What’s your favorite flight number?

Boarding British Airways Concorde Flight #2 from New York to London back in the day! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Boarding British Airways Concorde Flight #2 from New York to London back in the day! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Have you ever boarded a plane with a flight number that made you pause and think, “Hmm, I wonder if they planned it that way?”

Turns out that there are many iconic or unusual flight numbers based on airline history, superstition, luck– or plain old cleverness. For example, United’s new flight #500 from Indianapolis to San Francisco pays homage to the Indy 500.

I’ve spent the last week on the horn with airlines trying to come up with the most clever or iconic… here’s what I was able to snag… I’m sure that there are others, so please share your finds in the comments!

First off, let’s look at JetBlue, which seems to be the most creative when it comes to flight numbers. JetBlue #1600 flies from Washington National to Boston Logan (1600 Pennsylvania Ave being the President’s address). The very patriotic JetBlue #1776 flies from Philadelphia PHL to Boston Logan. (US Airways assigns #1776 to its flight from Boston to Philly). JetBlue #66 flies Albuquerque to New York JFK honoring the famous roadway Route 66 below.  Jetblue flight #212 (also the area code for New York City) flies LAS-JFK.

Singapore Air SQ1 flies SFO to Singapore via Hong Kong (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Air SQ1 flies SFO to Singapore via Hong Kong (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Flight #1 - There are lots of Flight #1s out there, and they usually signify a key route of the airline…usually historic, or a flight the airline is particularly proud of. For example, British Airways flight #1 flies from London’s close in City (LCY) Airport to New York-JFK and BA #2 flies from New York to London. Those flight numbers used to apply to British Airway’s iconic Concorde flights between London Heathrow and New York Kennedy Airports, but were reassigned when BA launched its classy all-business class A318 flights between these financial capitals.

Other #1s:

  • Delta #1: New York JFK – London Heathrow
  • American #1: New York JFK – Los Angeles LAX
  • Singapore Airlines #1: San Francisco > Hong Kong > Singapore
  • Air France #1: New York JFK – Paris Charles de Gaulle
  • Air New Zealand #1: London Heathrow > Los Angeles > Auckland
  • JetBlue #1: New York JFK – Ft Lauderdale (Its first ever route)
  • Japan Air Lines #1: San Francisco SFO – Tokyo Haneda HND
  • Hawaiian Air #1: Los Angeles LAX – Honolulu HNL
  • Emirates #1: Dubai DXB – London Heathrow LHR
  • Virgin America #1: San Francisco SFO – Washington National DCA
  • Virgin Atlantic #001: London Heathrow – Newark
Flights to Las Vegas frequently get lucky numbers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Flights to Las Vegas frequently get lucky numbers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lucky flight numbers - Both 7 and 8 are considered lucky numbers… 7 is usually associated with flights to Las Vegas, while 8 is applied to many Asia-bound flights.

Appealing to those betting on the lucky 7s are Virgin America’s inaugural flight #777 which flew from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and JetBlue #777 which is flying from Boston to Las Vegas. Spirit Airways flight 777 flies from Ft Lauderdale to Vegas. AirTran #777 flights from Baltimore to Las Vegas.

In a more James Bond-ish vein, Virgin Atlantic’s #007 flies from London to Los Angeles.

The number 8 is considered lucky in many Asian cultures, so it’s frequently applied to key flights to that region. For example, United’s flight #888 flies from San Francisco to Beijing. British Airways flight #8 is on London-Chengdu. KLM’s flight #888 is on Amsterdam-Hong Kong. Hawaiian’s #8 flies from Honolulu to Las Vegas. Cathay Pacific’s #888 flies Hong Kong > Vancouver > New York JFK.

On the flip side of lucky, there are not a lot of Flight #13s out there… but I did find XL Airways #13 on SFO-Paris and American #13 from Chicago ORD to Orange County. How would you feel about boarding a flight #13?

What other unusual or iconic flight numbers did I miss? Please share your favorites below!

–Chris McGinnis

50,000 miles

Thank you, dear TravelSkills readers. As you may recall, we recently posted news about a new 50,000 mile bonus for those signing up for a United Explorer card. We are pleased to report that you all rallied around that offer (for which we earn a commission), and that definintely helps pay our bills this month! Thanks to all of you who signed up– if you did not, consider doing so before the bonus goes away on September 2!

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

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

Alaska Airlines

An alert sent to TravelSkills by Alaska Airlines this week

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

INTERNATIONAL

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

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

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

Related: Sad to see the graceful 747 fade away! 

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

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

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

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

Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

AIRPORTS

New DART rapid rail connection at DFW

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

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

HOTELS

A posh new perch in NYC

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

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

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

Entering the brand new American Express Centurion Lounge at New York LaGuardia (Photo: American Express)

Entering the brand new American Express Centurion Lounge at New York LaGuardia (Photo: American Express)

Summer’s not even over yet, but business travel news is coming at us from all directions, so we’re offering a double dose of news this week…

AIRLINES

Soup ‘n salad at Sky Clubs. Delta has updated and enhanced the menu offerings at its Sky Clubs, bringing aboard some healthier options like salads and soups that it has been experimenting with over the last year. You can see what’s new at this web page, and check out nutritional information for some selections. Meanwhile, in-flight duty-free shopping is no longer an option for travelers on Delta. The airline has terminated its relationship with the vendor it was using for the program, and reportedly has no plans to find a new one. So from now on, it’s the airport duty-free shop or nothing for Delta flyers. (Did you ever buy anything from inflight duty-free anyway– or see many others doing so?)

Airline cancellation rates vary greatly. According to the latest monthly government numbers, some airlines are much better than others at keeping their flights operating. Delta canceled just 19 departures in June, out of almost 70,000 flights operated. Other carriers with cancellation rates close to zero were Hawaiian, Frontier and Virgin America. By contrast, American’s regional subsidiary Envoy had a 6.5 percent cancellation rate.

Sunny skies for Virgin America. SF-based Virgin America posted a $37 million second quarter profit this week, up significantly compared to the same time last year when it lost $8.8 million. AP pegs the good results on increasing airfares, which are up 5% over the same time last year. We of course peg the results on Virgin’s recent sponsorship of the TravelSkills blog! :)

An 8-passenger SurfAir Pilatus. Have you or would subscribe?  (Photo: Chasen Richardson)

An 12-passenger SurfAir Pilatus. Have you or would subscribe? (Photo: Chasen Richardson)

All-you-can-fly airline expands. California-based Surf Air, a small new venture that lets customers fly as much as they want on its intrastate network for a membership fee starting at $1,599 a month, said it has seen “incredible demand from consumers” — so much that it plans a big expansion. The company has placed an order for up to 65 new Pilatus PC-12 eight-passenger turboprop aircraft, has raised another $73 million in capital, and plans to expand to more destinations. Surf Air claims 900 members already, with 350 more on hold awaiting more planes and routes. (Have you tried Surf Air or do you know anyone who has flown it? Please leave comments below.)

Frontier revamps elite levels. Frontier Airlines plans to replace its EarlyReturns Ascend and Summit elite levels effective February 15, 2015, with a single level called simply Frontier Elite. It’s open to members who accumulate 20,000 miles or 25 segments between January 1-December 31, 2014. Benefits include a free carry-on bag (the airline now charges a fee for them), but no more free checked bags. On October 31, 2014, the airline also plans to start imposing a fee (elites are exempted) for EarlyReturns redemptions booked less than 180 days in advance.

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

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AIRPORTS

ATL tests international arrivals app. Those self-service Automated Passport Control kiosks — which speed up processing of international arrivals who are not part of the Global Entry program — are popping up everywhere this year, but now Customs and Border Protection is going a step further. CBP just started pilot-testing a free app at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson that lets arriving travelers input their passport data and Customs declaration on their mobile device, then gives them a scannable QR code to present to the CBP officer. Have you tried it yet?

Nice views from the new American Express Centurion Lounge at LGA (Photo: AMEX)

Nice views from the new American Express Centurion Lounge at LGA (Photo: AMEX)

AmEx adds an LGA lounge. American Express cut the ribbon on a 5,000-square-foot Centurion Lounge in New York LaGuardia’s Terminal B (third level, pre-security), offering work spaces with high-speed Wi-Fi and electrical outlets; cuisine from Cedric Vongerichten, executive chef at New York’s Perry St restaurant; and specialty cocktails and wine selections. Entry is free for AmEx Platinum Card and Centurion members; a one-day pass costs $50 for other AmEx cardholders. Other Centurion lounges are in Las Vegas McCarran and Dallas-Ft Worth with additional locations coming to SFO (construction now visible from inside Terminal 3 near the United Premier check in area) and MIA.

HOTELS

Marriott expands app check-in. Marriott unveiled a huge expansion of its new mobile check-in and check-out capability for Marriott Rewards members. Previously available at 500 properties in its Marriott Hotels brand, it’s being expanded to 11 more Marriott brands, from Ritz-Carlton to Marriott Executive Apartments. “With these latest additions, these services are immediately available at 1,200 properties worldwide, and will be live at more than 4,000 hotels worldwide by year-end,” the company said. The app is available for iOS and Android devices.  In other news, Marriott Rewards members can earn up to 25,000 bonus points for stays from September 15-January 15 with the group’s new Fall Megabonus promotion.

CARS

New planning app links with Hertz GPS. Hertz’ NeverLost GPS in-car navigation system has a new companion — a free trip planning app from Navigation Solutions for iOS and Android devices that serves up scads of information about local places and events. The app works in tandem with NeverLost via the cloud, and includes city guides for 40 U.S. cities, with additional data on many more. “The interactive app goes far beyond navigation, including events, local weather, Augmented Reality, social media sharing and much more,” Hertz said. Now that we all have Google maps and apps like Waze, does anyone still use NeverLost? Leave your comments below!)

In Case You Missed It…

>Here’s a progress report on the new TravelSkills after its first three months.

>Are Airbnb properties right for a business trip?

>A new Hilton promotion lets HHonors members earn triple points through October.

– Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

 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! 

Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

Southwest pads schedules + 70K Marriott points + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover 

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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

 

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

SFO's new EMAS runaway plane lane is finished! All 4 runways now open (Photo: SFO)

SFO’s new, federally mandated, EMAS crushable concrete “runaway plane lane” is finished! All 4 runways now open (Photo: SFO)

SFO runways reopen early. Good news for Bay Area travelers: San Francisco International goes from two operational runways to four effective today (August 10) as a major construction project wrapped up a month ahead of schedule. The two runways had been closed since May 17 to install federally-mandated Runway Safety Areas (designed to catch and slow down runaway planes), requiring airlines to adjust their summer flight schedules. (More photos here) Luckily, the project had minimal impact on SFO flight operations.

Fewer amateurs in TSA PreCheck lanes? Now this sounds hopeful: “We’ll start pulling back on the number of people who we include on a random, managed-inclusion basis, because we want to, frankly, cater to those who have actually signed up, and who we have the highest confidence in because we know the most about them,” John Pistole, TSA Administrator told the New York Times when asked about overcrowding in TSA PreCheck lanes. This is music to the ears of the 440,000 people who have actually paid for the service, and who have been complaining loudly about the increasing number of “random” travelers chosen to pass through the speedy lanes. Have you noticed any improvements?

More kiosks speed re-entry. The latest expansion of Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry kiosks is at Mineta San Jose International Airport, where two of the self-service devices are now in place for program members. Meanwhile, Detroit Metro Airport has installed 30 Automated Passport Control self-service kiosks for inbound international passengers who aren’t part of Global Entry, and Minneapolis-St. Paul now has 10 of the kiosks in its Lindbergh Terminal. (Have you noticed any change in immigrations and customs processing in the US lately? Are the kiosks helping? Please leave your comments below.)

Are you going to try flying into Dallas Love Field starting in Oct? Let us know! (Photo: Justin Terveen)

Are you going to try flying into Dallas Love Field starting in Oct? Let us know! (Photo: Justin Terveen)

No surprise: Southwest adds DAL-SFO/OAK. Southwest’s big expansion of service at Dallas’ close-in Love Field later this year is adding two more business destinations: San Francisco and Oakland. Starting January 6, the carrier will initially operate only one daily roundtrip in each market, but that’s still enough to give some competition to Virgin America Airlines, which plans to launch its own DAL-SFO service on October 13 with three flights a day — and three classes of service, something Southwest lacks. Will you start to fly into Dallas Love (DAL) or stick with DFW? Leave your comments below, please.

50,000 United points? Yep! Only for a limited time. This is a great way to bump up your MileagePlus balance and help pay for your holiday or summer trips NEXT year! Details here. 

United app will scan passports. A big hitch in checking in for international flights with an app has been the need for a passport scan. But now United has come up with a solution: It’s testing an upgrade to its mobile app (for both iOS and Android) so customers can do just that. “After initiating the app’s check-in feature, customers will have the option of verifying their existing stored passport data or scanning their passport. The app uses the mobile device’s camera feature to capture travelers’ passports, similar to a mobile banking deposit,” United said.

In-flight service squeeze at DL, AA. Flying on Delta during the cocktail hour? Be prepared to shell out $8 for that mixed drink in coach, up from $7, the airline confirms … Starting next month, American Airlines will discontinue serving meals to first class passengers on most flights under two hours 45 minutes, replacing them with snacks (exception: some of the most popular routes, like ORD-LGA).

Emirates arrives at Chicago ORD (Photo: Emirates)

Emirates arrives at Chicago ORD- that’s the Chicago city flag (Photo: Emirates)

Emirates to Chicago ORD; AA juggles Brazil service. Emirates last week started new daily 777-200LR non-stops between Chicago O’Hare and Dubai … American will discontinue Charlotte-Sao Paulo service Oct. 1, but will add new routes in December from JFK and MIA to Viracopo Airport in Campinas, Brazil; on October 25, AA will start seasonal suspensions of JFK-Dublin, ORD-Dusseldorf and PHL-Zurich flights … Air France now offers international first class travelers onward connections by four-seat private jets at Paris CDG. (Trivia Question: What do the four stars on Chicago’s city flag represent? Answer here.)

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

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CARS

Uber continues to disrupt ground transport with a new carpool sharing option (Photo: Uber)

Uber continues to disrupt ground transport with a new carpool sharing option (Photo: Uber)

Uber, Lyft try ride-sharing. Popular ride-finding service Uber is adding a new feature for users: Share your ride and both customers can save money. Called Uberpool, the feature is currently in beta; Uber still promises a ride in five minutes if you opt for Uberpool, and if it can’t find a ride share, it will give you a discount anyway. Competing ride-finder Lyft introduced a similar service called Lyft Line, initially available only in San Francisco and only via iOS devices. Meanwhile, an app called TaxiMagic — used to summon licensed taxicabs — is changing its name to Curb and upgrading its service to include higher-priced black car and limo rides. How do you get around on the ground? Leave your comments below. And if you’ve not tried Uber, do so from our links and you’ll get $30 off your first ride!

In Case You Missed It…

>Should JetBlue and Virgin America merge? How about Lyft and Uber? (Reader comments are great here!)

>Here’s what’s new and cool in the Los Angeles hotel scene.

>Think it’s impossible to sneak onto a flight? Think again.

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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! 

Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Free inflight entertainment + Delta dumping 747s + United hub reshuffle + 50K United bonus + Uber for business

The 50,000 mile bonus is back

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

Southwest pads schedules + 70K Marriott points + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover 

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

UPDATE: THURSDAY AUG 7: After her arrest and incarceration in LA on Monday, Hartman went BACK TO THE AIRPORT on Thursday, and was arrested again. Full story here. 

Original story here:

After six thwarted attempts at stowing away on planes bound for Hawaii, San Francisco’s now famous Marilyn Jean Hartmann has finally done it.

NBC Bay Area news is now reporting that Hartman breached TSA security, boarded a Southwest Airlines plane in San Jose on Monday night and flew to Los Angeles where she was arrested. KTVU is reporting that she made it through security and on to the plane without a ticket by sneaking behind a family.

NBC provides a bit of the woman’s background here:

The San Francisco woman has a history of trying to get on flights without a ticket. Three times in February, twice in March and at least once in April she attempted to board flights at SFO. At least twice she was able to breach Transportation Security Administration security and make her way into the boarding area.

The San Francisco Chronicle has uncovered new information that shows Hartman has been up to these antics since 2010, and has even blogged about it.

(Photo: San Francisco Police Dept)

Marilyn Jean Hartman, 62, finally got on a plane. (Photo: San Francisco Police Dept)

This is the second time this year that Mineta San Jose Airport has been in the news due to people successfully stowing away on planes there. As you may recall, a teenager breached airport perimeter security and hid in a wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines plane for an icy trip to Hawaii. 

The TSA made the following statement in light of this latest incident:

“Following an initial review by TSA at San Jose International Airport, the agency has initiated minor modifications to the layout of the document checking area to prevent another incident like this one.”

Hartman’s multiple attempts to stowaway on planes bound to Hawaii have landed her on probation and slapped with a court order to stay away from all airports unless she has a valid ticket. But the publicity around her attempts to fly  have also prompted Silicon Valley types to set up funding sites to help buy her a ticket to Hawaii. For example, a GoFundMe.com page has raised nearly $1,300 although it’s not clear how or if that money has been disbursed.

The San Jose Mercury News reported in May that Hartman would “spend two years in a mental health facility to receive treatment for major depressive disorder.” The paper went on to say that Hartman,

was determined to be suffering from a ‘major mental illness’ and deemed a suitable candidate for the residential mental health program, prosecutors said. She was sentenced to two years supervised probation and will remain under strict supervision in the program for the next two years.

Sounds like that strict supervision wasn’t enough to quash this lady’s wanderlust and stated desired to “go somewhere warm.”

In the last year, we’ve seen a teenager slip through airport fencing at San Jose International and hide in a wheel well for a flight to Hawaii. At SFO, a drunk business traveler masquerading as a TSA agent lured two unsuspecting travelers into a private booth for a pat down.

Now this.

This latest incident poses a LOT of questions about the state of airport security. It also provides plenty of fodder for jokes on late night talk shows. :)

What do YOU think about this situation?

Leave your comments below!

–Chris McGinnis

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Big bonus. Little time….What’s the best card for United flyers who don’t spend or fly enough to have Premier status? For a limited time, the United MileagePlus Explorer Card is offering an excellent 50,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending  just $2,000 in the first three months. The Explorer card also offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also, it offers double miles for United purchases. Act fast on this one because that 50K bonus is only good through September 2. Details here

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The 50,000 mile bonus is back

Early boarding is one of the perks you get when the United Explorer card.

Early boarding is one of the perks you get with the United Explorer card.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen credit card sign up bonuses of 50,000 miles or more. They’re trickling out now, but you need to act fast. 

For example, today the United Explorer Card rolled out a new 50,000 mile bonus for those spending at least $2,000 in the first three months. Add an additional user who makes a purchase on the card in the same timeframe and you get an additional 5,000 United miles.

That 55,000 take is almost 100% more than the card’s longstanding bonus offer of just 30,000 United miles. So if you’ve been sitting on the fence on this one, now’s the time to jump off. This bonus offer is only good through September 2. 

What can you get for 50,000 miles? How about a domestic first class round trip “saver” award? Or what about a standard economy round trip award good for travel during most peak periods? Plus, if you put at least $25,000 a year on the card, you’ll bypass United’s new spend requirements for elite status.

The United Explorer Card is perfect for those who don’t fly or spend enough to earn elite status– that’s because the card provides some nice elite level perks like priority boarding, passes to United Clubs and free first checked bags. Other nice perks: no irritating foreign transaction fees, primary car rental collision coverage and double miles on tickets purchased from United. Plus, the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year.

If you are not a United flier, our top picks for best all-around cards with significant sign up bonuses are the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard. Both offer nice 40,000 mile sign up bonuses (after spending $3,000 in first three months), and you can use miles on several airlines, hotels and other travel providers. Neither charges irritating foreign transaction fees. And the Barclaycard now has Chip & PIN for easier use overseas. That 40,000 mile bonus with Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is good for $500 in travel when booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards, plus it now offers primary rental car collision coverage (most cards provide secondary coverage).

Use these links, please!>

United MileagePlus Explorer Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard

Remember, there is no such thing as the “best” credit card for frequent flyers. But there is a best one for YOU based on your travel and spending habits. Remember, when you get a new credit card via the links provided here, TravelSkills earns a commission. This is what keeps us in business cranking out meaningful content and practical advice. If you are in the market for a new card, please do so via the links below. THANK YOU!

–Chris McGinnis

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Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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Southwest pads schedules + 70K Marriott points + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover +

Turkish Airlines's exotic business class lounge at IST (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

Turkish Airlines’s exotic business class lounge at IST– soon to connect nonstop to SFO (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

AIRLINES

Southwest’s on-time strategy. Southwest Airlines has seen its on-time performance suffer in recent months, dropping from 83 percent to 70. So it will turn to a favorite airline strategy for dealing with the problem: Starting next month, it will revise its schedules to allow for longer travel times—i.e. it will “pad its schedule.”

Turkish comes to SFO. Rapidly expanding Turkish Airlines will start San Francisco-Istanbul non-stops on April 13, 2015. Introductory fares for the 16-hour flight are already on sale for $699 in economy. Business class is running $4,000-$6,000. Turkish Flight 80 will depart SFO at  6:10PM and arrive in Istanbul at 5:05PM the next day. Flight 79 departs IST at 1:15 PM and arrives SFO at 4:25 PM on the same day. Turkish will use a Boeing 777-300ER on the 13-hour flight with business class in a 2-3-2 configuration and coach in a 3-3-3 configuration and no first class. Turkish Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance. Do you think of Turkish Airlines as “exotic?” I do and that’s how I described it on SFgate last week- but many readers felt that description was wrong. What do you think? Leave your comments below! 

JetBlue weighs a bag fee. JetBlue and Southwest are the only two major airlines that don’t charge a fee for a passenger’s first checked bag (Southwest allows two checked bags free).  But JetBlue officials, concerned about all that lost revenue,  are hinting that they might reconsider their policy and start charging for that first bag. If they do, can Southwest holdout on its own?

US Airways shuffles partnerships. US Airways has started code-sharing with Finnair, a member of sister company American Airlines’ transatlantic joint venture. US Airways’ code goes onto Finnair flights to Helsinki and beyond, from JFK and Toronto, and members of the two carriers’ frequent flyer programs now have mutual benefits. Meanwhile, Dividend Miles will end its partnerships with Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines effective August 1. They were holdovers from US Airways’ former Star Alliance membership.

Briefs: Like British Airways, Swiss has started charging fees for advance seat reservations; on long-haul flights, fees are $32 for a “standard seat,” $54 for a “preferred-zone” seat, and $109 for an extra-legroom seat. Unreserved seats can be selected for free within 23 hours of departure … Virgin Australia will end its Los Angeles-Melbourne service in late October, but will boost LAX-Brisbane from four flights a week to daily (and in SF we still waiting for Virgin Australia to link with Virgin America and bring some much need competition on SFO-Australia routes)… Qantas will replace the 747 on its Dallas/Ft. Worth-Sydney route with an A380 in September.

GBTA CONVENTION:

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is attending the big Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) convention in Los Angeles this week. The giant expo attracts about 7,000 travel industry professionals for educational sessions, speeches and panels with the likes of United’s Jeff Smisek or Delta’s Richard Anderson. It also offers an outstanding exposition where travel suppliers display and boast their latest, greatest products and services for business travelers– to me, the coolest part is the ability to check out about 20 business and first class seats in one place! Stay tuned to my Twitter feed to see what I’m seeing and hearing. Find me say HEY if you are there, too!

AIRPORTS

A mock up of the new terminal at Salt Lake City International

A mock up of SLC’s brand new terminal provided by Salt Lake City International

Salt Lake City starts massive reconstruction. Work started last week on a $1.8 billion, years-long overhaul of Salt Lake City International Airport that will replace its existing three terminals with a single extra-large one. One level of the three-story facility will be reserved for international travel and Customs. The existing airport opened 50 years ago — well before Delta started using it as a hub. The first half of the new SLC airport is due to open in 2019 and the second in 2022. Delta announced this week that it will add SLC-Amsterdam nonstops using a B767 starting next May.

CBP boosts staffing at five airports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has forged partnerships with five major airports that will mean increased CBP staffing for processing international arrivals, leading to reduced waiting time. The new pacts are with SFO, LAX, MCO, LAS and DEN. The agency said similar arrangements that it has in place with DFW, IAH and MIA — combined with the new Automated Passport Control kiosks — have reduced line time at those airports by 30 percent. Have you noticed?

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Atlanta Airport gets another PreCheck center. The TSA has opened a second PreCheck application center at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, located pre-security in the main terminal so the general public can access it without having a boarding pass. The new TSA facility is in Terminal South near Delta’s ticket counters. (The earlier facility is at Gate A19.)

Possible LAX mess. This item appeared on TravelSkills two weeks ago, but it bears repeating: This weekend, July 25-28 in Los Angeles, is being dubbed the “Century Crunch”, when Century Blvd. — a main road into LAX, used by one-third of all passengers — will close for demolition of an old railroad bridge. Officials advise everyone to avoid the area. 

sfo cab

(photo: Alfonso Jimenez)

Taxi app starts airport bookings. An app called Flywheel — which lets users hail a cab electronically, track its position, and pay with a smartphone — has started taking advance bookings for taxi rides to San Francisco-area airports, including SFO, OAK and SJC. By the end of this month, the company said, the app will provide the same service in Seattle and Los Angeles, with more locations to be added “in the coming weeks.” Interesting to watch cab companies add technology to help them compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft (which by the way are two ride-sharing companies we’ve heard are feeling the urge to merge. Stay tuned to TravelSkills for more on that as we investigate!) Don’t forget that you get $30 off your first ride if you sign up for Uber via TravelSkills links. Just do it! 

TSA seeks queue tips. The TSA is shifting so many passengers to PreCheck lanes that it is getting concerned about how fast the lines move. So the agency has turned to Innocentive.com, a “global innovation marketplace,” to offer $15,000 in prizes to persons who can come up with the best ways to overhaul TSA’s airport lines. “The concept will be used to develop a model to be applied in decision analysis and to take in considerations of site specific requirements, peak and non-peak hours, flight schedules and TSA staffing schedules,” TSA said.

In Case You Missed It…

>Delta is building a new Sky Club at San Francisco International.

>New studies determine the best and worst airports and hotels for Wi-Fi.

>”I cringe when I hear people talk about the so-called golden age of travel.” Check this InsideFlyer Q&A with Chris about his career and the travel biz. A good read!

>A leading business hotel in London will join the Hilton family in September

>New report shows where business travelers spend money. Would you believe Chick-fil-a? (Check out the controversy this post elicited in the comments!)

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis


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New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

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New Delta Sky Club rising at SFO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: What’s next for SFO? 

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

Etihad will use a Jet Airways 777 on its new SFO-Abu Dhabi run (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

Etihad will use a Jet Airways 777 on its new SFO-Abu Dhabi run (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

Abu Dhabi based Etihad Airways announced on Monday that it will fly to San Francisco International starting November 18. SFO will be the sixth U.S. city served by the rapidly expanding UAE carrier. Kinda….

This comes on the heals of Emirates Airline’s recent announcement that it will add double decker A380 flights at SFO starting this December.

Etihad is perhaps best known now as the carrier that recently said it will offer a spacious three bedroom suite (with shower) on board its A380 on flights between Abu Dhabi and London at the cost of $40,000 round trip.

Be sure to note the column "Operated by:"

Be sure to note the column “Operated by:”

Don’t get your hopes up that SFO will see that suite, or even an Etihad-liveried jet any time soon. 

Instead, SFO will see a return of Jet Airways planes, which is now 24%-owned by Etihad. Etihad is growing so fast that it is unable to deploy one of its own aircraft on the route.

An Etihad spokesperson tells TravelSkills that flights will use a three-class Boeing 777-300ER aircraft leased from India’s Jet Airways, which will have the livery, layout and seats of Jet Airways, but that Etihad crews will staff the flights. The spokesperson did not know when or if Etihad may deploy one of its own aircraft on the route.

The Jet Airways 777-300ER used by Etihad has eight first class seats (1-2-1), 30 in business (1-2-1) and 308 (3-4-3) in economy.

Jet Airways flew SFO-Shanghai-Mumbai back in 2008-2009.

Fares: For flights in November, economy runs from about $780 to $1380 round trip. Business class is around $5,000-$7000. First class is $14,515.

Etihad LogoEtihad is one of three Gulf carriers (the third being Qatar Airways) that seem to be taking the world by storm and freaking out large global carriers in the US, Asia and Europe with their posh planes, modern airports and excellent inflight service. Etihad recently launched daily nonstops from LAX to Abu Dhabi and says that in addition to San Francisco, it will launch nonstops to Dallas starting in December.

Related: Biz Trip: Abu Dhabi 

“We cannot be more thrilled to welcome Etihad to San Francisco,” said Tom Kiely, executive vice president of the San Francisco Travel Association. “Having just attended the Arabian Travel Market convention in Dubai, I saw first hand what Etihad’s revolutionary premium product is like. It will complement SFO’s existing service from India, southeast Asia and the Gulf region.”

India is indeed a key (if not THE key) market for these flights. As a matter of fact, The Times of India headline about the service reads Etihad to link Delhi, San Francisco via Abu Dhabi on planes leased from Jet. It is estimated that nearly 250,000 Indians reside in the Bay Area.

“San Francisco is another strong addition and provides our first direct link to Northern California. Given its global prominence as a tourism and business centre, we anticipate strong demand in First, Business and Economy Class, not only between San Francisco and Abu Dhabi, but onwards to destinations across our network and the networks of our codeshare partners,” said Etihad’s president and CEO James Hogan. Etihad’s codeshare partner in the US is American Airlines.

Chris McGinnis

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

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

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

This clever new 30-second video from Virgin America hits the nail on the head when it comes to traveler irritation with frequent flyer programs. The video uses the popular “crane game” to depict how travelers feel when trying to redeem miles for trips or perks. It arrives at a time when we’re more frustrated than normal due to summer blackout dates and the seeming impossibility of ever getting that “free” round trip for 25,000 miles.

Today Virgin launched a new campaign to play off frequent flyer frustration. The #loyaltymademedoit microsite asks: Has loyalty got you trapped in a dysfunctional relationship?

I would say “yes” based on the way many TravelSkills readers seem to have a love/hate relationship with their airline of choice. I see it on the blog’s comments and I hear it almost daily in emails.

The angst came in loud and clear when giant programs like Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus announced that they would be tying loyalty programs to spending instead of miles flown earlier this year.

I hear it about this time of year when people try to redeem those hard earned miles for trips home for the winter holidays.

In the business section of the New York Times this week, the headline read, “Fliers facing fewer rewards” and was full of angry words like these:

“I was like, ‘Seriously, you’re taking another thing away?’ ” Ms. Martin said. The changes, she said, have left her frustrated, but she feels that she has no choice but to take whatever miles she can, “mostly to pay for upgrades so we can get back some of the perks like more legroom that we used to get for free.”

So I think Virgin’s on to something here.

Do you love…or hate your primary frequent flyer program? Why? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: Virgin America is a sponsor of the TravelSkills blog

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Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

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Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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San Francisco airport runway construction update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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! Top off that mileage balance for a free trip home for the holidays!

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

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5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

The crew on my 787 Dreamliner flight from San Francisco to Chengdu (and back!). (Photo: Nancy Branka

The crew on my 787 Dreamliner flight from San Francisco to Chengdu–and back (Photo: Nancy Branka)

The shine has not come off Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.

It’s been almost four years since ANA, the inaugural customer for the 787-8, took possession of the first aircraft and flew its first commercial flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong. Yet, while 150 or so Dreamliners are currently in service, the plane is used primarily on international routes. And United Airlines is the only U.S. carrier to own the aircraft, with just 10 in the fleet right now. That means the number of North American passengers who have experienced the 787 remains small. I had flown on the 787 twice, three years before, but when I boarded the Dreamliner for United’s inaugural 14-hour flight from San Francisco to Chengdu, China (CTU), it thrilled me.

Over time, as more and more 787s go into service, it will be just another aircraft. But in the meantime, here are five things still worth getting excited about on this pretty plane:

Humidity - One of the big benefits for passengers of the 787’s 50-percent-composite-material construction is that the cabin can be pressurized to allow higher humidity. That lovely humidity is what I heard most about from passengers and crew on my SFO-CTU-SFO 787 flights. In the moister air, nasal passages do not get that burning, dried-out feeling. Eyes feel less irritated. Another benefit of higher humidity: It may lessen your chances of getting sick because germs “stick” more in dry nasal areas. Some say the lower pressure and higher humidity may reduce jet lag, but that’s a hard one to measure and I didn’t speak with anyone who experienced a noticeable difference.

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The 787′s birdlike wings that bow up during flight capture the imagination. (Photo: United Airlines)

Wings - There’s absolutely no passenger comfort benefit to the wing design, but it’s what I love most about the aircraft. For aviation aficionados, it’s breathtaking to see the shape of the 787’s wings change as the plane takes off. Positively birdlike! In fact, during our return flight, two experienced aviation journalists and I took turns gaping at the window when the angle of lift was particularly striking. If you can, take a look out the window during turbulence and see how the wings respond. A search on YouTube yields lots of passenger videos, too, of the wing flex during turbulence and takeoff.

Related: TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis recounts his unusual experience in Tokyo during the grounding of the Dreamliner in early 2013

Spaciousness - The 787’s overhead bins sport a groundbreaking design. Strangely, overhead bins have become the battleground of the passenger experience. But these bins are exceptionally roomy, easily able to accommodate standard rollaboards. Even better is the fact that their deep curve and the way they fold into the ceiling create unusually spacious headroom in the aisle seat. Even if you’re not sitting in the aisle, the sense of roominess makes you feel like you have more headroom and even more legroom (that one’s an illusion). The fellow next to me, who was 6’3”, could easily stand in the aisle seat area. I have noticed similar design on other aircraft models as their cabins are refreshed.

Quiet - The Dreamliner is substantially quieter than its aircraft relatives, and it’s a noticeable difference. My seatmate, who was a frequent international flier, had never flown a 787 before and commented on that. Reduction in noise, besides all the environmental benefits, is a stress-reducer for passengers.

The size and lighting of the Dreamliner's windows add to the visual comfort of the flight. (Photo: Flickr/ChicagoKoz)

The size and lighting of the Dreamliner’s windows add to the visual comfort of the flight. (Photo: Flickr/ChicagoKoz)

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Mood - What a view! The windows on a 787 are the largest in civil aviation, bringing in more natural light and providing an unparalleled look at the heavens. During the flight, the color and tint of the windows changes, creating a soothing visual effect. Also unusual, Boeing has eschewed the window shade. Instead, a large button controls the light. However, when my seatmate wanted to nap and attempted to go “lights out,” we found it impossible to completely black out the window. Frustrating. I guess that’s what eye shades are for.

Bonus: Hands-free - I can’t resist mentioning this, because it does wow: In the lav, the toilet seat automatically closes and flushes, hands-free. Enough said.

Some say the 787 provides one of the best passenger experiences of any aircraft. What do you love about the Dreamliner? What not-so-much? Share your comments!

--Nancy Branka 

Disclosure: Nancy was a guest of United Airlines on the SFO-Chengdu inaugural trip. 

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Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

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

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

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

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

Would I find Chengdu to be at all like Chicago?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But parallels stop there, I found.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Nancy Branka

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

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Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

The business and first class lounge on upper deck of Emirates A380 (Photo: Emirates Airline)

The business and first class lounge on upper deck of Emirates A380 (Photo: Emirates Airline)

Emirates is deploying  its giant double-decker Airbus A380 on nonstop routes from both San Francisco International and Houston Intercontinental to Dubai (DXB) on December 1 and 3 respectively.

The new aircraft comes with showers, wi-fi and, yes, even the option of using your mobile phone during the flight. (Oh my!) The A380 also brings true lie-flat business class seats to these markets– Emirates Boeing 777s currently on the routes offer the less desirable “angled lie flat” version.

The A380 will offer 14 posh and private first class suites and 76 lie-flat business class seats, and 400 economy class seats. Business class seats are configured 1-2-1 and economy class seats are 10-across, configured 3-4-3. See configuration here.

Emirates' depiction of its first class shower suite (Photo: Emirates Airline)

Emirates’ depiction of its first class shower suite (Photo: Emirates Airline)

The 16 hour SFO-Dubai flight (which takes the polar route) will be the third longest route for an Emirates A380. (Flights from DXB  to LAX and IAH are longer.) These newer versions of A380 aircraft are lighter and more efficient than previous versions which were unable to fly that far.

San Francisco and Houston will be Emirates’ fourth and fifth U.S. gateways served by an A380, joining New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas/Fort Worth starting October 1.

The entire upper deck of an Emirates A380 is for business and first class passengers only. Passengers riding in first class have access to two shower suites. There’s also Emirates’s popular onboard lounge for business and first class passengers on the A380 (see photo) serving wine, beer, cocktails and canapes.  Check out the onboard experience via Google’s Street View here.

In coach, all passengers get 12 inch touch-screen entertainment, power outlets, and access to wi-fi. Also, Emirates is one of the few airlines in the world to allow passengers to use their mobile phones during the flight.

“Adding the A380 to these two important US cities illustrates the intensity of the battle being fought for the ultra long haul passenger, especially those in first and business class,” Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research told TravelSkills. “The A380 has clearly become Emirates’ long-haul workhorse. We’re witnessing a new kind of airline dogfight. But this time, instead of cheap prices, the battle is being fought with in-flight entertainment, lie-flat seats, and extensive connections via Emirates’ Dubai hub,” he said.
With announcements like this, it seems like Emirates is taking over the world…what do you think about the rapid rise of UAE carriers? Would you fly Emirates via Dubai to get to India, Africa or the Middle East? Please leave your comments below.


Chris McGinnis

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

SAS light attendants change into chef outfits when serving dinner (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SAS flight attendants change into chef outfits when serving dinner (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Throughout this summer, I’ll be sharing a handful of trip reports from unusual or interesting flights I’ve taken over the last year. Some of these are reprises of previous posts. Enjoy!

The flight from San Francisco International (SFO) to Copenhagen (CPH) is the longest flight operated by SAS. It lasts about 11 hours. From the US, SAS also flies to Chicago, Houston, Washington DC and New York.

My notes from the trip: 

>First of all, thank you to SAS for inviting me, free of charge, to check out its business class service between SFO and CPH, which launched last April.  Tak!

>SAS flies an Airbus A340-300 on the route with 46 seats in business class, 28 in premium economy and 171 in economy. There is no first class on this flight. The flight I took was completely sold out.

>The lowest roundtrip fares this summer are running in the $1,800 range in economy, $2,000 in premium economy and $3,028 in business class (this summer business class fare is a remarkably good deal from the west coast!). SAS is a Star Alliance carrier.

Yes, that's a reindeer sandwich served onboard SAS flights from Copenhagen (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Yes, that’s a reindeer sandwich served onboard SAS flights from Copenhagen (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>SAS Flight 936 departs San Francisco six days a week (no Tuesday flights) at 5:35 pm and arrives Copenhagen at 1:15 pm. On the return, SAS flight 935 departs CPH at 12:25 pm and arrives at SFO at 2:45 pm the same day.

>To understand a lot of what I’m going to say about the business class experience on SAS, you must first know about the Danish concept of hygge. (Sounds like “hoo-guh”) There is no word in English that truly captures the meaning of hygge; the closest we get to it would be “cozy.” But from what I picked up from the Danish, hygge is all about warmth, camaraderie, familiarity and comfort. Think about the feeling you get when you see candles burning in a window on a cold, wet night. The smell of baking bread or cookies. Or an afternoon cuddled up next to a fireplace in a big chair with a blanket, a cup of tea and a chat with your grandmother. In nearly everything they do, Danes seem to aspire to create a feeling of hygge—even on an Airbus A340!

Here’s the slideshow! Read below for my take on the flight…

>The timing of the departure of SAS at 5:35 pm from SFO is near ideal. Taking off at 5:35 pm means you can have a full day at work. Then a nice cocktail after take off (see slideshow for eclectic bar menu), a lengthy dinner service, watch a movie and get some rest prior to arrival. (Returning the flight departs CPH at 12:25 and arrives SFO at 2:45.)

>Looking out the window at SFO’s International Terminal, the SAS Airbus A340 sports a grayish silver fuselage with the word “Scandinavian” in white and barely detectable along the side. The tail of the aircraft is navy blue, and each of its four engines is bright red.

>Upon entering business class, the best thing I can say is that it’s well, hyggelow-slung seats are configured 2-2-2, and the cabin feels open and airy, yet cozy with deep red curtains and light brown suede-ish walls. Although well maintained and clean, the blue fabric seats trimmed in gray plastic and light brown leather look and feel dated.

>Inflight entertainment screens are small, distant from the seat, and grainy—a far cry from the crisp, newer generation video screens now installed on most international carriers. Additionally, there is absolutely no in-seat storage space—all bags, purses and briefcases or laptops must be stowed in smallish overhead bins for takeoff.  On the positive side, every business class seat has a 110-volt electrical outlet.

Angled lie-flat seats in SAS business class (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Angled lie-flat seats in SAS business class (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>SAS joins fellow European carriers Lufthansa and Air France with an angled lie-flight seat, unlike the preferred truly horizontal lie-flat seat we know and love on transatlantic flights from SFO on United, British Airways and Swiss.

>Later in the flight, a fellow passenger muttered to me, “this is like trying to sleep on stairs.” However, the passenger next to me had no problem sleeping at all. Minutes after take off, he pulled a wool cap over his head, covered up with one of the nice blue and white all cotton duvets, and slept for the duration of the flight. (I took a photo! See the show!)

>Prior to take off, a crew of cheerful flight attendants served champagne, juice or water in mod, curvaceous Orrefors crystal glassware. Once we took off, an unusual selection of cocktails was served in the same cool glasses. (See slideshow above) I had a tart and tasty concoction made with “pure green organic vodka.”

>About half an hour into the flight, cabin stewards changed into chef outfits to serve meals! They come out serving in starched tan shirts with black and white checked scarves (or kerchiefs of some sort)  tied around their necks, and full length aprons. Very cute and classy, and very hyggelig!  There was even a mom-like purser who walked around, smiled, passed out blankets and pillows and made sure everyone felt comfortable and attended-to. I have to admit that these nice soft touches turned my attention away from the hard product described above. This was fun…and felt good.

Outstanding peppered salmon starter onboard SAS (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Outstanding peppered salmon starter onboard SAS (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>Business class meals were hearty and very good. I was especially impressed with the array of bread and crackers in the frequently passed basket. See the slideshow for some close ups of these tasty meals. I’m not sure if flight attendants do this for hygienic reasons, but they served all plates covered in clear plastic wrap that passengers had to remove. Why?

>After a nice meal and a glass or two of wine, I became tired, donned my Bucky eye mask and the noise canceling headsets provided, and fell asleep… for nearly five hours! The angled lie-flat seat did not prove to be as uncomfortable as I expected.

>For breakfast service, flight attendants changed once again… this time into suits and ties… to serve.

>I took some time to crawl around the plane and snap photos of nearly everything. Be sure to see the slideshow for a look at the oversize business class lavatory—with two windows, a full length mirror and a toilet positioned at an unusual angle.

>The SAS premium economy section is located in the first few rows of the coach section. Seats are slightly large and wider than regular economy, and configured 2-3-2. I saw that many passengers had enough room to stretch out and work on laptops. Each seat has its own video screen. (See slideshow)

>The economy cabin is configured 2-4-2 and each seat has its own inflight entertainment screen.

>Arrival in Copenhagen airport was easy. I was very impressed with the warm, sustainable and gorgeous stained wood flooring used throughout terminals. (See slideshow) The airport is small and manageable…and there’s a quick (15 mins) and easy rail link to Copenhagen Central Station.

A big bright airy business class lounge at CPH is outside security (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A big bright airy business class lounge at CPH is outside security (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>On my return, I took a quick look at the SAS business class lounge at CPH. It’s a big, bright and airy 2-story affair, with a very generous selection of food, salads, Carlsberg beer on tap. All tables in the dining area are topped with pots of live herbs. There are several cozy seating areas, a fireplace (see what I mean about hygge?) plenty of workspace, free wi-fi and a table full of new Macs and printers.

>Word of warning: The SAS lounge is located before passport control. And since there are several international flights departing at about the same time as the San Francisco flight, back ups and long lines are frequent—be aware of this before you get too comfy in the lounge and don’t leave enough time to get to your flight. (See slideshow for a look at what this line on the day of my departure.)

>The SAS lounge at CPH is head and shoulders above the hospital-like environment of the United Business Class lounge at SFO, which could use a little hygge help!

Overall, I really enjoyed this trip—in both directions. Despite the angled lie-flat seat, I was able to sleep, work, and enjoy meals. The quality and cheerfulness of inflight service made up for the less-than-stellar hard product.

Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: I was a guest of SAS on this flight. 

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Is Uber illegal?

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

The recent brouhaha between popular ride sharing services (such as Uber or Lyft) and airport authorities may have frequent travelers uneasy about using them for airport runs. San Francisco seems to be the locus of the current controversy, but airports are taking action in other cities, too. For example, San Antonio airport authorities cited drivers and impounded cars last week.  

Ride sharing services and apps have changed the landscape of business travel like nothing else since, say, the proliferation of mobile phones in the 1990′s.

I’m a huge fan and frequent user when I’m home or when I’m on the road. And I’m a particularly heavy user on airport runs– it’s just too easy, simple and comfortable compared to a clunky cab ride.

But I’ve wondered, and I know that many law abiding business travelers out there have wondered, too:

As much as I love my Uber rides to the airport, is it illegal? If I’m a passenger in car that’s pulled over at the airport for violating public utility commission statutes, can I be penalized?

Of course, the answer lies in a gray area.  So let’s break it down.

First off, if you use Uber Black (limo, sedan or SUV), your rides to or from the airport are legal. That’s because Uber Black drivers are professional livery drivers licensed by the Public Utilities Commission for airport runs. UberTaxi drivers are also authorized to make airport runs.  

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Uber Black cars are okay for airport runs (Photo: Adam Fagan / Flickr)

Uber Black cars are okay for airport runs (Photo: Adam Fagan / Flickr)

It gets gray when you choose the less expensive services that utilize private or “citizen” drivers (like UberX, Lyft) using their own cars, and not holding airport permits. The California Public Utilities Commission recently granted these companies (called Transportation Network Companies or TNCs) permits to operate in the state, but their permits specifically disallow airport runs. Here’s what UberX’s permit states:

UberX permit

There lies the crux of the issue: No airports have authorized the services to operate on their grounds. But in flagrant violation of the permit, they continue to drive thousands of us to and from airports across the US every single day. Now that UberX is cheaper, more convenient, and more comfortable than a taxi ride to the airport, I use it all the time. No one has ever told me what I’m doing is illegal.

And now it sounds like some, but not all UberX drivers have airport permits. In a statement to TravelSkills, an Uber spokesperson said, “We are currently working with SFO on permitting for all uberX drivers. Right now, travelers can request any driver partner that currently has an airport permit. This includes driver partners who are on both uberX and Black platforms. We encourage travelers to open the app, request a ride, and they will be connected to a ride.”

But a rash of recent reports state that airports are getting aggressive with enforcement action on UberX and Lyft. So, as a law abiding business traveler, I’m wondering, as I know you are:  If it is illegal for these companies to be operating at the airport, what happens to me if my driver gets pulled over? Could I get fined or penalized, too? As it stands right now, it sounds like the answer to that question is NO.

“Under the law as it stands right now, I don’t see any liability on the part of a passenger for an UberX or Lyft ride to or from the airport,” said travel law attorney Adam Anolik of the Anolik Law Group in Sausalito, CA. “The issue really comes down to whether what Uber and Lyft are doing is illegal. If it is, then technically passengers are conspiring with drivers to break the law.  But, since the law has never been applied to passengers in the past, passengers should feel safe using these services until the enforcement methods are changed,” he said. 

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

So the biggest threat to your business travel schedule right now is the possibility of delay–  you might be in a car that is pulled over by police at a California airport for the driver to get an admonishment– airport police at SFO have nabbed at least 300 drivers in the last month

“Our enforcement effort is focused on the driver, with a verbal admonishment,” Doug Yakel, spokesperson for SFO told TravelSkills. “If the same individual has been given two admonishments, the third offense would lead to a citation. The citation is a notice to appear in court, where a judge would determine the fine, etc. So while this doesn’t affect riders, the fact remains that TNC operations at any airport in California require the specific authorization of that airport.”

Do you use UberX or Lyft to get to the airport? Have you seen a driver get an admonishment yet? Who do you think is going to win…or lose…in this struggle? Please leave your comments below.

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Biz Trip: Denver

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

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

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

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

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AIRPORTS

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

Chevy's new Spark CARS

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

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

In Case You Missed It

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

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

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

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

-Jim Glab

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

M Club Lounge Marriott San Francisco Airport Waterfront (Photo: Marriott)

The M Club Lounge entrance at the Marriott San Francisco Airport Waterfront conveys its hip vibe. (Photo: Marriott)

Is there steak behind Marriott’s M Club Lounge sizzle? The giant hotel chain’s fans have been buzzing about its brand new club room concept, up-and-running now at four properties: San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, New York Marriott East Side, Wichita Marriott, and Marriott Marquis Washington, DC.

Next in the queue is an M Club at the Miami Airport Marriott, set to open in July or August. Each of the four existing clubs is a little different—varying by hours, access policies, or food service, for example.

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What’s the game-plan? Marriott’s John Wolf told TravelSkills the company is testing these lounges as they’re rolled out with a “proof of concept” approach. So, the answer is, “it depends.” It depends on what works in real-life for guests and for the brand. We’ll see if there was steak behind that sizzle of the roll-out rhetoric.

Cheerful seating at the New York Marriott East Side's M Club Lounge (Photo: Marriott)

Cheerful seating at the New York Marriott East Side’s M Club Lounge (Photo: Marriott)

The M Club Lounge concept is described by Marriott as “an exclusive space with premiere services where guests can work, enjoy a bite, recharge and connect.” The rooms provide a variety of seating options to relax or work, whether individually or in a small group. The brand-new Marriott Marquis in Washington, DC even has outdoor seating, an appealing option. Each lounge has a dedicated host, including a concierge, who can help with local recommendations and resources.

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

Of particular note for business travelers is free high-speed Internet and wi-fi printing, data ports, tablets (loaded with newspapers and magazines) and charging stations. Business services, such as computers, phone, fax, scanner and copier, are also available.

A few of the lounges are open 24 hours, which is an interesting idea—especially for those with jet lag, an off-hours flight or plain old insomnia. But hours are determined by location and are being tested by the chain.

Evening appetizers at Wichita Marriott's M Club Lounge (Photo: Marriott)

Evening appetizers at Wichita Marriott’s M Club Lounge (Photo: Marriott)

For the food and beverage side of things—for which biz travelers have high standards—there’s the expected breakfast daily, evening bar service and free appetizers. Aside from the complimentary food, a menu offers food for purchase. There’s also access to snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, including a Starbucks Single Brew Coffee Machine. And it all aims for flexibility: The idea is to provide food for consuming within the lounge, as well as grab-and-go opportunities for those who don’t want to linger.

TravelSkills reader JS from St Petersburg, FL wrote, “We stayed at the Marriott Waterfront Airport near SFO on Sunday night…. they are testing a new concept there I thought you might be interested in. The concierge lounge is now called “M Club” and it was very fancy.  Gourmet food, full service waiter/bartender.  You have to pay for drinks but the food is complimentary and it was fantastic. We had both the appetizers and dessert at night and the breakfast in the morning, nothing like I’ve ever seen before in a Marriott concierge lounge, more like Ritz-Carlton.”

Gold/Platinum Marriott Rewards members receive complimentary access and may bring one guest. For at least one property, the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront, additional guest passes can be purchased for $20 each. Others hotel guests can purchase access (upgrade) to the M Club Lounge when making reservations or upon check-in.  Upgrade prices vary among properties.

Have you experienced an M Club Lounge? What did you think? Do other hotel chains offer something similar that you like? Please leave your comments below. 

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–Nancy Branka

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

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Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Delta's premium economy seat, Economy Comfort (Photo: Delta)

Delta’s premium economy seat, Economy Comfort, is now standard across its fleet (Photo: Delta)

Today Delta rolled out a souped-up version of its Economy Comfort product on transcontinental B757 and B767 flights between New York-JFK and the west coast (Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles).

In addition to standard Economy Comfort bennies like four extra inches of legroom in a seat at the front of the coach section and priority boarding, Delta is offering:

>Free beer, wine and spirits—which is helpful on these 5-6 hour marathon transcons, especially during cocktail hour! :)

Free food on Delta's transcons for Economy Comfort customers (Photo: Delta)

Free food on Delta’s transcons for Economy Comfort customers (Photo: Delta)

>A complimentary Luvo sandwich wrap and a frozen yogurt bar, which helps the hunger pangs on these transcon flights that seem to last forever. (However, the snacks are not available on redeyes departing the west coast after 9 p.m.)

>A sleep kit with an eye mask earplugs, pillow, large bottle of water and blanket (only necessary if you are crazy or desperate enough to take a red-eye.)

High ranking members of Delta’s SkyMiles program (Diamond, Platinum and Gold) as well as those buying more expensive Y, B or M fares get can book the posher Economy Comfort seat for free at time of booking. Long suffering Silver Medallions can pay $49.50 to reserve it at time of booking, or get it for free in the rare instance there are available seats when they check in for their flights.

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These extra bennies should help quell some of the anger Delta created among its elite level flyers when it stopped allowing them to use their complimentary upgrades to ride up front in Delta’s new pimped out flat-bed business elite cabin. These extras make riding at the back of the plane much more tolerable. It also helps Delta compete against sexy Virgin America with it’s Main Cabin Select product that offers extra legroom, a wide selection of free food & booze and dedicated overhead bin space.

Plus, it’s a good way for Delta to try and woo business travelers who may not hold SkyMiles status—regular coach fliers can buy their way into Economy Comfort for $99 each way. (A fee your company should pay if they expect you to work during the flight.)

If you fly out of SFO, SEA, LAX or JFK, does this upgrade make you more likely to try out (or stick with) Delta as the transcon wars intensify? If you’re not in one of those chosen cities, do you feel left out or less important to Delta? Please leave your comments below.

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Chris McGinnis

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

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

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

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

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

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