flights. The 20,000-square-foot extension has charging stations, free Wi-Fi and “a comfort zone seating area,” and its entrance is adjacent to a Skylink station.

HOTELS

Business properties open in London, Washington. It opened several months behind its original schedule, but officials of Shangri-La Hotels this month finally cut the ribbon on the group’s first London property, with 202 rooms occupying floors 34 through 52 of The Shard, an 87-story pointed tower near London Bridge (south side of the Thames) that claims to be the tallest building in western Europe. Shangri-La Hotel At The Shard has guestrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and nightly rates starting at $759. (TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis was there last month for a sneak peek and snagged the photo above.) Meanwhile, Marriott’s newly opened Marriott Marquis Washington D.C., linked to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, is the largest in the nation’s capital with 1,175 rooms.

In Case You Missed It….

>Potentially delay-inducing runway construction got off to a good start last week at SFO– on Sunday, delays did not exceed one hour for most of the day.

>Virgin America last week won two gates at Dallas Love Field.

>Members of Marriott Rewards can now earn up to 2,000 points a month for their social media activity.

>Booked your vacation flights yet? Don’t wait: The volume of U.S. air travel this summer is expected to be the highest in six years.

–Jim Glab

Virgin gets Love + Unusual SFO car wash + United to Tokyo Haneda + UberXL

Virgin America pulled out it's biggest gun in Dallas...and won! (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America pulled out its biggest gun in Dallas (Richard Branson)…and won! (Photo: Virgin America)

LOVE. After an unexpectedly contentious battle, Dallas city managers gave Virgin America the go ahead to operate flights from two gates at close-in and convenient Love Field. This is good news for business travelers for two reasons. 1) It will provide a new, convenent alternative to DFW for those with business in downtown Dallas. 2) It could eventually mean more options for one stop flights (via Dallas) to East Coast cities– and more east coast cities could land new Virgin flights.  Service begins in October. [more...]

CAR WASH. Last week, an unusual new car wash service debuted at San Francisco International. Here’s how it works. You park your car in any on-airport lot, noting the location. Lock up and keep your keys.  Then you log on to BuyMyWash.com and enter the make/license and location of your car, and the type of wash you want. (Rates for a car range from $19.95-$29.95) Then the mobile car washing service comes by and washes your parked car, using “only about a half-gallon of water for each wash, with virtually no runoff or overspray” according to SFO. The service is also available at Houston Intercontinental and Hobby airports. 

TOKYO. Today, United Airlines announced that it will crank up new nonstops from SFO to Tokyo Haneda airport starting Oct 23. Haneda airport is a much better option for travelers with business in central Tokyo because it’s only about 30 minutes south of central city whereas Narita is more than an hour to the east. United will split its current twice a day service to Tokyo, with one flight a day to Narita and the other to Haneda. Star Alliance partner ANA has a huge hub at Haneda for connections to other Asian cities. Currently Japan Airlines offers nonstops from SFO to Haneda. Delta’s daily nonstop to Narita ended earlier this year.

MORE UBER. The amazing phenomenon that is Uber has come out with yet another flavor this week in San Francisco: UberXL, a more affordable option for SUV trips. Instead of those gargantuan Yukons or Suburbans that you probably feel guilty gallivanting about town in, UberXL uses smaller Pathfinders, Highlanders or Explorers that can hold up to six passengers. Rates are 50% less than standard SUV rates. No word yet on the service in other cities served by Uber. Speaking of Uber, London black taxicab drivers plan to stage a slow down next month to protest the rapid increase in Uber use.  Get $10 off your first Uber ride by using this link. 

UberXL

–Chris McGinnis

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