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

Delta and ANA have shifted routes from Narita to Tokyo's close-in Haneda Airport. (Image: Haneda Airport)

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.

ANA, meanwhile, has shifted its New York JFK and Chicago O’Hare routes from Tokyo Narita to Haneda.

Delta's code-sharing with India's Jet Airways is expanding to London and to Virgin Atlantic. (Image: delta)

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.

Havana

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.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Most popular: Longest flight + California airlines + Best credit card + New lounge + Qantas

Chris McGinnis

Chris excited and looking fresh before this week’s 17-hour flight from SFO to Singapore- and back in just 4 days (Photo: Charles Schuler)

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

17 moments in 17 hours on Singapore Airlines Airbus A350Weekend Edition

Singapore Air opens up about longest nonstop

Routes: United at San Jose + Delta, JetBlue, American, Virgin America

Trip Report: The long flight home SIN-SFO

JetSuiteX

The JetSuiteX Terminal at Concord, CA, east of SF- a nice break from the craziness at OAK or SFO! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Big news at two small California airlines

First look: LAX’s fancy new Terminal 6 (photos)

9 key phrases every traveler should know

How to choose the best travel credit card

National pop up lounge

National is installing free popup lounges with wifi like this one at Washington Dulles (Photo: Jeff Pearce)

Airports: Screening upgrades, Oakland lounge, National Car pop-ups + more

10 A new look & feel for Qantas

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.

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

US State Department orders departure of family members at Istanbul consulate

DOT: Average U.S. air fares down almost 10 percent year over year

Got 2.5 million SkyMiles to burn? You can fly Delta Private Jets

(Image: Delta News Hub)

Use your SkyMiles for a ride on a private jet? Yep. (Image: Delta News Hub)

Southwest eyes new fees, but not for bags or ticket changes

JetBlue introduces fancy new amenity kits for Mint cabin passengers

Air India re-routes its SFO-DEL nonstop

Air India's first flight from New Delhi arrived at SFO before dawn. (Image: Peter Biaggi)

Air India’s flight path has changed (Image: Peter Biaggi)

Lowest airfares since 2009

Latest on Alaska-Virgin deal: Close, but still, no cigar

Delta app enhancement lets users follow their checked bags

Want to find your Uber rating? Here’s how

United introduces improved earbuds for economy passengers

AA/BA partner Iberia will get on board with premium economy seating next year

U.K. government backs plan to build a third runway at London Heathrow

Austrian Airlines promises instant replies to customer queries via Facebook Messenger

14 new Boeing 747-8 aircraft ordered, but you’ll never get to fly on one

(Photo: Brandon Farris)

Does that flagged winglet look familiar? (Photo: Brandon Farris)

Alaska Airlines reveals new military inspired special livery

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.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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

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Update on Alaska-Virgin talks with regulators

Alaska Airlines & Virgin America's merger has been slightly delayed. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

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)

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. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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

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New California routes: Southwest, AA, Delta, JetSuiteX, Mokulele + more

Southwest will add two more California routes in March. (Image: jim Glab)

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)

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.

This Phenom 100 jet from JetSuite seats six (JetSuite)

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.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Airport news: Inside newest Delta SkyClub + Phoenix, Seattle, Boston, LAX

Delta SkyClub

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)

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)

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.

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

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Burning question re: Virgin America’s new app

"Flights with Benefits" is the racy name for one of Virgin America's new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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!

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.

Below is a quick video walk-through of the app:

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? 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Havana, Cuba airline tickets from US cities coming soon

Havana

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.

Recent: Curious about Cuba? Don’t miss this!

Cuba cars

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.

Don’t miss: Cruising into Cuba: It’s complicated!

Havana nonstops

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!

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Routes: Alaska, American, JetBlue, Frontier, Allegiant

Alaska Airlines 737 New Livery

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 will add more Mint flights on transcon routes this fall. (Image: JetBlue)

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.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Alaska gives Mileage Plan members a heads-up on AA flights

Alaska Airlines is advising Mileage Plan members of earning changes on AA flights. (Image: Jim Glab)

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.

The advisory in Alaska Airlines’ blog is especially significant because over the past couple of months, American and Alaska have substantially expanded their code-sharing partnership to scores of additional flights and routes of both airlines.

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.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Routes: JetBlue, Virgin America, Alaska, American, United

JetBlue added a new transcontinental route from San Diego. (Image: Jim Glab)

JetBlue added a new transcontinental route from San Diego. (Image: Jim Glab)

Don’t miss: Unprecedented JetBlue offer for Virgin America flyers

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 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.”

Dont miss: 6 habits of highly annoying infrequent fliers

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.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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California competition heats up

Alaska is taking on Southwest in a battle for California dominance. (Image: Jim Glab)

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 at Oakland

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.

Virgin America Hawaii

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.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Popular: Cheaper phone roaming + Delta spat + More at SFO + Quiz + Norwegian Air + United secret

Can you name this business class section? Hint: Look at the big windows! Plus it's included in our fun quiz! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Can you name this business class section? Hint: Look at the big windows! Plus it’s included in our fun quiz! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

1 Must sign up to get it: AT&T follows Verizon, T-Mobile to more roaming

2 Nonstop ribbon cuttings Slew of new flights at SFOWeekend Edition

3 Oh, pulleeaze! Inside Qatar Airways event that sparked Delta tantrum [PHOTOS] (See comments)

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.

4 Battle begins Alaska, Southwest fight for California with new flights

5 Try it, you’ll like it Are you a business class seat expert? Take our fun quiz! Come on, 2,000+ readers have taken it so far! 

6 Oldie but goodie remains popular TSA explains confusion over PreCheck policies

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian Air (Image: Norwegian Air)

7 New nonstop Oakland-London on Norwegian: Low fares, low frills

Routes: Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Chicago, Newark, Honolulu, JFK

9 Check ’em out, then check in 4 brand new hotels in New York City

10 Members only Hilton’s big summer sale

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 is rolling out a new first class seat for its A319, A320 and some 757 aircraft (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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:

Atlanta Airport director Miguel Southwell sacked

Beware Delta’s new middle seat “upgrade”

United offering mystery elite status upgrades. Get one?

Scariest item ever seen by TSA? Gruesome

Summer sale at Kimpton hotels: 25% off + double points

Smarter to use ATL’s international terminal to avoid TSA security lines? Maybe. Maybe not. 

San Francisco’s newest tourist attraction: The Apple Flagship store on Union Sq

Delta CEO Ed Bastian

Delta’s new CEO Ed Bastian in his office at ATL HQ (Image: Airline Guys)

VIDEO: See inside Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s office at Delta HQ in ATL

Delta optimizes ‘SkyMiles Experiences’ website for mobile

Uber tests self-driving car in Pittsburgh

Eight low-cost Asia-Pacific airlines form an alliance

Falling fares will bring a record number of U.S. air travelers this summer

These are the most popular U.S. cities for meetings and conventions

American discontinues in-flight announcements of connecting gate information

(Image: Big Imagination Project)

(Image: Big Imagination Project)

In case you missed Saturday’s post about one of our favorite subjects, the much-loved Boeing 747: The 747 Project

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Alaska, Southwest fight for California with new flights

Alaska Airlines 737 New Livery

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 add new 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.)

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines will increase its growing presence at Mineta San Jose International Airport by adding nonstops to Baltimore/Washington International and Salt Lake City International, both starting on November 6 of this year.

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:

Southwest San Jose

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.

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Inside Qatar Airways event that sparked Delta tantrum [PHOTOS]

Atlanta's historic Fox Theater is the venue for the latest skirmish between Delta and Qatar Airways. (Image: Fox Theater)

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.

TravelSkills reader TB send us images from the exclusive Qatar Airways event at the Fox Theater in Atlanta

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.

Related: How Emirates welcomes a new plane [PHOTOS]

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.

Delta Fox Qatar

Quite an opulent affair at the Fox Theater

 

At the Fox Theatre event, Qatar gave away a pair of free roundtrip tickets anywhere it flies

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

Thousands of red roses at the Qatar Airways launch event in Atlanta

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Briefs: Alaska/JAL, AA biz seats, BA Wi-Fi, Lufthansa in Silicon Valley

Japan Airlines has a new partnership with Alaska Airlines. (Image: JAL)

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)

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)

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)

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.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Routes: AA, Alaska, United, Delta, Frontier, OneJet, JetSmarter

Alaska Airlines and American are launching a big code-sharing expansion. (Image: Jim Glab)

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 inaugural flight with San Francisco mural arrives at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

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-Juneau flights 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.

JetSmarter

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.

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Alaska adds premium economy seats to more jets

Alaska's Horizon Air subsidiary has ordered new three-class E175s. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

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, to be 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)

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.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Reactions to Alaska Virgin merger vary widely

Alaska's big buy stimulated plenty of reaction. (Image: Jim Glab)

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.”

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Virgin's Richard Branson

Virgin’s Richard Branson

He might be baaack! 

Sir Richard Branson told Conde Nast Traveler he’s determined the Virgin America name will live on:

“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.

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Does that hipster look like an Alaska Airlines customer? (Image: SFO)

Does that hipster look like an Alaska Airlines customer? (Image: SFO)

Alaska Air needs to get hip to the cool California kids

Fortune magazine said Alaska needs to upgrade in absorbing Virgin:

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.

______

JetBlue better watch out

The New York Times sees a big challenger to JetBlue:

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 A321T now flying SFO-JFK (Photo: AA)

American Airlines likes it

Seeking Alpha sees American Airlines as a beneficiary of the deal:

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.

______

Risky business

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.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Alaska Airlines + Virgin America: What you need to know now

Alaska Airlines & Virgin America to merge (Image: Alaska Airlines)

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.”

Watch Chris talk about the merger on this CBS-KPIX video:

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.

Here’s a link to the combined airlines’ route map.

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 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…

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Most popular: Qantas 747 + Alaska-Virgin? + AA 24-hr rule + Tesla + Nightmare room

Virgin America's newest A320's have sharklets on the wings. Seen em? (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America: What’s going to happen to this popular airline? Photo: Virgin America)

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

1 Jump on board with me! Trip Report: QANTAS 747-400 business class San Francisco – Sydney (Photos)

2 Big news My thoughts about Alaska Airlines getting Virgin America. Yours?

Routes: San Francisco, JFK, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto

4 Pretty in pink? Or not… Is this Hilton room a dream or nightmare?Weekend Edition

5 It depends… Worst summer ever for European trips? Or the best?

Munich Airport: Big new terminal, new US route, new hotel

Interview: 5 things Marriott CEO said about Starwood deal

San Francisco snags new UK nonstop

A look inside Delta’s newest jet (photos)

10 AA wants another big China route

Qantas just announced that it is collaborating with Tesla to offer special benefits to fliers– check this out… a Tesla vs a jet

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

American dropping its flier friendly 24-hour hold on reservations- moves to refund instead

Southwest adds nonstops between Long Beach and Oakland

Delta is new sponsor of Washington Nationals

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

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

Passenger wins nearly $1 million at Las Vegas airport slot machine

Conditions ripe for Zika outbreak in southeastern US states

American Airlines poised to be largest transpac carrier from LAX

Even the White House gets Atlanta airport name wrong

Alaska Airlines tests electronic baggage tags

Will your passport move onto your smartphone?

Get used to long TSA lines unless you’re in PreCheck

Hilton and Uber integrate their apps

Southwest Airlines offers Rapid Rewards bonus to Lyft riders

Avis adds Land Rovers to its fleet

Hertz brings special-edition Ford Mustang Shelby GT-H  models to some airport locations

Japan Airlines starts online meal reservation option

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Breaking: Alaska Airlines reportedly wins Virgin America

Alaska Airlines is adding an international mileage and code-share partner. (Image: Jim Glab)

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.

Related : Travel industry mergers that make sense!

-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)

“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.

Related: Trip Report- Virgin America to Honolulu

-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!

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Briefs: Best United clubs, Alaska PreCheck, Delta videos, Air Canada Wi-Fi

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

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.

Breaking: Will Delta buy Virgin America? JetBlue?

PreCheck at Honolulu International (Photo: Hawaiian Airlines / Flickr)

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.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Airline alters flight for better solar eclipse views

Alaska Airlines shifts flight for better eclipse viewing (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines shifts flight for better eclipse viewing (Image: Alaska Airlines)

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. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Routes: Alaska, United, Southwest, AA, Virgin + more

United plans to fly 757-300s from Washington Reagan National to San Francisco and Denver. (Image: BriYYZ/Wikimedia Commons)

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. What do you think? (Image: Alaska Air)

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 National by 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.

A red carpet welcome under wintry skies at Palm Springs International

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.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

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Most popular: United’s longest + Fewer big seats + Concorde + Soul food + more

Seen QANTAS clever new inflight safety video? See link below (Image: QANTAS)

Seen QANTAS’ clever new inflight safety video? See link below (Image: QANTAS)

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

1 16 hours, 20 minutes United Airlines reveals its newest, longest flight

2 Fewer big seats at the pointy end United’s first class phase-out

3 Most readers approve New look for Alaska Airlines Weekend Edition

Routes: LAX-China, Nashville, Toronto, Germany, India, Brazil

5 Second in our supersonic series Trip Report: British Airways Concorde experience LHR-JFK

6 Give and take New JetBlue seats: Less space, more tech

8 fun facts about inflight wi-fi

8 First in the series Trip Report: New York-London on Concorde! (PHOTOS)

9 Might not feel that way but… Mounting evidence that fares really ARE cheaper

10 Fried chicken on the plane? United’s got soul food (and free snacks)

Note the button on lower right

Note the button on lower right- from a room phone at the Baccarat hotel NYC (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

We’ve completed our series of New York’s five newest business class hotels. Did you see all of ’em? If not, here ya go:

 1 Hotel Central Park (Midtown)

The Baccarat (Midtown)

New York EDITION (Flatiron/Madison Sq Park)

The EVEN Hotel (Near Penn Station/Garment district)

The Knickerbocker (Times Square)

Precheck logo TM

Remember our post and poll about your recent PreCheck experiences? So far, 330+ readers have participated and results are overwhelmingly positive– see below and if you’ve not voted yet, now’s the time! Do you agree with the findings?

Please vote and post comments below.

How would you rate your recent PreCheck experiences?

View Results

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Please click the clear-looking or “vote” button

Here's Qatar Air's business class seat. All the UAE carriers had their most gorgeous FA's on hand to show off the seats! (Chris McGinnis)

Could you sit in this business class seat for over 18 hours? (Photo from Global Business Travel trade show floor by Chris McGinnis)

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

And the newest, longest flight in the world (18 hours) is…

American Airlines unveils new amenity kits

CLEAR’s special offer for Super Bowl attendees (or anyone else) $50 for 6 months

No LAX to Hong Kong nonstops on American after all

We’ve reached saturation with cute airline safety videos, but QANTAS has a good one

Back story on new Eastern Airlines

New York’s free public wi-fi is crazy fast

Uber billed executive $640 for a 30-minute ride to the airport.

SkyTeam offers discount on its around-the-world fares.

TripAdvisor invites user reviews of airlines.

Passport expiring? State Dept. says you shouldn’t delay in renewing it.

Starwood is the latest hotel company to participate in TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking feature.

Brussels wants you back! And they’ve made a video to convince you it’s safe.

Are you signed up for the TravelSkills.com blog? Why not? Do it right now and don’t miss out. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

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Alaska Air’s new partner + United trims Mideast + Lufthansa Denver + London

Emirates Dubai Business Class Lounge

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)

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).

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