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

(Disclosure: I was a guest of British Airways on this journey)

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And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

>Airline cat fight benefitting TravelSkills Readers 

>8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

>Clock is ticking on latest Fall/Winter nationwide fare sale

>United’s newer, thinner seat

>Delta dumps SFO-Tokyo flight

>Slideshow of the swish new Star Alliance lounge at LAX

***

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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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  • 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)
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  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
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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)

[poll id="5"]

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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Sponsor:  

For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

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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