Thomas Cook Airlines is expanding U.S.-U.K. service this summer. (Image: Thomas Cook Airlines)
We mentioned recently that Thomas Cook Airlines will begin San Francisco-Manchester, U.K. service this spring. But it’s also planning lots of other new summer service between the U.S. and the U.K., with relatively low fares.
So what is Thomas Cook Airlines, how does it compare to other low-cost transatlantic airlines, and what does it have to do with Thomas Cook, the venerable U.K.-based travel agency group?
First, let’s look at its summer schedule. Besides twice-weekly (Thurs & Sun only) SFO-Manchester service starting May 14, the airline will start flying to Manchester from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York JFK on May 1, with schedules ranging from three flights a week to daily, as well as Orlando-London Gatwick. On May 3, it adds Orlando-Manchester and Las Vegas-Glasgow, followed by Boston-Manchester May 16; Miami-Manchester June 15; Orlando-Belfast June 25; and Las Vegas-London Stansted August 3.
Premium economy on Thomas Cook Airlines
The carrier uses Airbus A330-200s widebodies on its U.S. routes, with economy and premium economy seating. To Manchester, it cites one-way fares of $279 economy/$419 premium from San Francisco, $279/$359 from Los Angeles and $249/$349 from JFK, for example.
And does that buy you nothing but a seat as on low fare carriers like Norwegian or WOW? Nope: “All tickets include a minimum of 50 pounds checked luggage and 13 pounds of cabin luggage, as well as meals. Inflight entertainment is available on seat-back screens, with a choice of free or paid-for content, featuring more than 30 movies and 50 TV shows,” a spokesman said. On airlines like Norwegian and WOW, those things cost extra for economy class travelers.
According to Seatguru.com, premium economy in Thomas Cook Airlines’ two-class A330-200s has 49 “recliner seats” (seven across) that are 19.7 inches wide, with 35-inch pitch; and 273 regular economy seats (eight across) that are 18.2 inches wide with 31-inch pitch (pretty much the industry standard for economy class these days).
Seating on a Thomas Cook A330-200. (Image: Thomas Cook Airlines)
Thomas Cook Group has five operating divisions across Europe; besides the airlines and the travel agency chain, it also has several tour operators and a hotel booking website. And it’s huge: The group has total sales of more than $10 billion and more than 21,000 employees.
The airline’s U.S. routes are largely seasonal. Its winter 2017/2018 schedule shows U.S. service only to New York JFK and Las Vegas from Manchester, and to Orlando from Manchester and London Gatwick.
A new baggage carousel in Mineta San Jose’s expanded international arrivals facility. (Image: Mineta San Jose Airport)
In airport news, San Jose opens an expanded international arrivals space; Boston Logan’s Terminal E gets an overhaul and a pair of new premium lounges; Virgin America will lose its Loft at LAX; San Francisco International can record your license plate; and Dallas/Ft. Worth is greatly expanding a much-needed passenger amenity.
After a year of construction, Mineta San Jose International Airport this week cut the ribbon on an expanded International Arrivals Building. The project added 2,700 square feet and a second baggage carousel in the secure Customs area, along with a 3,100 square foot enclosed area for people waiting to meet inbound passengers. Airport officials said the larger space was needed because the number of carriers with international service at SJC has grown from three to nine in the past two years.
Virgin America will lose its Loft lounge at LAX next month. (Image: Virgin America)
That big multi-airline move at Los Angeles International coming next month will eliminate one of the airport’s favorite spaces for Virgin America customers: the airline’s popular Loft in Terminal 3. That’s because the move will take Virgin from T3 to Terminal 6, where it will co-locate with its new owner, Alaska Airlines. But the Travel Codex blog reports that persons who enjoy free access to the Virgin America Loft – i.e., first class and Gold Elite customers – will get the same privileges at the Alaska Airlines lounge in T6, and Virgin’s Elevate Silver members will get a reduced entry rate of $15.
At Boston Logan, work has been finished on an expansion of Terminal E. The project added three more gates to the facility, and gives it the capability of handling Airbus A380 jumbos. Along with the extra space, travelers will be seeing improvements in Terminal E concessions as well. A new Hudson News has opened, to be followed in June by a new duty free store. New restaurants coming this summer include a Legal Sea Bar seafood eatery and a branch of Stephanie’s, a popular dining spot on Boston’s Newbury Street. The project also brought some new space for premium international flyers, including a British Airways lounge for first and business class customers (including those of partner carriers Iberia, Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific); and a new Lufthansa lounge for first and business class flyers and elite-level customers, including those of Star Alliance partners at BOS like SAS, TAP and Turkish Airlines.
Part of Luftnhansa’s new lounge at Boston Logan’s Terminal E. (Image: Lufthansa)
Do you drive to San Francisco International? If so, your license plate data could be captured and stored electronically for up to four years. according to Endgadget.com, the city’s Airport Commission OK’d the data collection plan to help in monitoring revenues from commercial operations like parking and taxis, but it’s not clear why it needs anyone else’s plate numbers, or why it needs to be kept for years. The airport apparently also has permission to release relevant data to law enforcement authorities, and the whole thing is stirring up some concerns among privacy and civil liberty groups.
Passengers at Dallas/Ft. Worth International will find it easier to plug in during the coming months. The airport plans to spend $1 million on the installation of another 2,750 power outlets at the gate areas in all five terminals. Electrical plugs are currently available at 10 to 15 percent of the gate area seats, but this project should expand that to 40-50 percent.
Alaska/Virgin America will expand service at Dallas Love Field. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Alaska Airlines officials said last week they had no intention of giving up Virgin America’s gates at Dallas’ close-in Love Field – even though Alaska already flies to Dallas/Ft. Worth International – and this week they explained why: They are planning a significant expansion of service at Love.
The company said it plans to add four new West Coast routes out of Love starting later this summer and into next year, and to keep most of the DAL routes that Virgin already has, although with some changes of aircraft.
On August 27, Alaska will begin twice-daily flights between Seattle and DAL, using a Virgin A320 for one of them and an E175 for the second. The airline will also use three-class E175s for the other new routes, including daily service from Portland to DAL starting August 28, along with San Diego-DAL and San Jose-DAL, both starting February 16.
Southwest, the dominant airline at Love Field, also dominates all four of those routes, with multiple daily flights in each market; and American does the same from DFW. Alaska currently flies to Seattle and Portland from DFW, and will continue to do so.
Virgin America’s first class check-in at Love Field. (Image: Virgin America)
Alaska and Virgin America also plan on “streamlining the airlines’ route network at Love Field” with aircraft changes. This summer, the company will start replacing Virgin America mainline jets with E175s out of Love Field. The changeover is set for August 27 for the three daily DAL-New York LaGuardia flights, with a fourth frequency added October 28. On February 18, two daily DAL-Washington Reagan National flights will make the switch from mainline to E175s, with the third one doing the same March 11.
One additional tweak to Alaska/Virgin’s Love Field schedule: Service to Las Vegas will be dropped August 26. The company will continue operating Virgin’s current schedule of three daily flights from DAL to both San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Alaska has ordered a number of new three-class E175s. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
Switching to E175s frees up mainline Virgin aircraft from Love Field to fly Alaska’s previously announced new routes from San Francisco to Philadelphia, New Orleans, Nashville, Indianapolis Raleigh-Durham and Kona, and new LAX-Philadelphia flights.
“Prior to merger, Virgin America lacked a regional aircraft to take advantage of mid-sized routes. The fuel-efficient E175 jet has the same amenities and features of a mainline jet and is perfectly suited for Love Field,” said John Kirby, Alaska’s vp-capacity planning.
Virgin America moved its Dallas flights from DFW to Love Field in 2014 after regulatory changes opened up the close-in airport to more long-distance flights beyond the states bordering Texas.
Alaska Airlines keeps adding more transcontinental routes. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
In domestic route developments, Alaska can’t seem to get enough transcontinental routes; Delta extends a new seating option to smaller regional jets; Southwest takes on another intra-California market; American drops a key Caribbean route but adds a Michigan link; and Frontier expands to Puerto Rico.
Alaska Airlines is getting into several new transcontinental markets thanks to its acquisition of Virgin America, and it has been adding some of its own, like the San Jose-Newark, Portland-Orlando and San Diego-Baltimore/Washington flights it started last month. But that’s not enough for Alaska: It just announced plans to add new daily transcon flights from Portland to New York JFK and from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. And it’s not quite a transcon, but Alaska also announced plans to start flying once a day from Portland to Detroit.
The Portland-Detroit service starts August 30, followed by one daily LAX-Philadelphia flight September 1 and one daily Portland-JFK roundtrip beginning November 6. All the eastbound flights on the new routes will be red-eyes. The two Portland routes will use 737s, while the LAX-Philadelphia route will use an Airbus from the A320 family (i.e., a Virgin America plane). LAX-Philadelphia was previously served by Virgin America from 2012 to 2014.
Delta Connection CRJ-200s are getting Comfort+ seats. (Image: SkyWest)
Major carriers have been transitioning their fleets away from smaller regional jets to the larger ones preferred by passengers. Delta still has some 50-seat CRJ-200s operated by Endeavor/SkyWest, and it just announced it has started selling its extra-legroom Comfort+ seating on those planes, effective for travel beginning May 1. With this enhancement, Delta said it “will now offer Delta Comfort+ on nearly all single-cabin delta Connection aircraft, in addition to its two-cabin aircraft.”
Delta’s announcement didn’t say how many Comfort+ seats the CRJ-200s would have, or how much extra pitch they would offer, or what would happen to seat pitch for the regular economy seats on those aircraft.
Southwest is starting service from Long Beach to Sacramento. (Image: Long Beach Airport)
Southwest Airlines, which started flying out of southern California’s Long Beach Airport last year with several flights a day to Oakland, has been eager to expand at Long Beach if only it could get more slots there. Well, it recently picked up a couple of slots given up by American, and said it will use them to begin twice-daily flights from Long Beach to Sacramento starting August 1.
American Airlines has been flying from New York JFK to San Juan, Puerto Rico for more than 45 years. But it has decided to give up that market on August 22, when it will eliminate its two daily flights on the route. AA still will fly to San Juan from several other hubs. Elsewhere, American Eagle has started up new service from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport, operating 12 flights a week.
While American is cutting capacity to San Juan, Frontier Airlines is adding it. Frontier is due to begin daily flights from Philadelphia and Orlando to San Juan on June 11, operating one daily A321 roundtrip on each route.
Delta’s A319s have nine-inch screens at every seat. (Image: Delta)
In domestic route news, Delta will start multiple daily flights between two key business centers; Alaska eyes deployment of new E175s this spring and summer; American adds spokes from its Miami and Dallas hubs; JetBlue invades Delta’s hometown; United drops an East Coast route; and JetSuiteX steps up for music lovers.
Delta set June 19 for the start of new service from its growing Seattle hub to the largest city where it doesn’t yet fly from SEA. The carrier said it will inaugurate service between SEA and Chicago O’Hare, offering three flights a day with Airbus A319s. Departures in both directions are scheduled for early morning, midday and late afternoon, and tickets are on sale now. Meanwhile, later this year Delta will revive service on a route it dropped years ago: Salt Lake City-Tampa. Service will begin December 21 with one daily 737 roundtrip. And effective July 9, Delta will deploy a second daily roundtrip on its Atlanta-Rochester, Minn. route, using a CRJ-700.
Alaska’s Horizon Air subsidiary is deploying new three-class E175s. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines has ordered a bunch of new Embraer E175s, and several of them are being delivered this spring and summer. Routesonline.com reports that Alaska’s Horizon Air unit has started scheduling the new planes onto its route network, initially operating one daily roundtrip in each market. You’ll see the new E-175s staring May 4 on the Portland-St. Louis route, followed on May 18 on routes from Seattle to Oakland, Ontario, Portland, San Francisco, and St. Louis. The plane debuts June 4 between Portland-Salt Lake City; June 15 from Seattle to Calgary, Colorado Springs, Santa Barbara and San Jose; July 17 from Portland to Dallas/Ft. Worth; July 18 from SEA to Fresno and San Luis Obispo; August 17 from Seattle to Bozeman; August 18 from Orange County and Portland to Albuquerque; September 18 from San Francisco to Albuquerque and Kansas City; and October 18 from San Diego to Albuquerque.
The new aircraft are part of Alaska’s largest order ever for Horizon – a total of 30 new planes. And they will come with a three-class seating configuration including 12 first class seats, 16 in Alaska’s new Premium Class and 48 in the main cabin. The premium class seats will have a 34-inch pitch, vs. 36 to 38 inches in first and 31 inches in the main cabin. The planes will also have Wi-Fi, power outlets throughout, and free streaming entertainment.
American Airlines plans a July 5 start for new service between its Dallas/Ft. Worth hub and Spokane. The carrier will operate one daily roundtrip using a 124-passenger A319. On the same date, American will add another spoke from its Miami hub with the inauguration of one daily roundtrip to Omaha, Nebraska. MIA-Omaha will be an American Eagle operation, using a 76-seat E-175.
JetBlue and Delta are adding a new competitive arena as JetBlue invades the Boston-Atlanta market. (Image: Jim Glab)
We’ve mentioned this before, but just a reminder: This Tuesday (March 28), JetBlue is set to jump into a market thoroughly dominated by Delta and Southwest: Boston-Atlanta. JetBlue plans five flights a day on the route. The carrier planned on operating out of ATL’s Terminal E, but the airport reportedly wanted JetBlue to split its flights between Terminals D and E – prompting a JetBlue complaint to the FAA.
With a big hub at Newark, United Airlines doesn’t have much of a presence at New York LaGuardia – and that presence is about to get smaller. United Express/Republic Airlines operates up to three flights a day between LGA and Raleigh-Durham, but those flights are scheduled for termination effective June 7. United already serves RDU from Newark.
Music fans who want to get to the renowned Coachella Festival next month without a long drive through the desert have a new option. JetSuiteX, which operates small-jet scheduled service on intra-California routes, is planning to run special flights on two April weekends from Burbank to the Jacqueline Cochran Desert Resorts Regional Airport in Thermal, California. The service is scheduled for April 14-17 and April 21-24; tickets start at $199 each way at www.JetSuiteX.com.
Last week Virgin Atlantic launched new 3x per week “Man-Fran” nonstops between SFO and Manchester, UK. Lowest fares for May $659 roundtrip. Virgin says “Man-Fran will build on a shared psyche between these two northern cities, both famous for their wet weather, trams, music, LBGT and street art scenes; one built on a heritage of silicon and the other rebuilding itself as a British tech hub” (Photo: Virgin)
San Jose getting even more new nonstops to East Coast! (Photo: SJC)
Bay Area business travelers are seeing new flights at all three major airports in the region as passenger traffic keeps increasing, but one of them is adding new capacity at a faster rate than any airport in the country.
That airport is Mineta San Jose International (SJC), where total passenger traffic last year soared above the 10 million mark to 10.8 million, a gain of more than 10 percent over the previous year. For international passengers, the annual increase was more than 68 percent over 2015 as more carriers added transatlantic and transpacific service from SJC.
The number of airline seats flying in and out of SJC during March was up almost 20 percent over the same month a year ago. The average increase for U.S. airports was under 5 percent.
The capacity boom at Mineta San Jose is continuing this month with new transcontinental service – in fact, the same route — from two airlines. March 9 was the launch date for United’s new daily non-stops to its Newark Liberty hub, and three days later, Alaska Airlines inaugurated its own daily flights to EWR. United also started up twice-daily service to its big hub at Chicago O’Hare.
You can find more details about new San Jose routes here.
More planes, more flights, more passengers than ever at SJC (Photo: SJC)
With the tremendous growth in the nation’s technology sector, Mineta San Jose is positioning itself as the gateway airport for Silicon Valley business travelers, since the companies that collective name refers to are mostly just a few miles up the Highway 101 from SJC in towns like Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto. It’s closer not only in highway miles, but especially in drive time thanks to its distance from the congested San Francisco peninsula (and its crowded airport).
Those new transcons from United and Alaska are just a few of the new services coming to SJC in late winter and spring. In mid-March, Alaska added California Corridor service between Mineta San Jose and the Los Angeles area’s uncrowded Hollywood-Burbank Airport, with three daily roundtrips. And in May, SJC will welcome seasonal daily service from American Airlines to its Charlotte, N.C. hub, as well as a third daily roundtrip to Atlanta being added to Delta’s schedule. On June 4, Southwest is due to begin daily roundtrips from Mineta San Jose to Reno.
And later this year, Alaska Airlines will begin new daily E175 service from SJC to Austin and Tucson (both starting August 28), and four flights a day to Los Angeles International (beginning September 20).
On the hunt for colorful planes? Look no further than San Jose! (Photo: SJC)
More international flights are coming as well. Aeromexico is set to start flying once a day from SJC to its Guadalajara hub on July 1. And on May 2, Air Canada will add a third daily frequency to its SJC-Vancouver route. That’s all in addition to the big bump in international options for business travelers that came to SJC last year, including Air China’s non-stops to Shanghai, British Airways’ flights to London Heathrow, and Lufthansa’s to Frankfurt.
It’s easier than ever now for South Bay road warriors to get to Europe or Asia from SJC without a connection.
Have you flown in or out of San Jose lately? Why or why not? Are you more likely to give SJC a try now that it’s added this slew of new flights? Please leave your comments below.
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Alaska Airlines light blue mood lighting will replace Virgin’s deep purple (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
After months of speculation about the fate of the Virgin America brand and product under Alaska Airlines ownership, Alaska’s management has finally decided: The Virgin name will gradually disappear, but many of passengers’ favorite Virgin features will migrate into Alaska’s aircraft – and vice-versa.
Alaska’s brand and logo will creep into Virgin’s fleet and facilities over time, with the Virgin identity phased out by 2019. But the combined mainline fleet of Alaska’s 737s and Virgin’s Airbus planes “will adopt many of the brand elements that Virgin America enthusiasts love.”
Here are the details of the plan offered up in a TravelSkills interview with Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ VP of marketing, and Andrew Harrison, chief commercial officer, who said that their goal is to create “a warm and welcoming West Coast-inspired vibe.” Richard Branson couldn’t have said it any better 😉
Alaska Airlines nonstop from LAX to Havana arrives at about 5 pm- just in time for sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
FLEET: The fleet of the combined mainline carrier will be Airbus/Boeing for at least the next six years. Alaska plans to take ten Airbus A321 NEOS over the next two years. But this arrangement may not last forever. A spokesman told TravelSkills: “We are working through a process with both Boeing and Airbus to arrive at a decision later this year as to whether we will remain all Boeing or move forward with a duel fleet strategy for future purchases.”
Alaska Airlines new first class seat – SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE PHOTOS (Photo: Alaska Airlines)
SEATS/UPGRADES: Virgin’s eight-white-leather-seat first class section will be retired. In its place Alaska will install 12 first class seats. Virgin’s Main Cabin Select (premium economy) product will also go away, replaced by 18 of Alaska’s Premium Class seats. The new first class seats will have 41-inch pitch, footrests, personal power outlets, cup holders and more seatback storage space, while the 18-seat Premium Class section will have 35-inch pitch. Alaska has no plans to move to lie-flat seating on transcon flights. And upgrades will be more generous, Alaska said: “With 50 percent more premium seats being introduced to the Airbus fleet, elite loyalty members will enjoy the most generous complimentary upgrades in the industry. Mileage Plan MVP Golds and above are upgraded to First Class or Premium Class 75 percent of the time…Complimentary upgrades to first class on Airbus aircraft (something Virgin never offered) will debut for the first time ever in late 2019.”
See bottom of this post for slideshow of Alaska Air’s new look coming in 2018>>>
Alaska Airlines’ new rooftop lounge will be located in the same structure as SFO’s new observation deck (Image SFO)
LOUNGES: At San Francisco International’s Terminal 2, Alaska Airlines will construct a completely new rooftop Alaska Lounge, which could include an outdoor deck. Looking at the renderings from SFO, I’m guessing the new Alaska Lounge will be on the opposite end of the structure that will contain the airport’s new observation deck, expected to open in 2019. In the meantime, Alaska is working on getting Alaska Lounge members access to American’s Admiral’s Club on the main floor of T2. (Right now, Alaska Airlines is in the International Terminal at SFO.) There will also be a new Alaska Lounge at New York JFK, but its location is TBD. Alaska also promises “refreshed and expanded” airport lounges by early 2019 in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles.
Alaska Airlines allows passengers to watch movies on their own devices, or on tablets it rents onboard (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT: Sangita said that Alaska is leaning toward pursuing a “bring your own device” strategy for inflight entertainment. She said passengers who don’t have their own device can get one onboard, distributed by flight attendants. Without seatback entertainment systems, Virgin’s famous (but kinda irritating) pre-flight safety video will also go by the wayside. Effective immediately, passengers on its Boeing aircraft can now stream Alaska’s in-flight entertainment catalogue of 200 movies and TV shows to their personal electronic devices at no charge, making permanent an innovation that started as a temporary promotion in January. This will be extended to Airbus aircraft via their Red entertainment system in August of this year.
CONNECTIVITY: Alaska will also install high-speed satellite Wi-Fi in its 737s starting late next year, followed by the Airbus fleet. “Both fleets are expected to be fully satellite-equipped by the end of 2019,” Alaska said. Whether or not Gogo will continue to provide inflight Wi-Fi for Alaska will be determined by this summer. Alaska said it will also extend its in-flight “Free Chat” feature to the Airbus fleet in August.
Pay $10 for healthy “signature fruit and cheese plate” like this on Alaska Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
FOOD/DRINK: Virgin’s popular seatback food/drink ordering system will likely go away. “We are currently exploring a new way of doing this via passengers’ mobile devices instead,” said Sangita. Instead of unlimited free food and drink, Main Cabin Select will switch to the Premium Class policy of a free boxed meal and unlimited beverages. By June of this year, Alaska said, first class passengers will be able to pre-select meals before departure, and by early 2018, main cabin flyers will be able to prepay for meals before departure. Pre-ordering meals will be available for Airbus flights “sometime in the future.”
The Virgin America look: black leather & mood lights. ( Photo: Chris McGinnis)
MOOD LIGHTING: Virgin’s famous deep purple mood lighting will fade away and be replaced by Alaska’s cool blue, which Sangita said is more “modern, warm and welcoming.”
LOYALTY: Virgin’s Elevate program will disappear in 2018– all members will fold into Alaska’s Mileage Plan program. The best part about Mileage Plan is that it still rewards a mile flown with a mile earned, unlike other programs (including Virgin America’s) that reward based on how much money you spend. Alaska’s program will become even more generous with upgrades as more first and premium economy seats are added. Plus, Mileage Plan’s intricate web of partnerships provides access to 900 destinations worldwide. For now at least, it appears that Alaska will stick to its mileage-based program as a marketing tool that separates it from competitors. Will it last? Who knows…
So what do you think? If you are a current Virgin America flyer, will you stick with Alaska Airlines? If you fly another carrier, will you be willing to make the switch? Please leave your comments below.
Here are some images of Alaska Air’s new look coming in 2018:
What do you think of the blue? Please leave your comments below.
British Airways will fly nonstop between Oakland and London-Gatwick using a Boeing 777-200ER (Photo: British Airways)
In international route developments, Norwegian and British Airways begin new Oakland flights; Alaska inks a frequent flyer partnership with a European carrier; China Eastern adds a U.S. route; KLM returns to Minneapolis; Air Canada begins a new transcontinental link from Vancouver; and Volaris starts Houston service.
It will be a busy time at Oakland International next week,with two new transatlantic services coming to the Bay Area airport. March 28 is the launch date for Norwegian’s newest low-cost transatlantic route, linking Oakland with Copenhagen twice a week, using a 787-8. And on the same date, British Airways will kick off new daily flights linking Oakland with London Gatwick – a route served since last year by Norwegian. The new BA flights out of OAK will operate four days a week, using a 777-200ER with business, premium economy and regular economy seating. BA already flies to London from San Francisco and San Jose – but to Heathrow, not Gatwick. Meanwhile, BA will also begin new service on March 27 between New Orleans and London Heathrow, offering 787-8 flights four days a week.
Condor is Alaska’s newest Mileage Plan partner. (Image: Condor)
Alaska Airlines has added another European carrier as a partner in its Mileage Plan frequent flyer program. The new partner is Condor, a leisure-oriented subsidiary of Thomas Cook that is based in Germany. The two carriers already had an interline agreement, but now passengers will be able to earn and spend Mileage Plan miles on Condor as well. Alaska passengers can link up with transatlantic Condor flights to Frankfurt at Seattle, San Diego, Las Vegas, Portland, Anchorage and Fairbanks; in June, Condor will add Seattle-Munich flights.
Mileage Plan members can start earning elite-qualifying miles on Condor flights now (and so can Virgin America Elevate members who have a Mileage Plan account number). Award travel redemption “will begin at a later date,” Alaska said. Condor, which uses three-class 767-300ERs on its transatlantic routes, is expanding its North America network this year to a total of 16 cities, mostly served a couple of times a week. The airline primarily serves vacationers, but offers a nice (but non-lie-flat) business class, reviewed here.
China Eastern wants to start Houston-Shanghai flights. (Image: Airbus)
China Eastern Airlines has its eye on new U.S. service linking Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport with Shanghai Pudong, according to a report in Air Transport World, an aviation industry journal. China Eastern, a member of Delta’s SkyTeam global alliance, reportedly hopes to begin the service in June or July. The only other non-stop service between Houston and China is an Air China route from Houston to Beijing.
KLM set a March 27 start for seasonal service between Minneapolis-St. Paul and its Amsterdam Schiphol hub – a route it hasn’t flown since 2001. The Dutch carrier will fly the route three days a week, continuing through October. KLM’s SkyTeam partner Delta, which has a hub at MSP, already offers service to AMS up to three times a da
On June 23, Air Canada will introduce new seasonal service linking Vancouver with Boston, continuing through September 4. The carrier will offer one daily roundtrip using a two-class A319. The Canadian carrier will also resume Montreal-Washington Dulles daily service starting June 19, using a 50-passenger CRJ-100; Air Canada already flies between Montreal and Washington Reagan National.
Alaska will deploy three-class E175s on new San Diego routes. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
Just a week after announcing 13 new nonstop routes from the Bay Area starting in late summer and fall of this year, Alaska Airlines is aiming to strengthen its grip on the California market even more by launching service on six new routes from San Diego.
The expansion calls for daily service from SAN to Omaha and to Austin starting August 27; to Albuquerque beginning October 18; to Minneapolis-St. Paul as of November 18; and to Kansas City and St. Louis beginning December 15.
All routes will be flown once a day with the popular 76-seat, three-class E175s (12 seats in first class, 12 seats in premium class and 52 seats in the main cabin). Once a day is not really enough to entice business travelers who love multiple options when plans change, but at least it’s a new nonstop option. In many of these markets, Southwest also operates one or two nonstops per day.
Alaska has been gradually building up its presence at California’s second largest city. Some of that growth begins this week, including new daily San Diego-Baltimore/Washington flights and three daily roundtrips between SAN and Sacramento. Alaska also recently won authority for new service from San Diego to Mexico City, but schedules haven’t yet been set.
New Alaska routes coming at San Diego. (Map: Alaska Airlines)
It’s a busy week for Alaska inaugurals in other markets as well. In addition to the San Diego flights mentioned above, the airline this week is kicking off a daily San Jose-Newark roundtrip; a daily Portland-Orlando flight; and three flights a day between San Jose and Burbank.
Alaska said that over the past five years, it has added 18 non-stop destinations from San Diego; by late August of this year, it will be operating 40 daily flights from SAN to 28 destinations.
“From San Diego, guests can make convenient connections to Tokyo and London, served by partner carriers Japan Airlines and British Airways,” the company noted.
Last year, Alaska’s Horizon Air unit placed an order for 30 new E175 jets, with options for 33 more. Deliveries are due to begin this year. SkyWest Airlines also operates some E175s for Alaska.
As it grows its own brand presence, Alaska must also figure out how to blend its network together with Virgin America’s. In last week’s announcement of new service from the Bay Area, Alaska said that all the new mainline routes would be flown with A320 family aircraft. That’s the type used by Virgin America – although the company didn’t say they would be operated by Virgin America. Alaska is expected to decide later this month what it will do with the Virgin America brand– so stay tuned!
Some additional notes regarding Amex: See below for Amex guest policy changes announced this week to fix overcrowding at lounges; additionally, we’ve heard from a few readers who called Amex to protest the 22% rate increase, and were offered a $300 credit on the spot to not cancel their cards)
Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:
This week Cathay Pacific announced that it would add a THIRD daily SFO-Hong Kong nonstop on October 29 using an Airbus A350, its first deployed in the U.S. The new jet will offer Cathay’s newest business class, premium economy and economy class seating (no first class). What’s really nice about this plane? It burns 25% less fuel (with corresponding reduction in emissions) and its carpet and blankets are made with nylon and plastic recycled from bottles and salvaged fishing nets, which pose a threat to marine life. Even better, this will be the first Cathay plane to offer inflight wi-fi– essential for those 12-14 hour flights to Hong Kong!
Cathay Pacific’s first U.S. A350 coming to SFO this fall (Photo: Cathay Pacific)
Alaska Airlines will use A320-family aircraft for new SFO routes- but fate of Virgin brand still in question. (Image: Chris McGinnis)
Now that Alaska Airlines owns Virgin America, it has targeted the Bay Area for “the single largest new market announcement” in its history, the company said Thursday. Will this mean lower fares? Probably not…
Alaska/Virgin plans to add service on 13 new routes from San Francisco and San Jose in late summer and fall of this year.
All the mainline flights on Alaska’s new routes will use aircraft from the “A320 family,” which is the type used by Virgin America. Alaska has an all-Boeing mainline fleet. New San Jose flights and a few from SFO will use smaller Embraer E175s.
It’s interesting that Alaska didn’t say the routes would be operated by Virgin America – just that they will be flown by A320 family aircraft- something that could be telling regarding the fate of the Virgin brand. Alaska executives have been feverishly studying what to do about the Virgin America brand, and they are expected to decide and announce something by the end of this month ahead of its annual investors meeting.
New mainline daily service coming from Alaska (and the starting dates) include flights from San Francisco to Philadelphia (August 31), New Orleans (September 21), Nashville (September 5), Indianapolis (September 26), Raleigh-Durham (October 19), Baltimore-Washington (October 16), and Kona, Hawaii (December 14).
The airline will deploy E175s for new daily flights from SFO to Albuquerque and Kansas City, both starting September 18.
Where are all those new flights going to fit at SFO’s limited number of gates? “The A320 flights will be operated by Virgin in Terminal 2, and we’re adding a fifteenth gate to support this. (Gate 50 will expand to be an A/B gate.) Flights operated in Embraer E175s will be operated by Alaska Air in their current location in the International Terminal,” said SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel, adding, “We are in discussions about once they begin operating under a single certificate, but these gate plans have yet to be finalized.”
Alaska’s Horizon Air subsidiary has ordered new three-class E175s. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
At Mineta San Jose, Alaska will begin new daily E175 flights to Austin and Tucson on August 28, and four flights a day to Los Angeles International beginning September 20. (Click on the link above to see flight times for all the new routes.)
The new markets are in addition to Alaska’s previously announced new service from the Bay Area coming in the months ahead, including San Jose-Newark (starting March 12), San Jose-Burbank (starting March 16 three times a day), and San Francisco service to Orlando, Orange County, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Mexico City.
Fares: We do not expect Alaska’s push into the Bay Area will result in lower fares– it’s not in this game to be a discounter. Instead, it will likely focus on service and amenities to attract a larger share of the lucrative business travel market. Even though it has the last remaining mileage based frequent flyer program, Alaska will likely have a big challenge convincing high mileage United Mileage Plus members to make the switch. One of the first steps in doing that is providing flights to cities where business travelers need to go. It will be interesting to see what else they do to woo frequent travelers.
For the Bay Area, “Our strategy is to use the same philosophy that’s worked well for us in our Pacific Northwest hubs, which is to offer convenient, nonstop flights to the places guests fly to most,” said Alaska executive vp Andrew Harrison.
Sadly missing from the new line up: SFO-Atlanta, a key business route locked up by Delta and United which could use a competitive bump from the new Alaska Airlines. Another miss for business travelers: SFO-Phoenix, largely dominated by American and Southwest.
To hype the announcement, Alaska has kicked off a social media promotion that will offer “destination-inspired food items” and free flights to Bay Area residents. “Travelers who tweet the airlines at @AlaskaAir and @VirginAmerica using the hashtag #MostWestCoast and with an airplane emoji will score the chance to have a destination-specific treat (think BBQ for Nashville and beignets for New Orleans) delivered within a few hours to their front door,” Alaska said, and some will win a free flight to one of the new destinations.
Are you more inclined to fly Alaska Airlines these days? Why or why not? Please leave your comments below.
Alaska Airlines will use 737-900s for new Mexico City flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
The U.S. Transportation Department has issued a tentative decision awarding Mexico City airport slots to six airlines, with U.S. carriers winning rights for new service to the Mexican capital from California, Florida and Texas.
The takeoff and landing slots at Mexico City became available after DOT required Delta and Aeromexico to give them up if they wanted antitrust immunity for their joint venture partnership. The government wanted the slots to go to low-cost airlines to counteract the increased market dominance that Delta and Aeromexico would gain from the joint venture.
Subject to agreement by Mexican government authorities and final DOT approval, the transfer of slots to new carriers will come in two phases. The first new services are expected to begin this summer, and the second phase should take effect before summer of 2018.
In the first phase, Alaska Airlines was a big winner, gaining tentative approval for everything it requested. The slot awards will let it begin flying to MEX once a day from San Francisco, once a day from San Diego, and twice a day from Los Angeles International. Alaska said it will use 737-900ERs for the SFO and LAX service, and regional jets from San Diego. Schedules will be announced after final approvals, Alaska said.
Aeromexico and Delta had to give up slots at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Also in the first phase, JetBlue won enough slots to operate two daily roundtrips from Orlando and two from Ft. Lauderdale. And Southwest received slots for two daily flights from Houston Hobby.
Mexican carriers in the first phase include Volaris, which won slots for daily service to Mexico City from Los Angeles, San Antonio and New York JFK. Interjet also got a slot pair for JFK-Mexico City service, and VivaAerobus won rights to a daily roundtrip between MEX and Las Vegas.
Slot awards in the second phase will give Southwest one daily roundtrip between Ft. Lauderdale and MEX and one between LAX and MEX. JetBlue will get slots for two daily roundtrips between LAX and MEX. Volaris is the big winner in the second phase, with slots that will allow new roundtrips from MEX to Denver, Washington Dulles, San Jose, Oakland, Ontario and Chicago O’Hare. VivaAerobus will get rights to two daily flights from MEX to New York JFK.
Have you been to Mexico City before? To me it’s one of the best places to go in North America- great food, robust cultural offerings, cool hotel scene… what about you?
San Francisco’s Runway 28L will be repaved this spring. (Image: FAA)
In airport news, San Francisco runway work could mean some delays; Oakland also plans a runway rehab; Baltimore-Washington will expand its international terminal; faster security screening lanes are coming to Minneapolis-St. Paul; and Seattle breaks ground on more Alaska Airlines gates.
San Francisco International has scheduled a major maintenance project for its Runway 28L that could mean some weekend flight delays over the next four months. Officials said the runway, which is used mainly for arriving flights, will be repaved and will get new centerline lights and ground markings. While most of the work will be done during late-night hours, officials said, the runway will be shut down during several weekends. The weekend closures are scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday through noon the following Monday on the weekends of March 31; April 7, 21 and 28; May 5, 12 and 19; and June 2 and 9. The schedule is subject to change depending on weather, and “some delays may occur during weekend closures,” official said.
A similar project is coming this summer at Oakland International, where Runway 12-30 is due to get an asphalt concrete overlay – something it needs every 15 years, officials said. The airport hasn’t issued a schedule for the work yet, but said it expects to exercise “a short-duration, full closure option” for the runway, which is typically is use 24 hours a day. During the closure, the airport will use a parallel taxiway as a temporary runway – the same thing it did during the last repaving in 2001. The airport didn’t say what the impact would be on flight operations, but it will discuss that and other details of the project at a public meeting on Thursday (February 16), scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Oakland’s Metropolitan Golf Links, 10051 Doolittle Drive.
Baltimore-Washington’s Concourse E extension will add more international gates. (Image: BWI Airport)
Baltimore-Washington International this spring will start construction of six new gates for its international terminal, including two full-service gates and four for arrivals only. The project involves building a 70,000 square foot extension of BWI’s Concourse E. Last year, BWI added two international gates as part of its new D/E Connector project. Airport officials said international traffic at BWI has been surging in recent years as airlines like WOW and Norwegian started service there; Southwest is the biggest international operator there, with flights to eight destinations in Latin American and the Caribbean.
Minneapolis-St. Paul’s Metropolitan Airports Commission has approved a $1.6 million plan to install some of those new security screening checkpoints that use new design features to move passengers through the process as much as 40 percent faster. The checkpoints allow up to five persons at once to load items into plastic bins, use an automatic return conveyor belt to move empty bins back to the loading area, and shunt questionable bags off to a side station for inspection instead of holding up the line. They’ve been appearing in major airports recently including Atlanta, Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles. The new MSP lanes will occupy four center lanes in Terminal 1’s south checkpoint, and should be in operation by this summer.
A new Alaska Airlines rooftop lounge will be part of Seattle’s North Satellite expansion. (Image: Seattle-Tacoma Airport)
Officials at Seattle-Tacoma International have broken ground on an eight-gate, $550 million expansion of Alaska Airlines’ North Satellite Terminal. The existing structure will be extended 240 feet to the west, and will also get a new upper level mezzanine and a $41 million, 15,000 square foot rooftop lounge for Alaska’s customers. The project will more than double the amount of space available for shopping and dining concessions. After the expansion is finished in 2019, the existing North Satellite space will be renovated and modernized.
Alaska Airlines wants to fly to Mexico City from San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. (Image: Alaska Air)
U.S. and Mexican airlines are competing for newly available access to Mexico City as Delta unveils plans to buy a much larger stake in Aeromexico.
The Transportation Department could soon announce new route authority for several carriers to Mexico City, using takeoff and landing slots that Aeromexico and Delta had to give up as a condition for approval of their joint venture. Alaska Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest are all in the running, along with Mexican low-cost carriers Volaris and VivaAerobus.
DOT plans to dole out 14 Mexico City slot pairs this year for U.S. service, concentrating on low-fare airlines to counteract the greater market power that antitrust immunity will give to the new Delta-Aeromexico joint venture.
Alaska Airlines, which has no service to the Mexican capital, has asked for authority to fly there twice a day from Los Angeles and once a day from San Francisco and San Diego. The SFO route and one of the LAX flights would use 737-900ERs; the others would use regional jets.
Mexico City’s international terminal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Southwest wants authority to add a fourth daily Houston-MEX flight, and to move one of the other three flights to more convenient times. JetBlue wants slots that would allow it to move its MEX-Ft. Lauderdale and MEX-Orlando departures out of Mexico City to later times in the day (both currently leave before 6 a.m.), and to add second frequencies on both routes.
Mexican low-cost carriers VivaAerobus and Volaris also want slots. VivaAerobus wants to start flying to Oakland three days a week and to San Antonio four days a week, and to operate daily roundtrips to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Volaris wants to add new daily service to San Antonio and Washington D.C., and to add frequencies on its routes to New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Delta wants to boost its stake in Aeromexico to 49 percent. (Image: Delta)
Meanwhile, Delta said this week it plans to buy up a much larger stake in Aeromexico. It currently holds 4.2 percent of that airline’s shares, and now said it will buy another 32 percent. It already holds options to buy 12.8 percent, so after the transaction is over, Delta will hold ownership or options on 49 percent of Aeromexico’s shares – the same as its equity stake in Virgin Atlantic. Delta and Virgin also have a joint venture with antitrust immunity, and have used it to closely coordinate schedules on transatlantic routes to the U.K.
Delta owns smaller stakes in Brazil’s GOL and in China Eastern Airlines.
“The tender offer and investment (in Aeromexico) will further strengthen the relationship that will be established when our joint cooperation agreement is implemented in the second quarter,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian.
Have you been to Mexico City lately? To me it’s one of the great sleeper cities of the Western Hemisphere. What about you?
Delta is growing again at Cincinnati. (Image: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport)
In domestic route news, Delta will grow at Cincinnati, and keeps a key Dallas route for now; Southwest adds new routes from Long Beach and Ontario; Alaska enters a new market from Orange County; Frontier adds new service in 10 markets; and Spirit Airlines expands in the northeast.
For years, Delta has been scaling back operations at Cincinnati, which was once one of its hubs. But now the airline plans to grow there, citing 15 straight months of increasing passenger numbers. Delta said its plan calls for a capacity increase of 6 percent in total seats flown out of Cincinnati, including the addition of more frequencies in five key business markets, with additional daily flights from Cincinnati to Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Orlando and Toronto.
It will also upgrade Cincinnati-Denver service to mainline aircraft, and will offer first class seating on all flights to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Its seasonal winter service from Cincinnati to Ft. Myers will continue to operate daily through the summer, Delta said, and its seasonal Seattle flights will extend into the fall and spring. Finally, departures from CVG to Charlotte, Hartford, Newark and Philadelphia will be retimed to permit easy same-day trips out and back. The airline will have a total of 82 peak-day departures at Cincinnati this summer, to 35 destinations. (More Cincy news below!)
Dallas Love Field will keep Delta service to Atlanta — for now. (Photo: Chris McGinnis(
In other news, Delta has won a court victory – for now, at least – that allows it to keep operating five flights a day between Atlanta and Dallas Love Field. Southwest has been eager to kick Delta out of the Southwest gates it has been subleasing at DAL, in a court fight that is going into its third year. A district court has blocked Southwest from doing so until the matter goes to trial, and this week an appellate court upheld that ruling. So Delta’s DAL-ATL route is safe for the time being. Delta offers even more service between ATL and Dallas/Ft. Worth.
Southwest Airlines is adding two new routes out of southern California. From Long Beach, Southwest just started operating twice-weekly 737-700 service to Denver. The flights operate on Saturdays and Sundays. Southwest has also kicked off new daily 737-700 flights between Ontario, California and Dallas Love Field.
Continuing its growth at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, Alaska Airlines has set an August 18 start for new service from SNA to Albuquerque. The flights will operate once a day, using Horizon Air E175 jets with 12 first class seats, 12 in premium class and 52 in regular economy. That’s the same date that Alaska will begin recently announced new service between Portland and Albuquerque.
Frontier Airlines is adding 10 more routes this spring. (Image: Jim Glab)
Frontier Airlines plans to kick off new daily service between Cincinnati and New York LaGuardia on April 21, and it also announced new service with less-than-daily frequencies on nine other routes. From Austin, Frontier will begin four flights a week to Washington Dulles on April 21, and three a week to San Diego beginning April 23. Other new service from Cincinnati includes four flights a week to Minneapolis beginning April 21 and three a week to San Diego starting May 21. From Cleveland, Frontier will add four weekly flights to Charlotte on April 21, three a week to Minneapolis starting April 23, four a week to Houston Bush Intercontinental and four a week to San Diego, with both routes starting May 22. Also on the schedule is new service three days week between Chicago O’Hare and San Antonio starting April 23.
Spirit Airlines will add new service out of Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport to sun destinations this spring. On April 27, Spirit will launch daily service from Bradley to Orlando, and four flights a week to Myrtle Beach, S.C. On June 15, the airline will add daily service from Bradley to Ft. Lauderdale.
Readers questions answered about converting Virgin points to Alaska miles (Image: Alaska Air)
Shortly after taking over Virgin America, Alaska Airlines announced that it would convert Elevate points to Mileage Plan mile at a relatively generous rate of 1.3 to 1.
That’s nice of Alaska, but does it mean that Virgin flyers should rush to convert their points to Alaska miles?
As long as Virgin America and Alaska Airlines operate separate airlines, and separate loyalty programs, smart flyers should hold on to BOTH currencies.
Why? Because in some cases you’ll get better value redeeming your Virgin America points, and in other cases, it makes more sense to convert and redeem Mileage Plan miles. In other words, it depends…
My suggestion for Virgin America Elevate members: Go ahead and link your accounts, but hold on to your points until you have a specific flight to redeem them on. At that point, you can determine if you get better value by redeeming your points, or by converting them to miles.
Spectacular view of Honolulu at take off on Virgin America. Note the sparkles in the paint on the engine! (Chris McGinnis)
Here’s one of several emails I’ve received from readers that I’ll use as an example:
Chris: Alaska is sounding generous with the 1.3x multiplier but here’s the thing: Right now I can book a roundtrip flight between San Francisco and New York on Virgin for about 14,000 Elevate points. But how how much would it cost using Alaska miles? A minimum of 25,000 round trip, and maybe up to 40,000 or 50,000 miles. So this is not a good deal at all for Elevate members — or am I missing something? — M.S.
The reason M.S. can book that Virgin flight so cheaply on points right now is that fares are relatively cheap on SFO-JFK during the cold winter months. And remember that Virgin awards are based on the cost of the ticket. Alaska’s mileage-based program offers domestic roundtrips at a flat rate of 25,000 miles (minimum). When prices rise later in the year, M.S.’s calculation would change, and it might make more sense for him to convert his Virgin points to Alaska miles.
So…since it depends, the best advice is to hold on to your Virgin points until you have a specific redemption in mind. Remember that once your Virgin points are converted to Alaska miles, the deal is done– you can’t reverse the conversion.
If you have not already done so, you can link your Alaska and Virgin accounts here. For a full FAQ on both programs, see this.To make a conversion, go to this page.
Don’t give up the flexibility of being a member of both programs until you have to.
In Los Angeles, “passengers” pay hundreds of dollars to dine in a movie set that resembles an old Pan Am 747 (Photo: Michael Kelley)
I always cringe when I hear people talking about the so-called “golden age of travel.”
You know, back then when people used to “dress up” to travel. When flight attendants in go-go boots doted on passengers with cocktails, playing cards and wings for the kids. When family members would greet you at the airport gate as soon as you got off the plane.
Well, if you remember the good, you also have to remember the bad. And there was plenty of bad flying around in the good old days. Every flight was not like the nostalgic photo you see above. Back in the day, flying was bumpy, smelly, noisy and dangerous compared to now.
So while it’s common to complain about how terrible flying is these days, the opposite is true. I think that we are currently living in the golden age of air travel.
You may or may not agree with me (let me know in the comments below), but here are six reasons why I think so:
Soothing, smoke free cabins…at least when empty! Pictured Singapore Airlines 777 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
1. No smoking. It’s still hard to believe that any airline ever allowed smoking onboard. Not only was it dangerous and unhealthy, it stunk! But nonetheless, prior to the 1990’s, airlines allowed smoking onboard. When one person smoked on a plane, everyone smoked, even though there were so-called nonsmoking sections on board. There was nothing worse for a non-smoker than getting “stuck” in the smoking section when that was the only seat available.
2. Safer, smoother flying. Back in the good old days, flying was a lot more dangerous than it is these days. According to an Expedia report, plane crashes and in-flight accidents, “were terrifyingly common in the 50’s and 60’s, with fatal accidents occurring about once every 200,000 flights. Where fatal accidents occurred around once every 200,000 flights during the 1950s, they now occur less than once every 2,000,000 flights. In fact, the worldwide safety record is now ten times better than it was back then.” Also, now that jets fly at higher altitudes and “over the weather,” than back then, there are fewer incidents of turbulence, which translates to less motion sickness and more pleasant flying.
Pay $10 for healthy “signature fruit and cheese plate” like this on Alaska Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
3. Better food. Despite what you hear about the tossing of Caesar salads and the carving of standing rib roasts in airplane aisles back in the good old days, airline food has almost always been the butt of jokes. When a hot meal was part of the airfare, inflight food in economy class was tepid and tasteless, giving birth to phrases like “mystery meat.” These days passengers can choose to buy fresher, more flavorful food at the airport or onboard and everyone is eating better tasting, more healthful food inflight.
4. Lower fares. Back in the day, air travel was reserved for a small, wealthy percentage of the population. But in the last 30 years, air travel has become democratized and within the reach a much larger swath of humanity. For example, in the US, the number of air passengers tripled between the 1970s and 2011. So, yes, while planes are more crowded and we are paying more fees for things that used to be free, air travel is a much better bargain than it was in the 60’s.
A garden wall at Singapore’s magnificent Changi International Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
5. Fabulous airports. Prior to the 1980s most airports felt institutional with low ceilings, poor lighting, uncomfortable seating and office-like first class lounges. These days, airports hire celebrity architects design and build light filled spaces with expansive views, gourmet dining and posh, private lounges. Have you visited the outdoor butterfly garden at Singapore Changi Airport? Had an organic kale salad at San Francisco International? Kicked back with some champagne in United’s new business and first class lounges at London Heathrow? These are indeed the good old days when it comes to airport architecture and comfort.
Alaska Airlines allows passenger to watch movies on their own devices, or on tablets it rents onboard (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
6. Better technology.More comfort. Back when we were happy reading inflight magazines and watching movies on pull-down screens at the front of the cabin, who would have dreamt that we could access hundreds of movies or television shows from our seatbacks or that we’d be able to send and receive email from the sky? Business travelers used to relish the experience of sitting in a big lounge chair at the front of the plane, but few ever thought that big seats that recline into fully flat beds for sleeping would be the rule more than the exception.
So the next time you hear yourself or someone else complaining about how horrible it is to fly these days… you should ask, “Is it really so bad after all?”
Do you agree? Is flying better or worse than ever these days?
United Airlines Boeing 737-800s will soon fly nonstop to New York and Chicago from San Jose (Image: Chad Slattery / United)
With major U.S. airlines adding more flights at Mineta San Jose International this winter and spring, and with international flight options taking off, the airport has been making substantial improvements to handle increased passenger traffic.
New domestic flights starting in the first half of the New Year include:
A pair of new nonstops for United Airlines, both starting March 9. United will begin twice-daily flights to its big hub at Chicago O’Hare, and one daily roundtrip to its East Coast hub at Newark Liberty International. United will use 737-800s on both routes.
Staking a bigger claim in California, Alaska Airlines will inaugurate new transcontinental service on the SJC-Newark route on March 12, operating one daily roundtrip, followed by new intrastate service three times a day from San Jose to Hollywood-Burbank beginning March 16. These are the fourth and fifth new Alaska Airlines routes at SJC since late 2015, giving the carrier a total of 16 destinations.
On May 1, Air Canada is due to add a third daily frequency between San Jose-Vancouver.
American Airlines’ seasonal service between San Jose and Charlotte is set to resume May 5.
Delta will boost its presence at San Jose beginning May 25, when it expands its schedule to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson from two flights a day to three.
And Southwest will kick off daily San Jose-Reno service June 4.
You can find more details about new San Jose routes here.
SJC’s popular business class lounge awarded “Priority Pass Lounge of the Year for North America.” (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Even without these new flights, SJC has been experiencing healthy growth in passenger numbers. Through the first 10 months of 2016, the domestic passenger count topped the 4 million mark, an increase of more than 7 percent year-over-year. And thanks to new flights across both the Atlantic and Pacific, international traffic at SJC jumped more than 68 percent during that period.
New and improved passenger amenities at Mineta San Jose make life easier for travelers. The three-year-old Club at SJC in Terminal A, a lounge open to all travelers on a paid basis and also a part of the Priority Pass network of airport lounges, was recently named the Priority Pass Airport Lounge of the Year for North America.
International travelers at SJC are finding their lives a little easier thanks to recent improvements that help them to speed through passenger processing. Many domestic travelers rely on TSA’s PreCheck program to move through security screening more quickly, but now some international travelers at San Jose can also take advantage of that benefit: Lufthansa – which began San Jose-Frankfurt flights last summer – recently became the first European airline to begin participation in PreCheck.
International travelers at SJC can now download Customs and Border Protection’s free Mobile Passport Control app on their phones or tablets and use it to submit their passport data and Customs declaration form to CBP. A coded electronic receipt shown to the CBP officer lets them move quickly through the arrivals process. And the airport also offers CBP’s Global Entry kiosks for international arrivals who belong to that trusted traveler program, allowing them to bypass lines. Also available at SJC are Automated Passport Control kiosks where arriving travelers can submit their entry information.
No need to fill out paper customs and immigration forms when you have the new Mobile Passport Control app
And more enhancements are on the way. This spring, the airport is expected to finish a renovation of its International Arrivals Building that will add 5,600 square feet along with a second baggage carousel and an enclosed waiting area.
A image of the future International Arrivals lobby (Image: SJC)
On a lighter note, Mineta San Jose has garnered attention and acclaim for its recent deployment of three interactive customer service robots – an appropriate innovation for an airport that serves as the gateway to Silicon Valley. Even more interactive robots – smaller ones – are featured in the airport’s new play area for children in Terminal B.
You can find more details about new San Jose routes here.
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The outlook for travel to Cuba is still complicated (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
The first nonstop flight from the U.S. West Coast to Cuba took off from Los Angeles International Airport Terminal 6 last week and TravelSkills was onboard.
We were part of a delegation of about 50 business, government and civic leaders from the West Coast invited by Alaska Airlines for a two-day relationship-building and fact-finding mission to Havana.
While it was a very quick trip, I picked up tons of interesting insight and info about the current situation and outlook for American travelers in Cuba. And since I’m a newbie to regular flying on Alaska Airlines, I learned a lot about it, too.
Alaska Airlines nonstop from LAX to Havana arrives at about 5 pm- just in time for a lovely tropical sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
So let’s dive in.
In this post I’ll take a look at what’s happening in Cuba— we’ll follow up with a post on flying Alaska Airlines to get there.
My primary take-away: Whether or not you’ll like Cuba now depends on the type of traveler you are. It’s a great place for the adventurous or curious traveler with an open mind, lots of patience and ability to deal with the heat, humidity and grit of a poor, developing country. Right now, it’s not a place for a traveler who expects world-class creature comforts, high quality food and drink, relaxation and leisure. Interested? Then see: How much does it cost to fly to Havana? Not much! More advice: If you can afford to hire a guide, hire one. Or go as part of a group. Cuba’s a tough place to see on your own for the first time. (The company Alaska Air engaged to guide our group was Distant Horizons.)
My $500 per night hotel room in Havana (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Politics: On our first morning in Havana, we attended a lecture by University of Havana Professor Jorge Mario Sanchez. He’s is a professor of Economics and International Relations and oversees the University’s student exchange program with Harvard University. President-elect Trump’s views on Cuba and what he may or may not do is clearly the top concern on the island these days. Why? Because the recent warming of relations between the U.S and Cuba, and the relaxation of rules for travelers are not at all permanent. The increased engagement we’ve experienced lately is the result of an executive order by President Obama, which could easily be reversed with the stroke of a pen by the incoming president.
Sanchez emphasized that with the trade embargo still in place, the U.S. and Cuba are still considered enemies under the current legal framework. The only way our relationship with Cuba can be truly normalized is to rescind trade embargo (The “Cuban Assets Control Regulations” set in 1963)– something only Congress can do. Cubans hoping for sustained change were dealt a blow recently when Trump appointed Mauricio Claver-Carone, a harsh critic of Obama’s efforts to normalize relations, and director of a pro-embargo group, to his transition team.
Could we be living in a rare window of opportunity to visit Cuba before the door is slammed shut again? Maybe! Time will tell…
Negotiate a deal with the owner of one of Cuba’s numerous classic cars for a tour or a trip across town (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Business: With Marriott, Starwood, Airbnb, Alaska Airlines and nearly every U.S. carrier already operating in Cuba, a blanket reversal is probably unlikely. But it’s still a big unknown. Also, recent changes in property ownership are spawning a new entrepreneurial class in Cuba. For example, Cubans can now own those classic cars, and run them like small businesses. You can negotiate with drivers for a ride across town or a tour (starting at about $25). Our group visited a newly privatized garage where these cars are restored and maintained. Sanchez says that privately owned restaurants are all the rage now, with over 500 new ones opening in the last year! Whatever happens with Trump, Sanchez says that Cubans will “improvise, adapt and survive”– something they’ve been doing for over 50 years.
A new Kempinski Hotel will soon open on Havana’s Parque Central (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Hotels: Alaska Air put up our group at the Iberostar Parque Central hotel. It’s considered a 5-star hotel in Cuba, but that’s by Cuban standards. Most folks in our group were shocked to learn that the daily rate at this hotel ran about $550. While the staff could not have been nicer and the facilities any cleaner, the hard product was not up to world-class, 5-star standards– beds were low and lumpy, furniture dated and nicked, wi-fi was slow and spotty, elevators overtaxed (hotel was full or Americans and Europeans). How can they get away with a rate like that? Well, it’s supply and demand. There are a LOT of people who want to travel to Cuba right now and most want the security and familiarity of a big hotel (vs an Airbnb or casa particular) for their first visit, and are willing to pay for it. When demand outstrips supply, you get inflation. Good old capitalism at work, right?
Like nearly everything else in Havana, the Capitol is undergoing extensive renovation (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Construction: As you may recall, I was on the first cruise ship allowed to sail from the US to Cuba last May. In the short period of time since then, I noticed that there is a LOT more construction and rehabilitation of Havana’s crumbling, yet still beautiful, architecture. There’s a big scaffolding on the Capitol building, which is undergoing a complete renovation by a German firm. Next door is the recently redone, now glittering and well-lit baroque National Opera. Next to that is the soon-to-be-Starwood-managed Inglaterra hotel- a grand dame in need of an update (according to guests I spoke with), but with a lively scene nightly on its roof bar. Across the street from the Iberostar, a striking, sugar-white new Kempinski Havana hotel (housed in the elegant Manzana de Gomez building) is in the final stages of a major redo, and should open this year. A brand-new-from-the-ground-up 10-story glass and steel hotel is rising across the street for the Havana’s famous water-front malecon. A new Marriott hotel will soon be built inside the gorgeous facade of a grand old building in Old Havana.
Oil and Gas: Something I did not know is that Cuba has vast and mostly unexplored oil and gas fields along its Gulf of Mexico coastline and could eventually be one of Latin America’s top exporters of fossil fuels in coming years. Havana will even host an Oil & Gas Summit next month. While that could do great things for the Cuban economy, Sanchez said that there is worry about the environmental impact of off-shore drilling not just on Cuba, but on the entire Atlantic ocean since the Gulf Stream flows through the area and into the North Atlantic. With an oil and gas executive poised to be at the helm of the U.S. State Department, who knows what could happen in U.S.-Cuba relations.
Not a boat in site along Havana’s famous malecon (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Fishing: In a seaside city like Havana, you’d expect to see a big fishing fleet and lots of seafood on the menu. You’d also expect to see a big trade in charter fishing boats for visitors. But when you peer north out at the dark blue waters off Havana’s malecon, that’s all you see… water. No boats. Why? Well, as our guide said, “We don’t have many fishermen in Cuba because they fish too far” referring to the steady stream of Cubans escaping to the U.S. by boat or raft. But now that President Obama has ended the controversial “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allows Cubans (only) arriving on U.S. shores automatic permanent residency status (versus arrest and deportation), there is less incentive for Cubans to run away. Maybe fishing could once again become a viable occupation in Cuba.
So there you have it! Next up will by my trip report on the Alaska Airlines flight between Los Angeles and Havana, including a look at the LAX gate side festivities (including Cuban pastries and strong coffee), the fiesta atmosphere onboard the plane, our reception in the business class lounge (Salon V.I.P) at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport and more!
Delta is adding several more routes out of Seattle (Photo: Jim Glab)
In domestic route news, Delta, Alaska and American each announced several new markets for 2017; JetBlue kicks off a California corridor route; and Spirit adds 10 markets.
Delta just announced plans to pile on more flights at its growing Seattle hub this year, with tickets for the new routes going on sale January 14. The new service includes a daily roundtrip to Milwaukee beginning March 9; three flights a day to Eugene, Oregon starting April 1; a daily Nashville flight as of May 26; a daily Raleigh-Durham flight effective June 8; a daily roundtrip to Austin beginning June 12; two flights a day to Redmond, Oregon as of June 12; and one a day to Lihue, Kauai starting December 21.
Portland International will get more Alaska Airliners service this spring. (Image: Jim Glab)
Alaska Airlines will beef up its operations at Portland this spring and summer with new service in four markets. It will begin a daily roundtrip May 22 from Portland to Philadelphia; another on June 5 from PDX to Milwaukee; and a third on June 6 from Portland to Baltimore/Washington International. Those will all operate seasonally until the last week of August; Milwaukee gets a SkyWest E175 while the other two will use 737s. Then on August 18, Alaska’s Horizon Air will start new daily year-round service from Portland to Albuquerque with an E175.
Routesonline.com reports that American Airlines’ latest schedule updates include new summer service in seven markets, all starting June 2. From its Phoenix hub, American will add service once a day to Eugene, Oregon; Jackson Hole, Wyoming (seasonal until August 21); and Medford, Oregon. Jackson Hole gets an A319 and the other two will use American Eagle/SkyWest CRJ-700s. From Dallas/Ft. Worth, American Eagle/Envoy Air will start flying once a day to Traverse City, Michigan (seasonal through August 21) and to Billings, Montana, using E175s. And from Chicago O’Hare, Eagle/SkyWest will start one daily CRJ-700 roundtrip to Bozeman, Montana (seasonal until October 4).
JetBlue last week revived an intra-California route. (Image: Jim Glab)
JetBlue, which briefly flew the intra-California route from its Long Beach focus city to San Jose seven years ago, jumped back into that market last week. The airline will use its 150-seat A320s to fly the route four times a day.
Spirit Airlines unveiled plans to add 10 new routes this spring from Houston, New Orleans, Baltimore/Washington and Detroit. From Houston Bush Intercontinental, Spirit will begin year-round service to Newark and seasonal flights to Seattle on April 27. New routes from New Orleans, all operating year-round beginning May 25, include Baltimore/Washington, Cleveland and Orlando. The new BWI service, all seasonal and starting May 25, will be to Oakland, San Diego and Seattle. And new seasonal service starts May 25 from Detroit to Oakland and Seattle.
Alaska Airlines passing out goodies to Virgin Elevate passengers this week (Image: Alaska Airlines)
Today Alaska Airlines sent an email to Virgin America Elevate members with a nice gift: 10,000 miles or a $100 discount.
To get the gift, you must link your Elevate and Mileage Plan accounts by January 31.
If you don’t yet have an Alaska Mileage Plan account, the email provides a new account number for you. Just click the activate button, fill out a few fields and you’re done. If you already have both Alaska and Virgin accounts, you can link them here.
Screenshot of email from Alaska Airlines
I linked my accounts this morning, and while Alaska says that the 10,000 mile gift will automatically show up in my Mileage Plan account, I don’t see them there yet… so it’s not instantaneous.
In addition to linking accounts, the email explains that Alaska will match your Virgin Elevate status with the comparable tier in Alaska’s program– MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75K. (Side note: Alaska will match your elite status with several other carriers– just send an email to email@example.com and include: your name, Alaska Mileage Plan number, front/back scan of your elite card from other airline, copy of your most recent statement from other airline. The process should take about three weeks.)
If you link your accounts, you do not have to convert points to miles…yet. Once you go through the linking process, you’ll get this reminder: “Your Elevate and Mileage Plan accounts will both remain active. Your balances aren’t going anywhere, and in fact, you can continue to earn Elevate points or Mileage Plan miles when you fly on Virgin America or Alaska Airlines.” For now, I think it’s best to just hold on to your Virgin points and not convert them until you have a specific flight you want to redeem for… then you should examine whether it makes more sense to use miles or points for the transaction.
To help explain things- and brag a bit about how its Mileage Plan is the last remaining mileage (vs revenue)-based program, Alaska created the short video below. It also points to Alaska’s robust roster of partners and destinations where you can now use your Virgin points.
So where can you go on Alaska Airlines- or its many partners and for how many miles? Be sure to check out its helpful interactive award chart here.
Here’s an interesting tip from reader Nick H that should make American AAdvantage members smile… has anyone tried to take advantage of this loophole yet?
For those of you who are Virgin America and/or American flyers, I just discovered a neat trick. Since Alaska now owns Virgin, and Alaska is an American partner (but not in OneWorld) you can actually fly on Virgin America and get full credit as if the flight is on American.
You just have to book on alaskaair.com and make sure to select AAdvantage as the program. AFTER you book, it also pulls in your status, which then makes additional seats available, i.e. premium economy and exit rows.
I still consider Virgin the best domestic airline aside from the Transcon 321T to NYC on American, so this is a neat trick to me. And they fly to Hawaii, so aside from Hawaiian’s new Airbus they are also the best way to fly there!
All of these are signs that business travelers stand to benefit most from the Alaska-Virgin combo. With its acquisition of Virgin, Alaska hopes to build a West Coast powerhouse. To do that, it’s going to have to win the hearts, wallets and repeat business of Virgin loyalists in the Bay Area.
Shortly after the deal closed last month, Alaska offered Virgin Elevate elite members access to benefits such as priority check in and boarding on Alaska Air flights. Last week it invited Elevate members to join its Mileage Plan program and convert Virgin points to Alaska miles at a relatively generous rate of 1.3 to 1. Then it even reduced the mileage cost on many award flights. It also recently added free movies, chat and texting on flights equipped with Gogo. I expect that frequent travelers will see even more coddling like this over the next year.
So it’s good news on the points/miles front. But time will tell regarding something more important: fares. We’ll be keeping an eye on those markets where Alaska and Virgin have competed keenly on price, such as SFO-SEA or LAX-SEA. Right now, you can fly roundtrip on those routes for as little as $120-$150 booked in advance, or around $250-$300 at the last minute. Let’s see if that will last.
United is scaling back its six-month-old route from SFO to Auckland. (Image: Aucklandnz.com)
In international route developments, United will scale back its San Francisco-Auckland and LAX-London service; China Southern will boost capacity to San Francisco; China’s Hainan Airlines seeks two more U.S. routes; Alaska Airlines begins Cuba flights from the West Coast; Hong Kong Airlines schedules its first service to North America; and LOT Polish will resume a Chicago route.
Is there too much new capacity between the U.S. and New Zealand? United Airlines has decided to suspend its San Francisco-Auckland flight this spring and turn it into a seasonal route. United will halt the 787 service April 16 and pick it up again October 28, according to Routesonline.com. But then on December 16, 2017, United will boost frequencies on the route from seven a week to 10, using a 777-200ER. United kicked off the SFO-Auckland route last summer, just after American started flying from Los Angeles to Auckland. And a little over a year ago, Air New Zealand added a new Houston-Auckland route.
In other news, United has dropped plans to add a second Los Angeles-London Heathrow to its schedule this year. The second flight had been scheduled to begin April 4, but United apparently had second thoughts about committing more seats to a crowded market, with five other airlines already offering non-stop service between Los Angeles and London. And from its Newark hub, United this week ended its daily service to Belfast, Northern Ireland, as it previously announced. The Belfast Telegraph reports that Belfast Airport officials are in talks with several other carriers to add a U.S. route.
China Southern will add more seats from San Francisco to Guangzhou (Photo: Wikimedia)
China Southern Airlines has filed plans to increase capacity to San Francisco from Guangzhou, Routesonline.com reports. It will start by changing aircraft as of March 26 from 787-8s to larger 777-300ERs on its four weekly non-stop flights from Guangzhou to SFO and its three flights a week from Guangzhou to SFO via a stop in Wuhan. Then on June 21 it will increase frequencies on the non-stop route from four flights a week to six.
Hainan wants to add 787 flights from Chongqing to LAX and New York. (Photo: San Jose Airport)
China’s Hainan Airlines, which has several U.S. routes already, wants two more. The carrier has applied with U.S. authorities to start flying two or three times a week from Chongqing to Los Angeles within the next few months, followed by a similar schedule from Chongqing to New York JFK in the second quarter, using 787s on both routes. Hainan already flies to Beijing from San Jose, Chicago and Seattle, and to Shanghai from Seattle and Boston.
Alaska Airlines has finally launched its new Havana service, becoming the only airline to fly to the Cuban capital from the West Coast. The daily service originates in Seattle, then stops in Los Angeles before continuing non-stop to Havana. The 737-900ER flight leaves SEA at 5 a.m. and departs LAX at 8:50 a.m. Chris was on the inaugural, and will file a report shortly.
Hong Kong Airlines, which has a route network all around East and Southeast Asia as well as Australia and New Zealand, plans to begin its first transpacific service to North America this summer. The airline said it will star flying once a day on June 30 between its Hong Kong base and Vancouver, using an Airbus A330.
LOT Polish Airlines has set a July 2 start for new service between Chicago O’Hare and Krakow, operating one flight a week on the route with a 787-8.
Alaska’s Premium Class customers will get free drinks and snacks in addition to more legroom.(Image: Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines this week officially launched its new premium economy seating class along with some new perks for passengers.
The company said the new Premium Class – which offers four inches of extra legroom, early boarding privileges, and free snacks and alcoholic drinks – was launched this week on “select routes.” It said more than 40 percent of its fleet has now been retrofitted with the new configuration, and more than 90 percent should be finished by year’s end.
The airline’s Mileage Plan MVPs, Golds and Gold 75K elite members can get free upgrades to Premium Class seats when they book, or up to 24 hours before departure, depending on their status level and the fare class they booked. Other passengers can upgrade to the new seats for fees ranging from $15 to $79 above base fares, depending on the length of the flight.
New in-flight perks introduced this week include Free Chat on aircraft equipped with Gogo Wi-Fi. Available for passengers in all classes of service, Free Chat includes the use of iMessage, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger at no charge.
“We know that staying in touch while on the go is essential to our guests, many of whom don’t need full Internet access,” said Alaska Executive VP Andrew Harrison. “And yes, it’s fully emoji-compatible.”
Alaska is adding new drinks to its in-flight service. (Photo: Alaska Air)
The Free Chat feature started this week in beta, “with full functionality deploying January 24,” the airline said. Passengers can use it by signing in to their Gogo accounts and following the steps outlined on the screen.
Alaska said to celebrate its recent acquisition of Virgin America, it is also offering free access to its inventory of streaming in-flight movies and TV shows from now through March 31. The offer applies for passengers who stream on their own devices, but not to Alaska’s tablet rentals.
And later this month. Alaska said, it will introduce new food and beverage options to its in-fight service, including premium wines from Washington State’s Chateau Ste. Michelle, new premium craft beer and bourbon, and La Marca sparkling wine.
The airline said the new perks are only on Alaska-operated flights, not those of Virgin America or Horizon Air.
American’s new premium economy seating is on 787-9s in more markets. (Image: American Airlines).
In international route updates, American Airlines is adding premium economy-equipped 787-9s to more markets; China Airlines planes an aircraft change and more flights to San Francisco; Xiamen opens sales for a new LAX route; JetBlue boosts Bermuda capacity; Alaska adds a Mexico route from Sacramento; Avianca increases Los Angeles service; and Delta expands Caribbean code-shares.
The new premium economy section that American Airlines is putting into its 787-9 Dreamliners will soon appear on more routes. The section first appeared on Dallas/Ft. Worth-Sao Paulo and DFW-Madrid flights in November, and now it is due to debut on DFW-Paris and DFW-Seoul flights starting January 9 and February 16 respectively. Although the seats are out there, they’re not yet officially on sale as premium economy fares. That will begin early next year, American said. In other news, American is planning to upgrade the aircraft on its Raleigh-Durham to London Heathrow route. On March 5, it will switch from a 767 to a 777-200, offering about 40 percent more seats.
China Airlines will put a new Airbus A350 onto its San Francisco-Taipei route next spring. (Image: Airbus)
More flights are coming on the San Francisco to Taipei route, along with a new aircraft type. China Airlines, a member of Delta’s SkyTeam alliance, reportedly plans to boost frequencies on the route from seven a week to nine starting May 14, and to switch aircraft from a 777-300ER to a new Airbus A350. Then in early August, the carrier will add two more weekly flights on the route for a total of 11 a week.
China’s Xiamen Airlines has started taking bookings for its planned new service between Xiamen and Los Angeles International, due to begin on June 27. The carrier will use a 787-9 Dreamliner to fly the route three times a week.
JetBlue is adding more capacity to Bermuda from its Northeast focus cities. Beginning May 18, it will operate daily year-round flights from New York JFK, with a second daily frequency from May 18 through October. The airline will also increase its Boston-Bermuda daily service from seasonal to year-round as of May 18, and will upsize aircraft on its Bermuda routes from 100-seat Embraer 190s to 150-seat Airbus A320s.
Alaska Airlines plans to add a new route from California to Mexico next summer. As of June 10, the airline will offer weekly 737 service (on Saturdays) between Sacramento and San Jose/Los Cabos.
The LAX-Bogota route will get more Avianca Dreamliner flights next year. (Image: Avianca)
Got business in Colombia? The Colombian carrier Avianca will boost its West Coast service in 2017, increasing frequencies on the Bogota-Los Angeles route from four a week to daily starting on March 28. Avianca uses a 787-8 Dreamliner on the route.
Delta is expanding its code-share partnership with Seaborne Airlines on flights beyond San Juan to various Caribbean island destinations. In recent weeks, Delta has put its DL code onto Seabourne flights from San Juan to St. Maarten, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, and on March 5 it will do the same on Seabourne service to La Romana, Dominican Republic.
Starwood is shifting its Virgin America loyalty link to Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
Members of the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program won’t be able to participate in Virgin America’s Elevate plan in about a week.
John Wolf, a loyalty marketing executive at Starwood parent Marriott International, tells TravelSkills that SPG “has decided to focus its partnership on Alaska (Airlines’) Mileage Plan and end its partnership with Virgin America’s Elevate program.”
The company is encouraging SPG members who participate in Elevate to join Alaska’s Mileage Plan if they’re not already in it.
After January 6, Wolf told us, SPG members won’t be able to earn Elevate points on their hotel stays, or directly transfer SPG Starpoints into Elevate accounts.
“SPG members will be able to use Starpoints to travel on Virgin America by transferring Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan miles and redeeming them for Virgin America flights on alaskaair.com starting January 9, 2017,” he said.
“Furthermore, SPG members can continue to transfer Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan at a 1:1 ratio – and earn 5,000 bonus miles when they transfer 20,000 Starpoints to Alaska Mileage Plan.”
Alaska Airlines has already said that starting January 9, Elevate members will be invited to start new accounts in Mileage Plan so they can earn award travel on Alaska and its international partners. The airline said Elevate members will be able to convert Elevate points into Mileage Plan miles at a rate of 1.3 Mileage Plan miles per Elevate point.
Marriott Rewards is also an Elevate partner, but Wolf noted that there is no change in the Marriott-Elevate relationship. “The two programs (SPG and Marriott Rewards) continue to be run separately until a new program is introduced,” he said.
Virgin America will add SFO-Orlando flights next year. (Image: Virgin America)
In domestic route news, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America provide details of their new San Francisco flights; American Airlines adds routes at Washington Reagan National and Phoenix, but drops one from Los Angeles; Delta adds a pair of Florida routes; OneJet expands at Pittsburgh; and Frontier will resume seasonal Cleveland-West Coast service.
Alaska Airlines has announced details of the new San Francisco services it mentioned earlier this week. On June 14, Alaska’s Virgin America unit will begin daily A320 flights from SFO to Orlando – but you’ll have to wake up early, because they depart SFO at 6:30 a.m.
On June 15, Alaska will expand its California Corridor presence by launching three daily SFO-Orange County roundtrips, increasing to four on July 18. (You might recall that Virgin America jumped into the SFO-SNA market in 2009, only to jump back out less than a year later in the face of stiff competition from Southwest.). Also on July 18, Alaska adds a pair of daily San Francisco-Minneapolis-St. Paul roundtrips. The Orange County and MSP flights will use 76-seat SkyWest E175s with first class, premium class and main cabin seating.
Delta is beefing up its east coast presence with new service from Boston to Florida. On February 18, Delta will begin twice-daily service from Boston to Tampa, and on February 17 it starts weekend-only (Saturday and Sunday) flights from Boston to Ft. Myers. (JetBlue also flies both routes.) Both routes will use Airbus A319s.
An American Eagle/Republic E175 will fly from Washington D.C. to Northwest Arkansas. (Image: American Airlines)
American Airlines plans to expand at Washington Reagan National in the spring. On April 4, it will kick off new daily American Eagle/Republic Airlines service from DCA to Northwest Arkansas Airport in Fayetteville (near Walmart headquarters) with an Embraer 175. And on the same date it will begin twice-daily American Eagle/PSA Airlines service from DCA to Grand Rapids, Mich., with CRJ 200s; and daily Eagle/Republic roundtrips from DCA to Pensacola, Fla., with an E175.
Meanwhile, American this month began new American Eagle/SkyWest daily CRJ 700 service between its Phoenix hub and Santa Fe, N.M. American used to fly to Santa Fe from Los Angeles, but discontinued that service in 2015. It also serves Santa Fe from Dallas/Ft. Worth. And speaking of Los Angeles, American has decided to discontinue its three-year-old non-stop service between LAX and Pittsburgh as of February 14.
OneJet uses small Hawker 400XPs on short-haul routes. (Image: OneJet)
One airline that’s growing at Pittsburgh is OneJet, which operates small business jets in regional markets under public charter rules. OneJet plans to begin daily PIT-Richmond service March 1, followed by daily PIT-Albany flights March 22. It already flies from Pittsburgh to Hartford, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Louisville and Cincinnati.
Frontier Airlines, which introduced seasonal flights last year from Cleveland to four West Coast cities, is bringing them back in 2017. In April, Frontier will add service from Cleveland to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland, with flights operating three or four days a week and fares starting as low as $79 one way.
Alaska and Delta are ending their code-sharing and frequent flyer partnerships. (Image: Jim Glab)
Delta and Alaska Airlines are terminating their code-share partnership, and Alaska announced some Mileage Plan changes, including the rate at which Virgin Elevate members can convert their points to Mileage Plan miles.
Who couldn’t see this coming? Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines have been engaged in an increasingly tough market share battle at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for the past few years, and now that Alaska has consummated its merger with Virgin America, it is gaining a presence in more of Delta’s most lucrative transcontinental routes. So the two airlines announced today they are ending their code-sharing and frequent flyer partnerships this spring.
The termination takes effect April 30. After that date, the two airlines will no longer offer bookings on each other’s flights that are currently code-shares (although they will still maintain interline agreements for ticketing and baggage connectivity). Members of the two airlines’ loyalty programs can still book and claim award travel on the other carrier through April 30, but not for travel after that date (unless it was booked by December 18, although no changes will be allowed as of May 1). SkyMiles and Mileage Plan members can no longer earn miles on the other carrier after April 30, and elite-level benefits will no longer be mutually offered.
Alaska has cut award travel costs for Mileage Plan members. (Image: Jim Glab)
Alaska noted that the termination of its Delta partnership does not affect its partnership with other members of Delta’s SkyTeam global alliance, including Korean Air, Air France and KLM.
Meanwhile, Alaska also announced the rate for converting Virgin America points into Mileage Plan miles: 1.3 Mileage Plan miles per 1 Elevate point. (Thank goodness they decided to be somewhat generous here and did not go with 1:1!)
CLICK for more info
Alaska also announced some changes to its Mileage Plan loyalty program – which has not followed other major carriers in changing over to a spending-based model. The carrier has reduced the mileage cost of many reward flights, has increased earning levels on some partner airlines, and now allows free upgrades for elite members on award flights when they book economy cabin tickets. Here’s Alaska’s chart comparing new and old costs of award travel:
Mileage Plan members will also earn more miles on international partner carriers now, Alaska said – up to 80 percent more for business class and first class travel on British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Fiji Airways, Hainan, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, Korean, LATAM and Qantas. Mileage earnings will also increase for economy class travel on Icelandair, Fiji, Hainan, Japan Airlines and LATAM.
For example, a business class flight on Cathay Pacific from LAX to Hong Kong that previously earned 9,059 Mileage Plan miles will now earn 16,306; and a business class flight from San Francisco to Sydney on Qantas will now earn 25,960 miles instead of the previous 11,126.
A commemorative livery on an Alaska Air 737 arrives from Seattle to celebrate the takeover of Virgin America (Photo: Peter Biaggi / SFO)
Alaska Airlines today officially closed its acquisition of Virgin America and announced plans to combine some aspects of operations and loyalty programs, but said that the two airline brands will remain separate for now. The company also announced some new routes out of San Francisco in 2017.
(Scroll down for a slideshow of the celebration at SFO)
“No decisions regarding the Virgin America brand have been made. Alaska plans to continue to operate the Virgin America fleet with its current name and product for a period of time while it conducts extensive customer research to understand what fliers value the most,” Alaska said. “Virgin America will continue to fly under its brand with no immediate changes to the onboard product or experience.” The company said it expects to reach a decision about the Virgin brand “in early 2017,” but noted that customers won’t see any big changes to the Virgin product “within the next 12 months.”
The effects of the merger begin on December 19, when customers will be able to buy Virgin America tickets through the alaskaair.com website, although Virgin America’s website will continue to sell them “for the immediate future” as well.
Also starting December 19, members of Virgin’s Elevate loyalty program will be able to earn points on Alaska Airlines flights, and Alaska’s Mileage Plan members can earn miles on Virgin’s flights. Elite members of both programs will get priority check-in and boarding on either airline. And Virgin America elite members will soon enjoy perks like last minute upgrades to Alaska Airlines new premium economy seats.
Snacks with a message at the Alaska/Virgin announcement. (Image: Chris McGinnis)
The two loyalty programs will not be combined for now, Alaska said, but on January 9, Elevate members will be invited to activate new Mileage Plan accounts, so they can earn miles not only on Alaska but also on its international partner airlines, which fly to more than 800 global destinations. Elevate elite members who start a Mileage Plan account will get equivalent elite status in that program. Also starting January 9, members of both programs will be able to claim award travel on either carrier.
What’s yet to be determined is what the exchange rate between the two programs will be...Virgin’s operates on points per dollar spent, and Alaska’s still works on miles flown, so it could get messy. But I’m hoping that Alaska makes the ratio something that will surprise and delight Elevate members… so stay tuned for more on that..
What’s best for Virgin America flyers is all the new opportunities for earning and burning miles with Alaska’s robust collection of airline partners (15+ top shelf airlines)– this is one of the strongest elements of the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program.
The combined Alaska-Virgin America will be the nation’s fifth largest airline. (Image: Alaska Air Group)
Alaska also announced plans to begin new service out of San Francisco next summer, including a daily flight to Orlando, two a day to Minneapolis-St. Paul and four a day to Orange County, California – although it did not specify which of the two airline brands would operate them. It said details of those routes will be announced December 21.
The company is using the slogan “different works” in the campaign promoting its merger. What’s that mean? “While Alaska Airlines and Virgin America may seem different on the surface, fundamentally we are similar,” it said. “Both airlines have always been about doing things a bit differently to offer something better for travelers. Alaska and Virgin America have built outstanding reputations for low fares, on-time performance, innovative products and experiences and award-winning customer service.”
Alaska has created a special website at www.differentworks.com where customers can find more information about the merger plans. Together, Alaska and Virgin will be the nation’s fifth-largest airline and the one with the largest West Coast presence, and a combined network of 1,200 flights a day to 118 destinations.
Despite the hoopla about the merger, there’s an underlying angst among Virgin America employees. Asked how he felt to see the merger finally consummated, one Virgin America executive told TravelSkills: “Conflicted. We feel like parents who have been given a pile of money to give up their kids.”
Remember the photo that leaked last month of an aircraft with a combined Alaska/Virgin livery? Alaska said today that is not a preview of the look of the combined airline, but simply “a special commemorative plane designed to mark the occasion.” Speaking of aircraft, Alaska said it hasn’t yet decided about the future direction of its fleet – Alaska has an all-Boeing mainline fleet while Virgin is all-Airbus – but that planes from both manufacturers will remain in the combined fleet “for many years.”
Richard Branson at SFO to celebrate Hawaii flights (Virgin America)
Here are some more details that affect passengers:
Customers who have a Gogo Wi-Fi monthly pass can now use it on either airline where Gogo service is offered.
Those who have a Virgin America Travel Bank or flight credit cannot yet use it to buy flights on Alaska.
Although some aspects of the loyalty programs are being combined or made reciprocal, for now the same is not true of the Mileage Plan Visa Card or the Virgin America Visa Card. “For now, each credit card will be limited to the specific terms and benefits of the associated airline,” Alaska said.
Alaska’s 20-minute guarantee for checked baggage delivery will not apply to Virgin America for now.
Members of the two airlines’ respective airport lounges will not have reciprocal access privileges – except at LAX where both airlines operate lounges. However, “Soon the Virgin America Loft will be part of Alaska’s network of 60+ lounges,” Alaska said, promising to offer more details soon.
Commemorative Alaska Air 737 lands at SFO to celebrate the deal. Rainy weddings are good luck, right? (Photo: Peter Biaggi)
Speeches, music, cheers, balloons and pompoms at SFO. Airport director Ivar Satero pictured. (Image: Peter Biaggi)
Red carpet welcome for first passengers off celebratory charter flight from Seattle to SFO (Chris McGinnis)
Alaska/Virgin broke out the balloons at the SFO announcement. (Image: Chris McGinnis)
The Alaska Virgin America deal is done. More details to come. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
Virgin America and Alaska Airlines today officially closed their merger, which means that Virgin America is now a fully-owned subsidiary of Alaska Air Group. To celebrate, Alaska Air is flying a freshly painted, brand new 737 to San Francisco this morning for a big event. TravelSkills will be there, so stay tuned for a full report (and photos) on the festivities!
Most important for now: The Virgin America website says that travelers should not expect to see any major changes to the Virgin America product or onboard experience within the next 12 months.
The combined airline is now the fifth largest airline in the U.S, and the largest on the West Coast, offering travelers more flights and more rewards.
New benefits for guests will launch on Monday, December 19, 2016 including the ability for Elevate members to earn points on Alaska flights (and vice versa), priority airport benefits for elite frequent flyer members, and a new codeshare agreement. Yes, this means that Bay Area travelers can will soon earn Virgin points on Alaska flights to/from San Jose and Oakland!
British Airways added San Jose-London service last spring with a new 787-9. (Image: British Airways)
Mineta San Jose International Airport is entering a real boom period, with both domestic and international airlines adding new routes right and left. With a growing regional population and a perfect location as the gateway to one of the world’s biggest technology hubs, Mineta San Jose is well positioned for continued growth into the 21st century.
That technology hub, of course, is Silicon Valley. Some of the world’s leading tech giants have offices no more than a dozen miles from SJC, including companies like Apple, Google, Symantec, Intel, Cisco, Adobe Systems, Netflix, SanDisk and many more. Not only is a trip to Mineta San Jose a fraction of the distance to San Francisco International Airport for these companies, but SJC’s smaller size makes the airport experience less hectic for passengers (through the first nine months of 2016, SJC boarded fewer than 4 million passengers, vs. almost 20 million at SFO).
With all those business travelers close by, and with its fast-growing, high-income population (San Jose is the 10th largest city in the U.S., and its metropolitan area has a median household income of $100,385), it’s not surprising that airlines are eager to accommodate that market.
Lufthansa uses an A340-300 on its new San Jose-Frankfurt route. (Image: BriYYZ/Wikimedia Commons)
In recent months, Mineta San Jose has attracted new routes from several international airlines, among them:
Lufthansa this past summer began flying non-stop to Frankfurt five times a week, using a 298-passenger, three-class A340-300. Through its Frankfurt hub, the German carrier offers connections to 100 cities in Europe and beyond.
British Airways last spring kicked off the first non-stop service from SJC to London Heathrow, using a brand-new, 216-passenger, four-class Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. It’s BA’s fourth destination in California, along with Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
In September, Air China launched a new transpacific route from SJC to Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport, making San Jose the airline’s 10th North American gateway. The Chinese carrier uses a two-class, 237-seat Airbus A330-200 to fly the new route three days a week. SJC Aviation Director Kim Becker said the new route is expected to bring $65 million a year in economic investment to the San Jose area.
It’s not as far away, but another new international destination for SJC that started this year is Vancouver. Air Canada last spring kicked off twice-daily service between the two cities, using Bombardier CRJ-705s. Airport officials noted that Vancouver is sometimes called Silicon Valley North, since more than 200 Silicon Valley companies have offices there.
While the Lufthansa and British Airways flights represented SJC’s most recent transatlantic non-stops, it already offered transpacific service to Tokyo with All Nippon Airways (ANA) and to Beijing with Hainan Airlines.
Alaska, Southwest, United and JetBlue are all growing at SJC. (Image: Jim Glab)
New domestic routes are also proliferating. San Jose got another new transcontinental flight last month, when Southwest Airlines began a daily roundtrip to Baltimore/Washington International. At the same time, Southwest also started new twice-daily SJC-Salt Lake City service. And American Airlines this past summer added daily seasonal service between SJC and its Charlotte hub.
In March of next year, both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines are set to begin new daily non-stops from SJC to Newark Liberty International, and United will start twice-daily flights from SJC to its big Chicago O’Hare hub as well. In mid-May, Delta will add a third daily SJC-Atlanta flight.
Intra-California traffic is also booming, attracting new service in the California corridor. Last summer, Alaska Airlines started flying three times a day from SJC to both San Diego and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport. And on January 4, JetBlue will kick off SJC-Long Beach service, offering four daily roundtrips, followed by three daily Alaska Airlines flights to Burbank beginning in mid-March.
You can find more details about new San Jose routes here.
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Alaska Air’s takeover of Virgin America is ready for take off. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
At long last, the Department of Justice has approved Alaska Airlines’ acquisition of Virgin America. In order to get the deal done, all Alaska has to do is unload 45 code share routes with American Airlines- and deal with a pesky lawsuit. UPDATE: Dec 7> Alaska announced that is has settled this lawsuit, but did not disclose terms
Interestingly enough, Alaska’s partnership with frenemy Delta Air Lines will likely remain intact. And Alaska won’t have to give up any gates at SFO or LAX as had been speculated.
A press release from Alaska states: “Alaska did agree to implement limited changes to its codeshare agreement with American Airlines. The majority of Alaska and American codeshare flights will remain intact. The DOJ did not require changes to any other agreements between Alaska and American, including interline or reciprocal loyalty agreements, or any of Alaska’s other airline partnerships.”
Graphic touting the strengths of the combined carriers from Alaska Air’s SEC filing
What’s next? Now that the DOJ has concluded its review and all parties seem to be in agreement over terms of the takeover, the next step is for Alaska Air to take care of that pesky antitrust lawsuit in San Francisco opposing the merger. [UPDATE: Dec 7> Alaska announced that is has settled this lawsuit, but did not disclose terms] A group of 41 fliers and travel agents is suing Alaska Airlines, saying that the takeover of Virgin will lessen competition resulting in higher fares and fees. A US district judge in San Francisco has said that a trial would take place soon after the DOJ decision- so stay tuned for more on that…
In regard to the lawsuit, Alaska Air says that, “Lawsuits of this kind are not uncommon with mergers. The company believes the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit and plans to defend its acquisition of Virgin America accordingly.”
Virgin’s “business as usual ” notification on its website
Right now, it’s still business as usual for both carriers until the deal officially closes- and no changes to inflight experience for 12 months. For example, Virgin is currently offering a great deal for those interesting in first class tickets home for the holidays. Flyers should not expect to see or hear many details until the civil lawsuit is out of the way- and that could happen in a matter of weeks. UPDATE: Dec 7> Alaska announced that is has settled this lawsuit, but did not disclose terms
What will happen to the Virgin America brand? Bloomberg reports, “The company will retain the Alaska Air name, brand and Seattle headquarters. It will explore how the Virgin America brand, which grew out of U.K. billionaire Richard Branson’s business empire and has strong customer loyalty, might be used in the combined airline, Alaska Air has said.”
So what do you think? Are you ready for the deal to be done, or should it be blocked for competitive reasons? It remains to be seen what Alaska plans to do with the Virgin America brand. Thoughts?
The combined networks of Alaska Air and Virgin America (CLICK for clearer image, more info)
The Hilton Dallas Lincoln Centre Hotel. (Image: Hilton)
Missed out on Hilton’s November Flash Sale? No probs! Here’s one for December, too. For 48 hours only, between December 5-7 (Mon-Weds this week), Hilton guests can save 15% on Best Available Rates for stays December 18, 2016 through January 8, 2017- plus Hilton HHonors members are eligible to save an additional 5% when booking directly with Hilton. (Must prepay for stay in full to get the deal.)
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Here we are in December, and there’s still no final word on the long-awaited, much anticipated acquistion of Virgin America by Alaska Airlines. The deadline for the deal keeps getting pushed back…and today, we’ve learned of yet another delay. And another deadline…
Sources close to the dealmaking told TravelSkills a final decision by the Department of Justice (DOJ) is now expected by the “end of the year.” The takeover was initially announced last April with a goal of closing in the fourth quarter of this year. As the fourth quarter approached, a deadline of September 30 was set for the Department of Justice to give its okay to the deal… or seek to block it.
Then a new deadline of October 17 was set for the the DOJ decision. That date passed, and on October 20, Alaska Air CEO Brad Tilden said in an earnings call that, “there is a process at play” and “we’re not quite there yet.” Then the deal was hit by an antitrust lawsuit in San Francisco.
In early November, an image of a purported Virgin America – Alaska Airlines 737 with a new livery made the rounds, which has us all thinking a deal was imminent. But no. Then in mid-November, Virgin America lawyers said in a filing Northern District Court of California that “Alaska believes that Department of Justice review will likely be completed by the end of November.”
That blue tail could be the look of the future for Alaska Airlines (Photo: Brandon Farris)
So here we are in December and there’s still no DOJ decision. Virgin America and Alaska are still operating as two separate entities. Employees and members of both airline frequent flyer programs are waiting and wondering about the future. Fatigue about the whole affair is setting in…
What’s next? Well, insiders have told us this is how it will go down: The DOJ should complete its review by the end of December and issue a press release on the decision. Alaska Airlines will then respond to that decision (likely with a press release of its own). Once all parties are in agreement over the terms of the take over, the next step is for Alaska Air to take care of that pesky antitrust lawsuit in San Francisco opposing the merger. And then, after all that, we’ll see the deal go down.
So there you have it. Another deadline for a DOJ decision is now set for December 31. Will it happen? Who knows. But it’s a bit strange that a DOJ decision keeps getting pushed back, despite Alaska Airlines’ claims that progress is being made.
What do you think? Is this a done deal, or is it in jeopardy? Please leave your comments below.
The interior of Delta’s new Airbus A321. (Image; Delta)
In domestic route developments, Delta will put new aircraft types on routes to San Francisco, Portland and San Diego; Alaska adds a couple of transcontinental markets; Southwest grows at Austin and Denver; and Spirit jumps into four Ohio-Florida markets.
Delta this year started to take delivery of new Airbus A321s, and according to Routesonline.com, customers in San Francisco and Portland will start to see them in 2017. The site said Delta’s advance schedule shows the new plane being introduced on a few of its many San Francisco-Atlanta flights starting in early March, and replacing the 737-900ER on its Portland-Detroit service starting in June. Delta said the A321s will feature big, pivoting overhead bins; next-generation seats in all three seating categories; large entertainment screens; USB and power ports; and LED lighting that changes with the phase of flight. (The A321 is the plane that seems to be replacing the aging Boeing 757, which is no longer being made.)
Meanwhile, following the recent news that JetBlue plans to extend its front-cabin Mint service onto the New York-San Diego route next August, thepointsguy.com reports that Delta apparently will be putting a 757 with front-cabin lie-flat seats onto one daily flight in the same market effective in June 2017. (Update: Airlineroute.net tells us that Delta had this aircraft on a SAN-JFK flight this past summer as well.) It’s the same aircraft type Delta uses for the lucrative JFK-San Francisco/Los Angeles routes. JetBlue has embarked on a long-term expansion of Mint service onto more transcon routes. Similarly, United has deployed a couple widebody B777-200s on SFO-BOS (but with standard first, not lie-flat) to take on JetBlue’s Mint expansion.
Alaska Airlines is adding more transcontinental flights. (Image: Alaska Air)
Speaking of San Diego and transcontinental routes, Alaska Airlines just announced a new one: The carrier said it will begin daily roundtrips between San Diego and Baltimore/Washington International starting March 15. The eastbound leg will be a red-eye. Alaska already flies to BWI from Los Angeles and Seattle, and its other San Diego transcons include Boston, Orlando, and new service to Newark starting next week. Last week, Alaska also kicked off a new daily roundtrip between Portland and Newark. Next spring, Alaska will start San Jose-Newark service as well. In other news, Alaska just began weekly seasonal service on Saturdays between Bellingham, Washington and Kona, Hawaii.
Southwest Airlines will begin new service on March 13 linking Kansas City with Austin, offering one daily roundtrip. Southwest also plans to expand its limited service between Denver and Albany, N.Y. The airline currently flies that route on weekends only, and just on a seasonal basis, but on April 25 it will make Denver-Albany a year-round route with daily flights.
Spirit Airlines has added Ohio’s Akron-Canton Airport as the newest dot on its route map. Last week, Spirit launched daily flights from Akron-Canton to Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Ft. Myers. The Tampa and Ft. Myers routes will be seasonal only. Next spring, Spirit will add seasonal flights from Akron-Canton to Myrtle Beach and year-round service to Las Vegas.
Alaska’s Premium Class customers will get free drinks and snacks in addition to more legroom.(Image: Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines travelers will soon have a new seating option. The airline said that the Premium Class (premium economy) section it announced late last year will finally be available on select flights starting January 6 – and Mileage Plan elites will be eligible for free upgrades.
Effective this week, paying customers can book seats in Premium Class on flights where it is available for a surcharge of $15 to $79 over the base fare, depending on distance flown. Mileage Plan members with MVP, Gold and Gold 75 status can request a free upgrade when they book, or up to 24 hours before departure, depending on their elite level and the fare they purchase.
The new section, in the front of the main cabin, will give customers an extra four inches of legroom, with a 35-inch pitch vs. 31 or 32 in regular economy seating. As it refits its aircraft with Premium Class, Alaska is also overhauling its first class cabins, increasing legroom from 36 to 41 or 42 inches.
The new Premium Class will be on Alaska’s 737-800s and 900s. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
The airline said it expects to finish installing Premium Class by early January on half of the planes that are getting it – including 737-800s and E175s operated by SkyWest. Next year, it will add the seating on its 737-900s and -900ERs and eventually on Horizon Air planes. Sometime next year, Alaska said, it will decide whether to extend the refit to its 737-700s; it plans to eliminate its 737-400s in 2017.
The new seating category replaces Alaska’s Preferred Plus option, which only included exit row and bulkhead seats. Alaska said that persons seated in the new category will get priority boarding and free in-flight snack boxes and alcoholic drinks, and will have power outlets at each seat.
Here’s a chart of specific fleet plans:
Although Alaska said it will reduce the total number of seats on some aircraft, its chart indicates that its 737-800s will go from the current 163 total seats to 159 — only four fewer seats. As for its 737-900s and -900ERs, the total seat count will only drop from 181 to 178 — three fewer seats. It just seems like all that extra legroom going into the two front cabins might require a little more than that — unless economy seats will be pushed closer together. And the E175s will keep the same number of total seats despite the addition of 12 Premium Economy extra-legroom seats. That space has to come from somewhere.
Meanwhile, Alaska also said that starting December 5, Mileage Plan elite-level members will be eligible for free first class upgradeswhen they book award tickets in coach. The upgrades will be instant for full-fare coach awards (fare class Z) when space is available. In addition, a member’s fare class will now be used along with elite status level to determine first class upgrade priorities.
My last “real” Virgin America flight in seat 1A! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
>In this post: How I bid my way to a first class upgrade on Virgin America and a Trip Report (with photos) about my experience…
Last week I used my Virgin America Elevate points (26,000 of ’em!) to buy a roundtrip economy class ticket between San Francisco and Washington, DC– and I lucked out in both directions.
Here’s what happened:
About a week before my trip, I received an email from Virgin America inviting me to bid on an upgrade to first class for the return leg (DCA-SFO) of the trip. Since I knew I’d be tired and ready to kick back after an very busy three-day trip, I thought “hmmm I deserve this, let’s check it out.” It had been a long time since I had enjoyed a transcon flight in Virgin’s big marshmallow white seats, and I knew I’d appreciate the space, service, meal and cocktails on the evening return flight.
Plus, I thought that it could be the last time I’d fly on the “real” Virgin America since its takeover by Alaska seems imminent.
I was psyched to receive the upgrade offer because I’d booked my economy class roundtrip a little late, and the seat selection was poor. I had aisle seats, behind the wing, in both directions. Yuck. So I bit. And I clicked on “Make an offer” and found out that I could only get the upgrade on the return flight. Still, an upgrade in one direction is better than no upgrade at all, right?
The click led to a screen that asked me to name my price for the return flight– but it would not allow me to submit a bid for less than $400. It included a helpful little toggle switch that helped gauge my “offer strength” and also showed a photo of those big leather marshmallows to tempt me.
$400 seemed high to me, so I had to think about it. A few hours later, I decided, once again, “I deserve this.” So I went back and made a bid at the cheapest possible price: $410. If I got it, fine, if I did not, no biggie. I’d suffer at the back of the plane. This was a “free” ticket anyway since I’d used my points, right? What’s another $410? Plus, when I checked, roundtrip first class flights were running at about $3,000 roundtrip on Virgin America.
Once I submitted my bid, I received another email saying that my bid was under consideration- and that I could modify it or cancel it at any time. I liked that. I did not feel like I was stuck. I could up my bid, or I could bow out completely. Virgin said that my credit card would only be billed if my bid succeeded, and that they’d email to let me know if I’d won.
This all took place on Tuesday. My outbound flight departed Thursday morning, and the return was Sunday evening.
When it became time to check in for my flight on Wednesday, I took a quick look to see if any better coach seats have opened up. Lo and behold, one had: a non-reclining exit row window seat 9F– yes! Since it does not recline, Virgin does not charge extra for it, and I don’t ever recline in economy anymore, so I grabbed it. I also noticed that the middle seat next to mine was empty and hoped it stayed that way.
And you know what? It did stay empty! When the door to the plane closed, the guy in the aisle seat and I did a fist bump 🙂 An empty seat next to you on an exit row is almost as good as first class, right? Well, kinda. But I was able to stretch out, get some work done, use the middle seat tray table for overflow. The 4-5 hour flight passed quickly, I had a nice fast Gogo internet connection, a protein plate for lunch (my favorite Virgin meal) ordered from the seat back.
Dear Alaska Airlines: Figure out a way to preserve and expand Virgin’s seatback food and drink ordering system. After eight years, no other airline has copied it and it works so well– for both passenger and crew.
I hope Alaska Air keeps Virgin’s protein plate on the menu- it’s my favorite meal! (Chris McGinnis)
I was in DC for a meeting on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. As I struggled through a sunny bright DC Saturday morning stuck in a windowless conference room, I remembered my bid for first class on the flight home. A few minutes later, my phone buzzed with an email:
Wooo hooo! I got it! I won the bid! I went to check my options and settle on seat 1A. I felt like standing up in the middle of the meeting and giving myself a high five! I’d be flying home in style. My favorite hometown airline had come through for me. So here’s how that went:
Virgin’s cushy first class seats look like big white marshmallows- I sat in 1A (Virgin America)
Boarding the flight was fast and easy at Washington Reagan National. There are only eight seats in Virgin’s first class. Only one was empty for the the flight to SFO.
First thing I noticed was how old the plane felt. It must have been one of Virgin’s original A320s. I could tell by the older version of inflight entertainment, the scuffs and scrapes on that big white seat and surrounding area. (It did not look as pristine as the Virgin-supplied photo above.) Looking out the unpolished, murky window, I could see paint chips on the big red engine under the wing. While still nice, the hippest, coolest airline in the world looked a little long in the tooth. Alaska Air is going have to give some of these planes a nip and tuck here and there to keep up the Virgin image.
A little work with my bloody mary and mixed nuts (Chris McGinnis)
Service was great as usual. One of my favorite things about flying Virgin is how the pilots, in their black uniforms, stand at the head of the cabin to make pre-flight announcements. It’s interesting and reassuring, and I hope it’s a touch that Alaska Airlines keeps.
Three choices for dinner in Virgin America first class (Chris McGinnis)
Flight attendants helped stow my carry on since I was in the bulkhead. They also distributed huge black pillows and comforters– these are seriously large and cozy. I declined, however, since I knew I’d be working on this flight.
Citrus and Persian cucumber with prosciutto starter salad- nice but the sections of lime were too sour (Chris McGinnis)
Main course: Persian chicken with basmati right- regrettably overcooked and dry, but edible! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
A pear custard tart for dessert (Chris McGinnis)
Overall, I feel like that $410 was money well spent. I got plenty of work done on the flight. Once again, I had a speedy Gogo connection— fast enough to upload photos, which is rare. I arrived back in SFO in good shape after the 5 hour slog.
I’m going to miss Virgin America. It will be tough to say goodbye to our fun, sassy, innovative, high-style airline. But I believe it will be in good hands with Alaska, which seems to have an open mind about integrating the best parts of the Virgin experience.
What do you think about losing Virgin America? Did you ever get to fly upfront? Ever play the upgrade bidding game? Please leave your comments below.
Is this the look of things to come for the combined Alaska Airlines and Virgin America?
The Instagram photo of a shiny red, purple gradient and blue Boeing 737-900 with the words “More to Love” along the fuselage has circulated among aviation geeks over the last few days. The image, which appears to be in an aircraft hangar, also clearly shows the Alaska Airlines Eskimo face on a navy blue tail.
The Puget Sound Business Journal came across the photo and surmised: “The photograph appears to be an aircraft painted to promote the airline combination to travelers and employees of the airlines, rather than be a new livery for all Alaska and Virgin airplanes.”
We’ve reached out to Alaska Airlines for a comment about the image, but have not heard back.
New aircraft liveries always draw plenty of commentary, most of it negative. But I’ll take a stand on this one: I like it and would not mind seeing it as the permanent new livery of the combined carrier. What about you? Please leave your comments below.
In the meantime, the whole Alaska Airlines-Virgin America deal still seems to be stuck in limbo at the Justice Department. The latest rumors about the deal emerged yesterday on The Street, with an insider stating that the combined carrier would have to give up gates at SFO and LAX and terminate code sharing agreements with Delta and American to close the deal.
Delta and ANA have shifted routes from Narita to Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport. (Image: Haneda Airport)
In international route news, Delta shifts a pair of Tokyo routes to a new airport and ANA does the same; Delta and Virgin Atlantic expand code-sharing to India with Jet Airways, and Delta drops a couple of Italy routes; British Airways adds a U.S. gateway – but not from Heathrow; JetBlue sets the launch dates for its new Havana service; and Alaska postpones the start of its new Cuba route.
New rights to fly to/from Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport took effect over the past weekend, resulting in some route changes at Delta and at Japan’s All Nippon Airways. Delta has started its new nonstops from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Tokyo Haneda, which replaces its MSP-Narita service; Delta also shifted its Los Angeles-Tokyo flights from Narita to Haneda (and earlier this month, Delta dropped its New York JFK-Narita route as well). Delta still flies to Narita from Seattle, Portland, Detroit and Atlanta.
Delta’s code-sharing with India’s Jet Airways is expanding to London and to Virgin Atlantic. (Image: Delta)
Across the Atlantic, Delta and partner Virgin Atlantic announced an expansion of Delta’s code-sharing partnership with India’s Jet Airways, which is currently available for connections to India via Paris and Amsterdam. Starting November 2, passengers on Delta and Virgin Atlantic flights into London Heathrow will be able to connect onto Delta code-shares operated by Jet Airways to Mumbai and Delhi, and beyond to 20 domestic destinations in India.
In other transatlantic news, for 2017 Delta will no longer offer summer seasonal service from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Rome or from New York JFK to Pisa; both routes had been planned to launch May 25. And to South America, Delta has just switched aircraft on its Atlanta-Buenos Aires route from a 767 to an A330-300, providing a 20 percent increase in the number of seats it flies.
British Airways next summer will add a new Florida route. The carrier said that starting July 6, it will fly to Ft. Lauderdale four days a week during summer and three days a week the rest of the year. But it will fly the route out of London Gatwick, not Heathrow. BA will use a 777-200 on the route, which will be its fourth into Florida.
Refrigerator magnets from a recent trip to Havana (Chris McGinnis)
JetBlue is the latest U.S. carrier to announce the starting dates for new service into Havana. JetBlue, which won rights for three routes into the Cuban capital, said it will begin daily roundtrips out of its New York JFK base on November 28; daily flights from Orlando on November 29; and daily service out of Ft. Lauderdale starting November 30 (increasing to twice a day December 1)
Alaska Airlines, meanwhile, has pushed back the start of its single new Havana route. The carrier had planned to start Los Angeles-Havana service on November 29, but now won’t begin flying the route until January 5.
What do flight attendants love most about SFO? A fun new promotional video from San Francisco International Airport, introduced by Tony Bennett, offers personal accounts from flight attendants representing a number of airlines about the interesting things to see and do at the airport. See video What do you love most about SFO? Leave your comments below.
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This week Alaska Airlines revealed a new paint job, or livery, on a new 737-900ER. At first glance, that American flag wingtip may look like a move to integrate Virgin America design elements (see its flagged winglet here) into the look of Alaska Airlines, but it’s part of a new initiative called “Alaska Airlines Salutes,” to support and honor those who serve. The design features an Alaska Airlines Salutes medallion and a fallen soldier badge, with the Battlefield Cross to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The plane also features five rings surrounding the engine, representative of the five branches of the United States military, and American flag winglets.
Alaska Airlines & Virgin America’s merger has been slightly delayed. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
A few weeks ago, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America said they were extending their anticipated date for winning Justice Department merger approval from late September to October 17. But the latter date has come and gone with no further word. So what’s going on?
According to media reports, the airlines are still involved in discussions with the Justice Department’s antitrust specialists. No one seems to think that DOJ will try to block the merger (according to TheStreet.com), but it may seek to impose some conditions on its approval.
Reuters, citing sources close to the talks, said that DOJ might require Alaska to terminate one or more of its existing code-share partnerships with other domestic airlines in order to gain antitrust approval, or at least to reduce the scope of that code-sharing to fewer routes.
Alaska currently has domestic code-sharing partnerships with Delta and American. Given the heated ongoing competitive battle between Alaska and Delta at Seattle, it’s unlikely that Alaska would be too upset about ending those code-shares. American might be another matter; last spring, Alaska and AA implemented a substantial expansion of code-sharing on domestic routes.
According to Reuters, JP Morgan analysts estimated that the Delta and American code-sharing partnerships bring about $350 million in annual revenues to Alaska.
Sir Richard Branson wants to keep the Virgin name alive in the U.S. (Photo: Nancy Branka)
Meanwhile, Sir Richard Branson told a Dallas TV station this week that if Alaska ultimately decides to fold Virgin America into the Alaska brand, he is likely to start up another new carrier with the Virgin name.
“I hope the Virgin America brand never goes away,” Branson said in an interview Dallas’ Channel 8 WFAA. “If Alaska decides to drop the brand – because we didn’t actually want the sale to happen – we’ll start again and Virgin America will very much back here.”
How likely is it that the Virgin American brand will survive long term? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Southwest will add two more California routes in March. (Image: Jim Glab)
In domestic route news, much of the action is in California, including a pair of new Southwest routes, new American flights from northern California and LAX, a new Delta market from Los Angeles, and new intrastate service from JetSuite and a small Hawaiian carrier; meanwhile, Alaska upgrades its equipment on two California routes.
Southwest Airlines, which has focused much if its recent growth on California, plans to add another pair of routes there. The carrier said that beginning March 9, it will start new service to Salt Lake City from both Sacramento and Burbank. Southwest is offering introductory fares starting at $59 one-way for booking through October 20.
American will begin Phoenix flights from Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schultz Airport. (Image: Charles M. Schultz Airport)
On February 16, American Eagle/SkyWest will kick off new daily non-stops between Sonoma County’s Charles M. Schulz Airport in Santa Rosa and AA’s Phoenix hub. The carrier will use a CRJ-700 on the route. Elsewhere in California, American plans to initiate summer seasonal service next year from Los Angeles International to Grand Junction, Colorado. The flights will operate from June 3 through August 19, also with an American Eagle/SkyWest CRJ-700.
Outside of California, American will begin new regional jet service on February 16 from Phoenix to Bullhead City, Arizona; and AA this month began American Eagle/Envoy Air flights twice a day from its Chicago O’Hare hub to Akron/Canton.
As we mentioned the other day in a post about the expansion of lie-flat premium seats on transcontinental routes, Delta plans to launch new service on April 24 between LAX and Washington D.C.’s close-in Reagan National Airport, using a 757-200 equipped with fully-flat seats in the front cabin. At the same time, Delta will drop one of its two daily Salt Lake City-DCA flights, replacing it with a Salt Lake-Washington Dulles service.
A Phenom 100 jet from JetSuite (JetSuite)
JetSuiteX, which offers small-plane public charters within California, will begin new service October 17 between San Jose and McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, north of San Diego. The company will use a four-seat Phenom 100 to fly the route four times a week, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On the same day, JetSuiteX will boost frequencies between San Jose and Burbank to two flights a day– and currently flights from both Concord and San Jose to Burbank are on sale for just $59 each way (for November trips) and that includes checked bags and wi-fi.
Following United’s recent decision to stop flying between San Francisco and Santa Maria, California, that town just got new service from an unlikely source: Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines. The carrier is flying four times a day between Santa Maria and Terminal 6 at Los Angeles International Airport using nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan turboprops.
In nearby Santa Barbara, meanwhile, Alaska Airlines has started to use new 76-passenger Embraer 175s on its routes to Seattle and Portland, replacing 70-passenger CRJ-700s. The new planes have first class, Preferred Plus and regular coach seating, and are equipped with Wi-Fi service.
An exclusive preview party for Delta’s newest, and second largest SkyClub (Photo: Delta / Flickr)
In airport news this week, Delta opens its newest SkyClub, ride-hailing service passenger pick-ups will soon be legal at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson; Phoenix travelers should be prepared for flight delays in October; more gates will be added at Seattle-Tacoma; American will consolidate its gates at Boston Logan; and Alaska Airlines tests a new baggage procedure at Los Angeles International.
Delta hosted a special preview this week of its newest SkyClub located in a dedicated space on the top of Concourse B at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson. Delta is calling the new SkyClub its “flagship” lounge, which is the second largest in its system behind the one at New York-JFK. The carrier says that the new $24 million, 25,000-square-foot, 500-seat space follows the airline’s strategy of “giving each new club a sense of place.” It features locally sourced fare, craft beer from Georgia breweries, artwork from seven Atlanta galleries and other local artists. Its modern design features “tiered ceilings bracketed by massive windows to let in the Southern sun and afford views of downtown,” but alas no outdoor space like you get out at the Concourse F (Int’l) club. It is located at the center of the concourse, adjacent to Gate B18 and opens to the public on Sept 23. Delta’s two other SkyClubs on the concourse will close. Next up for Delta SkyClubs is a new opening in Seattle expected in late October or November. See this video from the ATL preview party. More details from the Delta News Hub here.
Also at ATL… Some UberX and Lyft drivers have been picking up passengers for months at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, but they have to try to avoid enforcement officers, since what they are doing is technically illegal. But that will soon change: The Atlanta City Council this week approved a measure that will make passenger pick-ups at ATL legal beginning January 1. The measure will add a $3.85 fee to the passenger’s fare for airport pick-ups. ATL is the largest airport in the nation that doesn’t yet allow legal ride-hailing service.
Travelers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International are being advised to expect delays during the coming month due to runway improvement projects. Officials said the airport’s north runway – one of three at the facility – will be closed from Thursday, October 6 through Sunday, November 6. “Arrival and departure delays of up to 30 minutes are possible during peak travel times: 7:30 a.m.-10 a.m. and 5 p.m.-8 p.m.,” the airport said. It advised passengers to check flight status before coming to the airport.
Sea-Tac’s North Satellite will get eight more gates. (Image: Port of Seattle)
The Port of Seattle’s governing body has approved final plans for an expansion of Seattle-Tacoma International’s North Satellite terminal, which is used by Alaska Airlines. The project will add eight gates to the terminal, with construction starting early in 2017 and completion expected in 2019. According to the Seattle Times, the project will also expand Alaska Airlines’ lounge on the terminal’s upper floor to 14,485 square feet, and will bring 3,000 square feet of retail and food and beverage concessions to the space. Alaska will continue to use concourses C and D as well. SEA is also building a new international arrivals terminal due to debut in 2019. Passenger numbers at SEA this year are running 10 percent ahead of last year, and 2015 passenger numbers posted 13 percent growth over 2014.
Big changes are coming to Boston Logan’s Terminal B. The Massachusetts Port Authority said an improvement project will consolidate all American Airlines gates from two different locations in Terminal B to 18 contiguous gates on the side of the terminal formerly occupied by US Airways. Also, the three existing security checkpoints on that side of Terminal B will be consolidated into one checkpoint. The project will also bring expanded ticketing/kiosk areas, improvements to the baggage handling space, and reconfigured concessions. Overall, the effort will add 75,000 square feet of passenger space, Massport said, adding that once the project is finished, Southwest Airlines will move from Terminal A into the former American Airlines gates in Terminal B.
Alaska Airlines is testing self-service bag drops at LAX. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
At Los Angeles International, Alaska Airlines has started testing self-service baggage drops for passengers. Customers participating in the test – which runs through November 10 — will check in online, by mobile app or at an airport kiosk; they can print a bag tag at home or at an airport kiosk. Then they’ll show an ID to a customer service agent and use one of the six new bag-drop lanes to deposit their luggage. Touch screens will walk customers through the process. “This technology will allow customer service agents to interact more with customers one-on-one in the lobby while having the machines complete the technical work of dropping the bags,” an Alaska official said.
Virgin America launches new app with Alaska takeover looming (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
At long last Virgin America is poised to join most major airlines with a new app which it says will launch later this summer.
The new app looks slick and has that fun/mod/funky Virgin feel- not unlike its current website. I’m very excited to give it a try and will definitely sign up to test the beta.
Now that’s unusual!
But I have a burning question: Why? Why is Virgin America going to the trouble to create, launch and promote a new app when its takeover by Alaska Airlines is looming? Didn’t Virgin shareholders just this week approve the plan to merge?
Here’s what a Virgin spokesperson told TravelSkills when we asked that very question:
In answer to your Alaska question – airline mergers can take up to 1-2 years to complete, and our merger with Alaska hasn’t even closed yet, so you’re going to see Virgin America around – and be able to continue using the app for future travel – for a long time to come. So for now, it’s business as usual, and we will be encouraging all our guests to download this app and use it for their flights with Virgin America. Guests can also sign-up today to be the first to take the beta version for a test-drive.
The Virgin America app, which along with virginamerica.com was co-designed by Brooklyn-based Digital Product Design and Development shop Work + Co, is launching in beta in the coming weeks and to the world later this summer. Virgin says, “The new mobile app will build on our site by offering an engaging and personalized experience for flyers that we hope you’ll agree was worth the wait.”
In the coming weeks, select Elevate members and other top customers – including a team at one of Virgin’s kep partners, Google – are participating in the beta test for the new app. If you’d like to take the beta version for a test drive and didn’t yet receive an invite, you can register your interest by signing up here.
Now here’s an interesting and unique feature: The new app will use Spotify to help create a destination-specific soundtrack for your trips.
The Virgin Blog states: Virgin America has always been about more than just getting you from Point A to B. So, we’re furthering our relationship with Spotify for a first-of-its kind trip soundtrack mobile feature on an airline app. Guests can get inspired for their trip by streaming one of the city “Mood Lists” via Spotify. Simply click the Spotify button after you check-in to hear some tunes that will put you in a state-of-mind inspired by your destination.
Thoughts? What’s your favorite airline app? Will you give Virgin’s new app a go?
Refrigerator magnets from a recent trip to Havana (Chris McGinnis)
Last month, the U.S. Transportation Department awarded U.S. carriers new route rights to serve secondary cities in Cuba, but not the biggest plum – Havana.
This week, DOT finally acted on all the requests it had from U.S. airlines to operate regular scheduled service to the Cuban capital, awarding Havana routes to eight airlines for flights that are likely to start sometime this fall.
The preliminary route awards are still subject a public comment period before being finalized. Tickets are not yet on sale, but should be later this summer. Right now, round trip charter flights from Miami to Havana are running at about $450 round trip, a price that we expect to drop significantly when competition cranks up in the fall.
The only Havana route from the West Coast went to Alaska Airlines, which will operate daily non-stops from Los Angeles using a two-class, 181-passenger 737-900ER. The flight will originate in Seattle, offering same-plane service top Cuba. Alaska said it expects to begin the service by year’s end. From LAX or SFO, current fares to Havana via Mexico City (Aeromexico) or Panama City (Copa) are about $625 round trip.
Vintage cars serve as tourist taxis in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion (Chris McGinnis)
Most of the new routes will be from the eastern U.S., especially Florida. The exception to that rule was DOT’s selection of United to operate Houston-Havana flights, but only once a week. United will also operate daily non-stops to Havana from its Newark hub.
American Airlines will offer four daily roundtrips to Havana from Miami and one a day from Charlotte; Delta’s new route authority includes daily roundtrips to Havana from Atlanta, New York JFK and Miami; JetBlue won rights for two daily flights from Ft. Lauderdale and one each from New York JFK and Orlando; Southwest’s new route authority provides for two daily roundtrips from Ft. Lauderdale and one from Tampa; Spirit Airlines got two daily Ft. Lauderdale-Havana flights; and Frontier will be allowed a single daily flight from Miami to Havana.
Nonstops to Havana from US cities announced today (Image: Great Circle Mapper)
Technically, the U.S. still does not allow for simple tourist travel to Cuba; Americans who go there must fall into one of 12 categories approved by the government, including things like journalistic activity, professional research and meetings, educational activities and so on. Here’s a link to the Treasury Department’s rules for travel to Cuba.
Have you been to Cuba yet? Will you go in the near future? Why or why not? Please leave your comments below!
Alaska Airlines will add a new trancon route. (Image: Alaska Air)
In domestic route developments, Alaska Airlines will add a new transcontinental route as well as service to another California city; American plans to trim capacity for its Northeast Corridor shuttle service; JetBlue sets a starting date for more transcontinental service with Mint-equipped aircraft; Frontier adds a pair of routes from Las Vegas; and Allegiant enters new markets from Newark and Oakland.
Alaska Airlines has scheduled a March 16 start for new daily non-stop 737 service linking Portland, Oregon with Orlando – the only non-stops between those two cities. Meanwhile, Alaska also said it will add new service effective April 13 between its Seattle hub and San Luis Obispo, California. That route will be flown for Alaska once a day by SkyWest using a 76-passenger E175 with first class, Preferred Pus and main cabin seating.
American Airlines plans to adjust capacity this fall on the Northeast Corridor shuttle service that it inherited from US Airways. Starting November 4, the carrier will reduce the number of daily shuttle flights between New York LaGuardia and Boston from 16 to 15, and will trim the schedule between LGA and Washington Reagan National from 16 to 13 daily roundtrips. In addition, American will begin to use Embraer 175s operated by Republic Airlines on five daily LGA-Boston flights and on eight LGA-Washington flights; the rest will continue to user larger E190s.
JetBlue is slowly expanding its premium cabin Mint service to more routes. (Image: JetBlue)
As JetBlue continues the gradual expansion of its Mint premium cabin service to more markets, it has reportedly set a date for the start of Mint flights on the Los Angeles-Ft. Lauderdale route. According to airlineroute.net, JetBlue will introduce Mint service on one of its two daily LAX-FLL flights on March 20, and will offer it on both flights by April 20. The carrier has expanded Mint from its JFK-LAX and JFK-San Francisco routes to San Francisco-Boston, with plans to add LAX-Boston this fall; next year, Mint should appear on select routes from Seattle, San Diego and Las Vegas as well.
Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines is growing at Las Vegas McCarran, with plans to add new daily service from there to both Nashville and Tampa starting September 6. Using 150-seat A319s. And on October 30, Frontier will begin new daily flights between Colorado Springs and Orlando.
Another low-cost carrier, Allegiant, plans to launch the only non-stop service between Oakland and El Paso, Texas on October 6, offering two flights a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Meanwhile, Allegiant also plans to move into United’s Newark hub in November after the airport opens up more takeoff and landing slots. Allegiant will fly from Newark to Cincinnati, Savannah (Georgia), Asheville (N.C.) and Knoxville.
Alaska Airlines is advising Mileage Plan members of earning changes on AA flights. (Image: Jim Glab)
American Airlines earlier this month reminded its AAdvantage members that the rules of earning miles will change dramatically on August 1, as the program switches over to a spending-based regime. And now Alaska Airlines is advising its Mileage Plan loyalists how those changes at American might affect their program earnings.
Alaska said Mileage Plan members should watch for changes when they fly on American, in line with the new AAdvantage rules. Basically, Mileage Plan members’ earning rate will depend on which airline markets the flight (i.e., whose code it is booked under).
“For flights marketed by American, but operated by Alaska, you will earn miles at the new rate,” the airline said in its blog. “For flights marketed by Alaska, but operated by American, you will earn miles based on the distance you fly, as well as any class of service bonuses.”
That “new rate” means Mileage Plan members on American-marketed flights will earn miles based on a combination of a percentage of distance flown and fare class. (Click on the above link to the blog to see a full chart of fare class multipliers.)
Mileage Plan members who fly on Alaska flights will see no changes in their earning system. (“Additionally, Alaska does not currently have any plans to change how miles are earned on Alaska flights,” the company assured members.)
As examples, Alaska said a Mileage Plan member on a 1,660-mile American flight from Seattle to Dallas/Ft. Worth in first class would earn 3,320 Mileage Plan miles after August 1, compared with 2,490 miles before that date; but a member flying O class in economy on the same flight would only earn 415 Mileage Plan miles after August 1 (actually 500 miles, because the program has a 500-mile minimum earning provision), vs. 1,660 miles prior to August 1.
In domestic route news, JetBlue has kicked off a new transcontinental route from San Diego; Virgin America adds another Hawaii flight from the West Coast (but you still can’t surf from it); Alaska adds new routes from San Diego and Anchorage; American plans new service from O’Hare this fall; and United enters a new East Coast market from LaGuardia.
The newest transcontinental route for JetBlue Airways is San Diego to Ft. Lauderdale, which it started flying last week. The daily eastbound segment is a red-eye, departing San Diego at 10:15 p.m. and arriving at 6:19 a.m. It’s the latest step in an ongoing JetBlue expansion at Ft. Lauderdale, where it is already the busiest airline. Last month, JetBlue started service from FLL to Nashville and to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
Virgin America has added its fourth Hawaii route from California. (Image: Virgin America)
Virgin America Airlines has added a fourth route to Hawaii with the launch of new service between Los Angeles and Kahului, Maui. The new daily service departs LAX at 9:35 a.m.; like the airline’s other Hawaii flights, it uses an Airbus A320 equipped with “sharklet” wingtips that create greater fuel efficiency and increase the aircraft’s range. Last month, Virgin started LAX-Honolulu service; it also flies to both Hawaiian destinations from San Francisco. Note: Virgin’s satellite based wi-fi is still not operational on its Hawaii flights from LAX or SFO. A spokesman told TravelSkills that it’s “coming later this year.”
Alaska Airlines has started new seasonal service between Anchorage and Spokane, Washington, operating once a week (on Saturdays) with a 737 from now through August 27 – the first-ever non-stop service in that city-pair. The airline also announced plans to operate seasonal service this coming winter from San Diego to Hayden/Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the ski season. Those flights, on Wednesday sand Saturdays, will use 76-seat Embraer 175s operated by SkyWest.
Starting October 6, American Airlines will add a pair of spokes from its Chicago O’Hare hub. New American Eagle flights will operate twice a day between O’Hare and Akron/Canton, Ohio; and three times daily between O’Hare and Lansing, Michigan. Both routes will use Embraer 145s.
On the heels of Delta’s announcement to start Raleigh-Durham service from Newark this fall, United now plans to do the same from New York LaGuardia. The United service begins October 30, when it will start operating three flights a day (except Saturdays) between LGA and Raleigh-Durham, using Embraer 170s.
Alaska is taking on Southwest in a battle for California dominance. (Image: Jim Glab)
Bay Area travelers have some new airline options this week as carriers add more routes in a growing competition for California customers.
Alaska Airlines has taken on the daunting task of horning in on a pair of Southwest Airlines’ intra-California monopoly routes out of San Jose. Alaska just started up three daily flights between San Jose and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, as well as three daily roundtrips between San Jose-San Diego. The flights will be operated for Alaska by SkyWest, using 76-seat E175s with first class, Preferred Plus and main cabin seating, as well as Wi-Fi access and free streaming entertainment. They’ll be facing Southwest’s heavy daily schedules of multiple 737 flights in both markets.
At Oakland, meanwhile, Southwest this week launched nine new daily flights, including new intrastate service to Long Beach four times a day, along with three new daily flights to Reno-Tahoe and one to St. Louis. Southwest also boosted its Oakland-Baltimore/Washington schedule from one flight a day to two.
Southwest Airlines jets at Oakland International Airport (Photo: Port of Oakland)
With the new service from Oakland to Long Beach, “Oakland and Southwest will offer more daily departures by a single airline from a Bay Area airport to Southern California with 43 peak non-stop flights per day,” according to a spokesperson for the airport. With the latest additions, Southwest now has more than 120 flights a day out of OAK – with half of them going to airports in the greater Los Angeles region plus San Diego.
The new routes are just the latest escalation in a growing battle for the California market between Southwest and Alaska, which should get really interesting when Alaska merges with San Francisco-based Virgin America. And more new routes are coming from the two carriers, including Alaska’s plan to begin Sacramento-San Diego and San Jose-Burbank flights next winter, and new Southwest flights from San Jose to Baltimore/Washington and Salt Lake City coming this fall.
Cruising over Oahu on Virgin America (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Speaking of Virgin America, that airline is due to add another new Hawaii route next week (June 14), when it kicks off daily service from Los Angeles to Maui’s Kahului Airport. Early last month, Virgin started daily LAX-Honolulu flights. It also flies to both islands from San Francisco.
Don’t miss the AJC editorial about the Delta-Fox brouhaha which starts out like this: Atlantans were aghast last week when the body of the beloved Fox Theatre was found in a car trunk, bound and gagged, a single shot to the back of the head.
TravelSkills was invited to a big United Airlines event in NYC in early June which requires signing a non-disclosure agreement to get in the door. Regrettably we can make it due to a prior commitment (flying Turkish Airlines to Istanbul!), but we’ll keep an eye out for the news. Rumor has it that United will reveal a new BusinessFirst seat design at the event. But who knows? What do you think it could be? Leave your prognostications below.
United revealed this new first class seat for its domestic A319, A320 and some 757 aircraft last year. Will a new BusinessFirst seat be revealed next week? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:
Alaska Airlines will begin two new intra-California routes early next year. (Image: Alaska Air)
Both Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines this week announced they will addnew routes from California airports. This is likely just the beginning of a battle for the hearts and wallets of California’s frequent flyers as Alaska absorbs Virgin America and takes on Southwest for dominance in the Golden State. For the short term, travelers should benefit with more options and lower fares.
Alaska set a March 17, 2017 start for new Sacramento-San Diego and San Jose-Burbank service. It will offer three roundtrips a day in both markets, using its new 76-seat E175 jets operated by SkyWest Airlines with first class, premium economy and economy seating. (More on the E175 here.)
Southwest will operate one daily roundtrip between SJC-BWI and two a day between SJC and Salt Lake City.
Officials at the airport noted that there is currently no non-stop service between San Jose and the metro Washington D.C. area, which was the second most requested domestic destination in a Silicon Valley corporate survey.
We checked times and prices on the new San Jose-Baltimore nonstop. Here’s what we found for an early November roundtrip:
The new flights will give Southwest 76 weekday departures from SJC to 15 destinations. Plus it will give San Jose another much-needed nonstop connection to the East Coast.
San Jose has made huge gains this year with flights to several long-haul destinations. British Airways just launched new 787 Dreamliner flights to London. On June 16, Air China inaugurates nonstops to Shanghai, followed by Lufthansa nonstops to Frankfurt later this summer.
Atlanta’s historic Fox Theater is the venue for the latest skirmish between Delta and Qatar Airways. (Image: Fox Theater)
Big airlines all try to get involved with the communities they serve by sponsoring or contributing to various local venues or events. Delta does that too, but it just made a couple of moves that might have its public relations department wondering what its community relations department was thinking.
The first move was in Atlanta, where Delta has been a sponsor of the city’s landmark Fox Theater for 20 years. But now, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution , Delta plans to end that sponsorship when it expires next year.
Why? Because the theater had the audacity to rent out its space to Qatar Airways for a VIP event plus an exclusive performance by Jennifer Lopez celebrating that airline’s launching of Atlanta-Doha service on June 1.
A TravelSkills reader sent images from the exclusive Qatar Airways event at the Fox Theater in Atlanta (More below)
Delta and the other big U.S. carriers have been in a major feud with the Big Three Middle Eastern airlines – Qatar, Etihad and Emirates – for many months, alleging that they are subsidized by their governments and thus competing unfairly on routes to the U.S. Those carriers have also been adding new U.S. routes at a fast pace, prompting the U.S. carriers to lobby for government intervention that would stop that expansion.
Earlier this year, Delta cancelled its Atlanta-Dubai route, blaming subsidized competition; and last month, a Delta executive blasted Qatar Airways’ plan for Atlanta service, claiming there is no way that carrier could make money on the route. A Qatar executive responded by saying his airline was going to “rub salt in the wounds of Delta” by flying to Atlanta – a remark that prompted Delta to take revenge by canceling its Fox Theater sponsorship, the newspaper reported.
Meanwhile, Delta has another rival in Seattle – Alaska Airlines, where the two carriers are in a battle for new routes and market share. In that city, Delta has just taken on sponsorship of the annual Seattle Gay Pride Parade for three next three years – but it added one stipulation to its sponsorship agreement: No Alaska Airlines employee can be in the parade if they are wearing T-shirts or other clothing that displays the Alaska Airlines logo or brand.
Come on, Delta. How low can you go?
UPDATE: Scratch that report about the Seattle Gay Pride Parade. Apparently a Seattle Pride leader misunderstood the sponsorship arrangement with Delta, and mistakenly told Seattle media that it barred Alaska Airlines employees from participating in clothing with company logos. They are indeed welcome, and Delta never declared that they weren’t, he said.
Reader thoughts, please! Plus see below for some more images from the Qatar Airways event at the Fox.
Quite an opulent affair at the Fox Theater
At the Fox Theatre event, Qatar Airways gave away a pair of free roundtrip business class tickets anywhere it flies
Thousands of red roses at the Qatar Airways launch event in Atlanta
Japan Airlines has a new partnership with Alaska Airlines. (Image: JAL)
International carrier news briefs include a new transpacific partnership for Alaska Airlines, a look at American’s new long-haul business class seating, a Wi-Fi decision by British Airways and its siblings, and a move by Lufthansa to fund travel-related start-ups in Silicon Valley.
Starting this summer, members of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan will be able to earn miles on Japan Airlines, thanks to a new partnership between the two carriers. The code-sharing and frequent flyer cooperation pact will mean seamless connections for travelers between Alaska’s flights and JAL’s transpacific services to Tokyo from San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Vancouver, as well as JAL’s LAX-Osaka service. While mileage-earning on JAL will begin this summer for Mileage Plan members, award travel redemptions on the Japanese carrier “will begin later in 2016,” Alaska said. Strategically, the tie-up with JAL is a logical step for Alaska; its merger partner Virgin America already has an interline partnership with JAL for connections at SFO and LAX, and Alaska recently started a big expansion of code-sharing with American Airlines, which has joint venture and Oneworld global alliance partnerships with the Japanese carrier.
Japan Airlines and Alaska will link up at four West Coast gateways. (Image: JAL)
American Airlines will turn to a next-generation “Super Diamond” business class seating configuration for its next-generation long-haul international aircraft, according to a report in Forbes. The new seats will all recline fully flat, will be enclosed in a kind of personal shell, and will offer aisle access from every seat. They’ll go into the new 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A350s that will be coming to American in the next few years, and will also be retrofitted onto some 777-200s. American recently broke off its ties to French-based seat manufacturer Zodiac and is turning to B/E Aerospace for the new business class seats.
American Airlines’ new international business class seat. (Image: American)
International Airlines Group, (IAG), the parent of British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus, has signed a deal with Wi-Fi vendor Gogo for installation of that firm’s next-generation 2Ku satellite-based Wi-Fi technology. Passengers should start to see the technology appearing on aircraft next year, and by 2019, IAG said, it should be on 90 percent of the airlines’ long-haul fleets. “In addition to providing faster access to web-based services, passengers will enjoy more entertainment options throughout their entire journey. In the future, inflight Wi-Fi will also transform the duty free experience, allowing travelers to order from their phones and tablets and arrange for items purchased on board to be delivered to their homes,” the company said. It will be installed in BA’s 747s, 777s, 787s and A380s as well as Iberia A330s and A340s and some Aer Lingus 757s.
Gogo will greatly increase broadband satellite Wi-Fi capacity in 2017. (Image: SES/Airbus Defence & Space)
Earlier this year, JetBlue announced the formation of a subsidiary that will invest in travel-related technology start-ups in Silicon Valley – and now Lufthansa is doing the same. The airline said its Lufthansa Innovation Hub unit will team up with Plus and Play, a venture capital group in Silicon Valley. “The objective is to identify and promote innovative technologies and digital business ideas along the entire travel chain,” Lufthansa said. “Over the course of a twelve-week mentoring program, 20 to 30 selected start-ups will receive support for the further development of their business models. They will also make contact with companies in order to talk about partnerships and joint projects as well as investment.” The airline is backing up its interest in Silicon Valley with new San Jose-Frankfurt non-stops due to start July 1.
Alaska Airlines and American are launching a big code-sharing expansion. (Image: Jim Glab)
In domestic route news, American and Alaska expand code-sharing, and AA adds a Washington D.C. route; United sets a pair of new San Francisco routes and seasonal service out of Newark; Delta ends a year-round Alaska option; Frontier starts a big expansion at Atlanta and Chicago; a small carrier begins two new Pittsburgh routes; and a private jet charter service begins Atlanta-area operations.
With Delta keeping the pressure on Alaska Airlines at the latter’s Seattle hub, Alaska and American Airlines are planning a significant expansion of their code-sharing partnership. Effective April 28, American will put its AA code on Alaska flights from Seattle to Atlanta, Charleston (S.C.), Nashville, New York JFK, Raleigh, Sun Valley and Washington Reagan National, as well as Alaska flights from Los Angeles to Baltimore/Washington, Monterey, Salt Lake City and Washington Reagan National. Then on May 15, Alaska’s code will show up on 14 AA routes out of Charlotte, nine out of Chicago O’Hare, 27 out of Dallas/Ft. Worth, and scores of additional AA routes out of Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington Reagan National. In other developments, American plans a July 5 start for new daily service between Washington Reagan National and Lansing, Michigan, using a two-class, 76-seat American Eagle regional jet.
On September 8, United Airlines plans to add a new spoke from its San Francisco hub by launching daily service to Omaha, Nebraska with a 76-seat Embraer E175. United already flies to Omaha from its Denver, Chicago, Houston and Newark hubs. In another SFO schedule enhancement, United will operate seasonal daily service to Aspen, Colorado from June 9 through August 15. Meanwhile, United also plans to add seasonal service from its Newark hub to Bangor, Maine from July 1 through October 29 using a 50-seat regional jet.
Turkish Airlines landing at San Francisco International Airport (Chris McGinnis)
Delta has suspended its seasonal New York – Istanbul flights due to security concerns, weak bookings and cancellations. However, Turkish Airlines’ daily ATL-Istanbul flights are set to begin on May 16. Last fall, Delta decided to operate its Seattle-Juneau, Alaska route on a year-round basis, but now the airline has changed its mind. Delta now plans to end SEA-Juneauflights on August 31, with a resumption of seasonal service in 2017.
Low-cost Frontier Airlines has kicked off a big wave of new routes. At Atlanta, Frontier this month started flying to Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, St. Louis and Memphis, and resumed seasonal service to Austin, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Trenton. At Chicago O’Hare, Frontier started flying to Charlotte, Kansas City, Nashville, Portland, St. Augustine (Fla.), Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul, and revived seasonal flights to Austin, Philadelphia, Washington Dulles, Raleigh-Durham and Trenton. Frontier also added new service from Cleveland to Portland (Ore.), Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia. Many of the new flights operate just a few days a week.
A new private jet option for Atlanta’s northside (Image: JetSmarter)
The private jet company JetSmarter plans to begin Atlanta-area operations on May 3, offering twice-weekly flights to and from Westchester County, N.Y. and weekly roundtrips to Ft. Lauderdale. The flights operate out of DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK), using Falcon 2000 jets that seat up to 10 passengers. The company uses app-based reservations; it charges a $3,500 initiation fee and an annual membership fee of $9,675, but imposes no other cost for its flights.
OneJet, which specializes in serving small to medium-sized markets with small jets, will expand at Pittsburgh in June, launching twice-daily roundtrips to Hartford on June 8 and two daily roundtrips to Milwaukee beginning June 14. The company will also double its Pittsburgh-Indianapolis schedule from two flights a day to four as of June 14. OneJet promises its customers TSA PreCheck access, expedited boarding and high-speed in-fight Wi-Fi.
Alaska’s Horizon Air subsidiary has ordered new three-class E175s. (Image: Alaska Airlines)
In December, Alaska Airlines announced plans to install new premium economy of seating to its fleet, and now it is extending that promise with a new regional jet order for its Horizon Air affiliate.
Alaska said Horizon Air (operated as a subsidiary) has placed its largest order ever for new aircraft to fly Alaska’s regional routes. It will take on 30 new Embraer 175s, and they’ll come with something Alaska’s regional operation doesn’t offer now: a three-class configuration. That will make the new planes consistent with the new three-class layout that Alaska is bringing to its mainline 737-800s, 737-900s and 737-900ERs starting late this year, with the addition of a Premium Class in between first and regular economy. (It will not go into Alaska’s 737-400s and -700s, however.)
The new Horizon planes, tobe delivered starting next year, will feature 12 first class seats, 16 in “premium class” and 48 in the main cabin. The premium class seats will have a 34-inch pitch, vs. 36 to 38 inches in first and 31 inches in the main cabin. The planes will also have Wi-Fi, power outlets throughout, and free streaming entertainment. The new premium seating coming to the mainline fleet will have 35-inch pitch.
Virgin’s premium economy is called Main Cabin Select & offers six extra inches of space (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Alaska’s premium class seating (which basically offers 3-4 inches of extra legroom) is a different bird from Virgin’s over-priced “main cabin select” (which offers exit row, bulkhead seats, free food & booze, early boarding and dedicated overhead bin space). So it’s going to be interesting to see how this product in particular ends up in the merger.
Alaska said the new E175s will gradually replace 15 of Horizon’s leased Q400 turboprops, although it noted that “Horizon Air will fly both the E175 and the Q400 for the foreseeable future.” Alaska’s regional network already includes some E175s operated by SkyWest, and those aircraft are also expected to be reconfigured to a three-class configuration.
Alaska’s big buy stimulated plenty of reaction. (Image: Jim Glab)
This week’s big news of Alaska Airlines’ pending acquisition of Virgin America Airlines spurred plenty of commentary from all sides. Here’s a roundup of reactions from various media and other sources.
First, there’s this: Late yesterday JetBlue, the failed suitor in the deal, responded with its own new promotion, offering “JetBlue virgins” — i.e., those who have never flown the airline – a chance to win one of 500 free roundtrip flights in exchange for their contact information.
Sit back, relax. It’s going to take a while.
Stuart Dinnis, VP of Loyalty at Virgin America in an email to Elevate members:
“There will likely be no significant changes to your flying experience for as many as 18 months or more …Until the transaction is officially approved – typically a process that can take upwards of six months – both airlines will continue to operate independently and there will be no changes to our flight schedules, the Virgin America product and guest experience, Elevate Status levels or your ability to earn and redeem points… there will be no disruption to your earnings or redemptions. Your Points balance and Status level will be honored in Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plan, which has been rankedthe #1 airline rewards program by U.S. News and World Report for the past two years. In addition, you will be able to use your Status levels and earned Points across a significantly expanded network.”
“Virgin America will never disappear from the United States,” the Virgin Group founder told us yesterday… The billionaire added that he will back a new airline to carry on the Virgin name, if it comes to that. “People love Virgin with a passion that hasn’t existed since the early days of aviation, and I am certainly not going to let it go to waste, even if it means starting all over again” as a new domestic airline. At least for now, Branson said he is hopeful that Alaska will preserve the Virgin name—and reputation… “Ideally, Alaska will treat Virgin “as a small independent company within a bigger company,” he said.
Does that hipster look like an Alaska Airlines customer? (Image: SFO)
Alaska Air needs to get hip to the cool California kids
With new entrants threatening to destabilize Alaska’s dominance in the Pacific Northwest, it was high time that the airline did something to diversify its route network beyond its core market. But if the airline wants to hold on to Virgin America’s customers and effectively compete against the other mainline carriers on a national level, it not only needs to up its game in terms of on-board service and amenities, it also needs to rethink its marketing to appeal to a younger and more urbane customer. Simply put, Alaska’s wintry and nature-focused image, bare bones service, and confusing regional name isn’t going to cut it in the big leagues.
Alaska Air must now be careful in how it integrates a brand beloved by its cadre of customers who adore its cheeky image, onboard Wi-Fi and soothing onboard purple lighting. For Alaska Air, buying Virgin America was in some ways a natural consequence of the successive mergers that have already concentrated domestic air travel in four primary airlines: American, Delta, United and Southwest…Putting together Alaska and Virgin America will not create a new airline that can stand toe-to-toe with those bigger companies. But it will create a tougher competitor for JetBlue, with which Alaska competed fiercely to win over the smaller airline, and which it will displace as the country’s fifth-biggest airline.
American Airlines A321T now flying SFO-JFK (Photo: AA)
American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have an extensive partnership in place that allows the two airlines to transfer passengers onto each others network and gives members of American Airlines that have status the equivalent on Alaska Airlines and vice versa. It gives American Airlines access to Alaska Airlines extensive network on the West Coast of the United States/Canada and in Alaska, both areas American Airlines is much weaker. A deal between Virgin America and Alaska Airlines will expand the Alaska network substantially, especially in San Francisco and give American Airlines indirectly also a much larger network.
Business Insider cites three reasons why Virgin is a smart buy for Alaska:
At first glance, forking out $4 billion for some terminal space, landing rights, and a few jets makes little sense, but a deeper analysis shows that Alaska’s move, though risky, may be a smart buy for three key reasons. First, the acquisition of the San Francisco-based airline keeps Virgin America and its sizable West Coast presence out of JetBlue’s control… Second, Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America makes it an instant powerhouse airline that’s a viable competitor to juggernaut Southwest…Alaska, the seventh-largest airline in the US, now has additional resources to scale up operations in key markets around the country, such as Dallas and New York… Third, Alaska Airlines is a major brand and big-time player in the western US. But it remains relatively unknown to a lot of travelers on the East Coast and abroad. The acquisition of an airline tied to a world-renowned brand allows Alaska to make a big splash outside its traditional market.
So what about YOU? What’s your reaction to the merger of Virgin America and Alaska Airlines? Please leave your comments below.
Alaska Airlines & Virgin America to merge (Image: Alaska Airlines)
Well I guess we all saw this coming. At least as of last week. But before that, it seemed unfathomable that San Francisco would lose its hometown carrier to another airline.
But here we are. Today Alaska Airlines and Virgin announced at the crack of dawn that they would merge later this year, following government approvals (which likely won’t be much of a problem). It could take up to two years for full integration.
What remains to be seen is what will happen to JetBlue, which was reportedly also in the running for Virgin. Will it combine with another carrer? Will Alaska buy it, too? Or will it continue to operate without change…hmmm. We’ll keep an eye on that!
Anyway, for Bay Area flyers, this the merger brings together two of the country’s most loved airlines– Virgin is known for its fun, funky and almost luxurious service and Alaska Airlines is know for its solid product, good on time performance and profitability. Virgin America is known as “hip.” Alaska Airlines is know as “friendly.” It will be interesting to watch these two cultures and reputations meld.
Here are some key points to keep in mind right off the bat. We will of course be following this very closely at TravelSkills so stay tuned!
Fares could increase from SFO. Why? As a young upstart, Virgin America kept a lid on fares to the cities it served. For example, when Virgin landed in Denver last month, fares plummeted to as low as $118 round trip! When it took off for Hawaii last December, a fare war ensued, with fares dropping to as low as $318 round trip to Oahu and Maui. With Alaska Airlines in charge, I think much of that fare discounting will go away.
Virgin’s Elevate program will fold into Alaska’s Mileage Plan. Alaska’s statement says: “Virgin America Elevate loyalty program members into its Mileage Plan, ranked #1 by U.S. News and World Report. With Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, members are able to redeem award miles for travel to more than 900 destinations worldwide, rivaling global alliances.”
Virgin America flyers in the Bay Area (with big investments in Virgin’s Elevate program) will soon see a lot more opportunities to earn/burn miles– that’s because Alaska Airlines serves all three Bay Area airports– Virgin America only served SFO. From the Bay Area (SFO, Oakland and San Jose) Alaska Airlines currently has about 45 daily departures. Combined with Virgin, the new Alaska Airlines will serve 114 destinations.
Virgin’s Elevate and Alaska’s Mileage Plus programs will operate separately until the merger closes – which could take a while- so no need for members to make and immediate changes.
From SFO, Alaska now flies nonstop to: Seattle, Portland, Palm Springs, Salt Lake City, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. From Oakland? There are nonstops to: Portland, Seattle plus Lihue, Honolulu, Maui and Kona in Hawaii. From San Jose, it has nonstops to four cities in Hawaii, plus Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Boise, Reno, Orange County, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Cabo and Guadalajara. From Santa Rosa (near Wine Country) it flies to several cities in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California via its Horizon Air subsidiary.
It appears that the vaunted Virgin brand will disappear with the merger. Alaska’s statement says: “Alaska will maintain its new, refreshed brand and will work closely with Virgin America to learn more about the award-winning Virgin America brand and customer experience.” Which means that we will hopefully see an end to things like Virgin’s once fun, now irritating pre-flight safety video.
Hopefully Alaska Airlines will adopt Virgin’s dedication to technology by installing seatback video and wi-fi connections on 100% of its aircraft very soon. Like Virgin, Alaska uses Gogo for inflight wi-fi. Here’s a link to Alaska’s inflight entertainment and wi-fi options.
It will be interesting to see if Alaska Airlines adopts Virgin’s popular RED seatback entertainment system that allows passengers to order food from a menu and have it delivered by flight attendants. Alaska Airlines offers hot meals (for sale) on all flights over 2.5 hours. It serves Starbucks coffee.
Alaska Airline’s mod new look. What do you think? (Image: Alaska Air)
Alaska recently updated its “look” which Bay Areans will soon see a lot more of. And it’s no slouch when it comes to inflight comfort and tech. For example, it has all-leather recaro seats and oversized overhead luggage bins on its newest Boeing 737-800 and 737-900 aircraft. It has seatback power (standard and USB) on nearly all its planes now. It offers “preferred plus” economy seating with more legroom and a free cocktails.
While Virgin America was showy and fun, it always struggled— only recently showing profits as the cost of fuel declined. Combining with Alaska Air should help shore up Virgin, but could lead to the loss of some money-losing routes.
Alaska is buying Virgin for $2.6 billion. The combined airline will be the fifth largest in the US, with 1,200 daily departures with 280 planes with an average age of 8.5 years. The airline will have hubs in Seattle, San Francisco, Anchorage, Portland and Los Angeles.
The future of Virgin America’s employees in the Bay Area is uncertain at the moment, but the good news is that both carriers are considered great place to work-both rank among Forbes “best places to work.”
At SFO, Alaska Airlines is temporarily operating out of the International Terminal while Terminal 1 is under construction. It remains to be seen how or if Alaska’s flights will integrate with Virgin’s in Terminal 2. Alaska does not currently operate a Board Room at SFO– members instead use Cathay Pacific’s lounge on the A side of the international terminal.
The combined airline will be based in Seattle-– too bad because Virgin America was always very proud to boast that it was “the only California-based airline.”
Why did Virgin agree to be acquired in the first place? One its website it says, “Today, just four airlines control more than 80% of the U.S. market. By combining with Alaska – an airline that, like us, has a strong position on the West Coast, a history of operational excellence, and a guest- and employee-focused culture – we are not only creating the best airline in North America, but one with the size and market share necessary to compete in this consolidated environment.”
Read a blog post from Brad Tilden, Alaska Airlines’s CEO on the merger here. Also, here’s the press release announcing the merger.
Stay tuned to TravelSkills for more as this whole deal comes to light. In the meantime, let us know what you think about the merger in the comments below. For me, I’m a bit sad at the loss of my hometown carrier. It’s been a joy chronicling the scrappy, funky and fun carrier’s journey over the last eight years. Check out this video to see what I mean…
Alaska Airlines is reportedly going to get Virgin America (Image: Jim Glab)
Alaska Airlines has reportedly clinched a deal to purchase Virgin America, snatching the opportunity away from JetBlue.
The Wall Street Journal reports that “people familiar with the situation” say that there’s no guarantee that Alaska will get Virgin, but if it does, Alaska Air is expected to pay around $2 billion for the Burlingame-based carrier– a price inflated by all the recent speculation that Virgin was actually up for grabs. (Prior to the kerfuffle about the sale, Virgin America was valued at around $1.5 billion.)
If Virgin and Alaska Air combined, it would create the nation’s fifth largest carrer– a title currently held by JetBlue.
I’m writing this post having just returned from the sunny slopes of Northstar at Lake Tahoe and my mind is of course bursting with speculation and possibilities…. here’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to know what YOU are thinking, too, so read on and leave your comments below.
-If Alaska Airlines buys Virgin America, which name would survive? If Alaska Airlines wants to be a national carrier, it will likely need to shed its regional name, right? But would Alaska be willing to pay whatever fee Richard Branson wants for it to carry the Virgin name? And speaking of regional-sounding names, Southwest Airlines sounds regional, but it has succeeded in becoming a national carrier, so who knows?
-What’s going to happen to Virgin’s hub at the fab Terminal 2 in San Francisco? It’s currently bursting at the seams so I’m not sure if Alaska’s operations are going to fit in there. But since there’s now the behind-security passageway between Terminal 1 C (Delta) and Terminal 2, Alaska could squeeze in there? Combined, the two carriers would become SFO’s second largest carrier, with 15% of all flights. (United will remain firmly in #1 position.)
-What’s going to happen with JetBlue? Will it just walk away from the deal… or will it come back with a higher bid (just like what’s been happening with Starwood/Marriott/Anbang). Who knows? But if the deal is done, the WSJ says that we could hear about it as soon as Monday. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Alaska Air bought BOTH Virgin and JetBlue? It could happen! Or…maybe Delta could swoop in at the last minute with a sweeter offer? And speaking of Delta, what’s going to happen with Delta’s relationship with Virgin Atlantic and Richard Branson if Alaska Air butts in?
“Flights with Benefits” is the racy name for one of Virgin America’s new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
-Frequent Flyer programs. Alaska Airlines has resisted following the pack of major airlines down the path of devaluation. As a matter of fact, it remains the largest airline with an intact mileage-based program versus the new-fangled spend-based programs of the majors. Virgin America’s spending-based Elevate program has never been a huge draw, so maybe integration with Alaska’s more popular and lucrative Mileage Plan would be a good idea.
–Hawaii flights could become more expensive. Alaska and Virgin have been competing heavily on fares to the islands ever since Virgin launched Hawaii nonstops last December. One less carrier in the market could mean higher fares.
-How will the two carriers integrate their fleets? Alaska Airlines is all Boeing. Virgin is all Airbus. While other airlines have both types in their fleet, it service issues could become more unwieldy/complicated.
-What’s going to happen the the hip fun culture that Virgin America has created? Will it be washed away in a take over? Alaska Airlines runs a great operation, and has similarly built up a loyal following with very good service, new planes and good on-time performance. Which culture will come out on top?
Okay. That’s it from me now. Time for some apres-ski time in sunny Truckee. Please share your speculations and comments below! We’ll regroup on Monday!
United’s big bright Club at London Heathrow Terminal 2. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
In airline news this week, United’s customers rate the airline’s best airport lounges;Alaska Mileage Plan members can buy into PreCheck with miles; Delta is bringing new content from Bloomberg into its Delta Studio streaming in-flight entertainment; and Air Canada plans a big expansion of in-flight Wi-Fi.
Which United Clubs do the airline’s passengers like best? According to the Chicago Business Journal, data collected from passengers’ post-flight surveys indicate that they considered the best domestic United Clubs at the airline’s hubs to be at Houston Bush Intercontinental and Denver International. The United Club at Washington Dulles was rated “most improved,” and the best international clubs were at London Heathrow and Mexico City’s Benito Juarez Airport. What’s your favorite United Club?
Delta is teaming up with Bloomberg to bring new 30-minute videos on business-related topics to the airline’s Delta Studio in-flight entertainment selections. The programming will include three different series of 30-minute videos licensed to Delta: With All Due Respect, about the business of politics; Studio 1.0, about women executives in the tech industry; and Good Fortunes, covering the business of philanthropy. Delta Studio content can be viewed for free on seatback screens or streamed to passengers’ devices.
PreCheck at Honolulu International (Photo: Hawaiian Airlines / Flickr)
Through the end of April, Alaska Airlines is letting members of its Mileage Plan program redeem 10,000 miles to pay for the TSA PreCheck program’s application fee. The $85 fee covers a five-year membership in the program, which gives participants access to expedited security screening procedures. To take advantage of the offer, e-mail y0ur name and Mileage Plan number to TSAredemption@alaskaair.com by April 30. The airline will deduct the miles from your account and e-mail you an authorization code to use when applying for PreCheck.
Air Canada, which already offers in-flight Wi-Fi on all its North American single-aisle aircraft, said this week it plans to expand the amenity to its international flights. The company said it has signed a deal with Gogo to install that provider’s new 2Ku satellite-based Wi-Fi service on its international wide-bodies starting this fall. The airline’s 777s will be the first to add the new Wi-Fi.
As an avowed window-seat flyer, this item from Alaska Airlines really grabbed my attention this morning:
When the sun and the moon and the Earth align this week, an Alaska Airlines jet is planning to arrive in the right place at the right time to catch the total solar eclipse.
Tuesday’s rendezvous over the Pacific Ocean is not luck, but a precisely planned equation. The calculations began a year ago. The only variable was the plane.
In window seat 32F, Joe Rao will be one of the dozen astronomers and veteran “eclipse chasers” among the 163 passengers onboard, gazing out oval windows as the moon blocks the sun for nearly two minutes.
He’s an associate astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium(where astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is director). About a year ago, Rao discovered that Alaska Airlines Flight 870 from Anchorage to Honolulu would intersect the “path of totality” – the darkest shadow of the moon as it passes over the Earth.
But the flight’s normally scheduled departure time would be 25 minutes too early, missing the grand spectacle.
Rather than attempt to move the sun or the moon or the Earth, Rao called Alaska Airlines.
Alaska decided to move the plane.
To read the full post about this unusual flight on the Alaska Airlines blog, click here.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen looking out a plane window? Are you a window or aisle seat flyer? Please leave your comments below.
United plans to fly 757-300s from Washington Reagan National to San Francisco and Denver. (Image: BriYYZ/Wikimedia Commons)
In U.S. route news, Alaska Airlines plans to expand at Mineta San Jose Airport with new intra-California service, and it is also growing at Portland; United trims its Cleveland schedule and puts larger aircraft on two Washington Reagan National routes; Virgin America makes a seasonal SFO route year-round; Southwest plans to fly to another Los Angeles-area airport; American adds a new spoke from LaGuardia; and a small niche carrier targets Pittsburgh for expansion.
Alaska Airline’s mod new look. (Image: Alaska Air)
Alaska Airlines announced an expansion in the Bay Area, with plans to add service from Mineta San Jose Airport starting June 5 to both San Diego and Orange County/Santa Ana, Calif. The carrier will operate three daily flights in each market, using 76-seat Embraer 175s from SkyWest Airlines. The planes have 12 seats in first class, 12 in preferred class and 52 in the main cabin, and are equipped with Wi-Fi and free streaming entertainment. Meanwhile, February 18 is the launch date for three new Alaska Airlines routes out of Portland International. The carrier will begin once-daily service from Portland to Kansas City, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Omaha.
Effective May 4, United Airlines plans to drop two routes from Cleveland Hopkins Airport, ending its service to Las Vegas and to St. Louis. That brings United’s presence at Cleveland down to 15 destinations, from 58 two years ago. Meanwhile, United also plans to expand capacity on a pair of routes out of Washington Reagan Nationalby switching to 213-seat 757-300s from smaller aircraft. The 757s will replace 737-800s starting March 23 on the San Francisco-DCA route, and A320s and 737-800s on the Denver-DCA route beginning March 3. In other developments, United plans to discontinue service April 4 from Chicago O’Hare to Elmira/Corning, N.Y., and to operate Saturday/Sunday seasonal service from O’Hare to Great Falls, Montana from June 11 through August 14.
Southwest Airlines, seeking to expand its network to “five for five in Greater L.A.,” has applied for takeoff and landing slots at Long Beach Airport. The airline already flies out of Los Angeles International, Burbank, Orange County Airport and Ontario. Southwest didn’t say where it wants to fly from Long Beach, but California and Nevada media are speculating that it might have its sights on the Bay Area and/or Las Vegas. The airline said it hopes to start service at Long Beach later this year.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, American Airlines plans to start daily non-stop service from that Kentucky city to New York LaGuardia effective June 2. It said American will operate one daily roundtrip with a 50-seat regional jet.
Virgin America’s inaugural flight to Palm Springs got the red carpet treatment (Chris McGinnis)
Virgin America Airlines said that its seasonal service between San Francisco and Palm Springs will be operated year-round from now on. The airline said it will fly the route four times a week through the fall. Virgin’s Palm Springs-New York JFK flights will remain seasonal, continuing through May.
OneJet, a small but fast-growing niche airline that operates seven-passenger Hawker 400 jets on routes in the Midwest, said it plans to make Pittsburgh its next focus city. The little airline, which already flies from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee and Indianapolis, plans to start twice-daily Pittsburgh-Hartford flights on May 9, and then to add four more destinations from Pittsburgh in the second quarter, although it didn’t day which ones.
Alaska Airline’s mod new look. What do you think? (Image: Alaska Air)
Alaska Airlines today unveiled its first major brand change in 25 years on a newly painted Boeing 737-800. The new look will soon will be featured not just on its jets, but throughout the airport experience, on all digital channels, in marketing materials and across Alaska’s entire fleet.
In addition to the newly painted plane, the new look makes its debut at Alaska’s Seattle-Tacoma International Airport tickets lobby and 41 branded gates.
Here’s a look at the old livery on an Alaska Air 737-800 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
The most visible changes are the logo font, the Eskimo icon and a bold, energetic new color palette.
Alaska Airlines says: The iconic Eskimo prominently featured on the tail of the plane has been Alaska’s brand beacon since 1972, welcoming customers and guiding employees with a warm, friendly face. His profile has been modernized and new vibrant colors added around his parka trim, which include Tropical Green and Breeze Blue, reminiscent of the tropical regions Alaska serves including Hawaii and Costa Rica. Atlas Blue, which is a cue to Alaska’s 14 global airline partners, is also featured throughout the design.
To bring the refreshed brand to life, Alaska collaborated with Seattle-based Hornall Anderson, a global branding and design firm. Full details here.
In the next month Alaska will take delivery of four Boeing 737s with the new paint theme and by the end of the year will have 40 planes in the new livery. All 111 airports Alaska and its regional partners serve will be rebranded, a project that is expected to be completed around the end of the year.
What do you think of the new look? Please leave your comments below.
Alaska’s elites will get access to Emirates’ business class lounge at Dubai. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
In international route news, Alaska Air takes on a new code-sharing partner; United will drop flights to Kuwait and Bahrain; Lufthansa adds a Denver route; British Airways will revive service to Gatwick and changes planes to Miami; and Austrian Airlines adds a U.S. route.
Alaska Airlines and Emirates have had a frequent flyer program partnership since 2012, with reciprocal mileage-earning and spending, but now they’re getting even closer. Subject to government approval, they plan to begin code-sharing that will enable travelers from 49 Alaska cities to connect seamlessly to Emirates’ twice-daily flights from Seattle to Dubai. The deal will put Emirates’ code onto as many as 300 Alaska flights a day (although the announcement says nothing about Alaska’s code going onto the Emirates flights). In addition, Alaska’s MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75 elites will be able to use Emirates business class lounges at Dubai, and will get priority boarding and check-in at Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dubai; and Emirates elites will be able to use Alaska’s Board Room lounges at four airports.
United Airlines is no longer taking reservations for travel on its very-long-haul flight from Washington Dulles to Kuwait and Bahrain after January 13, according to airlineroute.net. And it may not be a matter of insufficient traffic on the route. According to one popular blogger, United’s route termination may have been ordered by the Kuwaitis due to anger over U.S. anti-discrimination laws that will not allow airlines serving the U.S. to deny boarding to Israeli passport holders — something Kuwait Airlines reportedly did on a London-New York flight.
In addition to its existing daily service from Denver to Frankfurt, Lufthansa says it will begin flying from Denver to Munich five times a week effective May 11, 2016. The German carrier will use an A330-300 with first class, business class, premium economy and economy seating.
Gatwick Airport is about 30 mins south of Victoria Station (Image: Visit London)
British Airways and joint venture partner American have plenty of flights in the New York-London Heathrow market, but next spring BA plans to add a flight from New York JFK to London Gatwick as well, according to airlinerotue.net. Effective May 16, British Airways will use a 777-200ER to operate daily service on the JFK-LGW route, which it last served in 2009. In other news, British Airways has just started flying a big Airbus A380 super-jumbo on its London Heathrow-Miami route. The 469-passenger A380, with four classes of seating, will initially operate one of BA’s two daily Miami flights; the other will still use a 747.
Speaking of Miami, Austrian Airlines — a member of the Lufthansa Group — has added the Florida city as its newest U.S. gateway. The new Miami-Vienna flights, using a two-class 777, operate five days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday).
Alaska and Delta are battling for the Seattle market. (Image: Jim Glab)
Although Alaska Airlines and Delta are engaged in a battle for passengers and market share at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, they still remain partners on one level. But that partnership seems to be getting increasingly frayed as Delta adds more routes at Alaska’s SEA hub.
In the latest development, members of Alaska’s Board Room airport lounge program will no longer have access to Delta Sky Clubs after the first of the year, according to information on Alaska’s website. (When we looked at Delta’s website, it still showed Alaska Board Room locations as being available to Sky Club members with no cutoff date. But we have to believe this change is reciprocal. Maybe Delta just hasn’t had time to update its website yet.)
Alaska’s members may not need Delta’s lounges any more anyway; in August, Alaska started a reciprocal lounge-use relationship with American’s Admirals Clubs, and it just announced an expansion of its partnership with United, giving Alaska Board Room members access to United Clubs in Philadelphia and Minneapolis-St. Paul as well as Phoenix effective December 1.
Speaking of Alaska Airlines Board Rooms, the carrier announced it will open a new one November 7 in Sea-Tac’s North Satellite terminal. It will offer work stations, free Wi-Fi, and big-screen TVs, along with free snacks, beverages and cocktails. On the same date, it will offer expanded hours at Board Rooms in the Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland and Anchorage airports.
Alaska and Delta do still maintain a frequent flyer program partnership — for now, at least.
On the route competition front, Delta just announced it will begin four daily flights between Seattle and Orange County, California on May 1 — a market currently dominated by Alaska and Southwest. Delta noted that with this latest addition, it plans to add new service to 10 destinations from SEA between November 2015 and May 2016. The other markets, previously announced, include Billings, Boston, Cancun, Edmonton, Kona, Missoula, Orlando, Pasco (Wash.) and Victoria, B.C.
Alaska keeps growing at SEA as well. It just started new service to Raleigh-Durham, N.C. this month; last month, it added new flights to Nashville and New York JFK.
Alaska Airlines is working with CLEAR to replace boarding passes with biometrics. (Image: CLEAR)
Alaska Airlines has quietly started a test program at California’s Mineta San Jose Airport in cooperation with CLEAR — the security line expeditors — that could lead to the demise of the relatively new digital boarding pass.
The airline has signed up some 200 regular customers at San Jose for an experiment that lets them use biometrics— iris scans and/or fingerprint scans — instead of photo IDs and boarding passes to verify their identity as they go through the airport experience, from checking bags to security to boarding the aircraft.
The airline is working with CLEAR because that company has become quite sophisticated in using biometric identifiers in its airport program, which lets members bypass the security waiting lines and go straight to the checkpoint. In fact, CLEAR’s biometric scanners are so reliable that the company recently eliminated the use of CLEAR ID cards that members formerly had to use. CLEAR currently operates at a dozen major airports, and membership costs $179 a year.
Now, subscribers scan their fingers or irises rather than produce credentials. They’re still required to show boarding passes, but people in the pilot program don’t need them. And when program participants board an Alaska Airlines plane out of San Jose, they swipe their fingers on a tablet rather than show boarding passes.-San Jose Mercury News
Participants in the Alaska Airlines pilot project were personally invited by airline staff at the airport, or by email.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, the test program has had occasional glitches with the scanners, and some security experts claim it is still possible to fool the devices by putting a copy of someone else’s fingerprint over your fingertip, but these are seen as solvable problems.
It’s only been a couple of years since airlines introduced the digital boarding passes that are now widely used, but in these days of high-speed technological innovation, their days could already be numbered.
Delta & Alaska Air battle for Seattle…and The South(Photo: Jim Glab)
Alaska Airlines announced new non-stop service from its Seattle hub to Charleston, South Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee and Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina beginning fall 2015.
Flights to Charleston will connect Boeing employees with one of their largest manufacturing plants outside the Pacific Northwest. Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner is assembled at a plant in North Charleston.
Alaska says that country music capital Nashville is the largest market from Seattle not currently served by Alaska.
Raleigh/Durham service will connect two of the country’s main biotechnology hubs.
On March 31, Air India picked up this plane, its 20th Boeing 787 Dreamliner, from the plant in Charleston (Boeing)
Introductory roundtrips are $280 between SEA and Charleston or Nashville and $358 on SEA-Raleigh/Durham- on sale today at www.alaskaair.com. Tickets must be purchased by May 4 and travel completed by Nov. 18 for Nashville and Raleigh/Durham, and by Dec. 19 for Charleston.
Alaska says it will use new fuel-efficient Next Generation 737 aircraft in the routes.
“Our loyal customers tell us they want new and exciting non-stop destinations, and we are listening,” said John Kirby, the airline’s vice president of capacity planning. “We’re pleased to be adding new non-stop service to three highly-requested business and leisure destinations not currently served nonstop from Seattle. Nonstop flights equate to shorter travel times and more convenience for our customers.”
By this fall, Alaska will serve 83 destinations from Seattle with 290 peak daily flights, “two-and-a half times that of Alaska’s nearest competitor” boasts Alaska in a jab against Delta in its press release about these new flights.
Alaska Airlines will market premium coach seats. (Photo: Jim Glab)
Alaska adds premium seats. In the middle of May, Alaska Airlines will reportedly start marketing extra-legroom coach seats — i.e., those in bulkhead and exit rows — as a premium economy product.
Besides the 7 to 8 inches of extra legroom, passengers in these “preferred seating” rows will also get free drinks and priority boarding. (It sounds a lot like Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select product to us- without the free food.)
Mileage Plan elites will get first crack at reserving the seats for no fee; seats still available at check-in will be sold to anyone for a fee that varies by distance, said to range from $15 to $50.
Although the plan requires no reconfiguration of the cabin, officials said the concept could be expanded if it tests well.
What do you think? Would you pay more for a regular coach seat with more legroom, early boarding and cocktails? How much?
ALSO…American taking over Alaska routes to Mexico: The Transportation Department has approved a request from American Airlines to take over Alaska Airlines’ Los Angeles-Mexico City route rights, which it will do effective June 4. Alaska will code-share on the American flights. American plans to offer two daily roundtrips vs. Alaska’s one …
How will Hawaii be affected by the drastic drop in foreign currencies? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Now that we are approaching the slower shoulder season, which runs from roughly Easter to Memorial Day, I’m starting to see some nice last minute deals pop up– quite good bargains for those flexy enough to travel in April or May.
Take a look and please note that these rates are subject to rapid change in price and availability:
Hawaii. The plunge in the value of world currencies compared to the US dollar has Hawaii nervous that it will get fewer visitors from abroad, and that its American base might be more interested in a flight to Europe instead of down to the islands. So fares are dropping for spring trips. For example, Hawaiian Air has nonstops between San Jose and Honolulu for as little as $358 round trip. Fly from Oakland or San Jose to Maui for just $388. To me, any West Coast-Hawaii roundtrip fare for less than $400 is a good deal. Hawaiian Air DealsAlaska Airlines is offering similar deals from San Jose or Oakland to Hawaii. Plus it has Los Angeles to Anchorage for just $320 round trip.Alaska Airlines deals
Emirates amazing 2-4-1 deal for economy class seats like these on a new A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Dirt cheap to Dubai: Book two round-trip tickets to Dubai on Emirates for just $1,299 in economy (all in). This means just$650 per person, roundtrip from the US to Dubai. Yes, you read that right, only $650 round trip from any of Emirates nine US gateways: New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Washington DC (IAD), Houston (IAH), Seattle (SEA), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Dallas Ft. Worth (DFW) to Dubai (DXB). Travel must take place between March 24 and December 10, 2015. And you must book the trip by midnight March 12 PDT. I’ve never seen fares that low from the US to Dubai. Must have something to do with this! Emirates 2-4-1 special
The SWISS flower power A340 appeared in San Francisco in 2010. I miss it! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Europe! The euro continues to plunge against the US dollar, hitting a new low today of $1.07. Some observers think that we could see parity by this spring or summer (1 dollar = 1 euro), down from about $1.40 per euro last May. This means that Americans will find Europe a relative bargain bonanza when it comes to hotels, meals, local transport, gifts, etc. While airfare has remained stubbornly high, I’m now seeing some cracks, such as a flash sale (book by March 11) from SWISS with April/May round trips as low at $789 between Boston and Switzerland or Germany. New York and Budapest just $757.Roundtrips to Istanbul from San Francisco or Los Angeles are in the $1,100 range. SWISS sale fares.
Virgin America & JetBlue launched a two day sale (book by March 11) with fares as low as $128 round trip. Some nice examples from JetBlue: Roundtrip New York to Charleston to watch the flowers bloom for just $128. Long Beach to Oakland or Las Vegas roundtrips for just $99. Seattle or San Diego-Boston for just $188 roundtrip is dirt cheap for a transcon. JetBlue sale site. Virgin America’s sale is good through March 12 for travel April 7-June 10– with blackout dates and only good on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Some examples: Dallas-Washington DC is a super low at just $108 round trip. SFO-LAX roundtrips at $140; SFO-Vegas, Seattle & San Diego roundtrips $189. SFO-Palm Springs $199 roundtrip. Virgin America deals.
Alaska Airlines today announced a new nonstop between Seattle and New York JFK with fares as low as $298 round trip PLUS double miles if you purchase your ticket by March 16 and complete your trip by Nov. 18, 2015. Alaska Air to JFK
The view over the Venetian from my room at the Palazzo in Las Vegas (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Las Vegas: Now here’s an interesting deal for folks who have a lot of IHG Rewards points. For today only, you can book the nice Venetian or the The Palazzo, in Las Vegas just 25,000 IHG Rewards Club points. That’s a big 50% discount on points required AND the deal is good for stays all the way through December 28. Must book today or tomorrow (March 11) by noon.
Please note that these rates are subject to rapid change in price and availability:
Flying the Delta California Shuttle from SFO to LAX (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
It seems that every time Delta has announced updates to its SkyMiles program recently, we all braced for bad news.
But today, Delta rolled out come changes for the good…for a change. Here’s what’s in store:
New one-way award tickets for 10,000 miles plus taxes and fees, available through Dec. 31, 2015 for travel in select U.S., Mexican and Caribbean markets– these appear to be only short-haul markets like Atlanta-Florida, Los Angeles-Las Vegas, or San Francisco-Los Angeles. Catch: there’s a 21-day minimum advance purchase for most of these awards. But still this is good news since the previous minimum was 12,500 miles– too much for a short flight.
Delta is now offering MQDs, regardless of ticketing carrier, for travel on most of its airline partners. And it’s making the MQD offer retroactive back to January 1 of this year. Delta says that MQD earning varies based on carrier, percentage of distance flown as determined by Delta and fare class paid.
Increased award availability
When we announced the SkyMiles 2015 program we committed to making more award seats available at the lowest prices and since the start of 2015 we have expanded award availability at the lowest prices by greater than 50%. We are seeing a double digit increase in award redemptions since January and other customer-positive award redemption trends in terms of the average number of miles redeemed, partner awards, and one-way award usage.
New (lower) One Way Award
In 2015 we will be offering One Way Award tickets beginning as low as 10,000 miles (plus taxes and fees) in select markets in the contiguous 48 United States and between the 48 contiguous United States and select Mexico/Caribbean destinations. Travel will be valid through December 31, 2015 with a 21 day advance purchase.
Award shopping calendar additions
We are pleased to confirm that we have added four new airline partners to our award shopping engine over the past few weeks following a quiet soft launch. You can now book awards online with China Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern and Gol. We will be adding more partners in the coming weeks and even more by summer of 2015.
Mobile award shopping
In January, we added the ability to book Awards from your smartphone. You can shop for our new One Way Awards, our new partners and other Award Tickets using the Fly Delta mobile app. We are seeing great usage of this new and easy to use feature right out of the gate.
Earn MQDs on most partner-ticketed flights, exception fares
New for 2015 when you travel on flights ticketed by most of our airline partners you will now earn MQDs, which will help you qualify for Medallion status faster. This change will be retroactive to January 1, 2015 to include your travel from this Medallion year. Flights marketed and ticketed by partners may earn MQDs based on a percentage of distance flown as determined by the fare class paid. You can visit www.delta.com/partnerairlines for details by carrier. It’s going to take us a little bit of time to process retroactive credit for past flight activity, but they should post to your accounts between now and March 20. You can also earn MQDs on most exception fares, such as bulk, consolidator and group tickets. Learn more by visiting www.delta.com/exceptionfares. In addition to the MQD changes we’ve also made minor changes to the way you earn Medallion status on Alaska Airlines flights, effective April 1.
Diamond Medallions now board first
Many of you have caught on to this already, but as part of our branded products experience that launched on March 1, we are pleased to confirm that Diamond Medallion members are now invited to board the aircraft with customers in Delta One or First Class as part of our Premium boarding zone.
So what do you think? Does any of this make you feel better about SkyMiles?
The big bed in Etihad’s 3-room Residence aboard its A380 flying to New York in December (Photo: Etihad)
The $64,000 question. Etihad Airways said it will put an Airbus A380 onto its New York JFK-Abu Dhabi route starting December 1, giving ultra-affluent air travelers a chance to try out the carrier’s posh cabins that it calls “The Residence by Etihad.” The 125-square-foot cabins have a living room, en-suite shower and a bedroom with a double bed, and come with white-gloved, Savoy-trained butler services. The roundtrip fare for the Residence between New York and Abu Dhabi? A mere $64,000. Which begs the question: Who in the world would pay that? Well, somebody out there already has! Etihad issued a press release on the day after the product announcement stating that it sold the Residence on the inaugural flight “within hours.” What’s it like onboard? Check out Etihad’s video below.
Routes: American, Alaska et al. American Airlines last week kicked off new daily service between Miami and Austin … Alaska Airlines has started flying between San Diego and Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island three times a week … Air China will boost frequencies between Los Angeles and Beijing on May 2 when it adds a third flight four days a week, increasing to three daily roundtrips July 1; also on July 1, Air China will move from Terminal 2 at LAX to the Tom Bradley International Terminal … Lufthansa has put a new 364-seat 747-8 Intercontinental into service between Newark and Frankfurt.
Southwest reassures on bag fees. Southwest Airlines is still under lots of pressure from Wall Street to start charging fees for checked bags — especially since JetBlue caved on that policy recently and will soon issue a new fare structure that eliminates a free checked bag for the lowest prices. But Southwest’s CFO told an aviation conference last week that the airline still has no plans to change its policy, which currently allows passengers two free checked bags.
Southwest heads south. This week, Southwest launched new nonstops to international destinations south of the border: San Jose, Costa Rica (from Baltimore) and Aruba (from Houston). Each of the new routes is longer than 2,000 miles each-way. San Jose service marks a milestone for the carrier by establishing a presence in a new country (not preceded by AirTran) and by connecting Central America to the Southwest network.
All doors open during a behind-the-scenes tour of Lufthansa’s hangar in Frankfurt (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Lufthansa updates in-flight experience, fares. Now that Lufthansa has almost finished refitting all its long-haul cabins with new seats –a job that should end by the third quarter, including expansion of premium economy seating from the current 30 planes to all 106 long-haul aircraft — the carrier plans to roll out some service enhancements. That includes “Business Class Restaurant Service” on long-haul flights starting this summer, with tables set individually, meals served from the galley instead of a cart, and more flight attendants in the business cabin; and the expansion of its FlyNet in-flight Wi-Fi service to all intercontinental flights. Lufthansa will also introduce new economy fares on intra-European flights next fall, with three levels: Light (no checked bags, rebooking or refunds), Classic (one bag, advance seat selection and rebooking for a fee) and Flex, with the most options included. Have you flown Lufthansa recently? What did you think?
Food critic Elliott Mackle is back! Anyone who has lived in Atlanta for a while probably remembers food critic Elliott Mackle’szingers in the AJC or Creative Loafing when it came to the Atlanta food scene. He’s a long-time TravelSkills reader and provides us with his take on Delta’s business class cuisine onboard a recent roundtrip between Atlanta and Buenos Aires. Here’s his Reader Report.
AmEx adds Gold Card benefits. Holders of American Express’ Premier Rewards Gold Card will see some additional benefits starting June 1, the company said, including double Membership Rewards points for purchases at U.S. restaurants, a $100 credit for incidental airline fees like checked bag charges, elimination of foreign transaction fees on trips abroad, and a personalized travel service. Oh, one more thing: The annual fee for the card will go up from $175 to $195 on the same date.
Kimpton’s free booze. The latest perk for guests at Kimpton Hotels — now a division of InterContinental Hotels Group — is the “Nightcap Program.” Guests at 17 Kimptons will get a free “small pour of a nighttime libation” and a paired snack each evening — things like scotch and shortbread, port and blue cheese, etc. It’s available at 17 Kimptons now, with more to be added through the year. Add this to the long list of “little things” that Kimpton always gets right– it’s one of my favorite hotel chains.
Mock up of the brand new Loews Chicago hotel
Openings, rebrandings: Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. Just weeks after announcing it was taking over San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental, Loews Hotels has cut the ribbon on the 400-room Loews Chicago Hotel, two blocks east of Michigan Avenue just north of the Chicago River. It’s in the lower 14 stories of a 52-story tower … The former Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing is now the 348-room Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing … InterContinental Hotel Group’s new Kimpton Hotels subsidiary has taken over management of the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach, Calif., close to the city’s famous pier … Melia Hotels this month opens the 369-room Melia Paris La Defense in the district of the same name — the largest four-star hotel to debut in Paris in 10 years … Dubai has its fifth Hyatt-branded hotel with the opening of the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights; its 464 rooms occupy a pair of 538-foot towers … Got business in Haiti? Marriott opened the doors of its newly-built Marriott Port-au-Prince … Starwood has added a new Luxury Collection property in Mexico City: Las Alcobas, a gorgeous 35-room boutique-style property in the upscale Polanco district.
Air France’s swank new first class suite arrives in the US. See below for details (Photo: Air France)
Southwest sets next round of Love expansion. Southwest Airlines last week revealed details of a big schedule expansion at Dallas Love Field, with plans to add non-stop service to 10 cities starting April 8. New destinations to be served from DAL include Charleston (S.C.), Columbus, Indianapolis, Memphis, Milwaukee, Panama City Beach, Portland (Ore.), Sacramento, San Jose and Seattle/Tacoma. (Charleston service will start April 11 and will operate only on Saturdays; Panama City Beach flights will begin with once-a-week service, increasing to daily May 8, but will be seasonal.) Also on April 8, Southwest will boost frequencies on routes from DAL to Ft. Lauderdale, Oakland and Santa Ana/Orange County. The airline will also add other new service at Santa Ana/Orange County June 28, including non-stops Chicago Midway, Seattle and Austin.
Southwest woos Atlanta flyers. Pulling out its biggest marketing guns to date, Southwest Airlines this week launched a new promotion in the Atlanta market only, offering Rapid Rewards members a pass good for free companion travel through the end of the year. To get it, members must register online at www.southwest.com/atlanta and complete at least three roundtrips out of Atlanta from now through May 17. The only other way to get coveted companion pass status on Southwest is to amass 110,000 Rapid Rewards points. This is quite a remarkable deal, especially if you are the type of traveler who likes to mix business with pleasure and bring along the spouse or significant other from time too time. T&Cs state that you must be an Atlanta resident living in one of these zip codes to get the deal. Delta loyalists….will you bite?
Talk about being in the right place at the right time! A rare Etihad sighting along with Air Force One at SFO. (Photo credit: Touch n Go Aviation Photography)
Etihad jet at SFO? We did a double-take when we saw the image of this Etihad jet at SFO floating by on Twitter this week. We thought maybe our post Etihad vs Jetihad had forced positive change 🙂 In the end, we learned from an airport spokesperson that Etihad substituted one of its own aircraft for the normal Jet Airways 777 on the route due to “operational issues.” It’s nice to see that beautiful bird at SFO…and even nicer to see it on the same day that President Obama was in town— see his 747 in the background? What a shot!
Delta said to tighten award rules. First, Delta angered SkyMiles members by taking down the awards chart from its website. And now — according to the Crankyflier blog– the airline has taken another step backwards with its loyalty program by quietly introducing new advance-purchase rules for low-level domestic award travel. Cranky says that SkyMiles now requires members to book those award trips at least three weeks in advance, but it didn’t bother to announce the change. And SkyMilers now have to go through the award booking process online before they can find the true mileage cost of a trip. (So…about that offer from Southwest mentioned above…)
Air France brings new luxury to JFK flights. The first U.S. flights to introduce Air France’s new La Premiere first class suites are AF 010/011 between New York JFK and Paris CDG. The 32-square-foot suites have a seat that transforms into a bed that’s six and a half feet long and 30 inches wide, along with a 24-inch table and an ottoman that can serve as a guest seat. And four (count em!) windows– see top.
SFO Centurion Lounge loses chef. Michelin-starred chef Christopher Kostow (from Meadowoods in Napa) only lasted three months in a gig where he oversaw the kitchen at American Express’s popular new Centurion Lounge at SFO’s Terminal 3. According to EaterSF, which broke this news, “Kostow declined to comment on the reason for the severed ties, but some industry types assume that the differing desires of a Michelin-starred chef and an airport food service provider have something to do with it.” Too bad because the spread Kostow prepared for the opening night was deeelicious, and TravelSkills was there with a full report!
The DOT’s official announcement regarding the United ticketing scam
Smart traveler or fraudster? The TravelSkills post (Should United pay for its mistakes) this week about the folks who snapped up supercheap fares by misrepresenting themselves received a TON of great comments. Check em out here. In a related story….remember the Skiplagged site, where a college kid exposed the longstanding practice of “hidden city ticketing” – a similar practice of the traveler misrepresenting where he or she is actually flying in order to get a cheaper fare? Both United and Orbitz filed a lawsuit against the kid, and this week, Orbitz reached a settlement, but United’s case is still active. Full story from USA Today
Alaska adding preferred seats. The next carrier to add a paid preferred seating option will be Alaska Airlines, which will reportedly start selling extra-legroom bulkhead and exit row seats sometime later this year. The airline is said to be eyeing preferred seating fees ranging from $15 to $50 depending on the length of the flight. Buyers will also get a free drink and priority boarding.
JetBlue will take Apple Pay. JetBlue Airways said its flight attendants will soon start accepting Apple Pay for in-flight purchases of food and beverage items, extra-legroom seats and other amenities. The new Apple Pay technology is offered with Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6s models. The carrier plans to give iPad minis and NFC-enabled cases to flight attendants so they can handle the Apple Pay transactions. The devices will also have a new iOS app that provides flight data and other information, and will let flight attendants “easily identify TrueBlue and Mosaic loyalty members by name,” JetBlue said.
Icelandair offers “aurora” flights. For passengers who don’t get to see the real aurora borealis, Icelandair is trying to offer the next best thing. It has painted the exterior of one of its 757s in a Northern Lights simulation, and even brought the same feeling to the cabin interior with a special mood lighting display. The plane is on a varied international schedule. Watch this gorgeous plane take shape in this excellent VIDEO
Delta’s new Boeing 717s used to belong to AirTran (Photo: Delta)
Delta eyes 717s for LAX-SFO. Delta will put larger Boeing 717s onto eight daily Los Angeles-San Francisco “California Shuttle” flights starting June 4, retaining Embraer 175s on the other seven of its 15 daily flights, according to the website Airlineroute, which tracks planned service changes across the industry. Delta obtained scores of former AirTran 717s from Southwest and has been phasing them into service; last fall, it replaced some of the 76-seat E175s on its LaGuardia-Boston shuttle with 110-seat, two-class 717s. And Delta plans to put 717s onto its LAX-Portland and LAX-Las Vegas routes in June as well. Been on a Delta 717? What did you think?
Storm warning. Yet another big winter storm (this time named “Linus”) is expected to hit a wide swath of the northern US and could affecting flying this week. Details. Plan accordingly.
United on the move at ATL. United is moving its Atlanta operations from distant Concourse D to close-in Concourse T at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. The T-gates are located alongside the main terminal building, which means that passengers can walk from the curb to the plane without having to descend into the giant airport’s bowels for a ride on the “Plane Train.” A United spokesperson told TravelSkills that the United Club on Concourse D closes this weekend and that it is “in the process of evaluating potential opportunities to build a new United Club in the T Concourse.” From ATL, United flies to Newark, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington Dulles and Houston.
United bows out in Dallas Love battle. Southwest Airlines has nabbed two more highly contested gates at Dallas Love Field, giving it 18 of the small airport’s 20 gates. It subleased the gates from United, which will move out of Love to concentrate its operations at Dallas Ft Worth. (United used the Love gates for a handful of regional jet flights to Houston.) Delta currently has temporary authority to serve Love Field with five daily nonstops to Atlanta, but only until July 6. Southwest plans to use the new gates to add nonstops to Memphis, Milwaukee and Seattle and beef up frequencies to cities it already serves.
The noodle chef at Cathay Pacific’s business class lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Cathay biz class sale. Cathay Pacific is offering some decent discounts for business class flights from the US to several cities across the Pacific. Examples: West coast US to Australia in biz class is running about $8,000 round trip. From the US to most cities in Asia, business class is running around $5,200. Worth a look if you or your company can spring for biz class. The catch: You must book 90 days in advance.
Fares to Europe are not as high as we expected, but probably won’t stay this low for long
Europe fares for Summer. We keep hearing about how expensive it’s going to be to fly to Europe this summer due to high demand from Americans with fists full of strong US dollars. BUT, we’ve seen some very good deals for summer trips if you book now. Using the new FLYR site we found these examples: Aer Lingus nonstops between New York and Dublin were running at just $762 for June roundtrips this week, and just $1050 in the peak month of July. From San Francisco Bay Area, SAS or Norwegian Air are currently the cheapest way to get to Europe this summer– Norwegian out of Oakland is pressuring all carriers to discount fares, and we are seeing some roundtrips to Europe running as low as $1,000 to $1,200 during peak summer months. Considering Europe this summer? Might want to check fares now because US-Europe roundtrips during peak summer could easily exceed $2,000 in coming months.
In Hong Kong, coffee is mixed with tea to make yuanyang
Alaska extends free entertainment. Passengers on many Alaska Airlines flights will continue to get free premium movies and TV shows streamed via their personal electronic devices for another two months — i.e., through the end of March. (That’s in addition to the usual no-fee list of some 100 titles.) More than half of the airline’s fleet is currently equipped with streaming technology, and all aircraft should have it by April, Alaska said. And on its long-haul flights, the company has started renting Microsoft In-flight Entertainment tablets (available free to first class flyers and MVP Gold 75Ks) with a selection of films, games, magazines, music and Internet access. The fee is $8-$10.
From Delta regarding international wifi progress
Here’s the latest on Delta’s rollout of inflight wifi on its international fleet, which is progressing more slowly than expected. Among US carriers, Delta has about 37% of its international fleet outfitted with wi-fi— primarily on its 747s and A330s but coverage is sparse on its much larger fleet of 777s and 767s.
In-flight innovations: Southwest, Virgin Atlantic. Airlines have been known to host band performances at the airport — JetBlue does this regularly at its JFK terminal — but in the air? Southwest is carrying the band Imagine Dragons on a four-city tour, and as part of the hoopla, the group will perform an in-flight concert later this month aboard a flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta. If your in-flight preferences are more cerebral, Virgin America this month started offering in-flight audio and video academic lectures on a variety of subjects, provided by The Great Courses. The curriculum covers everything from cosmology to cooking, history to music. Readers: What’s your in-flight preference? Rock concertsor learning enhancement?
New fangled inflight entertainment aboard Qantas.
Qantas tests VR headsets. Virtual reality (VR) is primed to be the next big thing in entertainment technology, providing an immersive, 3D experience. Qantas is getting a jump on the trend by offering Samsung VR headsets to first class passengers on some of its Los Angeles flights starting in March, and at its first class lounges in Melbourne and Sydney.
BA revamps mileage plan. British Airways is coming out with a big overhaul of its Executive Club loyalty program effective April 28. Among the changes: The number of Avios earned (that’s Executive Club’s “currency”) will basically be increased for passengers in business and first class — especially in the higher fare classes — and decreased for those flying on the lowest economy fares. The cost of reward travel is also being restructured with the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing. You can see all the details on the airline’s website
Delta’s big SkyMiles changes now in effect (Photo: Jim Glab)
Big mileage switch starts. On January 1, Delta became the first of the Big Three U.S. legacy airlines to transform the basis of earnings in its loyalty plan from distance flown to money spent. Under the new regime, non-elite SkyMiles members will get five miles per dollar spent on air fare, Silver Medallions earn seven miles per dollar, Golds get eight, Platinums nine and Diamonds 11. Delta has an online comparison calculator so you can figure how much a given flight would earn in the old vs. new structures. United will put the same spending-based structure in place for MileagePlus members starting March 1. (American/US Airways for now is sticking with the traditional mileage scheme, although during 2015 it has new mileage bonuses based on fare class, elite status and distance flown.) Some observers say the change to spending-based programs is a logical development following the hotel industry’s lead, but others see it as the latest step in a class warfare where airlines disproportionately cater to big spenders at the expense everyone else. Readers: Have you run any numbers to see if you’ll be better off under the new criteria vs. the old? What did you find?
Etihad mess. Etihad, which launched San Francisco-Abu Dhabi nonstops using Jet Airways B777s in November, took a big hit over the weekend when fog struck in Abu Dhabi. SFO-bound flight 183 had started its taxi toward take off when the flight was halted due to foggy conditions. Passengers ended up stuck on the tarmac for about 12 hours with no opportunities to get off the plane– and lots of bickering between passengers and flight crews according to various reports. After that ordeal, passengers endured the 16-hour flight to SFO. Luckily, the only damage from this incident is frayed nerves on the part of travelers and a big black eye for an airline just getting started in SFO. Regrettably, an elderly passenger on a Dusseldorf-bound flight facing a similar delay died. Since US rules (or fines and compensation) for such delays do not apply foreign airlines operating overseas, it will be up to Eithad to determine how it will compensate passengers and repair its image. Stay tuned….
Alaska lifts bag fee temporarily. All members of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan who fly on the carrier during January will get a break from the carrier’s $25 fee for a first checked bag during that month. If you booked a January flight at an earlier date and your Mileage Plan number is in the reservation, the fee waiver will kick in automatically during check-in. What’s the purpose of the month-long fee waiver? “To encourage new and existing members to experience the benefits of Alaska’s award-winning frequent flier program,” the company said. For details, go to www.alaskaair.com/FirstBagFree.
Routes: Virgin, American, Spirit. Virgin America Airlines has kicked off new seasonal daily flights between New York JFK and Ft. Lauderdale … American reportedly plans to revive American Eagle service between Cleveland and New York LaGuardia on March 29, with three ERJ-140 flights a day — the same day United plans to trim its CLE-LGA schedule from eight daily roundtrips to six … Spirit Airlines is growing in southern California; it will launch daily San Diego-Denver service January 6, Los Angeles-Cleveland flights April 16 and a daily LAX-Denver roundtrip on the same date.