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.

_I1P7298

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 747s 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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United biz class giveaway + New Chicago flight + MileagePlus deadline + Southwest overwater + Rocketmiles

First look inside United’s new terminal at SFO

New Year. New credit card?

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Inside Singapore Airlines' newest jet

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 me up to Seattle to a look inside its newest 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.

Even though Singapore has no immediate plans to offer service to Atlanta, it’s an important airline to watch. That’s because it’s generally recognized as the best airline (or at least one of the best airlines) in the world. Other airlines (cough-Delta-ahem) eventually take many of their design and comfort cues from the Asian carrier famous for its modern planes and doting “Singapore Girls.”

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 a handful of travel writers and bloggers 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.” In the US, Singapore flies the B777 to San Francisco and Houston only. Its other gateways are served by the much larger A380.

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 a US marke will see a next-generation B777-300ER, my hopes are high that it will fly to San Francisco or Houston 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)

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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

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

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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)

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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! 

Have you ever flown Singapore Airlines, or another Asian carrier? What did you think? How was it different that what you’ve experienced on US carriers?

Chris McGinnis

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A look inside Singapore Air’s 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 this Bay Area Traveler (BAT!) 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)

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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

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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)

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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

 

 

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

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.

 

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??

 

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.

Cozy, updated United business class upstairs on a 747. (Photo: TransWorldProductions / Flickr)

United has 26 747s in its fleet, with an average age of 17 years.

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).

Back of the plane on United’s 747-400′s (Photo: Flikr / Altair78)

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. 

Recent posts in TravelSkills:

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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. 

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

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

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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