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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

View Results

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

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

HOTELS

Marriott's new wireless charger

Marriott’s new Kube wireless charger

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popular on TravelSkills: Another British Airways A380 for the US

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

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

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

SECURITY

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

CARS

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

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

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

HOTELS

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

In Case You Missed It…

Chris evaluates Virgin America’s LAX Loft lounge.

British Airways is bringing its A380 to San Francisco.

You can pile up bonus points with these fall hotel promotions

Southwest Airlines unveils a new logo and aircraft livery

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How to choose the best carry-on bag

A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Another British Airways A380 for the US

British Airways to spruce up its 747s

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

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

Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

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

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

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A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Virgin America's Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America’s Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Anyone who has flown through Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport knows that, despite efforts to gussy it up, it is a hulking relic from the 1960s.

To get inside, you must first pass through a TSA screening area wedged in a cramped, low-ceilinged and awkward space (that luckily has a mostly fast-moving PreCheck line). Once inside, there’s a Burger King, a Starbucks, a grab and go bakery and a few Hudson’s news shops. The outpost of LA’s popular Gladstone’s seafood restaurant is nice, but there’s frequently a line to get in, especially when flights are delayed.

Terminal 3 is the LAX home of Allegiant, Virgin America, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines- all low-cost, low-fare carriers that don’t really have the funds for deep terminal renovations like Delta has underway at Terminal 5…or that the major international carriers (and the city) have created at the outstanding new Bradley International terminal.

Virgin's LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin’s LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Standing out from the drab dreariness of Terminal 3 is Virgin America’s colorful LAX Loft. I have known about the Loft for a while– via Virgin’s PR machine, from TravelSkills readers, and from reading the lounge’s mixed reviews in the blogosphere. It’s been open since 2012.

Since I’ve had relatively good luck with flight delays at LAX, I have never had reason to decamp from the main terminal, so I’d never seen it in person.

When Virgin invited me to check it out during my recent trip to LA, I jumped at the chance.

Here’s the lowdown:

Entering the Virgins' LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entering the Virgins’ LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entry: Anyone traveling on Virgin America or its partner airlines can pay a $40 fee to enter the Loft. Full-fare first class passengers on long haul flights get in free. So do Gold and Silver Elevate members with their annually allotted day passes. Priority Pass or Lounge Club cardholders (plus companions) can also get in without a fee by presenting a valid membership card.

It’s located on the upper level of the terminal main gate area, accessible by elevators or a staircase and is open daily from 6am to 11pm. LAX is one of Virgin’s two primary hubs, so there is a steady stream of passengers all day long who might duck into the club.

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The views: The club’s most outstanding feature? The breathtaking runway views. Plane-spotters can just sit back, relax and watch those colorful tails LAX is known for float by on the runway. Endlessly entertaining!

Wi-fi: free, password-protected, very fast and much better than the LAX’s free wi-fi. Plus, in Virgin style, there there are plenty of power plugs all over the place.

Design: It’s fun, mood lit and very much in keeping with what you see onboard Virgin America flights- lots of red, white and black. Modern furnishings (like Frank Gehry tables and big red Vitra sofas) float on a glossy gray (recycled material) floor. Regrettably, there is scant desk or table space for business travelers planning to get some work done. There’s a lively bar area, several separate seating areas, bathrooms, a marble-topped snack buffet and big views out to runways. There’s even a pair of powerful binoculars to check out what’s happening outside the big floor to ceiling windows.

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Food: Basic but good. There used to be a more elaborate buffet when Virgin Australia passengers used this lounge. But since that carrier moved into the Bradley International terminal last December, the repast is now on par with what you may find at most domestic US airline lounges- the current Loft menu in the morning includes pastries, bagels, breads, yogurt, fresh fruits, juices, cereal, and an espresso bar. In the afternoon/evenings, there is hot soup, breads, a cheese platter, fresh fruit, cookies and grab-and-go snacks like Krave Jerky and mixed nuts.

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what's going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what’s going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Cocktails: Complimentary! I noted booze brands such as Glenfiddich, Jack Daniels, Tanqueray Sapphire, Bacardi and Sauza. Plus there are a couple vats of fruited, iced waters and an espresso bar. In addition to the usual beverages  you can also order “Lofty Libations” crafted by the bartender that include the Virgintini, Mile-High Margarita and Runway Ruddy Mary.

If you were stuck at LAX would you pony up the $40 for a visit? Have you visited Virgin’s LAX Loft? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Another British Airways A380 for the US

British Airways to spruce up its 747s

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

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

Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Should airlines waive change fees?

Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

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

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

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

 

 

Riding on The Red Carpet Route to London

London's Regent Street decked out in US flags and NFL banners amid rumors of a possible London NFL team. (Photo Chris McGinnis)

London’s Regent Street decked out in US flags and NFL banners amid rumors of a possible London NFL team. (Photo Chris McGinnis)

With the sights and sounds of the San Francisco 49ers playing at Wembley Stadium on TV today,  it’s a perfect time for me to write about my latest business trip to London, my favorite city in the world.

First class flight attendants pass pre-flight glasses of  Laurent Perrier Grand Seicle Champagne (Chris McGinnis)

First class flight attendants pass pre-flight glasses of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Champagne (Chris McGinnis)

Last month British Airways invited me to fly from Los Angeles to London aboard its brand new Airbus A380. With typical British pomp, BA is cleverly calling this “The Red Carpet Route,” due to the heavy film industry traffic between the two cities.

LAX-LHR  is the type of route where movie stars and industry moguls actually pay the $19,216 first class (or $7,356 business class) round trip fare. While I saw no big stars aboard my flight, Kate Moss was in the line next to me at customs at Heathrow.

BA’s departure from LAX is late—8:45 pm, which means you can get in a full day’s work, board and eat a quick meal after departure, go to sleep (hopefully) and wake up in time for arrival in London at about 3:00 pm the following day. Those in the Bay Area who would like to give BA’s A380 a try can jump on a cheap flight down to LAX, transfer over to the airport’s shiny new Tom Bradley International Terminal to board BA’s jumbo for the 9.5-hour flight to London.

Most carriers flying the A380 have first and business class on the upper deck, and economy class on the lower or “main” deck. BA has opted to keep premium passengers at “the front of the plane.” This means first class and business class sections are located at the front end of the upper and main deck and economy class is at the back end of both the upper and main deck. Take a video tour of BA’s A380 here.

Below are some notes and 12 photos from my trip. Enjoy!

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View over the A380's enormous wing from main deck business class (Chris McGinnis)

View over the A380’s enormous wing from main deck business class. There’s room for 469 passengers on this big bird: 14 giant first class “suites”, 97 business class seats, 55 premium economy seats and 303 economy seats. First and business class seats are at “the front of the plane” on both the main (lower) and upper decks.  (Chris McGinnis)

 

These are two "suites" at the rear of of the first class section. Window suites have two windows with electronic ally controlled shades. All first class seats have their own closet for coats and shoes. (Chris McGinnis)

These are two “suites” at the rear of of the first class section; configured 1-2-1. Window suites angle outward toward to windows with electronically controlled shades. In full flat recline, the seat is 7 feet long. Nice: each seat has its own valet closet for hanging suits or coats and storing shoes. When it’s time to bed down, flight attendants make up the bed with a feather bed pad that lies on top of the seat, swathed in an all cotton comforter and full sized pillows. (Chris McGinnis)

 

British Airways trademark Yin-Yang seats are both forward and rear facing. To avoid awkward eye contact, a translucent privacy screen rises between seats after take off (Chris McGinnis)

British Airways trademark Yin-Yang business class seats are both forward and rear facing, configured 2-4-2. (Chris McGinnis)

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The translucent privacy screen allow flight attendants to see through when looking down at window seat passenger (Chris McGinnis)

To avoid awkward face-to-face eye contact, a translucent privacy screen rises between seats after take off. This screen allows flight attendants to see through when looking down at window seat passenger (Chris McGinnis)

 

At this angle (looking toward seat mate) view is obscured in BA business class (Chris McGinnis)

At this angle (looking toward seat mate) view is obscured in BA business class (Chris McGinnis)

 

In economy class, seats are configured 3-4-3. Each seat has a large video screen with hundreds of options (Chris McGinnis)

In economy class, seats are configured 3-4-3. Standard economy pitch is 31 inches. In premium economy, pitch it 38 inches. Each seat has a large video screen with hundreds of entertainment options (Chris McGinnis)

 

Similar to Virgin America's Red system, passengers can send text messages between seats on British Airways A380 (Chris McGinnis)

Similar to Virgin America’s seatback Red system, passengers can send text messages between seats via “High Life Chat” on British Airways A380 (Chris McGinnis)

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Wow! Check out the superb presentation of "Herb roasted organic chicken with a morel fava & pancetta ragout" for first class passengers (Chris McGinnis)

Wow! Check out the superb presentation of “herb roasted organic chicken with a morel fava & pancetta ragout” for first class passengers (Chris McGinnis)

 

This is "12 month aged serrano ham with roasted tomato timbale & shallot dressing" in first class (Chris McGinnis)

This is “12 month aged serrano ham with roasted tomato timbale & shallot dressing” in first class (Chris McGinnis)

 

A business class starter: "Oxspring cured ham with spiced black fig & goat's curd salad." (Chris McGinnis)

A business class starter: “Oxspring cured ham with spiced black fig & goat’s curd salad.” (Chris McGinnis)

 

No problem with carry on space on this big bird-- the A380 has some of the largest overhead bins I've ever seen. My briefcase is dwarfed by the space! (Chris McGinnis)

No problem with carry on space on this behemoth– the A380 has some of the largest overhead bins I’ve ever seen. My briefcase is dwarfed by the space! (Chris McGinnis)

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Check out this wall of Global Entry kiosks at the new international terminal at LAX. 13 in all! I was through customs in 3 minutes! (Chris McGinnis)

Check out this wall of Global Entry kiosks at the new international terminal at LAX. 13 in all! I was through customs in 3 minutes! (Chris McGinnis)

Chris McGinnis

 

 

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

 

Nice view out the window as  the Delta California Shuttle arrives at LAX. (Chris McGinnis)

Nice view out the window as the Delta California Shuttle arrives at LAX. (Chris McGinnis)

Good news for TravelSkills readers who spend a lot of time on the West Coast! In early September,  Delta added hourly “California Shuttle” flights between San Francisco International and Los Angeles International using a fleet of Embraer 175 jets. And last week, Delta  announced that starting next April it will add six flights per day between SFO and Seattle using the same type of aircraft. 

Delta now offers up to 15 flights per day on the busy SFO-LAX route using the 76-seat Embraer 175 operated by its partner Compass Airlines. Flights depart SFO as early as 6 a.m. and return from LAX as late as 9 p.m.

Delta recently invited me to give the new service a try on a Tues-Sat trip from SFO to LAX.

Here’s what I liked:

Loath crowds? Delta's Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

Loath crowds? Delta’s Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

1> A ghost town of a terminal for my mid afternoon flight south on a Tuesday at  4 pm. That’s likely to change as Delta bulks up at SFO with even more flights to Seattle next spring. But be warned: Delta’s Terminal 5 at LAX is much busier, more crowded, and currently undergoing a major renovation, which will be complete in 2015.

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta's Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta’s Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

2> Fast and easy check in (including PreCheck) and security at Delta’s nearly exclusive terminal 1, Boarding Area C location.

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

3> Nice, new, roomy Embraer 175 jets w big square windows, all leather seats and overhead bins large enough for my rollaboard bag.

 

Delta's Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

4> Three classes: standard economy (52 seats) , Economy Comfort (12) configured 2-2;  first class (12) configured 1-2.

Full first class section on Delta's California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

Full first class section on Delta’s California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

5> The first class section was full on both my south and northbound flights. Economy almost empty on the way down from SFO, full on the 9:30pm Saturday night departure from LAX

Healthy inflight dining for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

Healthy inflight snacks for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

6> Super friendly, eager to please flight attendants and healthy, organic snacks like edamame hummus, raw sunflower seeds, whole grain crackers, raw veggies– for both first and economy passengers.

7> Gogo wifi on all flights (although my connection was spotty)

8> Free beverages, beer and wine, for all passengers in first and  economy include Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. craft beer, Starbucks coffee and Wente Vineyards wines.

Although Delta paid for my ticket, fares are always low on this hyper competitive route, no matter what airline you fly. Currently, economy fares range from about $100 to $350 round trip, depending on how far in advance you book. First class runs $300-$500 round trip.

Chris McGinnis

 

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

Delta California Shuttle's low altitude swing over LA offers some impressive views! (Chris McGinnis)

Delta California Shuttle’s low altitude swing over LA offers some impressive views! (Chris McGinnis)

In early September,  Delta added hourly “California Shuttle” flights between San Francisco International and Los Angeles International using a fleet of Embraer 175 jets. And last week, the Atlanta-based carrier announced that starting next April it will add six flights per day between SFO and Seattle using the same type of aircraft.

Delta now offers up to 15 flights per day on the busy SFO-LAX route using the 76-seat Embraer 175 operated by its partner Compass Airlines. Flights depart SFO as early as 6 a.m. and return from LAX as late as 9 p.m.

Delta recently invited me to give the new service a try on a Tues-Sat trip from SFO to LAX.

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Here’s what I liked:

Loath crowds? Delta's Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

Loath crowds? Delta’s Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

1> A ghost town of a terminal for my mid afternoon flight south on a Tuesday at  4 pm. That’s likely to change as Delta bulks up at SFO with even more flights to Seattle next spring. But be warned: Delta’s Terminal 5 at LAX is much busier, more crowded, and currently undergoing a major renovation, which will be complete in 2015.

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta's Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta’s Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

2> Fast and easy check in (including PreCheck) and security at Delta’s nearly exclusive terminal 1, Boarding Area C location.

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

3> Nice, new, roomy Embraer 175 jets w big square windows, all leather seats and overhead bins large enough for my rollaboard bag.

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Delta's Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

4> Three classes: standard economy (52 seats) , Economy Comfort (12) configured 2-2;  first class (12) configured 1-2.

Full first class section on Delta's California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

Full first class section on Delta’s California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

5> The first class section was full on both my south and northbound flights. Economy almost empty on the way down, full on the 9:30pm Saturday night departure from LAX

Healthy inflight dining for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

Healthy inflight snacks for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

6> Super friendly, eager to please flight attendants and healthy, organic snacks like edamame hummus, raw sunflower seeds, whole grain crackers, raw veggies– for both first and economy passengers.

7> Gogo wifi on all flights (although my connection was spotty)

8> Free beverages, beer and wine, for all passengers in first and  economy include Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. craft beer, Starbucks coffee and Wente Vineyards wines.

Although Delta paid for my ticket, fares are always low on this hyper competitive route, no matter what airline you fly. Currently, economy fares range from about $100 to $350 round trip, depending on how far in advance you book. First class runs $300-$500 round trip.

HOW TO GET A $400 AIRLINE TICKET FOR $89: Want to snag an easy 40,000 bonus miles? Earn 2x miles on all purchases? Avoid obnoxious foreign transaction fees? Get TripIt Pro for free? Check out the new Barclaycard promo here or at the bottom of this post. Easy peasy! Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card

Chris McGinnis

***

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United’s new seat + Delta dumps SFO-NRT + New Star Lounge at LAX

United's new slim line seats for B737s. (United)

United’s new slim line seats for B737s. (United)

United unveiled a newer, thinner seat design this week that looks great, but time will tell how well it performs comfort-wise.

The new seats are sheathed in sculpted blue leather with more ergonomic support. There’s a new mesh net storage space at knee level which is more hygienic; magazines are stored in a higher pocket above the tray table.

New seatbacks on slimline seat on CRJ700 (United)

New seatbacks on slimline seat on CRJ700 (United)

United also points out that it has reduced the weight and volume of the seat, which means better fuel economy. What United does not say is that it can cram more of these newer, thinner lighter seats on each plane, which means more revenue as well.

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The Chicago Tribune reports: “[On the CRJ700] The company plans to cut the size of the more-expensive and roomier Economy Plus section in half to 16 seats, while the number of seats in coach will rise to 48 from 28. First class will remain the same with six seats. In total, the planes will have 70 seats up from 66. The legroom for each seat will remain the same, United said.”

Initially United will install the seats on its fleet of smaller CRJ700 aircraft, but eventually we’ll see 60,000 of the new seats on 400 aircraft by 2015.

DELTA DUMPS SFO-TOKYO- Who’s #2?

Just a few days after announcing yet another tranche of flights from the Bay Area (SFO-SEA) Delta quietly pulled its San Francisco-Tokyo flight, effective March 30 2014. Delta spokesperson Anthony Black confirmed the move to TravelSkills:  “We are ending service between SFO and NRT with the last westbound service effectiveFriday, March 28, 2014, and final eastbound service effective Sunday, March 30, 2014. Delta is suspending its nonstop service due to an unstable revenue environment caused by yen devaluation.”

Nonetheless, Delta’s recent bulk up of new flights from SFO (15x per day to LAX; 7 per day to SEA) led to some speculation between The  BAT and SFO officials about market share at SFO. If Delta had kept the Tokyo flight, it would have easily ranked #2 at SFO in terms of seats. But with the elimination of the Narita flight, Delta and Virgin could tie for #2 in terms of number of seats. But then we have to consider the possibility of the American-US Airways merger, which would catapult the merged carrier to #2. In 2012, United had 46% market share at SFO; Virgin had 9% and Delta & Southwest both had 8%.

HOW TO GET A $400 AIRLINE TICKET FOR $89. Want to snag an easy 40,000 bonus miles? Earn 2x miles on all purchases? Avoid obnoxious foreign transaction fees? Get TripIt Pro for free? Check out the new Barclaycard promo here or at the bottom of this post. Easy peasy! Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card

The swank outdoor terrace at the new Star Alliance lounge at LAX (Chris McGinnis)

The swank outdoor terrace at the new Star Alliance lounge at LAX. Click image for slideshow!(Chris McGinnis)

SHINY NEW STAR ALLIANCE LOUNGE AT LAX (SLIDESHOW)

Last week, TravelSkills snagged a private tour of the new Star Alliance business/first class lounge located inside the renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Wow! What an improvement.

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The bright new space offers seating for around 400 Business Class and Star AllianceGold passengers, including an exclusive area for First Class passengers. Designed by architectural firm Gensler, the 18,000 square foot lounge features a unique open air terrace, with views of the northern runway towards the Hollywood Hills, and even includes fire pits and a water wall. There are two bars, eight shower rooms, enough electrical outlets to power an army, a buffet including a noodle bar, LEED certification (nice wood floors!) and an excellent collection of photographic art on all walls.

In total, eight Star Alliance member carriers operate out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal – ANA, Asiana Airlines, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, THAI and Turkish Airlines. Air New Zealand will move to the terminal in mid-2014

Here’s a slideshow of what we saw!

-Chris McGinnis

***

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Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card     Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card

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  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, based upon your creditworthiness
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • Use your card to book through any airline, hotel or discount travel engine with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Arrival cardmembers

 

Better SFO wi-fi + more TSA lanes + Southwest rules + OAK Connector + 50% p.s.

Here’s part 2 of our catch-up on the most important travel news for TravelSkills Readers from the last couple months. We’re sending out a couple installments of TravelSkills this week. ICYMI, here’s Part 1 of this week’s catch up!

Here's the hipster landing page you'll see when logging on to SFOFREEWIFI

Here’s the new hipster landing page you’ll see when logging on to SFO FREE WIFI

BETTER WIFI AT SFO. Logging on the (thankfully free) wi-fi at SFO became a clutter free experience this summer with an upgrade to a newer, faster network. Instead of a greeting of irritating ads, you can now log on with one click accepting terms and conditions, and boom, you are good to go for up to two hours.  Look for “SFO FREE WIFI.” When the airport is busy, the connections tend to slow down a bit, but hey, you get what you pay for, right?

The walls obscuring construction of SFO's T3 Premium security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

The walls obscuring construction of SFO’s T3 Premium security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

PREMIUM SECURITY EXPANSION AT SFO. Have you seen boarded up area adjacent to United’s Premium Security entry point (F-3) on the far western side of Terminal 3? Apparently, it’s hiding a significant expansion (six lanes, up from current four) of the frequently clogged security checkpoint, but we’ve not been able to squeeze any more details (such as opening dates) out of SFO yet. Stay tuned.

BART OAKLAND CONNECTOR UPDATE. The project to add an elevated spur line from BART’s coliseum station to Oakland Airport is on time and should open this time next year. The 3.2-mile ride should take just eight minutes and while fares have not been finalized, they could range from the current bus shuttle fare of $3 to as high as $8. The San Francisco Business Times reports that the project was initially pegged at just $100 million, but the final tab will be closer to $500 million. Now if we could just get BART to circle the Bay with a stop at San Jose Airport, we’d be world class! Will you be more likely to use Oakland Airport with the addition of the rail link? Please leave your comments below.

CHOOSE RENTAL CAR FROM PLANE? Yep. National Car Rental’s Emerald Club members will soon be able to fire up their phones when the plane touches down and using the new National smart phone app, choose among a real time display of available cars by make, model, even color. It’s sort of a virtual version of National’s popular Emerald Aisle where travelers who have reservations for a mid-sized or large car are allowed to choose any car on the lot. The new app will work at airports in Omaha, Richmond and Tulsa starting September 30 and National says it should be working at a total of 25 airports by the end of the year. Check out this video (above) of National’s Rob Connors explaining how it all works.

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Screen shot 2013-09-18 at 10.30.03 PM

(discoverlosangeles.com)

NEW LAX TERMINAL OPENS. This week marks the long awaited opening of the new $1.9 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. At 150,000 square feet, it’s half again as large as its dingy predecessor. The new curved-roof terminal we’ve all watched under construction in recent years is bathed in natural light, full of electronic art, mod furnishings, upscale dining and retail, new airline clubs and fantastic views of the tarmac and runways. (Sounds a lot like SFO’s Terminal 2, no?) The terminal is still a work in progress– it won’t be fully opened until 2015. To see more, check out this slideshow from the LA Times.

SOUTHWEST NO-SHOW NOW IN EFFECT. On Sept 13, Southwest’s new no-show policy went into effect. Customers who cancel a Wanna Get Away or Ding fare before departure can reuse their funds toward future travel without a change fee as in the past. Customers with other higher priced fully refundable fares either request a refund or hold funds for future travel. HOWEVER, if the ticket is not changed or canceled within 10 minutes of departure (no show), travelers lose the entire value of the ticket.

Inside San Diego's snappy new Terminal 2 West (Chris McGinnis)

Inside San Diego’s snappy new Terminal 2 West- those wavy lights are actually an art installation (Chris McGinnis)

SAN DIEGO MODERNIZES. Terminals at San Diego International’s 60s-vintage Lindberg Field are in dire need of repair or replacement. Flying Virgin America out of SFO’s state-of-the-art Terminal 2 last month and arriving at San Diego’s dingy old Terminal 2 East was a real eye opener. However, peering out from the old, dark eastern side of Terminal 2 I saw something bright and shiny and was pleased to be able to take a walk over to the new western wing of Terminal 2—and the difference was like night and day. In August, United opened a sparkling new 6,000 sq ft United Club in this new space. The United Club features spectacular views of the Point Loma seaside community, balcony lounge seating within the atrium and a centrally located buffet and bar. United is consolidating its operations at SAN, relocating all gates to Terminal 2 West and moving all its ticket counters there. No word yet on when much the much needed refurb of Terminal 1 (Southwest, Alaska) and Terminal 2 East (Virgin, others) will occur.

p.s. HALFWAY THERE. United says that it now has reconfigured eight of its 15 p.s. service flights to/from JFK and SFO/LAX. All planes should be completed by the end of this year. Have you flown on the refurbed 757 yet? How was it? Please leave your comments below.

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MORE MONTREAL. Did you know that Air Canada offers nonstops between SFO and Montreal during summer months? Starting this November, the 5.5-hour flight will transition to year-round using an Airbus A319. The Air Canada flight departs SFO at 8:10 am and arrives Montreal at 4:30. On the way back it departs Montreal-Trudeau at 5:35 pm, arriving SFO at 9 pm.  TIP: Air Canada offers some very competitive transatlantic fares from SFO via Montreal… and since it’s a member of Star Alliance you’ll earn MileagePlus points.

RENO-TAHOE. When Southwest pulled out of the Oakland-Reno market this year, Allegiant stepped in with fares as low at $40.00 each way on its Friday and Sunday (only) roundtrips. Allegiant also flies from Oakland to Bellingham WA, Eugene OR, Phoenix/Mesa AZ, Provo UT. Note that it only offers flights on certain days of the week—none daily.

Fares falling for fall flights to Hawaii!

Fares falling for fall flights to Hawaii!

MORE HAWAII. Beginning January 5, 2014, Hawaiian Airlines will offer daily wide-body 767 flights between Oakland and Honolulu, increasing its flights from four times a week. Daily service between Oakland and Kahului, Maui will continue as scheduled. In addition, Hawaiian Airlines will start new annual summer service between Oakland and Līhue, Kauai three times a week, and Oakland and Kona four times a week running from June 14 to August 15, 2014. We have started noticing the decline in Bay-to-Hawaii fares that comes during fall months… below $500 in some cases. When you seen anything near $300 roundtrip, you know you have a deal so grab that!.

MORE ONTARIO. United is adding a fifth daily flight between SFO and Ontario (ONT) starting December 19th using a CRJ-200.

ICYMI, here’s Part 1 of this week’s BAT news catch up!

Like what you are reading? Then please PLEASE forward this link to at least three frequent travelers and tell them to sign up for the Bay Area Traveler! THANKS!

Chris McGinnis

***

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New Delta Shuttle SFO LAX + Aer Lingus returns + Problems in China + Expensive cities

A Delta Embraer 175. Photo: Christopher Ebdon

A Delta Embraer 175. Photo: Christopher Ebdon

DELTA’S NEW SFO-LAX SHUTTLE. Today Delta announced  that it will begin hourly, nonstop Delta Shuttle service between Los Angeles International and San Francisco International airports on Sept. 3, 2013. The Delta Shuttle operation will include 14 daily flights in each direction and a product tailored to business travelers operating similarly to its New York Shuttle. Flights will depart at the top of the hour beginning at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday and will be operated by Delta Connection partner, Compass Airlines using 76-passenger  E-175 aircraft with 12 First Class, 12 Economy Comfort and 52 Economy seats. A Delta spokesman told TravelSkills that unlike the carrier’s NY Shuttle, the California operation will not have aircraft on standby, nor can passengers walk up and purchase tickets from a kiosk at the airport. The California corridor is getting HOT and super competitive. Delta’s product, using a two-class Embraer (with Wifi) is a comfy ride compared to some other airlines in this market. Delta’s boarding area at Terminal 1 now has PreCheck, too, which helps ease the journey. Hmm. Would you give up on your currentl mileage program and switch over to Delta to use this new shuttle product? Please leave your comments below. 

An Aer Lingus A330 at Washington Dulles (Photo:  Stephen White)

An Aer Lingus A330 at Washington Dulles (Photo: Stephen White)

BIG GREEN PLANE BACK AT SFO. Aer Lingus announced that it will bring back its nonstop between Dublin and San Francisco starting April 2, 2014. The Irish carrier will use an Airbus A330 on the route, which will run 5x per week. Air Lingus business class seats are of the less desirable “angled lie-flat” variety which are not as easy to sleep in as United’s true lie flat product. MileagePlus members should be happy to know that Aer Lingus and United have a code sharing alliance. Air Lingus nixed the SFO-DUB route in 2009 as the global economy sputtered.

(This is part two of a big “Catching up on Bay Area Travel News” post I’ve been working on this week. Here’s Part 1 of that roundup! 

A United 737-900 in Orlando (DolceLuxury)

A United 737-900 in Orlando (DolceLuxury)

UNITED RETIRING 757’s. United is taking an aggressive approach to retiring its fleet of aging 757-200s according to a post this week on FlightGlobal.com. United currently has 129 757-200s in its fleet and has plans to retire 73 of them over the next two years, replacing them with new, more efficient Boeing 737-900’s. However, United spokesperson Karen May told TravelSkills  that it intends to continue using its p.s. configured 757’s on the SFO-JFK run for the time being. Which aircraft do you prefer, the B757 or the B737? For me, the 757 is a torture chamber if stuck in standard coach. It’s a bit better in Economy Plus. First is okay, but still pretty tight for first class. On the other hand, on a recent short flight to Denver, I was lucky enough to ride on a brand new United B737-900 with 20 first class seats… and it was nice! What about you? 

ROCKETMILES OVERSEAS. Remember when we wrote about Rocketmiles, the new site that offers mega-mileage bonuses for upscale hotel bookings in major cities in the US? This month, it expanded to 100 cities overseas such as London, Paris and Tokyo. Good news for SF-based flyers, Rocketmiles offers miles in United’s MileagePlus program and points in Virgin’s Elevate (and seven other airline programs). Customers earn an average of 7,000 miles per booking while paying roughly the same rates those found on other hotel booking sites. Have you checked it out yet? (Note: Join the 214 TravelSkills reader who have signed up for Rocketmiles via TravelSkills—we earn bonus miles when you book for the first time.)

RIDE/CAR SHARING BREAKTHROUGH? Just in time for another BART strike, the California Public Utilities Commission has proposed a way to calm the waters in the crazy ride/car sharing market that is disrupting public transport in the Bay Area and across the country. The commission has created a new category called “Transportation Network Company” (TNC) for companies like Lyft, SideCar, InstantCab, and UberX that connect passengers with drivers using their personal vehicles via smartphone applications. This new type of transport company must apply for permits from the state, obtain insurance, provide driver training, and impose strict no drug or alcohol requirements on drivers. SFO authorities, who have been arresting drivers issued a press release stating: “Such companies are currently prohibited from operating at SFO, but the CPUC’s proposed decision is a necessary first step in paving the way for safe, legal operations at the Airport. This proposal will ensure that ride-sharing is safe for the public, by requiring companies to screen drivers, inspect vehicles, and carry adequate insurance.” The CPUC issued the proposed decision on July 30, 2013. It’s not yet clear how the new rules might affects new companies at SFO such as RelayRides or FlightCar that are disrupting the airport rental car business. Stay tuned

FREE WIFI SAN JOSE-LAX. Virgin America is offering a free 30-minute snippet of Gogo wi-fi on its flights on the hypercompetitive SJC-LAX market. Details here.  Southwest, the only other carrier with wifi in that market, charges $8 for access.

Big, beautiful Beijing Capital Airport is getting hammered by delays. (Tomasz Wagner Mananetwork)

Big, beautiful Beijing Capital Airport is getting hammered by delays. (Tomasz Wagner Mananetwork)

TORTUOUS DELAYS IN CHINA. And we thought delays at SFO were a headache…consider what it’s like to travel frequently from Beijing or Shanghai, where delays are so bad that riots are taking place at airports. In June only 18% of flights at Beijing Capital Airport departed on time, making it the worst airport in the world for punctuality according to FlightStats.com. Shanghai was only slightly better at 24% on time. The problem has become so bad that the Chinese have coined a new phrase for the angry mobs that form at airport gates: “kong nu zu”, or “air rage tribe.” (You MUST see this video of gate area anger antics. Wow!) The most significant delays seem to hit mostly domestic flights, so it’s probably smart to avoid using these airports as connecting hubs until the issues are straightened out. Instead, consider Seoul, Tokyo or Hong Kong.

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PRECHECK FOR EVERYONE. Starting this fall the TSA will open up PreCheck to anyone willing to pay the $85 fee (good for five years) and submit to a background check, which includes an onsite interview and fingerprinting. Previously, you had to be nominated by an airline, or participate in the Global Entry program to use PreCheck lanes, which do not require travelers to take off shoes or coats, remove laptops from carry on bags, or submit to full body scanners. Currently, more than 12 million travelers are part of PreCheck, which is available at 40 airports nationwide. The TSA expects the expanded access to add another 383,000 travelers to the PreCheck rolls within a year. We are big fans of PreCheck… what about you? Do you use it? What’s been your experience? Have you ever been declined use of PreCheck lanes? Please leave your comments below.

Emirates Team New Zealand Waka lounge at Pier 32 in San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Emirates Team New Zealand Waka lounge at Pier 32 in San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

EMIRATES’ AMERICAS CUP LOUNGE. Have you been by Pier 32 on the San Francisco Embarcadero and seen that large boat-like structure out on the docks? That’s the hospitality lounge that Emirates Airline has set up for Team New Zealand. Last week Emirates invited TravelSkills to the lounge and out on the water to catch some Louis Vuitton Cup action. But I knew some TravelSkills reader would love to see what’s inside that big boat, known as a “Waka” in Maori. Check out my Google+ slideshow and let us know what you think!

MOST EXPENSIVE CITIES. What’s the most expensive city in the world for business travel? I would have thought it would be one of the perennial picks, such as London or Moscow…but Australia has taken over! Brisbane is now the most expensive city in the world for business travelers followed by Tokyo, then Sydney and Perth. Melbourne comes in at #7. In the US, only New York City ranks in the top 10. Here’s the list.  What’s them most expensive city you’ve ever traveled to? 

GOTTA SEE THIS. Take a Google Maps Tour INSIDE an Emirates Airbus A380 parked at Dubai International airport… and let us know what you think!

United's new Scimitar split winglet (United)

United’s new Scimitar split winglet (United)

UNITED SCIMITARS. Look out your window next time you are flying United to see if the plane wing sports the sleek new “split scimitar” winglet, which is designed to help to reduce drag and improve the planes fuel efficiency. United says the new winglet will cut energy use by 2%, saving to $200 million per year. Currently only one United 737-800 has the new winglet, but starting next year, it will go on its fleet of Boeing 737, 757 and 767 aircraft.

PREMIUM ECONOMY PERK ON CATHAY. If you are flying in Premium Economy on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong this fall, be sure to snag a certificate good for $100 off in-flight duty-free shopping here. Flights must be booked by August 22 for flights Sept 1- Oct 31.

 

Chris McGinnis

***

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No SkyTeam for Virgin + New Delta Jets + 500 miles for middle seats

Upper Class seats on Virgin Atlantic (Photo: Gary Bembridge / Flickr)

Upper Class seats on Virgin Atlantic (Photo: Gary Bembridge / Flickr)

VIRGIN WON’T GO ALL THE WAY. For now, at least. Delta says that its new partner, Virgin Atlantic, won’t be joining SkyTeam any time soon. Seems strange considering joining an alliance was one of the main reasons troubled Virgin said it needed to partner with Delta back in December. Delta paid Singapore Airlines $360 million for its 49% stake in the British carrier. “At some point down the road SkyTeam will come up, and I’m certain that over time it will be viewed favorably, but right now that’s not the priority,” said Delta’s Ed Bastian, as reported by Bloomberg. “Their main priority is addressing their financial needs in respect of the losses they’ve been posting.” So it sounds like everyone who was hoping to be able to once again earn or burn SkyMiles for Upper Class seats on posh Virgin flights are going to have to wait a while.

BIG (NEW) DELTA JETS. Reuters reports that Delta is in talks to purchase small and wide-body jets from Airbus and Boeing in deals potentially worth about $6 billion at list prices. Potential orders involve about 20 each of the plane makers’ most popular jets – the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 in the medium-haul, narrow-body class and the Airbus A330 or Boeing 777 in the long-range, wide-body category. Sorry folks, no A380s or 747s—or the currently grounded 787 Dreamliner. What’s your favorite Delta jet… and why? Please leave your comments below. 

Middle seat in business class on ANA's Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Look at all that space to spread out and work! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Middle seat in business class on ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Look at all that space to spread out and work! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BOEING 787 UPDATE. Speaking of, Boeing is apparently ready to test batteries on two 787 flights, which could lead to the resumption of flights “in a matter of weeks.” Boeing is also polling frequent flyers on their perceptions of the beleaguered aircraft, but keeping the results of these polls confidential.  Let’s help them out with a poll of our own. (Hover over the “Vote” button to cast your vote...on some browsers the button might appear clear)

Have you noticed an improvement with in-flight wi-fi performance?

View Results

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NO FOOD INTO SKY CLUB. Even though the signs posted at Sky Club entrances state that no outside food or drinks are allowed, members are still surprised when they enter a club and get scolded by agents. But, what is a traveler to do if entering a club with food purchased outside but with the intent to eat it on the plane later? Hide it! The no-food policy is intended to prohibit smells, trash, and stains from filling the club, but if you are headed for a long flight, buying food in the airport is a good plan. Typically, coffee and bottled drinks are permitted, but that Big Gulp is not. If you bought a sandwich in the terminal, hide it in your purse or briefcase and promise not to open it until you leave.

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500-MILE MIDDLE SEAT BONUS. Did you know that Delta randomly surprises Medallion level members of SkyMiles when they get stuck in a middle seat on Mondays? Apparently, it’s a practice that’s been around for a couple years, but it was news to us when reader JK emailed to tell The TICKET about his pleasant surprise. Plus, he only had to endure this middle seat for the short flight between Atlanta and Tampa. Would you accept a middle seat for 500 miles? Please leave your comment below.

TICKET POSTS ON CNN! Remember our post a while back about smart strategies for saving money using smart phones overseas? It was one of our most popular posts last year. CNN liked it too, and grabbed TICKET editor Chris McGinnis at the airport for some advice in this segment.

LAX GROWS AGAIN. Delta is beefing up its LAX schedule again with new flights to Nashville, Tenn., San Jose, Calif., and Seattle and Spokane, Wash. Seasonal summer service to Anchorage, Alaska, Boston, Mass., and Bozeman, Mont. bolsters the schedule even further. On the international front, Delta is beginning new nonstop service to San Jose, Costa Rica and adding a flight to Guadalajara, Mexico (the current flight is a sleep-busting red-eye on SkyTeam partner Aeromexico). More frequencies are being added to New Orleans, La., Oakland and Sacramento, Calif., Phoenix, Ariz., and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

BOOKING HOTELS ON DELTA.COM. Did you know that you earn one SkyMile for every $2 spent on hotels when booking your room Delta.com? Not bad! However, remember that you do NOT earn hotel program points when booking on Delta.com.

NEW ATL FLIGHTS. Delta is adding service out west for the summer season with additional nonstops from Atlanta to Bozeman and Kalispell, Montana plus Saturday nonstops from Atlanta to Missoula. The flights begin June 22.

Korean Air A380 floating over Seoul Incheon Airport.

Korean Air A380 floating over Seoul Incheon Airport. (Photo: JangSu Lee)

AIRBUS A380 (FINALLY) TO ARRIVE AT WORLD’S BUSIEST AIRPORT. Korean Air will be the first airline to fly the world’s largest passenger aircraft to Atlanta nonstop from Seoul Incheon. Service was supposed to start earlier this year, but was delayed to August 2. The plane will park at terminal E where the airport spent nearly $30 million to upgrade the gate facilities and taxiways. Korean is a Delta SkyTeam partner and passengers can earn and redeem miles for economy or business class flights. SkyMiles members can earn miles for flying Korean Air first class, but miles cannot be redeemed for Korean Air first class flights (a restriction that Delta has for all SkyTeam international first class flights…business class is going to be as good as it gets!). Watch for the big blue jumbo jet to touch down this summer! Have you flown Korean Air lately? How was your trip? Please leave your comments below.

PHOENIX SKYTRAIN TO PLANE. Starting April 8, the PHX SkyTrain will connect to the Washington & 44th St station for Valley Metro, Phoenix’s light rail system—which means you can get to/from downtown Phoenix or Mesa relatively seamlessly via just two trains.

BRAZIL FLIGHTS COULD DOUBLE. The Brazilian government is permitting U.S. airlines to apply for additional frequencies to its airports. Delta is applying for a second flight to Sao Paulo from both Atlanta and New York-JFK. If approved, both flights would have the same guaranteed flat-bed seats up front as all existing Delta flights to Brazil with the exception of Atlanta-Brasilia.

NEW IDEAS INFLIGHT APP. Facebook users can now have their say on their in-flight experience by submitting ideas for Delta’s marketing department via the new Ideas In-flight App. Other customers can comment on ideas and vote on their favorites in the hope that new practices will be feasible enough to be adopted on a larger scale. Not all ideas are good ones, but it is certainly fun to weigh in with your thoughts and learn what other travelers think about the Delta in-flight experience.

Gettin' cozy on Delta.

Gettin’ cozy on Delta.

SNUGGLE UP WITH DELTA. A new partnership with Westin Hotels and its Heavenly Bed program is coming to a BusinessElite cabin near you. United Airlines was the first carrier to offer such a partnership, but Delta quickly followed suit offering its own version of comfy duvets. The new cushy comforts will also be available on domestic BusinessElite flights from JFK to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle plus from Atlanta to Honolulu. The new duvets and pillows will appear in June, and on ultra-long-haul flights over 12 hours, a special lumbar pillow will be provided.

MORE LIE-FLAT SEATS TO JAPAN. Starting April 1, Delta will offer lie flat seats on its Boeing 767-300ER flights between SFO and Tokyo Narita. Flights between Portland PDX and Narita already have the flatties.

DRIVING TO/FROM NYC AIRPORTS. Hertz on Demand members can drive a Hertz car between airports and several locations in Manhattan for less than half of what you’d pay a cab or car service…and there is no membership fee. Would you?

STARWOOD CROSSOVER REMINDER. If you have not yet linked your Delta and Starwood accounts, be sure to do so here. Starwood Gold and Platinum members can begin earning Starwood points on all Delta purchases made through delta.com or a travel agent (third-party opaque sites like Hotwire or Priceline do not qualify) and Medallion members can earn SkyMiles on all of your Starwood hotel stays (one mile per dollar spent although the same restriction on third-party opaque sites still applies). This double dipping will prove to be a great partnership for travelers looking to rack up points. Platinum and Diamond Medallion members will also benefit from free Internet access at Starwood hotels while Starwood Platinum members can enjoy SkyPriority access and a free checked bag.

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BUSINESS TRIP: BANGKOK. Are you headed to Bangkok…or do you just dream about going there? Check out  the advice and photos inChris McGinnis’s latest BBC Business Trip: Bangkok– read up on the rash of new luxury hotels, where to get great Thai food, where to get a suit made, and why you should NOT ask for chopsticks.

DELTA IN AFGHANISTAN. Flyers may find it interesting that Delta has opened its first sales office on the Bagram Military Base in Afghanistan to help facilitate travel for civilians and military personnel to and from the country. While this does not indicate new Delta service to Kabul, it does mean that Delta is trying to attract military and civilian flyers to its overseas flights by connecting them on other carriers to Delta flights (notably from Dubai to Atlanta). The two-person sales office helps Delta travelers with SkyMiles accounts, ticket purchases, and other travel-related issues. Next time you are in Kabul, be sure to stop by!

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Virgin America CEO David Cush: Why San Jose?

(Phoot: Drewski2112 / Flickr)

(Photo: Drewski 2112 / Flickr)

This morning, Virgin America announced that it will add four daily nonstops between San Jose International (SJC) and Los Angeles (LAX) starting May 1.

Virgin CEO David Cush told TravelSkills that he has been actively engaged in talks with San Jose airport and civic leaders for the last 18 months. He said that while San Jose was more interested in Virgin adding long haul flights to the east coast, he wanted to test the waters at SJC with new flights to LA first. “With high fuel costs, adding new flights from San Jose to east coast cities is just too risky for us right now,” he said.

Virgin will be entering the very crowded San Jose-LAX run, which is already served by four carriers: Low fare leader Southwest (which has pushed Virgin off routes such as SFO-Orange County), United (which dominates the Bay Area) as well as American and Alaska Airlines. Southwest flies a one-class 737 on the hour-or-so long route, United and American fly one-class regional jets, and Alaska uses a turbo-prop.

Cush told TravelSkills that Virgin is already competing well with those carriers on the SFO-LAX run, where it offers eight flights per day. “We will be the only carrier on the route to offer first class, wi-fi and satellite TV on a mainline, two-class jet (Airbus A320). Plus, we have a nice new lounge at LAX to attract business travelers.”

Virgin America CEO David Cush

Virgin America CEO David Cush

Another plus for business travelers: Virgin’s flights will depart from gates adjacent to the nice, new, $35-per-visit Club at SJC. Cush said that he would investigate how Virgin might team up with the lounge to offer special access elite-level members of the Elevate program.

Another reason frequent travelers might consider driving down to San Jose to catch a plane to LAX: weather. “For example, this morning our flights at SFO are delayed at least an hour due to low visibility, but flights are running on time in San Jose. I think that many of our customers in the indifferent zone around Palo Alto are likely to opt for San Jose on days like today,” said Cush.

He said that his market research shows that Virgin customers in the South Bay are willing to drive to SFO for its long haul flights to the east coast, but not so much for short hop flights to points along the west coast. For this reason, Cush decided it was time to “dip our toe into the market and see what happens.”

This marks the first time Virgin has ventured south to the San Jose International, which its leaders have said suffers from “the Virgin effect”—referring to the popularity of SFO compared to airports in San Jose or Oakland due Virgin’s low fares—and those of its competitors.

Current mid-week fares on the route are at about $178 round trip. Virgin will post its fares on the route tomorrow morning. Cush said he expected fares on SJC-LAX and SFO-LAX would end up on par with each other. Here’s the schedule:

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 10.46.49 AM

To entice Virgin into this fray, San Jose is waiving landing fees at the airport for one year– a savings of about $490,000 according to airport officials. San Jose Airport spokesperson Rosemary Barnes said, “We will realize increased revenue from more passengers who park on-Airport, spend at restaurants and shops, and increased  passenger facilities charges (PFCs) which go back to reinvesting in our infrastructure.” San Jose offered similar enticements to ANA to snag its (currently mothballed) 787 Dreamliner flights to Tokyo.

“We are delighted to welcome Virgin America as our newest airline partner and I’m confident they will receive a very warm welcome in San Jose,” said SJC’s Director of Aviation Bill Sherry. “Silicon Valley includes the world’s most tech-savvy frequent fliers who we know will love and embrace Virgin America’s unique product and branding; this is a winning combination.”

What do YOU think will happen? If you live on the peninsula or in the South Bay, will you choose Virgin to fly to LA from San Jose? Please leave your comments below.

Virgin Press Release

–Chris McGinnis

Virgin America’s new lounge at LAX

Virgin America’s new Loft lounge at LAX (Photo: Virgin America)

At San Francisco International, Virgin America’s digs at the bright-n-sassy new Terminal 2 are so nice that the whole thing feels like an airport club.

However, those who have flown Virgin to Los Angeles know that’s not the case at LAX– despite upgrades, facilities at Terminal 3 are sub-par– and frequently crowded.

But if you have elite status with Virgin’s Elevate program,  or an extra $40, all that changed today with the opening of Virgin America’s new 4,500 sq ft Loft lounge. It’s located inside security on the second floor of Terminal 3– occupying the space previously used by Alaska Airlines.

Would you be interested in a private tour of Singapore Airlines’ giant Airbus A380 double-decker when it arrives in San Francisco this winter? Click here for details! 

The space was designed by Jesse McMillin, creative director at Virgin America, and from the video below, the mod furnishings and red, white and black color palette and mood lighting look very similar to… the inside of a Virgin A320, or our very on T2 at SFO. (TravelSkills profiled McMillin’s “Cool Travel Job”  last year.)

The Loft has a maximum capacity of 90. Elevate silver members get two free passes per year; Gold members get three. Once you have used those up, day passes are available for $40. It’s open from 6 am until 11:30 pm daily.

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SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.

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