A new look & feel for Qantas

The Qantas kangaroo gets a modernized redesign on the tail of its new 787-9s. (Image: Qantas)

The Qantas kangaroo gets a modernized redesign on the tail of its new 787-9s. (Image: Qantas)

Qantas will start taking delivery of new 787-9 Dreamliners late next year, and it has just unveiled details of the passenger cabins for the new planes – which will gradually take over the long-haul routes now served by 747s. It’s also got a new, more streamlined look.

The update to its iconic Kangaroo logo is only the fifth time the red-and-white image on the tail of Qantas aircraft has been updated since it was first introduced in 1944. The last update was in 2007 to coincide with the introduction of the Airbus A380 to the national carrier’s fleet.

Among the changes you’ll see in coming years:

  • A streamlined Kangaroo on the tail of the aircraft, with shading to give it a sense of depth and movement. The Kangaroo itself has been simplified for a cleaner, more modern look.
  • A silver band has been added to the rear of the aircraft, flowing from the tail through to the rear of the fuselage for a more premium feel and more contrast between the red tail and the rest of the aircraft.
  • A new, slimmer font for the world ‘Qantas’ on the side of the aircraft and the color made slightly lighter.
  • The word Qantas is added to the belly for increased visibility when aircraft are flying overhead.
  • Adding the Kangaroo to the inside curved edge of the wingtips so that they are in-flight and meaning they will also appear in pictures people take out the aircraft windows.
History of the Qantas logo

History of the Qantas logo

The new 236-passenger Qantas Dreamliners (not due on runways til late next year) will offer 42 business class suites in a 1-2-1 layout; 28 seats in the premium economy section, configured 2-3-2; and 166 regular economy seats, with a 3-3-3 layout.

The business and the economy cabin will each have a self-service bar where passengers can pick up drinks and snacks. The new planes will also have a redesigned, more streamlined kangaroo image on their tails.

New 787-9 business suites are an update of the business cabins on Qantas' A330s. (Image: Qantas)

New 787-9 business suites are an update of the business cabins on Qantas’ A330s. (Image: Qantas)

Business seats will recline fully flat to a bed that’s 80 inches long – and passengers will have “the ability to stay reclined during takeoff and landing,” Qantas said. The two middle seats will have an adjustable privacy screen in between them, and all business seats will be 23 to 24 inches wide, offering power and USB ports along with a personal entertainment device with a 16-inch touchscreen.

Qantas described the business suites as the “next generation” of the business cabin recently installed on its A330 fleet.

“The direct flights on these routes will have a lot of premium traffic, so we think it will be very heavily patronized by business class and premium economy customers,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told Australian Business Traveler. “We’re also redesigning the in-flight experience for the Dreamliner, from rethinking our menus to making better use of the self-service bars during different phases of flight.” He also told the publication the airline hasn’t yet decided whether the new Dreamliners will offer in-flight Wi-Fi.

Dreamliner economy cabins will offer nine-across seating.(Image: Qantas)

Dreamliner economy cabins will offer nine-across seating.(Image: Qantas)

The economy cabin will have a new seat design that comes with a “personal device holder” and an individual USB port, increased storage areas, a high-def 12-inch touchscreen, and “a seat-back mood light designed to minimize disturbance for other passengers.” The economy seats will also provide an additional inch of pitch compared with Qantas’ A380s, for a total pitch of 32 inches; six-inch seat recline; and an improved “footnet” that cradles the legs during sleep.

Qantas said details on the aircraft’s premium economy cabin won’t be released until early next year, but it promised that cabin will offer “a class leading experience and a revolutionary new seat.” The airline said it will soon announce the initial routes where the 787-9 will be deployed- we would not be surprised to see the lucrative SFO-SYD run on the short list for those flights since the 747s on the route will be phased out.

Check out our Trip Report: Qantas 747-400 San Francisco-Sydney in business class

 

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Airlines increasingly narrow-minded about seat width

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777

Cathay Pacific will switch to 10-across coach seating on the 777-300ERs it flies to the U.S. (Image: Cathay Pacific)

How can an airline increase passenger capacity when it can’t add more flights? One way is to add more seats in each aircraft, and we’re seeing that emerging as a trend in some carriers’ Boeing 777 fleets. The latest airline to announce such a change is Cathay Pacific, which flies 777-300ERs on its routes to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and New York JFK.

Cathay chief executive Ivan Chu Kwok-leung told the South China Morning Post that the airline is faced with a shortage of takeoff and landing slots at its Hong Kong base, and the only way to boost revenue is by adding more seats per slot. So Cathay will start reconfiguring its 777 economy cabins from nine-across to 10-across seating, although the job might not be finished until 2018.

He said Cathay wants to preserve its 32-inch seat pitch, so it will shrink seat width from 18.5 inches to 17. He noted that 3-4-3 seating on Boeing 777s is becoming the “standard” among international carriers.

Say good-bye to nine-across seating on Cathay Pacific's 777s. (Image: Chris McGinnis)

Say good-bye to relatively spacious nine-across 3-3-3 seating seen here on Cathay Pacific’s 777s. (Image: Chris McGinnis)

And he might have a point about that. Boeing has noted that about half of the 777s it delivered in 2015 were had 10-across coach seating; in 2008, only 30 percent had that configuration.

Among U.S. carriers, American has 10-across seating on some 777s, and United earlier this year confirmed it is installing the tighter configuration on 19 777s that it uses mainly for domestic routes. Delta currently has 9-abreast on its B777s.

Other international airlines with 10-across seating on at least some of their 777s include Emirates, Etihad, China Airlines, China Eastern, ANA, Air New Zealand, Swiss, KLM and Air France. A few months ago, Taiwan’s EVA Air said it would switch from nine-across to 10-across seating on its new 777s.

Readers: Would you pay more to fly nine-across vs. 10-across seats in economy? Avoid airlines with 10-across? Please leave your comments below

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Would you fly a 737 transatlantic for $69?

A Boeing 737 MAX in Norwegian livery. (Image: Boeing)

A Boeing 737 MAX in Norwegian livery. (Image: Boeing)

Odds are you haven’t flown a small single-aisle aircraft like a 737 or an Airbus A320 across the Atlantic. But you could get your chance in the next couple of years – and one airline is promising one-way fares as low as $69 on the new planes.

The few 737s and A320s currently going over the pond either have a sharply reduced number of seats so they can exceed their normal range, or they’re between two points as close as you can get over the Atlantic, like WestJet’s flights between far eastern Canada and Scotland/Ireland. But the new generation of these aircraft will make longer flights possible with a full load.

Boeing’s 737 MAX and Airbus’ A320neo can fly about 500 miles farther than earlier versions, and use 15 percent less fuel. That will permit flights up to 3,000 miles between the eastern U.S. and western Europe. The initial operators of the planes will include Norwegian Air, JetBlue, and TAP of Portugal.

And a Norwegian Air executive this week told Business Insider UK that his airline plans to use the new aircraft to offer $69 transatlantic fares – about half the level of its current lowest fares. Norwegian has ordered 100 Boeing 737 MAX 8s, and it should start to take delivery sometime next year.

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The Airbus A320neo. (Image: Airbus)

The Airbus A320neo. (Image: Airbus)

“I can promise you that you will see trans-Atlantic flights on the 737 MAX next year,” Norwegian’s chief commercial officer Thomas Ramdahl told the publication in an interview, “and that’s when you will see the $69 fares.” The airline has also ordered 30 A320neo LRs for delivery starting in 2018 – a plane with slightly more capacity and longer range than the new 737s. He did not say which routes might offer the super-cheap fares.

Norwegian currently relies on Boeing 787 Dreamliners for its fast-growing transatlantic network, like its recently announced new service to Barcelona from Oakland, Los Angeles, Newark and Ft. Lauderdale.

JetBlue has ordered 30 A321neos, some of them likely to be the long-range version, prompting a lot of speculation about the carrier’s transatlantic intentions, although JetBlue has not said definitively that it will fly to Europe.

How would you feel about flying a 737 across the ocean? Please leave your comments below!

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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Are double-decker jumbo jets doomed?

An Airbus A380 an an air show with an A350 approaching. (Image: Airbus)

An Airbus A380 an an air show with an A350 approaching. (Image: Airbus)

Effective this month, Boeing has cut back production of its iconic 747 to just six planes a year, as we noted several months ago when we speculated that the big plane might be on its way out of the aviation scene altogether in the months and years ahead. And now there is talk that the 747’s only double-decker rival, the Airbus A380, might be nearing a similar fate.

The latest blow to the A380 came from Singapore Airlines, which has decided not to renew a lease for one of its A380 after it expires about a year from now. The airline operates 19 of the planes.

The Wall Street Journal noted that the rejection of a single leased plane isn’t a huge blow to Airbus, but represents “a symbolic hit” for the A380, for which it said Airbus has been struggling to find customers.

The manufacturer said recently that its A380 production will be reduced from 27 planes a year in 2015 to just 12 a year by 2018. “The backlog of A380s to be delivered has eroded during years of no or few orders,” the Journal noted. It said that Airbus was expected to start losing money on the A380 once again under the lower production rate, and suggested that not even the manufacturer’s existing backlog of scheduled production is completely safe since some airlines are canceling their earlier orders.

Don’t miss: How Emirates glamorously welcomes a new plane (photos)

Emirates' new version of the A380 has 617 seats. (Image: Emirates)

Emirates’ new version of the A380 has 617 seats. (Image: Emirates)

A recent article in TheStreet.com cited one aerospace expert who noted that the international aviation market’s interest has shifted from ultra-large passenger jets like the 747 and A380 to somewhat smaller, newer twin-aisle jets like the 787 and A350 that are more fuel-efficient and can be deployed more profitably on longer non-stop routes. He said the sweet spot now is for planes that carry 300 to 370 passengers.

The Airbus A380s currently in use carry from 400 to 538 passengers in a three-class configuration, although the plane is certified to carry up to 853 in a one-class layout, and Emirates has come out with a 615-passenger version with two classes.

Manufacturers are turning to larger versions of the 787, 777 and A350 for the years ahead, a trend that could siphon even more business away from the double-deckers from airlines that want aircraft with more capacity, the article noted.

Readers: Could you live comfortably in a world without double-decker jumbo jets? What do you think of the A380?

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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Test your planespotting skills with our new quiz!

A Delta 767 taking off from SFO (InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Did you know that’s a Boeing 767? Take our quiz to hone those planespotting skills! (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

It’s time for another fun TravelSkills quiz! This time, we are testing your ability to identify the planes you see in the skies or at the airport. Can you tell the difference between a Boeing 757 and Airbus A321? What’s the most distinguishing feature of a Boeing 777? Take our easy 3-minute, 10-question quiz below.

(Scroll down for some help studying for the quiz if you need it. We offer plenty of planespotting tips!) If you can’t see the embedded quiz below, here’s a link to it. 

 

Longtime TravelSkills readers may remember our Planespotting 101 series. If you’d like to bone up on your skills before you take the quiz, here are links to those posts:

Planespotting 101: Boeing 757, 767

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

Planespotting 101: Airbus A320 family differences

Take the quiz and get your score! Based on your performance, you’ll be named Aviation Geek, Aviation Nerd, Aviation Enthusiast, Pretty Good Plane Spotter or Novice Plane Spotter. Which one are you? Share your status and YOUR best planespotting tips with us in the comments below!

If you have fun with this, take our previous quizzes, too!

NAME THAT AIRPORT quiz

BUSINESS CLASS SEAT quiz 

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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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Trip Report: United BusinessFirst to Xi’an, China

Biking on the city wall (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Our lucky United/Xian contest winner Dan E. biking on the city wall (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Hi there! It’s Dan, the lucky guy who won the TravelSkills contest for two free round trip United BusinessFirst tickets to Xi’an, China. I just returned from the trip! This was my first time to China and first time in BusinessFirst on the 787 so I have a lot to share.

I traveled a few days after United’s new business class, Polaris, was announced so it was fun comparing and contrasting what they have planned versus what the reality is now. Here’s a quick summary of my observations about the trip:

  • This was my first time on United’s 787-8 and it was great! The large shade-less windows, quieter cabin, and higher humidity really does make a noticeable difference in both the flight and post-flight jet lag experience. I felt more rested once I arrived and didn’t deal with significant jet lag on either end of the trip.
  • The flight crew on our outbound SFO – XIY was probably the best I’ve had in my adult life. They made our trip so much fun and those 13 hours just zipped by.
  • Towards the end of our flight to Xi’an, I was surprised to see that the BusinessFirst lavatories weren’t cleaned/serviced at all throughout the flight. That said, this is about the only critical comment I could make about the overall service.
  • Lounge access in Xi’an leaves much to be desired and I was completely underwhelmed.
  • On the return leg, I found the ground staff in Xi’an to be very pleasant but there was a definite language barrier. Although ultimately successful, getting baggage checked through to Chicago took about 20 minutes and six desk agents.

[Currently, United fares between SFO and Xi’an are as low as $586 roundtrip in economy, and $2,960 in business class. On the Dreamliner flight, there were 36 BusinessFirst seats, 70 in Economy Plus and 113 in economy. See SeatGuru for United’s 787-8 Dreamliner]

United’s New Service to Xi’an: “Good morning sir, where are you traveling today…”

Although I was unable to fly on the first flight to Xi’an, United let me join in on the inaugural festivities at SFO on May 8.  There was palpable energy around the gate but I also couldn’t help but notice the dozens of both Chinese and western passengers who seemed unaware of what the hullabaloo was all about. Nonetheless, the food, music, and live Terracotta warriors were a nice touch.

United Xian

The inaugural crew & clever Terracotta Warriors on May 8, 2016 SFO>Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

I originally assumed United launched the route because of strong industry/business ties in Xi’an but learned it’s actually being tested for the leisure market. I found this interesting since most people I’ve encountered can’t place this city on a mapHere’s where it is! 

On my departure day in early June, I arrived at SFO a bit early to check out the new United Club in Terminal 3, Concourse E, which I had yet to visit. Despite several international departures leaving around the same time as Xi’an, check-in was smooth and seamless. When handing over my passport, the agent asked, “Good morning sir, where are you traveling today?” I said, “Hi there, I am going to Xi’an” and she responded, “oh wooooow” — like generally surprised. Maybe this was her first day working the Xi’an flight but I found it kind of funny. It took about 10 minutes to check-in and get through security and I was on my way to the United Club.

International Premium Check-in at SFO (Photo: Dan Erwin)

International Premium Check-in at SFO (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Since I won two tickets, I invited my best friend to go with me. She was flying in from Chicago, so we met up near the domestic gates and and headed to the United Club there for a celebratory drink. The desk agent was pleasant but quickly informed us that we also had access to the club in the international terminal. I said, “don’t worry, we’ll be going there too.”  

Cheers! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Cheers! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

The club was packed and almost every seat was taken. Nonetheless, I love the upgrades underway at various United Clubs (especially Heathrow’s) and appreciate the update at SFO.

The crowded United Club in Concourse E at SFO (Photo: Dan Erwin)

The crowded United Club in Terminal 3 Concourse E at SFO (Photo: Dan Erwin)

After our prosecco we made our way to the international terminal and grabbed some snacks and another glass of bubbles at the United Club there while we waited for boarding to begin.

(Photo: Dan Erwin)

View from our visit to the United Club at SFO’s International Terminal G (Photo: Dan Erwin)

UA853 to Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

UA853 to Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

At 12:45 pm we headed down to gate 96 and arrived just as priority boarding was being called. Agents scanned boarding passes checked our visas and we walked right on to 1A and 1B (I was in HOG HEAVEN since this was my first international flight being in 1A, which is usually Global First).

The 787! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Stepping aboard United’s 787 Dreamliner! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

 1A! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

My seat:  1A! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

I’ve flown BusinessFirst on the 747, 777, and the 757 p.s. configurations but this my first time on the 787. I found the seat to be basically the same as the P.S. configuration but the noticeable differences are in other cabin features. The windows are much larger than any other aircraft and have that awesome tinting feature. The overhead bin space is quite large as well. Overall, I loved the feel of the forward cabin because once you board it’s very mellow as no other passengers are coming through.

(Photo: Dan Erwin)

Peering out the 787’s huge tinted windows (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Forward cabin during boarding (Photo: Dan Erwin)

BusinessFirst cabin during boarding (Photo: Dan Erwin)

I can say without a doubt that on this flight we had the most energetic and pleasant group of flight attendants I’ve ever flown with. The service manager came by shortly after each passenger was settled and warmly welcomed each of us individually. He asked us why were were traveling to Xi’an and encouraged us to ask if he could make our trip more comfortable. The standard amenity kits were distributed shortly after that, which are nice to have on long flights but not anything to write home about.  

Standard Leather Amenity (Photo: Dan Erwin)

United’s standard leather amenity (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Once we got settled, my new favorite flight attendant of all time, Momo, greeted us with champagne. She really made our flight. It felt like we were close friends and she was having us over for drinks and dinner at her house. She was super attentive but not overwhelmingly so. About 45 minutes after takeoff I realized that my earbuds were stuck in the seat. I kid you not, she literally got on the floor in her dress and stuck half of her body under the seat as she fiddled to get them out.  The other FAs were friendly and personable as well. I learned from them that 787 crew are mostly former Continental FAs, which I thought was interesting. Many of my experiences in BusinessFirst with mainline United crew paled in comparison to this.

Overall, the service on the flight was efficient and pleasant! The main meal service was pretty standard and consistent with my other BusinessFirst experiences.

Main meal service appetizer (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Main meal service appetizer prosciutto and melon with garnishes (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Main meal service Salad (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Main meal service seasonal greens with parmesan cheese (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Main meal service entrée: Tenderloin of beef with gnocchi and asparagus (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Main meal service entrée: Tenderloin of beef with gnocchi and asparagus (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Main meal service cheese and port (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Main meal service cheese and port (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Dessert! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Dessert is United’s standard ice cream sundae (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Dinner service wrapped about two hours into the flight at which point I reclined and caught some shut-eye. I did notice how much quieter these planes seem to be than other United aircraft.

I slept for a bit and woke just in time for the mid-flight snack service, which was a nice way to break up the 13-hour journey.

Some people were NOT interested in sleeping and wanted to see the sun. (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Some people were NOT interested in sleeping and wanted to see the sun. (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Chinese Style Soup and Tea (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Mid-flight snack: Chinese Style Soup and Tea (Photo: Dan Erwin)

After a couple movies we were about 90 minutes from Xi’an and the final meal service began, which was pretty standard.

Pepper Jack Cheese Omelette (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Breakfast prior to landing: Pepper Jack Cheese Omelette (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Approaching Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Approaching Xi’an- note the curved wingtip of the 787! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

We landed in Xian right on time and taxied straight to the gate. We said our goodbyes to the lovely crew and proceeded through immigration to baggage claim and out to ground transportation, all of which took about 15 minutes. The airport felt pretty deserted.  

Xi’an Airport (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Taxiing into Xi’an Airport (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

United’s ad in baggage claim (Photo: Dan Erwin)

United’s Chinese ad promoting San Francisco in baggage claim (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Xian as a Destination:

We spent a total of four full days in Xi’an, which felt like enough time. (We also spent a few days in Beijing.) You can definitely tell that Xian is not as popular for westerners/Americans as other Chinese cities might be because we were probably asked by at least 100 different locals to pose in photos with them. You don’t see many Americans cruising around town (I think we saw four the entire time) so I guess we were exotic. English was not widely spoken in our experience, which yielded some interesting communication barriers but made the trip more fun!

It seems like most tourists come in for one or two days just to see the Terracotta Warriors and although that was definitely an amazing site to see, there is much more to Xi’an.

Bell Tower of Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

The dramatic, and frequently photographed Bell Tower of Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Some of the Terracotta Warriors (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Some of Xian’s famous Terracotta Warriors- about one hour outside of downtown (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

View of Xi’an from the city wall (Photo: Dan Erwin)

View of Xi’an from the city wall (Photo: Dan Erwin)

An acquaintance of ours owns the Xi’an Brewery, which along with Lost Plate Food Tours, was coincidentally featured in United’s Hemisphere magazine a few months ago in March. We checked out both and LOVED them.

RETURNING: XIY – SFO: “Your ear… I need to see your left ear… Turn to your right…”

The day of our departure we arrived at the airport nearly three hours early due to the post-traumatic stress I experienced the day before when we missed our flight from Beijing to Xi’an. I haven’t missed a flight in almost 10 years so the scar was REALLY fresh that day! ☺

Check-in at XIY (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Check-in at Xi’an Airport XIY (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Despite spending about 20 minutes getting my friend’s bagged checked through to Chicago, check-in was straightforward and only one person was in the premium line when we arrived.

Next stop, immigration… After standing in front of the immigration officer for a solid five minutes with nothing but silence, he asked me to turn to my right so he could “see my ear.” I thought I misunderstood him (again, the language barrier), and asked “pardon?” He responded with, “your ear. I need to see your left ear. Please turn to your right.” I complied and he stamped my documents waived me through. It was VERY odd but I didn’t ask questions and proceeded through security without any trouble.

My only real disappointment with the overall experience on our return is with the lounge in Xi’an. This is not a United lounge, but instead a SBC-VIP lounge that serves several different airlines. The airport is shiny and new but the lounge kind of feels like your grandma’s living room. There are oversized chairs and doilies everywhere. The food and beverage selection was poor and they were constantly running out of things.   

Lounge Entrance (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Lounge Entrance (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

First & Business Class Lounge in Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

First & Business Class Lounge in Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

 

First & Business Class Lounge in Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

First & Business Class Lounge in Xi’an- Doily city! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

30 Xian Lounge Food-1

Food Options in the Xi’an First & Business Class Lounge- mostly flavorless steamed buns, hard boiled eggs, rolls, congee (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Food was sparse for the entire hour we were there (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Food was sparse and not replenished for the entire hour we were there (Photo: Dan Erwin)

We were told twice by the lounge agent that our flight was boarding at a different time than it was so we ended up showing up a bit late and missing Group 1.

The plane taking us home! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

The Dreamliner taking us home! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Despite boarding with Group 3, it all went fairly fast and we were through the second round of US security and in our seats, 1K and 1L, in no time. Although not the same as the outbound flight, we were warmly welcomed by the crew and the inflight service manager. Flight attendants distributed the new Team USA version amenity kits, which I thought was cute.

(Photo: Dan Erwin)

Seat 1K for the return flight (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Team USA amenity kits (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Team USA amenity kits (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Team USA Socks and Mask (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Team USA Socks and Mask (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Despite the updated amenity kits, the safety video was the old version rather than the new, Team USA version. I also noticed that the Hemispheres magazine was the May version even though we were well into June. Minor inconsistencies but inconsistencies nonetheless.

Overall, the service on this flight was professional and pleasant. I think we were spoiled by the crew on the outbound so although I felt disappointed at the time, I realize that it was still very nice.

Beef role with yam (Photo: Dan Erwin)

United XIY-SFO business first lunch: Beef roll with yam (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Nice serene lighting for a mid flight nap (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Nice serene lighting for a mid flight nap (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, and potatoes (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, mushrooms, and potatoes- tasted much better than it looks in this photo! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Almost home! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Almost home! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Foggy arrival at SFO (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Foggy arrival at SFO (Photo: Dan Erwin)

We landed in SF about 10 minutes early, deplaned, and passed through immigration quickly. The whole process took about 20 minutes from the time we stepped off the plane until I walked out to grab my Uber. I expected immigration and baggage claim to be a mess given the multiple international arrivals coming in at the same time but it was surprisingly easy.

Overall, both flights were pretty seamless. The outbound experience was amazing because of our fantastic crew but the return flight was just fine. I am super excited for Polaris to launch so we can all see how United steps up their game.

(Photo: Dan Erwin)

One final look at United’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner at Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Thanks, Dan, for an excellent Trip Report! And thanks United for providing this opportunity for one of our readers to experience what it’s like to attend an inaugural event and be one of the first passengers on a brand new flight to an exotic city. And thanks to all the readers who participated in this fun contest– check out some of the best entries in this post. 

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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KLM’s first 787 Dreamliner route to U.S. (photos)

The Bay Area is getting yet another on of these shiny new birds (Photo: KLM)

The Bay Area is getting yet another one of these shiny new birds (Photo: KLM)

It becoming increasing difficult to find a flight out of the Bay Area that’s not on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Today, KLM announced that it, too, will deploy its first US Dreamliner between Amsterdam and San Francisco International on May 4.

KLM will offer 787-9 Dreamliner flights twice weekly throughout the summer season in addition to its daily flight, currently operated by a Boeing 747-400 from San Francisco-SFO to Amsterdam-AMS. KLM told TravelSkills that “after the summer season the Dreamliner could remain on the AMS-SFO route based on demand.”

KLM Dreamliner flight schedule – on Wednesdays and Sundays only:

KL610: Departs San Francisco-SFO at 4:45 p.m., arrives at Amsterdam-AMS at 12:15 p.m. the following day;

KL609: Departs Amsterdam Airport Schiphol-AMS at 12:40 p.m., arrives at San Francisco-SFO at 2:45 p.m.

KLM is the only carrier offering nonstop flights between SFO and Amsterdam. I’m surprised to see that fares are currently extremely high on its nonstop flight compared to one-stop options. According to Google Flight, business class SFO-AMS roundtrips in May are about $10,000 roundtrip. Economy Comfort is around $3,000 and  economy is about $1,700. (One stop business class on other airlines is running as low as $4,000, economy is at about $1,200)

Related: The #1 Boeing 787 Dreamliner hub in the US

KLM 787

Business class seats on KLM’s 787 Dreamliner (Photo: KLM)

The Dreamliner will be a far cry from the ancient MD11 that KLM only recently removed from regular service on the SFO route. The 306-passenger jet will offer a state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system, Wi-Fi for all passengers, and new World Business Class (WBC), Economy Comfort, and Economy class cabins designed by renowned Dutch Designer Hella Jongerius. It’s also outfitted with inflight Wi-Fi. And like other Dreamliners, the plane will have larger windows, a higher cabin pressure and special LED-lighting.

There are 42 seats in business class, 48 in economy comfort (35 inches of pitch) and 216 standard economy seats (with 31 inches of pitch). See SeatGuru layout here. All business class seats have direct aisle access– no middle seats on this bird. Interestingly, every seat is a slightly hue of blue or gray and gets a 16-inch entertainment screen- as well as a smaller handset that mirrors the image on the main screen. Oh, and there’s inflight espresso, too.

Cool! Track all Boeing 787 Dreamliners in flight right now

Economy class seats on KLM's new 787 (Photo: KLM)

Economy class seats on KLM’s new 787 (Photo: KLM)

KLM says its economy class seats recline 40 percent more than previous models and have access a power outlet. There are also new 11-inch HD entertainment touchscreens, interactive 3D maps, and the option to communicate via Seat Chat with fellow passengers who are not seated nearby.

Take a virtual tour of the new plane here. 

KLM is a member of the SkyTeam alliance.

Have you flown KLM before? What did you think? 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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A look inside Delta’s newest jet (photos)

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.40.34 AM

Delta’s first Airbus A321 arrives (Photo: Delta)

Last week Delta welcomed a brand new aircraft to its fleet, the Airbus A321. This narrow-body aircraft seats 192 passengers– about as many as Delta’s workhorse 757s. In coming years, Delta’s new 737-900s as well as the A321s will replace its old and unloved fleet of Boeing 757s, which seat around 185 passengers, depending on configuration.

Delta will take on a total of 15 A321s this year, and 30 more by 2018. Initially the planes will come from Airbus’ assembly facility in Hamburg, Germany, but later on, deliveries will come from a new Airbus plant in Mobile, Alabama.

Initially the A321s will be deployed on routes between Atlanta and Florida cities, but eventually they will be used on longer haul domestic flights.

The A321 is super popular among US carriers these days– for example, both American and JetBlue use the A321 for their transcontinental flights between New York and California. American alone flies about 180 Airbus A321s.

Delta currently has about 125 Airbus A319’s and A320s– so how can you spot the difference between an Airbus A319, A320 and an A321? Read this TravelSkills planespotting post to find out! (Hint: Look at the doors.)

First class on a Delta A321

First class on a Delta A321 (Photo: Delta)

Delta’s A321 will seat 20 in first, 29 in Comfort+  and 143 economy. Delta says seats on the A321 are “among the widest in the industry.” All seats get live seatback satellite TV, wi-fi and 110v power outlets.

The plane also features larger, high-capacity overhead bins, LED ambient lighting, Delta’s new textured seat design.

Delta A321

Seatback entertainment and power plugs at every seat on Delta’s new A321 (Photo: Delta)

 

Delta A321

Comfort+ on Delta’s new A321 (Photo: Delta)

 

Delta A321

Delta’s A321 arrives (Photo: Delta)

UPDATE April 29: Today Delta announced that it has ordered 37 more Airbus A321s, and now has 82 of the new birds on the books.

Readers: What do you think of Delta’s newest jets? Are they better than its tatty 757s– most of which are more than 20 years old? Please leave your comments below. 

Related: Learn to spot the difference between Airbus A319, A320 and A321

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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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One easy, last chance to ride a United 747?

United 747 Chicago

A United 747 at Chicago O’Hare (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Although United won’t confirm it, it’s now being widely reported that the carrier is planning to retire its aging fleet of 747s earlier than expected. This could mean that its current fleet of 22 “queens of the sky” could fly away by the end of 2018– two years ahead of schedule.

But there’s one easy way you can jump on a United 747 on a rare domestic run…but more on that in a minute…

Delta has followed a similar, accelerated path to retiring its gas guzzling 747s. Last April it put six out to pasture, and plans to retire the final six by the end of next year, to be replaced by the newer, more efficient Airbus A350. Just last month, Air France celebrated the final flight of its last 747 after flying the plane as the mainstay of its intercontinental fleet for almost 46 years.

Brian Sumers, who first reported the United news, wrote: “For now, United flies 747s from San Francisco and Chicago. But this week, United also told pilots it will remove the 747 from Chicago in February 2017, leaving only San Francisco with 747 service.”

If you are feeling reminiscent about this beautiful bird, and fly frequent between Chicago and San Francisco, consider picking up a leg or two on an one of the few domestic 747 flights United is running this spring.

TravelSkills reader Daniel E emailed us this week with this tip: “Everyday from March 3 there is a 747  leaving SFO at 8:35am (UA1570) to Chicago, O’Hare. Then I dug around some more and there is another one returning from ORD to SFO, UA1213 leaving at 4:05 pm also from March 3. I’ve flown back and forth between San Francisco and Chicago A LOT in the last 10 years and wide bodies are rare, let alone a 747.”

We checked and sure enough, we found the 747 flights on SFO-ORD– and United confirmed to TravelSkills that it “will operate daily 747 service between March 3 – March 25 and then again from April 6 – May 25, 2016. The flights are loaded and available for purchase.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 3.03.22 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 3.22.15 PM

Wouldn’t it be nice to ride on a gorgeous and graceful 747 instead of the standard 737s or A320s United normally flies on this route? Maybe upgrade for a sweet ride upstairs in the business class bubble?

Still plenty of business class seats on the flights we selected (Image: United.com)

Still plenty of business class seats on the flights we selected (Image: United.com)

What do you think about the retirement of the 747… on United or other airlines? Will you miss it, or have you found a newer, younger more efficient favorite? 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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Deal alert: $499 roundtrip to Asia on Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines' new Boeing 777 can't fly to Singapore from the US (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Rock-bottom rates on flights to Seoul & Singapore on a B777 like this (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Say what? Round trip across the Pacific for less than $500? On Singapore Airlines?

Yep, and you found it here…and it’s only here on the TravelSkills.com blog: SFO to Seoul for $499, SFO to Singapore for $699.

TravelSkills has teamed up with Singapore Airlines on private sale that includes one the lowest transpacific fares I have ever seen: Just $499, including all taxes and fees, for roundtrips between San Francisco and Seoul on Singapore Airlines.

$499 for an 11,320-mile round trip. That works out to just four cents per mile!

And you are flying on one of the top-ranked airlines in the world to one of the world’s coolest, hippest, most up-and-coming destinations. (I’ll be writing more about the Seoul’s burgeoning food and hotel scene later this week!)

And the deal doesn’t end with SFO-Seoul. You can fly all the way to Singapore for just $100 more each way, so a total of just $699 roundtrip from SFO. Wait, what? 

Get this special deal here

Taking a look at the infinity pool atop the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore

Taking a look at the infinity pool atop the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore (Chris McGinnis)

I was in Singapore a couple years ago for BBC, and here’s what I saw– quite an amazing place! Hotels, like the Marina Bay Sands (pictured) are built to knock your socks off. The food scene, especially the outdoor “hawker stalls” are fun, healthy and super-diverse. If cold weather’s got you down, you’ll warm up in Singapore as its equatorial location means warm, tropical weather year-round. And Changi Airport itself is worthy of a trip! See this to find out exactly what I mean.

Seoul reminds me a lot of Tokyo— super modern and efficient. Wealthy. Clean. Gorgeous new hotels. A chic fashion-and-design-forward and super friendly population. Unusual food. And a nice climate in the Spring, which can range from 45-75 degrees F on average in March and April. Plus, Korea’s Cherry Blossom season in early April rivals what you see in Tokyo!

Get this special deal here

Unbelievable sights, sounds and flavors at Seouls indoor/outdoor food markets (Chris McGinnis)

Unbelievable sights, sounds and flavors at Seoul’s indoor/outdoor food markets (Chris McGinnis)

 A trip to either of these destinations would be an awesome way to spend a spring break vacation! 

UPDATE Feb 18: Response to this sale has been enormous, and many flights are now sold out. But if you are flexible with dates, you can still grab the deal.

Details of this exclusive offer are available to anyone using this link to our private sale:

  • Only available in economy class
  • The $499/$699 deal is only available via links found on this page
  • Book between now and February 21
  • Travel between March 1 and April 14
  • Not available on Fridays or Saturdays on outbound portion from SFO
  • Tickets are booked in K class, which earns 10% of miles flown in Singapore’s KrisFlyer program. K fares do not earn United MileagePlus or other airline miles

What’s so great about Singapore Airlines? It’s famous inflight service, of course! It also has more spacious 3-3-3 seating in economy class  while others have moved to a tighter 3-4-3 configuration. And there’s an unending supply of inflight entertainment via the Krisworld seatback system. (Don’t miss our Trip Report about Singapore’s renowned business class.)

Here’s a good video showing what it’s like to fly in economy class on Singapore Airlines between SFO and Seoul.

Seoul or Singapore for Spring Break? Why not? Conde Nast just wrote about Seoul’s coolest neighborhood.

Singapore Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 5.13.42 PM

Are you ready to book your trip? Here’s how!

Get this special deal here

 

Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! We will periodically send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel.  Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication. 


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Is the Boeing 747 nearing its end?

Boeing's iconic 747 is gradually flying off into the sunset. (Image: Jim Glab)

Boeing’s iconic 747 is gradually flying off into the sunset. (Image: Jim Glab)

The Boeing 747 has been a popular intercontinental aircraft since its first commercial passenger flight in 1970, but now the iconic jumbo jet’s days may be numbered.

Boeing said it plans to cut back production of the four-engine 747 from 12 a year to just six starting in September, not only because airlines continue to prefer more fuel-efficient twin-engine planes like the 777 and 787 for their long-haul needs, but also because a slowdown in global cargo demand has hurt orders for 747 freighters. The same trend has restricted orders for Airbus’ rival jumbo, the A380.

Major global airlines have been phasing the 747 out of their fleets for several years, with more to come. Just this month, Air France celebrated the final flight of its last 747 after flying the plane as the mainstay of its intercontinental fleet for almost 46 years.

Related: Trip Report- Korean Air 747-8 ICN-SFO

According to Airways News, other airlines that retired all their 747s in recent years include Air New Zealand, Air Canada, All Nippon, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Delta and United are phasing out their remaining jumbos as well.

But 747s will continue to be seen at airports worldwide as some carriers still find them useful for their needs. Lufthansa recently started flying the newest version of the aircraft — the 747-8 — on some U.S. routes; Korean Airlines last year started flying its first new 747-8 and has several more on order; and British Airways last summer started to refit the interiors of a number of its 747s to keep them going for the immediate future.

Newly refurbished economy section in a British Airways 747. (Image: British Airways)

Newly refurbished economy section in a British Airways 747. (Image: British Airways)

Readers: Where does the 747 rank on your list of preferred international aircraft? Will you be sorry to see them go?

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  United packages Economy Plus with amenities + Ride-sharing firm goes out of business + Bucket list for air travelers + Useless travel gadgets + ‘Uber of the Skies’ dies 

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Trip Report: Korean Air 747-8 First Class

Korean Air

Macadamia nuts (thankfully) served in a bowl. (Photo: J.S.)

In November, Korean Air deployed a shiny new Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental on the busy San Francisco-Seoul run, replacing the 777 it previously used. (See our KAL Trip Report about that flight here.)

Luckily, TravelSkills reader J.S. booked a trip on the new bird in December and shared his experience (and photos) with us, which we’ve formatted into one of our Reader Reports.

First, a little background on the 747-8:

Lufthansa was the first airline to fly the Boeing 747-8 back in 2012. Since then, this gorgeous aircraft has had sluggish sales. Korean Air has 10 of the jets on order. While the jet is constructed with aluminum alloys and carbon composites, it’s still seen as an inefficient four-engine aircraft by many. So far the only other commercial airline using it is Air China. Most 747-8s flying today are freighters.

This plane is known in the industry as the 747 “dash eight.” Don’t make the common mistake of calling it the “747-800.” It’s the largest version of the 747– about 18 feet longer than the 747-400, and currently the longest commercial aircraft flying.

(Image: Boeing)

(Image: Boeing)

The KAL version has 368 seats, and features a brand new enclosed-with-sliding-door version of Korean Air’s plush “Kosmo Suite” in which J.S. was lucky enough to fly. There are only six Kosmo suites on this bird, on the main deck in the nose. Each seat gets an enormous 24-inch HD screen for inflight entertainment.

A quick check of fares on SFO-ICN show economy class round trips as low as $800, business class at around $4,000 and first class at around $10,000 for February flights.

J.S. is an avid points and miles hobbyist and paid for his trip by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to Korean Air SkyPass. He told us: “As you probably know it’s incredibly easy to find first class space on Korean since so few people in the U.S. either have those miles or know about the transfer process from Chase.  In addition, even though Delta and Korean are both members of SkyTeam, Delta members cannot redeem their miles for first class on other SkyTeam carriers.”

What follows is the rest of his trip report:
Korean Air 747-8

(Image: Korean Air- click for larger view)

I flew on Korean Air in its first class Kosmo Suites 2.0 on their new 747-8.  The first class cabin has only six suites. (Lufthansa has eight seats on their 747-8, Cathay has 9 suites on their three remaining 747-400s, Thai has nine in their most recent configuration and British crams 14 suites into the nose of their 747s)

My Suite 1A:

Korean Air 747

Suite 1K taken from 1A below.  1A and 1K are perfect for folks flying together because they’re in the nose, close to one another and extremely private.  Suites 2A and 2K are the largest, followed closely by 3A and 3K. 

Because there was only one other person in First besides me I asked my flight attendant to make up my bed in 1K and I used 1A for lounging and eating. 

I LOVE having the nose cone of a 747 to myself.  I’ve had that happen on Qantas, British, Thai, Lufthansa, Korean and Asiana now.  Just lucky, I guess!

Korean Air 747-8

<<front of the plane is that way <<

First Class cabin taken from the nose backwards.  A cheerleading squad could easily perform a few maneuvers in the middle there:

Korean Ai 747-8

 

image010

I had eaten lunch at the hotel in Seoul and had a little food in the Korean Air First Class Lounge, so the plan was to just have caviar and go to sleep.  My flight attendant seemed utterly dejected that she could not serve me more so I felt obligated to continue:

Caviar service:

Korean Air 747-8

Prawn starter

image004

I watched The Eichmann Show (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4163668/). 

Suite with doors closed:

image008

Verdict: Aside from the Etihad Apartments (and Residence), you can’t get any more space in the air when flying First Class.  The new Korean Air Suites are just as large as the Singapore A380 Suites.  It’s extremely comfortable for both lounging and sleeping.  And I just love flying in the nose of a 747. 

With the rapid retirements we’re seeing of the 747-400s, there are only three ways you’re going to be able to fly in the nose of a 747 in the coming years: Korean and Lufthansa in First and Air China in Business.

–J.S.

Korean Air provided the photos below of the stairway to the upper deck (business class), and the new business class seat.

Picture1

(Image: Korean Air)

 

Picture3

Business class on Korean Air’s 787-8i (Photo: KAL)

Check out all our reader reports here. Interested in submitting one? Here are our Reader Report Guidelines. We’d love to hear from YOU.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  United packages Economy Plus with amenities + Ride-sharing firm goes out of business + Bucket list for air travelers + Useless travel gadgets + ‘Uber of the Skies’ dies 

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Etihad upgrades aircraft on San Francisco, New York routes

An Etihad Boeing 777-3FX (Photo: Etihad)

This Etihad Boeing 777-3FX is similar to the one soon to be deployed at SFO (Photo: Etihad)

Ever since it started flying to San Francisco from its Abu Dhabi home base more than a year ago, Etihad Airways has been using a 777 leased from India’s Jet Airways on the route instead of one of its own planes. The move lead to snickers that the service should be called “Jetihad” instead.

But those snickers will soon turn into smiles: Effective April 25, Etihad said it will replace the Jet Airways plane with the real deal: Its own 777-200LR.

It has also been using a Jet Airways 777 on one of its two daily New York JFK flights (EY 101/100), but on June 1 it will replace that aircraft with its own 777-300ER. The other JFK flight will continue to use an A380 super-jumbo.

The new San Francisco aircraft will be outfitted with eight first class seats, 40 in business class and 191 in economy for a total of 239 seats.

Its larger 777-300ER on the New York run will have eight seats in first, 40 in business and 280 in economy for a total of 328 seats.

Link to Etihad’s business class page

Business class on Etihad (Photo: Etihad)

Business class (Photo: Etihad)

TravelSkills reader SP commented, “I’m happy to see that it’s the same plane they fly to LAX, which is a great product. I was hoping maybe we’d get the 380 to rival Emirates, but that was probably wishful thinking! Still, I’m very happy to see real Etihad service finally coming to the Bay Area.  It’s a great option for the AA loyalists of us around here.”

Etihad has made a big splash recently among frequent flyers by rolling out a new three-room cabin onboard its A380 last December. The Residence includes a “living room,” private bathroom with shower, a bedroom with a double bed and a suited, London-trained butler. The Residence is one of many firsts Etihad has brought to the premium flying experience in recent years.

Last month, Etihad cut the ribbon on a new premium lounge at New York JFK — its second in the U.S. after Washington Dulles. The 7,000 square foot facility for first class and business class passengers has showers, a bar, a sitting area, and floor-to-ceiling windows. In San Francisco, Etihad passengers have access to Oneworld partner Cathay Pacific’s stellar, and recently expanded, lounge at SFO.

Etihad also operates daily flights to Chicago, Washington Dulles and Los Angeles, and three weekly flights to Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Have you or do you plan to fly Etihad one day soon? Please leave your comments below. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  United packages Economy Plus with amenities + Ride-sharing firm goes out of business + Bucket list for air travelers + Useless travel gadgets + ‘Uber of the Skies’ dies 

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‘Don’t seat me next to Trump’ + United snacks + Gogo’s new $3 pass + Holiday travel forecast

Here are some newsy nuggets from other sources that we missed on TravelSkills this week:

What's a stroopwafel? Find out soon on United. (Image: United)

What’s a stroopwafel? Find out soon on United. (Image: United)

United will bring back free snacks for economy passengers in February.

Gogo introduces new “messaging only” Wi-Fi pass for just $3.

Legroom, disruptive travelers top “passenger peeves” poll.

Air New Zealand tries facial recognition technology for bag drops at Auckland.

Business traveler survey identifies Trump as “worst seatmate.”

Odd video of the week: Artist fashions miniature Singapore Airlines seats out of paper.

Congressman files legislation to protect airline passengers’ bathroom rights.

Japan Airlines introduces a new domestic air pass for foreign visitors.

Airline group issues traffic forecast for a busy holiday travel period.

Airbus creates a design for “stacked seats” in A350 economy cabin.

Boeing rolls out the newest version of its popular 737.

Kuala Lumpur Airport tries to locate owner of three abandoned 747s.

KLM will use a robot to guide passengers around Schiphol Airport.

Starwood adds some members of Design Hotels group as its newest brand.

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  New Oakland-London route + Big hotel acquisition + Uber at Las Vegas McCarran + American’s international Premium Economy service + Healthy eating for travelers

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#1 Boeing 787 Dreamliner hub in the U.S.

United is concentrating its 787 fleet at San Francisco International. (Image: United)

United is concentrating its 787 fleet at San Francisco International. (Image: United)

With recent announcements of even more Dreamliner routes out of San Francisco International, United’s current and future routes at that airport will make it the biggest 787 hub in the U.S., according to a report in TheStreet.com.

United currently has 22 787 Dreamliners in its fleet and expects to take delivery of three more by the end of 2015.

Over the last several days, the carrier announced new 787 service from San Francisco to Xi’an, China as well as new upcoming routes to Auckland, New Zealand and Tel Aviv, Israel.

As we reported a couple of months ago, United is also planning to redeploy some 787s onto other transpacific routes from SFO, including Sydney, Taipei and Tokyo Haneda.

Related: Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

TheStreet.com noted that when all the route plans are in operation, United will be flying 787s from San Francisco to nine global destinations — more than any other U.S. airport.

A United executive told the publication that the economics of the 787 work best for routes out of the airline’s San Francisco hub. He said they are “the longest stage length flights in our system and the airplane will benefit you the most where you fly the longest flights, which offer the greatest fuel burn savings, and also {because} the West Coast is really competitive, so we are offering our best airplane product on the most competitive routes.”

Virgin Atlantic is one of several carriers putting 787 Dreamliners onto Bay Area routes. (Image: Virgin)

Virgin Atlantic is one of several carriers putting 787 Dreamliners onto Bay Area routes- starting this month. (Image: Virgin)

At SFO, United is currently using Dreamliners across the Pacific to Osaka, Japan and Chengdu, China; China Southern has 787 flights to Guangzhou; and Virgin Atlantic is poised to begin SFO-London Heathrow flights with a new 787-9 beginning October 24.

European budget carrier Norwegian has started flying Dreamliners from Oakland to both Oslo and Stockholm. And at San Jose, Dreamliners are available on flights to Tokyo Narita with ANA; to Beijing with Hainan Airlines; and next spring to London Heathrow with a new British Airways 787-9.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: New Two brand new United Clubs + Jennifer Aniston needs a shower + Best Megahub? + Big Hilton/SkyMiles bonus 

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More 787 Dreamliners headed west

Don’t miss! Our full report & slideshow of Delta’s new SFO Sky Club! Wow!

Look for more United 787s on transpacific routes next year. (Image: United)

Look for more United 787s on transpacific routes from California next year. (Image: United)

United has announced that it will be shifting most of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet from Houston to its West Coast hubs at San Francisco International and Los Angeles starting in Spring 2016.

When the redeployment is complete, it will fly the 787-9 on routes between SFO and Sydney, Taipei and Tokyo Haneda. In addition, it will fly SFO-Seoul with a 787-9 between Aug. 1 and Oct. 21, 2016.

From LAX it will fly new Dreamliners to Melbourne (Australia), Tokyo Narita,  Shanghai, Sydney and London Heathrow.

The Houston routes that it previously flew with the 787-9 will be replaced with Boeing 767s and Boeing 777s, and the 777s displaced from LAX and SFO will be re-assigned primarily to Newark, Chicago O’Hare and Washington Dulles.

Hainan Air arrives at SJC with 787 nonstops to Beijing (Photo: SJC)

Hainan Air arrives at SJC with 787 nonstops to Beijing (Photo: SJC)

Have you inhaled that new airplane smell on your own first Dreamliner flight yet?  Frequent flyers who want to experience Boeing’s newest widebody will find their best odds at the mega-gateways of Los Angeles and New York — but the Bay Area isn’t far behind.

The website Airlineroute.net recently compiled a handy listing of every route worldwide where the 787 is now flying, or is about to start flying soon. By our count, it includes 16 routes out of New York (JFK and Newark) and 16 out of Los Angeles International, with the Bay Area (San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose) currently in third place among U.S. gateways with nine (not counting United’s plans mentioned above).

At SFO, United is currently using Dreamliners across the Pacific to Osaka, Japan and Chengdu, China; China Southern has 787 flights to Guangzhou; and Virgin Atlantic is poised to begin SFO-London Heathrow flights with a new 787-9 beginning October 24.

European budget carrier Norwegian has started flying Dreamliners from Oakland to both Oslo and Stockholm. And at San Jose, Dreamliners are available on flights to Tokyo Narita with ANA; to Beijing with Hainan Airlines; and soon to London Heathrow with a new British Airways 787-9.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Delta’s new Sky Club at San Francisco International + LAX will allow Uber, Lyft pick-ups + British Airways coming to San Jose + Airbnb draws corporate customers 

Delta's new Sky Club offers Amelia Earhart a permanent runway view (Oil on canvas by Alexi Torres)

Don’t miss! Our full report & slideshow of Delta’s new SFO Sky Club! Wow!


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Trip Report: Air Canada B767 lie-flat business class SFO-Toronto

Air Canada

Flight attendants say seat 8A on Air Canada’s B767 is the best seat on the plane. Why? Read on! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Nearly every frequent traveler knows about those fancy flat bed seats flying between California and New York.

But did you know that you can also fly flat between San Francisco and Toronto-Pearson (YYZ) on Air Canada? (LAX-YYZ, too)

Last March, the Canadian carrier deployed a single daily B767 round trip on SFO-YYZ. It departs SFO at 11:35 a.m. and arrives in Toronto at about 7:30 p.m. The widebody departs Toronto at 8:00 a.m. and arrives SFO at 10:25 a.m.

While it would be nice to take advantage of those roomy lie-flat seats on an overnight flight, Air Canada has its 767 timed for connections at its Toronto hub. The flight from SFO arrives in Toronto just in time to meet several evening departures for Europe and Asia, which means business travelers can connect to another lie-flat flight for the transoceanic portion of their trips.

Fares: Since Air Canada and United have a code share (and monopoly) on this route, you can buy your ticket from either airline– but you’ll pay a premium for the lie-flat 767. Business class round trip fares for mid September run $3,200 on the B767, and $2,800 on its four other daily flights on A320s or A321s. Economy class round trips for mid-September are now about $885. (Virgin America and United both bailed on this route in 2011 and 2012, respectively.)

Regrettably, there is no wi-fi on this 767, but it does have it on some of its A320s on the route, including my return flight to SFO.

Air Canada invited me to check out the service last week on a two-day jaunt to Toronto. The airline covered the cost of my flight, and I paid hotel, meals and transfers. (Stay tuned for another Trip Report about my ride on Toronto’s new airport-to-city center train!)

Let’s jump onboard!

Air Canada

Air Canada B767-300ER(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada’s flights depart from the “A” side of SFO’s international terminal, which seemed odd since it is a Star Alliance and code sharing partner with United, which is on the “G” side.

Air Canada

Air Canada Boeing 767-300 business class cabin (Chris McGinnis)

The Boeing 767-300 ER has 24 business class seats in rows 1-8. Seats are configured 1-1-1. Seats along the left side window have their own aisle, which offers more privacy, while seats on the right share an aisle. If you are traveling alone, try to get the A side. Those traveling with someone else should sit across the aisle from each other on the F-K side to facilitate conversation.

Air Canada

Business class on Air Canada B767 (Chris McGinnis)

Seats are large, well-cushioned and very private. Headphones were (unusually) hardwired into the seats and could not be removed or replaced with personal headphones. High walls between seats make conversation with seat mates difficult. And due to the herringbone configuration, it’s tough to get a good view out the window.

Air Canada

Old school overhead bins on Air Canada’s B767 (Chris McGinnis)

The 767 is an older plane with smaller overhead bin space. These bins could barely accommodate a standard rollaboard carryon turned sideways. Since Air Canada plans to replace these old birds with new 787s, its unlikely that overhead bins will be replaced before they are retired. Nonetheless, there was no problem fitting all passenger carryons in the space provided.

Air Canada

The A side of business class offers the most privacy (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

These A seats along the right side window in business class are best for solo travelers.

Air Canada

Seat 8A is the best seat on Air Canada’s B767 (Chris McGinnis)

So here we are at seat 8A again. Why do flight attendants say this is the best seat on the plane? First, it’s very private, in it’s own cubby hole at the back of the section with a closet separating it from economy class. What’s even better is that it is the first seat in the cabin to get flight attendant service– just two flight attendants service the entire cabin, and those seated on the right side may miss out on the entree of choice.

Air Canada

Lie-flat comfort- sadly not enough time on this 4-5 hour flight to truly enjoy it (Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada

Air Canada’s business class seats are 21 inches wide (Chris McGinnis)

Business class seats are nice and wide and long enough to accommodate my 6′ frame comfortably. Downside is that all that space for your body takes up valuable storage space for your stuff, which means lots of getting up and down to get into the backpack or briefcase. Nonetheless, my biggest regret is that I was not able to spend the night in this nice cozy blue cocoon!

Air Canada

Seat in full recline (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada

A three course meal with mains to choose from on SFO-YYZ lunchtime flight  (Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Warm  nuts to start.

Air Canada

Starter salad (Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada

Chicken breast with tagine sauce (Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada

A choice of two whites and two reds (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada

Beef tenderloin (Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada

Pan seared Atlantic salmon (Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada

Light gelato and fruit for dessert (Chris McGinnis)

Overall, the inflight dining experience was excellent, with pleasing portions and very good flavor. However, the presentation is a bit bland compared to what we’ve seen recently in premium cabins on JetBlue (see Trip Report) or Virgin America (See Trip Report) transcons. My suggestion would be for flight attendants to primp the dishes a bit before serving, and maybe add a sprig of parsley or other garnish. Otherwise, the food comes out looking factory-made even though it does not taste that way.

Air Canada

Economy class on Air Canada B767 (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class seats are configured 2-3-2 and appeared to be very comfortable. Plus each seat has a big screen, USB port and power outlet.

Air Canada

Economy class on Air Canada B767 (Chris McGinnis)

Air Canada

Economy class on Air Canada B767 (Chris McGinnis)

View from the roof of the Thomspon Hotel Toronto (Chris McGinnis)

View from the roof of the Thomspon Hotel Toronto (Chris McGinnis)

After landing at YYZ, I stayed at the hip Thompson Hotel Toronto for two nights, then flew back to SFO on an Air Canada A320. Here’s a mini-review of the Thompson hotel. 

–Chris McGinnis

Check out all recent TravelSkills Trip Reports!

Disclosure: Air Canada covered the cost of Chris’s roundtrip airfare to Toronto

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Avoiding long customs & immigration lines  + Fingerprint as boarding pass? + Hotel rate shocker  + More!


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SWISS schedules brand new Boeing 777s (photos)

First class seats on SWISS's new 777-300ERs have 32-inch video monitors. (Image: SWISS)

First class seats on SWISS’s new 777-300ERs have 32-inch video monitors. (Image: SWISS)

Lufthansa subsidiary SWISS will make a big upgrade to its long-haul fleet next year with the delivery of nine new Boeing 777-300ERs. San Francisco and Los Angeles are among the routes where the planes will first be deployed.

SWISS said the new widebodies will start flying from Zurich to both West Coast cities when its summer 2016 schedule takes effect; it currently operates A340-300s on both routes. The new 777s will carry 340 passengers, with eight seats in first class, 62 in business and 270 in economy.

First class seating transforms into a private suite with a 32-inch video screen, electrically-adjustable window blinds and a “personal wardrobe,” the airline said. Business class seats convert into a fully flat bed six feet seven inches long and have cushions whose firmness can be set to the passenger’s preference. Economy class will get new seat cushion technology and big touch-screens.

Business class seats recline to fully flat beds. (Image: SWISS)

Business class seats recline to fully flat beds. (Image: SWISS)

“In addition to the regular cabin service, all SWISS Economy guests will be able to make use of a self-service kiosk offering a wide range of drinks and snacks,” a spokesperson said. And the new 777s will have Wi-Fi throughout.

In addition to its LAX and SFO routes, SWISS will operate the new 777-300ERs to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Sao Paulo and Tel Aviv.  A SWISS representative told TravelSkills that the SFO-Zurich route will initially get the new plane three times a week, offering an A340 on the other four days, while the 777-300ER will fly the LAX route seven days a week .

Passengers will also get the benefit of SWISS’s incredible in-flight cuisine. See our recent Trip Report on what that’s like. And scroll down to see more of the interiors on the new 777-300ERs.

A first-class dining experience in first class.. (Image: SWISS)

A first-class dining experience in first class. (Image: SWISS)

Economy class on SWISS's new 777-300ER. (Image: SWISS)

Economy class on SWISS’s new 777-300ER configured 3-4-3.  (Image: SWISS)

Another view of business class seating. (Image: SWISS)

Another view of business class seating. (Image: SWISS)

Here’s a video fly-through of the nice new bird:

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Upgrades on United + TripAdvsior punked + Hotel resort fees okayed + 80,000 Marriott points + More!


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You can’t get there from here

Singapore Airlines' new Boeing 777 can't fly to Singapore from the US (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Airlines’ newest Boeing 777-300ER can’t fly nonstop to Singapore from the US (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Today’s long-range aircraft technology makes it possible to fly non-stop almost anywhere in the world. So what’s wrong with Singapore? It’s a financial and commercial powerhouse in the Asia/Pacific region, but you can’t fly there from the U.S. without an intermediate stop.

Singapore Airlines used to offer non-stop flights from both Los Angeles and Newark, using 100-seat all-business-class Airbus A340-500s, but it discontinued both routes in the fall of 2013, and now offers only one-stop service from the U.S. But the airline’s CEO told Bloomberg News he wants to see a revival of non-stops.

According to the Bloomberg report, Singapore is in discussions with both Boeing and Airbus regarding the development of “a new plane with new technology that would allow it to fly non-stop to the U.S.”

Obviously the airline’s old A340-500s were capable of that feat, but the plane’s four engines burned too much fuel to make the service viable from a profitability standpoint.

Related: First look at Singapore Airlines’s newest jet

The Newark-Singapore non-stops were the longest in the world, at 9,000 nautical miles, and the LAX-Singapore route was the second-longest, at 7,500. Modern long-range jets have two engines and are more fuel-efficient. Boeing’s 777-200LR can fly 8,625 nautical miles, Bloomberg said, and Airbus’ new A350 is rated at up to 8,200.

But the airline’s CEO also told Bloomberg that Singapore has had trouble securing so-called Fifth Freedom rights, which would allow it to carry passengers between the U.S. and an intermediate country.

Singapore Airlines currently flies from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Singapore via Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul; from New York via Frankfurt and from Houston via Moscow.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Free airport parking? + Fastest airlines  + CLEAR goes cardless + Cool gasoline price heat map + More!

This month’s TravelSkills sponsor is InsureMyTrip.com!

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Watch this Dreamliner soar! (VIDEO)

Have you ever seen a passenger jet take off almost vertically? Wow (Image: Boeing)

Have you ever seen a passenger jet take off almost vertically? Wow (Image: Boeing)

This week Boeing released a video of its newest 787-9 Dreamliner practicing some graceful maneuvers in preparation for this week’s Paris Air Show.

Must see this for the awesome near vertical take off!

Watch this bird soar!

How would you like to be onboard for this flight? I would!

Here BBC explains how planes can take off at near vertical angles like this.

More about the Paris Air Show here— it’s one of the largest aviation gatherings in the world where industry professionals as well as the general public get to see what’s new in the sky.

Related: Boeing Dreamliner grounded: My report from Tokyo

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Gogo prices rise 50 percent  + Virgin America adds seatback Pac-Man + Big Delta aircraft purchase

 


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Delta plans big aircraft purchase

Delta 737-900ER. (Image: Boeing)

Delta 737-900ER. (Image: Boeing)

Delta said it will add 60 new aircraft to its domestic fleet once its rank-and-file pilots ratify a labor agreement already endorsed by the pilots’ leadership council.

When that happens, Delta said, it will move ahead with aircraft acquisitions including 20 Embraer E190s and another 40 Boeing 737-900ERs.

The E190s are currently held by Boeing after being previously operated by another airline. Delta said these 98-seat planes will be part of its mainline fleet, and will enter service late next year. The airline noted that the addition of these larger regional aircraft will “continue the shift of flying away from inefficient 50-seat regional jets as part of the company’s successful up-gauging strategy.”

Related: Planespotting B737 vs A320

The order for 40 more 737-900ERs will bring Delta’s total order for that model to 140 planes. They’ll be used to replace other single-aisle aircraft as they are retired from the fleet through 2019, Delta said.

Delta’s 737-900ERs have 20 seats in first class, 21 in Delta Comfort and 139 in the main cabin, and a range of 2,870 miles.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Gogo prices rise 50 percent  + New hotels in Miami, Philadelphia, Seattle + Delta’s facelift at LAX + Netflix coming to Marriott guest rooms + Will carry-on bags shrink? + Big red tail back at SFO


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What the near future holds for Delta

Will Delta eventually get the Boeing Dreamliner? (Image: Boeing)

Will Delta eventually get the Boeing Dreamliner? (Image: Boeing)

Delta CEO Richard Anderson recently sat down with AP travel reporter Scott Mayerowitz for a wide ranging interview that’s a great read for TravelSkills readers, many of whom use the airline frequently. 

Some highlights:

>Despite a very heavy summer travel season ahead, Anderson is confident that Delta’s operational stats will be off the charts– he’s proud of the fact that Delta has improved significantly in flight delays, pointing to a recent 95-day run without a single mainline cancellation. (However, regional operations are a different story, as you’ll see here.)

>Anderson is confident that cheap oil will be the norm in the near term and is basing his decisions on oil prices remaining well under $100 for a while. He thinks the US will be completely petroleum independent by 2020 due to enhanced drilling techniques (like fracking).

Chatting with Delta CEO Richard Anderson (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

TravelSkills chatting with Delta CEO Richard Anderson last year in Atlanta (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

>Delta plans to continue its conservative fleet management program by refurbishing older planes and buying used ones instead of new ones. However, Delta is looking closely at the yet-to-be-produced stretch version of the Boeing’s Dreamliner, the 787-10.

>Anderson thinks Cuba’s infrastructure is going to keep it from being a major travel industry player any time soon, although he does predict that Delta will fly there. (I agree that it’s going to be a slow road for tourism in Cuba.)

>He’s more gung-ho about building up Delta operations in Shanghai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo. He’s big on expanding partnerships with China Southern and China Eastern in Shanghai and Beijing

Here’s the link to the full story from AP. 

Related: Here’s Chris’s big summer outlook report from TravelSkills HQ! Please tune in for a look-see 🙂

 


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Trip Report: Factory to Hong Kong on a new Cathay Pacific 777

(Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

(Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Do you ever wonder how an airplane makes its way from the factory to the airport? Well, we found out recently when Cathay Pacific invited TravelSkills aboard the “delivery flight” of its fiftieth Boeing 777-300ER aircraft flying from the factory in Seattle to Hong Kong.

The sneak peek flight was a special experience for invited media, travel agents, and top Cathay customers to sample the carrier’s products while also witnessing an important milestone for both Cathay Pacific and Boeing.

With the largest fleet of 777s among Asian carriers (67 in total), and the second largest in the world (behind Emirates), Cathay Pacific is an important Boeing customer. In fact, Cathay Pacific launched its newest route from Hong Kong to Boston on the day after the delivery flight.

Related: Boston to Hong Kong in 16 hours

The ceremonial handing over of keys from Boeing to Cathay (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

The ceremonial handing over of keys from Boeing to Cathay (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

All airlines handle their delivery flights differently, and Cathay wanted to make this a special occasion given this was their fiftieth 777-300ER. Also parked nearby during the ceremony was a Lufthansa Boeing 747-800 aircraft and a Turkish Airlines Boeing 777-300ER. Both planes were making their own delivery flights that day, but with decidedly less fanfare.

It was especially interesting to learn that new aircraft are delivered to airline customers almost daily, sometimes two or three per day. That’s why Boeing built this special Boeing Delivery Center building with two jet bridges, numerous meeting and banquet spaces, and a Boeing collectibles shop. The space is often the location for celebratory events, and full catering facilities are in place.

Before boarding, a Boeing executive thanked Cathay Pacific for a strong partnership over the years and spoke briefly to the crowd waiting to board the plane. With the giant Boeing 777-300ER in the background, Boeing gave Cathay executives a ceremonial key. More like a car or house key, the symbolic gesture signals the official ownership by the airline.

Economy class on Cathay Pacific's  new B777 (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Economy class on Cathay Pacific’s new B777 (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

On the tarmac, all those that were traveling aboard the flight gathered around for a ribbon cutting ceremony. Most unique was that all received boarding passes with the city name “Boeing Paine Field” to Hong Kong.

With only about 50 passengers on board a plane designed for 330 people, the delivery flight was like having your own personal plane. Following a tarmac tour of the plane and plenty of photo opportunities, passengers went through a security check.

The Boeing Delivery Center is equipped with two short jet bridges making the experience similar to an airport, but far more festive.

Related: Sadly, 747s are flying away

Business class on a brand new Boeing 777-300ER- with that "new plane" smell (Photo: Ramsey Qubein(

Business class on a brand new Boeing 777-300ER- with that “new plane” smell (Photo: Ramsey Qubein(

All of us were seated in the herringbone-style business class cabin, which features enormous entertainment screens and flat-bed seating. The back of the plane was empty, almost eerie to see, but everyone was free to wander around the aircraft at any time.

Cathay has had strong success with its new premium economy cabin, and after testing it out, it is clear why. The recline is almost double that of the standard economy seat, and since it is situated in its own mini cabin behind business class, it seems quieter and more intimate.

Cathay's premium economy seats are located in a small, intimate section behind business class (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Cathay’s premium economy seats are located in a small, intimate section behind business class (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Other than the free reign that travelers had on board, everything else was standard procedure. The safety video played as the aircraft taxied to the runway with Boeing employees standing on either side of the taxiway to wave goodbye.

Cabin crew, specially selected to work this important flight, were as gracious and hospitable as can be. And that is not easy on a flight like this one where passengers spend hours wandering up and down the aisles, enjoying cocktails and wine while chatting with other passengers, and poking around all parts of the plane in exploration.

Many passengers donned Cathay’s pajamas distributed prior to take off, which was a special treat since they are typically reserved only for first class passengers.

Cocktail service from two tiered cart (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Cocktail service from two tiered cart (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Cathay began the first meal service with cocktails delivered from a two-tier cart and warm cashews. This is followed with an appetizer and salad tray. The main course is served from the same two-tier cart with all of the options on display. This is a really nice way to allow passengers to choose their meal since they can see what everything looks like before ordering. A cheese and fruit course follows with cordials and chocolates.

Business class meal on Cathay Pacific delivery flight (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Business class meal on Cathay Pacific delivery flight (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Throughout the flight, snacks were available from the menu, and two hours before landing another hot meal was served. Many passengers enjoyed themselves so much that the 13-hour flight passed too quickly– with only a few frequent naps and snacks in between.

Since this was a special experience, Cathay allowed us into the cockpit during flight to chat with the pilots and get a birds-eye view of the Pacific Ocean on this mostly daytime flight. Photos were not allowed, but on landing, passengers were permitted to snap photos of the crew bunks. They are located in the back of the plane up a steep climb of stairs. Having to duck down to pass through the narrow corridor, there are nearly a dozen bunks with curtains for privacy.

Cathay's crew rest area located over economy seats at the rear of the B777 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Cathay’s crew rest area located over economy seats at the rear of the B777 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Upon arrival in Hong Kong our shiny new 777 pulled up to a standard gate on arrival, and passengers deplaned like any commercial flight.

Cathay Pacific really impressed us with the detail they took to make this iconic delivery a special experience for everyone involved.

–Ramsey Qubein

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Star Wars invade DEN + United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + Big new carrier for ATL+ Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 


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United revamps fleet- for the better?

United is giving up on 10 new 787-9s it had ordered.

United is giving up on 10 new 787-9s like this one it had ordered. (Photo: Jeffrey S./Flickr)

In announcing its quarterly results last week, United Airlines revealed plans to make some major changes in the makeup of its fleet.

For starters, the airline will swap out an existing order with Boeing for 10 787-9 Dreamliners to 10 777-300ERs instead. United also said it will extend the lifespan of 21 767-300s that had been slated for retirement by adding winglets to them to save fuel; those aircraft will replace some 757s on medium-haul international routes. As nice as a new 777 is, they don’t come with those nice big Dreamliner windows and curvy wings.

Related: Flying on a shiny new United Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Also, 10 of United’s existing 777-200s will be pulled off international service and overhauled to fly regularly scheduled domestic routes — something you don’t see very often with twin-aisle aircraft. (That’s good news for domestic flyers– wider is almost always better.)

And like its rivals, United will continue to pull 50-seat jets out of its United Express fleet — 130 of them by the end of this year — as the industry trend to larger regional jets continues.

ALSO…According to Airlineroute.net, which tracks planned changes in airlines’ route networks, United will switch from single-aisle 757s to twin-aisle 767s on four Europe routes out of Newark, including Berlin starting in June, and Hamburg, Madrid and Barcelona effective October 25 …

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Turkish Airlines pinging Silicon Valley (VIDEO)

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

Turkish Airlines inaugural flight with San Francisco mural arrives at SFO (Image: San Francisco International Airport)

This week, San Francisco International welcomed Turkish Airlines inaugural Boeing 777 flight from Istanbul, and TravelSkills was there on the runway to capture the moment. (I was there broadcasting live using the new Periscope app in my iPhone. Are you on it yet? If so, be sure and follow me!)

Turkish is pushing hard for the Bay Area tech crowd, and even created a special livery (above) to commemorate the new flight. The B777 on the route sports a colorful mural of San Francisco in the left side of the plane, and a similar mural of Istanbul on the right side.

The right side of Turkish Airlines B777 is a mural of Istanbul (Chris McGinnis)

The right side of Turkish Airlines B777 is a mural of Istanbul (Chris McGinnis)

>Clearly hoping to appeal to techies, Turkish created a clever riff on HBO’s Silicon Valley TV series with a video (see below) and a sponsored post on BuzzFeed about why SF and Istanbul are two long lost sister cities.

Recent: Is United’s food getting better? 

>San Francisco is the carrier’s seventh U.S. destination. It also flies to: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington DC. Atlanta is rumored to be its next destination, and it did not go unnoticed on us that the carrier’s newly appointed PR company is located there.

>Turkish is fast growing, with a modern fleet and easy (but crowded) hub in Istanbul. It’s an excellent new option for travelers headed to Greece (one stop SFO-Mykonos!), or elsewhere in Eastern Europe. It’s also competing with the big UAE carriers like Emirates and Etihad for tech travelers headed to India. For example, it competes with Etihad and United for the shortest flight times (21-23 hours each way, one stop) between SFO and Mumbai.. 

Recent: Brand new(ish) hotel brand in New York, San Francisco

>The flight time between LA or San Francisco and Istanbul is around 12-13 hours depending on winds. From the east coast, flight time is around 10-11 hours.

>On its Boeing 777-300ER serving SFO, Turkish offers 300 economy seats,  and 49 flat bed business class seats, but no premium economy, as you’ll find on LAX-IST. All seats  are leather and have individual on-demand video entertainment screens at every seat on its 777s. Plus there’s wi-fi onboard and it’s free in business class.

>Turkish is a member of the Star Alliance. Business class passengers get access to United’s business class lounge at SFO’s International Terminal G.

Here’s our previous TravelSkills report on Turkish Airlines in the US.

Have you flown Turkish Airlines yet? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

 


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Planespotting 101: Boeing 757, 767

A Delta 757-200 landing at Princess Juliana airport on St Maarten (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

A Delta 757-200 landing at Princess Juliana airport on St Maarten- note the beak & landing gear (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

Pilots, planespotters and aviation buffs can quickly recognize nearly every aircraft type from the ground or in the air.

But it’s not so easy for the rest of us.

To help TravelSkills readers confidently recognize what they see overhead or out on the runway, we are going to offer up a series of posts dedicated to Planespotting 101. (Here are the two previous post about the Boeing 717 and MD80/90 series and Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320)

Nearly everyone has an opinion about the Boeing 757. Most economy class passengers loath the narrow body because of the tight 3×3 seating and length of the fuselage. (Have you ever had to squeeze into row 48? Ick.)

However, airlines love the 757 for its ability to haul large numbers of passengers (around 200) across long distances using as little fuel as possible. Some airlines even use 757s on transatlantic runs these days. First class passengers like the 757 because of the relative isolation and peace of the first class cabin, which is separated from economy by a galley or lavatory.

The 767 is more beloved because it is a wide body (two aisles) which gives it a much more open feel on the inside. Depending on version, it carries around 250 passengers. United flew the first 767 in 1982, and in 1985, it was the first two-engine aircraft allowed to fly transoceanic routes.

Are lower fuel costs resulting in lower airfares?

A Delta SkyTeam 767 taking off from SFO (Courtesy Robbie Plafker)

A Delta SkyTeam 767 landing at JFK-note the landing gear and chubbiness (Courtesy Robbie Plafker)

On the outside, the 757 and 767 look similar and can be easy to confuse, unless of course you see them side-by-side as you can here.

Why so easily confused? Well, both have two underwing engines and similar conical tail cones. Some airlines have installed tall winglets on both 757s and 767s, so that’s no longer a distiguishing feature.

As to the the differences, the narrow body 757 appears thinner  and longer than the wide body 767, which of course is fatter.

The 757 has a “dolphin” shaped nose (see the beak?) compared to the 767’s more conical nose.

How to find roomy domestic widebody flights

See the dolphin shaped nose and the location of landing gear on this Thompson 757? (Photo: Andrew Thomas / Flickr)

See the dolphin shaped nose and the location of landing gear on this Thompson 757? (Photo: Andrew Thomas / Flickr)

Note the position of the front landing gear and conical shape of the nose on this 767? (Photo: Simon_Sees / Flickr)

Note the position of the front landing gear and conical shape of the nose on this 767? (Photo: Simon_Sees / Flickr)

The front landing gear on a 767 is far forward– almost underneath the cockpit, while on the 757 it is much further back– underneath the first passenger doorway. The 757 also has longer stork-like “legs” and appears to ride higher off the ground.

Boeing stopped making the 757 in 2005, but there are still 1,030 still in service. The aircraft most likely to replace the Boeing 757 seems to be the new Airbus A321. The Airbus equivalent of the Boeing 767 is the A330, plus there is Boeing’s own 787 Dreamliner, both of which we will examine in future Planespotting 101 posts.

Now that you’ve boned up on your Boeing 757 and 767- can you identify the plane below?

(Photo courtesy Robbie Plafker)

What is it? A Boeing 757 or 767? (Photo courtesy Robbie Plafker)

–Chris McGinnis

Have you been following our super popular Planespotting 101 series? Check out our first two installments here: 

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

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Where will American fly its shiny new 787 Dreamliners?

American Airlines 787 - Business Class

Note the forward and rear facing seats on American’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: AA)

American Airlines has started taking delivery of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and just announced it will put the planes into commercial service for the first time this spring, starting with domestic flights in May and international routes in June.

That will make American the second major U.S. carrier to put the Boeing widebodies into service; United is already flying more than a dozen 787s, and has about 60 more on order. There are no 787s at Delta right now, or in its immediate future.

If you’re an AA regular and would like to be among the first to sample the new aircraft, here are the details: The first American 787 flight will operate between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Chicago O’Hare starting May 7; international routes on the 787 deployment schedule include DFW-Beijing starting June 2 and DFW-Buenos Aires beginning June 4. More routes will be added during 2015 as additional Dreamliners join the fleet, American said.

Nasty! Watch flu particles disperse on plane

American Airlines 787 - Main Cabin

Economy class on American’s new Dreamliners. Love that blue ceiling! (Photo: AA)

The American Airline 787-8s will have business class and economy cabins, providing 28 fully-flat Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration; 48 Main Cabin Extra seats; and 150 regular economy seats. The Main Cabin Extra and regular economy seating will have a 3-3-3 layout. (No first class on these birds.)

Business class will feature both forward- and rear-facing seats to allow direct aisle access for all passengers, and AA’s 787 business cabin will offer a walk-up bar with snacks and drinks. The aircraft will be equipped with satellite-based WiFi, and all seats in both cabins will have AC power outlets and USB jacks.

American has ordered 42 787s, with options for another 58. Although American is well behind United in deploying the new wide-bodies, it is perhaps fortunate in another way: It didn’t have to go through all the angst and schedule disruptions that United and other early customers suffered due to the problems of 787 batteries overheating and sparking fires — a situation that took months to correct.  See our Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

8 things every frequent flyer wants

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 11.27.09 AM

Flying onboard a brand new United Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Click to read post (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

United currently operates 787s on some routes linking its U.S. hubs, and on select intercontinental routes, mostly between the U.S. and Asia, like Denver-Tokyo, Los Angeles-Tokyo and Los Angeles-Shanghai. Most recently, United deployed the newest Dreamliner model — the 787-9 — onto its LAX-Melbourne route, making it the world’s longest Dreamliner flight.

Check out our popular report from last year about flying on a brand new United 787.

There was some speculation last year that Delta might turn to Boeing for an upcoming order of new widebodies, including 787-9s and 777-300ERs, but instead Delta went with Airbus. The Atlanta-based carrier ordered 25 Airbus A350-900s — the manufacturer’s newest twin-aisle aircraft — and 25 A330-900neos, a deal worth an estimated $6 billion.

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

 

Have you been following our super popular Planespotting 101 series? Check out our first two installments here: 

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

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Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Can you tell the difference between the 737 and A320 in this shot? (Angelo DeSantis / Flickr)

Can you tell the difference between the A320 and the B737 in this shot? (Angelo DeSantis / Flickr)

Pilots, planespotters and aviation buffs can quickly recognize nearly every aircraft type from the ground or in the air.

But it’s not so easy for the rest of us.

To help TravelSkills readers confidently recognize what they see overhead or out on the runway, we are going to offer up a series of posts dedicated to Planespotting 101. (Here’s last week’s post about the Boeing 717 and MD80/90 series)

Today let’s look at two ubiquitous planes – the Boeing 737 family and the Airbus A320 family

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.58.40 PM

See the pointy nose on the Boeing 737? The dorsal-like fin leading up to the tail? (Photo: Colin Brown / Flickr)

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 4.00.53 PM

See the more bulbous nose on the Airbus? (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

The Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 are two of the most popular single-aisle planes flying. They are about the same size and look quite similar to the untrained eye.

The 737 is Boeing’s most widely produced aircraft and has nine variants flown by almost all major domestic airlines, especially Southwest, which operates only 737s and has 665 of ’em! Delta flies about 100.

The Airbus A320 (along with the similar A318, 319 and 321) is more popular overseas, but in the US, they comprise 100% of Virgin America’s fleet and much of JetBlue’s. US Airways has the largest Airbus fleet in the world, including nearly 270 in the A320 family. United has about 160. Delta has 105 A319s and A320s.

8 things every frequent flyer wants

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 4.16.17 PM

Note the Airbus nose and windows (PurplePoulpe / Flickr)

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 4.15.47 PM

Note the pointy nose and angular window in the Boeing (PurplePoulpe / Flickr)

The easiest way to tell the difference between a 737 and an A320 is by looking at the nose of the plane. Boeing jets tend to have pointy noses compared to Airbus noses which are more rounded and bulbous.

You can also look at the outer edge of the cockpit windows. On a 737, the windows have a sharp diagonal corner while the A320s windows are more square.

Also, look at the tail of both jets. The 737 has tail has small dorsal- like fin that extends at a slight angle from the top of the fuselage to the tail. That’s absent on the A320’s smaller tail. See it? The A320 also has a larger, more distinctive tail cone than the 737.

When flying the 737 or A320, do you notice much difference? Do you have a preference? Please leave your comments below. 

(Here’s last week’s planespotting post about the Boeing 717 and MD80/90 series)

–Chris McGinnis

In Case You Missed It…

Did you miss Saturday’s or Sundays issues of our weekend edition? Here ya go: 

United discounts awards + Delta eliminates chart + More Starbucks + United packs 777s + Southwest challenges Delta

KAL’s new biz class + Cheap biz class to London + Airline scents + Busiest airport? + Spate of new hotels

 

New breed of hotel discount sites

End of the hotel room phone?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check-in

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Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

The good old DC9 was the model for a long line of modern jets (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

The good old DC9 spawned a long line of modern jets (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

Pilots, planespotters and aviation buffs can quickly recognize nearly every aircraft type from the ground or in the air.

But it’s not so easy for the rest of us.

To help TravelSkills readers confidently recognize what they see overhead or out on the runway, we are going to offer up a series of posts dedicated to Planespotting 101.

Today, let’s start small and take a look at the Boeing 717, MD-80/90 series. All were based on the good old DC-9 (built between 1965 and 1982), which means they all look very similar to the untrained eye.

Here’s a look at the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737

Delta retired its last DC-9 in January 2014.

Boeing 717 (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

Boeing 717 (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

Hawaiian and Delta are the only two US airlines operating Boeing 717s (Prayitno / Flickr)

Hawaiian and Delta are the only two US airlines operating Boeing 717s (Prayitno / Flickr)

The most distinguishing feature of Boeing 717s, the smallest Boeing plane, is its T-shaped tail with engines at the back flanking either side of the tail.

717s are operated in the U.S. only by Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Air Lines. (AirTran’s 717s were retired at the end of 2014).

A Delta MD-80 (Mr.TinDC / Flickr)

The fuselage on an MD-80/90 tends to be longer than the 717  (Mr.TinDC / Flickr)

A Swiss MD-83 (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

A Swiss MD-83 (Aero Icarus / Flickr)

The MD-80 family (mostly flown by Allegiant, American and Delta) and MD-90 planes (mostly flown by Delta) have similar features like the T-shaped tail with smaller, thinner engines on either side, and a “pinched” tailcone. (See the “pointy” cone on the DC-9 at the top to compare.) No other commercial aircraft has a T-shaped tail, with the exception of regional jets.

Look for the unpainted outline near the top of the T on the 717

Look for the unpainted outline near the top of the T on the 717

The easiest way to tell the difference between at MD-80/90 and a Boeing 717? The 717 has an unpainted outline near the “stabilizer” at the top of the tail’s T shape. See it on the Hawaiian Airlines 717 to the right? It’s not there on the MD80/90 series. Also, check the engines. The 717 engines are fatter compared to most MD80/90 engines which are narrower and have more tapered ends. Also, the fuselage on the MD-80/90 series tends to be longer than the 717.

What’s best about flying on one of these plane? I’d have to say sitting in first class– with the engines so far away from the front, all you can hear is the wind whistling by your window and the ice cubes tinkling in your cocktail 🙂

Please share your planespotting tips or advice in the comments below! How do YOU tell the difference between a 717 and MD-80 or 90? 

Here’s a look at the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737

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4 comfortable classes on JAL’s Sky Suite 777

Check out the knee room in economy class on Japan Airlines' new Sky Suite 777 (photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the knee room (34 inches) in economy class on Japan Airlines’ new Sky Suite 777 (photo: Chris McGinnis)

Japan Airlines is making a big push to win back the hearts and wallets of frequent travelers, and in the US it is deploying its slick new Sky Suite 777 to do so.

Just this week, it added the newly configured aircraft to the busy San Francisco-Tokyo Haneda run, replacing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the route. JAL also flies the newly configured B777-300ER Sky Suite to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

When I first heard that JAL’s Boeing  787 Dreamliner being pulled off SFO-HND, I thought a downgrade was in store. But in fact, JAL’s new four-class, 232-seat Sky Suite 777 offers much, much more on this lucrative transpac route. JAL’s 186-seat B787 only offered only two seats: an unpopular angled lie-flat seat business class and a standard economy seat.

I learned all about this when JAL threw an elegant reception last month to introduce the new plane to San Francisco business travelers. Under a big tent at the Hyatt Regency near the airport, JAL had seats from all four classes on display.

Here’s what I saw:

JAL's new business class Sky Suite offers direct aisle access from every seat. This is what you'd see if peering in the window. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

JAL’s new business class Sky Suite offers direct aisle access from every seat. This is what you’d see if peering in the window. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The best part about this new service is JAL’s business class Sky Suite. The 2-3-2 configuration is staggered allowing direct aisle access from each of the 49 seats. This means that the middle seat is now probably the BEST seat on the plane– it has two access points to either aisle, lots of space to spread out and work in near total privacy. (These are the E seats in rows 5-12) Business class seats have big 23-inch entertainment screens and Panasonic noise canceling headsets. There is also On-Air wi-fi throughout the plane. Business class fares between SFO and Tokyo are currently at about $6,000 round trip for December trips.

If $6,000 is too much for your travel budget, you can now opt for Sky Premium economy class. This new class offers an extra four inches of seat pitch, plus seats have fixed backs and slide forward to recline, so you don’t have anyone reclining into your space. (My photos of this seat at the event did not turn out well, so here are JAL’s photos.) Sky Premium economy passengers get airport lounge access (nice!) and priority check-in lines. There are 40 premium economy seats that are selling for about $2,500 round trip on SFO-HND for mid-January trips.

Helpful: How to get from Haneda Airport to Tokyo

JAL's new Sky Wider economy class seat feels a lot more comfortable than it looks in this photo (Chris McGinnis)

JAL’s new Sky Wider economy class seat feels a lot more comfortable than it looks in this photo (Chris McGinnis)

I was very impressed with JAL’s economy class– the new Sky Wider seats feel a lot better than they look in this photo– they are wider than average at 18.5 inches, and offer 34 inches of pitch– roomy by current standards. I’m six feet tall and you can see how much room there is between my knees and the seat ahead in the photo at the top of this post. Entertainment screens are 10.6 inches across (12.1 in premium economy) and there are USB ports for charging mobile devices. Economy roundtrip fares for mid-January trips SFO-HND are currently about $1,200.

What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

JAL's spacious leather and wood trimmed first class sanctuary (Photo: JAL)

JAL’s spacious leather and wood trimmed first class sanctuary (Photo: JAL)

With the up-gauging of aircraft, JAL brings back a nice first class product on the route. From what I saw at the event, the JAL Suite is a nice wide, leather and wood trimmed sanctuary– one of the largest I’ve seen and with a humongous entertainment screen and Bose noise canceling headsets. But you’ll pay dearly for these seats: On JAL’s website, first class roundtrip fares on SFO-HND are about $20,000 for mid-January trips.

In addition to the new plane on SFO-HND, the schedule has changed. Now, flights depart both San Francisco and Haneda at around midnight– which is great for those hoping to get a good night’s sleep on the flight.

Related: United moves one Tokyo flight to Haneda 

JAL 001 departs SFO at 12:35 a.m. and arrives at Tokyo Haneda at 5 a.m. the following day. What’s nice about this is that flyers can now easily connect to a bank of JAL flights headed to other Japanese or Asian destinations. Plus, if you can get a good night of sleep in on the overnight flight, you’ll be good to go for business meetings in Tokyo on the day you arrive.

JAL 002 departs Haneda at 12:05 am and arrives SFO at 4:15 pm a day earlier– just in time for an early dinner and bed if you don’t get a chance to sleep well on the flight. Or if you are like me and you’d rather stay awake on the flight, enjoy the service and enjoy all the bells and whistles of the plane.

Have you flown Japan Airlines recently? Would you choose the new Sky Suite 777 over nonstop service from other airlines? What’s your preferred airline when flying to Japan? Please leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis

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How to find roomy domestic widebody flights

Economy class on a United 767 (Photo: United)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Airlines

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

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

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

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

Delta Air Lines

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

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

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

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

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

Related: American Airlines’ brand new A321 Transcon Trip Report

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

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

Hawaiian Airlines

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

United Airlines

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

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

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

US Airways

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

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

–John Walton & Chris McGinnis

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British Airways to spruce up its 747s

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: British Airways adds a new A380 in the US

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

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

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

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

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

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BA's premium economy seats (British Airways)

BA’s premium economy seats (British Airways)

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

Related: Boeing 747s slowly disappearing from US

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

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

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

-John Walton

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Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

ANA's gets its shiny new Boeing 787-9 (Photo: The Boeing Company)

ANA’s gets its shiny new Boeing 787-9 (Photo: The Boeing Company)

This week, Japan’s ANA (All Nippon Airways) announced that it will be the first airline to launch a new “stretch” version of the popular Boeing 787 Dreamliner on August 7.  The new 787-9 is “stretched” 20 feet longer than the original 787-8, allowing for up to 40 additional passengers. 

With this delivery, ANA will have 29 787s in its fleet, more than any other airline in the world. 

It's breathtaking to see the elegant bow of the 787's wing during flight. (Chris McGinnis)

It’s breathtaking to see the elegant bow of the 787’s wing during flight. See the Japanese sun symbol on the wing? (Chris McGinnis)

ANA inaugurated the Dreamliner flights between San Jose and Tokyo Narita in January 2013 , but put the service on hold shortly thereafter due to the plane’s well-publicized battery issues. Thankfully, the SJC-NRT nonstops resumed on June 1 last year. And since then, the 787 has been enjoying a honeymoon stage in the US and around the world as passengers praise its big tinted windows, giant overhead bins, smooth ride and more humid cabins. 

Among US carriers, only United currently flies the 787, but Boeing says that there are 160 Dreamliners now in operation around the world, and that sixty customers have ordered more than 1,000 of the fuel efficient, composite birds. The third iteration of the the Dreamliner, the 787-10, will be stretched another 10 feet and assembled in Charleston, SC. 

In case you haven’t had a chance to ride on one, here are some photo highlights of my ANA Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner flight between San Jose International and Tokyo-Narita last year.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Tinted windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>The windows on the 787 really are bigger (by 20%)– it’s the first thing you notice when stepping on the plane. Instead pulling shades up and down, those in window seats can adjust the tint electronically– sort of like Transitions Lenses. The downside is that they never completely black out like you you get with a regular window shade.

>Lower pressure and higher humidity in the 787 cabin are detectable– for one thing, your eyes and lips don’t dry out as fast. I’m not sure how to describe the feeling other than to say that cabin air just felt softer. And I felt better when I got off the plane.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Gigantic workspace- enough room for your laptop and meal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>The plane exudes spaciousness with higher ceilings and a wider fuselage– there just feels like there is more space, even in economy class. The extra-large business class section (46 seats) seems to take up half the plane. And I’ve never seen a larger tray table in all my years of flying. (See above and below.)

Check out all the "spread out" space you get in the middle of the middle row (Chris McGinnis)

Check out all the “spread out” space you get in the middle of the middle row (Chris McGinnis)

>In ANA’s business class, the BEST seats are odd numbered window seats, and even numbered center seats– check out the photo above and you will see how a center seat on this plane is like sitting at the helm of Starship Enterprise. If you can put up with the commotion around the galleys and lavatories, bulkhead seats are the best of the best seats on the plane in terms of personal space. See Seatguru for the 787’s cabin layout.

The traditional Japanese dishes were a little fishy, but good! (Chris McGinnis)

The traditional Japanese dishes were a little fishy, but good! (Chris McGinnis)

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

I loved this homey and tasty snack of udon noodles in broth and topped with dried seaweed served mid-flight (Chris McGinnis)

I loved this homey and tasty snack of udon noodles in broth and topped with dried seaweed served mid-flight (Chris McGinnis)

>Inflight dining in business class blew me away– the food and drink menu is 24 pages long (!), well suited to both western and Japanese palates. (I went native and ordered off the Japanese menu…Oishii!)

Business class was full, but it sure did not feel that way (Chris McGinnis)

Business class was full, but it sure did not feel that way (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on ANA's B787-8 (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on ANA’s B787-8 is 2-4-2(Chris McGinnis)

>ANA’s 787-8 is relatively small plane: Only 158 passengers (46 business, 112 economy), which makes it the right size for smaller markets like San Jose-Tokyo. Compare that to a Boeing 747 which holds 350-400 passengers. End result? Boarding is fast and easy– it feels like a less crowded domestic flight.

Talk about true lie flat in business class! Looks like Kansas! No tilt or angle at all (Chris McGinnis)

Talk about true lie flat in business class! As flat as Kansas! No tilt or angle at all (Chris McGinnis)

Nice touches: Window in the lav, and the toilet seat is warm! (Chris McGinnis)

Nice touches: Window in the lav, and the toilet seat is warm! (Chris McGinnis)

>Finally, there’s a window in the lavatory– and the Toto toilet has a heated seat with sprayer–  see above.

>ANA’s roundtrip coach fares between SJC and NRT are about $1,500… Business class fares are in the $4,000 range,  pretty much the same as Tokyo fares out of SFO. ANA is a Star Alliance partner, which means opportunities for earning and burning Mileage Plus miles on these flights.

Thank you note from my sweet flight attendant (Chris McGinnis)

Thank you note from my sweet flight attendant who taught me that “Oishii” means “delicious!”  (Chris McGinnis)

>Memorable: Flight attendants write sweet thank you notes to passengers.

So whaddya think? Have you flown on a B787 with ANA or other airline? Please leave your comments below! 

–Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: ANA covered the cost of my trip to Tokyo.

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5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nancy Branka 

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

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Boeing 747 flying away from SFO?

A United 747-400 enroute to Osaka (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

A United 747-400 enroute to Osaka (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Do you love watching elegant Boeing 747s lumber over the Peninsula or the Bay as they approach SFO? Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to occasionally ride upstairs in “the bubble” in business class on the way to Asia or Europe?

Well, enjoy it while you can.  As more airlines worldwide opt to retire their 747s and replace them with 777s, SFO will see fewer of this iconic aircraft. The phasing out is already well underway…

Air China is the latest to delete the 747 from its SFO schedule. Last month it replaced the big bird with a 777 on the SFO-Beijing run. It now flies the 777 exclusively between China and the US.

Cathay Pacific has scheduled its last 747 flight between SFO and Hong Kong for August 31, to be replaced by three-class 777 service (economy, premium economy and business, but no first class).

Air New Zealand is scheduled to fly its last 747 from Auckland to SFO in September, having phased in the 777.

EVA Air's 747s flew away from SFO in 2012 (Photo: Danny Fritsche / Flickr)

EVA Air’s 747s flew away from SFO in 2012 (Photo: Danny Fritsche / Flickr)

EVA Air’s 747 flights flew away in November 2012. And of course, we lost QANTAS’ daily red tail 747 flight back in 2011 when the carrier moved the flight to Dallas Ft Worth.

United, whose SFO-based 747 fleet dominates other carriers’, is on a similar bandwagon. In 2012 the airline announced it would shift its 747 focus to SFO. However, after a year or so, it did an about-face and schedules show it replacing many Asia- and Australia-bound routes with other aircraft.

For example, a new 787 Dreamliner is coming to United’s SFO-Osaka run. On March 27 United will deploy newly refurbished three-cabin 777-200ERs on SFO-Sydney, replacing the 747s it currently uses. (Photos of 777-200 interiors here) The best news about having 777 on SFO-SYD is that coach passengers will soon have individual seatback screens for the 14-hour haul…something the 747 sorely lacked. For the time being, United will continue to fly 747s from SFO to: Beijing, Frankfurt (2x/day), Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo-Narita (2x/day).

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A couple of airlines are taking the opposite approach and going big. Lufthansa will fly the A380 from SFO beginning in April and plans to use it year-round…not just seasonally.

Previously the German carrier alternated between a 747 and A380 on the route.  And Air France will bring back the behemoth double-decker aircraft for seasonal service on SFO-Paris, April through October.

Business class up in the nose of a Boeing 747-400- coming to SFO this month! (Photo: KLM)

Business class up in the nose of a KLM Boeing 747-400- coming to SFO this month! (Photo: KLM)

But it’s not all bad news on the 747 front. KLM will replace its A330 and MD-11 jets on SFO-Amsterdam with a 747-400 later this month. The very best news is that the 747 will have KLM’s new lie-flat business class seat. A KLM spokesperson told TravelSkills that the 747 would remain on the route “until at least the end of the summer.”

By year’s end, it looks like SFO’s 747 flights will be limited to United, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Philippine Airlines and China Airlines.

The 777 is seen by airlines as being right-sized for Asia and west-bound markets from the Bay Area due to its combination of capacity, range and fuel efficiency. The 747 family seats 400-500 passengers, depending on airline configuration, while the 777 family’s capacity is in the 300-390 range. The 747, with its four engines, is a fuel hog, and airlines have found it’s more profitable to fly smaller aircraft like the twin-engine, fuel-efficient 777 more times per day if necessary, than a single mega-aircraft flight.

There are other factors to consider in the complex world of route/aircraft strategy, too. When a United route executive was asked why the company was not investing in the new 747-8 to update its 747 fleet, he noted (off the record) that the aircraft is so large that its resale market is limited. If the aircraft/route does not pan out, there is limited opportunity to unload the aircraft in the secondary market. (Likely the same reason United is not buying A380s.)

First class onboard on of Pan Am's first 747s (Photo: Tim Graham / Flickr)

First class onboard on of Pan Am’s first 747s (Photo: Tim Graham / Flickr)

Boeing’s 747 “Jumbo Jet” made history at its inception in 1970: it was the world’s first widebody aircraft. The manufacturer allowed Pan Am, its inaugural customer, to have significant input in the aircraft design, and the plane’s commercial debut was a Pan Am flight from New York to London Heathrow on January 22, 1970. Since then its distinctive design and upper deck have captured the imagination of passengers. Will Bay Area travelers lose access to this iconic aircraft? Only time will tell.

Does the 747 hold a special memory for you or a preferred experience? Please leave your comments below.

–Nancy Branka

BAT contributor Nancy Branka

BAT contributor Nancy Branka

We are pleased to welcome Nancy Branka as a contributor to TravelSkills! She’s covered the business travel beat for years as managing editor of Executive Travel magazine and is now turning her talents toward helping keep TravelSkills Readers informed.  Nancy lives in the East Bay and primarily flies out of Oakland International– we’ll rely on her to expand our coverage on that side of the Bay! Today she’s jetting across the country on American Airlines’ brand new A321T and will provide a report on her trip next week. –– Chris

 

 

 

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A look inside Singapore Airlines newest jet (SLIDESHOW)

First look at a brand new B777-300ER at Boeing's slick new delivery center (Chris McGinnis)

First look at a brand new B777-300ER at Boeing’s slick new delivery center (Chris McGinnis)

Last week Singapore Airlines (SIA) invited TravelSkills up to Seattle to a look inside its new Boeing 777-300ER as it rolled off the assembly line. In the airline industry, this is known as a “delivery.” And when an airline spends $200-$300 million on a new plane, Boeing makes sure that the delivery is a big deal. As a matter of fact, Boeing just opened a brand new, multi-million-dollar, 180,000 square foot “delivery center” for the sole purpose of showing off its jumbo birds at the moment the keys are turned over to its airline customers.

The Boeing name plate inside the front door of a brand new 777-300-ER (Chris McGinnis)

The Boeing name plate inside the front door of a brand new 777-300-ER (Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Airlines flew us up to see the first of eight new Boeing 777-300ERs that are outfitted with its new interiors– everything from seats, lights, lavs, seatback video screens, fabric and trim is “new generation.” Seeing this plane was especially exciting to me because SFO is one of just two cities in the US served by Singapore’s fleet of 777s– the other being Houston. (Its other US gateways are served by A380s.) That means it’s likely that SFO will be the first airport in the US to see this posh new plane in service.

Alas, the beautiful bird I saw was bound for Singapore, and later this month deployed on the lucrative Singapore-London route. And although Singapore officials were coy about my direct questions regarding exactly when SFO will see a next-generation B777-300ER, my hopes are high that it will be sooner than later. Currently, Singapore has eight of the new planes on order, so we’ll see!

On Singapore Air’s B777-300ER there are eight first class seats, 42 business class seats, 228 economy seats, and 8 cozy sleeping berths in the crew rest area (see the slideshow for a peek at this hidden cabin!).

For a full look at this big bird, see the slideshow! 

Singapore Air's new first class seat in chocolate brown leather trimmed in bright pumpkin orange (Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Air’s new first class seat in chocolate brown leather trimmed in bright pumpkin orange (Chris McGinnis)

Highlights of new first class:

When folded down into a bed, the new seat is a lengthy 82 inches long.

The new seat (designed by BMW Group/DesignworksUSA) is tricked out a sexy chocolate brown leather with a classy diamond-patterned stitching, which is brightened by pops of bright pumpkin orange in the trim, pillows, and inside the multiple cubbyholes used for storage of person items. I loved that!

Inflight entertainment screens seem impossibly large at 24 inches across. In first as well as other cabins, a new notification system is used to communicate flight info to passengers, reducing the need for intrusive onboard announcements.

For a full look at the seat, see the slideshow! 

BAT editor Chris McGinnis testing out Singapore's new business class seat

BAT editor Chris McGinnis testing out Singapore’s new business class seat

Business class:

When folded down into a flat bed, the new seat is 78 inches long and 35 inches wide.

Inflight entertainment LCD screens are huge at 18″ across. A new feature on Singapore’s KrisWorld system is the ability to rate the movies you are watching, and see how other SIA passengers have rated them.

Each seat has power, USB, eXport and HDMI ports.

Key for long haul flights is the abundance of personal storage space in various areas in the seat area.

For a full look at the seat, see the slideshow! 

Economy class seats have 11.1 inch LCD screens (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class seats have 11.1 inch LCD screens (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class:

The pitch in economy class is the standard 32″. (No premium economy seats.) Seats are made in cool fabric with adjustable leather headrests.

New seatback video screens  are giant a 11.1 inches across, plus they are touch screens for easier entertainment selection and viewing. Economy class passengers have access to over 1,000 on demand entertainment options– the same choices found in business and first class. Nice!

Each economy seat has a thoughtful makeup mirror built into the tray table, and special nooks in the mesh seatback pocket for smartphones, tablets and water bottles.

For a full look at the seat, see the slideshow! 

While this new 777 was built for Singapore Airlines, it’s important to see because so many other major airlines take their design and comfort queues from SIA. So eventually what you see here is what you might see on other carriers in years to come…

I NEED YOUR FEEDBACK: Do you like the Google+ slideshows I have been posting recently? Is this a good way for me to deliver photos to you? Or would you rather have a standard embedded slideshow? Please let me know which one you prefer!

Chris McGinnis


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More 787 Dreamliners flock to Bay Area + Loss of LAN

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

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

The Bay Area has several Boeing 787 Dreamliners headed our way in coming months.

Today, Norwegian Air Shuttle, the Scandinavian low-fare juggernaut, announced that it would add nonstop Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights to Oakland from both Oslo and Stockholm starting next May.

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Nonstops between Oakland and Oslo will run three times per week (Mon,Wed, Fri); Oakland-Stockholm flights will run two times per week (Tues, Sat).

Norwegian, the third largest low-fare carrier in Europe says that it can offer fares as low as $236 each way (all in) due to the lower operation costs of the new 787, eight of which it has on order from Boeing.

However, upon checking briefly for Oakland-Oslo flights in May 2014 at www.norwegian.com/us, I could only find the $236 economy fare for the Oakland-Oslo portion. The cheapest fare for the Oslo-Oakland run is $357.50, for a total of $600.50. Not bad, but not $236 each way as promoted in Norwegian’s press materials.

Economy class seating on Norwegian

Economy class seating on Norwegian

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Fares for summer travel (2014) are in the $1000 roundtrip range. Premium economy fares are around $975 each way, or about $2000 round trip.

On Norwegian’s new Dreamliner, premium economy (38 seats) is configured 2-3-2 with larger cradle style seats that recline, but do not go completely flat. All leather coach seats (259) are laid out 3-3-3, with individual seatback video, and touchscreen snack ordering, similar to what we’ve seen on Virgin America.

According to Seatguru, Norwegian’s premium economy seats are 19 inches wide with 46 inches of pitch. Economy class seats are narrow, at 17.2 inches with the standard 31-32 inches of pitch.

Features of the 787: The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has much larger electrochromatic windows that dim like sunglasses if there’s a glare… they can also be electronically blacked out if you want to sleep. There’s mod LED lighting. It also has larger overhead bins. Because of the Boeing’s use of composite materials, cabin pressure can be set at about 6000 feet– most other aircraft are only able to set cabin pressure at about 8000 feet– Boeing says that on those long hauls, the pressure difference along with better ventilation will help reduce passenger discomfort and jet lag.

More 787’s in the wings…

Japan Airlines 787 now touching down at SFO

Over Labor Day weekend, Japan Airlines launched new 787 flights between SFO and Tokyo’s close in and convenient Haneda Airport, located just 30 minutes south of the center of town. Narita is located 90 minutes to the east.

As you know from previous BAT posts, ANA has a 787 flying between San Jose and Tokyo-Narita.

Starting next April, United will fly a 787 between SFO and Osaka-Kansai.

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Have you flown on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner yet? What did you think? Please leave your comments below. 

LAN inaugural Boeing 767  gets a water cannon salute at SFO in 2010

Adios! LAN inaugural Boeing 767 gets a water cannon salute at SFO in 2010

LAN CANS SFO FLIGHTS. After a four-year run, LAN will suspend its nonstop Boeing 767 SFO-Lima flight on April 1, 2014. That’s too bad because the LAN flight was SFO’s only nonstop to South America. SF-based travelers hoping to stick with LAN can now connect with its flights from LAX. But I imagine most of us here in the Bay Area will likely fly United through Houston when headed to South America. Have you flown LAN to Lima or beyond? How was it? How do you get to South America? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis

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United shifting some 747s away from SFO

United 747-400s departing Sydney's Kingsford-Smith airport (Aero Icarus)

United 747-400s departing Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith airport (Aero Icarus)

United could be watering down its strategy of making SFO its Boeing 747 hub, based on summer 2014 schedules released earlier this month.

For example, starting April 1, 2014, United will switch out its aging 747-400s on the SFO to Sydney and Melbourne flight and deploy newly refurbished, three-cabin 777-200ER’s on the route. It’s also taking the 747 off the SFO-London Heathrow route and will use only 777s. And it’s replacing the 747 on the SFO-Osaka route with SFO’s first scheduled United 787 Dreamliner.

Economy class on United's refurbished 777 configured 3-3-3 (Chris McGinnis)

New economy class Recaro seats on United’s refurbished 777 configured 3-3-3 (Chris McGinnis)

AUSTRALIA: The switcheroo on the Australia flights is good news for economy class passengers who suffer through the 14-hour odyssey to Oz at the back of the plane on United’ old 747’s from both SFO and LAX. The newly refurbished 777’s are more comfortable at the back with a 3-3-3 configuration (vs the 747’s 3-4-3), and individual seatback video screens. United says that the 777s will offer its new satellite-based wi-fi and in-seat power outlets, too.  (See this BAT post for a slideshow of the refurb and updated 777 interiors.)

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For those flying in business and first class, the switchover will not be as dramatic– the flatbed seating on the 777 is similar to the 747.  But it will be sad lose those nice biz class seats upstairs in the bubble of the 747. That’s one nice ride up there, especially for long overnight flights.

Which aircraft would you prefer for the long flight down under… the 777 or the 747? Why? Please leave your comments below…

Upstairs in biz class on United's 747 (Transworld Productions)

Upstairs in biz class on United’s 747 (Transworld Productions)

The move represents a significant reduction in capacity on the route—those big ole 747s hold 374 passengers, while the 777s only carry 269, with eight in first class, 40 in business, 117 in Economy Plus and 104 in economy.

With Qantas gone, and United reducing capacity, brace for some painful price hikes for nonstops from SFO to Sydney and Melbourne. Currently, roundtrip economy fares on SFO-SYD are in the $1,500 range, business class is running close to $9,000 and first is around $17,000. Fares typically run cheaper if you are willing to stop in LAX on the way down.

Where are those 747’s going to go? Well, some are going back to Chicago, where United will run the big birds nonstop from O’Hare to Frankfurt, Shanghai, Tokyo-Narita starting next spring. United will also deploy two 747s per day on the SFO-Tokyo (Narita) run. (H/T to Routes Online)

What does this mean for United’s recently announced strategy to make SFO its 747 hub? That seems a little murky at the moment. When TravelSkills asked, a spokesperson would only say: “Most of our 747 flights will continue to operate to and from SFO,” but would not comment on whether these moves represent a shift away from the 747 hub strategy.

Which aircraft would you prefer for the long flight down under… the 777 or the 747? Why? Please leave your comments below…

Chris McGinnis

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787 issues affecting United SFO flight plans

United's  Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: United Airlines)

United’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: United Airlines)

The ongoing technical issues and grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner are having multiple repercussions for TravelSkills Readers (BATs).

In addition to the cancellation of ANA’s flights between San Jose and Tokyo (currently through at least May 31), United is having to alter its plans to add new transoceanic nonstops from San Francisco International (SFO) this spring due to the grounding of its six 787s.

Last year, United announced that it would add new nonstop flights between SFO and both Paris and Taipei this spring. Initially, its Boeing 777-200ER nonstops to Taipei were to have started on April 9. Nonstops to Paris (using a 767-300ER) were to have started April 11.

Since the aircraft United was planning to use on those routes are being used to plug holes in its flight schedule due to the 787 grounding, those dates have been pushed back to April 26 for Paris, and June 6 for Taipei.

In a statement to TravelSkills, United said, “While the grounding of Boeing 787 aircraft worldwide is delaying the launch of United’s service from San Francisco to Paris and Taipei as we reallocate aircraft, we remain committed to that service and believe they will both be successful when they launch on April 26 and June 6, respectively. We will work to offer alternate flight options to ticketed customers.”

Currently, the period to take advantage of United’s 50%-100% Mileage Plus bonus offers on these new flights reflects the original start dates…United has not yet made any changes to effective dates on the promotional pages, but told TravelSkills:  “We will be adjusting the promotions and will accommodate those that have already registered accordingly.” Keep an eye on that here:  Paris bonus page.   Taipei bonus page.

We also asked United if the start dates for this service could be pushed back again if the 787 is still not flying by late April or May– so far, no response.

Have you been inconvenienced by the grounding of the 787 yet? Please leave your experiences or comments below!

–Chris McGinnis

 

 


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Boeing’s 787 grounded: My report from Tokyo

The view from the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view from the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(TOKYO, JAPAN) Here I sit at the Park Hyatt, Tokyo (the Lost in Translation hotel) watching the morning sun hit Mt Fuji, and watching the headlines and emails about the FAA’s grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner spew forth from my laptop.

As you may know from previous posts, I flew to Tokyo last Saturday aboard one of the first Dreamliner flights to depart San Jose International airport. While there were operational issues with the aircraft at that time,  passengers I spoke with felt confident about flying the brand new 158-passenger bird across the Pacific. Our 10-hour flight to Tokyo was delightful and without incident.

I was traveling with a group of travel media, and during our interviews with ANA executives on Tuesday, we were assured that these were “teething issues” that fell within the band of normalcy for any new aircraft. They were still very excited about the aircraft with plans to buy several more.

While new at San Jose, ANA has been flying the 787 for a year and a half, with rave reviews from passengers, pilots and the media in general. We had heard US Transportation secretary Ray LaHood state a few days earlier that he’d feel confident flying on a 787.

Then, on Wednesday morning here in Tokyo, we heard that a Dreamliner had made an emergency landing at an airport in western Japan, and that all passengers had been evacuated. Apparently, an indicator light told pilots that there was a battery issue, and that there was an unusual odor in the cockpit. After that incident, ANA immediately grounded its fleet of 17 Dreamliners and launched an investigation into the cause. At that time in the US, the FAA said that it was looking into the incident.

Inspecting ANA's maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inspecting ANA’s maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Half of our media group had reservations to fly out of Tokyo bound for San Jose on the 787 on Wednesday afternoon. However, thanks to the slower winter travel season and quick action on the part of ANA staff, there was enough room on Wednesday’s ANA flight to San Francisco to accommodate the group and they all got home safely. I was glad I had already booked my return trip to SFO on an ANA Boeing 777 (instead of the 787 into SJC) for later this week.

Last night, I pondered what all this meant as I sat having a meal in the Park Hyatt’s New York Grill & Bar, thinking about Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation drinking Suntory whiskey, listening to a “Sausalito”-like chanteuse croon while the Tokyo skyline twinkled 52 stories below.

I had a great night’s sleep (almost no jet lag on this trip…maybe due to the 787’s new cabin pressurization … or the Park Hyatt’s comfy beds?) and awoke to another bombshell: The US Federal Aviation Administration had grounded the 787 until it could determine the cause of the incident.

With sketchy information and investigations underway, it’s too early to conclude that the aircraft is fundamentally flawed. But the recent rash of incidents and media hype around them are certain to cause concern…

Here’s a list of what is swirling around in my head about this now. Conclusions will come later….

>First, I’m grateful to be safe and sound in a nice hotel in Tokyo, and not stuck at an airport due to a flight cancellation. I’m glad to have the chance to ride on the 787… and equally glad I have a reservation to get back to San Francisco an ANA 777.

>It’s tough to speculate on what this means for ANA’s new 787 flights between Tokyo and San Jose. The 158-passenger Dreamliner is perfect for a “long, thin” route like Tokyo-San Jose. I think it’s unlikely that ANA will substitute another aircraft on the route—such as a Boeing 777 or 767 because they are simply too big—there is not enough demand in the South Bay to keep a 200-300 seat aircraft full. (American Airlines used to have a 777 on the route, but discontinued the flight in 2006.) So if the grounding of the 787 is short term, the outlook for the route should be okay… is it’s a long-term affair, the future of the route is cloudy.

>ANA is handling cancellations on a day-to-day basis– for example, I’ve just learned that Friday’s flight between Tokyo and San Jose has been canceled, but no decision has been made for Saturday’s flight. On ANA alone, Dreamliner cancellations affect the plans of 4,800 passengers per day, according to a spokesperson.

>The impact of the controversy is likely felt most acutely here in Japan– ANA has a fleet of 17 Dreamliners, most of which are used for domestic flying, so re-accommodating passengers is causing some pain. Japan Airlines has grounded seven 787s. In addition, the lithium ion batteries in question are made in Japan. It’s difficult to watch all this come down on the gentle, polite Japanese who feel deeply embarrassed and apologetic about the whole affair.

>The current FAA grounding will affect flights on United’s 6 Dreamliners, however, none of them now fly into the Bay Area, so the local impact is minimal. United is the only US carrier now operating the plane.

>For perspective, I think it’s important to look at a similar incident regarding the giant Airbus A380 last year. If you recall, serious structural and mechanical issues (cracks in wings and an engine fire) forced Australian authorities to ground the plane until remedies were in place. The grounding was temporary, and the A380 was quickly back in the skies. Hopefully, engineers will be able to find a similar fix for the Dreamliner’s lithium-ion batteries, which seem to be the cause of the jet’s most severe problems at the moment.

>Even if the 787 gets back in the skies quickly, some business travelers will likely book away from 787 flights out of fear that future groundings or reliability issues could foul their travel plans.

>Regarding how the airlines might get this fixed, Hudson Crossing aviation analyst Henry Harteveldt told TravelSkills: “It’s possible the correction may be a multi-step process — a short-term ‘tactical’ fix followed by more in-depth corrections, which may be more complex. Short-term, we may see the FAA recommend airlines limit the types of routes where they operate the 787 — for example, flights that last no longer than a certain number of hours, flights that operate only over land (or close to it), or both. Longer term, the FAA may recommend adding a fire suppression system to the battery bays, replacing the lithium-ion batteries, or something else.”

>The big question remains: Is this plane truly safe to fly? At this point, no one really knows. It’s going to be interesting to watch this pan out.

I’m firmly in the “wait and see” category when it comes to the idea of booking flights on the 787 in the near future. What about you? How do you feel about the 787? Do you trust the airlines, manufacturers and government regulators to keep you safe? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis


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Inflight: ANA’s Boeing 787 from San Jose to Tokyo [PHOTOS]

[pb_slideshow group=”2″] SLIDESHOW TEMPORARILY DISABLED. SORRY!

(Tokyo, Japan) Wow. I’ve just flown across the Pacific on the world’s most advanced commercial jet– the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It is the  only 787 currently flying out of the Bay Area (United’s 787 to Houston was only temporary), and the only transoceanic flight out of San Jose International Airport. And despite the recent concerns about the 787, I felt completely safe on this plane, as did all other passengers I spoke with.

Now I’m sitting in a Tokyo hotel loading up some great slideshow photos of the trip and recounting the flight. Some thoughts:

>I live in San Francisco, so I imagined that the 45-60 minute drive (depending on traffic) down to San Jose would be a pain– however, the quick and easy check-in, security and boarding process at SJC made up for time I felt I’d lost on the trip down.

>The windows on the 787 really are bigger (by 20%)– it’s the first thing you notice when stepping on the plane. Instead pulling shades up and down, window seaters can adjust the tint electronically– sort of like Transitions Lenses.

>Lower pressure and higher humidity in the 787 cabin are detectable– for one thing, your eyes and lips don’t dry out as fast. I’m not sure how to describe the feeling other than to say that cabin air just felt softer. And I felt better when I got off the plane.

>I felt slightly more vibration from the engines on this flight, likely due to the plane’s composite structure. Also, seat cushions seemed harder than average.

>The plane exudes spaciousness with higher ceilings and a wider fuselage– there just feels like there is more space, even in economy class. The extra-large business class section (46 seats) seems to take up half the plane.

>Seatback inflight entertainment screens are big– 17 inches in business, 11 inches in economy. Both classes have 160 channels to choose from.

>In business class, the BEST seats are odd numbered window seats, and even numbered center seats– check out the slideshow and you will see how a center seat on this plane is like sitting at the helm of Starship Enterprise. If you can put up with the commotion around the galleys and lavatories, bulkhead seats are the best of the best seats on the plane in terms of personal space.

>Inflight dining in business class blew me away– the food and drink menu is 24 pages long (!), well suited to both western and Japanese palates. (I went native and ordered off the Japanese menu…See the slideshow above to learn which was my favorite dish. Oishii!)

>The Dreamliner is relatively small plane: Only 158 passengers (46 business, 112 economy), which makes it the right size for smaller markets like San Jose. Compare that to a Boeing 747 which holds 350-400 passengers. End result? Boarding is fast and easy– it feels like a less crowded domestic flight.

>ANA’s roundtrip coach fares between SJC and NRT are about $1,500… Business class fares are in the $4,000 range,  pretty much the same as Tokyo fares out of SFO. ANA is a Star Alliance partner, which means opportunities for earning and burning Mileage Plus miles on these flights.

>Finally, there’s a window in the lavatory– and the Toto toilet has a heated seat with sprayer–  you’ve got to flip through the slideshow above to see it!

So whaddya think? Would you be willing to drive down to San Jose to give ANA’s 787 a try? If you live in the South Bay, will you be able to break out of your habit of driving to SFO to fly to Asia? Would you consider flying ANA to points beyond Tokyo? Please leave your comments below! 

Disclosure: ANA covered the cost of my trip to Tokyo.

 


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ANA’s B-787 Dreamliner at San Jose Airport [PHOTOS]

A water cannon salute for the arrival of ANA’s first flight from Tokyo (Photo: San Jose Int’l Airport)

ANA’s B787 Dreamliner unloading at San Jose International Airport. (Photo: San Jose Int’l Airport)

ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner prepares for takeoff as media look on. (Photo: San Jose Int’l Airport)

Sayonara to ANA’s first departure from San Jose at 11:45 am. Plane arrives Tokyo tomorrow at 4:10 pm. (Photo: San Jose International Airport)

Here’s the press release from San Jose Airport about the arrival of ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner today.

I’ll soon be on this big bird across the Pacific, and then return on an ANA Boeing 777  into SFO…and I’ll compare the ride. Which one do you think I’ll prefer??

 


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More United 747’s coming to SFO

A United 747 (Photo: United Airlines)

Starting in April of 2013, United plans to turn its San Francisco International Airport base into a 747 hub of sorts.

In an internal memo obtained by TravelSkills, United tells employees it’s doing this to concentrate all the 747 parts, tools and spares at one hub, resulting in a more reliable 747 fleet. Maintenance for United’s internationally configured 767s and 777s will be consolidated at Chicago, O’Hare.

This means in addition to current 747 flights from SFO to places like Sydney, Hong Kong or Tokyo, it will soon be all-747s-all-the-time between SFO and Frankfurt, Heathrow, Osaka and Taipei (starting in Oct). United’s new flights to Paris, which begin April 11, will use a B767.

It also means using 747’s on its Honolulu-Tokyo NRT flight. The 747s on the LAX-Sydney route will remain in place.

While some fliers may consider the 747 the “Queen of the Skies,” many airlines have begun to dump the plane recently in favor of the more fuel efficient Boeing 777 and 787. For example, Singapore Airlines, which at one time operated more 747’s (37) than any other airline, retired the big bird last Spring.

Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and Malaysian have already or will soon phase the 747 out of their fleets. British Airways is now the largest 747 operator, with 55 in its fleet. Among US carriers, only United and Delta operate the 747. Delta recently did a nice job re-doing interiors (business and coach) on its fleet of 16 747’s.

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At an average age of 17 years, United’s 747 fleet is getting a little long in the tooth. For business and first class passengers, seats have been upgraded to true lie-flat seats — and it does not get much better than a nice lie-flat seat upstairs on a 747 (see photo above).

But the situation is a bit different at the back of the plane– Unlike its revamped 777s and 767s, there is no seatback entertainment in economy or premium economy classes on United’s 747s. Even United CEO Jeff Smisek has said that economy class on United’s 747s is “unacceptable.”

Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Concierge service told TravelSkills: “The good news is that having the 747 operation focused on SFO where maintenance is will help improve reliability.  The 747 fleet isn’t exactly the best operational performer for United, and I assume that’s why they’re making this change.  The bad news is that coach still sucks.  They still have overhead video screens back there and the 3-4-3 configuration isn’t going to be a favorite for many.  They say they are putting in some wireless streaming video that people can use on their own devices, but good luck finding a device with a battery that will last all the way to Hong Kong.”

What do YOU think about United’s fleet of 747s? Is a 747 base at SFO a good thing…or not? What’s your preferred bird for transoceanic flights? Why? Please leave your comments below.

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SFO gets United Boeing 787 Dreamliner after all

United’s new baby: The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is coming to SFO! (Photo: United Airlines)

United will deploy its shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliners on get-acquainted runs between domestic hubs and Houston for two months this fall, including one route to/from San Francisco International. Eventually, the planes will fly off on previously announced international routes. But in November and December, they’ll be making calls here at SFO.

From November 4 through December 2, a United Dreamliner will depart SFO at 12:15 am, arriving Houston at a painful 5:41 am five times per week. The return flight from Houston will depart at 5:45 pm, arriving SFO around 8 pm. From December 3 through January 3, the flights will be daily.

Yes, you read that correctly, United is positioning its shiniest, newest plane on a red-eye flight from SFO to Houston. Yuck. The upside is that there will be plenty of room in business class to lie flat and sleep (if you get upgraded to one of the 36 true lie flat seats). But if you are sitting in the back, looking out of those 30% larger windows, all you will see is the black of night. The same goes for the return flight from Houston… at that time of year, the sun has set by 5:45 pm.

A United spokesperson did not have a ready answer when I asked about this owly-bird scheduling for SFO flights. Dreamliner debut flights between Houston and Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), Cleveland, Denver and Dulles are all during daylight hours, so it seems odd that SFO’s are all at night. Too bad. (United’s release does say that scheduling is subject to change, so maybe we’ll get lucky…)

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Nonetheless, the allure of the new 787 is definitely going to draw interest among die-hard aviation geeks. However, flying between SFO and Houston is not cheap– mid November round trip fares are currently running about $480. For those interested in booking a seat on the new bird, these 787 flights will go on display on United.com starting September 1.

United has 50 Dreamliners on order– it will get five of them by the end of this year.

Below is an interesting infographic about United’s new bird.  Will you go out of your way to fly on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner? Please leave your comments below. 

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United reveals routes for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner

You’ll be able to spot United’s new 787 by the serrated edge of its jet engines. (Photo: United Airlines)

But unfortunately, none of the new routes are to or from United’s big hub at San Francisco International.

Here’s the statement from United about where it’s positioning its shiny new bird:

United Airlines today announced the first international routes for the airline’s newest addition to its fleet, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In addition to the previously-announced service from its Denver hub to Tokyo Narita, starting March 31, 2013, the airline will operate nonstop 787 service five days a week between its Houston hub and Lagos, Nigeria, beginning Jan. 7, 2013. United will also operate daily, nonstop 787 service between its Los Angeles hub and its Narita hub, beginning Jan. 3, 2013, and Los Angeles to Shanghai, beginning March 30, 2013.United will also operate daily, nonstop 787 service from its Houston hub to Amsterdam and London Heathrow on a temporary basis. Houston to Amsterdam service begins Dec. 4, 2012, and Houston to London Heathrow service begins Feb. 4, 2013.

Gosh, why do B.A.T.s (Bat Area Travelers) feel so left out? As it stands right now, SFO is not scheduled to get Dreamliner service from ANY airline as of today. As I reported here earlier this week, ANA has announced that it will bring the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to the Bay Area when it introduces new flights between San Jose and Tokyo Narita in January 2013.

When TravelSkills called United and asked, “Hey, what about SFO?” spokesperson Mary Ryan said, “Please keep in mind that today’s route announcement is only the first of several routes that will ultimately be flown using the 787. We also have yet to announce 787 domestic service…With 50 787s on order, United customers around the world can expect to see the aircraft on both existing and new long-haul routes in the future.”

Business class onboard United’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner– note the “dimmer switch” under the window? (Photo: United Airlines)

Of course, most frequent travelers from the Bay Area would love to give the new bird a try. It’s got much larger electrochromatic windows that dim like sunglasses if there’s a glare… they can also be electronically blacked out if you want to sleep. There’s mod LED lighting. It also has larger overhead bins. Because of the Boeing’s use of composite materials, cabin pressure can be set at about 6000 feet– most other aircraft are only able to set cabin pressure at about 8000 feet– Boeing says that on those long hauls, the pressure difference along with better ventilation will help reduce passenger discomfort and jet lag. However, after an overnight 787 flight in Asia a Wall Street Journal reporter wrote that the ride was “a modest improvement, not dramatic difference.”

In terms of size, the Boeing 787 is about the size of a Boeing 767…the plane only holds 219 passengers and is configured with 36 seats in BusinessFirst, 72 seats in Economy Plus and 111 seats in Economy. By comparison, United’s internationally configured Boeing 777 holds about 250 passengers. A big Boeing 747 holds 374.

For a detailed view of United’s rollout of its new B787 earlier this month, check out this slideshow from USA Today. 

What’s your favorite long haul aircraft? Why? Would you fly a United Boeing 787 Dreamliner from SFO? Please leave your comments below. 


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United: 2 new long-haul routes from SFO

BusinessFirst seats configured 2-1-2 on United’s 767-300ER

This morning United Airlines broke news to TravelSkills that it will add new nonstops from San Francisco International (SFO) to Paris and Taipei starting next April.

PARIS:

United has not offered nonstops between SFO and Paris-CDG since it shelved the route in October 2005.

“The Bay Area is doing very well right now and we’d like to capitalize on that good fortune, and the Paris route is a good example of how we are doing that. Our corporate clients have been asking for this service,” said Greg Hart, United’s SVP of Network.

Starting April 11, 2013, United will deploy Boeing 767-300ER aircraft in a two-class configuration on the 11.5-hour, 5,600-mile flight to Paris.  The revamped 767-300 will offer 30 true-lie-flat BusinessFirst sleeper seats, 49 Economy Plus seats and 135 standard coach seats, but no first class.

Passengers will enjoy United’s new AVOD system, which offers individual seatback video entertainment systems in both business and coach, with hundreds of choices of movies, TV shows and games. All business class seats on the 767 have electrical and USB outlets for charging personal electronics. There’s one electrical outlet per row in coach.

“All of these 767’s were originally configured for mainland-Hawaii and hub-to-hub flying. With the reconfiguration currently under way, the airplanes are getting new seats, new (and larger) overhead bins,” said Hart.

Currently, only Air France offers year-round nonstops between San Francisco and Paris. XL Airways offers summer seasonal flights. Interestingly (and perhaps not coincidentally) just last week United announced that it would shelve its Houston-Paris nonstop in October, which observers say is part of an ongoing spat United has with Houston’s city leaders.

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TAIPEI

United will begin daily year-round nonstop service to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei on April 9, 2013, its eighth nonstop Asian destination from SFO.  Currently, United flights from SFO to Taipei stop over in Tokyo for about two hours making for a grueling 15-to-17-hour journey.

The new nonstop flights will operate using Boeing 777-200ER aircraft with 269 seats – eight in first, 40 in business (both front and rear-facing, true lie-flat), 104 in Economy Plus, and 117 in coach. As in the recently revamped 767s flying to Paris, all seats in all classes get their own seatback entertainment system on this 777.

There are 40 front and rear facing business class seats on United’s 777-200ER (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Currently there are two carriers, China Air and Eva Air, offering nonstops between SFO and Taipei. Neither of these carriers are members of the Star Alliance, so United will have a strong competitive advantage among hard-core Mileage Plus fans on the 6,500 mile, 13-hour route. [Update: EVA will soon be a full fledged member of the Star Alliance.]

Have you had a chance to fly on one of United’s revamped B777s yet? If not, take a peek at what TravelSkills saw at SFO’s maintenance base where these 11-13 year-old 777’s are getting their makeovers.

In related news, United announced this week that it will take delivery of its very first Boeing 787 Dreamliner this September, but has yet to divulge a specific inaugural route.Unfortunately, Hart told TravelSkills that there are no current plans to deploy the much anticipated Dreamliner at SFO this year.

Where would YOU like to see United fly nonstop from SFO?? Please leave your comments below. 

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The new Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental unveiled. Wow!

This week Lufthansa took delivery of its biggest new baby, the Boeing 747-8I. What a beautiful bird! Take a look at the excellent video above and keep in mind the following:

>Lufthansa is the first commercial airline to fly the 747-8I. The first 747-8i will fly between Washington-Dulles and Frankfurt. Lufthansa says that there are no current plans to bring it to Atlanta. However, it will soon be flying between Los Angeles LAX, Chicago ORD and Frankfurt. Lufthansa has 20 of these planes on order– five more will arrive this year.

Lufthansa's new business class seat is true lie-flat, but is angled inward. (Photo: Lufthansa)

>The 747-8I sports Lufthansa’s brand new true lie-flat business class product. (See video for a good close look.) What’s most unusual about the new biz class is how seats are angled slightly inward. (See video. I reserve judgement on this until I actually spend 10 hours on a plane, angled slightly toward a stranger…) This is great news since Lufthansa’s angled lie-flat seats (on its ATL-Frankfurt flights and elsewhere) get low marks for comfort. Eventually, all aircraft will be fitted with the newer business class, but it’s going to take 2-3 years.

>The economy class seat is identical to that found on Lufthansa’s A380. On the 747-8I, the layout in coach is 3-4-3 with 31 inches of pitch.

Serrated edges on the engines. Cool! (Photo: Lufthansa)

>Plane spotters will know that they are looking at a 747-8I when they see: engines with serrated edges (just like the new 787) and the lack of winglets that are found on the 747-400. (Boeing says the new wings have “raked wingtips.”)

>The new 747-8I flies more quietly, burns less fuel and therefore has fewer emissions that earlier versions.

>The fuselage on the 747-8i is 250 feet, 2 inches long– that’s 18 feet, four inches longer than the 747-400. It’s now the longest passenger aircraft in the world…about three feet longer than the Airbus A340-600.

>Lufthansa’s version of the 747-8I will have eight first class, 92 business class and 262 economy class seats.  First class is in the nose of the plane on the main deck. Business class is upstairs and downstairs.

>The list price for a Boeing 747-8I is about $300 million.

The first Lufthansa 747-8I takes off from the Boeing plant in Everett, WA bound for Frankfurt


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Video: Lufthansa shows off its new baby: Boeing 747-8I. Wow!

Wow! This week Lufthansa took delivery of its biggest new baby, the Boeing 747-8I. What a beautiful bird! Take a look at the excellent video above and keep in mind the following:

>Lufthansa is the first commercial airline to fly the 747-8I. The first 747-8i will fly between Washington-Dulles and Frankfurt. Lufthansa says that there are no current plans to bring it to San Francisco. However, it will soon be flying between Los Angeles LAX, Chicago ORD and Frankfurt. Lufthansa has 20 of these planes on order– five more will arrive this year.

Lufthansa's new business class seat is true lie-flat, but is angled inward. (Photo: Lufthansa)

>The 747-8I sports Lufthansa’s brand new true lie-flat business class product. (See video for a good close look.) What’s most unusual about the new biz class is how seats are angled slightly inward. (See video. I reserve judgement on this until I actually spend 10 hours on a plane, angled slightly toward a stranger…) This is great news since Lufthansa’s angled lie-flat seats (on the A380s, 747-400s and A340s it flies into SFO) get low marks for comfort. Eventually, all aircraft will be fitted with the newer business class, but it’s going to take 2-3 years.

>The economy class seat is identical to that found on Lufthansa’s A380. On the 747-8I, the layout in coach is 3-4-3 with 31 inches of pitch.

Serrated edges on the engines. Cool! (Photo: Lufthansa)

>Plane spotters will know that they are looking at a 747-8I when they see: engines with serrated edges (just like the new 787) and the lack of winglets that are found on the 747-400. (Boeing says the new wings have “raked wingtips.”)

>The new 747-8I flies more quietly, burns less fuel and therefore has fewer emissions that earlier versions.

>The fuselage on the 747-8i is 250 feet, 2 inches long– that’s 18 feet, four inches longer than the 747-400. It’s now the longest passenger aircraft in the world…about three feet longer than the Airbus A340-600.

>Lufthansa’s version of the 747-8I will have eight first class, 92 business class and 262 economy class seats.  First class is in the nose of the plane on the main deck. Business class is upstairs and downstairs.

>The list price for a Boeing 747-8I is about $300 million.

The first Lufthansa 747-8I takes off from the Boeing plant in Everett, WA bound for Frankfurt


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The 8 best beds on a Boeing 777 (Video)

Last week I had the chance to ride on one of Cathay Pacific’s brand new Boeing 777-300ERs from the factory in Seattle to Hong Kong.

This was a “delivery flight” from Boeing to Cathay Pacific, so there were only about 80 passengers on a jumbo jet that can carry about 350. While the seats and service were fine, I was curious to see the large crew rest area on this plane.

Since long-range aircraft like the Boeing 777 can fly nonstop for 16-18 hours, airlines are required to offer rest areas for inflight crews who work on shifts. On this plane, the rest area is located above the economy class section at the rear of the plane. It’s accessed via a non-descript door in the galley area. There’s another rest area (which I did not see) for pilots at the front of the plane.

Come on along and have a look– it might be the only time you’ll ever see a crew rest area since visits by passengers on regularly scheduled flights are forbidden.


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The 8 best beds on a Boeing 777 (Video)

Last week I had the chance to ride on one of Cathay Pacific’s brand new Boeing 777-300ERs from the factory in Seattle to Hong Kong.

This was a “delivery flight” from Boeing to Cathay Pacific, so there were only about 80 passengers on a jumbo jet that can carry about 350. While the seats and service were fine, I was curious to see the large crew rest area on this plane.

Since long-range aircraft like the Boeing 777 can fly nonstop for 16-18 hours, airlines are required to offer rest areas for inflight crews who work on shifts. On this plane, the rest area is located above the economy class section at the rear of the plane. It’s accessed via a non-descript door in the galley area. There’s another rest area (which I did not see) for pilots at the front of the plane.

Come on along and have a look– it might be the only time you’ll ever see a crew rest area since visits by passengers on regularly scheduled flights are forbidden.

(Chris McGinnis publishes TravelSkills and The TICKET blogs for frequent travelers.  Do you have comments or questions about this post? Email Chris.)


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Photos: Private jets of the First Ladies

A flock of First Ladies flew into Palm Springs on Tuesday to attend memorial services for Betty Ford, who died there last week at age 93.

Publicist Joe Enos (who is an avid TICKET reader!) was on hand at Palm Springs International Airport with his trusty iPhone. He sent us photos of the jets of Ms. Obama, Ms. Clinton, former president George W. Bush, and Ms. Reagan.

“That would be three FLOTUS and one POTUS,” said Enos (using the acronyms White House staffers use to refer to the First Lady of the United States and President of the United States.)

Enos says that from his perch across the street from the airport, he saw each FLOTUS and POTUS deplane and could therefore identify the aircraft.

While former First Lady Rosalyn Carter was in attendance (and gave a eulogy) it is not known if she arrived on a private or commercial aircraft. (Her spokesperson told The TICKET that they do not release information regarding the Carter’s travel plans or itineraries.)

According to news reports, former president Bill Clinton’s private jet broke down in New York, forcing him to cancel his appearance in Palm Springs.

 

First Lady Michelle Obama's Boeing 757

First Lady Michelle Obama’s Boeing 757

 

Secretary of State and former FLOTUS Hillary Clinton's 737

Secretary of State and former FLOTUS Hillary Clinton’s 737

 

TICKET reader YPW emailed with even more details about Obama’s 757 and Clinton’s 737:

The first one [Obama’s]  is actually a C-32, which is a militarized version of the Boeing 757-200 which seats 50 passengers plus those in a state room. The Air Force has 4 of them. The typical “customers” are the First Lady (including Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama) and the VP (Gore, Cheney, and Biden), as well as some high-ranking cabinet officers and Congressional delegations. http://www.af.mil/information/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=90

The second one [Clinton’s] is a C-40B. There are variations on the plane that are used as “airborne offices” by senior military leaders. The VIP versions will typically get assigned to cabinet secretaries and Congressional delegations. http://www.af.mil/information/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=189

Former President George W. Bush's Gulfstream (Blue, center)

Former President George W. Bush’s Gulfstream (Blue, center)

 

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan's Challenger

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s Falcon

 


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New look United 747

The first Boeing 747 with United's new livery. Old plane, new paint. (Photo: United-Continental Holdings)

The first Boeing 747 with United’s new livery. Old plane, new paint. (Photo: United-Continental Holdings)

Today United unveiled the largest aircraft in its fleet, the 374-seat Boeing 747-400, in the new United livery.

With the first 747-400 rebranding completed, the carrier now has at least one of each of its mainline fleet types painted in the new United livery.

The company has completed painting 309 mainline and regional aircraft, which is more than 20 percent of its total fleet.

The ongoing visual rebranding of the company will accelerate in the months ahead, and you’ll begin to see rebranded airport facilities and new advertising.

One highly anticipated piece of news was revealed last week: The new United is making its popular, roomier Economy Plus section permanent and will expand it to Continental aircraft starting next year.

Although United won’t be sending that big bird to ATL any time soon, what do you think of the new look overall? Any thoughts about the new United?


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