New Delta Sky Club rising at SFO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: What’s next for SFO? 

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

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

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

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

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

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

Be sure to note the column "Operated by:"

Be sure to note the column “Operated by:”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Biz Trip: Abu Dhabi 

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis

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Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I think Virgin’s on to something here.

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

–Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: Virgin America is a sponsor of the TravelSkills blog

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San Francisco airport runway construction update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Nancy Branka 

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

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Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

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

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

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

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

Would I find Chengdu to be at all like Chicago?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But parallels stop there, I found.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Nancy Branka

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

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Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chris McGinnis

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

Is Uber illegal?

Biz Trip: Denver

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

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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

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

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

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

My notes from the trip: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris McGinnis

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

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First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

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

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Is Uber illegal?

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UberX permit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Biz Trip: Denver

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

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

Salt Lake City Airport (Photo: Jim Glab)

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

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

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AIRPORTS

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

Chevy's new Spark CARS

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

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

In Case You Missed It

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

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

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

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

-Jim Glab

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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–Nancy Branka

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Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chris McGinnis

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Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

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The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

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Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

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5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Global First Lounge

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

United Club

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

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

There are eight well-appointed and spacious shower suites

There are eight well-appointed and spacious shower suites

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

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

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

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

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Chris McGinnis

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Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

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Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

Southwest 737 decked out in California state flag livery (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Southwest 737 decked out in California state flag livery (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

By now we all know this summer is toast when it comes to airfare deals. That means bargain hunters have had to wait around for any honest-to-goodness bargains.

Those deals arrived today.

This morning Southwest Airlines and AirTran kicked off a big three-day fare sale for late summer (and fall) trips starting Monday, August 25 and running through Wednesday, December 17 that other airlines are sure to match. (UPDATE: So far, we’ve seen matching sale fare pages posted from JetBlue, Virgin America , Delta, United, American )

To get the deals, you must book now through Thursday, June 5 at midnight in your time zone.

Get two free round-trips on Southwest! Click here for details

These deals are great for late summer…and pretty good for the slower fall season. You can bet your sweet bippy that those late summer fares will be snapped up in just the first few hours of this sale, so act fast.

Or, if you get stuck and can’t find a sale seat, check competing airlines that might be slow to match the sale, and have not sold out.

Examples:

$100 round-trip between Chicago and Memphis or Baltimore and Boston; San Francisco and Las Vegas

$200 round-trip between Atlanta and New York or Ft Lauderdale; Seattle and San Diego or Austin and Denver; Oakland to Denver or Phoenix

$260 round-trip between Washington DC  and Houston Hobby

$300 round-trip between Atlanta or Chicago and  Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco

Find sale fares on Southwest Airlines website

There are restrictions: Sale fares are not available on Fridays or Sundays, the busiest days of the week for flying. Blackout dates are September 1 (Labor Day) and November 21-December 2 (Thanksgiving).

If you are planning to fly to/from Nevada or Florida, here’s a weird rule in Southwest’s fine print: “Travel to Florida or Nevada is valid Sunday through Wednesday only.  Additionally, travel from Florida or Nevada valid Tuesday through Friday only.  Travel between Nevada and Florida is valid on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only.”

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Chris McGinnis

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5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

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

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

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

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

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

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

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

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

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

Southwest Airlines mobile boarding passes now available at all US airports

Southwest Airlines mobile boarding passes now available at all US airports

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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

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–Jim Glab

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Biz Trip: New York City

The most unusual Virgin breakfast

5 insider groups for ultra-connected travelers

An update on email frequency – note from Chris

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

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

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

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

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

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

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

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

New avatars and icons on the playful new Virgin America website

New avatars and icons on the playful new Virgin America website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

>Turkish Airlines has started flying from Boston to Istanbul.

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

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

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

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

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

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

4 warning signs of a long hot summer

Which airlines are most generous with miles?

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

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Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

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Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

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

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

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

Here’s what you need to know:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Courtesy SFO)

(Courtesy SFO)

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 8.13.14 AM

click for latest data

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

--Chris McGinnis

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

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London’s highest hotel opens + More Delta to Europe + Southwest/AirTran integration + Ranking frequent flyer programs +

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

In Case You Missed It….

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

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

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

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

–Jim Glab

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