Most popular: Cheap flights to London | Transcon sale | Free Vegas | Hilton promo | Best Credit Card

Washington DC

What a great week to be in Washington DC on the eve of an election for a Boarding Area conference (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

British Airways adds yet another Bay Area nonstop

Routes: Delta, ANA, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, JetBlue, Alaska

Deal Alert: Transcon fares plummet in December

5 fabulously free things to do in Las Vegas

The view over the Venetian from my room at the Palazzo in Las Vegas (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Don’t miss our post about free things to do in Las Vegas.  (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

17 moments in 17 hours on Singapore Airlines Airbus A350

These two Virgins are splitting up

Delta details plush premium economy plans

How to choose the best travel credit card

New hotels: Minneapolis, Chicago, Silicon Valley, Nashville, Atlanta

10 New device offers drivers a heads-up, hands-free display

Don’t miss: More cheap flights across the Atlantic-KLM, AirFrance, BA

HiltonHHonorsLogo

Hilton HHonors members who book through the HHonors App (get it here) and pay with a Visa credit card for stays during November 2, 2016 – January 31, 2017 will earn an additional 5,000 Bonus Points.  How? Here are the details http://www.HHonors.com/VisaBonus.

hotel hall corridor

REDRUM! We checked out this gorgeous new hotel recently and will write about it this week. Any guesses? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

Post-takeover layoffs begin at Starwood

Marriott installs “like” buttons throughout hotel

A beautiful behind-the-scenes planespotting tour at SFO (Slideshow)

Airlines bump up capacity for bigger Thanksgiving travel crowds

Airlines: Profitable, but worried

Delta rolled out updates to its already awesome app last week. Details included in this short video:

New pet relief rooms in concourses at ATL include fire hydrants

Delta finished Wi-Fi installations on its long-haul aircraft

Study: Most companies’ travel policies don’t cover Uber/Lyft rides on international trips

Uber unveils a big redesign of its app

Hello Gorgeous! New spa for Delta employees at ATL

Judge refuses to throw out price-fixing suit against major U.S. airlines

Lufthansa retires its last 737

Survey: Business travelers are more concerned about maintaining a good work/life balance

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Most popular: Airport construction + Southwest fares + Singapore’s longest flight + United devalues

The view from the United Club at ATL (Chris McGinnis)

Watch out for construction hassles at ATL, SFO and elsewhere (Chris McGinnis)

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

1 Construction zones and more: Airport news: San Francisco, Atlanta, Newark, Philadelphia

Is Southwest really a low fare carrier? Depends on…

3 Don’t accept the first offer! How to inspect your hotel room

4 Cool science An answer to filthy airplane drinking water?

SPG_AMEX_PHOTO_08.04.15

Big news for Marriott Starwood credit card holders; JetBlue, too

6 Finally nonstop to Berlin Airberlin’s new SFO & LAX nonstops to Berlin

United devalues; Delta throws a bone, Chairman resigns

Deal shopping? Go where business travelers don’t

Routes: SFO, LAX, DFW, New Orleans, Orange County, Miami, JFK, Houston

10 Singapore Airlines opens up about newest longest nonstop

Need a new credit card? Scroll up to our “Credit Card Deals” tab at the top to shop around! It helps us help you! 

United Hangar

United installed a basketball court (!) inside its massive SFO hangar to celebrate a new sponsorship (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This week United announced a long-term sponsorship of the Bay Area’s Golden State Warriors basketball team. To celebrate, the carrier installed a temporary branded United-Warriors basketball court (complete with parquet floors and hoops) in United’s SFO Maintenance hangar where over 1,000 employees (and TravelSkills!) watched a dance team, drum corps and a handful of Warriors shoot hoops. As part of this agreement, United will soon have branding in Oakland’s Oracle Arena and, beginning in 2019, inside the new Chase Center, the team’s new arena on the San Francisco waterfront just south of downtown. MileagePlus customers will have the opportunity to use their miles for access to premium seats, suite tickets, VIP experiences and Warriors autographed items.

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

Delta mulling low-frills transatlantic product

United stock surges, but it’s time for airline to deliver

Virgin America’s crazy new first class shoes

San Francisco judge says he’ll block Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America

Earn double points for Enterprise car rentals this winter (reg required)

Washington Reagan National airport to get billion dollar makeover

Airlines testing virtual reality headsets for passengers

A proposed flying taxi- let's go! (Image: Airbus)

A proposed flying taxi- let’s go! (Image: Airbus)

Check out this super cool new “flying taxi” from Airbus (I want one!)

New study sees “sluggish” growth in business travel spending

Uber, Lyft now handle more than half of all ground transportation for biz travelers

Airlines’ on-time arrival rates could drop with inclusion of regional partners

U.S. wants airlines to refund bag fees for delayed returns

Low business class fares attract mileage junkies

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

In the market for a new credit card?

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Big news for big spenders as banks roll out new bonuses and perks (Image: Pixabay)

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Singapore Air opens up about longest nonstop

Singapore Airlines business class

Guests at St Regis gala take a gander at Singapore Air’s newest business class seat (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This week in San Francisco, Singapore Airlines put on a posh gala at the St Regis to celebrate the launch of its newest, longest nonstop flight between San Francisco to Singapore.

SIA will deploy its newest aircraft, an Airbus A350, on the 17-or-so-hour flight, the first of which departs from SFO this Sunday. It’s the first time an Airbus A350 has touched down for commercial service at SFO. Fares for November flights are currently about $800 round trip in economy, $1,800 in premium economy and $4,200 in business class. There are no first class seats on the A350. (TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis will be on the inaugural flight, so stay tuned for his trip report!)

The city’s travel and diplomatic community gathered for a fancy fete where we dined on appetizers, meals and wine served in business and first class on Singapore Airlines flights. On the floor of the event space were two of Singapore’s latest generation business class seats– just like the ones on its new A350– along with a dozen or so “Singapore girls” to assist in transforming the plush leather seat into a nice wide bed for sleeping.

Don’t miss! Chris’s Trip Report from this historic inaugural flight

Singapore Airlines menu

Dinner menu included dishes served onboard Singapore Airlines flights (Chris McGinnis)

Prior to the event, I was able to sit down with Mr. Mak Swee Wah, Singapore Air’s Executive VP – Commercial, to talk about the new plane and the new nonstop flight, which will be the longest in the SIA network. Here are some highlights from our chat:

TravelSkills: What’s so great about the new A350? What will passengers notice about the plane as soon as they walk onboard? How does it differ from the current B777s used on the route? 

Mr Mak: This is the very latest generation twin jet in the market and is much more efficient than other planes. It is perfectly sized [253 passengers] for us to deploy on less dense routes. Singapore-Amsterdam was the first route for our A350s and San Francisco is the latest. The first thing passengers may notice when boarding is how spacious the cabin feels. The shape of the A350 fuselage is such that the side walls are nearly vertical, providing additional shoulder and head space for passengers seated at the windows.   When onboard, passengers will notice the latest generation of our seats in all classes- for example, in business class, they’ll enjoy the third iteration of our new business class seat. The carbon fiber used to construct the plane not only makes it lighter and more efficient, it also helps in pressurization and humidity, which makes flights feel more comfortable and helps prevent jet lag. It also makes inflight food taste better.  Hepa-filters keep cabin air as clean as in hospitals. Plus, the windows on the A350 are larger than on other Airbus planes- so better views, too.

TravelSkills: SIA is using SQ 31 and SQ 32 as the flight numbers for the SFO-SIN nonstop service. Did you all consider giving the new flight the iconic SQ 1 and SQ 2 designation that you now use on the SFO-Hong Kong-Singapore flights?

Mr Mak: There’s a logic to our flight numbers. For example, all the flights to/from the Americas have single or double digits. Since SQ1 and SQ2 were our first flights ever to the US, we want to preserve that history. Our flights to Singapore via Hong Kong are well established and popular, so we don’t want to change a good thing. When I see the numbers 31 and 32, though, it makes me think in Cantonese where numbers can have significant meaning. The number 3 signifies life and the number 1 is something like long-lasting or longevity. So flight #31 could be about long-lasting life. With 32, you have 3 meaning life, and 2 meaning easy or comfortable.  This is not how the company came up with those flight numbers, but it’s a nice way for me to explain them to you and your readers! [Read more about Chinese number superstitions here]

Singapore Airlines execs, Singapore's ambassador to the US, local media and Singapore girls on stage at the St Regis (Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Airlines execs, Singapore’s ambassador to the US, local media and Singapore girls on stage at the St Regis (Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills: What did Singapore Air learn about long distance flying when it ran A340s between Newark and Singapore- an 18-20 hour flight that was then the longest in the world? 

Mr Mak: We flew the Airbus A340 between Newark and Singapore from 2004-2013. It was an all business class flight with just 100 seats. On long flights like that, our service proposition really comes out and we take a three pronged approach offering good seats, good food and good entertainment. On the new A350, we’ll have the latest generation of our inflight entertainment system, which is arguably the best one in the world. We are currently working on expanding flexible dining options on ultra long haul flights so passengers can eat and sleep on their own cycle. [Later in the evening during a speech Mak said:] When we launch New York-Singapore nonstops in 2018 with the new A350ULR [“ultra long range”] we will reclaim the crown of the world’s longest commercial flight. And we’ll make business travelers in New York and Singapore very happy.

Singapore Air Silver Kris lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Airines nondescript SilverKris lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills: Are there any plans to upgrade or enhance the Singapore Air Silver Kris lounge at SFO? 

Mr Mak: We are looking at our options there. We are aware of the complaints from passengers about the facilities and are working on solutions to improve the lounge.

TravelSkills: United is sure to put its Polaris business class on its SFO-SIN nonstop soon. How will SIA compare or compete with that? How will you convince the many hardcore United Mileage Plus members to fly SIA instead? That’s 17,000 miles round trip!

Our schedules, our hard and soft product, our route network and our well-known inflight service all contribute to a very compelling value proposition. We are also a member of Star Alliance, so MileagePlus members can still earn miles when flying on SIA. [Here’s how you’ll earn United miles when flying Singapore Air]

TravelSkills: Will the A350 be able to fly full year-round or will there be weight or passenger limitations? 

Mr Mak: The aircraft can definitely perform on the SFO-SIN flight. However during winter months when winds shift, we will have to carry more fuel and less weight–  fewer passengers, less cargo or a little of both.

See Singapore Airlines A350 microsite for details and a tour of this new bird!

Singapore's long-range A350s will fly non-stop to Los Angeles and New York in 2018. (Image: Airbus)

Singapore’s long-range A350s will fly non-stop to Los Angeles and New York in 2018. (Image: Airbus)

Paul Edwards, the head of Design and Brand Management at Airbus made a speech at the St Regis gala about the new flight and the new plane– here are some interesting nuggets about the A350 that he shared:

>The current version of the plane is the Airbus A350XWB, which stands for Extra Wide Body. At 19.6 feet wide, it’s more spacious than the competing Boeing 787 Dreamliner at 18 feet, 11 inches. The longer range version is the A350ULR which stands for Ultra Long Range, and will be deployed on the New York and Los Angeles runs. [Interesting to note that SFO is closer to Singapore than LAX!]

>The A350 is 25% more efficient than other similar aircraft, which means it burns less fuel per passenger making it “the most environmentally friendly aircraft in the sky”

>The A350 has the largest overhead bins flying– so large that they don’t install them in the center of the plane– which makes it feel much more spacious.

>Cabin air on the A350 is changed every 2-3 minutes and is recirculated through hepa-filters which helps maintain a “fresh smelling” cabin

>There are 12 separate temperature zones on the A350, so rarely will you find hot or cold spots.

>The rate of change in cabin pressure is controlled by onboard computers and gradually increases or decreases during take off and landing, preventing ear-popping.

>Cabin pressure is the same as you’d find at about 6,000 feet on the ground [so about like Denver]. Other aircraft have cabin pressure at about 8,000 feet.

>The A350 is about six decibels quieter than other aircraft, which results in better sleep– and less need for noise canceling headsets.

>In economy class, those obnoxious underseat metal boxes that contain inflight entertainment systems have been removed to provide more legroom.

>New LED cabin lighting has thousands of variations, and they use a blue hue which supposedly helps counteract the effects of jet lag.

Have you flown Singapore Air? Do plan to? Please leave your comments below! 

Don’t miss! Chris’s Trip Report from this historic inaugural flight

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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Airport news: San Francisco, Atlanta, Newark, Philadelphia

San Francisco's Terminal 1 overhaul is leading to some closures. (Image: San Francisco International Airport)

San Francisco’s Terminal 1 overhaul is leading to some closures. (Image: San Francisco International Airport)

In the latest airport developments, San Francisco warns travelers about some upcoming closures; Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson starts work on a major project; an international carrier opens a lounge at Newark Liberty International; and American will adjust its presence at its Philadelphia hub.

At San Francisco International, officials are advising travelers that due to ongoing renovation work in Terminal 1, some facilities and areas there will be closed in the days ahead, possibly resulting in some inconvenience or congestion. On Monday (October 24), the connecting walkway linking Terminal 1 and International Boarding Area A will be closed, so passengers will have to use AirTrain to transfer between those points. Also, the Southwest Airlines ticket counters will move to a new location closer to Delta and Frontier. On the arrivals level, October 21 is the starting date for closure of the traffic lane closest to Terminal 1 from Doors 1 through 10; and on the departures level, closure of the lane closest to Terminal 1 from Doors 1 through 5 starts October 28. Click here to see details and suggested tips for affected passengers. The airport has created a cool video simulation of the reconstruction process for T1. Worth a look but turn down the volume to avoid the Game of Thrones-like soundtrack 😉

Atlanta, ATL canopy

A dramatic new canopy and a new tunnel are part of Atlanta Airports $20 billion in improvements (Photo: ATL)

Preparatory work has begun at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson for the installation of those massive overhead glass canopies above the pickup and drop-off areas outside the domestic terminal. It’s one of the most visible parts of the airport’s ongoing $6 billion expansion and renovation project. The initial stage of the canopy project – construction of the foundations — has led to some lane closures in the area around the terminal. The closures started earlier this month for shuttle and commercial vehicle pick-ups and drop-offs in the outer lanes of Terminal North, and similar closures will begin October 30 at Terminal South.  Airport officials are advising travelers to build in extra time if they’re going into those areas.

Air Canada opened a Maple Leaf Lounge at Newark. (Image: Air Canada)

Air Canada opened a Maple Leaf Lounge at Newark. (Image: Air Canada)

At Newark Liberty International, Air Canada has opened a new Maple Leaf Lounge for premium passengers near its departure gates in Terminal A, beyond the security checkpoint. The facility offers free Wi-Fi, refreshments, and work areas that include free printing. Air Canada operates up to 23 flights a day from Newark (including United code-shares), serving Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver. The airline said it will open a new Maple Leaf Lounge in Montreal next month, and an expanded facility in Vancouver next summer.

American Airlines inherited a hub at Philadelphia International from its merger with US Airways, and it is planning some changes to its operations there in the months ahead. On January 1, American will consolidate its arrival and departure banks – scheduled to maximize connections – from eight a day to six. This will mean rescheduling of flight times in many cases, so if you’re a regular PHL traveler, check AA’s schedules.  The airline also reportedly plans to reduce the number of flights it operates at Philadelphia, although in some cases it will switch from smaller to larger aircraft to minimize the impact on passenger capacity.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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Airberlin’s new SFO & LAX nonstops to Berlin

Airberlin will add Berlin service from San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Image: Airberlin)

Airberlin will add Berlin nonstops using A330-200 from San Francisco and Los Angeles next summer- at decent prices. (Image: Airberlin)

Germany’s second largest airline, Airberlin, will launch new nonstops between San Francisco and Los Angeles and Berlin-Tegel airport four days a week starting next May. This marks the first time for a nonstop to Berlin from the Bay Area. Flight time between SFO and TXL is about 11 hours.

A quick glance at airfares on Google Flights for June and July 2017 show round trips in the $1,300 range in economy– a good price for peak season transatlantic flights. Business class flights are about $3,400 round trip. Airberlin also offers upgrades to XL economy seats with 20% more legroom for about $100 each way. (LAX fares are similar)

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-10-45-01-am

AirBerlin also flies nonstop between San Francisco, LAX and Dusseldorf during summer months. Air Berlin is a member of the Oneworld Alliance and is 30% owned by Etihad Airways. Last month Airberlin announced a radical restructuring that will ultimately lead to more of a focus on business travelers- you can read all about that here: “The new airberlin; analyst presentation”

Airberlin will fly nonstop from eight US cities in summer 2017 to Dusseldorf and Berlin: San Francisco, New York (JFK), Boston, Chicago, Miami, Orlando (new), Fort Myers, and Los Angeles. The airberlin hubs in Berlin and Dusseldorf are conveniently connected with many airberlin destinations in Germany, Europe and beyond.

All Airbus A330-200 operating these flights are equipped with airberlin’s premium long-haul product: 19 seats in the exclusive full flat business class section (1-2-1 configuration) and 271 Economy Class seats, including 46 XL Seats, which offer around 20 per cent more legroom.

Read more about Airberlin’s new business class here.

Air Berlin

Air Berlin’s new lie-flat business class seat (Photo: Air Berlin)

Have you flown Airberlin? Would you? Please leave your comments below. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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SFO flips switch on shapely new control tower

SFO's new 221-foot air traffic control tower will open next summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SFO’s new 221-foot air traffic control tower operational this week (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After more than a year of preparation, air traffic controllers will be working in San Francisco International Airport’s gorgeous new control tower this weekend. 

Rising up in a graceful flare, the new tower is 221 feet tall.  The 650 square-foot controller work area gives air traffic controllers unobstructed 235-degree views of SFO’s runways and taxiways. It replaces the current tower on top of Terminal 2, which will be dismantled quickly beginning in January because it obstructs runway views from the new one.

To celebrate, let’s revisit the behind-the-scenes tour TravelSkills took in 2015 when the airport turned the tower over to the FAA, which spent the last year outfitting the voluptuous, flared cylinder with its systems, testing them and training controllers.

Ready to take a tour? Let’s start at the bottom and move to the top.

Inside the new corridor connecting SFO’s T1 and T2. View from T2 entry. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Part of the tower project was to create a bright new land side corridor (along the roadway) connecting Terminal 1 with Terminal 2. What’s amazing about the corridor is that it has a glass roof so you can stop and peer up at the new tower. Handrails are needed to keep folks from falling over as they crane their necks to view the beautiful new metallic cone. It’s gorgeous, almost hypnotic, and vertigo-inducing to look up at it as the clouds roll by.

The view looking up from the new glass-roofed corridor between SFO T1 and T2 (Chris McGinnis)

The view looking up from the new glass-roofed corridor between T1 and T2- note the waterfall of lights panels facing west (Chris McGinnis)

A new computer controlled display now lights up the tower in a variety of colors, which can be seen from miles away after dusk. Like the Empire State Building or San Francisco City Hall, the new “waterfall of lights” is used for special occasions– orange when the Giants win, or red and green for Christmas, etc.

Inch thick blast-proof glass across the front of the building under the tower (Chris McGinnis)

Inch-thick, blast-proof glass across the front of the building under the tower (Chris McGinnis)

The FAA has offices in a three-story building at the base of the tower, where the exterior and glass walls have been thickened and hardened to prevent damage from truck bombs on the nearby roadway.

The structure is built on “bay mud” according to project manager Tony Kingsman who said that the tower is supported in bedrock 140 below ground, and is designed to withstand an 8.0 earthquake and still be operational.

This is SFO’s fourth control tower. The current one was built in 1981 atop the current Terminal 2, deemed seismically unstable, so construction began on the new tower three years ago.

It cost about $120 million to build the tower, FAA office building and corridor. The FAA kicked in about 70 million of that– enough for a basic, utilitarian structure, but SFO wanted it to be an iconic, torch-like symbol of the gateway to the Pacific, so it contributed an additional $50 million for aesthetics, as well as additional airport space like the new corridor.

HNTB provided the conceptual design of the new structure and it was designed and built by Hensel Phelps and Fentress Architects.

With the new tower open, the old tower will be dismantled quickly so as not to obstruct runway views from the new one. There is talk of the airport adding a outdoor viewing platform, open the the public, in the old tower’s footprint atop T2, but for now, that’s just talk.

Okay then.  Let’s crawl up inside this spectacular structure! Watch this video and scroll through the images and video below.

(NOTE: This video was shot last year before the FAA moved its equipment into the tower.)

Aside from the stunning view, note that US Airways/American is now operating out of Delta's Boarding Area C (Chris McGinnis)

Aside from the stunning view, note that US Airways/American is now operating out of Delta’s Boarding Area C (Chris McGinnis)

First taking an elevator up about 10 floors and then walking up a spiral staircase, you enter a wonderland of planespotting— a full 270 degrees of unobstructed airport views through 24 giant panes of 1-1/2 inch-thick glass. On the western side of the 650-square-foot “cab” there are a few pillars that hold up the roof. I’ve never seen a view like this one.

Looking out from 221 feet over Terminal 2, home of Virgin America and American (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out from 221 feet over Terminal 2, home of Virgin America and American (Chris McGinnis)

 

The tower complex is covered in at least 100 lightening rods grounded by shiny metal cables. Look closely and you'll see them (Chris McGinnis)

The tower complex is covered in at least 100 lightning rods grounded by shiny woven metal cables. Look closely and you’ll see them (Chris McGinnis)

 

Looking out over T3 and the current control tower (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out at the United hangar and (oddly) looking down on the current control tower, which will soon disappear (Chris McGinnis)

 

Installation of air traffic controller stations- there is room for 13 up here, but usually only 6-8 on the job. (Chris McGinnis)

Installation of air traffic controller stations- there is room for 13 controllers up here, but usually only 6-8 on the job. (Chris McGinnis)

 

Looking out at one of two cranes used to clean and maintain the tower exterior (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out at one of two cranes used to clean and maintain the tower exterior (Chris McGinnis)

 

Looking over the parking lot and international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

Looking over the parking lot and international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

 

Air traffic controllers break room is one level below the cab- talk about a room with a view! (Chris McGinnis)

Air traffic controllers’ break room is one level below the cab- talk about a room with a view! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Here's the view from the air traffic controllers break room. Nice! (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s the view from the air traffic controllers break room. Nice! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Your excited TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis pondering a lightening rod on the top of SFO control tower (Doug Yakel)

Your excited TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis pondering a lightning rod on the top of SFO control tower (Doug Yakel)

Here’s a video watching an Air China 747-8 take off from outside the cab.

Take a 360 degree tour from inside the newly outfitted tower here:

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

-Chris McGinnis

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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Love a lie-flat seat? You’ll love this…

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

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

Delta’s announcement this week that it will introduce lie-flat first class seats next spring on a new transcontinental route is just the latest step in a growing expansion of flat-bed front-cabin seats on routes across the country – an expansion largely fueled by JetBlue’s increased commitment to its Mint premium service.

Delta said it will use a 757-200 with flat-bed seats in first class when it starts flying on April 24 between Los Angeles International and Washington D.C.’s close-in, Reagan National Airport (DCA) which is preferred by most with business in the district. (Because perimeter rules limit DCA to just a handful of flights longer than 1,250 miles, Delta said it will drop one of its two daily DCA-Salt Lake City flights, but will begin a new flight from Salt Lake to Washington Dulles.)

The introduction of lie-flat front-cabin seats on domestic flights a few years ago was initially limited to service between the New York area and San Francisco and Los Angeles, where it is now offered by American and Delta out of New York JFK and by United’s “p.s.” service out of Newark Liberty International. When JetBlue rolled out its competing Mint premium cabins with lie-flat seats, it initially did so in those same two transcon markets out of JFK.

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is in Washington DC this week-- flew nonstop SFO-Washington National on Virgin America

Washington National Airport gets lie-flat seats from Delta (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

But Delta has also introduced lie-flat seats on 757-200s between JFK and its growing Seattle hub. And that market has become one of several targeted by JetBlue in a big expansion of its Mint service.

JetBlue recently added the Mint option to its Boston-San Francisco route, and is doing the same on Boston-LAX this fall. And earlier this year, the carrier announced its intention to bring lie-flat Mint seating to even more transcontinental routes, with plans to increase the size of its Mint-equipped A321 fleet from 17 planes to 31 by 2017.

Transcontinental routes that JetBlue has targeted for Mint service expansion in the months ahead include Seattle-Boston, Seattle-JFK, San Diego-JFK, San Diego-Boston, San Francisco-Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles-Ft. Lauderdale and Las Vegas-JFK.

JetBlue has big plans for expanding its Mint service. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue has big plans for expanding its Mint service. (Image: JetBlue)

Two months ago, Delta unveiled plans for new routes out of Boston next year, including twice-daily service to San Francisco with 757-200s. (Although the announcement didn’t specify that these aircraft will have lie-flat front-cabin seating, it seems a safe assumption given JetBlue’s Mint service in that market.) JetBlue then said it will lay on a fourth daily Mint-equipped Boston-San Francisco flight next summer.

Virgin America has a nice premium cabin on its transcon routes, but the seats do not recline fully flat. The airline has talked about refreshing its front cabin, but that has taken a back seat to the impending merger of Virgin and Alaska Airlines. The combined carrier (assuming they are eventually combined rather than remaining as separate brands under common ownership) will have a big stake in transcon Seattle markets as well as SFO-JFK and LAX-JFK. The question is, what will Alaska decide to do with the front cabin product?

Whatever it decides, Alaska is already committed to adding a new Premium Class cabin to its 737-800s, 900s and 900ERs – not just regular coach seats with extra legroom, but an actual premium product with extra amenities and perks, situated between first class and economy.

Will that be the next big battlefield in transcontinental passenger options? How important is a lie-flat seat to you on transcon flights? Please leave your comments below. 

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Deal Alert: Major domestic fall winter fare sale

Southwest Airlines recently painted a 737 based on the Colorado state flag.

Southwest Airlines kicked off a good fall winter sale- including flights to Colorado for ski trips! (Photo: Stephen Keller/Southwest Airlines)

Travel demand and fares always tumble during the slower fall and winter months, and this year is no exception.

Today, Southwest Airlines kicked off the first big late fall and winter fare sale, and I expect other airlines to start matching these low fares in the next 24-48 hours. (see below for links)

So if you felt priced out of peak summer season, take a look at what Southwest has on offer during the “dead weeks” between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and into the cold, dark early winter months.

Southwest kicked it off today with with fares starting at $100 roundtrip. From there, roundtrip fares rise in several steps to around $300. These fares are about $10 more than a similar sale Southwest offered in October 2015.

Sample approximate round trip fares include:

$100: All intra-California and CA-Las Vegas flights, Atlanta-Chicago, Raleigh or Richmond; Washington DC-Boston

$160: SFO/OAK/LAX-Denver, Atlanta-most cities in Florida, New York LGA-Chicago,

$200: SFO/OAK/LAX to Dallas or Denver; Atlanta-Boston, Chicago, Dallas or New York

$260: Houston-PhoenixAtlanta-Los Angeles/Las Vegas; Denver-Atlanta;  New York to Chicago or New Orleans; SFO/OAK-Chicago

$300: Most transcon flights between New York, Baltimore, Atlanta or Boston and LAX, SFO/OAK, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle

Expect other major airlines to match these low fares over the next 24 hours. (We’ll update this page with competitive matches as they roll out…see below). Keep in mind that even with matches, Southwest’s fares are cheaper if you plan on checking baggage- it offers two bags for free.

Don’t miss out on TravelSkills fare alerts! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

Party scene on the roof of the brand new Virgin Hotel Chicago

You can party on the rooftop of the new Virgin Hotel in Chicago this fall or winter (Nancy Branka)

This sale is good for flights during what’s known in the biz as the “dead weeks” when travel demand plummets to annual lows– this means that hotel and car rental costs are also at annual lows, so it’s a great time to take a cheap trip. It’s also a good time to get home and see the family if pricey peak holiday season fares keep you grounded.

For business travelers who have not been able to get out and see clients due to this year’s high fares, this is a great opportunity save by traveling when most folks are staying at home. You can take off for a quick visit just before Christmas or drop by during the cold dark months of January and February.

Details of Southwest’s 72-hour sale:

>Must buy your tickets between now and Thursday, October 6 at 11:59 p.m. (in originating city).

>Travel windows: November 30-December 20; January 4-February 15, 2017

>Not available on Fridays or Sundays (bummer for business travelers or weekenders)

>Black out dates: Christmas/New Years peak season from Thursday December 21- Wednesday, January 4

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

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

Stay tuned for UPDATES: Airlines matching this sale so far include: Virgin America | United | Delta (Dec. only) | JetBlue

–Chris McGinnis

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Deep Dive: United Polaris business class (Part 2 of 3) Food & beverage, lounge

United Polaris

New Polaris serving ware including the death star and the golf ball (Scott Hintz)

This is Part 2 of our Deep Dive series about United’s much anticipated new Polaris business class which will debut in December. The fleetwide rollout is expected to take about three years. In our previous post (Part 1), we focused primarily on the new seat.

In this post we’ll look at the new food and beverage offerings and take a peek at what Polaris business class lounges are all about.

Food and Beverage

United is making a big deal of its partnership with the Charlie Trotter group to come up with restaurant-inspired menus, although there weren’t many specifics in terms of the food that will be served.  It sounds like they partly want to keep it a secret, but also that the food is still being developed and hasn’t been finalized.  But apparently UA will introduce more variety into its menus, offering more regionally-specific meals than in the past.

For example, the airline previously considered China a single region and offered the same menu on all flights departing China, but now realizes that cuisine varies widely from city to city and will offer a different menu from each of the airports it serves in China.  It sounds like the entire U.S. will have the same menu for originating flights, but different food will be offered across various cities for European departures. When I asked about providing healthier options, a spokesperson said that they are definitely keeping that in mind, but couldn’t promise anything specific other than that they will begin offering a fifth entree option on all flights, which will be a salad with a warm protein.

For pre-departure beverages, Polaris will now have an integrated design where a plastic cup will be slid onto a post that’s part of the plate that will feature a welcome-aboard chocolate.  United will be serving real champagne from Pouilly-Fuissé in addition to water and juice choices.

Here are links to Part 1 (The new seat) and Part 3 (Bedding, Service) of this series…

United Polaris

Polaris pre-departure beverage cups and trays (note how they fit together to prevent spills) with welcome-aboard chocolate (Scott Hintz)

In terms of new, unique service features, United will begin offering a bloody mary cart for flights departing before noon. Flight attendants will wheel a cart down the aisle and allow customers to customize their bloody marys — in the words of a United product lead, “if someone wants 10 olives in their drink, they can have 10 olives.”  For flights departing after noon, in lieu of the bloody mary cart, Polaris will feature wine tasting flights.

United Polaris

Something new: A Bloody Mary cart on flights that depart before noon (Photo: Scott Hintz)

For wine selections, the airline says it will focus on offering some up-and-comers who you may not have heard of, in addition to some classics that are more familiar.  But the wine lineup will be consistent across the globe.  So if UA is featuring a Greek “up and coming” wine, that will be offered on all flights around the world.

United Polaris

Wine flights offered on departures after noon (Scott Hintz)

All the serving ware is being updated to be more stylish and incorporate a lot more United branding.  You’ll notice the pixelated globe design from the United logo will show up prominently in the ice cream dish, while more subtle nods to the design will adorn plates and cups.  Linens and glassware all felt upscale. (See photo at top.)

Introducing a little fun on the dinner tray, the salt and pepper shakers are both plastic globes that mimic the United logo design.  United folks jokingly refer to the pepper shaker as the “death star” and the salt as “the golf ball.”  I could see these as being great gifts to take home to loved ones after a big international trip.

United Polaris

Fun salt and pepper shakers dubbed the “death star” and “golf ball.” Notice the United logo design incorporated into salt and pepper as well as the bowls to their left (Scott Hintz)

Finally, United says that flight attendants are being trained much more extensively on the food and wine service so they are more knowledgeable about the offerings.  And they’ve also re-designed some of the service to be more efficient (such as serving the appetizer and salad at the same time on a single tray instead of as separate courses, as is done currently), for a couple of reasons.  First, that should make the meal service go faster and allow passengers more time for sleeping, a top priority of the Polaris experience.  Second, it should free up flight attendant time to spend more effort on new elements like the wine tasting flight, where the crew can chat with customers and tell them the story behind the wine and have it be more of an interactive experience.  Sounds great in theory, but will be interesting to see if this pans out in reality.

Here are links to Part 1 (The new seat) and Part 3 (Bedding, Service) of this series…

Polaris Lounge

Another important component of the Polaris experience involves a new business class lounge that will be offered at nine of United’s largest stations for international flights.  United says they believe they will be the only U.S. carrier with a true business class lounge.

United Polaris Lounge

Bar area in Polaris lounge (Scott Hintz)

The Polaris lounge will include a few features that do stand out from the competition.  First, as previously mentioned, customers can have a sit-down meal with waiter service if they wish to eat prior to the flight, so they can maximize sleep while on board.  There will also be an upgraded buffet of “premium” hot and cold food, although no specifics were given at this time.  The next is a series of sleep rooms that will include chaise lounges and offer a quiet place to relax between flights.

United Polaris Lounge

Polaris dining options include sit-down waiter service and buffet (rendering courtesy United Airlines)

A product spokesperson said that United actually considered adding a spa to its Polaris lounges, but ultimately decided it was a liability because so many customers are disappointed when they can’t get an appointment.  I actually agree with UA, as it’s nearly impossible to get into the British Airways spa as a business class passenger, and I’ve also has challenges when flying Etihad, Virgin Atlantic, and JAL, even as a first class passenger.

While I wasn’t able to see a real-world sample of what the lounges will look like, United was offering a very slick virtual reality tour of them during this press event.  And the virtual tour certainly did make the lounge look great, but I’d reserve final judgement until we see the real thing.

United Polaris Lounge

Sleep rooms in Polaris lounge (rendering courtesy United Airlines)

And speaking of seeing the real thing, the first Polaris lounge will open Dec. 1 at Chicago O’Hare.  There will be 9 lounges in total, including Chicago-ORD, Houston-IAH, Los Angeles-LAX, Newark-EWR, San Francisco-SFO, Washington Dulles-IAD, Hong Kong-HKG, London Heathrow-LHR, and Tokyo Narita-NRT.

That’s it for part two of our Deep Dive series on United’s new Polaris business class. Next up we will look at bedding, amenity kits, inflight service, and more. Come back!

Here are links to Part 1 (The new seat) and Part 3 (Bedding, Service) of this United Polaris Deep Dive series…

This post was written by TravelSkills contributor Scott Hintz. Check out Scott’s other amazing contributions here.

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Routes: SFO, Seattle, Oakland-Rome, JFK, Boston, Montreal, Detroit

China Eastern is using an A330 for its new San Francisco flights. (Image: Airbus)

China Eastern is using an A330 for its new San Francisco flights. (Image: Airbus)

In international route developments, Norwegian hints at Oakland-Rome nonstop; China Eastern adds San Francisco service; China’s Xiamen Airlines comes to Seattle; Delta will add new Europe routes from the East Coast next spring; Air Canada plans a very long haul from Montreal; and Aeromexico will begin a Detroit route.

Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines, a member of Delta’s SkyTeam global alliance, this week kicked off new service to San Francisco from Kunming – the capital of Yunnan Province in southwest China – via a stop in Qingdao, a port city in Shandong Province. China Eastern will use an Airbus A330 and will operate the flight three times a week, with SFO departures on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

A Xiamen Airlines 787 now flies to Seattle from Xiamen (Image: Boeing)

A Xiamen Airlines 787 now flies to Seattle from Xiamen and Shenzen (Image: Boeing)

Another new China route also opened up this week: Xiamen Airlines started service to Seattle from its hometown of Xiamen, operating via a stop in Shenzen. It’s the airline’s first U.S. route (although it also flies to Vancouver) and the first non-stop service between Shenzen and the U.S. The carrier’s future plans include service from Xiamen to Los Angeles and Fuzhou-New York, officials said. Xiamen has inked a partnership pact with Alaska Airlines for easy connections at SEA. It’s also a member of the Delta-led SkyTeam Alliance. The carrier will use a 787 Dreamliner on the route, which operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Rome Colusseum

A new nonstop between the Bay Area and Rome? Hope so! (Photo: Pixabay)

It was really big news when Norwegian Air announced new Oakland-Barcelona and Oakland-Copenhagen nonstops starting next spring. When TravelSkills attended the announcement event at Oakland’s Jack London Square, we snagged a few minutes with Norwegian Air execs. They told us that since they’ve received such a positive reception in the Bay Area, the carrier will soon announce nonstops between Oakland and Paris…. AND that the carrier is looking to add Oakland-Rome and Oakland-Madrid, too! Stay tuned for more details.

Delta will add some new service to Europe next spring. On May 25, Delta will begin daily flights from Boston to Dublin as well as daily service from New York JFK to Lisbon. At the same time, Delta will resume daily flights between JFK and Berlin. The Dublin and Lisbon routes will use 164-seat 757-200s, while the Berlin service will be operated with a 225-seat 767-300, Delta said. Meanwhile, Delta also announced an expansion of its six-month-old code-sharing partnership with India’s Jet Airways. In addition to the existing connections at Amsterdam to Delhi and Mumbai, starting October 30 Delta flyers will also be able to connect via Paris Charles de Gaulle to Jet Airways flights to Mumbai and beyond to 20 other Indian destinations. Delta joint venture partner Air France KLM is also a party to the code-sharing deal with Jet.

Air Canada will put a 787 onto its new Montreal-Shanghai route. (Image: Air Canada)

Air Canada will put a 787 onto its new Montreal-Shanghai route. (Image: Air Canada)

A new route between North America and China will begin on February 16, when Air Canada is due to begin flying once a day from Montreal to Shanghai with a 787-8. It will be Air Canada’s first use of a 787 out of Montreal. Onward connections at Shanghai will be available from Star Alliance partners Air China and Shenzen Airlines, Air Canada said. The carrier plans to begin another ultra-long-haul starting July 1, with three non-stop flights a week between Toronto and Mumbai, using a 787-9. Air Canada hasn’t served that route since 1991. Also on tap for the Canadian carrier: Daily Vancouver-Taipei 787 flights beginning June 8, and three 767-300ER flights per week between Vancouver and Nagoya, Japan, starting June 1.

Aeromexico will add a new U.S. route starting January 10, when it begins flying between Detroit and Monterrey, Mexico. The carrier will use an Embraer 190 for the daily service.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills! )

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

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Inside Delta’s newest SkyClub (Slideshow)

New Delta Sky Club

Over the last two years, you’ve likely seen the huge structure being built atop of Concourse B at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Now you can take a look inside the posh new lounge via the slideshow provided by Delta above. (Hover over image to start show)

The new 25,000-foot space boasts floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views– and when you are up that high, you can get a nice view of the downtown Atlanta skyline.

Delta’s Andrea Robinson has curated a wine selection that is featured at a unique wine wall where guests can request a taste, glass or a flight of wines. A wine ambassador will help you sample just what they’re looking for. (Sounds a lot like what the American Express Centurion Lounge in San Francisco is doing- see post and photos.)

At the bar, you find the standard variety of premium and complimentary options including cocktails, Sweetwater craft beer and Starbucks coffee, freshly brewed or espresso-based drinks from a Swiss coffee maker. (Similar to what we have seen at Delta’s stellar SFO SkyClub which opened last year– see post and photos here.

Delta SkyClub

It almost feels like you are in the ATL control tower when peering out from Delta’s new SkyClub at Concourse B (Photo: Chris Rank, Rank Studios)

Delta says that the food offerings will include locally inspired soups, salads and breads exclusive to the Atlanta B Delta Sky Club. Additional menu items include pasta and rice salads, corn and blueberry muffins, rye rolls and soup toppings, including crispy chickpeas, coconut shavings and croutons. At breakfast, there are locally baked bagels, hard boiled eggs and a yogurt bar with toppings.  Fruit and snacks are offered throughout the day.

This club is second in size only to New York – JFK’s T4 facility. Located on Concourse B near Gate B18, the new space 500 seats and is expected to be the busiest Club in the entire Delta system. Delta’s two original SkyClubs on Concourse B are now closed.

What’s Next for Delta’s SkyClubs? 

  • In mid-October, Seattle’s second Delta Sky Club will open between Concourses A and B, offering another option for global travelers.
  • The renovated Club in Raleigh-Durham is set to open in late November 2016, and will offer additional seats, more accessible power and a new food and beverage area.
  • A new Club expansion is coming to Newark in late 2016, including a redesigned bar and more food options.

What’s your favorite airline lounge? The best Delta SkyClub? Which airline has the BEST clubs overall? Please leave your comments below.

(All photos provided by Delta and Chris Rank of Rank Studios in Atlanta)

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Kicking support animals off planesShocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills! )

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

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Most popular: NYC/SF warning | Cool maps | Doomed jumbos | Credit card question | New SkyClub

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

New Triplex Suites atop the New York Palace hotel have huge outdoor decks w Jacuzzis (Chris McGinnis)

Triplex Suites atop the New York Palace hotel have huge outdoor decks w Jacuzzis. Sweet! But I’m not sure if this is where the President stays. (Chris McGinnis)

Obama

President Obama (Photo: Wikimedia)

Fair warning for New York or San Francisco bound travelers this week: Beware of traffic, sold out restaurants and hotels, long waits for taxis and Uber/Lyft surge pricing. Why? In New York, blame the meeting of the UN General Assembly (which will include a Sunday-Wednesday visit and address by President Obama, which makes traffic even worse). As we’ve reported here on TravelSkills, the President now stays at the Lotte New York Palace hotel (Madison and 50th) which means near constant gridlock in that part of town. When we checked, the few rooms left at the Marriott Marquis on Times Square were running $754 per night. Layer on the additional security in the city due to this past weekend’s bombings, and you have a recipe for for some big travel headaches.

In San Francisco, blame the huge Oracle Open World Conference this week, which fills the city and airports to the gills with techies- and everything is overpriced. Both Sting and Gwen Stefani will have private concerts for attendees. Airports (and airfares) will be most crazy on Sunday (start) and Thursday (end). Hotels are mostly full, but what’s left over is overpriced– like the handful of rooms left at the Hilton Financial District going for $600 per night. Also, since so many attendees extend their visits, both weekends will be pretty crazy. And a reservation at a top SF restaurant? Feggedaboudit! And it’s not over yet! The even larger Dreamforce 2016 conference packs the city similarly– It runs Tuesday Oct 4 – Friday Oct 7, and includes a concert by U2!

Headed to SF? Here are 8 Mistakes Every Traveler Must Avoid in San Francisco!

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

1 Gotta see this: Eye-catching maps explain the state of the world

2 A new way to London: Trip Report: British Airways 787 Dreamliner San Jose-LondonWeekend Edition

3 Bummer! Are double-decker jumbo jets doomed?

4 Comments say “yes!” Would you fly a 737 transatlantic for $69?

Routes: AA, Air India, Cathay, WOW, Air Canada, Royal Air Maroc + more

Airport news: LaGuardia, Atlanta, Heathrow, Chicago Midway, Nashville

7 And the answer is… The 100,000 points question

Gorgeous light thru new stained glass inside the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Gorgeous light in Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral. A must-see on any trip to Barcelona, even if you’ve seen it before- because it’s always changing (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

8 New nonstop to Spain Bay Area to Barcelona, nonstop, $199 + more low fares to Europe

9 More than a facelift in La-La Land: An amazing upgrade for LAX- in pictures

10 Most drink more on trips than at home Are you a boozy traveler? 

Last year CNN dropped by for some advice about traveling to the Bay Area– see this video to find out what Chris had to say.

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

Details on Delta’s new SkyClub at ATL Concourse B

Another VERY easy 500 points from Virgin America

Apple headphone changes: a problem for airline inflight entertainment

American Airlines Assisted ‘Sully,’ But Won’t Show the Movie on Its Planes

Cathay Pacific pilot attempts round-the-world flight in home-made plane

The spa at Virgin Atlantic's London Heathrow Clubhouse (Photo: Josh Friedman)

The spa at Virgin Atlantic’s London Heathrow Clubhouse (Photo: Josh Friedman)

There’s a downside to Delta’s consolidation at London Heathrow T3

New Delta CEO has a vision for Salt Lake City hub

UberX Lyft make progress at ATL, but legal rides still months off 

American starts renovating cabins of its international 757-200s

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines specialty aircraft, named Missouri One—a Boeing 737-700, in Kansas City, Mo. (Photo: Ashlee Duncan, Southwest Airlines)

Southwest Rewards elites can now fly standby for same-day flights

Uber tests self-driving  cars in Pittsburgh

Hyatt rebrands three of its U.S. properties as Hyatt Centrics

Chris McGinnis water Lake Tahoe

Do you follow Chris on Instagram? Come on! CLICK THE PIC. It’s fun! (Photo at Lake Tahoe)

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | More Delta SkyMiles for Asian tripsTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | JetBlue-Delta slugfest means lower fares | Test your planespotting skills! )

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Trip Report: British Airways 787 Dreamliner San Jose-London

British Airways business class club world

A middle seat that’s actually preferred? Yep! On British Airway’s 787 nonstop between San Jose and London (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Trip Summary

  • BA’s new San Jose (SJC) – London Heathrow (LHR) nonstop offers its standard (if a little long-in-the-tooth) Club World experience. It’s a solid product that hits all the basics, including a flat bed that’s decent for sleeping on the 11 hour flight
  • The new 787-9 Dreamliner BA flies on this route is terrific in that it’s new, offers features that help provide a better night of sleep and reduce jetlag and fatigue, and has a 2-3-2 layout including a middle seat that’s actually preferred by some solo business travelers
  • A very unusual take off pattern from SJC (see below)
  • A smaller, simpler airport (than nearby SFO) and later departure time make this flight a very convenient option for Bay Area travelers, especially those located in Silicon Valley and the larger South Bay. Mineta San Jose International Airport is about 40 minutes south of SFO, depending on traffic.
  • Nonstop, roundtrip fares from SJC to LHR this fall are in the range of $1,100 to $2,400 in economy; $1,500 to $2,600 for premium economy; $6,500 to $9,000 in business; and $8,000 to $15,000 for first.  These fares are roughly the same as similar nonstop BA flights out of SFO. (NOTE: British Airways is currently offering upgrades to First for those paying certain business class fares and flying before Dec 23 2016.) 
Scott Hintz

TravelSkills contributor Scott Hintz prepared this Trip Report

Flight Details:

BA 278 SJC to LHR | July 20, 2016 | Club World (business class) | Seat 13K

This flight was provided by British Airways so that Travelskills could review the new route from San Jose to London.  However, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Background

British Airways launched this new route from San Jose to London in early May of this year.  This is BA’s first time serving the San Jose airport and is the airline’s fourth destination in California (SFO, LAX, and SAN are the others).  For Bay Area travelers, the SJC flight complements BA’s existing twice-daily flights to SFO, currently flown on an A380 and a B777.  The San Jose flight is operated by the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which is a relatively new aircraft for BA.  The flight currently departs SJC at 8:05pm and arrives at London Heathrow the next day at 2:15pm.  The return flight from LHR departs at 3:20pm and arrives the same day at SJC at 6:10pm.

BA is one of several new long-haul international flight options that have opened up at SJC recently.  Lufthansa recently started service to Frankfurt, Germany, while ANA now flies nonstop to Tokyo (Narita) and Hainan Airlines flies directly to Beijing.  Last month, Air China began nonstop service to Shanghai.

SJC Airport Experience

The first thing you notice upon arrival at Terminal B at SJC, where BA is located, is how much smaller and easier to navigate it is than SFO. BA had several check-in lines open and it was easy to get through quickly.  

San Jose SJC

British Airways ticket counter at San Jose Airport (Scott Hintz)

After check-in, I headed to security, which was also very quick.  While SJC does offer TSA Pre-Check, only a small number of international carriers (Air Canada, Aeromexico, Etihad, Lufthansa and WestJet) participate, and unfortunately British Airways isn’t one of them at this point.  Thankfully, there was a dedicated line for first and business class customers and it was short and moved quickly.

Terminal B at SJC is modest in size, but is modern, open, and airy, with plenty of shops and restaurants. After clearing security near gate 27, I had to walk almost the entire length of the terminal to get to BA’s gate 18, and even further through a connector to terminal A to get to gate 15, where the lounge is located. (A nice workout before a long flight, right?)

San Jose SJC Brit Pub

British pub restaurant near the BA gate — coincidence? (Scott Hintz)

 

San Jose SJC Jamba Juice

Terminal B at San Jose Airport (Scott Hintz)

 

San Jose SJC Connector

Connector from Terminal B to Terminal A at San Jose Airport (Scott Hintz)

 

San Jose SJC Pet Relief

People traveling with pets will appreciate the pet relief area conveniently located right within the terminal! (Scott Hintz)

Lounge

At SJC, British Airways (and almost all other carriers) use a shared contract lounge called The Club at SJC, located near gate 15.  Upon entry, I presented my business class boarding pass and was admitted right away.  

The Club at SJC

The Club at SJC in Terminal A at San Jose Airport (Scott Hintz)

 

The Club at SJC San Jose

Airlines using The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

Club at SJC lounge

Reception desk at The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

I arrived at the lounge around 5:30pm, well in advance of our 8:05pm departure, but the lounge was already pretty busy.  The lounge was light and spacious with nice views, one side looking out toward San Jose and the other looking onto the runway.  There are two main rooms, one being more quiet as it’s designated as a cell-phone free zone, whereas the other one contains the buffet, bar, and cafe.  The food selection at the buffet was pretty lackluster, consisting of pretty standard snacks you’d find in a domestic U.S. lounge from AA, UA, or DL — crudite, cheese and crackers, mixed nuts, popcorn, chips, fruit.  In addition, there was a very limited selection of cut pieces of sandwiches, although they didn’t look very appealing.  There’s a full bar with an assortment of beer, wine, and spirits, in addition to a self-serve soda machine and small bottles of water.  Wifi in the lounge was free and seemed to work well with fast speed and a reliable connection.  Power ports were also plentiful among the seating.  Finally, the bathrooms in the lounge were a weak spot as they are small and outdated and weren’t very clean at the time I visited.  There is a separate room where you can shower, although it was in use, so I couldn’t see inside it.

Club at SJC San Jose

The “quiet” room in The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

Club at SJC

The main (non-quiet) room of The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

Club at SJC

Bar at The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

Buffet club at SJC

Food selection at The Club at SJC (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways San Jose

View of the tarmac from The Club at SJC — our aircraft taxiing to the gate after arriving from London (Scott Hintz)

Boarding

The flight had a posted delay of five minutes, seemingly due to a late arrival of the inbound aircraft from London.  Even when running on schedule, the plane has just under two hours on the ground at SJC, which is pretty quick for a plane of this size — impressive that BA was almost able to keep us on schedule even with a late incoming aircraft!  I headed down to the gate at the original boarding time and found it to be very busy with nowhere to sit.  The gate areas in this terminal are pretty snug, so boarding a larger plane like the 787-9 definitely maxes out the waiting area.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a long wait before boarding began.  BA allowed a lot of time for pre-boarding and a number of people took advantage of that, including a surprising number of families with small children.  The joys of traveling in the summer!  General boarding followed the expected sequence of priority boarding by class and elite status and went very smoothly.  

SJC flight attendants

Crew arriving at the gate for the flight to LHR (Scott Hintz)

Settling In

First impressions once on board were good.  Being a new plane, everything looked clean and shiny — and the large windows on the 787 did a nice job of lighting up the interior so it was bright and welcoming.  This plane is configured with all four classes of service — First, Club World (business), World Traveller Plus (premium economy), and World Traveller (economy).

The first class cabin consists of two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration for a total of 8 seats.  BA’s first class seat has beautiful finishes and looks great, although the seat itself is compact and limited in privacy.  Many travelers call BA’s first class “the best business class out there,” given that the seat is similar to what you find in business on airlines like AA (777-300), DL (A330), Cathay Pacific, etc.  But it’s nice that BA at least offers a first class cabin on the SJC route, as the smaller 787-8 only offers business class.

British Airways First 787-9

First class cabin on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways First

First class cabin on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Business class consists two rows in a “mini-cabin” directly behind first class, then another four rows in a larger cabin just past the lavs and galleys.  Seats are arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration with the seats against the windows, as well as the center seat in the middle 3-across section, facing backwards.  This is a familiar layout to anyone who has flown BA in business before and it’s essentially the same seat BA has been flying for quite a while.  What’s somewhat nice about the 787 is that the middle section only has three seats, so the middle seat is all by itself and offers a lot of privacy for a solo traveler.  On other BA widebody aircraft, the middle section has four seats, including two coupled together in the middle — great for a couple traveling together, but far too intimate for two strangers who happen to be seated next to each other!

British Airways 787-9 middle seat

A very private middle seat in business class on BA’s 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways Club business class 787

Club/business cabin on BA 787-9

 

British Airways 787-9 (SeatGuru)

British Airways 787-9 layout (SeatGuru- CLICK for page)

I took a quick look in the premium economy cabin, which felt nicer than I was expecting.  It’s definitely a big step up from the “economy plus” type of extra-legroom seating that most of the U.S. carriers offer, with seats feeling a lot more like what domestic U.S. airlines have in first class. Finishes were nice, legroom looked good, and I like that you have a footrest to take the pressure off your legs on a long flight.  The cabin is in a 2-3-2 layout, as opposed to the 3-3-3 layout in economy, so the premium economy seat is wider in addition to the extra 6 or 7 inches of legroom.

British Airways World Traveler Plus 787-9

“World Traveller Plus” premium economy cabin on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

British Airways World Traveler Plus premium economy 787

“World Traveller Plus” premium economy seat on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways economy class 787

Seats configured 3-3-3 in British Airways World Traveler (economy) section (Scott Hintz)

Back in the Club/business cabin, I took my seat.  Waiting there was a blanket and pillow, along with a pair of noise-canceling headphones. After a few minutes, a flight attendant stopped by to offer me a pre-departure drink and a menu for the food service on the flight.  Later, another flight attendant came by distributing amenity kits.  The business class amenity kit on BA is nothing spectacular, but it offers all the basics and I happen to quite like the Elemis products it contains.  It all comes in a somewhat unusual sack that feels a little like a shoe bag — I’ve never really understood why the bag is so large when you unfold it, as it doesn’t seem particularly useful for any other purpose.  The kit contains earplugs, a pen, hand lotion, facial cream, lip balm, toothbrush/toothpaste kit, socks, and an eye mask.  As I finished inspecting the kit, the safety video played and we began preparing for departure.  At this point, I noticed that the business cabin was roughly three-quarters full, so there were plenty of empty seats where you could grab an extra blanket or pillow.  Which was handy, because the pillow BA offers is on a the small and thin side, so definitely try to grab an extra if you can.  I find the blanket to be quite large and just the right balance between being warm while not overly bulky or hot.

British Airways Champagne

Pre-departure beverage in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways amenity kit

Amenity kit in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways menu business class

BA business class menu (Scott Hintz)

The Seat

The BA business class seat was revolutionary when it was introduced in the 1990s as it offered a flat bed at a time when that was only found in first class. Today, the BA seat lags the competition, but it gets the job done.  Given the 7-across seating on an aircraft where many other airlines only have 4-across, it’s definitely snug in terms of width.  But it does recline into a fully-flat bed that I find sufficient for sleeping, which is perhaps the most important criteria for a business class seat.  And if you can get one of the window seats, or that single middle seat in the center section, then you also have a fair amount of privacy.  I would definitely try to avoid any of the four aisle seats, if at all possible.  However, the downside of the window/middle seats is that you have to step over the feet of the person next to you if they happen to be reclined at the time.  I don’t find it that hard to do and it’s worth the tradeoff to have more privacy, so I definitely prefer the window/middle seats.  If you choose seat 13K on this flight, the window in the last aisle of business, you get the bonus of unimpeded aisle access, since there is nobody in the row behind you that you need to step over.

With the alternating forward/backward seat layout, there is a privacy partition between seats that you can move up or down.  If you’re flying with someone, it’s actually a nice feature as you are essentially looking at each other face-to-face if you have the divider down.  But if you are traveling alone, it can certainly be a bit awkward to have a stranger sitting there looking right at you!  (The partitions must be in the down position for take off and landing, too. Hello, neighbor!)

The seat controls are simple and intuitive, allowing you to easily recline into a lounging position or go all the way flat for sleeping.  There’s a controller for the entertainment system that you can detach from the wall and use in your hands, or you can just reach out and touch the monitor, which I find easier than pressing small buttons on the controller.  The video screen itself is on the small side at roughly 10.5 inches.  There are two power ports for charging devices, including a versatile plug that can accommodate USB or many common plugs, including U.S. style.  The screen pops out from the wall of the pod, but it must remain stowed during taxi, takeoff, and landing, so you can’t watch programs gate-to-gate.  Beneath the monitor is the meal tray, which also pops out from the wall of the pod.  Finally, you have a decent-sized storage drawer near the floor with plenty of room for devices, amenity kit, headphones, etc.

One last noteworthy feature of the seat is the window.  As is standard for the Dreamliner, the windows are clearly larger than other aircraft, making for some great views and providing generous sunlight.  There’s also the standard button for electronically dimming the window.  It worked fine for me, and this seems to be a feature that some people like and others don’t.  I’m indifferent, although I didn’t love the fact that it took almost a full minute for the window to completely darken when I was ready to go into sleep mode.

British Airways business class 787

Business class seat, BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways Club divider

This is what it’s like looking into the facing seat with the divider down on British Airways Club (Scott Hintz)

 

Seat controls business class British Airways

Seat controls in business class on British Airways B787 (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways 787 windows

Electronically-dimmed windows on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

Power ports on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Power ports on BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

 

Business class storage drawer on the BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Business class storage drawer on the BA 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

The Flight

Takeoff consisted of a zigzag pattern out of the Bay Area and afforded for some incredible views as the sun was setting.  

Unusual akeoff pattern from SJC airport (Scott Hintz)

Unusual akeoff pattern from SJC airport (Scott Hintz)

 

San Jose 787 wing

Beautiful views of Silicon Valley departing the Bay Area at sunset, including the gorgeous wing of the 787-9- note the curve! (Scott Hintz)

Shortly after takeoff, I perused the entertainment selection of the on-demand system.  It had a fairly typical assortment of movies, including many newer releases, TV shows, music, games, etc.  Menus were easy to figure out and the system was quick and responsive.  I watched Zoolander 2, which was really funny and much better than expected!  Unfortunately, this aircraft, and all aircraft in the BA fleet, currently do not offer WiFi — although they have recently announced plans to start adding super-fast WiFi to their transatlantic fleet in 2017.

Zoolander

Seatback entertainment options – I chose Zoolander 2 (Scott Hintz)

Flight attendants came around with hot towels and then came back to offer drinks and nuts.  The nut mix was in a package, as opposed to the warm nuts in a ramekin that AA and some others provide, but they were still tasty.

Post-takeoff drinks and packaged nuts in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Post-takeoff drinks and packaged nuts in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Meal service then began with a choice of starters, a salad, and fresh warm bread from a basket.  It seemed a little strange that one of the two starter choices was a salad, meaning that if you select it, you have a starter salad and also a separate salad course before the main entree.  But both salads were very good, consisting of fresh ingredients that tasted good and which were attractively plated.

Starter salad and separate salad course in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Starter salad and separate salad course in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

For the main entree, you had a choice of filet of beef, Atlantic salmon, Pappardelle pasta, or yet another salad.  Yes, it’s possible to have three salads in a single meal, perhaps a nice option for those who avoid meat.  I had the salmon, which didn’t look so great with the liquidy sauce and fairly monochromatic pallet, but it actually tasted pretty good.  I’ve often had fish on a plane that is overcooked and dried out, but this one was moist and seemed fresh.  Dessert consisted of only one choice, a cheesecake brownie, which was good, or you could opt for a cheese plate.

Salmon dinner entree in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Salmon dinner entree in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Service was complete around two hours into the flight, which seems pretty typical.  For a flight that departs at 8pm, I would expect that most people would want to sleep pretty quickly, so it would be nice if BA offered either a pre-flight dining option or some kind of express meal service on board the plane.  Still, finishing service around 10:30pm San Jose time is pretty reasonable in terms of people then sleeping at a normal bedtime.  The crew dimmed the lights after service was complete and it seemed like most people slept for a majority of the remaining seven hours of flight time.

The crew was active during the meal service, but then you rarely saw them after that.  I think that’s a good thing, as the cabin stayed nice and quiet for sleeping.  Flight attendants throughout the flight were professional and efficient, although they weren’t particularly warm or chatty.  Nobody addressed me by name or struck up conversation or anything else to go above and beyond performing their required duties.  Again, I think that’s perfectly fine, especially for business class.  I certainly did not encounter any crew members who were cold or rude in any way.

While the cabin was dark, it remained quiet and there was minimal traffic up and down the aisles.  This is also the point of the flight where I could really feel the differences of the Dreamliner, namely the more humid air and the higher pressurization.  Even after five hours of flight, I didn’t have the normal altitude headache or dried out skin and airways that I normally feel on a long haul flight.  This benefit was felt for the duration of the flight and my body definitely felt much better the day after the flight, as well.  This alone makes me a big fan of the Dreamliner to the point that I would seek it out for future long-haul flights, if available.

BA offers a “club kitchen” area within the galley where you can stop for a snack or drink if you have a craving during the night.  The selection is modest, but comes in handy when you just want something quick and simple without any hassle.  

The lavatories in business class are basic, but functional.  Unlike the A380, which offers some very large lavs, they are quite small on the 787-9.

Lavatory in BA business class on the 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Lavatory in BA business class on the 787-9 (Scott Hintz)

Around 90 minutes prior to landing, the crew began breakfast service.  An assortment of beverages was offered, including coffee, tea, fruit juice, and a smoothie, followed by choice of fruit plate or greek yogurt.  Flight attendants also came around with a pastry basket before serving the entree, which was a choice of a full English breakfast, an asparagus and mushroom frittata, a continental breakfast of cheese and eggs, or a hot breakfast sandwich.  I had the frittata, which was surprisingly good.

Fruit plate breakfast starter in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Fruit plate breakfast starter in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

 

British Airways Breakfast

Asparagus and mushroom frittata breakfast entree in BA business class (Scott Hintz)

Arrival

After breakfast, the crew prepared the cabin for landing.  The approach to Heathrow was routine and we were at our gate in T5 a few minutes early, despite our slightly delayed departure.  We disembarked from the forward door, and even though I was in the last row of business class and had to walk to the front of the plane, I was off the plane within 10 minutes of arrival at the gate.

Since I was connecting onward to Germany, upon leaving the plane I followed the clearly marked signs for connections and took advantage of the Fast Track lane offered to BA first and business class passengers.  Heathrow T5 is notorious for long, slow security lines, but this was one of the better times I’ve passed through there.  It took roughly 20 minutes to completely clear security, allowing me a quick visit to the BA Galleries Lounge before proceeding to my connecting gate.  The lounge is very large (and there are two separate business class lounges within the main T5 terminal) and has a wide variety of snacks, drinks, full buffet of hot food options, free wifi, bathrooms, and showers. The lounge was busy, but not packed, during this visit, so it was easy to find seating and an empty power outlet to charge up my electronics.  

I love that BA has an Elemis Spa within their lounge in T5 and business class passengers are entitled to a free treatment, with a choice of a few quick, basic therapies such as shoulder massage or facial.  However, in my experience, open appointments tend to be scarce.  While I didn’t really have enough time on this short connection to enjoy a service regardless, on my return flight I had a 3.5-hour layover in T5 and the spa didn’t have a single appointment available during that lengthy interval.  Too bad, because in the past when I have been able to get an appointment, that quick shoulder massage can do wonders for the body.

Summary

This was a solid business class experience on BA.  The flight itself was pretty routine with the standard BA seat, food, entertainment, etc. The crew was good and, while not standing out as particularly engaging, performed their duties and took good care of passengers.  

However, the Dreamliner aircraft was a definite plus as it’s new and quiet and is easier on the body with improved air and pressurization. That alone would be a good reason to take this flight on a long-haul trip to Europe relative to competitive offerings with other carriers. Add in the benefits of the easy-to-navigate San Jose airport and a later departure time that allows for a full day of work prior to the flight and, for many, an easier time sleeping after the meal service, and this new BA flight is a great new option for Bay Area travelers.

Have you flown BA from San Jose? Would you? Please leave your comments below.

(This Trip Report was prepared by TravelSkills contributor Scott Hintz. Be sure to see what wrote about his recent experience on Japan Airlines, too.)

Note: British Airways covered the cost of air travel on this trip. The write covered the cost of hotels, meals, transfers and other related expenses. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | More Delta SkyMiles for Asian tripsTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | JetBlue-Delta slugfest means lower fares | Test your planespotting skills! )

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Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water

WOW Air

Welcome onboard! We charge $3 for a bottle of water, okay? (Photo: WOW Air)

Over the last few years, travelers welcomed a new type of airline known as “ultra-low-cost carriers” or, in travel industry parlance, “ULCCs.”

You may have never heard of many of these airlines, but they are a key reason we’ve seen airfares come down this year. When a ULCC enters a market, major airlines usually pay attention and lower fares accordingly.

Domestically, ULCCs include Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit Airlines. European ULCC’s include include WOW Air and Ryanair. Norwegian Air acts like a ULCC, but considers itself a low-cost, high frills carrier along the lines of JetBlue or Virgin.

Have you flown on an ultra-low-cost carrier yet? What did you think?

While ULCCs have been around a while, I still frequently hear from readers who are shocked SHOCKED to discover all the extra fees that come with those ultra-low fares. This include nearly everything from drinks and meals to carry-on bags and advance seat selection. Some even charge to print a boarding pass if you did not do it at home.

Here’s one of the most recent reader letters. Take a read and let me know what you think. Is it okay for a ULCC to charge for a bottle of water? Please leave your comments below.

Dear Mr. McGinnis,

As an expert traveler, blogger, and columnist who has written extensively about traveling and has been an advisor to frequent travelers at SFGATE, you were the person I thought of, who could address in your columns the risks of flying with a low-cost airline.

I would like to share with you my experience regarding a recent flight that I took on August 23rd on a low-cost carrier called WOW airlines, an Icelandic airline (wowair.com) from San Francisco to Paris. I decided to fly on this airline because the cost of the ticket was a lot cheaper than on other airlines ($760 round trip + $77 to check a bag). At the time,  I was aware that flying with WOW meant that items such as food and beverages were not complimentary. [Currently, WOW Air is promoting fares as low as $440 roundtrip between SFO and Iceland for fall trips. From the east coast, fares are as low as $239 round trip. That is CHEAP!]

I have experienced this when traveling on other low-cost airlines in Europe such as EasyJet. I didn’t mind this, seeing as the duration of the flights were usually short, i.e. no longer than three hours.

However, I had assumed that on longer flights, the airline would provide passengers with food and beverages free of charge. I was stunned when I discovered that on the first leg of the flight from San Francisco to Keflavik, the main airport in Iceland, food and beverages were not complimentary. This was after all an 8-hour flight! I believe that flights that are transatlantic and longer than six hours, should provide at least some food to their passengers.

Wow Air offers roundtrip fares as low as $440 between SFO and Iceland

Wow Air offers roundtrip fares as low as $440 between SFO and Iceland

While I wasn’t thrilled about this, I told myself that this is the way low-cost airlines work. If I pay less, then, this is to be expected.

What I did not expect was having to pay for water on this flight! I had taken a water bottle with me and had drunk all of it. When I asked if I could refill my water bottle, the flight attendant came back with a water bottle and a portable credit card machine. She told me that it cost three dollars to buy the water bottle.

I was shocked. How could they charge for water? It’s a basic need! Plus, the cost was ridiculously high for a water bottle. I told her that I just wanted to fill the bottle with water, but she replied that they only had water bottles.

Related: What’s it like to fly Norwegian Air? 

I refused to pay. This was really beyond the pale. How could a flight not have water readily available to its passengers? What if there was an emergency and a passenger needed to drink water ASAP? Would they charge him/her, too? Because I didn’t want to pay for water, I didn’t drink anything for several hours until I arrived in Paris.

When I came home, I wrote to the airline to inform them that I was very displeased with the fact that they charge for food and beverages, especially water on an 8-hour transatlantic flight. Soon after I wrote them, I looked at reviews of the airline online only to discover that it received scathing reviews due to poor customer service and its tendency to lose luggage, have significant delays, and be unavailable or unhelpful to passengers when they needed information about their flight.

I received yesterday a reply from WOW. Here it is:

Replied on Thursday August 25th:

Dear L,

Thank you for getting in touch with us. We are firm believers in the business model “you pay for what you use”. We are a low-budget airline so all extra services are not included in the ticket price and come for an additional charge.

We believe it’s unfair for our guests to pay for something they have no intention of using. That is why you are allowed to choose what you pay for, you do not pay for anything you do not use.

Feel free to write back should you have any more questions!

Have a nice day.

Kind regards,
Briet
WOW air

I found this answer unacceptable and appalling. As a result, I deemed it important to inform the community of travelers about this airline and its treatment of its passengers. By sharing our stories with travel experts and advisors, we can show that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and, in my view, amoral. I believe that low-cost airlines should be held accountable for the way they operate and treat their passengers.

Thank you very much for having taken the time to read this.

Kind regards,
LG

So readers, what do you think? Is it okay for an ultra-low-cost carrier to charge $3 for a bottle of water? Would you pay for it?

Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

This post originally appeared on Chris’s SFgate blog, The Frequent Travel Adviser. The post has attracted more than 300 comments and was the most popular post on SFgate two days this week. 

(We’re back from summer vacation! In case you missed our other recent round-up posts, here they are: Domestic Routes RoundupTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | August’s most important travel news)

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What Delta, Korean Air fence-mending means for SkyMiles

Korean Air KAL 747 747-8

Soon it will be much easier to earn Delta SkyMiles on Korean Air flights like the new 747-8 flying SFO-Seoul (Image: Korean Air)

Delta frequent flyers will get a lot more opportunities to earn and burn Delta SkyMiles on trips to Asia starting later this year. The carrier is planning a big expansion of its code-sharing partnership with Korean Air, followed next year by the addition of a new Delta flight from Atlanta to Seoul Incheon.

This is great news for flyers affected by the previously chilly relationship between the two SkyTeam partners which greatly diluted (or eliminated) the ability to earn Delta SkyMiles (including MQMs) when flying Korean Air. When Delta places its code on Korean Air flights, you buy the ticket from Delta, which means that you earn SkyMiles just like any other Delta flight. But when you get to the airport, you board a Korean Air flight.

Delta and Korean Air have been partners in the SkyTeam global alliance since it was founded 20 years ago. But that partnership got a little rocky in recent years when the two carriers could not agree on a potential joint venture.

With the big code-share expansion, subject to government approvals, Delta’s code will go onto Korean’s flights from San Francisco and Houston to Seoul, and on Korean Air flights beyond Seoul to 32 Asia destinations including Taipei, Osaka, Singapore, Nagoya, Okinawa and others.  Korean will put its code onto Delta’s new Atlanta-Seoul flights and on Delta flights beyond Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York to 115 destinations in the U.S. and Canada.

Related: Trip Report- Korean Air Boeing 747-8 SFO-Seoul

The Delta-KAL codeshare lets you buy a ticket from Delta, but fly KAL (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The Delta-KAL codeshare lets you buy a ticket from Delta, but fly on KAL metal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Combined, Delta and Korean will offer round-trip connectivity to 142 destinations in the Americas and 33 destinations across Asia between their joint Atlanta-Seoul schedules,” the airlines said.

Delta said its new ATL-Seoul flight — set to launch on June 3 of next year using a 291-seat 777-200LR – will complement Korean Air’s existing daily service in the market. The flight will have 37 Delta One seats, 36 in Delta Comfort and 218 regular economy seats. Korean’s ATL-Seoul flight uses a 777-300ER with eight seats in First Class, 42 in Prestige business class and 227 in economy. The Delta flight will depart Atlanta at 1:05 p.m.; Korean’s flight leaves Atlanta at 12:20 p.m.

If you had to chose Delta or KAL to fly to Asia, which would you pick? Why? Please leave your comments below. 

(We’re back from summer vacation! In case you missed our other recent round-up posts, here they are: Domestic Routes RoundupTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | August’s most important travel news)

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Bay Area to Barcelona, nonstop, $199 + more low fares to Europe

Barcelona El Prat's big bright and gorgeous international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

Barcelona El Prat airport’s big bright and gorgeous international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

Norwegian Air will add the Bay Area’s first nonstop service to Spain when it launches Oakland to Barcelona flights next summer. Introductory economy fares on the route are as low as $199 each way, including all taxes and fees. Norwegian has announced that it will also add new nonstops between Oakland and Copenhagen in March (starting at just $179 each way), with both routes using its fleet of new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

The schedule is a little thin, though– flights to Barcelona and Copenhagen from OAK will run only twice per week during the peak summer months.

This expansion makes it clear that Bay Area travelers are responding well to Norwegian Air’s low-fare, low-frills service. With Barcelona and Copenhagen, Norwegian now flies to five cities in Europe from Oakland. (It does not offer service from SFO or San Jose). With the addition of these new flights, Oakland will become California’s third major gateway to Europe, beating out San Diego.

In addition to Oakland, Norwegian will offer nonstops to Barcelona from Los Angeles (starting June 5 2017), Newark and Ft Lauderdale. Oakland to Barcelona starts on June 7, 2017; Copenhagen starts March 28.)

Norwegian will fly a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Oakland, Oslo and Stockholm next year.

Norwegian Air will fly a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Oakland and Barcelona next year. (Photo: Oakland International Airport)

This low-cost carrier flew into the Bay Area in two years ago with nonstops to Stockholm and Oslo from Oakland. Then earlier this year, it added nonstops from Oakland to London-Gatwick. Gatwick (LGW) is 28 miles south of central London but still convenient–the easy 30-minute, approximately $30 Gatwick Express will whisk you from the airport to Victoria Station in the heart of the city.

Don’t miss: Trip Report: Oakland>London Gatwick on Norwegian Air

On its 787 Dreamliner, it only offers seats in economy class (259) and premium economy class (32). All premium economy seats offer in-seat power outlets if you want to stay up and work across the pond. Norwegian refers to its premium economy seats as simply, “Premium.” Premium fares to Barcelona will start at $1698 round trip. Plus in-flight wi-fi is free on its intra-Europe flights.

Take a look at how Seatguru describes economy and premium economy seating on Norwegian Air’s 787 Dreamliner.

But limited recline is disappointing for those expecting lie-flat.

Limited recline in Norwegian’s premium economy seats might be disappointing for those longing to lie-flat. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

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Economy cabin has a clean look and decent seat pitch on Norwegian Air

Norwegian 787 economy class cabin has a clean look and decent seat pitch, configured 3-3-3. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

We checked today and the $199 fare is indeed available for SFO-Barcelona in June (see below). However, the least expensive return from BCN to SFO in June is $256, making the lowest round trip $455 all in– that’s quite a deal and it won’t last long.

Fare check on Weds Sept 7

Fare check on Weds Sept 7

Have you flown Norwegian Air yet? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

(We’re back from summer vacation! In case you missed our other recent round-up posts, here they are: Domestic Routes RoundupTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | August’s most important travel news)

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International routes update: Delta, Air China, United, Hainan, Turkish, Southwest, American + more

Air China will use an A330-200 between San Jose and Shanghai. (Image: Mehdi Nazarinia/Wikimedia Commons)

Air China will use an A330-200 between San Jose and Shanghai. (Image: Mehdi Nazarinia/Wikimedia Commons)

In international routes news, Air China comes to San Jose; Delta is dropping routes to Tokyo and Moscow; Las Vegas gets a Beijing flight; Southwest and American plan new service to Mexico from LAX; LaCompagnie suspends London flights; Copa doubles up on San Francisco service; Air Canada trims San Diego-Vancouver capacity; Turkish trims flights to US and EVA adds more seats from Seattle to Taipei. Also, stay tuned to TravelSkills for some really good route news for Oakland coming out this Thursday.

Mineta San Jose International Airport added another international route last week when Air China kicked off new service from SJC to Shanghai – the airline’s only route to Shanghai from North America. Air China is using a two-class, 237-seat Airbus A330-200 on the route, departing San Jose on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Departure time from SJC is 1:30 p.m. for the 12.5-hour flight, with arrival in Shanghai at 4:40 p.m. the next day.

Delta, which recently won new rights to operate daytime flights to Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport from Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul, said it plans to discontinue its daily New York JFK-Tokyo Narita service on October 2. On October 3, Delta will axe its daily Narita-Osaka flight, and on October 29 it will end its daily Narita-Bangkok service. The airline will still fly to Narita from Seattle, Portland, Detroit and Atlanta. Meanwhile, Delta this week suspended its New York-Moscow non-stop service for the season, with plans to resume the flights in May 2017.

Las Vegas will also get new service to China by year’s end. Hainan Airlines has applied for government approval to fly three times a week between Las Vegas and Beijing, with a starting date of December 2. Hainan has been growing its U.S. presence in recent months, and currently flies from San Jose to Beijing, Los Angeles to Changsha, and Seattle to Beijing and Shanghai.

(We’re back from summer vacation! In case you missed our other recent round-up posts, here they are: Domestic Routes RoundupTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | August’s most important travel news)

Southwest will add three routes from LAX to Mexico. (Image: Jim Glab)

Southwest will add three routes from LAX to Mexico. (Image: Jim Glab)

Both American Airlines and Southwest Airlines apparently see room for growth in the Los Angeles-Mexico market. American is planning to start new daily 737-800 flights on December 15 from LAX to both Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. And Southwest on December 4 will launch twice-daily service from LAX to both Cancun and San Jose del Cabo, as well as one flight a day between LAX and Puerto Vallarta. Meanwhile, Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris plans to begin new service December 1 between Denver and Monterrey, Mexico, operating two A320 flights a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

United is switching up equipment on key routes between SFO and Europe for the winter season starting October 30. On SFO-London it will run two 777-200ERs instead of the current 777 and 787 Dreamliner. On SFO-Paris, the current 767-300ER will be replaced with a 787.

Panama’s Copa Airlines, a member of United’s Star Alliance, plans to increase service between Panama City and United’s San Francisco hub. Effective November 1, Copa will increase its schedule on the route from one to two 737-800 flights a day. (Regrettably both departures from SFO are red-eyes, arriving Panama City in the morning.)

All-business-class La Compagnie blames Brexit for dropping Newark-London flights. (Image: La Compagnie)

All-business-class La Compagnie blames Brexit for dropping Newark-London flights. (Image: La Compagnie)

La Compagnie, a niche carrier that offers transatlantic all-business-class flights with 74-seat 757s, said that it will drop its route linking Newark with London’s Luton Airport effective September 25. In October, the carrier will add a second daily flight to its Newark-Paris CDG route. In explaining its decision to drop Newark-London service, La Compagnie said that the recent decision by British voters to take the U.K. out of the European Union – aka Brexit – “has created an unprecedented level of legal and economic uncertainty for airlines that service Great Britain.” 

Taiwan’s EVA Air will boost capacity this fall on its route to Taipei from Seattle. The carrier plans to add a second flight three days a week, for a total of 10 a week, beginning November 19. EVA will use a 777-300ER for the extra flights.