More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

The first Air France A380 arrived at SFO in June 2011 (Chris McGinnis)

The first Air France A380 was here during summer of 2011…now it’s coming back again! (Chris McGinnis)

NOTE: We’ll spend this week catching up on several snippets of Bay Area travel news that have been accumulating in our inbox….

HERE COME THE A380s…Lufthansa has suspended its Airbus A380 operations from SFO to FRA for the season, but plans to return the double-decker aircraft to the route April 8, 2014. The bigger story is that Air France will deploy a 516-seat A380 on its SFO-Paris nonstops effective March 31, 2014. Last time Air France flew the A380 to SFO was the summer of 2011 when it switched the A380 reserved for the Paris-Tokyo run to SFO due to the earthquake/tsunami/radioactive disaster in Japan.  Now we are hearing rumors about yet another A380 lumbering into SFO in the next year…any guesses?

VIRGIN AMERICA LAUNCHES DOUBLE POINTS…In line with other airlines this fall, Virgin America is jumping on the double points bandwagon offering twice as many Elevate points per flight between now and the end of the year. All cabins and fares are eligible. Elevate members who’ve registered for the “Feel the Earn” offer can also get a boost of up to 25,000 bonus points based on their total qualifying points earned for Virgin America flights in all cabins during that time.  Plus, to make the deal even sweeter, all the bonus points earned will count towards reaching or renewing Elevate Silver or Elevate Gold Status on Virgin America. Full details.

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Cathay Pacific's new business class seat on its B777's (Chris McGinnis)

Cathay Pacific’s new business class seat on its B777′s (Chris McGinnis)

CATHAY PACIFIC DISCOUNTS BIZ CLASS TO HONG KONG…Fancy a trip to Hong Kong over the holidays? Well, Cathay Pacific just gave you a present. By booking before Dec 1, you can save up to $1,500 off the cost of a roundtrip business class ticket for travel during the heart of the holiday season– between Dec 23 and New Year’s Day– a period when most business travelers stay home. The roundtrip cost is $4,689 (all in)  and is valid from SFO and other US gateways to HKG.  If you prefer Cathay’s jumbo 747 from SFO to Hong Kong, remember that it’s only around for one more year. Starting in Oct 2014, Cathay will run only B777s on SFO-HKG. Here’s a previous BAT post on the pros and cons of Cathay’s 747 and 777

SAN JOSE HINTS AT NEW ASIA FLIGHT…The new director of aviation at San Jose Norman Mineta International, Kim Aguirre, announced that the airport is expanding its international terminal from two to four gates. She also noted that the ANA Dreamliner flight to Tokyo Narita is spurring interest from other Asian carriers, and that a new flight to Asia could be announced within the next 12 months. Wanna make any guesses as to what that city or airline that may be?

SOUTHWEST BOOSTS SJC FLIGHTS…What is no secret, however, is that Southwest is planning bulk up its schedules from San Jose beginning April 8, 2014. One new nonstop to Denver, Orange County, San Diego, and Seattle will be added. Southwest currently owns about 50% of all flights to/from SJC.

Chris McGinnis 

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

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

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New SFO flights + United fee hike + SFO Terminal video + 787

Catching up on Bay Area Travel news: New flights to France & China; United hikes fees; video inside new SFO Terminal; flirt on Virgin America flights from San Jose; 787 Dreamliner update, new Routehappy booking site; FlightCar is back.

China Eastern's A330-200 at SFO (Photo Peter Biaggi)

China Eastern’s A330-200 at SFO (Photo Peter Biaggi)

HUANYING AND BON VOYAGE. Last Friday (April 26) was a busy day at San Francisco International.

At 9:30 am, the first China Eastern A330-200 arrived from Shanghai to a water cannon salute and a welcome celebration at the airport. For now, here’s what we know: The Airbus A330 departs SFO at 11:30 am and arrives at Shanghai Pudong airport (PVG) the following day at 4 pm. On the return, the flight departs Shanghai at 1 pm and arrives at SFO at 9:30 am. Three days a week, the flight offers continuing service to Wuhan (pop 10 million), a central Chinese city many refer to as “the Chicago of China.” At the festive inaugural dinner at the Westin St Francis, I learned that China Eastern offers two types of business class seats on its Airbus A330-200—one type is the angled lie flight, the other is a true lie flat (180 degrees flat). China Eastern’s San Francisco manager Charlie Gu assured me that the San Francisco flight will always get the newer plane with the true lie-flat seats. It has to, if it plans on competing for business travelers with United since the deployment of its excellent new business class product on SFO-PVG nonstops. Every seat on China Eastern’s A330 (coach and business) has personal seatback entertainment systems and access to AC plugs. China Eastern is the second largest carrier in China (after Air China), and flies a relatively young fleet—with an average age of just seven years. SFO joins New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu as the fourth US city served by China Eastern—although, oddly, the airline does not have a US website. China Eastern is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which offers Delta flyers a new way to earn and burn points on flights to burgeoning China. We’ll provide an in depth look at the new China Eastern flight to Shanghai in a future post.

Passengers on United's inaugural Paris flight greet by a 12-ft Eiffel Tower & free French inspired food & drink. (Photo: United)

Passengers on United’s inaugural Paris flight greeted by a 12-ft Eiffel Tower & free French inspired food & drink. (Photo: United)

On Friday afternoon, United recommenced nonstop service between SFO and Paris-CDG. (United discontinued SFO-CDG nonstops in Oct 2005.) Flight 990 departs San Francisco daily at 2:45 p.m. and arrives at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport at 10:45 a.m. the next day. For the return, flight 991 departs Paris at 10:05 a.m. and arrives in San Francisco at 1 p.m. the same day. United operates this new service with Boeing 767-300 aircraft, which offer 30 flat-bed business class seats, 49 seats in Economy Plus and 135 seats in standard economy. The BusinessFirst cabin (configured 2-1-2) includes 15.4-inch touchscreen monitors for personal on-demand entertainment, electrical and USB outlets, iPod jacks and five-course meals. Each seat in Economy features a 9-inch touchscreen with personal on-demand entertainment, and all rows (configured 2-3-2) include access to electrical outlets. Book and fly United to Paris by May 31, and you’ll earn some tidy Mileage Plus bonuses. Air France is currently the only other carrier offering nonstops between SFO and Paris. Paris-based XL Airways offers summer season SFO-CDG flights.

UNITED HIKES CHANGE FEE TO $200. In what appears to be a poorly timed slap in the face to customers just coming off a year a dismal performance by United, the carrier has increased its fee to make changes to nonrefundable tickets by a whopping $50. That means if you want to change a domestic ticket, you’ll now pay $200 (plus any change in fare) for the honor. Want to change an international ticket? That will now be $300, thank you. Shortly after United hiked its fees, US Airways matched, which likely means its future merger partner American will follow suit. That leaves Delta as the hold out, but it’s probably waiting a bit to hike fees after taking so much heat for changing its same-day change fee last week. As we all know, Southwest does not charge change fees at all, but passengers do have to pay any difference in fare if it has increased from the time of purchase. Alaska Airlines and Virgin America still charge a much more reasonable $100 change fee. Is the $200 fee enough to make you switch away from United? Please leave your comments below.

A LOOK AT TERMINAL 3 PROGRESS. SFO has produced a video providing a virtual hardhat tour of the new Boarding Area E at United’s Terminal 3, which is due to open earlier next year. Some interesting facts picked up in the video: The glassy new terminal should be as nice or nicer than SFO’s award winning Terminal 2 (home to Virgin America and American). Expect very wide corridors, high ceilings, giant picture windows with dramatic ramp views, a new “information terrace” at the entryway, environmentally sustainable design and local food vendors.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Dearest TravelSkills Readers: TravelSkills needs more readers. Can you help us out? Please forward this link to frequent traveling friends, travel agents, travel managers, travel bloggers and tell them why you love TravelSkills and encourage them to sign up! THANKS!

MEGA-MILE BONUS SITES GET FUNDING. Remember when we wrote about mega-miles bonus sites Pointshound and RocketMiles last month? Seems like venture capitalists think the sites are on to something. This morning, TravelSkills received a note from RocketMiles announcing that the six-month old company raised $2 million in its first round of external financing.

GET FLIRTY ON VIRGIN AMERICA. You see that hottie in the boarding area and try to establish eye contact. Bingo! You got “the look” back! You get onboard and see the object of your desire a few rows ahead of you. Instead of posting a “missed connection”  on Craigslist (and hoping for the best), a new service from Virgin America allows you to send a drink to someone via its seatback entertainment and food ordering system. Locate that hottie on the seatmap, choose a cocktail, and then send it over to them, then follow up with a text message via the system’s seat-to-seat communications platform. (Have a few minutes? Then check out this hilarious Asian animation of the new Virgin service.)

SPEAKING OF VIRGIN AMERICA. South Bay and Peninsula dwellers should be happy to note that Virgin America’s new four-times-daily nonstops between San Jose International and LAX crank up on May 1. Why suffer on another carrier’s cramped RJ when you can jump on Virgin’s mod A320 and send the hottie across the aisle a cocktail? Virgin will be entering the very crowded San Jose-LAX run, which is already served by five carriers: Low fare leader Southwest , United (which dominates the Bay Area) as well as American, Delta and Alaska Airlines. Southwest flies a one-class 737 on the hour-or-so long route, Delta, United and American fly regional jets, and Alaska uses a turbo-prop. Virgin is offering a two-for-one sale on SJC-LAX flights through May 31.

STATUS OF SFO’s LONG TERM PARKING LOT? From TravelSkills reader Damian: Chris, I love TravelSkills!  Have you written about the SFO Long Term Parking garageIt has had floor closures for a couple years and is now empty.  One parks outside or even gets a pass to go to short term parking at the same rate. Does the garage have structural problems?  Seems like it should be a scandal. Perhaps this is old news but in poking around on the Web I didn’t happen to find anything.” Having noticed the same thing…and wondered, we contacted SFO, and spokesperson Doug Yakel helped clear things up. He said, “The level closures in the Long-Term Garage are part of an ongoing, pre-planned schedule to accomplish routine maintenance. This includes pressure washing, restriping of ground markings and light bulb replacements. Only one floor is closed at a time for this work, and the work is scheduled to ensure all levels are open during peak demand periods such as the holiday travel season. We also monitor occupancy rates to ensure the appropriate match of supply and demand, and modify closure schedules if needed.”

ANA's expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

ANA’s expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

787 UPDATE. As you may recall, ANA’s important new nonstops from San Jose to Tokyo-NRT were waylaid by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner grounding, forcing all passengers to fly via SFO. While the FAA and Japanese authorities have given a conditional green light to new flights, ANA says it will begin by “replacing existing batteries with new batteries, changing to new battery chargers and installing new battery containment boxes and venting system. The improvements will require approximately one week per aircraft, with work on all seventeen aircraft scheduled to be completed by the end of May.” After that will be new crew training and a series of heavily monitored “proving flights.” This week, an ANA spokesperson told TravelSkills that it should have a firm date for the resumption of SJC-NRT by May 9. How would you feel about flying on a Dreamliner across the Pacific? Please leave your comments below.

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 9.41.54 AMARE YOU A HAPPY FLYER? Just fiddling around with the new Routehappy website makes us feel happy. Why? After a year of  researching, analyzing, and grading aircraft types and amenities, Routehappy applies “happiness factors” most business travelers care about such as seat pitch, width and layout, entertainment, Wi-Fi, in-seat power, plane quality, and trip duration to help you pick the option flight. In addition, it manually gathers complex information about flights from sources like the airline’s website, press releases, staff, industry analysts & influencers, blogs, forums, news stories and reviews from road warriors and “route experts.” It then applies a “happiness score” to each flight to help make the best decision. For example, I’ve always known that Delta’s roomy, jumbo B767 flights between SFO and Atlanta are much more comfortable than those long, narrow torture tubes known as Boeing 757’s. Routehappy exposes that. This sounded very similar to Hipmunk’s “Agony” index, which uses an algorithm to rank flights based on price, duration and stopovers. Routehappy seems to have taken flight ranking a step beyond that with more robust information that includes human input. Take a look at Routehappy and let us know what you think. Leave your comments below.

GET AROUND SFO CEASE & DESIST. The smart guys at FlightCar have found a way around the airport’s recent cease and desist order pushing it and other new-fangled airport transport options such as Lyft off airport property. Now, instead of dropping your car off with a FlightCar attendant at the airport, you drop your car at its off-airport lot, and then a licensed black car brings you to your terminal. When you land, you call FlightCar and the black car is sent to pick you up and brings you back to your car. Have you tried FlightCar? Should unlicensed transportation serviced be allowed at SFO? Leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News (March 10 2013)

Virgin America wingtip over downtown San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America wingtip over downtown San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES (OVER) REACT TO VIRGIN MOVES? It’s interesting to see how other airlines have reacted to Virgin America’s recent, and relatively minor expansion plans.

>For example, a day after Virgin’s announcement of plans to serve the San Jose-Los Angeles LAX market, Delta announced it would jump on the route, too, but with regional jets versus mainline aircraft offered by Virgin and Southwest. Alaska serves the route with a turboprop.

>Within days of Virgin’s announcement of a single daily nonstop between SFO and Austin, United countered with the addition of TWO more nonstops on the route, for a total of six daily (beware, most of those 3-4 hour hauls are on United’s regional jets). JetBlue also jumped into the fray with one additional daily SFO-AUS flight with continuing service to Ft. Lauderdale.

>Anchorage? After Virgin announced a single daily flight, United came back by increasing its daily summer season flights from just one to two daily.

>Back in December, Virgin announced new nonstops (3x daily) to United’s fortress hub at Newark starting on April 2. Notice how United (over) reacted to that? It increased daily SFO-EWR nonstops to 16 each way (!) from the current seven per day starting June 6. (Hat tip to routesonline.com for staying on top of all these changes!)

VIRGIN CONTRACTING TOO. Despite new routes, Virgin, which is still struggling to get into the black, is trimming schedules to cities it already serves. Examples: Starting May 1, SFO-Cancun is reduced to once weekly; SFO-Ft Lauderdale reduced to once daily instead of twice; SFO-New York JFK down to four daily instead of five. Orlando down from daily to just 4x per week. Philly: once daily down from twice. Washington Dulles down to three daily from four.

A China Eastern Airbus A330. (Photo: Kentaro / Flickr)

A China Eastern Airbus A330. (Photo: Kentaro / Flickr)

NEW NONSTOP TO SHANGHAI. Currently, only United offers nonstops (on a B747) on the red-hot route between SFO and Shanghai. But China Eastern Airlines cranks up new daily nonstop service between SFO and Shanghai (PVG) on April 26 using an Airbus A330. Currently, it’s US website is down and its San Francisco office is just getting established, so stay tuned for more information as we get it. SFO-PVG Fares are already declining—coach is down to just $1100 round trip compared to about $2,200 prior to MU’s arrival. Business Class is now about $4,500 round trip. China Eastern recently joined the SkyTeam alliance. Last year it won “World’s most improved airline” from the SkyTrax World Airline Awards. Have you flown China Eastern? How was it?

TIPS FOR USING PHONES OVERSEAS. One of the most-viewed posts on TravelSkills over the last year was our primer on saving money when using smart phones overseas. CNN liked it, too, and interviewed BAT editor Chris McGinnis about it at SFO. Check it out here:

VIRGIN AMERICA, SINGAPORE RECIPROCATE. Starting this month, members of Virgin’s Elevate program can earn and burn their points when flying Singapore Airlines. Since Virgin’s program is revenue (points)-based…and Singapore’s is miles-based, it gets complicated. Here’s a helpful breakdown of the deal from The Wandering Aramean blog. To celebrate the launch of the partnership, Virgin America is offering the chance for one Elevate member to win two round-trip economy class tickets on Singapore Airlines to Hong Kong or Seoul.  You’ll earn 500 Elevate points just for entering the Win a Stylish Ride on Singapore Airlines contest on Virgin’s Facebook page.

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NICE WORK, UNITED. Did you catch this bittersweet tale about how United held a flight for a San Francisco man whose mother was dying in Texas? He made it to Lubbock just in time, thanks to the work of United crews.

NO HASSLE TRAVEL TRIFECTA ON KCBS. My post last week about how using the “no hassle travel trifecta” could alleviate worry about impending slowdowns at airport security and immigration lines due to the sequester received a ton of play locally. KCBS called BAT editor Chris McGinnis for a chat about the strategy. You can listen in here!

BRITISH AIRWAYS A380. British Airways is deploying its first big Airbus A380 to California on October 15. Alas, it’s going to LAX instead of SFO. But nonetheless, BA’s Executive VP Simon Talling-Smith reached out to TravelSkills with some interesting info:  When it comes to configuration, BA is putting all premium class seats (14 in first and 97 in business) at the front of the plane, on both the main and upper decks—this makes for a quieter flight, and faster boarding/deboarding. (Most other carriers have business class on the upper deck—front to back.) BA says that it knows that premium passengers don’t like to fly at the back of the plane, even if in a business class seat. BA’s move represents the first time an A380 will be deployed between the US and London. LAX is BA’s second largest market after NYC. Introductory roundtrip business class fares between LAX and London will be just $3,800 round trip. Premium economy is $1380; coach is $830. Currently, BA does not have plans to bring its A380 to SFO. Would you add an extra leg from SFO to LAX in order to jump on this big new bird?

BritishAirwaysA380SeatMap

 

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Have you ever heard about TravelSkills—TravelSkills– for frequent travelers? It’s a free local travel blog that I subscribe to. It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us. For example, I first learned that PreCheck was coming to SFO, or that Virgin America was matching United Premier status from TravelSkills. I think it’s definitely something you could use. See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here. Thanks! ADD: *Your signature*

 

 

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

Boeing’s 787 grounded: My report from Tokyo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New business class lounge at San Jose Airport [PHOTOS]

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To coincide with the launch of ANA’s new nonstops to Tokyo, San Jose International Airport opened a big, bright, world-class, $1.6 million business class lounge this week.  And TravelSkills was there with a camera! (so please click through the slideshow above!)

A big, bright room for socializing

A big, bright room for socializing

The Club at SJC” is located across and upstairs from gate 15 (Terminal A) and is only accessible to those inside airport security. While ANA business class passengers can use the lounge for free, anyone can enter by paying the $35 fee for day use. Priority Pass cardholders (both regular and select) have access, too.

The lounge will be busiest during the hour or two prior to ANA’s departure at 11:45 am, but the club is open daily from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Once inside, everyone gets:

  • Snacks and beverages, including beer, wine and well-brand booze. You pay a premium for call brands like Patron or Grey Goose.
  • Free Wi-fi access
  • Access to a single shower room (towels, shampoo and soap provided)
  • Business center with access to two PCs and a printer
  • One private conference room

The 7,400 square foot club consists of two large rooms separated by the bar/buffet area. The eastern side is for socializing, with a bar, a large communal table and plenty of comfortable seating arranged in conversation nooks. It’s also the bright side,with views east over parking lots toward downtown San Jose.

ANA crews are ready to welcome business travelers to the new Club at San Jose

ANA crews are ready to welcome business travelers to the new Club at SJC

The western side is the business side—where you’ll find handsome stained wood work carrels with electrical outlets, and seats for those who need to sit and relax or get some work done. Windows look out at the airport concourse below, and beyond to runways. (See slideshow above)

In between the two rooms is the buffet, which will offer mostly cold snacks such as sandwiches, cheeses, vegetable crudités and chips. However, the lounge will offer hot breakfast items from 9:30 to 11:30 each morning prior to ANA’s 11:45 a.m. departure.

The lounge has a maximum capacity of 128. There are enough electrical outlets (US-style only) throughout the club for an army of business travelers. The interior design is modern and comfortable, with mostly neutral tones, but occasional pops of color, such as lime green. (See slideshow above.)

The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art has partnered with the lounge, and is exhibiting eye-catching and unusual travel-related works from local artists that are also available for sale. (See slideshow above for a look at the art.)

San Jose’s lounge is the fifth “common use” business class airport lounge opened by The Club Airport Lounges. It has recent opened two lounges at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, one in Dallas Ft Worth, and another at the new terminal at Raleigh-Durham.

Do you like what you see? Is an airport lounge enough to get you to give SJC a try? Why or why not? Please take a look at the slideshow above, and leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

 

Bay Area gets its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight

All Nippon Airways (ANA) today announced the new nonstop service between Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) and Narita International Airport (NRT) in Tokyo will start January 11, 2013.  (ANA announced in 2011 that the flight was coming, but did not commit to a firm start date until now.) The inaugural flight will bring the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft to the Bay Area. Good news: ANA is a partner in the Star Alliance, so United MileagePlus members will be able to earn and burn miles on the route.

The new flight will depart San Jose at 11:45 a.m. and arrive in Tokyo at 4:10 p.m the next day.  The return flight will leave Tokyo at 5:35 p.m. and arrive at SJC at 10:10 that  morning.  The service is expected to start with five flights per week, excluding Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The afternoon arrival in Tokyo is timed to allow connections to destinations throughout Asia, including Beijing, Hong Kong,Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Delhi, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Bangkok, and Manila.  The new route will be available for booking August 30.

ANA will use its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on the Tokyo Narita-San Jose route.  Built mainly from carbon fiber composite material, the 787 features increased fuel efficiency and passenger comfort– with larger windows, better cabin pressure and larger overhead bins. ANA was the launch customer of the 787, ordering 55 of the aircraft in 2004 and taking delivery of the inaugural aircraft this year.

American Airlines operated a Tokyo-San Jose route from 1990 to 2006.

Would you use SJC instead of SFO for your flights to Tokyo? Is a chance to fly the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner enough to get you to switch? Please leave your comments below!

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San Jose gets new Tokyo nonstops

Advertisement for ANA's new 787 Dreamliner at Tokyo's Haneda Airport (Photo: Infradept / Flickr)

Yesterday, Japan’s ANA (All Nipp0n Airways) announced that it would bring nonstop service back to Mineta San Jose International airport starting this April. (American Airlines offered SJC-NRT nonstops until 2005).

What’s most exciting about the announcement is that ANA will deploy the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the route. ANA is the launch customer for Boeing’s newest aircraft and the San Jose flights (as well as those to/from Seattle) will mark the first commercial Dreamliner flights in the US. Currently, ANA only flies the 787 on intra-Asian routes.

So far, all we have is an announcement– There is no firm start date for the flights and when I checked on ANA’s website today, San Jose is not yet listed as an origin or destination city.

Here’s part of ANA’s announcement:

Flying long-haul services to these two key West Coast destinations will enable ANA to maximize the Dreamliner’s efficiency and performance. The Dreamliner uses 20 per cent less fuel than similar-sized aircraft, making it the first mid-sized airplane capable of flying long-range routes, and offers new standards of passenger comfort because of its composite structure and interior design.

Shinichiro Ito, President and CEO of ANA Group, commented: “We are very pleased to announce the launch of further international Dreamliner services to these two new destinations on the west coast of the United States. We will make full use of the efficiencies of the 787 as well as capitalizing on our close relationship with United and Continental Airlines to enhance the competitiveness of our joint ventures with these two Star Alliance partners.”

“Seattle is an important international business hub and home to companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and, of course, Boeing itself while San Jose is in the heart of Silicon Valley. Passenger demand to fly to both destinations is high, not only from Japan but from many Asian cities. The launch of these new services will make ANA the only Japanese airline to operate the two routes, as well as the only carrier to operate the Narita-San Jose route.”

ANA currently operates daily nonstop flights from San Francisco to Japan using Boeing 777-300ER with new “Inspiration of Japan” interiors.

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