A new way to get to New York – La Guardia

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

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

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

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

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

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LaGuardia Airport is the closest airport to Manhattan

LaGuardia Airport is the closest airport to Manhattan

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 8.10.54 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key points:

Mid-December fares on JetBlue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October Mint menu on eastbound lunch/dinner flights

October Mint menu on eastbound lunch/dinner flights

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CARS

Uber now in Vegas, maybe

Uber now in Vegas, maybe

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

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

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

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

The tallest Holiday Inn. Photo by architects GKAPC in NYC

The tallest Holiday Inn. Photo by architects GKAPC in NYC

HOTELS

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

>Understanding your Tokyo airport options.

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

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

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

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

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In Tokyo: New airport options

Haneda Airport International Terminal New Wing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United seat map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haneda vs Narita: Which is best for you?

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

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

Related: Trip Report: ANA’s Dreamliner to Tokyo

map

Good Advice for getting to or from Haneda:

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

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

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

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

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Searching for Centurion lounge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Centurion SFO

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

Centurion SFO

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

Related: Raft of new perks for elite flyers

Centurion LAS

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

Centurion LAS

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

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Centurion LAS

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

Centurion LAS

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

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

Centurion LAS

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

Centurion Lounge

 –Chris McGinnis

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

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

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

 

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

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

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

HOTELS

Marriott's new wireless charger

Marriott’s new Kube wireless charger

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

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

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Don’t make these 8 mistakes in San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

.

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

Southwest's expansion at Denver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

>Here’s how to find widebodies on domestic routes

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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

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

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

 

How to find roomy domestic widebody flights

Economy class on a United 767 (Photo: United)

Check out all that space in economy class on a big, wide United 767 (Photo: United)

Are the golden days of flying domestically on spacious widebody, twin-aisle aircraft gone? Not necessarily, if you know where to look.

All four major US international airlines — American, Delta, United and US Airways — still operate a handful domestic widebody flights.  These big birds are either providing a lot of seats on high-demand routes, positioning planes from hub to hub, offering premium products on valuable flights, or adding temporary capacity for special events. Sometimes widebodies are deployed for short periods of time, like Air Canada’s positioning of a Boeing 767-300ER on SFO-Toronto for four months this winter. Hawaiian Airlines flies only widebodies from the mainland to Hawaii.

Whatever the reason, it’s a bonus for passengers, since widebodies tend to give you more room (or at least the perception of more room) than single-aisle narrowbodies, no matter where you’re sitting in the plane. And internationally-equipped widebodies often offer more robust on-demand entertainment, power outlets, USB sockets, bigger bins and other bells and whistles.

Delta's domestic first class section on a 767-300 (Photo: Delta)

Delta’s domestic first class section on a non-Business Elite 767-300 (Photo: Delta)

Up front on a widebody, you could find a fully flat bed seat à la international business class to stretch out — usually for no extra fee over domestic first.  But not all domestic widebodies offer big new seats up front… notably, US Airways’ 767-200s have older cradle-style sleeper seats, and Delta’s domestic 767-300, coded as 763s, have standard domestic first class seats (see photo).

But how do you find them? Savvy travelers know where they are, but the airlines don’t make it easy when hunting for a flight.

One good tool for finding widebody flights is Routehappy, the half flight search, half data source startup that matches aircraft types to flights and scores them by comfort and amenities. (Disclaimer: an author of this post used to work there.)

We asked Routehappy to show us all the widebody planes jetting around the US on a given day: October 1st, in this case. Here’s what they found. Note that the big birds are on not on every flight, every day– just a chosen few. Also, there are no consistent trends showing that airlines price widebody flights higher than narrowbody flights.

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American Airlines

AA’s domestic widebodies are almost exclusively hub-to-hub.

You’ll find DFW-LAX and Miami-SFO flights using a 767-300ER.

LAX-Miami has a variety of 767-300ERs and 777-200s.

And passengers on Miami-Orlando get a nice, wide 767-300ER for the one-hour ride across the Everglades.

Delta Air Lines

Delta's 767's flying between LAX and JFK sport Business Elite seats up front. (Photo: Delta)

Delta’s 767’s flying between LAX and JFK sport Business Elite seats up front. (Photo: Delta)

(Note: Delta recently stopped allowing Routehappy to display its inventory on the site, which is too bad. But we’ve located a few here anyway…)

Delta is the sole remaining airline to fly 767 widebodies (76w) on its transcontinental flights between New York and LAX and upfront on that route you’ll find its Business Elite seats. There’s also a 767 between JFK and Detroit with Business Elite up front.

You’ll also find Delta 767s (with domestic first class) on flights between Atlanta and Las Vegas, LAX, Orlando, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, SFO, Salt Lake City and Tampa. Atlanta to LAX passengers can also hop on the ultra-long-haul 777-200LR, which positions to LA from its ATL home for the Sydney flight.

Related: American Airlines’ brand new A321 Transcon Trip Report

Hawaiian Airlines unusual  front-of-the-plane setup has first and premium economy in the same cabin (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hawaiian Airlines unusual front-of-the-plane setup on its A330s has first and premium economy in the same cabin (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Air flies both Airbus A330 and Boeing 767s between the mainland and Hawaii– a standout as several carriers are now sending their single aisle planes down to the islands. Hawaiian’s A330s offer domestic style recliners in first class, as well as premium economy (“Extra Comfort”) seating in the fore cabin of the plane. Note: Hawaiian has single aisle Airbus A321s on order that will eventually replace some widebodies from the west coast.

United Airlines

United is the only airline to fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner within the USA. You’ll frequently find those on flights between Houston and Denver, LAX, and SFO. (The Houston-LAX flights will even get the brand new stretched 787-9 Dreamliner!)

United 767-300ERs jet between Houston and Washington Dulles, Newark and Chicago O’Hare. You can also find them between Newark and Dulles or SFO.

Serendipity intervened last week when TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis went out to SFO last week expecting to board a United 757 for the four-hour flight to Houston, but ended up in a internationally configured 767 with an upgrade to Business First. :)

US Airways

Before US Airways and its rather elderly 767-200 planes disappear — it’s the only US carrier still using the stubby little widebodies — you can find them between Charlotte and Orlando or Philadelphia, and on Orlando-Philadelphia, but less frequently than the other airlines.

What’s your favorite domestic widebody flight? Which ones did we miss in our quick round up? Please leave your comments below!

–John Walton & Chris McGinnis

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Free inflight texting + Another 747 flies away + Lufthansa’s new premium economy + PreCheck not so special

AIRLINES

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert addresses the media at the Un-carrier 7.0 event  in San Francisco. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert reveals new Gogo partnership in San Francisco. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

Free inflight texting & voicemail. Starting September 17, T-Mobile customers can get free in-flight texting and voicemail service on all 2,000 U.S. aircraft equipped with Gogo Inflight Internet Wi-Fi. “To access the free messaging and voicemail services, T-Mobile customers will need to have their Wi-Fi Calling-enabled phone in airplane mode and connected to Gogo Wi-Fi.  From there, they simply launch their browser, verify they’re a T-Mobile customer, and follow the instructions,” Gogo told TravelSkills. (Interesting side: Gogo’s stock jumped 10% after this new deal became public last week.) If you don’t already use T-Mobile, does this make you want to switch? Leave your comments below. 

Click to see TVOne news report on Air New Zealand's final 747 flight from SFO

Click to see TVOne news report on Air New Zealand’s final 747 flight from SFO

End of an era at Air New Zealand. The latest airline to mothball its last 747 is Air New Zealand, which has flown the Boeing jumbos for 33 years. Its final 747-400 left San Francisco for Auckland last week, then was taken out of service. The carrier now uses 777s and 787s on transpacific routes. Meanwhile, Air New Zealand will add a third daily roundtrip to its LAX-Auckland route three days a week from April through October 2015.

Southwest boosts on-time record. Has Southwest Airlines figured out how to overcome its recent problems with late flights? The airline’s August performance showed a big improvement in on-time operations, up 10 percentage points from July when it (and JetBlue) were stuck at the very bottom of the the DOT’s on-time performance rankings.

Recent: How to choose the best new carry-on bag

Lufthansa's new premium economy seat on display at the Global Business Travel Association convention in August (Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa’s new premium economy seat on display at the Global Business Travel Association convention in August (Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa details premium economy service. Star Alliance member Lufthansa will debut its long-promised premium economy section in a few months, and it has posted a new website with details of what the service will provide to passengers and its planned schedule of deployment on international routes. It will be introduced starting in December on 747-8s from FRA to ORD, LAX and IAD; by late April on A380s to IAH, JFK, MIA and SFO; and in May 2015 on A340-600s to LAX, EWR and SFO.

Airline Wi-Fi searches. If you’re flying on United and you’d like to know in advance whether or not your aircraft is Wi-Fi equipped, you can look it up on this United website.  Passengers on Southwest can do the same thing with the carrier’s online Wi-Fi Finder. United & Southwest have taken the proactive step of notifying passengers on the day before their flight if the plane has wi-fi. (Whether or not the wi-fi is operational is another question ….)

Popular on TravelSkills: Another British Airways A380 for the US

The new soy ginger marinated salmon salad now onboard Virgin America (Photo: Virgin America)

The new soy ginger marinated salmon salad now onboard Virgin America (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America enhances front cabin menus. First class flyers on Virgin America will see a slate of new menu options this fall from celebrity chefs like Hiro Sone, Staffan Terje, Chris Beerman and Elizabeth Binder. New entrees include things like a grilled mushroom medley, soy ginger marinated salmon salad, roasted chicken with artichokes, ginger pepper noodles, and Marrakesh chicken salad. NOTE: If you fly Virgin America into San Francisco before Dec 14, bring your boarding pass to the Humphry Slocombe ice cream store in the Ferry Building marketplace for a free scoop! (It’s also served onboard flights departing SFO.)

Texas all-you-can-fly air service plans autumn start. A Texas entrepreneur plans to launch a new small-plane air service this fall with an all-you-can-fly policy for flat-fee memberships, according to the Dallas Business Journal. Called Rise, its eight-passenger Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprops will initially concentrate on the busy Dallas-Houston market with high-frequency service. Memberships will cost $1,650 to $2,650 a month, and Rise will use its own terminal at Love Field. The former CEO of California’s Surf Air — which has a similar business model — is executive chairman of Rise.

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AIRPORTS

Mock up of what the new dining terrace at LAX Terminal 2 will look like

Mock up of what the new dining terrace at LAX Terminal 2 will look like

LAX shows plans for T2 overhaul. The Westfield Group, in partnership with Los Angeles World Airports, has created a video showcasing its plans for bringing 20 new retail and dining concessionaires to LAX’s Terminal 2. The revamped T2 will have a dozen dining outlets — twice as many as it has now — and will feature outlets of several local restaurants. The project, now underway, should be finished next year. (Currently, T2 primarily serves international carriers.) Terminal 2 is home to ten domestic and international airlines, including Aeroméxico, Air Canada, Hawaiian Air and Virgin Atlantic. 

Wi-Fi Update: Sites monitor airports, hotels. The folks at Cheapflights.com have compiled a handy guide to Wi-Fi at 25 major U.S. airports, including how to access it, whether it’s free or paid. Meanwhile, hotelwifitest.com — which lets users see the data speeds typically achieved at major hotels — enhanced its service so the results can be viewed directly by users of major hotel booking sites. “After a one-click install, the extension will automatically display the WiFi information block whenever you open a hotel page on Hotels.com, Expedia, Booking.com, or TripAdvisor,” the company told us.

SECURITY

TSA: Most travelers now use expedited lanes. Remember the early days of TSA’s PreCheck program when you were whisked through expedited screening while everyone else lingered in long lines? Those days are gone: TSA now sends more than half of all travelers through the expedited checks — not just PreCheck members, but various categories of low-risk flyers and persons selected randomly from regular lines. This is reportedly reducing wait times for all passengers — but early adopters of PreCheck certainly don’t feel so special any more.

CARS

Volkswagen's sporty new GTI now in the National fleet (Photo: VW)

Volkswagen’s sporty new GTI now in the National fleet (Photo: VW)

New cars at National. Members of National’s Emerald Club will have access starting this fall to new 2015 models in the company’s Emerald Aisle locations nationwide, including the Volkswagen GTI, Chrysler 200, Dodge Challenger, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda6, Mustang and Lincoln MKC. Some locations will also offer new Mazda MX-5 Miatas and Hyundai Velosters.

HOTELS

Marriott innovation: Healthy food from a machine. Hotel vending machines typically dispense candy bars and high-sodium snacks. But the Chicago Marriott O’Hare is trying out a new option: Fresh, healthy food from a vending machine. Priced from $3 to $12, options include things like the Detox Salad (kale, quinoa, fruits and beans); low-fat Greek yogurt with berries; and chicken breast from antibiotic-free, humanely raised birds.

In Case You Missed It…

Chris evaluates Virgin America’s LAX Loft lounge.

British Airways is bringing its A380 to San Francisco.

You can pile up bonus points with these fall hotel promotions

Southwest Airlines unveils a new logo and aircraft livery

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Another British Airways A380 for the US

On BA's A380, business class is an upstairs-downstairs affair (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On BA’s A380, business class is an upstairs-downstairs affair (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

British Airways announced today that it will deploy a brand-new Airbus A380 double-decker between San Francisco International and London Heathrow starting in April 2015.

This will be BA’s third US destination to get the big bird, after Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

BA’s Sean Doyle, EVP, Americas, told TravelSkills that the decision to put the A380 on the SFO run was an easy one, “This helps bring together the burgeoning innovation economies in the Bay Area and London. It’s a logical fit and a sophisticated product for a sophisticated market,” he told us, citing the aircraft’s advanced inflight entertainment system, fuel efficiency and smooth, quiet ride.

The A380’s two decks carry a whopping 469 passengers, with 14 suites in first, 97  seats in business, 55 in premium economy and 303 in economy. (See BA’s A380 page)

What makes BA’s A380 unique is that all premium seats are at the front of the plane: first class is downstairs (“main deck”) in the nose, and business class is both upstairs and downstairs. Economy sections are in the rear half of the plane. Most other airlines with A380s put all business or first class seats upstairs only.

Related: Emirates to bring its big A380 to San Francisco & Houston | Trip Report: LAX-London on a BA A380

Premium economy onboard BA's new Airbus A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on BA’s new Airbus A380 is configured 3-4-3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

British Airways has two daily flights between SFO and London. Starting in April 2015 (no firm date announced yet), BA will operate the A380 on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (#286). On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, BA will operate its Boeing 747-400. BA will continue to use a 747 for its second daily flight from SFO (#284).

BA’s Doyle told TravelSkills that the A380 and 747 will share the route “for the moment” but could not elaborate on longer term aircraft deployments in the SFO-LHR market. (Click here for news about a big refurb for BA’s 747s)

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British Airways posh first class suites onboard its new Airbus A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

British Airways nice, big first class suites onboard its new Airbus A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fares on both the A380 and the 747 will be the same, but Doyle expects there to be more demand for the newer aircraft. Plus, of BA’s two daily flights, the A380 is the later one in both directions, allowing more time in either San Francisco or London.

When BA launched A380 service from Los Angeles on what it calls the “Red Carpet Route” to London last fall, TravelSkills was there. Here’s our trip report from that fun ride!

Have you flown on an A380 yet? What did you think? Will you give this new flight a try instead of competitors like United or Virgin Atlantic? Please leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis

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British Airways to spruce up its 747s

A British Airways 747 prepares for takeoff at San Francisco International (Photo: Angelo Angelo - Flickr)

A British Airways 747 prepares for takeoff at San Francisco International (Photo: Angelo Angelo – Flickr)

Good news for passengers used to flying British Airways’ Boeing 747 jets from San Francisco, New York and elsewhere. BA is helping the “Queen of the Skies” age gracefully with plans to outfit eighteen 747-400s with new entertainment throughout, and upgrade seats in the economy and premium economy cabins.

BA admits these “much-loved” planes, which “have a special place in the heart of many of our customers” need sprucing up to compare favorably with the draw of younger birds, such as its big new A380s, 787 Dreamliners, or its shiny new 777s like the ones recently put into service on the Atlanta-Heathrow run.

The big news for passengers, especially those whose travel budgets don’t stretch to the airline’s business class cabin, is an upgrade to the entertainment and power systems on board. BA’s “next-generation” entertainment system will offer  twice as much content and a brand new tablet-style interface. BA’s introduced its unusual forward-and-rear-facing business class seats in 2000, but the current version dates to 2006.

Most of BA’s 747s have seen refurbs of the first class section in recent years, and the airline isn’t currently selling the “old” First cabin as First Class. Instead, lucky high-status business class flyers will get to sit in what used to be first class, though they’ll see the business class service. British Airways confirmed to TravelSkills that the very small number of 747s that still carry the “old” first cabin will be withdrawn from service next year.

Related: British Airways adds a new A380 in the US

British Airway's inflight entertainment getting an upgrade in coach (Photo: John Walton)

British Airway’s inflight entertainment getting an upgrade in coach (Photo: John Walton)

British Airways has been concentrating on its inflight entertainment recently, with the addition of content from HBO and the Discovery Channel, with new programming like a “paws and relax” section for the pet lovers, or a video showing the relaxing monotony of the sights you’d see on a Norwegian train journey.

Also in the cards: a full universal (UK, US, EU, etc) power outlet in premium economy, and a USB socket in economy. That’s a big step up from the annoying (and aged) EmPower port in premium economy and a big fat nothing down the back.

As for the seats, unfortunately there’s no upgrade planned to bring the seats up to the standard set in BA’s newer A380 or 777-300ER planes — see here— although the airline will try to make them look similar.

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BA's premium economy seats (British Airways)

BA’s premium economy seats (British Airways)

They’ll still be the same seats, but “new seat foams will be installed in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus to increase customer comfort and new style seat covers fitted to improve appearance and match those on the A380 and 787,” BA says.

Related: Boeing 747s slowly disappearing from US

The refurb is going to take a while: British Airways says 18 refits won’t begin until August 2015, and will be completed a year later, in August 2016. Unfortunately, since the seats are a like-for-like refit, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to tell if you’ll have a refurbished bird when booking.

The airline has nearly 50 747s still in use, though as more Airbus A380, Boeing 787 and particularly Airbus A350 aircraft reach the fleet the older planes (which date back as far as 1989) will be retired. According to Flightglobal, BA will speed up the retirement of older planes as larger 787-9 planes and the bigger A350s start arriving from 2017.

In the meantime, hope is not lost for a more modern experience on British Airways, which has finished taking delivery of a fleet of 12 Boeing 777-300ER planes with new seats and all the mod cons. These new planes started flying on BA’s Atlanta flights just this month. And of course, there’s BA’s new A380s from LAX, soon from Washington, Dulles, and from San Francisco next April.

-John Walton

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CLEAR opens security fast lane at SF Giants’ AT&T Park

You'll soon see something like this at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Starting September 9, you’ll see something like this at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

From frequent flyers to fly balls, a special fast track lane for ballpark security is coming to AT&T Park, home to the San Francisco Giants.

A pilot program starting September 9th and running through the end of the season will be operated by CLEAR, the pay-to-enter trusted traveler airport security company currently operating at nine airports nationwide.

At AT&T Park, all fans have been screened with metal detectors or handheld wands this season, with the Major League Baseball organization requiring that all ballparks begin using metal detectors by the start of the 2015 season. Sometimes all that special screening can lead to backups.

“Ballparks are similar to airports as a lot of fans are going through security in a short time period,” CEO Caryn Seidman Becker tells TravelSkills. “During this pop up pilot, CLEAR members should expect the same great experience they have at the airport. CLEAR is all about making this process more efficient and effective.”

Related: Should I renew my CLEAR card?

How? After registering with the program, “CLEAR’s secure identity platform ensures you are who you say you are and you can use that identity in the airport and beyond. CLEAR is focused on bringing members an easier, faster, more efficient experience where they live, work and travel,” Seidman Becker promises — but wouldn’t say exactly how much time she expects members to save.

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Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 10.40.37 AM

Pre-game queues swell at AT&T Park (Photo: BullCityDave / Flickr)

But here’s how things will work at AT&T Park:

• The CLEAR lane can be found at the Marina Gate.

• The pilot will begin Tuesday, September 9th and run for the last 10 games of the season.

• CLEAR members must bring their CLEAR card to use the new pop up lane.

• If they bring a friend who is not a member, their +1 can use the line directly next to CLEAR.

CLEAR’s usefulness at airports gets a mixed reception from frequent flyers — and TravelSkills readers on our recent article about renewing CLEAR.

TSA PreCheck proved part of CLEAR’s undoing five years ago–  but with PreCheck lines increasingly choked by passengers unfamiliar with how the process works, CLEAR is starting to look more attractive again.

CLEAR lane

Not sure whether you want to spring for the $179 annual membership? “As busy travelers return to the grind, they can enroll with a two month free trial and get other “travel pro” tools as well for free until September 15th,” Seidman Becker tells us. “Just use code PROTRAVEL at checkout.  Members can always add a family member for only $50 more. All children under 18 are free and don’t require a CLEARcard. Kids can accompany CLEARmembers through the pop-up CLEARlane.”

Bottom line: if you fly frequently to the nine airports where CLEAR operates, you might find it useful. That’s especially true at airports where security can be swamped with vacationers, like Orlando or (soon) Las Vegas.

And now, AT&T Park.

–John Walton

UPDATE: Clear has published its own web page about the new fast lane at AT&T Park.

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CLEAR opens security fast lane at SF Giants’ AT&T Park

United’s newest jet + More Delta to UK + New Asian carrier at SFO + Grand plans for ATL & MEX airports

Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Should airlines waive change fees?

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United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

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Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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United’s newest jet + More Delta to UK + New Asian carrier at SFO + Grand plans for ATL & MEX airports

 

United's "stretch" version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is headed for Melbourne (Photo: United)

United’s “stretch” version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is headed for Melbourne (Photo: United)

AIRLINES

United gets its first 787-9. Seems like just yesterday that airlines started flying the initially troubled 787 Dreamliner. But now United has taken delivery of the first new version, a stretched model called the 787-9 that can accommodate more passengers and fly longer distances (8,550 miles v. 8,200 for the 787-8). United’s version will have 48 BusinessFirst seats and 204 in economy (88 of them extra-legroom Economy Plus seats). The first of UA’s 26 787-9s will initially operate mostly between LAX and Houston, but it will begin regular international service October 26 between LAX and Melbourne.

Related: 5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows | ANA’s new Dreamliner to Tokyo

Delta adds transatlantic routes. As part of a route realignment with joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic, Delta will take over one of Virgin’s two daily Newark-London Heathrow flights starting March 29, 2015, and start its own daily JFK-Manchester service beginning June 2. For its part, Virgin plans to eliminate its Asian routes from LHR to Tokyo and Mumbai in order to beef up transatlantic services in several markets, as we reported last week.

China Southern to launch new SFO nonstops in December (Photo: Wikimedia)

China Southern to launch new SFO nonstops in December (Photo: Wikimedia)

New Routes: SAS, China Southern, Alaska. SAS has started flying six times a week between Houston Bush Intercontinental and Stavanger, Norway, using a 44-seat Boeing Business Jet (a specially configured 737-700 with all-business-class service, regrettably with angled lie-flat seats) for energy industry execs headed to Scandinavia’s gateway city for North Sea drilling operations China Southern plans to start a new North American route to San Francisco from Guangzhou and Wuhan three times a week starting December 16, with a 787. China Southern is part of the Delta-led SkyTeam alliance … Alaska Airlines last week added a new transcontinental spoke to its Seattle hub, operating one daily roundtrip between SEA and Baltimore-Washington International. Alaska also kicked off daily SEA-Detroit flights last week, and will add SEA-Albuquerque September 18.

Survey: Travelers want fee transparency. Do you have a hard time finding all the details about airlines’ various fees and charges when you book a ticket? A new survey of 1,000 air travelers found that consumers overwhelmingly support a proposed Transportation Department rule that would require airlines to share their fees for baggage and seat assignments through travel agents and on third-party websites. In fact, the survey found most consumers believe airlines should be required to sell ancillary services “wherever they sell their tickets,” and not just on their own websites.

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AIRPORTS

ATL will get more parking, other improvements. An Atlanta City Council committee last week heard a report on planned improvements coming to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Among first — due in the next couple of years — are a project to more than double parking capacity by replacing the existing four-story north and south parking garages with new ones of eight or nine stories; and the addition of a new taxiway that should speed up aircraft movements. Longer term, the master plan calls for building up to nine more gates east of the international terminal and eventually adding a sixth runway.

Futuristic new airport for Mexico City arriving soon (Photo: )

Futuristic new airport for Mexico City arriving soon (Photo: Foster & Partners  )

Mexico unveils plans for new airport. Officials in Mexico City have revealed the winning design for a new airport that will replace the aging Benito Juarez International. Plans call for a $9.2 billion facility that should have three runways operating by 2020 on a dry lakebed site close to the existing airport. Its first phase will handle 50 million passengers a year (vs. the current airport’s 32 million), but expansion plans over several decades call for a six-runway airport that could accommodate 100 million. The design from U.K. architect Norman Foster and Mexico’s Fernando Romero calls for a single large terminal with soaring interior spaces.

Related: BBC Business Trip: Mexico City

HOTELS

Hotel rates keep going up, up, up. Have you finalized your 2015 travel budget yet? Maybe you should allow more for hotel costs. Lodging specialists at PwC US say they expect U.S. hotels to achieve their highest occupancy level in 20 years in 2015 — 64.8 percent — and that will drive room rates up by an average of 5.7 percent next year. That’s on top of a 4.4 percent increase in 2014, and it represents the biggest rate increase since the pre-recessionary boom year of 2006. The company said hotels expect to see especially strong gains in group business — i.e., meetings and conventions.

Big US brands like Hyatt are making major inroads into Asia-- this is the new Hyatt in Suzhou (Photo:  Hyatt)

Sleek designs at the brand new Hyatt Regency Suzhou (Photo: Hyatt)

Rebranding in London; new hotels in China. Less than two years after it opened, central London’s InterContinental Westminster is ending its affiliation with InterContinental this month and taking on a new identity with the Hilton family as the Conrad London St. JamesGot business in China?Three major chains have openings there this month, including Marriott’s Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing, overlooking Beijing’s Forbidden City; Starwood’s St. Regis Chengdu in “the Silicon Valley of China;” and the new Hyatt Regency Suzhou in eastern China’s Suzhou Industrial Park, an hour by car from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.

In Case You Missed It …

> Delta partner Virgin Atlantic has revealed U.S. expansion plans for 2015.

> Airline change fees are getting ridiculous. Should they be waived for elites?

> Chris checks out the changes on Larry Ellison’s Hawaiian island of Lanai.

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

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Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

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Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic A330-300 with the 1-2-1 reverse herringbone config (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic A330-300 with the 1-2-1 herringbone configuration (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Virgin Atlantic announced some major network changes today that will mean more opportunities for Delta flyers to give the popular Virgin product a try…and earn or burn SkyMiles while doing so. 

Here’s what’s coming our way in 2015:

>A year-round daily roundtrip between London Heathrow and Detroit

>A new daily nonstop between Atlanta and Manchester

>An additional summertime nonstop between London and Atlanta and San Francisco 

>Additional frequencies on the busy routes between London and New York JFK and Los Angeles

>An additional daily flight between London and Miami

The Upper Class bar on a new Virgin Atlantic A330-300 (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

The Upper Class bar on a new Virgin Atlantic A330-300 (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Some notes:

Flights are not yet loaded and bookable, but soon the added capacity will mean more award seats for Delta SkyMiles members.

Virgin’s nonstops between Atlanta and Heathrow (announced last May) begin on October 26 using Airbus A330s.

Virgin has also announced that it will build a new Clubhouse airport lounge at LAX.

It’s aging fleet of Airbus A340s will soon be replaced with 16 new Boeing 787 Dreamliners– the first of which will be deployed 0n Boston-London in October.

In order to bulk up in the U.S., Virgin is withdrawing from several markets elsewhere– it will cease flying from London to Tokyo, Mumbai, Vancouver, and Cape Town.

Related: Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta! 

Here's how Virgin's flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s how Virgin’s flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s a look at Virgin Atlantic’s new long haul network in the U.S. including the new flights which come on board in 2015:

  • Atlanta/Heathrow
  • Atlanta/Manchester
  • Boston/Heathrow
  • Chicago/Heathrow
  • Detroit/Heathrow
  • Las Vegas/ Manchester
  • Las Vegas/Glasgow
  • Los Angeles/Heathrow
  • Miami/Heathrow
  • New York (JFK)/Heathrow
  • New York (Newark)/Heathrow
  • Orlando/Belfast
  • Orlando/Glasgow
  • Orlando/Manchester
  • San Francisco/Heathrow
  • Washington DC/Heathrow
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Here's how Virgin Atlantic flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s how Virgin Atlantic flights ATL-LHR appear on Delta.com

For now, Delta flyers can earn SkyMiles (including MQMs) or burn SkyMiles for Virgin Atlantic flights– when you book flights on Delta.com, Virgin flights are shown as options. However, it’s still uncertain when or if Delta Medallions will be able to use miles or Global Upgrade certificates for upgrades. Delta SkyMiles Gold Medallion (and higher) members get dedicated check in, priority security, boarding and baggage when flying Virgin Atlantic. 

In the past, Virgin’s Upper Class business class product and over-the-top lounges far exceeded anything Delta could offer. But since Delta has been upping its game lately, the product and service gap is narrowing. In what situations would you choose Virgin over Delta… or vice versa? Please leave your comments below.

– Chris McGinnis

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Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

Big fare sale + Fancy food on United + Uber raises fares + Cuts at Qantas + Better biz class on AA

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

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

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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United streams entertainment + ATL short changed by merger? + Secret spaces on new jets + PreCheck milestone

BYO device entertainment systems working on United flights (Photo: United)

BYO device entertainment systems finally working on more United flights (Photo: United)

AIRLINES

United expands in-flight streaming. Passengers on most United Airlines A319s and A320s can now (finally) stream entertainment in-flight. A United official said at an industry conference in Las Vegas that the airline recently activated in-flight entertainment streaming on almost three-fourths of its 152 Airbus narrow-bodies, with the rest coming soon. In-flight streaming — which is already available on UA’s 23 747-400s and all 777-200s to Hawaii — was dependent on completing the installation of in-flight Wi-Fi equipment, he noted. (Have you tried it yet? How did it work?)

ATL flyers short-changed by merger? Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran could prove to be more costly than beneficial for Atlanta-area flyers, according to an analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The paper said that when the government approved the combination, it didn’t foresee Southwest’s drawdown of service at ATL, giving more of the market to an already-dominant Delta. The report said Southwest/AirTran has already cut competition on more than a dozen routes out of ATL, and that Delta’s market share there has grown from 78 to 83 percent.

Ryanair rolls out business fares. Business travelers have never been too fond of Ryanair, the intra-European airline known for ultra-low fares and its broad range of ancillary passenger fees. But now the carrier has come out with a new category of business fares. They’re significantly higher than base fares, but include a menu of services that would otherwise incur hefty fees, like a checked bag, priority boarding, access to premium seats, and, perhaps most significant: a waiver of change fees.

hawaiianbagtag

Print your bag tag at home, insert it into special bag tag sleeve at airport, and bypass long luggage check in lines. (Photo: Hawaiian Air)

Hawaiian tries out self-checked luggage. The latest carrier to start testing a procedure for passengers to check their own bags is Hawaiian Airlines. For two months, travelers on its flights from Seattle and Oakland to four Hawaiian destinations can use the TAG@HOME option, which lets them print out bag tags at home when they check in for flights. At the airport, they’ll find a stand with reusable sleeves; tags are slipped into them and attached to the luggage, which is taken to a bag drop. Alaska Airlines offers a similar option for home printing called Self-Tag Express, and United has started offering a self-tagged bag procedure at Chicago O’Hare, but with tags printed at the airport.

Earlier boarding for uber elite? This just in from TravelSkills reader EJ: “When the Delta gate agent called for first class boarding on a recent flight to New York, she invited Diamond Medallion members to board the flight with first class passengers. The agent then waited two minutes before inviting other Sky Priority passengers — Platinum, Gold — to board. As a Diamond flyer with Delta, the invite to board with first class passengers was a pleasant surprise. I’ve had issues with Delta over the years, but Delta deserves kudos in this case. Delta seems to me upping its game on multiple fronts.” Has anyone else received special treatment like this?

This week’s most popular post

Hawaiian, Frontier add routes. Members of American’s AAdvantage program in the San Francisco area are getting a new option for award travel to Maui. AAdvantage partner Hawaiian Airlines said it plans to begin four weekly flights between SFO-Maui on November 20, increasing to daily December 17, using a 294-seat A330-200. Meanwhile, Frontier announced new service starting in late October from Cincinnati to DFW, Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Ft Lauderdale; from Chicago O’Hare to Phoenix and Salt Lake City and from DFW to Memphis.

Secret spaces on new jets: TravelSkills in London’s Daily Mail. Last week, London’s popular Daily Mail website post on a story we brought you two years ago: An inside look at airline crew rest areas. The Mail story included several images as well as our 8 Best Beds video we created in 2012 when invited on a Cathay Pacific B777 delivery flight from the Boeing factory in Seattle to Hong Kong. The post was hugely popular… as a matter of fact, view on our video jumped from around 90,000 to over 240,000 in just a few days.

SECURITY

TSA PreCheck hits a milestone. TSA said last week its PreCheck program, now about nine months old, has passed the half-million mark in approved members. What’s more, Customs and Border Protection now has more than 3 million members in its own trusted traveler programs, which include Global Entry for international airport arrivals. TSA said PreCheck is currently available at 118 U.S. airports, while Global Entry can be used at 51 U.S. airports and at preclearance stations in Canada. TSA has opened more than 300 PreCheck application centers nationwide.

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HOTELS

Fees on hotel guests hit a new record. A new study by NYU’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management finds U.S. hotels are on track to haul in a record $2.25 billion in fees and surcharges from guests in 2014 — up from $1.7 billion just four years ago. “Fees and surcharges are highly profitable; most have incremental profitability of 80 to 90 percent or more of the amounts collected,” the study noted. Hotel charges include things like resort fees, early departure fees, Internet fees, room service surcharges and business center fees, among others. Have you been seeing new hotel fees lately? Which ones irritate you the most? 

In Case You Missed It…

>Check out this amusing video about the controversial “Knee Defender” incident on United last week.

>Check out these interesting facts about airline flight numbers.

Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

Big fare sale + Fancy food on United + Uber raises fares + Cuts at Qantas + Better biz class on AA

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

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

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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What’s your favorite flight number?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other #1s:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

Big fare sale + Fancy food on United + Uber raises fares + Cuts at Qantas + Better biz class on AA

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

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

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

Alaska Airlines

An alert sent to TravelSkills by Alaska Airlines this week

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

INTERNATIONAL

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

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

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

Related: Sad to see the graceful 747 fade away! 

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

New DART rapid rail connection at DFW

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

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

HOTELS

A posh new perch in NYC

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

-Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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

Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

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