36 most/least frustrating airports

Did you know that there's a five star hotel (with a great bar) inside Vancouver Airport? Photo: Chris McGinnis

Did you know that there’s a five star hotel (with a great bar) inside Vancouver Airport? Photo: Chris McGinnis

Just in time for the holiday crunch, Bloomberg/BusinessWeek has put together a spot-on ranking of the 36 largest airports in the US and Canada.

What’s best about this ranking is that it is based on a survey of 3,000 frequent travelers who know a thing or two about airports, plus a full analysis of drive time to/from airports, and airport on-time data.

Let’s start on a positive note and look at the those that come out at the top of the list for being LEAST frustrating overall:

#1 Vancouver YVR

#2 Portland PDX

#3 Austin AUS

#4 Calgary YYC

#5 Phoenix PHX

Every one of these top five airports puts a smile on my face. I love Vancouver for its indoor creek and 5-star hotel on the premises. I’m in awe of Portland’s glassy rain canopy that connects the airport to parking lots. Austin has live music, rocking chairs and BBQ!

Portland's glass canopy and great public transport  give it high marks (Port of Portland)

Portland’s glass canopy and great public transport give it high marks (Port of Portland)

One thing that jumped out at me about this study was that Canadian airports rank so high. In addition to Vancouver and Calgary, Ottawa ranked #8 overall. However, Toronto Pearson (YYZ), Canada’s busiest, ranked near the bottom of the pack at #30– just ahead of the reviled LAX and JFK. I can relate– nearly every time I fly to or from Toronto or pass through Pearson, I get lost. The first step Toronto could take toward a better airport would be better directional signage.

The bottom of the list should be familiar territory to all TravelSkills readers…these airport laggards nearly always fall at the bottom of every list, so there are few surprises here:

#32 New York Kennedy JFK

#33 Chicago O’Hare ORD

#34 Washington Dulles IAD

#35 Newark Liberty EWR

#36 New York LaGuardia LGA

Here's how Bloomberg described LaGuardia airport

Here’s how BusinessWeek described LaGuardia airport

Why the disdain for NYC area airports? Probably because they are dinosaurs– and most are too busy to make way for many improvements. Although I think it’s fair to say that there have been some improvements in New York. And there are more on the way… but it’s going to take a while…

For example, Delta’s new Terminal 4 operation at JFK is a dramatic improvement over its old digs at the long gone PanAm Worldport. The biggest downside are the unusually long walks required to get to gates at the far end of the concourse. I was just in JetBlue’s big, bright and happy JFK Terminal 5 last week and was impressed. And United’s operations at Newark are slated for improvements as we reported on TravelSkills this week.

Washington Dulles Airport's curves are sure lovely. Bu not its commute! (Photo: Joe Wolf / Flickr)

Washington Dulles Airport’s curves are sure lovely. Bu not its commute! (Photo: Joe Wolf / Flickr)

Another thread among the most frustrating airports is drive time. Washington Dulles is the most dramatic example of this… there is little worse than a five-hour transcon flight to Dulles, then another hour or two fighting traffic to get into downtown DC. Thankfully we have Washington National, which came in at #13. The top three airports in terms of drive time to/from during rush hour are: Boston BOS, Atlanta ATL and San Francisco SFO.

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Some other interesting notes from the study: Delta’s big hubs at Detroit and Atlanta came in at #11 and #12 respectively- well into the top half. While both are big and always busy, they work well. When I lived in Atlanta, people would say, “Atlanta Airport is about as pretty as a Xerox machine. But it works like one, too,” referring to the overall efficiency of the world’s busiest airport.

My hometown airport San Francisco International ranked #17– firmly middle of the pack. While SFO has some award winning terminals, organic food and excellent runway views, I’m sure its poor on-time performance in rain and fog likely pushed it down in the rankings.

Bloomberg airports

Click to see the full report!

Take a look at this fascinating report!  and leave your comments about it below. Were there any surprises in it? 
 
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New look for Newark + United goes Android + New Delta look at LAX + Fee at Hilton/Marriott

Which country boasts this gorgeous passport design? See below

Which country boasts this gorgeous design on passport pages including the North Star, Moon and Northern Lights? Scroll to bottom for full story!

AIRLINES

Just in time for the busy holidays, United has (finally) extended its new onboard streaming service to Android users. Apple iPhone and iPad users (as well as those on any laptop)  have been able to give the new service a try since last spring.  To use it, you must first download the United app from the Google Play or Apple App store in order to watch a variety free TV shows and movies while in flight on nearly 200 United aircraft, including its entire Airbus A319, Airbus A320 and Boeing 747 fleets and its Boeing 777 flying between the mainland and Hawaii. For the full story on inflight streaming, see this recent TravelSkills post: BYOD Entertainment on Planes. Have you tried United’s inflight streaming product yet? How did that go for you? 

You are reading Part 2 of this week’s Catch Up in Travel News from TravelSkills. Here’s Part 1

AIRPORTS

NEW RAIL LINK UP & RUNNING.  BART’s new Oakland airport service got off to a wet start last Saturday — with crews forced to squeegee off rain that had blown in and flooded the airport station platform — but nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of its jubilant first-day riders, according to SFgate.com “It was great, it was wonderful, it was easy, quick and cheap,” said one rider. New automated trains will transport riders from BART’s Coliseum station to the new Oakland Airport station every five minutes during peak hours; the ride takes eight minutes. The ride from the Coliseum station to/from downtown SF takes about 25 minutes. BART fares between the new Oakland Airport station and downtown San Francisco are $10.05.  More… 

A rendering of the future look for United's Concourse C in Newark (Image: OTG)

A rendering of the future look for United’s Concourse C in Newark (Image: OTG)

Big-name chefs coming to EWR. United Airlines and development partner OTG Management have revealed more plans for the ongoing overhaul of Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport. Not only is the revamped facility bringing in new restaurants from a number of high-visibility chefs, but travelers will be able to use their MileagePlus miles to pay for food and drinks through some of the 6,000 iPads that will be deployed in the terminal’s restaurants, bars and gate areas. The headliner restaurant will be chef Alaine Ducasse’s Saison, a French bistro; others include a French country eatery from Alex Guarnaschelli; an Italian steakhouse from Mario Carbone, and a surf bar and sushi outlet from Josh Capon.

Taxi turmoil at SFO. Organized taxi drivers clogged up the roadways outside passenger terminals at San Francisco International one night last week to protest the airport’s recent decisions to let app-based ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft operate there. And members of the Taxi Workers Alliance are threatening to repeat the curbside chaos at SFO “again and again” unless the airport changes its policy. Meanwhile, a top Uber executive stirred up a mini-scandal after word leaked out that he had threatened to start digging up dirt on journalists who write negative stories about the company. Would negative publicity about Uber make you less likely to use their service? Put your comments below.

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Delta's Sky Prority lobby at LAX efore (above) and after (below)

Delta’s Sky Prority lobby at LAX efore (above) and after (below)

Lobby remake at LAX. Delta has finished the renovation of its Sky Priority lobby at Los Angeles International’s Terminal 5. Take a look at the before and after photos.

HOTELS

New fees coming at Hilton, Marriott. Effective January 1, Hilton and Marriott will impose a new standard cancellation fee — a single night’s room rate — on no-show guests unless they have cancelled their bookings at least the day before scheduled arrival. If individual hotels within the groups already have more restrictive cancellation policies, those will remain in effect. Not all chains are adopting a uniform policy; e.g., things are unchanged at Best Western, a spokesperson said, where cancellation policies vary by the rate booked and the individual hotel’s policy; policies are listed under each rate bookable on bw.com.

This is what Norway's passport pages look like in normal light. (Image: Neue)

This is what Norway’s passport pages look like in normal light. (Image: Neue)

This is what the pages of Norway’s new passport look like in normal light. The darker image above (scroll to top), which reveals the north star and northern lights, is only visible under UV light. Beautiful! (Full story from CNN here)

You are reading Part 2 of this week’s Catch Up in Travel News from TravelSkills. Here’s Part 1

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Say what? Even more cuts to United MileagePlus

United revealed even more "updates" to MileagePlus this week (Photo: United)

Just a few weeks ago, United matched Delta in boosting by 20 percent the amount of dollar spending required in 2015 for MileagePlus members to achieve elite status levels in 2016. And now United has made some more “updates” to its loyalty program starting early next year that will further chip away at the benefits of Premier membership.

Effective February 1, MileagePlus Premier members who ask for an Upgrade Award on United’s enhanced-service “p.s.” routes (New York JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-San Francisco) will be charged a co-pay in addition to miles — something they’re currently exempt from. That co-pay can range from $75 to $250 one-way, depending on booking class. (United’s complimentary Premier Upgrades do not apply on p.s. routes.)

In another change taking effect February 1, United will no longer pick up the $100 cost of membership in Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry trusted traveler program, which allows speedy re-entry to the U.S. from international trips — and also gives members access to TSA’s domestic PreCheck security checkpoints. Currently, United provides a Global Entry payment code to eligible Global Services, Premier 1K and Premier Platinum members of MileagePlus. (That will still be available through the end of January 2015.)

United’s Premier Gold members who require lots of luggage will be sorry to see that when they travel on a domestic economy ticket on or after February 1, their free checked bag allowance will drop from three pieces to two. (For most international markets, it will remain at three.) The domestic economy allowance will still be one free checked bag for Silver members and three for Platinums and 1Ks.

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Starting April 15, elite-level members who use their miles to acquire an award ticket for someone else will find that their own Premier trip benefits will no longer be granted to that second person for the award trip; instead, the recipient’s Premier status — if any — will determine which perks will apply.

Photo: Bernal Saborio / Flickr

Finally, some changes are coming to United’s relationship with its Latin American partner Copa Airlines effective July 1. As of that date, flights on Copa won’t count toward the minimum segment requirement for MileagePlus Premier status, and flight miles on Copa won’t be applied to a member’s lifetime MileagePlus mileage balance. MileagePlus Premier members will keep many of the benefits they currently have for trips on Copa, like an extra bag allowance, priority reservation waitlist, priority standby and so on; and they’ll still earn Premier qualifying miles — and can take award travel — on Copa. United said the reason for those changes is that Copa will roll out its own loyalty program in July.

Popular: How to get on an earlier flight without paying a fee

Taken individually, the new MileagePlus rule changes might not have too much of an impact on any single member. But collectively, they represent a continuing pattern of benefits erosion that could well make members wonder what might be coming next.

Declining program benefits, along with rising fees, post-merger quality-of-service problems and other indignities led one disgruntled MileagePlus loyalist to pen an essay that appeared in the prestigious New Yorker magazine this month under the headline “Why I Left United Airlines.”

What do our MileagePlus readers think of these new changes? Are they deal breakers — or no big deal? Post your comments below.

–Jim Glab

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United changes rules + Radical plan for NYC airport + Centurion “Studio” + Uber’s friends in DC

United

Somewhere over Greenland up in the bubble on a United B747 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES. 

Did you get the email from United last week? As expected (and as usual) the carrier mimicked Delta’s recent move to increase the amount of dollars members must spend to get (or maintain) Premier status. The 20% bump up applies to qualifying activity in 2015 for status in 2016. The 25K spend threshold on MileagePlus co-branded credit cards  for status is not affected by this. Details here. So far, American is still sitting back, watching and remaining vague about any plans it has for the move toward a revenue based program. So what do you think? Last time we wrote about airlines’ new revenue requirements, the general reaction from TravelSkills readers was, “Mmmeh, I’ll easily meet those spending requirements.” And some even lauded Delta and United for weeding out the gamers who don’t pay much but have figured out wily ways to snag awards and upgrades. Please leave your comments below. 

AIRPORTS

New Amex Centurion “Studio.” American Express can’t always find a airport space large enough for its super popular Centurion Lounges, like the brand new on in San Francisco. Such is the case in Seattle (SEA), where Amex announced that will open a smaller Centurion Studio instead. Amex says: “The Centurion Studio will be a retreat for Card Members but in a smaller space, featuring some of the amenities Card Members say are most essential: comfortable seating, charging stations, fast and free WiFi, and complimentary healthy snacks and beverages.” Amex told TravelSkills that it will be located “right off the Main terminal towards concourse B, post-security and easily accessible to all terminals.” It will be interesting to see how the smaller studio handles crowds…we’ve heard from several TravelSkills readers already about overcrowded conditions at the SFO lounge and elsewhere….

A grand re-imagining of New York's LaGuardia Airport- enter on Riker's Island & take a train to your plane (ReThink NYC)

A grand re-imagining of New York’s LaGuardia Airport- enter on Riker’s Island & take a train to your plane (ReThink NYC)

Visionary plan for LaGuardia. The New York Times reports that one local resident who thinks big has a grand plan for remaking LaGuardia Airport. His concept would move airport access much closer to Manhattan and expand the airport from two runways to four, and have as many as 160 passenger gates. How could this be? The airport would take over nearby Rikers Island — currently home to a big city jail — and put all the passenger gates there, freeing up space at the existing airport for more runways; a transportation terminal at the southern tip of The Bronx would bring in passengers from subways and Amtrak trains; and the whole thing would be linked with underground trains. Talk about outta-the-box thinking!

Big improvements planned at DCA. Airlines at Washington Reagan National have come to terms with the airport authority on a plan to invest $1 billion in facility improvements over the next 10 years. The plan calls for construction of a regional airline concourse linked to the north pier; connecting the three B/C piers inside security by moving TSA checkpoints from level 2 to level 3, making for easier connections between American Airlines flights; adding a new parking garage; and overhauling Terminal A.

Bonus Offers: How about a round trip to Hawaii or Mexico for less than $100 on US Airways? Or enough points for two roundtrips and a big jump on coveted Companion Status on Southwest? More…

CARS

(Photo: Uber)

(Photo: Uber)

Uber gaining Capitol friends. A new report finds that ride-sharing service Uber is making big inroads among Congress people and their staffs. Specifically, their use of Uber for local transportation increased from a zero percent market share in the 2010 election campaign to 61 percent this year. “Uber has overtaken taxis in both number of rides and amount spent,” the researchers said.

SFO adds another private ride provider. San Francisco International Airport, which in recent weeks reached agreements allowing UberX, Lyft and Sidecar to operate there, has issued a pilot permit to another operator — Wingz (www.wingz.me). Unlike the others, Wingz specializes only in airport transportation, offering a $35 flat rate to SFO for a private ride with “an awesome trained and background-checked driver.” Service should begin within 30 days.

Note: This is part 2 of our weekly “Catch Up” — have you read Part 1? 

Study tracks rental processing time. How effective are car rental firms’ express service programs for business travelers? The latest rental customer satisfaction study from J.D. Power finds that the vehicle pick-up and return process for business renters averages 41.5 minutes (including the shuttle ride) — only about three minutes less than the process takes for leisure renters. Overall customer satisfaction dropped slightly this year after rising steadily since 2009. Enterprise, National and Alamo topped the J.D. Power list this year. Hertz ranked #4.

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HOTELS

Hackers said to steal business travelers’ data at hotels. Internet security giant Kaspersky is warning business travelers about a corporate espionage campaign it calls “Darkhotel” that targets senior executives staying at luxury hotels — especially U.S. executives doing business in the Asia/Pacific region. The hackers “trick the person into downloading and installing a backdoor that pretends to be an update for legitimate software, such as Google Toolbar, Adobe Flash or Windows Messenger,” Kaspersky said, and can then hunt for stored passwords and logins as well as business data. The firm said travelers should be “suspicious” of suggested software updates when they are abroad, and should use a VPN provider. Has this ever happened to you– or anyone you know? Do you take any precautions when using a Wi-Fi connection in your hotel? Please leave your comments below. 

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Note: This is part 2 of our weekly “Catch Up” — have you read Part 1? 

 

New extra bonus offer: Get a whopping 50,000 Rapid Rewards points by signing up for Southwest’s Premier card – that’s enough for TWO free tickets. 

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Virgin’s next moves? + NYC + New Lufthansa seat + Eastern Airlines + More A380s

A brilliant fall day in NYC from the top floor of the Parker Meridien hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Greetings from New York City on a beautiful fall day peering out from the Parker Meridien hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES

Virgin shares soar in IPO. And the airline could, too. This is going to be really fun to watch. Virgin America shares hit the market Virgin Americaon Friday morning at $23 each, and took off to reach $30 by the end of the day. That makes Virgin worth about $1.3 billion. Now, with about $220 million in net proceeds, Virgin is going to add new planes, new routes and hopefully more frequencies in key business markets. CEO David Cush said that Virgin will add five new planes in 2015 and another five in 2016. He also said the SF-based carrier has a few other “tricks up its sleeve.” Talk of new flights to Hawaii has re-emerged. With Southwest taking AirTran’s business class seats out of the SFO-ATL market, I’d love to see two-class Virgin dive in. Where would YOU like to see Virgin America (see current destinations) expand? And would you be willing to give up your legacy carrier frequent flyer miles to try it? Please leave your comments below. 

Lufthansa’s premium economy starts this week. That new Premium Economy Class at Lufthansa is opening up nine days sooner than expected. The carrier said that starting November 22, the new section will be available on all of its 747-8 routes, including Frankfurt to Chicago, LAX and Washington Dulles. Besides the extra in-flight comforts, passengers will get twice the free checked bag allowance of regular economy, and for a 25 euro fee ($31), Premium Economy passengers can access the business class lounge before departure. Currently, United does not allow redemption of MileagePlus miles for Lufthansa (or any Star Alliance) premium economy. Lufthansa is offering a 15 percent discount on Premium Economy bookings until December 9. Take a look at Lufthansa’s new seat in this TravelSkills post: 20 different business class seats in one room

etihadTheResidenceFclass

One of three rooms in the Etihad First Class “Residence” onboard its A380s (Etihad)

$20,000 first class suites going fast. Would you pay $20,000 one way to fly in a private first class suite the size of some Manhattan apartments? Etihad Airways says these super-premium accommodations on its A380s — called The Residence — are selling out, in spite of the stratospheric price tag. Each one has a private shower, living area, bedroom — and the services of a butler. Meanwhile, other leading international carriers have upgraded their own front cabins to meet strong demand from global business moguls.

I captured this image of the Asiana B777 wreckage when my Delta flight from Atlanta landed the day after the crash (Chris McGinnis)

I captured this image of the Asiana B777 wreckage when my Delta flight from Atlanta landed  at SFO the day after the crash (Chris McGinnis)

Asiana SFO flights suspended. The South Korean government has ordered Asiana Airlines to halt its daily service to San Francisco from Seoul Incheon for 45 days as a penalty for the airline’s crash of a 777 during its landing at SFO in July 2013, in which three passengers died and scores were injured. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash on errors by one of the pilots, who was unfamiliar with all the automated systems on the 777. Asiana said it will appeal the suspension, which could delay implementation of the order.

Related: Korean Air Trip Reports- SFO-Seoul on a B777  &  Seoul-Atlanta on an A380 

International route news: Etihad Airways, which begins daily San Francisco-Abu Dhabi non-stops November 18, said its upcoming Dallas/Ft. Worth route, beginning with three flights a week on December 3, will increase to daily on April 16; Etihad is a code-share partner with American …

>Emirates will put a fourth daily flight, using an A380, onto its Dubai-New York JFK route on March 8, timed to maximize connections with partner JetBlue. The carrier also said it intends to put the A380 super-jumbo onto more U.S. routes; it introduced the plane on its DFW route last month, and will do the same in December with San Francisco and Houston. Emirates will have 68 A380s in operation by the end of 2015 compared with 55 today according to Bloomberg …

>British Airways will replace the 777 on its Denver-London route with a four-class 747 starting in March (including its new 14-suite first class design) …

>El Al will introduce Boston-Tel Aviv service three times a week starting in June 2015 …

>On May 1, Aer Lingus will begin new seasonal service from Washington Dulles to Dublin four times a week …

>Lufthansa will add Tampa to its route network in September 2015, using an A340-300 for flights to Frankfurt.

Popular: 20+ TravelSkills readers have signed up for these oddball credit card offers that reap big rewards. Have you? 

The new Eastern Airlines has painted its first jet. Brings back memories, no?

The new Eastern Airlines has painted its first jet, a 737-800. Brings back memories, no?

Something old, something new: PEOPLExpress, Eastern. The new incarnation of PEOPLExpress Airlines appears to be in trouble: Media reports indicate officials at Virginia’s Newport News/Williamsburg Airport are trying to evict the carrier from its home base, citing $100,000 in unpaid bills … The old Eastern Airlines name is also being revived in Miami. The “new” Eastern has started recruiting flight attendants, although it doesn’t yet have FAA certification. The company said it plans to operate 737-800s, but will initially serve only as a charter airline.

United’s holiday shopper lounges. Chase and United Airlines will soon open special VIP lounges for holiday shoppers in San Francisco and New Jersey. Available to Chase United cardholders, they’ll offer gift wrapping, refreshments, TVs, Wi-Fi and more, with locations at the Westfield San Francisco Centre (November 24-December 24) and The Mall at Short Hills (November 22-December 24).

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Love Lake Tahoe? Then come chat about it! TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis will be talking about his favorite place to get away from it all MONDAY at 3 pm ET. Take a cool virtual tour here and come chat with us and FlipKey today! On Twitter, look for the #TakeMeThereTahoe hashtag at 3 pm ET, Noon PT today!

In Case You Missed It…

Stay tuned! Part 2 of this weekly “Catch Up” will post tomorrow morning…

 

New extra bonus offer: Get a whopping 50,000 Rapid Rewards points by signing up for Southwest’s Premier card – that’s enough for TWO free tickets. 

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

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New options for Delta flyers at SFO

Delta flyers can now enjoy the mod design and amenities of SFO's Terminal 2 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Delta flyers can now enjoy the mod design and amenities of SFO’s Terminal 2 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Delta flyers at SFO can now take a yoga break, partake of local organic food and wine or check out a cool museum space at SFO.

That’s because there’s a brand new airside (behind security) connector between Terminal 1, Boarding Area C or “T1C” (used by Delta) and the world famous Terminal 2, designed by the San Francisco design firm Gensler, where Virgin America and American are located. Starting in January, US Airways flyers can join the fun when its SFO operations move alongside Delta’s in T1C.

So next time you are stuck at SFO’s rather prosaic Terminal 1 due to fog…or maybe if you arrive a bit early, take a 10-minute stroll through this new 500-foot, glassed-in, “sterile connector” to Terminal 2 and you can enjoy what many people think is the best airport terminal in America.

Here's a rendering of the new connector viewed from the ramp (Fentress Architects)

Here’s a rendering of the new connector viewed from the ramp with T1 to the left and T2 to the right (Fentress Architects)

(See airport map here to get your bearings)

What’s so cool about it? Well, for one, there’s a new yoga room. I’m not sure how many travelers actually use it for yoga (the original one has been empty every time I’ve peered in) but it can also be used for naps, prayers or quiet time. To make room for the new connector entrance, SFO relocated the original yoga room from T2 to the connector.

Scroll to the bottom for a photo from INSIDE the connector.

SFO's famous yoga room has moved to the new corridor.  (Photo: SFO)

SFO’s famous yoga room has moved to the new corridor. (Photo: SFO)

What else is great about T2? Well, the food! About the only decent place to get a meal in Delta’s T1C space is Perry’s, a sit down restaurant. In T2, options multiply- there are 11 outlets and the food is outstanding… there are Burritos (Andale), Tapas & cocktails (Cat Cora), sushi & noodles (Wakaba), fresh healthy soups, salads and sandwiches (Pinkberry/The Plant), a wine bar (Vino Volo) and even rotisserie chicken (Napa Farms) or steak/seafood (Lark Creek). There’s a Kiehl’s store, too.

On of my favorite stops at T2 is the excellent maps exhibit. Endlessly fascinating to see maps old and new depicting the growth of San Francisco over the last 150 or so years. In addition, T2 is one of the best perches at the airport for plane spotting. Just go sit a big red egg chair facing out to the runways and gaze. T1 does not offer views like these!

Popular: Oddball card offers reap big rewards

T1 redevelopment

Some other important points about what’s going on at SFO:

>Frontier Airlines, which used to operate out of T1C, has moved into Boarding Area B in T1, which does not have access to the new sterile connector.

>Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said that plans for a similar sterile connector between T2 and T3 (United) are in discussion, but “no schedule has been established for this as of yet.”

>Alaska Airlines has moved from T1 to the International Terminal Boarding Area A. Lucky Alaska Boardroom members now get to use Cathay Pacific’s outstanding business/first class lounge nearby.

>SFO’s iconic new 220-foot control tower, which is rising between T1 and T2 should be completed by mid-2015. The new tower is built to withstand an 8.0 earthquake with 215 piers embedded in bedrock 140 feet deep and anchored by 2,700 cubic yards of concrete, according the Fentress Architects which designed the tower and the new connector.

>A complete re-do of SFO’s Terminal 1 is already in the works and should be complete by 2024.

Here's a look down the new sterile corridor connecting T1 and T2 (Fentress Architects)

Here’s a look down the new sterile corridor connecting T1 and T2 (Fentress Architects)

–Chris McGinnis

New extra bonus offer: Get a whopping 50,000 Rapid Rewards points by signing up for Southwest’s Premier card – that’s enough for TWO free tickets. 

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

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Trip Report: Korean Air B777 & A380 (Part 1)

Korean Air

Business class seats on Korean Air’s B777 are nearly identical to those on its A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Ever since Korean Air launched its Airbus A380 service between Seoul and Atlanta in September 2013, I’ve longed to take a seat on that 14.5-hour whopper of a flight.

Last month, I finally got my chance when Korean Air invited me over to Seoul for a look at the fast-growing, modern-yet-quirky South Korean capital.

The first leg of my journey was an 11.5-hour Boeing 777 flight from San Francisco to Seoul. I was in Seoul for three busy days, then boarded an A380 for the trip to Atlanta.

I was especially excited to be able to compare the business class experience on two different planes in a single trip. What did I discover? Well, it’s that business class on Korean Air is very consistent across these two planes. Except for the unbelievable business class lounges onboard KAL’s A380 (tune in to my next post for details/photos), nearly everything else was identical. There’s no need to be too disappointed if you can’t ride on an A380 because once you are in your seat, there’s very little difference– the seats, service, food, inflight entertainment, lavs… it’s all pretty much the same. And in both directions, the planes were squeaky clean– even down to the floor of the lavatories (see below).

Today, let’s take a look at that B777 flight from San Francisco to Seoul. Tomorrow I’ll post about my experience on KAL’s big A380 to Atlanta and we’ll explore the slight differences between the experiences.

At SFO, Korean Air uses British Airways Terraces lounge for first and business class flyers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

At SFO, Korean Air uses British Airways’ Terraces lounge for first and business class flyers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

At SFO, Korean Air new uses British Airways Terraces lounge for first and business class passengers. Luckily the KAL flight and the BA flights are timed well apart from each other so the lounge did not feel overcrowded.

Direct access to the plane from the lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Direct access to the plane from the lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Nice touch: When boarding KAL’s B777 from the Terraces lounge, business and first class passengers walk directly onto the plane from the lounge… the jetway is just beyond the door in the photo above.

Now, let’s jump onboard.

Korean Air

Carpet in the lavs on Korean Air’s B777 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On the B777 flight from SFO to Seoul, I noticed something I’ve never seen on any aircraft: Carpet in the business class lavatories! My first thought was “eeuuww, what if this gets wet?” But upon closer inspection, I noticed that the carpet was actually a rug that was velcroed to the floor. If it gets wet, it’s removed and replaced with another. Based on how many times I noticed the hard working KAL flight attendants enter the lavs for cleaning during the flight, I was certain that it would get switched out if needed. But in any case, I have to say that it added a cozy or homey feel to the lav– much better than the black rubber floor I’m used to. It’s one of those “little things” but I noticed and appreciated it.

Korean Air

Buttonholes in the napkins on Korean Air (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Another one of the “little things” I noticed on this flight…. napkins with button holes. I’ve seen this on a handful of other carriers and always appreciate it… especially when I’m wearing a light colored shirt and eating things that easily spill… like soup or salad dressing. It shows that someone has really thought through inflight dining… a good sign. (And a shirt saver!)

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Korean Air

The dinner starter on SFO>Seoul: Seared tuna (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Meal service on the flight from San Francisco (which departed at 2 pm) started with seared tuna– accompanied of course by the ever present Korean chili paste gochujang and a two servings of kimchee-like pickles with an unusual rubbery crunch.

Korean Air

KAL’s famous bibimbap (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Next up for dinner was the popular Korean specialty bibimbap. Korean Air is famous for this… and even serves it from a truck at promotional events like its recent launch in Houston… it even offers it the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. It’s delicious and healthy. To eat it, you squirt that tube of chili paste over the top and then mix all the ingredients together. Yum!

Economy class on Korean Air B777 offers 33-34 inches of pitch (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on Korean Air B777 offers 33-34 inches of pitch (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on Korean Air’s B777s offers a roomy 33-34 inches of seat pitch– that’s very generous compared to other carriers (United, for example, only offers 31 inches on its B777). Seats are configured 3-3-3. Korean Air does not offer a premium economy seat.

Stay tuned! My next post will be about my 14.5 hour journey on KAL’s A380 to Atlanta! Here’s a teaser photo… explanations coming soon! 

Korean Air

–Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: I was a guest of Korean Air on this flight

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Delta bumps bennies + BART-Oakland sets date + LAX airlines move + Hilton HHonors hacked + W in Beijing

Delta has expanded its popular Porsche pick up service to three more airports (Photo: Delta)

AIRLINES

Delta expands Porsche transfers, expedites at Heathrow. Delta continues to lead the way when it comes to adding new services for its best customers. For example, last week it announced an expansion of its Porsche tarmac transfer program to three more airports — New York LaGuardia, Seattle-Tacoma and Detroit Metro. The program offers gate-to-gate rides in Porsche vehicles for select SkyMiles Diamond Medallion members who have tight connecting times. It’s already offered at Atlanta, New York JFK, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul. (Here’s a video showing how it works.) At London Heathrow’s Terminal 3, meanwhile, Delta BusinessElite passengers arriving by private car service can now take advantage of an expedited greeting service in which Virgin Atlantic concierge staffers will meet them curbside with boarding passes, take their luggage, and speed them through security to the Virgin Clubhouse. Delta says, “On arrival at London Heathrow Terminal 3, Delta Air Lines BusinessElite customers can now enjoy a seamless and stress-free transfer from car to lounge in less than 10 minutes via the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing.” Keep in mind that many of Delta’s flights at Heathrow (including those to/from Detroit and Minneapolis) use Terminal 4 where this service is not available. Delta’s Atlanta-London flights switched to Terminal 3 from Terminal 4 on October 26.

The AirBART station is located at the front door of Oakland International

The AirBART station is located at the front door of Oakland International

BART-Oakland Airport sets date. Bay Area Rapid Transit officials have finally announced an opening date for the new BART rail link to Oakland International Airport. On Saturday, November 22 the new automated trains will transport riders from BART’s Coliseum station to the new Oakland Airport station every five minutes during peak hours; the ride takes eight minutes. The ride from the Coliseum station to/from downtown SF takes about 25 minutes. BART fares between the new Oakland Airport station and downtown San Francisco will be $10.05. That’s a nice break from cab fares which run as high as $75-$80. Are you more likely to use Oakland Airport now? Leave your comments below. 

Virgin America posts another profit. After dipping back into the red in the first quarter of 2014, Virgin America was solidly profitable in the third quarter, reporting net income of $41.6 million and a healthy operating margin of 12.9 percent. After years of operating in the red since its founding in 2007, Virgin has been profitable now for five of the last six quarters, putting it in a good position for its upcoming initial public offering. Virgin said in an SEC filing last week that its IPO shares will be priced at $21 to $24, valuing the company at up to $1 billion. The anticipated $320 million from the share sale should allow Virgin to move ahead with an ambitious expansion plan to buy new planes and add new routes.

Sneeze alarm. With all the concern about disease lately, especially as it affects travelers, you might get a little paranoid when a fellow passenger on your flight sneezes. Did you ever wonder just how far that sneeze can travel? Check out this video — if you dare.

American adds Europe routes. American Airlines has unveiled plans to add a pair of new routes to Europe next spring. On May 7, AA will inaugurate new daily narrowbody 757 flights from New York JFK to Birmingham, England. And on May 14, the company will kick off daily 767-300 flights from its Miami hub to Frankfurt.

AIRPORTS

The nice new Star Alliance lounge at LAX's new Tom Bradley International Terminal (Air New Zealand)

The nice new Star Alliance lounge at LAX’s new Tom Bradley International Terminal (Air New Zealand)

Air New Zealand, US Airways move at LAX. Effective December 3, Air New Zealand will set up shop in Los Angeles International’s refurbished Tom Bradley International Terminal 3, moving out of Terminal 2. That will give premium customers easy access to the new Star Alliance Lounge at LAX, which Air New Zealand manages. The carrier operates twice-daily service to Auckland (to be increased next summer to 17 a week) and one flight a day to London from LAX. Meanwhile, American Airlines affiliate US Airways last week moved from Terminal 3 to Terminal 6, gates 60-63, “with convenient access to connections on flights operated by American Airlines at Terminal 4 through an underground connector,” American said. “Shuttle service is also available to Terminal 4 and the Remote Terminal for American Eagle flights.”

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New airside connector at SFO. We’ve heard (but not confirmed) that the new airside connection between SFO’s fabulously famous Terminal 2 (Virgin America & American) and the more prosaic Terminal 1C (Delta’s boarding area) has opened. This means that Delta flyers socked in by delays now have some exciting new dining and retail options once they are behind security.

Outdoor spaces are the craze these days. Here's what JetBlue's will soon look like at JFK (Image: JetBlue)

Outdoor spaces are the craze these days. Here’s what JetBlue’s will soon look like at JFK (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue’s JFK terminal grows. On Wednesday (November 12), JetBlue will open a $200 million extension of its home base, Terminal 5 at New York JFK, to be used for international flights. (The airline’s international arrivals currently use leased gates at Terminal 4.) The new six-gate expansion offers full federal inspection facilities in an arrivals hall and 40 automated passport readers. JetBlue plans to develop a public outdoor area on the new facility’s rooftop, akin to the popular High Line park in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Air France has finished a complete renovation of its two-level lounge at JFK’s Terminal 1.

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HOTELS

Hackers hitting HHonors accounts. How safe are your points in Hilton’s HHonors loyalty program? Recent online reports indicate that hackers have been raiding some accounts, not only stealing points — and in some cases selling them — but also gaining access to members’ credit card information.

Related: Hilton’s newest hotel in Honolulu

Hotels roll out keyless entry apps. Starwood and Hilton last week both announced new app functionality that will allow guests to open their room doors with smartphones. The Starwood Preferred Guest app’s new SPG Keyless feature is available now at 10 select Aloft, W, and Element hotels, with more to come in the months ahead; it allows SPG members who book directly with the company to bypass the front desk and go directly to their preassigned room, where a tap of their Bluetooth-enabled phone will unlock the door. Hilton said keyless entry will be available through its HHonors mobile app starting in 2015 at its Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and Canopy brands, and at all 11 of its brands in 2016. The app will also work with other locked areas in Hilton’s hotels such as executive floors, fitness centers and garages.

A room at the new W Beijing located near the Forbidden City (Photo: Starwood)

A room at the new W Beijing located near the Forbidden City (Photo: Starwood)

Openings in Beijing, Sydney, Paris. The newest hotel in China’s capital city is Starwood’s 349-room W Beijing-Chang’an, located close to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Each room is equipped with a digital tablet that controls its lighting, 48-inch TV and Bluetooth sound system… InterContinental Hotels Corp. has cut the ribbon on the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay Hotel a few miles from that city’s central business district; the 140-room property is a luxury remaking of the former Double Bay Hotel … Hilton scheduled a January opening for the 268-room Hilton Paris Opera in the heart of the French capital; the company spent $50 million restoring and improving the 125-year-old building, formerly the Concorde Paris Opera.

In Case You Missed It…

>Check out these two airline credit cards for bonus benefits.

>American Express has opened a Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International.

>Two airlines offer free in-flight Wi-Fi.

>Here are six tips for securing the best air fare.

New extra bonus offer: Get a whopping 50,000 Rapid Rewards points by signing up for Southwest’s Premier card – that’s enough for TWO free tickets. 

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First look: Centurion Lounge at SFO [photos]

Centurion Lounge

SFO’s new American Express Centurion Lounge is located on the far west end of Terminal 3, behind security (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new American Express Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International Airport’s Terminal 3 opens on Thursday, November 6.

It joins three other Centurion lounges at New York LaGuardia, Dallas Ft Worth and Las Vegas McCarran airports.  A spokesperson told TravelSkills that the next Centurion Lounge will open at Miami International in the first half of 2015. She also said that Amex is working on securing space at several other airports.

The SFO Centurion Lounge is located in Terminal 3 (United) behind security. This means that it is easily accessible for travelers in Terminal 3 or the International Terminal Boarding Area G. But it is going to be inconvenient for passengers flying in or out of the airport’s other terminals because getting there requires an extra trip through the T3 security gauntlet. At SFO, Terminal 3 is not connected on the airside to Terminal 2 (American, Virgin America) or Terminal 1 (Delta, US Airways, Southwest).

American Express invited TravelSkills in for a sneak-peek at the lounge which included a sit down dinner prepared by Chef Christopher Kostow, who will oversee the lounge’s full kitchen. The menu items he prepared for this special meal were similar to those that will be on offer at the lounge. (see photos below.) All Centurion lounges offer a full hot buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. SEE MENU

What’s unique about the San Francisco lounge is its wine wall. Members get a paper chit with a bar code when they check in. This chit entitles them to five small pours of wine from an automated dispenser (See photos below.) Wave the chit under a reader, push a button, and get your pour. Very cool! There’s also a full complimentary bar stocked with call brand booze and beer. There’s a single shower, a quiet nook with chaise lounges for napping, a small business center that pays homage to Bay Arean Steve Jobs and a big bright & colorful living room space. Thankfully, there’s a glassed in “family room” for kids.

And before we get started with photos, here’s a link that explains who gets in Centurion lounges. (It’s free for Amex Platinum and Centurion card holders only- this does not include Delta/Amex Platinum card holders. Anyone else with any type of Amex Card gets in for $50.) See the screen grab at the bottom of this post for more details.

Free Rides to SFO! To celebrate the opening of The Centurion Lounge at SFO, American Express is working with Uber to give Amex card holders a complimentary Black Car ride to the airport. On November 6 Amex cardhholders who have any Amex card as their selected method of payment can enter the promo code CENTURIONSFO in the Uber app to receive a complimentary Black Car ride from San Francisco to SFO.

Now let’s take a look! Leave your comments below, please… 

Extra Bonus! Here’s an easy way to top off your Chase Ultimate Rewards balance with 20,000 points!

Centurion Lounge

All Centurion Lounges sport a “living wall” (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

Check in here to enter. Only Platinum and Centurion cardmembers get in free. All others pay $50 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

A big bright “living room: area with windows that overlook Terminal 3. Sorry, no views out to runways. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

The SFO lounge’s most distinguishing feature is this wine wall. Each member gets 5 free pours (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Wave this chit under a reader and then choose your pour. Very cool! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Wine expert Anthony Giglio shows how to pick your pour. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

An all Mac business center pays homage to Steve Jobs. Nice touch! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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The glassed in family room for kiddies (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 Extra Bonus! Here’s an easy way to top off your Chase Ultimate Rewards balance with 20,000 points!

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A full kitchen staffed by chefs serving hot meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Eat your hot meal or sip on your wine here. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Full bar with plenty of nice call brands and beer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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A nook for napping (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Plenty of color pops…and room to sit down (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion Lounge

Looking down from the lounge which is located on the mezzanine level– accessible by this staircase or a glass elevator. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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A nice sit down dinner for special guests included menu items likely to be served (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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“Slow roasted pork shoulder apple lees vinegar” paired nicely with a big fat Somerston Estate red blend from Napa (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

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Chestnut pudding with roasted chocolate for dessert (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Centurion Lounge

–Chris McGinnis

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2 airlines offer free inflight wi-fi

Inside Emirates outstanding hub in Dubai (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside Emirates outstanding hub in Dubai (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inflight wi-fi still feels like a miracle to me. It’s even more miraculous when it is free.

Right now, you can get it for free on two carriers: One international, the other domestic.

Today, Emirates announced that it will soon offer free wi-fi on all 53 of its A380 superjumbos, and on 28 (out of about 140) Boeing 777s. The Dubai-based carrier says that it is “aggressively retrofitting” all its other aircraft and will eventually offer free wi-fi fleetwide. This is great news because most of Emirates flights are super long-hauls, like this 15-hour journey I took from San Francisco to Dubai– and inflight wi-fi can sure help pass the time.

On most Emirates flights equipped with wi-fi, you’ll get the first 10MBs of data for free. To get a whopping 600MB, all you have to do is pay a token $1 fee.  But don’t count on getting free wi-fi yet– Emirates says that due to technical limitations, it is currently not possible to offer the 10MB free “on a few of its A380s and 777s” but that the issue should be “resolved in coming months.”

“If we can offer good quality Wi-Fi connections for everyone onboard at no charge tomorrow, we will do it. But we face a slew of technical limitations – from speed and bandwidth availability and cost, to the supporting hardware and software – all of which we are working hard to address with the industry right now,” said Emirates President Sir Tim Clark. “Ultimately, we believe that onboard Wi-Fi will become a free service, and a standard that customers will expect on a full service airline, just like onboard refreshments and personal inflight entertainment. Emirates is leading the way on this, and we are working closely with our suppliers and various stakeholders towards this vision,” he said. On a few of its A380s and 777s, it is not currently possible to offer the first 10MB free for technical reasons, but the airline says it is working hard to resolve the issue in the coming months.

Related: How to save $$$ on inflight wi-fi 

Emirates says that it saw a 200% spike in Wi-Fi usage in the month of October when it offered a free wi-fi promotion to mark the Eid holidays. During the month, it saw a daily average of 3,500 passengers using onboard Wi-Fi, at an average of 28MB per user. The highest number of Wi-Fi users on a single flight was recorded on an A380 with 153 passengers connecting, and the flight pulling the most bandwidth  was nearly 8,000MB from 26 users onboard a Boeing 777 flight. (It did not provide details on which flights.) Its data show that Emirates passengers most frequently access Google, Facebook, and chat services Skype, WhatsApp and BBM.  Passengers onboard Emirates also have other ways to stay connected with in-seat sms and email, as well as mobile phone services.

In the US, Emirates flies to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Boston, New York City and Washington, DC. In December, it will begin flying A380s to both San Francisco and Houston. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Emirates’ inflight wi-fi connections. Have you used it? Please leave your comments below…

JetBlue

In the US, JetBlue’s beta version of Fly-Fi, its inflight wi-fi product, is on all 10 of JetBlue’s Airbus A321s and 73 of its A320s. It should be on all JetBlue’s Airbus aircraft by spring 2015. Eventually, you’ll get it on its Embraer 190s, too.

Fly-Fi is available on JetBlue’s fancy new Mint A321s flying between New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

JetBlue currently offers a basic wi-fi connection for free

On it’s website, JetBlue says that it currently offers a basic wi-fi connection for free

It’s basic “Simply Surf” option is currently free. For more bandwidth, JetBlue says that you can purchase its fatter “Fly-Fi Plus” plan for $9/hour. Just log in to the Fly-Fi portal during your flight and follow the instructions.

(Source: JetBlue)

JetBlue release this infographic in September. (Source: JetBlue)

Let’s do a bit of expectation management: Inflight wi-fi, no matter what carrier offers it, is still a relatively new phenomenon. Whether it’s paid for, or free, inflight wi-fi WILL NOT work as well as the connection you have at your home or office. Sometimes it will not work at all. Maybe some day it will. But not right now. Expectations managed? ;)

What’s been your experience with inflight wi-fi? Should it be free? Please leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis

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A new way to get to New York – La Guardia

Virgin America get a ceremonial squirt with its inaugural flight from Dallas to New York La Guardia (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America get a ceremonial squirt with its inaugural flight from Dallas to New York La Guardia (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America’s first flights into New York’s close in LaGuardia Airport arrived yesterday. The new nonstops originate from Virgin’s new mini-hub at Dallas Love Field (DAL) and are currently on sale for just $89 each way. Virgin now offers four daily roundtrips on the important business route. Southwest Airlines offers three daily roundtrips.

The new service provides an additional one-stop transcon option for travelers who might prefer to skip the traffic and hassles of JFK or Newark for the close-in ease of LaGuardia, even though total flight time is longer.

For example, Virgin’s one-stop (same plane) flight from SFO via DAL departs at 7:20 am and arrives LGA at 5:35 pm and takes about 7 hours. Southwest’s one stop flights are routed through Denver or Chicago Midway and take about the same amount of time.

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LaGuardia Airport is the closest airport to Manhattan

LaGuardia Airport is the closest airport to Manhattan

From LGA, the trip to Manhattan via cab or car is about 25 minutes vs 45-60 minutes from JFK. (Cost is $30-35 plus tip and toll from LGA and a flat $52 plus tip and toll from JFK.)

Virgin’s return flight from LaGuardia to SFO via Dallas Love takes 8.5 hours, departing LGA at 3:45 pm and arriving SFO at 9:10 pm.

By comparison, Virgin’s nonstop SFO>JFK takes 5-6 hours (depending on winds), departing SFO at 7:00am and arriving JFK at 3:35pm. Return flights take about 6.5 hours due to winds.

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Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 8.10.54 AM

At LaGuardia, Virgin and Southwest both use the main “Central Terminal B.” This week the Central Terminal celebrates the opening of a the first batch of nearly 60 new food and specialty stores which are part of an $18 million re-do of the aging terminal. Long term, LaGuardia could get a multi-billion dollar makeover.

Maybe one day there will be nonstop flights between west coast cities and La Guardia (click here to read more about that). But in the meantime…Would you fly Virgin via Dallas Love to get to NYC or vice versa? Leave your comments below.

TIP: In the market for a new credit card? With the holidays coming up, apply now and you’ll likely meet the spending requirement for BIG bonuses! How about $500 in free travel?
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Half off first class JFK-SFO fares

JetBlue hosted a shindig at San Francisco's Bentley Reserve to kick off its new Mint service on SFO-JFK (Photo: JetBlue)

JetBlue threw a swank shindig at San Francisco’s Bentley Reserve to kick off its new Mint service on SFO-JFK (Photo: JetBlue)

JetBlue’s new Mint class nonstops cranked up on the SFO-JFK run on Sunday, offering a totally new premium transcon experience…and significantly lower first class fares on the popular route.

Key points:

Mid-December fares on JetBlue

Mid-December fares on JetBlue- those low Mint fares are going fast!

>Currently the lowest Mint roundtrip fare is $1,200-- that’s about half off compared to average first class fares on offer before Mint entered the market. All other carriers on the route have now discounted first class to match JetBlue’s new Mint fares– but that fare is only available on a few seats per flight. A quick look at JetBlue.com shows nearly all the $1,200 Mint fares sold out through mid December- the next step up is about $1,620 round trip.

>JetBlue says that Mint class (click for pics) features the widest seat and longest fully-flat bed in the U.S. domestic market and four private suites among the 16 seats. Each seat has a 15 inch flat screen TV with 100 channels and in-seat power ports. Mint is only available on JetBlue’s A321 aircraft.

JetBlue's new A321s not only have Mint, but some of the most spacious coach class seats on the route  (Photo: JetBlue)

JetBlue’s new A321s not only have Mint, but some of the most spacious coach class seats on the route (Photo: JetBlue)

>In coach, JetBlue offers 10-inch seatback screens and in-seat power outlets in each row. Coach passengers also have access to a complimentary self-serve station full of snacks and soft drinks. JetBlue is known for having some of the roomiest coach class seats flying and it’s A321s boast 33-37 inches of pitch.

>By early next year, JetBlue will offer five roundtrips per day between SFO and JFK. Currently, there are three daily SFO-JFK nonstops, two have Mint, one does not. By December, all three will have Mint. (JetBlue will have Mint on seven daily LAX-JFK roundtrips by December 19.)

>All JetBlue A321s are also equipped Fly-Fi, JetBlue‘s new, fast inflight wi-fi. It’s currently free, but likely not going to stay that way for long.

October Mint menu on eastbound lunch/dinner flights

October Mint menu on eastbound lunch/dinner flights

>Mint class passengers choose from five “tapas style” menu items curated by New York’s popular Saxon+ Parole restaurant. For dessert there is Blue Marble ice cream.

Will you give JetBlue a try on your next trip to NYC? Leave your comments below.

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Big United-Hertz deal + Uber in Vegas? + Virgin in Atlanta + Biz class sale + Holiday Inn NYC

Virgin Atlantic's brand new Dreamliner touched down at ATL this week (Photo: Hartsfield-Jackson)

Virgin Atlantic’s brand new Dreamliner touched down at ATL with Richard Branson onboard this week (Photo: Hartsfield-Jackson)

This week! Uber getting scrappy in Las Vegas – A Virgin 787 lands in Atlanta – Big changes for United flyers who rent cars – United & KLM discount holiday business class….

AIRLINES

Virgin Atlantic in Atlanta. Last Thursday Virgin Atlantic loaded up its newest plane, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, with two rock bands and Sir Richard Branson for a promotional trip to Atlanta, touching down at Hartsfield-Jackson on Thursday. Virgin’s new daily nonstop service (using an Airbus A330) cranks up this Sunday. The new Virgin flight replaces Delta on one of the latter’s three daily Atlanta-LHR roundtrips. Simultaneously, Delta is taking over one Virgin Atlantic’s two daily LAX-LHR flights. This is just one of several new flights Virgin has planned for Atlanta– Virgin’s Chris Rossi said that within 6-8 months the airline will launch nonstops to Manchester, England and will add a second daily Atlanta-London nonstop.

United/Hertz ink exclusivity deal. Big changes are in store for United’s MileagePlus members who rent cars. On November 1, the loyalty program kicks off an exclusivity agreement with Hertz Corp. and its three brands (Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty), making them the only ones that earn MileagePlus miles. Members will generally earn more miles for Hertz rentals than before — using a per-rental basis rather than the current per-day basis, on a sliding scale ranging from 500 miles for general members up to 1,250 for top-tier elites. (Dollar and Thrifty earning levels are unchanged.) In January, top-level elites will also be able to sign up free for Hertz’s President’s Circle. A United spokeswoman confirmed to TravelSkills that the deal means members won’t be able to earn miles with other rental companies currently listed as MileagePlus partners — Avis, Alamo, Budget, National and Sixt. Does this mean similar deals might be forthcoming from American and Delta with Avis/Budget and Enterprise/National/Alamo?

KLM's new lie-flat business class seat-- on sale for holiday trips (Photo: KLM)

KLM’s new lie-flat business class seat– on sale for holiday trips (Photo: KLM)

Watch for holiday biz class sales. If you don’t mind taking business trips around the holidays (or are looking for a cushy ride home or on vacation), you might score some great deals on premium-cabin fares, since business travel normally drops off then. E.g., United is offering discounted BusinessFirst travel to South America in late December, with roundtrip fares like $2,473 from Chicago to Santiago and $2,944 from Houston to Sao Paulo. KLM has business class sale fares to Europe for travel December 15-January 3 including $1,803 roundtrip from New York to Barcelona and $2,651 from Washington to Amsterdam.

New overseas routes begin. It’s a big weekend for new international routes. Delta on Sunday (October 26) launches a daily Los Angeles-London Heathrow non-stop with a 767-300ER.  Meanwhile, United is launching a pair of new transpacific routes on the same day, including daily San Francisco-Tokyo Haneda 777 flights (in addition to its SFO-Narita flights), and service six times a week between LAX and Melbourne, using a new 787-9 Dreamliner (that one’s 15 hours 45 minutes westbound, about an hour less eastbound).

European court rules on flight delays. Is an aircraft’s arrival time determined by when its wheels touch down or when the door is opened? It makes a difference in Europe, where consumer regulations assign levels of compensation based on how long a passenger has been delayed — up to $800 on transatlantic flights. According to a firm called Flightright, which tracks these matters, the court has ruled that a flight’s arrival time is determined by when the cabin door is opened — not when it lands.

Codeshare, interline pacts announced. American Airlines on October 26 starts code-sharing with Jetstar Japan, putting the AA designator on domestic flights from Tokyo Narita to Fukuoka, Matsuyama, Osaka (Kansai) and Sapporo. Jetstar’s owners include Oneworld carriers Qantas and Japan Airlines. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines has inked an interline pact with Florida’s Silver Airways, permitting single ticketing for connecting itineraries. Silver serves multiple destinations in Florida and the Bahamas.

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CARS

Uber now in Vegas, maybe

Uber now in Vegas, maybe

Uber in Vegas, baby. At long last, Uber is operating in Las Vegas as of this weekend according to its company blog. That’s great news to Uber addicts who could never believe that the ride sharing company did not operate there. The service got off to a rocky start, however, and its future is now uncertain (at least in the short term) since a federal judge blocked Uber from operating in Nevada just four hours after its launch. Despite the block, an Uber spokesperson told TravelSkills that as of Saturday morning (Oct 25) Uber is operating and its cars are on the road. Currently Uber is the only rideshare service with the will and deep pockets to go up against the powerful and well-connected taxicab industry in the state- Lyft, Sidecar and others are not in the market. Stay tuned… In the meantime, an interesting read about why Vegas is ripe for ridesharing from the Cato Institute.

UPDATE 4:30PM Saturday: Uber is still operating in Las Vegas. The court order applies to rides in Carson City only and Uber expects an apology from the Attorney General according to The Las Vegas Review Journal.

SFO comes to terms with UberX, Lyft. San Francisco flyers who worried about using UberX or Lyft for airport rides that were technically illegal can relax. SFO officials said last week they have forged agreements with both ride-finding companies that will allow their drivers to pick up and drop off riders at airport terminals. The announcement comes a week after the airport inked a similar deal with Sidecar. “Both companies are expected to begin operations at the airport within the next 30 days,” a spokesman said. Terms of the agreements were not disclosed, but they could lead to similar deals at other airports where the companies have been at odds with local officials and taxicab operators.

(Disclosure: If you sign up for Uber via our links, you get a free ride, up to $30,  and so do we. Thanks for your support!)

The tallest Holiday Inn. Photo by architects GKAPC in NYC

The tallest Holiday Inn. Photo by architects GKAPC in NYC

HOTELS

World’s tallest Holiday Inn debuts. A 50-story, 490-room hotel said to be the world’s tallest Holiday Inn was due to open last week in lower Manhattan’s Financial District. Located at the corner of Washington and Rector streets, it has Executive Club Level rooms, many with great city or river views.

Openings in China. Newly opened business hotels in China this month include the Rosewood Beijing, a five-star, 293-room property from Texas-based Rosewood Hotels located in the city’s Chaoyang central business district across from the iconic CCTV Tower; the 386-room Haikou Marriott, in the capital city of southern China’s Hainan Province; and Starwood’s Castle Hotel, a Luxury Collection property in Dalian, in northeast China.

In Case You Missed It…

>Understanding your Tokyo airport options.

>What to expect at American Express’ new SFO Centurion Lounge.

>The Apple iPad Air 2’s SIM card offers carrier flexibility.

>The U.S. is seeing a boom in hotel construction.

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

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

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In Tokyo: New airport options

Haneda Airport International Terminal New Wing

The new wing at Haneda Airport’s International Terminal (Photo: Jun Seita / Flickr)

Quick — where is Tokyo International Airport? If you haven’t flown into Japan recently, your reflex response might be “Narita,” the airport located well over an hour east of the capital by train or even longer by taxi or shuttle bus.

However, closer-in Haneda (HND) is also known as Tokyo International Airport. This near-city-center airport is getting an increasing amount of attention with a newly expanded international terminal that turns four this month, and a handful of new flights.

For example, United launches a new daily nonstop from SFO to Haneda this Sunday October 26th, using a three-class 777-200ER. On December 1, Japan Airlines will deploy a larger, newly revamped, four-class Sky Suite 777 on the SFO>HND run. And American Airlines is fighting to get in on the Haneda action.

United’s new flight departs SFO at 6:15 pm and arrives at HND 10:45 pm the next day. From Tokyo, the flight departs at 1:00 am and arrives in SFO at 5:10 pm.

On the plus side of the scheduling for US flyers,  return flights from Haneda are a pleasing late night departure (ideal for connecting from elsewhere in Japan or Asia, since Haneda has far more domestic flights than Narita), and tend to arrive at west coast hubs in the late afternoon, in time for a 7-9pm connection– or dinner and bed.

(Note: Starting in Sunday, United will operate once-daily service between SFO and Narita, rather than the twice-daily service currently offered.)

United seat map

Looks like United’s new Haneda flight is popular with business travelers already… only 5 biz class seats left on Sunday’s inaugural flight last time we checked.

Frequent Tokyo traveler and TravelSkills reader Hitoshi Hokamura told us, “I have been flying SFO-Narita for 23 years but after a one-time experience on a Haneda night flight, I have completely switched to HND for both my business and pleasure trips. Haneda is much closer to Tokyo, plus timing is great. For example, with Narita flights, my first day and last day of the trip used to be chopped in two on both ends, but with this night flight to/from Haneda, I have almost a full day on both ends .”

In addition the United’s and JAL flights from SFO, flyers from or connecting in North America also have the option of Haneda flights from:

  • Los Angeles, Honolulu and Vancouver on ANA
  • Honolulu on JAL
  • Los Angeles (and seasonally Seattle, but more about that below) on Delta
  • Toronto on Air Canada
  • Honolulu on Hawaiian

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!

So why aren’t we all flying to Haneda? Well, the authorities granting slots for Haneda have been slow to let non-Japanese carriers in — and when airlines like Delta and American have been granted slots, they’re forced to depart and arrive during inconvenient overnight hours. (Haneda is the second busiest airport in Asia and the fourth busiest in the world.)

That type of restriction on US carriers makes Haneda flights only effective for flights to and from the west coast. That’s why American cut its New York JFK-Haneda flight last October, and that’s why Delta shifted its Detroit-Haneda flight to Seattle.

More controversially, timing is also allegedly part of the reason why Delta’s flight is operating on what’s basically a seasonal basis. For its part, American doesn’t think Delta’s playing fair, and has asked the US DOT to hand over Delta’s slot for Los Angeles service — so we could see an American Airlines flight shifting from Narita to Haneda if the DOT agrees.

Haneda vs Narita: Which is best for you?

Choose Haneda for: Evening west coast US departures, evening US west coast arrivals/connections, late night Japan departures, if your destination is Tokyo, or if you’re connecting late in the day on a return from another city

Choose Narita for: More flight options, non stops from non-West-Coast cities, same-day connections to major Japanese cities, if you want to connect on a US airline elsewhere in Asia for upgrade or status reasons, wider choice of connections to Asia.

Related: Trip Report: ANA’s Dreamliner to Tokyo

map

Good Advice for getting to or from Haneda:

Keikyu, the primary railway company for access from Haneda, is probably the best way to get to or from Haneda for most business travelers, and offers three options: $10 on a fast, clean train to Shinagawa station in 12 minutes for Y410 (knock off two zeroes to convert approximately to USD, so about $4) or Tokyo station in 20-30 minutes for Y580). Compare that with over $30 on the NEX train from Narita or $25 on the more complicated Keisei option.

Second, Keikyu and other companies offer limousine buses that are direct with no transfers, take about an hour and range from $10-25 depending on your destination. That’s less than half the time and about half the cost of Narita limousine buses.

Third, there’s a set-fare taxi option that will set you back the best part of $85, but is obviously door-to-door to or from your hotel. That’s less than a third the price of a taxi from Narita, which is in excess of $200.

And, lastly, there’s the Tokyo Monorail, which is a bit of an advanced user option that connects to four lines including Tokyo’s circular Yamanote Line. If you’re familiar with Tokyo and know how the Suica card system works (it’s a tap-the-card payment system that works across Tokyo and several other cities in Japan for everything from transport to vending machines), then this is probably the best option for you.

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

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Searching for Centurion lounge?

A look at the main "dining room" area with the bar and hot/cold buffet in background (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A look at the main “dining room” area with the bar and hot/cold buffet in background (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

What is the most frequently searched term that leads people to TravelSkills.com? According to our stats, it’s “Centurion Lounge SFO.” 

American Express has done a masterful job keeping a lid on the goings on on the mezzanine level of  San Francisco International’s Terminal 3. All that will change in early November when the lounge opens.

Since it’s clear that inquiring minds want to know, here are some photos from my recent visit to the Centurion Lounge at Las Vegas McCarran. Based on what I’ve been able to see, and what I’ve heard from airport insiders, the SFO lounge is going to be very similar to this one. So consider this a sneak-peek! (SFO will be the fourth Centurion Lounge… others are at New York La Guardia and Dallas. There’s apparently one in the works for Miami.)

And before we get started with photos, here’s a link that explains who gets in. (Free for Amex Platinum and Centurion card holders. $50 fee for anyone else with any type of Amex Card.) See the screen grab at the bottom of this post for more details.

Don’t miss: Is this the most epic airline safety video ever? 

Centurion SFO

A big blue door with a garden wall behind it is likely at SFO– you’ll see this from Gates 74 & 75, and upon entering, take a glass elevator up to the lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion SFO

Warm, modern accents sustainable wood paneling, tables and floors (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Related: Raft of new perks for elite flyers

Centurion LAS

A busy, social bar area where cocktails are complimentary (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion LAS

A robust meal offering including both hot and cold items, also complimentary (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

Plenty of space to work, rest or people watch (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion LAS

I was at the LAS Centurion Lounge at lunchtime, and this Mediterranean style beef and lamb pie topped with a lemony yogurt sauce was on offer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Recent: There are currently 400,000 hotel rooms under construction in the US

Centurion LAS

Do these privacy chairs look familiar? They are the same ones used by Virgin America at its LAX Loft lounge we covered last summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Centurion Lounge

 –Chris McGinnis

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

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

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

facebook like

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

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

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

 

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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

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

HOTELS

Marriott's new wireless charger

Marriott’s new Kube wireless charger

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

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

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

facebook like

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

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

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

 

Don’t make these 8 mistakes in San Francisco

Now that's an unusual approach to SFO, right? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Now that’s an unusual approach to SFO, right? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Nearly every frequent traveler visits San Francisco around one time each year. And it’s most likely that visit will take place between September and December, the city’s peak convention season.

That’s especially true if you are in the tech or related fields. For example, San Francisco-based cloud computing giant Salesforce.com puts on its annual Dreamforce conference next week at the city’s sprawling Moscone Convention Center, attracting 60,000+ people, and bringing in the likes of Hillary Clinton and Bruno Mars. Oracle OpenWorld and it’s 60,000 techies just left town last week.

When a big “citywide” like that comes to town, nearly every hotel in the Bay Area is sold out, or its rates are hyper-inflated. During these peak weeks,  you’ll pay a minimum of about $500 for an decent room and feel lucky that you even found one. When citywides come into town, Airbnb hosts lick their chops and fluff their pillows. Restaurant reservations become scant. And Uber drivers kiss their families goodbye and work double shifts for several days in a row.

So now’s probably a great time to offer some advice to the arriving throngs—and this advice is good whether you are coming San Francisco next week or next year. (If you are in SF, please forward this to your future guests!)

1>Don’t schedule business meetings on Friday afternoons after 2 p.m. On Fridays, when New York closes for the weekend at 5 pm eastern, so does much of San Francisco (at 2 pm Pacific) especially when it’s warm and sunny outside. Cocktail and beer carts start making the rounds in offices at about 3 p.m. While there are exceptions to this rule, your Bay Area colleagues are likely to groan if you send out a calendar invite for a 4 p.m. meeting on Friday. Make it at 11 a.m. instead.

San Francisco's a town that gets started early...even when it's foggy out (Photo: Frank Schulenburg / Flickr)

San Francisco’s a town that gets started early…even when it’s foggy out (Photo: Frank Schulenburg / Flickr)

2>Don’t be surprised about an early start. In a similar vein, know that the workday starts relatively early here, so an 8:30 a.m. meeting is not considered out of order. If that feels too early for you, just bring along some caffeine from Blue Bottle, Ritual or Philz and you’ll be fine. Lunch hour begins promptly at noon, but you find that locals may ask you to show up at 11:45 a.m. “to beat the crowds.” Expect the same early schedule for dinner meetings, which can and do start as early at 6 p.m. Most restaurants are empty by 9:30 on weekdays and by 10:30 p.m. on weekends.

3>Don’t rely on taxicabs. This is Uber’s hometown, so download the app and use it if you haven’t already done so and enjoy all the different “flavors” of Uber available in the Bay Area, which include the standard town car UberBLACK, private car “citizen driver” UberX (cheaper than taxis), UberSUV, UberXL, and the new UberPOOL where you share a ride with someone else headed in the same direction. Cabs are fine when available, but the industry has been decimated by the likes of Uber and Lyft and their business is down by 65%. Don’t rent a car at the airport unless it’s absolutely essential. SFO rental rates are notoriously high, the car rental center at is distant and unloved, and downtown hotel parking rates are in the $60 per night range. If you’ve not signed up for Uber yet, do so here and get $30 off your first ride.  In addition to your discount, TravelSkills gets a $30 Uber discount when you sign up, so help us out :) 

4>Don’t put off making dinner reservations. This town is HOT and wealthy right now, full of cool kids and visitors with sophisticated palates who love to dine out. If you are here to try the city’s best restaurants, make reservations at least two or three weeks in advance…or more for top spots like Boulevard, Frances, State Bird Provisions, Gary Danko, and others.  One common mistake among visitors is thinking that the city’s best Chinese food is in Chinatown. Not necessarily. Grab an Uber or jump on Muni and head out to the western neighborhoods like the Sunset or Inner Richmond which stake claim to the real thing.

MUNI, pictured here, and BART are not the same thing. (Photo Torbakhopper / Flickr)

MUNI, pictured here, and BART are not the same thing. (Photo Torbakhopper / Flickr)

5>Don’t confuse subways. You should know that San Francisco has TWO main subway systems—BART is the rapid rail regional system with several stations along Market Street connecting out to the suburbs and airport. MUNI is the slower central city subway & streetcar system used frequently (and frequently derided) by inner city residents. Of course, there are San Francisco’s fabled cable cars, but those are mostly a tourist attraction and rarely a primary means of transport for locals.

6>Don’t think BART to airport is going to save much time. BART is a great option for those who travel light, but you should know that takes 30-40 minutes to get to the Embarcadero from SFO (for $8.65 each way). If there’s no traffic, a taxi or Uber can get you to or from the airport in about 20 minutes. UberBLACK flat rates are $65. UberX can be about half that. And cabs run about $50 including tip.

7>Consider hills when walking. First timers with hotels on Nob Hill may look at a map and think, “Oh, I’ll just walk to my hotel from Market Street. It’s close.” Well, yes, it’s close as the bird flies, but try lugging your rollaboard up the side of the hill to the Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont, Scarlet Huntington or Mark Hopkins and you’ll learn quickly that this may not be the smartest option. Especially if you are wearing heels!

8>Don’t forget your layers. While the rest of the country is experiencing an autumnal cool-off right now, SF is experiencing its typical October heat wave, so that new black sweater or suit won’t work when it’s 85 in the city during the day. But of course, it could be perfect in a matter of hours when the fog, a storm or cold front blow in off the Pacific. (By the way, wear black here. It always works.)

Finally, never call San Francisco “Frisco” or “San Fran.” Laid back locals won’t say anything, but inside, you can bet they are groaning. To be safe, just call it “The City” or San Francisco.

I’m sure our many Bay Area readers can add to this list, so please fire away in the comments section below and help your fellow frequent traveler headed west!

–Chris McGinnis

.

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AIRPORTS

Southwest's expansion at Denver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HOTELS

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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HOTELS

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

>Here’s how to find widebodies on domestic routes

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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

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