Most popular: Longest flight + California airlines + Best credit card + New lounge + Qantas

Chris McGinnis

Chris excited and looking fresh before this week’s 17-hour flight from SFO to Singapore- and back in just 4 days (Photo: Charles Schuler)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

17 moments in 17 hours on Singapore Airlines Airbus A350Weekend Edition

Singapore Air opens up about longest nonstop

Routes: United at San Jose + Delta, JetBlue, American, Virgin America

Trip Report: The long flight home SIN-SFO

JetSuiteX

The JetSuiteX Terminal at Concord, CA, east of SF- a nice break from the craziness at OAK or SFO! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Big news at two small California airlines

First look: LAX’s fancy new Terminal 6 (photos)

9 key phrases every traveler should know

How to choose the best travel credit card

National pop up lounge

National is installing free popup lounges with wifi like this one at Washington Dulles (Photo: Jeff Pearce)

Airports: Screening upgrades, Oakland lounge, National Car pop-ups + more

10 A new look & feel for Qantas

What do flight attendants love most about SFO? A fun new promotional video from San Francisco International Airport, introduced by Tony Bennett, offers personal accounts from flight attendants representing a number of airlines about the interesting things to see and do at the airport. See video What do you love most about SFO? Leave your comments below.

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

US State Department orders departure of family members at Istanbul consulate

DOT: Average U.S. air fares down almost 10 percent year over year

Got 2.5 million SkyMiles to burn? You can fly Delta Private Jets

(Image: Delta News Hub)

Use your SkyMiles for a ride on a private jet? Yep. (Image: Delta News Hub)

Southwest eyes new fees, but not for bags or ticket changes

JetBlue introduces fancy new amenity kits for Mint cabin passengers

Air India re-routes its SFO-DEL nonstop

Air India's first flight from New Delhi arrived at SFO before dawn. (Image: Peter Biaggi)

Air India’s flight path has changed (Image: Peter Biaggi)

Lowest airfares since 2009

Latest on Alaska-Virgin deal: Close, but still, no cigar

Delta app enhancement lets users follow their checked bags

Want to find your Uber rating? Here’s how

United introduces improved earbuds for economy passengers

AA/BA partner Iberia will get on board with premium economy seating next year

U.K. government backs plan to build a third runway at London Heathrow

Austrian Airlines promises instant replies to customer queries via Facebook Messenger

14 new Boeing 747-8 aircraft ordered, but you’ll never get to fly on one

(Photo: Brandon Farris)

Does that flagged winglet look familiar? (Photo: Brandon Farris)

Alaska Airlines reveals new military inspired special livery

This week Alaska Airlines revealed a new paint job, or livery, on a new 737-900ER. At first glance, that American flag wingtip may look like a move to integrate Virgin America design elements (see its flagged winglet here)  into the look of Alaska Airlines, but it’s part of a new initiative called “Alaska Airlines Salutes,” to support and honor those who serve. The design features an Alaska Airlines Salutes medallion and a fallen soldier badge, with the Battlefield Cross to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The plane also features five rings surrounding the engine, representative of the five branches of the United States military, and American flag winglets.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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Trip Report: The long flight home SIN-SFO

Singapore Airlines map

Photo of the inflight map of the northerly course of our SIN-SFO flight on Singapore Airlines (Chris McGinnis)

(INFLIGHT SIN>SFO) Well, that was a quick trip! If you’ve been following TravelSkills this week, you know that I jumped on Singapore Airlines’ new nonstop A350 flight from San Francisco to Singapore on Sunday. (Read part 1: Southbound SFO>SIN post)

Here it is on Thursday morning, and I’m northbound,somewhere out over the big dark Pacific Ocean, on the return flight (SQ 32). Our flight started out over the South China Sea, then passed between the Philippines and Taiwan, continuing up along the east coast of Japan. Then it was out over the Northern Pacific, where we skirted past the Aleutian Trench on course to arriving at SFO.

I love a good exotic flight board and the one a Singapore Changi does not disappoint! (Chris McGinnis)

I love a good exotic flight board and the one a Singapore Changi does not disappoint! (Chris McGinnis)

We departed Singapore at 9:25 am on Thursday, and we’ll arrive in San Francisco at 8:40 am on the same day– after flying for about 14 hours. Crazy to think that we’ll arrive before we left. Tailwinds have been kind to our flight, cutting about two hours off our flight time. The southbound journey on Sunday-Monday took 16 hours and 11 minutes, departing noon Sunday, and arriving at around 7 pm on Monday evening.

On this return flight, I was able to watch one movie– Captain Fantastic– highly recommended, a tear jerker but I’m always easily brought to tears on planes for some reason. You? I was also able to get some work done on the laptop, sleep for about four hours, enjoy two gorgeously presented meals (see below) and write this post.

Inflight wi-fi from Panasonic has been extremely fast and reliable on this flight (less so on the way down)– I’m amazed that I can upload photos and post this from the plane. Crazy! I purchased a 24-hour in-flight wi-fi pass for $22— very much worth it to me.

Hainanese pork chop with fried rice (Photo Chris McGinnis)

Hainanese pork chop with fried rice (Photo Chris McGinnis)

As usual, for meals, I tried to go native and order Asian/Singaporean dishes. For dinner, I chose the Hainanese pork chop with fried rice. It was good, but a little tough. Breakfast was far better- I opted for the oriental dim sum and loved every bite.

Four choices for breakfast in Singapore Airlines business class- I went native! (Chris McGinnis)

Four choices for breakfast in Singapore Airlines business class- I went native! (Chris McGinnis)

Breakfast onboard Singapore Airlines SQ32 somewhere over the northern Pacific (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Breakfast onboard Singapore Airlines SQ32 somewhere over the northern Pacific (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This has been a quick trip– just two quick days in Singapore and three very bumpy nights of not-enough-sleep. I’m surprised I have the will and wherewithal to write this! Hope you’ve enjoyed my reports.

I’ll close with one more unusual photo from this trip: A word of warning about some monkey business going on outside my window at the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort on Singapore’s southern coastline.

Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa

A warning about monkeys at the lovely beachside Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa resort (Chris McGinnis)

(Read part 1: Southbound SFO>SIN post)

–Chris McGinnis

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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17 moments in 17 hours on Singapore Airlines Airbus A350

Singapore Airlines A350 SFO

Singapore Airlines’ newest jet, an Airbus A350 at San Francisco International (Photo: Peter Biaggi)

In late 2016 Singapore Airlines (SIA) inaugurated new nonstop flights between San Francisco and Singapore using a brand new Airbus A350. The 8,450 mile flight takes about 17 hours depending on winds.

SIA invited TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis to jump onboard to report on the experience. For more background on this historic flight be sure to see our previous post: Singapore Airlines opens up about its newest, longest nonstop flight.

Fares for November SFO-SIN roundtrips are currently about $800 round trip in economy, $1,800 in premium economy and $4,200 in business class. There are no first class seats on the A350. There are 42 business class seats, 24 premium economy seats, and 187 standard economy seats on this bird. United also flies nonstop between SFO and Singapore using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Good luck send off with a dragon lion dance at SFO Gate 93 (Photo Chris McGinnis)

Good luck send-off with a dragon lion dance at SFO Gate 93 (Photo Chris McGinnis)

At the gate, SIA and SFO teamed up to celebrate  the first SQ 31 flight with a gate event that included a noisy, good luck, send-off dragon dance with drums, plus food, drink and swag (luggage tags, model planes) for all passengers. It’s always super special and exciting to take an inaugural flight– every passenger boarded with a big smile.

Singapore Air Airbus A350

To easily spot an A350, look for curly wingtips and black, rounded cockpit windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Looking out of SFO gate 93 at the brand new A350, I was looking for its most distinguishing features so I could always remember how to spot it on runways. From now on, I’ll always notice the A350 by its unique curly wingtips (see ’em?) and the blacked out, round-edged cockpit windows. Currently, it’s the only A350 flying into SFO. 

Singapore Girls

Always helpful Singapore girls pose for a photo during early boarding (Photo: Robert Silk)

Thankfully Singapore Air arranged for me to get on the plane a few minutes early to take photos of each cabin before take off. When I got onboard, the Singapore girls were busy scurrying around getting the plane ready, but took the time for a quick photo.

Singapore Airlines A350 economy class

Economy class on Singapore Air’s new A350- best seats are bulkhead row 47 and window row 48 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Economy class seats are configured 3-3-3. To me, the best economy seats are in the bulkhead at rows 47 and 48 on either side. The two seats on either side (not center) of row 47 don’t have seats in front of them (only a door), and the window seats in row 48 have open space in front of them, too. These seats are near lavatories, which might be bothersome if trying to sleep (but who really is able to sleep in economy class anyway? Not me!).

See SeatGuru for a full layout of the plane here.

Singapore Airlines A350 premium economy

Singapore Airlines A350 Premium Economy is a good option for those who can’t bear the thought of 17 hours in economy (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Same goes for Premium economy seats– bulkhead is probably best. However, on our flight, an unlucky set of parents were seated in the bulkhead (typically where airlines place parents flying with babies) and their baby cried for nearly the entire flight. So you take your chances when choosing the bulkhead.

Bulkhead seat 19F: My business class playpen for the next 17 hours on SIA's Airbus A350 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Bulkhead seat 19F: My business class playpen for the next 17 hours on SIA’s Airbus A350 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are two sections in the 42-seat business class, separated by a galley. I was in seat 19F, on the bulkhead behind the galley. These bulkhead seats have nice “wraparound” ottomans that other seats don’t, so when the seat back folds down into a flat bed for sleeping, you have plenty of space to move around. The non-bulkhead seats are a bit cozier and feet must fit into a narrow space for sleeping. Not uncomfortable, but not as spacious as those bulkhead playpens. Note that the bulkheads in the center are larger than the bulkheads by the window, so given a choice, take the center. Downside to the bulkhead is proximity to the galley, which can be noisy and bright if you are trying to sleep.

Business class passengers get voucher for 30 MB free internet

Business class passengers get voucher for 30 MB free internet

When checking in at SFO, gate agents provided business class passengers with a voucher good for 30 MB of inflight Internet. That 30 MB ran out in about half an hour of browsing and email, so I bought a 24 hour pass for $22. The connection was fine for light browsing and email, but I was unable to upload photos to share on my Facebook or Twitter feeds as I’ve been able to do on other transoceanic flights. 

Singapore Airlines menu

Singapore Airlines 14-page menu for SFO-SIN flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Amazing: Singapore Airlines’ inflight menu is 14 pages long! The airline is experimenting with a new flexible dining option on the SFO-SIN flights, so you have about 10 choices for appetizers and main courses (one of which, oddly, is a barbecue pulled pork sandwich). There are two meal services on this flight, but you can also choose to eat whenever you want. I chose to enjoy the full dinner service, which began an hour or so into the flight and took about two hours to finish– no problem on a 17-hour flight, right? An elaborate meal helps pass the time!

There are all kinds of cool new things about the A350, but the one that really knocked my socks off? The automated trash bin the the lavatory! Watch the video above to see how its motion sensors open and close the the flap so you don’t have to touch it.  What a great idea since I’m always a little grossed out when I have to push my used towels into the bin.

Singapore Airlines silverware

Stunning 6 pieces of silverware with dinner service on Singapore Airlines plus a delicious starter of prawns and pickled cauliflower drizzled with a lovely lemony dressing (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Another amazing aspect of Singapore Airlines service… the six pieces of silverware you get to use for dinner!

Singapore Airlines wine

Six wines from which to choose on Singapore Airlines SFO-SIN (Chris McGinnis)

Some excellent wine choices, including Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve champagne pre-flight as well as a 2012 Chateau Belle-Vue Cru bordeaux.

Singapore Airlines meal

Lamb Biryani main course on on SFO-SIN in business class on Singapore Airlines (Chris McGinnis)

When I fly international carriers, I always try to go native and ask for whatever is the most local and exotic, so I was surprised to see so few Asian entrees on the new business class menu. When I asked my flight attendant about this, she recommended the lamb biryani– an Indian dish, but since Singaporean cuisine is such a melange of different Asian flavors, she said that this was my best bet if I wanted to go native. She was right! It was delicious and spicy. I want it again as I type this 24 hours later!

Singapore Airlines steak

Main course beef filet on Singapore Airlines business class SFO-SIN (Chris McGinnis)

The passenger across the aisle ordered “grilled US choice beef filet” and I was able to catch the flight attendant for a photo of this perfectly prepared and garnished dish before she served it.

Since this was a brand new plane for flight attendants, there were some timing issues and hiccups in the meal service– having flown Singapore Airlines several times before, I noticed the imperfections. However, on a new plane, just like at new hotels, I’m very forgiving, and once crews learn how to work on the new A350, service bumps will surely even out.

Singapore Airlines sleep

Snuggling in for sleep in business class with my Bucky eyemask and Mack’s earplugs (Photo: Robert Silk)

My RX for sleeping well on planes includes a Bucky eye mask, Mack’s silicone earplugs, and Nite-Time melatonin tabs. On this flight, I tucked in and slept well for about five and a half hours– until those poor parents with the screaming baby began pacing through the business class cabin and allowing the kid to wail in the nearby galley. Oy.

Singapore Air does not provide amenity kits on this flight. Slippers and eye masks are in seat side bins. Toothbrushes, razors, combs, mouthwash and lotion are available in lavatories. Unlike my recent trip to Sydney on Qantas (a 14 hour flight), Singapore does not provide pajamas for business class passengers, so I suggest you pack a t-shirt to sleep in and ask flight attendants to hang your shirt so it’s fresh when you get off the plane.

One key reason I was able to sleep well on this flight: Flight attendants kept the cabin blissfully cool. I’ve had other wonderful business class experiences that were marred by overheated cabins. Yuck!

Singapore Airlines tea

A soothing cup of green tea does the trick (Photo: Chris McGinnis

Once I woke up, flight attendants came by and asked to help convert my seat from bed back to upright seat. Singapore’s business class seats are unique in that the seatback folds forward to make a nice wide bed– on other airlines, the seat usually reclines fully into a flat bed. After I was situated and upright, I asked for a nice warm cup of green tea,  a perfect way to wake up as we flew over the Philippines.

Singapore Airlines soup

Egg noodles with chicken and mushrooms for breakfast (sort of ) (Chris McGinnis)

I slept through the second meal service, but I had pre-ordered a big bowl of noodles as my breakfast… or lunch? Not sure due to the time change. In any case, it was a nice way to wake up and greet the afternoon in Asia, even if the soup arrived lukewarm.

Singapore Air’s inflight entertainment system is arguably the best in the world— there are hundreds of movies, TV shows and games to choose from. But my favorite by far is the inflight map! This one offers all sort of viewing options that I could sit and watch for hours. The video above shows what we saw as we approached Singapore. Talk about exotic! Wow.

Our flight path took us out over the Pacific to the north of Hawaii, over the top of the Philippines and into the South China Sea, then straight into Singapore.

Singapore Changi flowers

One of many stunning gardens that greet arriving passengers at Singapore Changi Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Changi airport is considered one of the very best in the world for a variety of reasons, including the gorgeous garden displays throughout the terminal. A perfect example is this beautiful bird set up to welcome passengers as we entered the customs and immigration halls– through which we passed in about 30 seconds.

Overall, I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about getting on a plane for 17 hours— even when I knew I would be sitting in a big business class seat on Singapore Airlines. I thought I’d reach a point where I’d be screaming to myself “get me outta this plane!” But it never happened. This flight, which ended up being 16 hours and 11 minutes due to calm headwinds, was no different than a 12 hour flight to Europe, or a 14 hour flight to Australia.

Don’t miss! The epilogue to this trip: Chris’s return flight SIN-SFO

What’s the longest flight you’ve ever flown? Tell us about it in the comments! 

Disclosure: Singapore Airlines covered the cost of airfare and hotels for this trip. TravelSkills paid for meals, transfers and incidentals. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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Dive into Delta’s newest Sky Club

New Delta Sky Club at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Photo: Scott Hintz)

New Delta Sky Club at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Last week, Delta opened a new Sky Club lounge at its growing Seattle hub. And what a club it is. We had a chance to preview it before it opened last Friday and we were impressed.

This new club is located in the main terminal between Concourses A and B, near gate A1. It’s the second Sky Club at SEA, complementing the existing lounge in the South Satellite terminal near gates S9 and S10. But this new lounge is far larger, newer and nicer — and definitely worth going out of your way to visit if you have enough time, even if you are flying out of the satellite terminal.

Delta Sky Club

New Skyclub location between Concourses A and B at Sea-Tac airport

 

Entrance to new Skyclub near gate A1 at SEA

Entrance to new Skyclub near gate A1 at SEA

The new Seattle Sky Club is one of the largest in the Delta network at over 21,000 square feet and with enough space to seat over 400 visitors. (Compare that to the new Atlanta Sky Club with 25,000 square feet and room for 500.)  The design is modern and sleek, quite similar to the design of the also-new Delta lounge at SFO. It felt more like something you’d experience at a BA lounge at Heathrow or maybe a Cathay lounge in Hong Kong in terms of it being large, light and airy, and packed with a lot of amenities. Kudos to Delta for really upping its game here.

Speaking of amenities, here are the highlights: Comfortable seating and power ports galore. You have a choice of long, partitioned benches; individual club chairs; sleek modern curved benches that feel like they belong in the mod, vintage TWA terminal at JFK; dining table/chairs; connected seats with high walls for privacy; quad-seat cubes facing away from each other; desk workstations; private pods with work lighting and swivel table/desk; and many other varieties of club chairs. There is truly a comfortable seat for everyone in this lounge. And all seating had power outlets integrated or adjacent to the seat. Even the dining section had clever power-port “towers” so you can charge up while enjoying the food (more on that below).

Elegant and functional seating at the new SEA Sky Club (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Elegant and functional seating at the new SEA Sky Club (Photo: Scott Hintz)

 

Private workstations are one of the many seating options at the new SEA Sky Club (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Private workstations are one of the many seating options at the new SEA Sky Club (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Power ports are everywhere, including these “power towers” throughout the dining area (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Power ports are everywhere, including these “power towers” throughout the dining area (Photo: Scott Hintz)

A gorgeous two-story space with lots of natural light and great views of the tarmac and Mount Rainier off in the distance (or so we’re told — it was cloudy on the day we were there). Delta has incorporated local design elements throughout such as a glass wave design in room partitions, natural wood, and colors that evoke the Pacific Northwest. There’s also a beautiful mosaic-style mural of the famous Pike’s Place market sign made by the same artist who did the similar Golden Gate bridge mosaic in the SFO Skyclub. See our review of the SFO Sky Club! This will be a very comfortable place to kill time or get work done at SEA.

Beautiful two-story, 30-foot space with lots of artwork and nods to the Pacific Northwest (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Beautiful two-story, 30-foot space with lots of artwork and nods to the Pacific Northwest (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Pixelated mural of Pike Place Market by artist Craig Alan McMillan, the same artist who did the Golden Gate Bridge mural at the SFO Sky Club (Photo Scott Hintz)

Pixelated mural of Pike Place Market by artist Craig Alan McMillan, the same artist who did the Golden Gate Bridge mural at the SFO Sky Club (Photo Scott Hintz)

Views from the expansive 30-foot windows in the Skyclub. Mount Ranier is supposedly visible on clear days (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Views from the expansive 30-foot windows in the Skyclub. Mount Rainier is supposedly visible on clear days (Photo: Scott Hintz)

Six private shower rooms with Malin+Goetz toiletries. There are three “standard” size rooms and three larger ones that we’re told can accommodate families if you are traveling with kids; but even the smaller rooms were large and impressive. The room has a private toilet, sink, and of course, shower area. The design is very high end and just feels luxurious. Well done, Delta.

Private shower rooms includes shower, toilet, and sink with Malin+Goetz amenities (Scott Hintz)

Private shower rooms includes shower, toilet, and sink with Malin+Goetz amenities (Scott Hintz)

Delta’s first foray into a spa integrated into a Sky Club. It’s run by Asanda and offers chair massages and relaxation treatments, all for a fee. I tried a 10-minute sample chair massage and it was great (normal pricing is 20 minutes for $50 or 45 minutes for $100). I also tried samples of two of the relaxation treatments where you lie in a zero-gravity chair, but honestly, didn’t care for either of them. The first is called Nap26 and you basically listen to white noise on headphones to relax, but I could still hear outside sound and the white noise just felt a little annoying to me. The other one I tried is the Deepak Chopra Dream Weaver, where you listen to a little bit of Deepak himself speaking in a calm voice to guide you to a relaxing “other” world, then you wear glasses with embedded LEDs that blink in various colors and formations to create hypnotic visual images (you keep your eyes closed and just pick up light and patterns). The blinking LEDs sort of freaked me out and made me stressed and anxious, the opposite of the intended goal. Maybe others will like it, but I would urge caution.

Chair massage and relaxation chairs at the SEA Sky Club spa (Scott Hintz)

Chair massage and relaxation chairs at the SEA Sky Club spa (Scott Hintz)

 

Chair massage and relaxation chairs at the SEA Sky Club (Scott Hintz)

Chair massage and relaxation chairs at the SEA Sky Club (Scott Hintz)

Enhanced food and drink It seemed that there was more food on offer here than I’ve seen at other Sky Clubs, not quite the full buffet you might see at a foreign carrier’s lounge, but getting close. Delta says it’s partnering with chef Ethan Stowell to provide food that has a local flair to it, in addition to a mac and cheese dish from Beecher’s Cheese, which is a Seattle institution (and we can attest to it being delicious). As far as beverages, it was the standard Sky Club setup of free and premium offerings, but here Delta will have Washington State wines, as well as spirits and beers from local makers. THE BAR at Delta Sky Club offers a variety of premium and complimentary options including Washington wines such as Chateau Ste. Michelle, cocktails from local distilleries including Glass Vodka, Westland Distilleries and more, Georgetown Lucille IPA craft beer, and freshly brewed Starbucks coffee.

Mac and cheese and other hot food options at the SEA Sky Club (Scott Hintz)

Mac and cheese and other hot food options at the SEA Sky Club (Scott Hintz)

Salads, crudite, and other food options at the SEA Skyclub

Salads, crudites, and other food options at the SEA Skyclub

All in all, this Sky Club is a fantastic new space that will be welcomed by frequent travelers. It also ups the game considerably in terms of lounge experiences offered by U.S. carriers — so American, United, and Alaska should pay attention, but even foreign carriers are put on notice. It definitely shows how much effort Delta is putting into growing its Seattle hub.

For west coast flyers, Seattle is an increasingly viable option for international journeys. Delta flies nonstop to five cities in Asia from SEA (Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo/NRT, Seoul, and Hong Kong) and three cities in Europe (London/LHR, Amsterdam, and Paris), with most of those airports offering tons of connections on Delta partners to get you almost anywhere you want to go. And Seattle is a somewhat efficient routing, as most west coast flights go up the coast over the Seattle area anyway to get to Asia or Europe.

Sky Club members and certain American Express cardholders have unlimited access the club. Non-members can pay a one-time fee of $59.

What’s Next for Sky Clubs? A renovated Club in Raleigh-Durham is scheduled to open in late November and will offer additional seats, more accessible power and a new food and beverage area. A new Club expansion is coming to Newark in late 2016, including a redesigned bar and more food options.

This post was written by TravelSkills contributor Scott Hintz

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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SFO flips switch on shapely new control tower

SFO's new 221-foot air traffic control tower will open next summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SFO’s new 221-foot air traffic control tower operational this week (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After more than a year of preparation, air traffic controllers will be working in San Francisco International Airport’s gorgeous new control tower this weekend. 

Rising up in a graceful flare, the new tower is 221 feet tall.  The 650 square-foot controller work area gives air traffic controllers unobstructed 235-degree views of SFO’s runways and taxiways. It replaces the current tower on top of Terminal 2, which will be dismantled quickly beginning in January because it obstructs runway views from the new one.

To celebrate, let’s revisit the behind-the-scenes tour TravelSkills took in 2015 when the airport turned the tower over to the FAA, which spent the last year outfitting the voluptuous, flared cylinder with its systems, testing them and training controllers.

Ready to take a tour? Let’s start at the bottom and move to the top.

Inside the new corridor connecting SFO’s T1 and T2. View from T2 entry. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Part of the tower project was to create a bright new land side corridor (along the roadway) connecting Terminal 1 with Terminal 2. What’s amazing about the corridor is that it has a glass roof so you can stop and peer up at the new tower. Handrails are needed to keep folks from falling over as they crane their necks to view the beautiful new metallic cone. It’s gorgeous, almost hypnotic, and vertigo-inducing to look up at it as the clouds roll by.

The view looking up from the new glass-roofed corridor between SFO T1 and T2 (Chris McGinnis)

The view looking up from the new glass-roofed corridor between T1 and T2- note the waterfall of lights panels facing west (Chris McGinnis)

A new computer controlled display now lights up the tower in a variety of colors, which can be seen from miles away after dusk. Like the Empire State Building or San Francisco City Hall, the new “waterfall of lights” is used for special occasions– orange when the Giants win, or red and green for Christmas, etc.

Inch thick blast-proof glass across the front of the building under the tower (Chris McGinnis)

Inch-thick, blast-proof glass across the front of the building under the tower (Chris McGinnis)

The FAA has offices in a three-story building at the base of the tower, where the exterior and glass walls have been thickened and hardened to prevent damage from truck bombs on the nearby roadway.

The structure is built on “bay mud” according to project manager Tony Kingsman who said that the tower is supported in bedrock 140 below ground, and is designed to withstand an 8.0 earthquake and still be operational.

This is SFO’s fourth control tower. The current one was built in 1981 atop the current Terminal 2, deemed seismically unstable, so construction began on the new tower three years ago.

It cost about $120 million to build the tower, FAA office building and corridor. The FAA kicked in about 70 million of that– enough for a basic, utilitarian structure, but SFO wanted it to be an iconic, torch-like symbol of the gateway to the Pacific, so it contributed an additional $50 million for aesthetics, as well as additional airport space like the new corridor.

HNTB provided the conceptual design of the new structure and it was designed and built by Hensel Phelps and Fentress Architects.

With the new tower open, the old tower will be dismantled quickly so as not to obstruct runway views from the new one. There is talk of the airport adding a outdoor viewing platform, open the the public, in the old tower’s footprint atop T2, but for now, that’s just talk.

Okay then.  Let’s crawl up inside this spectacular structure! Watch this video and scroll through the images and video below.

(NOTE: This video was shot last year before the FAA moved its equipment into the tower.)

Aside from the stunning view, note that US Airways/American is now operating out of Delta's Boarding Area C (Chris McGinnis)

Aside from the stunning view, note that US Airways/American is now operating out of Delta’s Boarding Area C (Chris McGinnis)

First taking an elevator up about 10 floors and then walking up a spiral staircase, you enter a wonderland of planespotting— a full 270 degrees of unobstructed airport views through 24 giant panes of 1-1/2 inch-thick glass. On the western side of the 650-square-foot “cab” there are a few pillars that hold up the roof. I’ve never seen a view like this one.

Looking out from 221 feet over Terminal 2, home of Virgin America and American (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out from 221 feet over Terminal 2, home of Virgin America and American (Chris McGinnis)

 

The tower complex is covered in at least 100 lightening rods grounded by shiny metal cables. Look closely and you'll see them (Chris McGinnis)

The tower complex is covered in at least 100 lightning rods grounded by shiny woven metal cables. Look closely and you’ll see them (Chris McGinnis)

 

Looking out over T3 and the current control tower (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out at the United hangar and (oddly) looking down on the current control tower, which will soon disappear (Chris McGinnis)

 

Installation of air traffic controller stations- there is room for 13 up here, but usually only 6-8 on the job. (Chris McGinnis)

Installation of air traffic controller stations- there is room for 13 controllers up here, but usually only 6-8 on the job. (Chris McGinnis)

 

Looking out at one of two cranes used to clean and maintain the tower exterior (Chris McGinnis)

Looking out at one of two cranes used to clean and maintain the tower exterior (Chris McGinnis)

 

Looking over the parking lot and international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

Looking over the parking lot and international terminal (Chris McGinnis)

 

Air traffic controllers break room is one level below the cab- talk about a room with a view! (Chris McGinnis)

Air traffic controllers’ break room is one level below the cab- talk about a room with a view! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Here's the view from the air traffic controllers break room. Nice! (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s the view from the air traffic controllers break room. Nice! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Your excited TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis pondering a lightening rod on the top of SFO control tower (Doug Yakel)

Your excited TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis pondering a lightning rod on the top of SFO control tower (Doug Yakel)

Here’s a video watching an Air China 747-8 take off from outside the cab.

Take a 360 degree tour from inside the newly outfitted tower here:

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

-Chris McGinnis

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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Deal: Australia on sale! $914 round trip

Sydney Bondi Beach

Take off for Sydney this winter for less than $1,000 round trip on Air New Zealand- Bondi Beach pictured (Chris McGinnis)

Air New Zealand is offering fantastic fares for travelers hoping to go to Australia in 2017. This is a great opportunity to explore the country as these fares are good for travel to seven different Australian destinations: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide, Perth, and Gold Coast.

Roundtrip travel from SFO or LAX to any of these 7 cities starts at just $995 but you have to book by October 24 to get the discounted fare. This deal is good for travel between January 26 and May 31 (mid summer to fall down under!) so there’s plenty of time to get ready for your adventure. The only catch: You must make a stop in Auckland, New Zealand to get there.

Anytime you see fares drop below $1,000 to Australia, you know you’ve got a good deal on your hands.

Google flights showing SFO-Perth for just $914 in March and April

Google flights showing SFO-Perth for just $914 in March and April

When we checked fares on Google Flights, we were able to book sub $1,000 fares starting in February. The closer to May you get, the more likely you are to find the really low fares. We were even able to find fares as low as $914 round trip from LAX or SFO for flights (in March) as far away as Perth! (High on my bucket list!)

You can book online through www.airnewzealand.com. Looking for loyalty points? When you book this deal you can accrue points toward your Air New Zealand Airpoints or United Airlines MileagePlus account.

Summer in Australia doesn’t end until March so snag one of these deals if you’re looking for a sunny getaway during our cold and hopefully wet winter.

–Chris McGinnis

*Fare(s) available at time of publication and subject to change.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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DEAL! US – Australia roundtrips under $900

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Take in a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a lot less! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fares from some US cities to Australia have dropped just in time to book a year end getaway.  Nonstop flights from LAX – Sydney are down to $870 round trip for fall trips! These fares is available on Delta, United, and American so you can enjoy the discount and remain loyal to your alliance. Similar fares are available to Melbourne and Brisbane, too.

The cheapest one-stop round trip we found from SFO – SYD was on Delta: $828 with 1 stop at LAX. Round trip fares from ATL – SYD are also $828 on United with one stop at SFO. (Source: Google Flights)

(Image: Google Flights)

(Image: Google Flights)

Any time we see fares to Australia dip below $1,000, we know we have a really good deal on our hands.

According to Google Flights, all of these cheap fares are available for travel dates starting now through mid-December. Book now to make sure you get these good deals and take a last-minute summer trip or a fall vacation. As temperatures start to cool down in the US, it will be nice to escape to Australian springtime.

NOTE: Fares valid when posted at 1:15pm on Wednesday, July 20.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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UPDATED: Turkish Airlines: We’re back! (but…)

Turkish Airlines

Passengers board a Turkish Airlines B777 in Istanbul (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

UPDATE: Monday July 18 11:30 PDT: BREAKING: New official FAA Statement:
“The FAA lifted all restrictions on flights to and from Turkey at 1:45 p.m. EDT, July 18, 2016.” Flights to US are expected to resume on Tuesday, July 19. Read updated post on TravelSkills here. 

This alert from Turkish Airlines popped into our email box Saturday morning…at about the same time we started hearing that the FAA had banned flights from Turkey from flying into the US….

Turkish Airlines is the only carrier with nonstops between the U.S. and Turkey. Friday, Turkish Airlines Flight 80 departed SFO at 6:10 pm in the midst of the crisis, and has apparently landed safely according to FlightAware. 

Currently, all flights to/from the US show as canceled on the Turkish Airlines website flight cancellation page. 

The US Embassy in Turkey has stated that the FAA has banned flights from Turkey to the US, so the situation remains fluid. The US State Department tweets that it has “no updates on when flights to the US will resume.”

You can watch flight traffic over Istanbul here which shows flights from IST to other countries has resumed. This means that Americans should be able to get out of the country, then change planes at a European airport to get back to the U.S. For its part, Lufthansa/SWISS says that it will not alter schedules to Turkey, which provides a way for US citizens (and Star Alliance partners) a way to get in and out of the country. 

Update: 11 am PDT: Regarding FAA ban on Turkish Air in US, company spokesperson tells TravelSkills: “We are waiting on final statement from TK headquarters.”

Update 7 am PDT SUNDAY: Although we have not yet received any subsequent official statements from Turkish Airlines, this is the latest from the US State DepartmentExpect further disruptions in commercial and public transportation, and check with your transportation provider (e.g., airline, train operator, etc.).  Per the Federal Aviation Administration’s notice to airmen (NOTAM), U.S. airline carriers are prohibited from flying to or from Istanbul and Ankara airports.  All airline carriers, regardless of country of registry, are prohibited from flying into the United States from Turkey either directly or via a third country.  Further, although some airlines resumed service, travelers should be prepared for changes to flight schedules and paths.  Please contact your airline for the latest flight information and to confirm your travel plans.

UPDATE: Sunday 6 pm PDT. Turkish Air finally addresses US cancellations in a tweet:

 

OFFICIAL STATEMENT

Istanbul, 16th July 2016

Announcement from Turkish Airlines to our Valued Passengers and Dear Nation,

With the unflinching will of the people, Turkey has awakened to a new day with a much stronger sense of democracy and freedom.

Upon the call of our President H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan our operations at İstanbul Atatürk Airport are now back to normal and flights have begun.

As of the 16th of July by 14:30 (EEST) all our flight operations will resume as planned. Grateful to our Dear Nation, we extend our thanks to our passengers for their understanding for the inconvenience.

Due to this situation, for individual and group reservations, provided that:

  • Flights operated by Turkish Airlines ( including AnadoluJet trademark )
  • Departing/arriving to Turkey (including domestic flights) and/or transit flights via Turkey
  • Flights operated between 15 July 2016 – 17 July 2016 (inclusive)
  • Ticketed on/before 15 July 2016
  • Tickets are revalidated untıl 15 August 2016 (ınclusive)

And disregardıng of related fare rules:

1) All Rebooking/ReRouting will be made without any charge provided that new destination is same IATA region & same cabin class

2) Refund requests:

  1. a) Unused tickets: refund will be made without any charge; or
  2. b) For partially used tickets, when planned trip is not complete; the remaining flights will be refunded without any charge.

3) Extension of ticket validity:

Validity of ticket can be extended until 15 August 2016 (inclusive) without any fare difference or penalty.

Regards,

Turkish Airlines Inc. (Website here)

Turkish Airlines

Click for one of our favorite trip reports…ever! (Image: Chris McGinnis

Don’t miss this one from! Trip Report: Turkish Airlines business class SFO-IST (June 2016)

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Most popular: Southwest PreCheck | SFO secrets | New routes | China trip report | JetBlue to ATL?

SFO

An unusual perspective of SFO sent in by reader Monte Deignan who was inspired by our SFO secrets post this week!

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

Southwest’s interesting new PreCheck promotion

6 SFO secrets you should knowWeekend Edition

Routes: Alaska, American, JetBlue, Frontier, Allegiant

Trip Report: United BusinessFirst to Xi’an, China

The secret reason for new hotel loyalty discounts

Be the first to try American’s premium economy cabin

Surf Air: All-you-can-fly in Europe for $3,250

New tech speeds up airport security screening

6 highly annoying habits of infrequent fliers (Don’t miss the reader comments on this one!)

10 Lyft’s posh new option, but how much does it cost?

Virgin Atlantic SFO

Deep selection of bourbon & new nibblies at Virgin Clubhouse at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

We took a spin through the recently refurbished Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at SFO this week for a reveal of its new snack menu (from Whitechapel in SF) and a presentation by its talented mixologist Justin who’s been running the exquisite full service bar with his wife for 10 years. TIP: A Virgin spokesperson said that the club should have airside access by next fall (2017). Virgin Atlantic has two flights per day from SFO, the first one, which departs at 5:40 pm is still using the older Airbus A340; the 9:10 pm departure uses its new 787 Dreamliner. By October, both flights will be operated with a Dreamliner. Our advice: Book the 9:10 pm departure and arrive at the Clubhouse early for a few Manhattans or Old Fashioneds, then pour yourself onto the plane for a good night’s sleep! Don’t forget that the club is open to business class ticketholders and both Virgin and Delta Elites with same-day transatlantic nonstop flights to London.

Remember when a US Airways A320 took a dive into the Hudson River? Watch part of that drama unfold here on the official trailer of “Sully” (IMDB) starring Tom Hanks in theaters this September.

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

JetBlue to return to Atlanta in 2017

The REAL story behind TSA PreCheck enrollment mess

WIRED mag goes inside Delta’s “Mission Control” VIDEO

United’s board goes from worst to first in 3 short months- sign of turnaround?

TSA Horror Show has been fixed- for now at least

Maybe ATL is not so “international” after all

How much do Uber drivers really make? Not much!

KLM Beer Heineken

KLM to offer a first: Beer on tap inflight (Photo: KLM)

KLM will offer in-flight beer on tap

One major airport in the world hasn’t lost a bag in 20 years

Travel + Leisure names Virgin America best U.S. airline for ninth straight year

Boingo offers free airport Wi-Fi to Android users for six months

Singapore Airlines will introduce bidding system for seat upgrades

Hey have you given Lyft a try yet? We’ve recently been won over by friendlier drivers, ease in tipping, and rides in the front seat. Get $20 off your first ride when using our link!

Lyft Logo

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Trip Report: United BusinessFirst to Xi’an, China

Biking on the city wall (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United Xian

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Cheers! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

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

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

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

(Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

UA853 to Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

UA853 to Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

The 787! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

 1A! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

My seat:  1A! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

(Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

Forward cabin during boarding (Photo: Dan Erwin)

BusinessFirst cabin during boarding (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

Standard Leather Amenity (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

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

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

Main meal service appetizer (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

Main meal service Salad (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Dessert! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Chinese Style Soup and Tea (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

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

Pepper Jack Cheese Omelette (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

Approaching Xi’an (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

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

Xi’an Airport (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

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

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

Xian as a Destination:

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

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

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

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

 

Some of the Terracotta Warriors (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Check-in at XIY (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

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

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

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

Lounge Entrance (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Lounge Entrance (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

30 Xian Lounge Food-1

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

Team USA amenity kits (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Team USA amenity kits (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Team USA Socks and Mask (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Team USA Socks and Mask (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

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

Beef role with yam (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Almost home! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Almost home! (Photo: Dan Erwin)

 

Foggy arrival at SFO (Photo: Dan Erwin)

Foggy arrival at SFO (Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

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

(Photo: Dan Erwin)

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

 

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

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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6 SFO secrets you should know

Your excited TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis capturing a moment on the top of SFO control tower (Doug Yakel)

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis capturing a moment on the top of SFO’s shapely new control tower (Image: Doug Yakel)

I fly a lot. And that means I have spent an inordinate amount of time at airports over the course of my frequent flying career. Luckily, most airports have improved immensely over the last few decades, but there are still some that I love a lot more than others.

Not surprisingly, one that sits at the top of my list is my hometown airport San Francisco International (SFO). So when National Car Rental asked me to write up a sponsored post about tips, advice and secrets about SFO, I jumped at the chance. So here we go:

SFO secret garden

SFO’s secret Garden Patio by Terminal 1 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

1>A SECRET GARDEN. Regrettably, SFO does not yet offer any outdoor terraces from which to view the tarmac, but that should change when a new Grand Hyatt opens on airport grounds (mid-2019) offering views from a rooftop bar. In the meantime, the SFO gardeners, who stay busy keeping the plants inside the airport thriving, recently created a gorgeous outdoor space for airport employees to take a break—but anyone, including passengers, can also enjoy the space surrounded by a verdant collection of drought-tolerant plants and succulents. It’s located outside Terminal 1. (More details) NOTE: New construction around Terminal 1 has encroached a bit on the Secret Garden, but it’s still a nice place to chill out!

New secret passage between Boarding Areas C and D (Image: SFO)

2>SECRET PASSAGE. One of SFO’s biggest achievements is the recent re-do of Terminal 2 (T2), now a standard bearer in airport design and amenities. The light and airy facility houses the operations of American and Virgin America and offers fresh, healthy food provided by local restaurants, mod hotel-style furnishings, awesome runway views, water bottle refill stations, and a constantly changing museum exhibition. It was one of the first airport terminals to receive LEED certification. Last year the marvels of T2 opened up to even more flyers when the airport completed a behind-security passageway connecting it to Delta’s more prosaic wing of Terminal 1 (T1). Unfortunately, a similar passageway does not connect T2 with United’s bustling and always-crowded Terminal 3. (SFO map here)

Don’t miss: Inside look at SFO’s shapely new control tower! (PHOTOS)

Food trucks at SFO on Thursdays! (Image: SFO)

3>FOOD TRUCKS. If you are stuck in a fog or rain delay at SFO (regrettably common) and have a hankering to hang with some locals, dine at a food truck! Every Thursday at lunchtime (11 am-2 pm), the airport allows local food trucks to line an unused portion of the upper deck (departures level) of Terminal 1. For a truly San Francisco experience, grab a mission-style burrito, easily the city’s most loved (and consumed) meal. After a meal like that, you’ll sleep well on the plane, I assure you.

SFO built one of the first centralized car rental centers (Image: SFO)

4>HITTING THE ROAD. Most folks flying into SFO and renting cars are headed to Silicon Valley (30 mins south), Wine Country (1-2 hours north), or Monterey, Big Sur or Carmel (2 hours south). Luckily SFO’s AirTrain (Blue line) connects all terminals to a nearby centralized car rental facility. In a hurry? National’s Emerald Club members get on the road faster than others because, once off the AirTrain, they bypass the counter and simply walk to the car of their choice (the keys are in it), load up and hit the road. No lengthy wait to check in, get keys or sign contracts. And if the sun is out, consider upgrading to a convertible on the spot! This is California after all, right?

Best spot for plane spotting at SFO in United’s Terminal 3 (Image: SFO)

5>A PLACE FOR AVGEEKS. Most frequent travelers like me are also aviation geeks. To us there’s not much better than a day of plane spotting, and no better airport than SFO to do so. As the Bay Area economy has bubbled over in recent years, airlines from all corners of the world are fighting to add nonstop service. As a result, tarmacs are full of beautiful and exotic birds from around the world. One of the best places to watch planes take off and land is in the newest section of United’s Terminal 3 called “T3E.” At the very end of this concourse (near gates 65 and 66) you’ll find floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking runways where giant jumbos take off, bound for Europe, Asia, the South Seas or the Middle East. The best daylight hours for plane spotting run from about 1 pm until 3 pm. If that is not enough to sate your interest, check out SFO’s Aviation Museum, tucked away in a corner of the international terminal. It’s chock full of constantly-changing, super-size model aircraft hanging from the ceiling, plus aviation exhibits (like collections of vintage flight attendant uniforms, or in-flight amenity kits). Entry to the museum is free of charge and open to the public.

6>RELAX! These days, SFO is a super busy, sometimes hectic place. So finding a spot to chill out, regroup or practice your downward facing dog is essential. Back when SFO opened its state-of-the-art Terminal 2, it opened a “yoga room.” While SFO’s yoga room is not that much different than the chapels or meditation rooms found in other airports (except for the yoga mats), the concept was a PR coup for the airport. It’s tough to find any story about SFO that does not include mention of. Yes, that is yoga “rooms” plural: Just last year, the airport opened a second yoga room in United’s Terminal 3.

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

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Most popular: SFO in 3D + Delta discounts CLEAR + Washing planes + Uber prices

Lake Burton

Happy Fourth from Lake Burton, GA! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 San Francisco’s new airport terminal (See interactive 360 degree view below)

2 Delta’s deep discounts for CLEAR membership

3 Worst airports for customs/immigration linesWeekend Edition

4 How often do planes get washed?

5 Routes: San Francisco, LAX, Houston, San Jose, New York, Washington, Chicago

6 A chat with Qantas CEO re LAX, SFO, 787, lounges

7 Stunning changes at iconic NYC hotel

8 Airport news: Houston, Chicago, San Jose, Orange County

9 Uber scraps surge pricing – not!

10 6 highly annoying habits of infrequent fliers

Don’t miss! New Hotels in Honolulu, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland

SFO Interim B

Click to see a cool 360 degree view of new SFO Interim Terminal B

Brexit won’t affect British Airways operations much

Delta plans special summer events at its Atlanta, JFK Sky Clubs

Interactive 360 degree view of SFO Interim Terminal B

Five years after merger, United flight attendant groups might finally get a single contract

EU gives antitrust clearance to merger of Starwood and Marriott

Airlines consider virtual reality headsets to replace traditional in-flight entertainment

Boeing said to consider a supersized 777 model to compete with the Airbus A380

Starwood plans to open a Four Points by Sheraton in Havana this month

Southwest’s new platform will enable easier booking

Starwood expands keyless entry guest room technology

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

Please join the 125,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

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San Francisco’s new $2.5 billion airport terminal

SFO Terminal 1

Rendering of SFO Terminal 1 to be complete by 2024 (Image: SFO)

Today San Francisco International Airport officially launched the much needed, long anticipated renovation/replacement of its aging Terminal 1, from which Southwest Airlines currently operates.

Today also marked the last public appearance of long-time airport director John Martin who retires next month. In his remarks, Martin got a big chuckle from the crowd (including SF mayor Ed Lee) when he recalled his first ever trip to SFO for a job interview saying,  “I flew into Terminal 1 on World Airways, and while I was excited to be there, I thought the place looked like a bus terminal. I’m very pleased to see it go.”

To celebrate the kick off of the project, Martin, Lee and other dignitaries whacked at a Terminal 1 column with shiny new sledgehammers.

Instead of shovels, dignitaries used sledgehammers at SFO event. Interim terminal construction in background (Chris McGinnis)

Instead of shovels, dignitaries used sledgehammers at SFO event. Interim terminal construction in background (Chris McGinnis)

The $2.4 billion terminal will be completed in phases over the next eight years. The first phase will be to demolish much of what’s there while preserving a sliver of the current structure as the “Interim Boarding Area B” where Southwest will continue to operate from 9 temporary gates during the renewal. From what I could tell, the interim terminal layout it identical to the old, but will be updated with new carpet and mod egg chairs. (This is where the event was held today.) By 2019, there will be 17 new gates in operation.

Rendering of what Southwest's Interim Terminal B gates will look like (SFO)

Rendering of what Southwest’s Interim Terminal B gates will look like (SFO) CLICK for 360 degree view

SEE: 3D view of interim Terminal B 

SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel told TravelSkills: “In September, Southwest will shift from their existing gates to newly-developed gates 23-28. These gates will have all-new materials and finishes, in line with Terminal 2 or Terminal 3 East. This move allows work to begin on the permanent new Boarding Area B, which will be built around the gates Southwest is using right now.”

When it’s complete, the new Terminal 1 Boarding Area B will be bigger, brighter and designed to look and feel like the popular Terminal 2 (Virgin America & American) or United’s newest Terminal 3 Boarding Area E.

Don’t miss: 6 highly annoying habits of infrequent flyers

SFO Terminal 1

SFO’s new terminal 1 will connect to the International Terminal (to the left) and to Delta’s Boarding Area C (to the right). It will also accommodate overflow from international terminal.

Upon completion, Boarding Area B will feature a total of 24 gates, including six gates which can accommodate international arrivals by providing direct access to the U.S. Customs & Border Protections Federal Inspection Area.  Connecting walkways located post-security will provide easy access to International Boarding Area A and Boarding Area C (Delta), which has a new behind-security corridor to Terminal 2. Eventually, another behind-security corridor will connect T2 with United’s Terminal 3 although there’s no firm date for when that project will launch.

Save! How to shop for summer airfare “deals”

All good… but it is going to take a while! Here’s the phasing schedule:

September 2016:    Interim Boarding Area B opens with 9 gates

December 2018:     New Boarding Area B opens with 9 gates

June 2019:             New Boarding Area expands to 17 gates

September 2020:    New Boarding Area B reaches full capacity of 24 gates

Mid-2024:              Terminal 1 Center, refreshed Boarding Area C complete

For more information, please visit: www.flysfo.com/about-sfo/airport-development/t1

 –Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Delta’s deep discounts for CLEAR membership

The Clear trusted traveler program could soon be in more airports. (Image: Chris McGinnis)

The Clear trusted traveler program now available at discount from Delta. Will you join? (Image: Chris McGinnis)

More details emerged today regarding Delta’s partnership (and partial ownership) of CLEAR, the company that offers expedited airport security service at 13 airports.

Most important are the discounts for CLEAR membership now offered to Delta SkyMiles members, based on their status. Standard membership in CLEAR is $179 per year. Delta Diamond Medallion members get complimentary CLEAR enrollment, while Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion members it for just $79. Even general members get a nice discount: annual membership for just $99.

Delta says that it will email members in coming weeks about the discounts. (More from the Delta News Hub here)

Our biggest question however, is if Delta is going to add CLEAR to all its key airports, most importantly, those in New York City, like La Guardia and Kennedy. We also expected to see CLEAR lanes in Delta’s recently reconfigured (and faster) security lanes at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport’s south terminal entrypoint– but so far, they’ve not made an appearance. Delta has not confirmed any new CLEAR locations, and when we last asked, told TravelSkills: “We don’t have any additional location detail for today but hope to later this summer.”

Until CLEAR is available at your hometown airport, or one where you travel to frequently, we’d suggest holding off on paying for the service, even at a discount. This is especially true if you already enjoy PreCheck.

Don’t miss! Worst airports for customs/immigration lines this summer

CLEAR

Airports that currently have CLEAR lanes (Image: CLEAR)

CLEAR currently operates at San Francisco, San Jose, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth,Houston Bush, Houston Hobby, San Antonio, Austin, Orlando, Miami, Las Vegas, Baltimore-Washington, and Westchester County Airport in New York. Seattle-Tacoma is next up, but there’s not a firm launch date yet. Additionally, its biometric service can be found at Yankee Stadium in New York, Coors Field in Denver, Marlins Park in Miami and AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Interested? You can sign up with your Delta SkyMiles status here.

Since I live in San Francisco, and use SFO as my primary airport, and it has CLEAR, I have maintained my membership over the years. I don’t need to use it that often (and I hate the “walk of shame” to the front of the line. But the few times it has saved me from missing flights makes it worth the $179 fee. (When it comes time for renewal, I’ll take Delta up on the discount!)

What about you? Have you or do you plan to use CLEAR now that Delta is offering these discounts? Please leave your comments below. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

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Trip Report: Turkish Airlines Business Class to Istanbul, Athens

Turkish Airlines

Checking in for a 6:10 p.m. departure from San Francisco to Istanbul (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I’ve dreamed of jumping on Turkish Airlines ever since I first began seeing images of its unusual business class lounge in Istanbul and hearing about its over-the-top inflight service. Most people who have flown Turkish said, “Get to Istanbul airport early so you can enjoy the lounge for a few hours before your flight.” Or, “Don’t eat for a day before flying Turkish- you won’t believe how much food they serve on the plane!”

Those dreams came closer to reality when Turkish started nonstop service between San Francisco and Istanbul last year. My interest was heightened even more when it launched nonstops from Atlanta last month because many TravelSkills readers hail from there.

Regrettably, unrest in Turkey has resulted in a decline in visitors to the country. So when Turkish offered to fly me from SFO to Istanbul (IST) for a TravelSkills Trip Report, I asked if I could fly to Athens instead and report on the experience using IST as a connecting airport, which I thought would be a much more likely scenario for our readers. Currently, about 60 percent of its passengers are transiting IST instead of starting or stopping trips there, and that number could rise.

As would be expected, flight attendants pass trays of Turkish delight candies during each flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

As you might expect, flight attendants pass trays of Turkish delight candies during each flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Since neither SFO or ATL have nonstops to Athens, connecting to Greece via Istanbul (IST) is an easy and convenient option for those headed there or to the popular Greek Isles. (Plus, Turkish and other carriers have deeply discounted business class roundtrips a few times this year to as little as $1,500 round trip, so set up your fare alerts and grab one if you can!) For September trips, business class fares run about $4,000 round trip. Economy is about $1,100. There is no first class or premium economy “comfort” class on the SFO flights.

Turkish is a member of the Star Alliance, so United Mileage Plus members can redeem miles for Turkish Airlines trips.

My trip to Greece and back was quick…just four days on the ground there, plus two days flying. The flight from SFO to IST runs about 13 hours. From Istanbul to Athens is a short hop– only about 90 minutes. So the entire journey, including a quick 90-minute layover in IST was about 15 hours.

Highlights of this Trip Report include:

  • Diverse, delicious and copious inflight dining that dazzled my eyes and filled my belly
  • The best and worst seats on the plane
  • Unusual touches like candle-light dining (see the gif!), hot towels served on small plates
  • Overheated cabins
  • Young, energetic and professional crew
  • Issues around booze
  • Two different B777s on the route
  • That lounge. Oh, that lounge! (Included in Part 2 of this report)

Check in at SFO was smooth and easy at about 4:30 pm. There were only three people in the business class line and a very friendly, talkative agent wearing a hijab checked me in and told me to proceed to the United Club on International Concourse G.

Flight 81 departs SFO at 6:10 pm, so the club was very busy since several flights depart at around this time. Good news: United has upgraded the food station in the club, offering a broad selection of cheeses, sausages, vegetables, hot soup, bread, crackers and cookies. Plus the spread now has a nice view! Other than that, the United Club has not changed much since my last visit.

United Club food

Newly expanded food offerings with a view at SFO International Terminal G (Chris McGinnis)

When I’m flying to write up a TravelSkills Trip Report, I usually ask if I can board a few minutes early to get some good photos of the cabin before passengers board. Thankfully, Turkish obliged and I snagged some great shots of both business and economy class cabins. I was unable to get an good image of the plane (a Boeing 777-300ER) from the gate area, so I’ve used one from the inaugural arrival at SFO in April 2015. 

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

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

Business class seats are configured 2-3-2. Since you get outstanding views of North America and nearly the entire continent of Europe during this flight, a window seat is my recommendation. Plus it’s quieter and less likely to be disturbed by movement in the aisle if you are sleeping– and that’s the main upside to the dreaded “middle seat” seen below. Those are the “E” seats.

Turkish Airlines

Seats are comfortable and spacious, and the cabin is nice and open…but there are 7 middle seats that you’ll want to avoid if possible (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Business class is split into two sections on this plane. What you see above is the forward cabin, which has four rows. The aft cabin, behind the galley, has three rows.

What I really liked about this cabin is its open floorplan. Low seatbacks make it very social and fun compared to other layouts which cocoon passengers in their own little worlds. Plus, in this cabin style, I could watch flight crews as they went about rolling out the elaborate inflight meal service. If you are like me, and like to watch what is going on, book a seat near the rear of the cabin. If you want to sleep or work, go for one near the front.

Big bright seatback touch screens, leather ottomans, plenty of nooks for storage (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Big bright seatback touch screens, leather ottomans, plenty of nooks for storage (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are miles of legroom between the seat and seatback. It’s tough to use those nice leather ottomans as footrests due to the distance, but it’s a perfect place to sit and visit with friends or colleagues face to face. Note the storage space for shoes and other items underneath the ottoman. When the seat is in full recline, the ottoman becomes part of the lengthy bed.

Turkish Airlines

Nice: Each seat comes with a lumbar support pillow (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Gigantic overhead bin space easily accommodated my carryon bag (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Economy class on the Turkish B777 configured 3-3-3 with rainbow colored leather headrests (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Unlike other Turkish Airlines B777 flights, the planes on the SFO run do not have a premium economy or “comfort” section.

Turkish Airlines

32 inches of pitch between economy class rows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Economy class on the Turkish 777 is 3-3-3. Each seat has a large IFE screen plus USB power.

See: Turkish Airlines B777-300ER V2 on SeatGuru.com

Okay, let’s get back up front and take a look at the service and the seat in business class. First thing you should do before boarding a Turkish flight is learn how to say THANK YOU in Turkish. You would not believe the big, surprised smiles you get from the crew when you say Tesekkurler when they help stow your bag, offer you a juice or help make your seat into a bed. It’s pronounced something like Teh-shay-koo-lahrd. Here’s how to say it! Just do it!

Turkish Airlines

Fun, friendly flight attendants offer 3 types of juice or water while boarding. Want champagne? Ask for it (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I’ve heard over the years that getting a cocktail on Turkish Airlines is complicated. That’s mostly due to the country’s (and current government’s) Muslim roots. For example, Turkish recently stopped offering alcohol on its domestic flights and on several international flights to other Muslim countries.

So for those who’d like to imbibe, here’s how it seems to work: During boarding, flight attendants pass through the business class aisles offering fruit juice and water from a silver tray, but no champagne, a common offering on most other airlines. If you ask for champagne, the flight attendant is more than happy to go get you a glass, but it’s not on the tray. I noticed the same thing during meal service, if you ask for wine with your meal, you’ll get it, albeit a relatively small pour. Flight attendants do not offer you more unless you ask for it– which is quite different from U.S. or European flights where flight attendants wander the aisles with bottles, looking for empty glasses 😉

Turkish Airlines

Business class recliner control (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Seats are comfortable, but I never really understood this recliner control. I still don’t know what the MR and M+ buttons do! Similar to what I experienced on Qantas (See our Qantas Trip Report), a flight attendant will make your seat into a bed at your request, covering the seat with a fitted quilt, offering a large pillow and a blanket. Turkish does not offer business class passengers pajamas for this 13-hour flight.

Turkish Airlines

Flight attendants make seats into cozy, quilt-covered beds at passenger request. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

One this B777 flight, there were 15 crew members, including three chefs and four flight attendants in business class.

Turkish Airlines

A small but very classy touch that I noticed: Hot towels are served on a china plate, not handed to you with tongs (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Elaborate menus in English and Turkish are like menu origami– unfolding into beautiful shapes (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

3 chefs onboard our SFO>IST flight- this one is taking our dinner orders and explaining how each dish is served. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On SAS, “Chefs” are really flight attendants who change clothes to serve meal. (See our SAS Trip Report) But on Turkish, these guys are dedicated to meal service throughout the flight– there were three onboard in both directions.

Turkish Airlines

A nut mixture that include pistachios, almonds, macadamias and hazelnuts– not a peanut in sight! Note the parsimonious pour of wine. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Prior to the full meal service, the chef and flight attendants wheel out a tiered cart full of all kinds of unusual and delicious appetizers– passengers can choose from about eight options that include: Prawns, smoked trout with horseradish cream, grilled crab cake with sweet chilis, avocado tomato salad, spiced chicken breast, beet & goat cheese salad, hummus, deep fried eggplant with green pepper and tomato sauce, romaine salad with cherry tomatoes and creamy tomato soup! (Sorry I don’t have good photos to share of this course.)

And that’s just the starters! After that, the main courses come. Thankfully, the beautifully orchestrated service takes a while, so it gives you time to assimilate all the food. And I can’t think of a better way to pass the time on a 13-hour flight that departs at dinner time. But I know that a lot of folks would rather just eat quickly and go to sleep and if that’s the case, you can order a open-faced salmon sandwich and cheese cake at any time.

Turkish Airlines

Even the bread plate is elaborate on Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

My experience on Turkish was replete with those “small things” that really make a big difference. For example, bread is served in a special cloth pouch to keep it warm and moist– have you ever noticed how fast bread dries out while flying? Not here. Also note that you get both butter and olive oil for your bread, and a small dish of Turkish spices in addition to real salt and pepper shakers. And get this…. they are magnetized so they stick to the plate!

Turkish Airlines

Magnetic salt and pepper shakers! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

By far the most noticeable small touch are the votive candles in tiny bags placed on each dining tray. While these are small electronic votives, they flicker just like the real thing, and add a warm and welcome ambience to the meal service. It’s quite a nice sight to see the entire cabin filled with these flickering lights. Good job!

Main dishes included grilled salmon with parsley butter and zucchini, filet of beef with arugula and roasted potatoes, or mushroom ravioli with leeks, tomatoes and parmesan.

Turkish Airlines

Mushroom ravioli on Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Steak option on Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After the main course, there is even more! A dessert and cheese cart including several baklava-type Turkish desserts plus apple pie, chocolate mousse and strawberry ice cream. Phew! I agree with the advice I’ve received from others: Do not eat at all before getting on the plane. You’ll regret it!

Turkish Airlines

Chef is back with the cart (for the fourth time) with a broad selection and explanation of tea blends and coffee (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Turks are really big on tea, and the tea selection was endless, including an anti-jet lag blend of melissa, camomille, sour cherry and lavender. For digestion, there’s a fennel, anise and caraway blend. And to help “resolve the edema, reduce the swelling,” there’s a blend of green tea, cherry stalk, cornsilk and close. For stomach relief, you get a cold blend of mint, fennel, lemon and date syrup. Seriously!

Turkish Airlines

When was the last time an airline served you tea like this? Talk about elaborate service! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After a cuppa tea, it was time to start thinking about cooling off and bedding down for the rest of the flight. But the cooling down part was tough. Turkish, like most other European carriers, tends to keep cabins way too warm… to the point of feeling stuffy. Maybe it’s just an American thing, but to me, a cool cabin promotes sleep and is just more comfortable. I inquired about turning the temperature down a bit, but flight attendants pushed back, stating that they are instructed to keep the cabin at 23C – about 75F, and showed me the thermostat. But the cabin sure felt warmer than that, and as you can see below, fellow passengers slept in mostly uncovered. This is not the first time I’ve suffered through an overheated flight, and probably won’t be the last, but is it just me? Or do you feel like some airlines keep the heat up too high? Please leave your comments below.

Turkish Airlines

How do you know a cabin is too warm? When sleeping passengers don’t use their blankets! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Despite the warmth, I was able to get about six hours of sleep on this flight and woke up in late afternoon, Istanbul time, for a hearty breakfast that included a small greek-like salad, cold cuts, and eggs with potatoes and spinach, coffee. Then I took a walk through the plane cabin, and had some fun with the crew just before our 5 p.m. arrival.

Turkish Airlines

One of many small touches that impressed me: Fresh flowers in the galley corridor (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Even breakfast included appetizers– a cheese and tomato salad and sliced turkey (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Breakfast main: omelet with spinach, tomato and potatoes. Plus a smoothie, not pictured (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

The fun, young crew on this flight having some fun with me posing for a selfie (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Inflight wi-fi was free for business class passengers... but the connection was relatively weak, allowing for texting, email and light surfing, but I was unable to upload photos, or access photo-dense websites.

Turkish Airlines

Seatback inflight maps and exterior cameras for views (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Turkish Airlines

Istanbul Ataturk Airport has clearly outgrown its space. How do I know? Every Turkish Air flight I was on parked at a remote pad, and passengers were bussed to and from the terminal. After a 13-hour flight, a 15-minute bus ride to the terminal is unwelcome, but did not take too long. Due to the growth, Istanbul is now laying plans for one of the largest airports in the world, to be called Istanbul New Airport, the first phase of which is to open in 2018.

My connection from Istanbul to Athens was only about two hours, so I hightailed it to a place I’ve been waiting to see for years, the famous CIP Lounge. It turned out to be everything I’d dreamt of, and more… and my only regret is that I did not have enough time to really soak up all it had to offer! Like pool tables, olive bars, fresh pizza, a driving range, two grand pianos and more!

This post is already long enough, so stay tuned for Part 2, which will include a good look at the lounge and my trip from Greece back to San Francisco. Thanks for reading this far!

Have you flown Turkish Airlines before…or dreamt about it? Please leave your comments below. 

Turkish Airlines

Here’s a sneak peak at the stunning and unusual CIP lounge in Istanbul. Stay tuned for a full report about my experience there! (Photo: Chris McGinnis

–Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: Turkish Airlines covered the cost of Chris’s airfare to Athens. TravelSkills paid for hotels, transfers, meals and other incidentals related to this trip.  

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Most popular: New routes + Aer Lingus + Trains + new 16 hour nonstop+ Virgin America

Empire State Building New York

Chris flew United to NYC this week and stayed at the Best Western Herald Square, next to the Empire State Building (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

New routes: LAX, SFO, Seattle, San Diego, Boston, New York, Atlanta

TSA PreCheck faces new strainsWeekend Edition

Trip Report: Aer Lingus, Economy class SFO-Dublin-Edinburgh

7 reasons to take the train instead of the plane

Singapore Airlines adds another nonstop from US

How to shop for summer airfare “deals”

This airline fee is fading fast

Airport briefs: LaGuardia, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Atlanta

Will Alaska preserve Virgin America’s brand?

10 What ‘Do Not Disturb’ really means at hotels

security SFO

Here’s the line at SFO’s busy Terminal 3 at 9 am last Tuesday. PreCheck took 3 minutes. Are TSA security delays overhyped? Leave your comments below.  (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Easy 500 Marriott Rewards points: Just follow ’em on Instagram (thru June 21 only)

Lengthy “pardon our dust” period at the world’s busiest airport

New security lanes at ATL 30% more efficient

Harvard Business School: Hidden benefits of business travel

Watergate Hotel

Rendering of “Top of the Gate” a new rooftop bar at the recently revamped Watergate Hotel (Image: Watergate Hotel)

Legendary Watergate hotel reopens in Washington DC

Uber/Lyft competitor Wingz files to serve Miami Airport

Alaska Airlines adds more bonus miles to its Visa card

Inside look at United’s San Francisco hub operation VIDEO (states that 500 Global Services members use SFO daily)

Europe clarifies its rules for airline passengers’ rights

New $4 million art installation debuts at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson

Hawaiian Airlines introduces bidding system for upgrades

Five years later, United’s flight attendant groups still haven’t merged

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Singapore Airlines adds another nonstop from US

Plenty of TravelSkills readers will soon soak in this view of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills readers will soon soak in this view of the Marina Bay Sands whether flying United or Singapore Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Just two weeks after United Airlines started flying non-stop from San Francisco to Singapore, Singapore Airlines confirmed to TravelSkills that it will do the same beginning this fall – and that it will boost Los Angeles service as well.

While United is using a 787-9 Dreamliner for the route, Singapore said it will rely on a new Airbus A350-900. The airline plans to start flying the non-stop San Francisco route, a trip of about 16 hours, on October 23. Singapore said that in addition to the new non-stops, it will continue to offer daily one-stop service between SFO and Singapore via Hong Kong, using a 777-300ER.

The daily SFO non-stops will replace the airline’s existing daily San Francisco-Seoul-Singapore service; that will be relocated to Los Angeles on October 23, increasing Singapore’s schedule there from one daily flight (LAX-Tokyo-Singapore) to two, with the second one operating via Seoul.

The LAX flights will both use 777-300ERs with first class, business class, premium economy and economy seating. The carrier currently uses an Airbus A380 on the LAX route, which will be phased out. See our Trip Report covering business class on the new 777-300ER.

All Singapore's west coast flights will feature its new business class. (Image: Singapore Airlines)

All Singapore’s west coast flights will feature its new business class. (Image: Singapore Airlines)

The company said the actual flying time for the San Francisco non-stops will range from 14 hours 35 minutes to 17 hours 45 minutes, depending on direction and time of year. It estimated the distance at 8,451 miles.

This new non-stop news is separate from Singapore’s announcement last fall that it will resume non-stop service to New York and Los Angeles in 2018 using a new, ultra-long-haul version of the A350 being developed by Airbus – designated the A350-900ULR — just for that purpose.

Related: Take a spin inside a brand new Airbus A350

Singapore's long-range A350s will fly non-stop to Los Angeles and New York in 2018. (Image: Airbus)

Singapore’s long-range A350s will fly non-stop to SFO starting Oct 23 (Image: Airbus)

Singapore Airlines is a big believer in the A350: It started to take delivery of the next-generation wide-body this year, and has ordered more than 60 of them. The airline first put the plane into service on the Singapore-Amsterdam route a few months ago, and more recently started flying it between Singapore and South Africa.

Related: First class phase out picks up steam

The Singapore Airlines A350-900 is configured with 253 seats – 42 in business class in a 1-2-1 layout; 24 in premium economy; and 187 in regular economy (No first class). A company representative said the aircraft will be equipped with an enhanced in-flight entertainment system that offers more than 1,000 on-demand options, as well as innovative technology designed to reduce jetlag via advancements in cabin climate, lighting and noise levels.”

About 16 hours each way between SFO and Singapore (TravelMath)

About 16 hours each way between SFO and Singapore (TravelMath)

Which airline would you prefer for the new SFO-SIN 16-hour odyssey? Why? Please leave your comments below. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Trip Report: Aer Lingus, Economy class SFO-Dublin-Edinburgh

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

Taking off from SFO on Aer Lingus’ big green plane to Dublin (Photo: Kim Grimes)

Earlier this year, I decided to take a trip in April to visit a friend in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was working with a minimal budget and was excited to discover that one of the cheapest economy fares ($1,199 RT) from San Francisco to Edinburgh was offered by Aer Lingus.  I had never flown with Aer Lingus before and jumped on the opportunity since I’d heard so many positive things about their service.  When I told Chris about my upcoming trip, he mentioned that several readers enjoyed the Trip Report he wrote on Aer Lingus’ new business class, but we didn’t have a trip report on the economy experience. So, I decided to document my first trip on that big green plane!

(Note: For this Trip Report, we asked our amazing TravelSkills office manager Kimberly Grimes to write about her Aer Lingus flight to/from Scotland. Enjoy! –Chris)

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

Aer Lingus is even green(ish) on the inside (Photo: Kim Grimes)

As I boarded the Aer Lingus A330-200 at SFO, I was politely greeted by all of the crew members and directed to my seat above the wing. When I got there, a pillow, warm fleece blanket, and complimentary earbuds were waiting to help me enjoy the in-flight entertainment.

Economy class seats on Aer Lingus A330 are arranged 2-4-2 (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class seats on Aer Lingus A330 are arranged 2-4-2 (Chris McGinnis)

There was also a small envelope for donations to UNICEF, Aer Lingus’ charity partner for nearly 20 years, which came in handy for getting rid of spare coins on my flight back.

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

32 inches of pitch in economy class is plenty of space. (Photo: Kim Grimes)

Once settled into my window seat I found the 32” pitch to be more than enough for my 5’4” self and I was comfortable even with a larger person seated next to me. Before takeoff, I flipped through Aer Lingus’ magazine Cara (“Friend” in Irish Gaelic). I usually get through half of the in-flight magazine before putting it away to watch takeoff, but on my flight to Dublin I only had the chance to flip through some photos as we happily departed almost 10 minutes early. I’m impressed that Aer Lingus operated with such timeliness during my entire journey with them. On my flight home, we landed at SFO 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

Perfect pasta and a really nice salad on the dinner flight over the pond. (Photo: Kim Grimes)

Dinner was served about two hours into the flight with a choice of beef stew or creamy spinach pasta. I don’t eat beef so I went with the pasta, but my seatmate got the stew and enjoyed it. I don’t usually expect much from pasta on airplanes, but the sauce in the dish was delicious and the pasta was cooked perfectly.

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

The salad is a nice low-carb option (Photo: Kim Grimes)

My meal also came with a light salad of lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and a bit of feta which I enjoyed after my pasta. It was fresh, tasty, and delivered an extra bit of hydration that I really needed. The pasta had enough carbs for me so I didn’t eat the dinner roll, but I did save room for the dessert of berries and light whipped cream.

Related: Aer Lingus Business Class meals- the best ever? 

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

Plenty of good films, TV shows and music to keep me occupied (Photo: Kim Grimes)

I tried to doze off after dinner, but I spent most of the flight exploring the entertainment system. I was thoroughly distracted with the selection of over 50 films, a variety of TV shows, and an extensive list of music albums, podcasts, and radio stations to indulge in. Wi-fi was also available on the flight at the price of $9.95 for an hour or $18.95 for a full flight pass but the entertainment system was enough to keep me from boredom. When my eyes got too tired to watch any more movies, I browsed the music selection and made a playlist perfect for sleeping. I don’t think I actually slept much, but meditating to the RnB and soft rock sounds for a few hours was nice relaxation.

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

Good morning! Breakfast is served– with tea (Photo: Kim Grimes)

The cabin crew served morning snack boxes and warm beverages about an hour before we landed in Dublin. Inside was a ham and cheese croissant and a cup of strawberry yogurt. I wasn’t in the mood for yogurt, but I enjoyed the croissant. It was simple, yet comforting and I really appreciated the warm food and tea in the morning.

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

I’ve never been a fan of propellor planes, but this one changed my mind (Photo: Kim Grimes)

I was not at all excited about taking a propeller plane to connect from Dublin to Edinburgh. I’ve had an aversion to propeller planes since I rode on one as a kid flying over Alabama. It was like a loud, tumultuous rollercoaster that my parents couldn’t wait to get off of. My journey with Aer Lingus was nothing like that. The flight was operated by Irish regional airline Stobart Air (formerly Aer Arann) and had two Aer Lingus crew members on board. These crew members were exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable, reassuring some other nervous passengers and myself that we’d have a safe ride on the ATR 72-600.

I was particularly impressed with how one crew member successfully comforted a terrified, screaming child during the flight by assuring her that the noise and extra turbulence was just part of what makes propeller plane flight special. The entire experience was so stress-free that on the way back I felt no anxiety hopping on the propeller plane, even with someone obnoxiously joking that our plane was probably going down.

(Photo: Aer Lingus)

(Photo: Aer Lingus)

On my return flight from Dublin to SFO, I got a special treat for my in-flight meal. Before my trip, Chris told me about some upgraded meals that Aer Lingus offers to economy passengers and asked me to try out the service (which he generously paid for 🙂 ). These meals are part of Aer Lingus’ Bia Pre-Order service and have been created by their executive chef and Irish chef Clodagh McKenna.

Passengers who would like to enjoy these meals must pre-order them online at least 24 hours before the flight. Meal options include Roast Chicken with a Twist ($25), Melt-in-the-mouth Salmon ($25), and Succulent Steak ($28). The chicken and steak options are similar to entrees served in business class, but I was really curious about the salmon and decided to try that.

biapreordervoucher

Ordering my meal was as simple as choosing my seat through the “Manage Booking” section of Aer Lingus’ website. My credit card was charged immediately after ordering and a salmon meal voucher was promptly e-mailed to me. The e-mail provided instructions to print the voucher in full and bring it on board with me to submit to the cabin crew. It didn’t specify when I should submit the voucher, so I asked a crew member at the door as I boarded and she took it right away.

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

My special meal as presented by FA– mouthwatering salmon and wine (Photo: Kim Grimes)

I got settled in my seat and was really absorbed in watching a television show on my laptop when a crew member came by with some food on trays and asked if I ordered a special meal. I was really caught off-guard since the meal service hadn’t been announced yet, but he handed me a nice tray with my salmon meal on it and offered me some wine.

There was nobody sitting next to me on this flight, but I wonder how people would have reacted to my special meal service if the plane was more crowded. I was prepared for a few envious glares and questions about why I got such a fancy meal when others did not. As the distinct scent of salmon floated around my section, I looked around to see if anyone was really noticing.  The cabin was nearly empty and the few passengers near me were too caught up in their own experience to show much interest in what I was eating so I was able to enjoy my meal without judgement.

BIA salmonEDITED

The mouthwatering salmon was perfectly prepared- but I wondered what other passengers were thinking! (Photo: Kim Grimes)

I love salmon, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from salmon on an airplane. As I took my first bite, any negative preconceived notions I had about “airplane salmon” went away. It was delicious and the texture was perfect – not too dry or rubbery. It wasn’t extravagant with flavors, but it was well done and exceeded my expectations. The potatoes that accompanied the salmon were less impressive. They were very bland, but also too oily for my taste. I ate all of them, but they were definitely my least favorite part of the entire meal.

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

My favorite part of the meal (Photo: Kim Grimes)

Surprisingly, the real highlight of the meal for me was the salad of aubergine, roasted pepper, and sunblushed tomato with a harissa and lemon dressing. The dressing had the perfect kick and reminded me of homemade cocktail sauce.

(Photo: Kim Grimes)

Yogurt with fruity chunks! (Photo: Kim Grimes)

For dessert, I had a sweet mango and passionfruit yogurt (instead of the listed raspberry pannacotta) with real chunks of fruit in it. Delicious! Plus, a lovely chocolate truffle by Irish chocolatier Lily O’Brien. I couldn’t help but eat them both!

I was so full from my meal that I could barely even look at the farewell chocolate bar given to me by the crew right before landing at SFO. My Bia pre-ordered meal was a great way to have a bit of extra fun on my flight home and add a little luxury to my first trip with Aer Lingus.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Popular: Fading fee + Purple plane + 5 top jobs + Cuba flights + Free Gogo + Biz Quiz

Wow Air

What is this Barney-like apparition flying over SF? (Photo: SFO)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Some good news: This airline fee is fading fast

2 Do you have one of these? 5 top jobs for frequent travelers

3 This should help New: Global Entry enrollment office to open 24/7Weekend Edition

Routes: LAX, Denver, Paris, Minneapolis, NYC, Atlanta, Boston, Houston

5 Flying Barney Routes: Air China is back + WOW arrives with a purple plane + Lufthansa’s next month

Big summer/fall fare sale takes off (Expired, but stay tuned to TravelSkills for more sales)

7 AA joins the pack Big AAdvantage changes are coming soon

8 The big prize is missing What’s missing from DOT’s Cuba flights announcement?

9 Good news on the Left Coast California competition heats up

10 Where SkyMiles members are flying this summer

18 big business class seats upstairs on the QANTAS 747 (Chris McGinnis)

This Qantas seat was the most mis-identified on the Business Class Expert Quiz (Chris McGinnis)

Did you take our recent Business Class Quiz? Over 3,200 readers gave it a go and most did very well! Our readers really are business class experts (and they obviously read our famous Trip Reports very closely). Which seat was mid-identified most? It was the Qantas business class seat. Most players thought it was Turkish Airlines’ seat. The seat that nearly everyone got right? United’s BusinessFirst seat. Here’s a breakdown of scores:

TravelSkills readers are business class masters! Check out how you did!

TravelSkills readers are business class masters! Check out how well you did!

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

One free hour of Gogo wi-fi for T-Mobile customers starts June 13

TSA PreCheck application numbers triple, causing processing delays

Russia tries to break into the global passenger aircraft market

Will individual passenger drones be the future of air travel?

Trump Hotel Toronto

A room at the Trump Toronto hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Trump politics hurting its hotel biz? Depends on who you ask 

Fascinating stuff: How to Read a Pilot’s Map of the Sky

Did Newark “sell” rider safety to Uber for $10 million?

Drama: Qatar A380 landing in Atlanta VIDEO

Most Americans did not stay in hotels before WW2- they stayed in boarding houses

Watch Emirates flight attendants steal the show at a LA Dodgers game VIDEO

Airbnb now allows corporate employees to book accommodations for co-workers

Smart suitcase can climb stairs, charge phones

Radisson loyalists can exchange points for TSA PreCheck fee

Geneva’s airport tries out a bag-checking robot

Sausalito California

Chris’s most popular Instagram post this week: Sausalito, CA at sunset. Click on image to follow him!

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Routes: LAX, Denver, Paris, Minneapolis, NYC, Atlanta, Boston, Houston

XL Airways A330

More flights between California and Paris this week on XL Airways (Photo: SFO)

International route news this week includes a new French carrier coming to Los Angeles (and back to SF), a new Denver route for Air Canada, Delta transatlantic flights from the Twin Cities and New York JFK, Air France non-stops to Paris Orly, a Lufthansa subsidiary’s introduction of Boston service, and United’s decision to put a Dreamliner on a key South American route.

The French carrier XL Airways has started service to Los Angeles International, operating three flights a week to Paris out of Terminal 2 with an A330. The airline offers two-class service, including regular coach and Premium Galaxy class. The leisure-oriented carrier provides all passengers with one free checked bag, a hot meal and a snack – with upgraded cuisine and wines in the front cabin. XL also flies to Paris from New York, San Francisco and Miami. Also this week, XL’s seasonal SFO-Paris flights resumed. 

 Air Canada, a partner in United’s Star Alliance, this week kicked off the only non-stop service between Denver and Montreal. The daily flight leaves Denver at 6:25 p.m., using a 73-seat Embraer regional jet with business and regular economy seating. The aircraft is Wi-Fi equipped and offers free digital seatback entertainment and a power port at every seat.

Brussels

Delta plans to revive Atlanta-Brussels flights in 2017. (Image: City of Brussels)

Delta has launched a new seasonal transatlantic route and plans to add two more routes to Europe in 2017. The airline last week began daily summer non-stop service from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Rome, using a 226-seat 767 that departs at 5:25 p.m. from MSP. It will continue through Labor Day.

Delta also announced that it plans to resume non-stop flights between its Atlanta hub and Brussels next year; the seasonal service will begin March 27 and continue through the summer, Delta said, using a 767-300. Delta also offers year-round service to Brussels from New York JFK. And on May 25, 2017, Delta will start up new daily seasonal service from New York JFK to Glasgow, Scotland, using a 164-seat 757-200ER. A few weeks ago, Delta launched JFK-Edinburgh flights.

Also at New York JFK, Air France this week started flying to Paris – not to Paris Charles de Gaulle, where it offers multiple daily flights with SkyTeam partner Delta, but to Paris Orly. Its only competition on the New York-Paris Orly route is from British Airways subsidiary Openskies, which flies to the French airport from both JFK and Newark. Air France is flying the route with a 777-200 that has business class, premium economy and regular economy seating. The carrier noted that it recently opened a new premium lounge in Hall 3 at Orly, available to La Premier and business class passengers, as well as Flying Blue elite members.

Eurowings, the low-cost subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group, has started new U.S. service to Boston from Germany’s Cologne-Bonn Airport. The carrier flies the route three times a week with an A330-200 that has business class, regular economy and extra-legroom economy seating.

According to Routesonline.com, United Airlines plans an equipment change on its Houston-Santiago, Chile route effective June 30, replacing the current 767-300ER with a 787-8 Dreamliner.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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New: Global Entry enrollment office to open 24/7

Global Entry SFO

Global Entry members bypass regular immigration lines at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Nearly every truly frequent international traveler now enjoys the magic of the Global Entry program. Those who enroll submit to a background check, and once approved, can re-enter the U.S. via a special kiosk lane at customs & immigration that takes seconds instead of minutes (or in some cases, hours).

What makes Global Entry even better is that once approved, you automatically get into the TSA’s essential PreCheck program, which speeds you through airport security.

At $100 for five years, you get two proven line-busters at the airport. That’s just $20 per year. That’s a no-brainer, right?

Well, the problem with Global Entry is that it might have become TOO popular. Especially after all the recent falderal about long airport lines. That popularity means that the wait to get your Global Entry status has swollen to unacceptable levels.

Global Entry

Special lanes marked by floor signs at SFO (Photo Chris McGinnis)

For example here’s one of several emails we’ve received recently at TravelSkills:

Wondering if you can discuss the ridiculous long waits for the Global Entry appointments at SFO?  The wait is now six months!  Luckily I managed to get a cancelled time slot, so I only needed to wait two months. My “interview” took less than five minutes, even though each interview is allotted 15 minutes.  There were three agents there at the enrollment office.  So instead of handling just 12 people in that hour, they clearly could have handled 24-36 people in that one hour, at least halving the wait times.  

Well, that frustration might be ameliorated soon at San Francisco International and elsewhere. According to SFO, US Customs & Border Protection has announced a pilot program to expand the hours of the Global Entry enrollment office to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The pilot is set to begin on June 12 and run for 60 days, at which time the program will be evaluated.

“Due to the overwhelming success of the Global Entry program and the subsequent increase in applications, CBP clearly recognizes the need for additional interview opportunities,” said Brian J. Humphrey, CBP’s Director of Field Operations in San Francisco.

A CBP spokesperson told TravelSkills that currently the the 24/7 pilot program will be tested at SFO only. 

The Global Entry Enrollment Center at SFO is located pre-security on the arrivals level of the International Terminal. The facility already offers permanent hours of 7:00am-11:00pm, and will expand to 24/7 on June 12, 2016 for the 60-day pilot program. The expanded hours will offer an additional 826 appointment slots for travelers to enroll. For more information, visit: www.globalentry.gov.

Do you have Global Entry? Or are you in the queue waiting to get your membership? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

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Popular: Cheaper phone roaming + Delta spat + More at SFO + Quiz + Norwegian Air + United secret

Can you name this business class section? Hint: Look at the big windows! Plus it's included in our fun quiz! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Can you name this business class section? Hint: Look at the big windows! Plus it’s included in our fun quiz! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Must sign up to get it: AT&T follows Verizon, T-Mobile to more roaming

2 Nonstop ribbon cuttings Slew of new flights at SFOWeekend Edition

3 Oh, pulleeaze! Inside Qatar Airways event that sparked Delta tantrum [PHOTOS] (See comments)

Don’t miss the AJC editorial about the Delta-Fox brouhaha which starts out like this: Atlantans were aghast last week when the body of the beloved Fox Theatre was found in a car trunk, bound and gagged, a single shot to the back of the head.

4 Battle begins Alaska, Southwest fight for California with new flights

5 Try it, you’ll like it Are you a business class seat expert? Take our fun quiz! Come on, 2,000+ readers have taken it so far! 

6 Oldie but goodie remains popular TSA explains confusion over PreCheck policies

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian Air (Image: Norwegian Air)

7 New nonstop Oakland-London on Norwegian: Low fares, low frills

Routes: Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Chicago, Newark, Honolulu, JFK

9 Check ’em out, then check in 4 brand new hotels in New York City

10 Members only Hilton’s big summer sale

TravelSkills was invited to a big United Airlines event in NYC in early June which requires signing a non-disclosure agreement to get in the door. Regrettably we can make it due to a prior commitment (flying Turkish Airlines to Istanbul!), but we’ll keep an eye out for the news. Rumor has it that United will reveal a new BusinessFirst seat design at the event. But who knows? What do you think it could be? Leave your prognostications below.

United is rolling out a new first class seat for its A319, A320 and some 757 aircraft (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

United revealed this new first class seat for its domestic A319, A320 and some 757 aircraft last year. Will a new BusinessFirst seat be revealed next week? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Atlanta Airport director Miguel Southwell sacked

Beware Delta’s new middle seat “upgrade”

United offering mystery elite status upgrades. Get one?

Scariest item ever seen by TSA? Gruesome

Summer sale at Kimpton hotels: 25% off + double points

Smarter to use ATL’s international terminal to avoid TSA security lines? Maybe. Maybe not. 

San Francisco’s newest tourist attraction: The Apple Flagship store on Union Sq

Delta CEO Ed Bastian

Delta’s new CEO Ed Bastian in his office at ATL HQ (Image: Airline Guys)

VIDEO: See inside Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s office at Delta HQ in ATL

Delta optimizes ‘SkyMiles Experiences’ website for mobile

Uber tests self-driving car in Pittsburgh

Eight low-cost Asia-Pacific airlines form an alliance

Falling fares will bring a record number of U.S. air travelers this summer

These are the most popular U.S. cities for meetings and conventions

American discontinues in-flight announcements of connecting gate information

(Image: Big Imagination Project)

(Image: Big Imagination Project)

In case you missed Saturday’s post about one of our favorite subjects, the much-loved Boeing 747: The 747 Project

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Slew of new flights at SFO

An Air Berlin A330-200 at SFO

An Air Berlin A330-200 at SFO nonstop to Dusseldorf- but we all wish it were Berlin! (Photo: SFO)

We do our best to keep up with all the new flights at key airports around the country, especially here in our home town of San Francisco.

Due to the frothy tech economy, SFO just keeps piling on more and more flights and many of them start this summer.

SFO says the summer travel season will begin in earnest on Friday, May 27, with more than 156,000 forecasted passengers arriving and departing SFO.  In total, more than 15.5 million travelers are expected at SFO between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Luckily, at least for now, SFO does not seem to be suffering from the freakishly long TSA lines we’ve seen splashed across social media this week.

Anyway, to keep up with all the SFO action, here’s a rundown:

First off, Airberlin will offer nonstops to Düsseldorf, Germany. Dusseldorf is a nice place, but you’d think Airberlin would offer a nonstop to Berlin, right?

Skúli Mogensen, the founder and CEO of WOW Air (Photo: WOW Air)

Skúli Mogensen, the founder and CEO of WOW Air (Photo: WOW Air)

WOW Air roared into the market with super low fares to Iceland and beyond, which is keeping transatlantic fares in check on all airlines, all summer long.

Fiji Airways is SFO's latest coup (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fiji Airways is SFO’s latest coup (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fiji Airways plans to kick off seasonal service between San Francisco and Nadi, Fiji, using an A330-200. The service will operate two days a week (Thursdays and Sundays) from June 16 through August 14, and again December 15-January 15.

United SFO Xian

United crew plus a couple Terracotta Warriors at inaugural festivities for new nonstop to Xian (Photo: SFO)

United Airlines has also launched new nonstop destinations from SFO, including Nashville, Tennessee, Tel Aviv, Israel, and the first flight from the United States to Xi’an, China. (Stay tuned for the TravelSkills contest winner’s trip report later this summer!) 

Plenty of TravelSkills readers will soon soak in this view of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

You will soon soak in this view of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore after flying nonstop on United from SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Later this summer, United will also launch nonstop service to Auckland, New Zealand and the first-ever nonstop service to Singapore and Hangzhou, China.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

Please join the 125,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

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Oakland-London on Norwegian: Low fares, low frills

Economy cabin has a clean look and decent seat pitch on Norwegian Air

Norwegian 787 economy class cabin has a clean look and decent seat pitch, configured 3-3-3. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Not only was it Norwegian Air Shuttle’s first flight from Oakland International to London Gatwick, it was also the first scheduled flight ever from Oakland to London. 

When invited to participate in a media “simulation” of the Norwegian inaugural flight on May 11—which meant I would go onboard a couple of hours before the flight to experience the product, then deplane—I was curious. Norwegian’s fares to Europe are strikingly low, I’d never flown the young airline, plus it has been the subject of some regulatory controversy. I signed on for the evening.

(This post was written by TravelSkills contributor Nancy Branka)

A notable element of this route is what it’s not: SFO to London-Heathrow (LHR). The Norwegian flight instead links those airports’ smaller single-runway neighbors: Oakland and London-Gatwick (LGW). OAK has always been a favorite of mine because, unlike SFO, weather rarely affects on-time arrivals and departures. Its small size also makes it quick to navigate, and now it’s getting a $100 million facelift in Terminal 1, plus a $35 million international hall.

Gatwick (LGW) is also up-and-coming as Heathrow reaches capacity limits. LGW is 28 miles south of central London but still convenient–the easy 30-minute, approximately $30 Gatwick Express will whisk you from the airport to Victoria Station in the heart of the city.

Another thing that Norwegian Air is not: A business class airline. On its 787 Dreamliner, it only offers seats in economy class (259) and premium economy class (32). No pricey-but-cozy lie-flight seats here. But… all premium economy seats offer in-seat power outlets if you want to stay up and work across the pond. Norwegian refers to its premium economy seats as simply, “Premium.” (Norwegian also flies nonstop to Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen from Oakland.)

Premium seats are roomy and serviceable.

Premium economy class seats are roomy and serviceable, configured 2-3-2  (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Take a look at how Seatguru describes seating on Norwegian Air’s 787 Dreamliner.

But limited recline is disappointing for those expecting lie-flat.

But limited recline for premium economy seats might be disappointing for those longing to lie-flat. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Really, the OAK-LGW fares are hard to beat, in peak-season July starting at $1,130 round trip in economy and $1,700 in premium economy. (Compared to premium economy fares on BA or Virgin SFO-LHR which run around $2,250 roundtrip.) Ben Kaufman, Norwegian’s communications manager, told me the carrier will not reduce fares for a summer sale because they are already booking at 90% loads. However, he suggested premium economy fares would be reduced later in the year on all flights, with this route being one of the early beneficiaries.

Once I boarded the 787-800, it was fun to explore before sitting in the premium cabin for dinner. Remember, for Norwegian, premium does not mean business class but compares to premium economy on other carriers. Seats do not fully recline. Norwegian’s SVP sales, Lars Sande, explained that lie-flat seats are three times as costly, and it was more important to customers to keep the fares low. Economy cabin seat pitch is an acceptable 31-32 inches; premium economy is 46 inches.

Norwegian Air

Dinner–grilled shrimp, bok choy, baby corn, basmati rice, coleslaw and a brownie–was tasty but short on presentation.

My meal sounded beautiful on paper (for example, Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with a mildly spicy and flavorful Thai Green Curry Sauce), but I had trouble getting past the cardboard box in which it was served, this being premium class and all. The shrimp was OK, but I wrestled with removing the layers of foil that covered it—which added to the self-serve feeling, again not feeling the premium. At least premium economy fares do include complimentary meals (dinner and breakfast) and alcohol, while economy fares do not.

Nordic hero Henrik Ibsen graces a bulkhead wall.

Nordic hero Henrik Ibsen graces a bulkhead wall. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Something I particularly liked was the plane’s aesthetic—grey leather seats accented with the company’s signature red. I was especially enamored with framed, poster-sized black-and-white photos of Nordic heroes hung on bulkhead walls. Similarly, the airline’s tail fins feature black and white portraits of these icons.

At some airports, but regrettably not Oakland, Norwegian offers premium economy passengers access to special airport lounges. Oakland-bound passengers can enjoy a lounge at London-Gatwick, for example. Plus, premium economy passengers get access to speedy Fast Track lines at customs and immigration when arriving at LGW.

If you generally fly business class and want to arrive in London well rested and feeling a little special, this is probably not your airline. But if you just want to get to London as inexpensively as you can and don’t mind sacrificing some things to achieve that, Norwegian Air may be your ticket.

Have you flown Norwegian Air? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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A celebrity Reader Report: Japan Airlines first class LAX-Tokyo-SFO

Scott Hintz

TripIt co-founder Scott Hintz is a world traveler…and TravelSkills reader!

There aren’t a lot of celebs in the biz travel space, but we found one of them!

Last month I noticed via social media that TripIt co-founder (and longtime TravelSkills reader) Scott Hintz was headed to Tokyo in first class on Japan Airlines using his American AAdvantage award miles. Knowing he has a very discerning eye, I asked if he wouldn’t mind taking some notes and reporting back to TravelSkills about his experience. Luckily, he obliged with an excellent post and a handful of photos. Thanks for this excellent reader report, Scott! 

Some highlights of this report: 

  • Insider advice on finding award seats on AAdvantage partner airlines
  • Some problems getting through security at LAX
  • Review of the spacious and relatively empty Qantas lounge at LAX with 5-star dining
  • No amenity kit or PJs in first class. Wait. What?
  • Champagne, caviar…and Japanese pickles
  • Speedy, cheap wi-fi relieves sleepless long-haul boredom
  • A good, hard look at the first class lavatory
  • Return from Haneda nonstop to SFO- meal service needs upgrade

Scott wrote, “I think the things where JAL is weakest would be pretty easy to fix, so I hope they address those items.  I’d already give them an A- on this trip, but could easily see them becoming an A with a few minor tweaks.”

What worked and what didn’t? Read on!

(XIAN CONTEST! Thanks for all the entries to our contest for 2 United business class tickets to Xian! We are overwhelmed reading through all of them, but should have a winner chosen by the end of today. Stay tuned!)

Booking

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

I booked this trip using American AAdvantage miles, which at the time of booking required 62,500 each way (125k roundtrip).  Booking that same award today would be 80,000 each way.  I find that Japan Airlines releases award availability sporadically.  A few months ago, they released a lot of award seats available across a wide variety of dates, but then that ended.  Now, I tend to see them release empty F/J seats mostly within 7 days of departure, if they exist.

Since aa.com doesn’t display award availability for JAL, the best way to search for seats is to use the British Airways website.  Just search for tickets using Avios as the form of payment, and if you find JL award seats via BA, then you can call AA and they should see the same availability and will be able to book it for you.

Seats

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

We were on JL 61 from LAX to Narita on the outbound (and were schedule to return on JL 62 from NRT to LAX on the return, but ended up switching to the HND-SFO nonstop, which I’ll explain more later).  This flight is operated by a 777-300ER with 8 seats in first class.  We selected seats 2A and 2D, which were the window and aisle seats adjacent to each other.  We would have preferred two window seats (like 1A and 2A or 1K and 2K), but JAL seems to block seats 1A and 1K for pre-assignment.  I’ve heard that they save those for people with very high status with the airline or VIPs and you can only get them by requesting them at the airport.

Unfortunately for us, both 1A and 1K were taken a few days prior to departure, so we just had to settle for our window and aisle.  I wasn’t thrilled about being in the middle section with a stranger on the other side of the divider from me, but honestly, once on the plane, you had virtually no idea anyone was sitting next to you.  The “suite” is large and the divider gives you plenty of privacy, so it really wasn’t a concern.

Security

This flight left out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX, which is a beautiful space with great shopping, restaurants, and lounges.  Unfortunately, the security situation there is terrible.  This is my third time flying out of TBIT as an originating passenger and I’m still amazed how bad the security situation is.  There is no TSA Pre-Check in this terminal, which sort of makes sense since foreign airlines can’t participate in TSA Pre, but if you are flying an AA domestic flight out of this terminal, you technically quality for Pre, so it’s too bad it’s not offered.  There is a special line for first and business class passengers (but not for elites flying coach, as far as I can tell), but in my experience, that line isn’t always open.  I had a 9am flight to MIA recently and there was no line for premium pax, so I had to wait almost an hour to get through security.

On this trip, the first/business class line was open, but it still took us almost 45 minutes to get through security.  There were a lot of people trying to get through, but only 3 scanners operating (I think they have about 8 or 9 scanners in total, so clearly they need to increase staffing and improve throughput).  Once you get to the front of your queue (economy or first/business), a staffer then assigns you to a specific security lane.  I would suggest people try to avoid the first lane, because that’s also where crew, airport employees, and passengers rushing to catch a flight leaving soon will all be allowed to cut to the front of the line.  So that first lane moves a lot more slowly than the others.

It seems that AA operates flights to AUS, ATL, MIA, and other destinations out of this terminal.  I’m really surprised they put the premium MIA route of here and force those passengers, in particular, to endure the sub-par security experience in TBIT.  If I was flying AA out of LAX going forward, even if that flight was departing from TBIT, I think I would go to terminal 4 and use the Pre-Check lane, then use the new connector to walk from Terminal 4 to TBIT (where you won’t have to clear security again).  The other advantage of this approach is that AA has an Admirals Club in T4, but not in TBIT — and you won’t be allowed to use the Oneworld lounges in TBIT unless you are traveling internationally.

Lounge

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

In LAX, JL has first class customers use the Qantas First Lounge, which was excellent.  Our flight was departing LAX at 1:20pm and there aren’t many Oneworld international departures at that time, so the lounge was also delightfully empty.  It’s a very large space, so it’s hard to imagine that it would ever be that full, actually.

While the lounge didn’t have a spa with free massages a la VS, BA, EY, etc., nor hip music and lighting with waiters bopping around the lounge like VS, it did the basics very well.  There’s a long, beautiful bar along the entire back of the lounge that serves anything your heart could desire.  The seating is plentiful and comfortable.  The overall design of the lounge is quite nice and just a joy to be in.

But we found the highlight to be the sit-down restaurant with full waiter service.  The menu, service, and food all felt like dining in a true 5-star restaurant in any major city.  Kudos for Qantas for a job very well done.

Boarding

When we got to the lounge, they told us that boarding would begin at 1:00 — which struck us as awfully close to the 1:20 departure time.  Just to be safe, at around 12:55, we started to gather our things and head out of the lounge, and it was only as we exited at 1:00 that they made the first boarding announcement for our flight.  It was probably about a 7-8 minute walk to the gate from the lounge, so that sounds very tight, but it made a little more sense once we got to the gate and saw that JL does a great job of giving F customers an easy boarding experience.  They have clear signage for both F and J passengers, with dedicated jetways for each. 

We breezed right onto the plane and directly into the F cabin.  Since J and Y pax used different doors, we never saw another passenger other than those in the F cabin.  It felt peaceful and relaxing, much different from the typical domestic boarding experience!  A cabin attendant was there waiting to greet us as we boarded the plane and showed us to our seats.

The purser quickly came over and introduced herself, made a real effort of letting us know her name (pronouncing it slowly and pointing to her name tag so we could see it in writing) and letting us know that she was there to help in any way needed.  Her colleagues in the F cabin were very quick to take and hang our jackets, offer us pre-departure beverages, show us a few features of the seats, and offer any help we needed. We felt very welcome and I could tell we were going to have a great crew.

Settling In

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

Waiting at our seats were Bose headphones, slippers, a pillow, and a blanket.  The blanket was more like the kind of thing you’d put on your lap while watching TV, not the duvet you were meant to sleep with (which was distributed later after takeoff).  A flight attendant came by and gave us menus — in this case, they just gave us the printed menu directly, while on our return flight, it was inside a large leather portfolio, which also included a pamphlet for duty-free shopping and a landing card for the U.S.

To my surprise, neither an amenity kit nor pajamas were waiting for us on our seats nor were they distributed prior to departure.  I thought maybe it was an oversight, but the same thing happened on our return, so I’m assuming that’s JL’s standard way of doing things.  But I just asked the flight attendant for both and they were happy to oblige immediately.  The pajamas were great — I think my favorites among all the ones I’ve received on other airlines (EY, BA, CX, AA).  I took a large on the first flight and a medium on the return and I think the M was actually a pretty good fit, which surprised me since I’m almost 6′ tall and I figured an Asian airline might run small.  Since returning home, I’ve washed both sets of pajamas and neither shrank very much and they held up very well.

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

The amenity kit was also pretty good.  It came in a nice, soft case with a zipper and included eyeshade, earplugs, a moisture mask, lip balm, dental kit, tissue, cologne, and brush.  In addition to that, the flight attendant gave me a separate case of products specifically for a man, which was Shiseido brand — cleanser, moisturizer, and hydrating lotion.  That came in a nice, hard-sided case which I could easily see being used to store sunglasses in the future.  Compared to other airlines I’ve flown in F over the past few years, JL is probably my favorite among amenity kits.

Initial impressions of the seat were fine — nothing great, nothing bad, just right in the middle.  The dark brown leather is pleasing enough, but nothing special.  The 23″ monitor is quite nice and made for good movie watching.  Aside from that, you had the basics of a power outlet, lighting controls, and a handheld controller for operating the entertainment system.  The monitor is actually a touch screen, so you can operate it that way, as well, but it’s so far away that it’s hard to reach the screen.  However, the handheld controller didn’t work very well — it’s so small, it’s hard to touch the tiny buttons on screen and navigate the complicated user interface.  And it didn’t seem very responsive to touch, either.  So I would often unbuckle my seatbelt and just lean way forward to touch the monitor itself.

The Flight

Despite beginning boarding pretty late by my standards, we left pretty much right on time.  Since I couldn’t see back in J or Y, I don’t know how full the flight was, so it’s hard to say how they boarded such a large plane so quickly, but they did it.  Taxi was relatively short and we were in the air quickly after departure.  And the captain turned off the seatbelt sign very quickly — I didn’t time it, but it felt like about a minute after takeoff.  We also noticed that the seatbelt sign stayed off for the entire flight, even though we had light turbulence for at least half the flight.

The flight attendants also began meal service very quickly, coming through the cabin to take orders while we were still climbing in altitude.  I very much appreciated how quick all of this went down, which would have been especially great on a night flight where you want to get to sleep right away (which was the case on our return from HND, which departed at midnight).  The flight attendants spoke good English and were very helpful in discussing the menu, offering suggestions and asking if we wanted to sample something that we weren’t familiar with.

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

I loved the Salon champagne that they served, and the flight attendant seemed very proud to be serving such a nice brand.  She presented the bottle to me before pouring my glass, and stood there waiting for me to take my first sip and let her know that I liked it.
Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

We both had the Japanese menu and enjoyed it.  Neither of us are connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine, so we don’t have a lot to compare it to, but we liked it.  We didn’t really know what some of the smaller appetizer dishes were, and one or two of them seemed a little odd, but that’s probably just because we’re not used to Japanese food beyond sushi.  I had the steamed bass as an entree and it was incredibly good — one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had on a plane.  Moist, flavorful, and served warm with perfectly cooked rice and Japanese pickles.  Yum.

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

While eating the meal, I perused the entertainment selection and was a little underwhelmed.  It was ok, but the selection of movies and TV shows wasn’t as extensive as other airlines I’ve flown.  They did have a lot of Japanese and other Asian content, but western options felt somewhat limited.  I also noticed that the seat wasn’t super comfortable for lounging.  It doesn’t move in a million different directions, as some other airlines’ seats do, and the padding was pretty firm.  I just had a hard time adjusting things to the point where I was really comfortable.

After the meal, flight attendants asked if we wanted to have our beds made, and we said yes.  JL offers aTempur-pedic “mattress” that they put down on your seat, with one side being firm and the other being soft.  I selected soft, went to the lavatory, and returned to find my bed nicely made up.  While it was comfortable, I will say that the bed is where I think JL could improve a fair bit.  As mentioned above, the seat itself is pretty firm, but unfortunately the “soft” side of the mattress didn’t help much.  Also, the mattress is just a thin layer of material — picture something along the lines of a yoga mat — and doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that gets cleaned in any way.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I didn’t see any way to remove the outer cover, so I’m not sure how they would even clean them.  So it felt a little weird laying directly on top of it.  My suggestion would be to lay a thin sheet down on top of the mattress and it would be a lot nicer.  Also, the duvet was large and thick, but the pillow was shockingly small.  It felt more like something they’d hand out in coach, not first.

I wasn’t able to get comfortable, which may have a lot to do with not being able to sleep.  It’s also a challenge on a flight leaving at 1:20pm to fall asleep until the final hours of flight.  Unfortunately, since the entertainment selection was so limited and the few big Hollywood movies they had, I had already seen, I found myself just laying there feeling pretty bored for a few hours.  So I decided to check out the wifi on board, and I’m glad I did.  It’s only $19 for unlimited internet for the entire flight, or $14 for 3 hours (there are other pricing plans, too, but those seemed like the best deals).  I chose the 3 hour plan and was really happy with how fast and stable the connection was.  I was able to do a lot of reading, emailing, checking Facebook, etc.  A great way to the pass the time or get some work done.

There is a mid-flight menu where you can order snacks at any point if you get hungry, so I eventually did order some noodles.  Flight attendants didn’t come through the cabin very often, but if you pressed the call button at your seat, they would show up instantly and were smiling and happy to help.  It took about 10 minutes for the noodles to be ready and they were delicious.

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

I should mention that when the flight attendant took my lunch/dinner order after takeoff, she also asked me if I wanted to be woken for a meal prior to landing, and if so, at what time.  I thought that was a nice touch and I told them I’d want to eat 90 minutes before arrival.  Although I never fell asleep, the flight attendant did come by promptly at 90 minutes prior to landing to ask if I’d like to have the meal.  I ordered a few items from the a la carte menu, the highlight of which was the seafood curry, which was warm and comforting.  The beef skewers were forgettable, while the green salad was good (as good as can be for a simple salad).

Also, a few comments on the lavatory.  There are actually two lavs you can use in the F cabin, so with only 8 passengers max, you rarely have to wait (I think one of the lavs might be for crew, but they let F pax use it if the other one is occupied).  Both lavs are pretty modest, fairly small and basic, but perfectly functional.  I was actually surprised that there were no products in the lavs — no face spray, no hand lotion, nothing besides a few dental kits.  This is the first time I can recall ever flying in a J or F cabin and not having at least some hand lotion.  This wouldn’t be so bad if the amenity kit included hand lotion, but it didn’t — it had a facial moisturizer, which of course can be used on hands, but I’m really surprised there was no proper hand cream anywhere on the plane as far as I could see.  Also, the handsoap in the lav is something you pump out of the metal “soap” lever that’s part of the sink.  This also felt very basic, like something you’d expect to find in a public restroom at a baseball stadium; whereas I usually find a nice plastic bottle of some kind of fancy designer soap attached to the top of the basin on other airlines.

While I didn’t use it, the toilet did have the typical Japanese set of controls that seemed to warm the seat and offer a variety of water jets and sprays.  Also, one thing that I really appreciated and don’t think I’ve seen on other carriers were two tables that folded down from the wall.  One descended to floor level and you could step on it once you took off your slippers, so your bare socks wouldn’t have to touch the (presumably dirty) floor as you changed into your pajamas.  The other one was more at waist level and was a convenient place to set your clothing as you changes (avoiding the need to place it in the sink area, where it could be wet).

Finally, although the F cabin is pretty segregated from the rest of the plane, I did manage to peek through the curtain into the business class cabin in the middle of the flight.  My first impression was that it looked nice.  The seats seemed what you’d expect in J, but I really liked the staggered layout that would make it easier to get in and out of a window seat without having to climb over the person next to you.

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

Arrival

As the crew prepared the cabin for arrival, they came around and thanked us for flying them with another round of very warm smiles.  The crew really was fantastic on this flight, one of the best I’ve had flying internationally.

Although we left right on time, we didn’t arrive in Narita early.  It seems that headwinds were stronger than usual, so that extended flying time.  That was a benefit on the return flight, as we left on time, but arrived into SFO over an hour early.

Exiting the plane was quick and easy, followed by a reasonable walk to immigration and customs.  What surprised me, though, was that F passengers didn’t get any kind of special fast-track lane for immigration.  There was one lane with a “priority” sign above it, but I asked an employee if we could use it as F passengers, and they said no.  So I don’t know who gets to use it, but apparently F and J pax stand in the same long lines as everyone else.  And it was a somewhat lengthy wait, around 30 minutes to clear immigration.  The queue was noisy, stuffy, and just generally felt a little chaotic, so I’m really surprised JL hasn’t arranged something special for at least F pax.

Return Flight

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

Our return was supposed to be NRT-LAX-SFO, as the nonstop HND-SFO didn’t have award seats available when we originally booked.  But I checked again while in Tokyo and saw that four award seats had opened up, so I called AA to make the change.  That flight leaves HND at midnight, so we enjoyed a full final day in Tokyo before departing the hotel around 9:30pm for HND.  As most people know, HND is a lot closer to central Tokyo than NRT and you can easily take public transport there (a roughly 30 min subway ride from Ginza for about $5 as compared to a two-hour bus or train ride at around $30 from NRT).

We were surprised to find that AA doesn’t consider NRT and HND to be co-terminals, so they do charge a $150 change fee to change airports in Tokyo.  Here’s hoping AA changes its policy on that.

The return flight itself was uneventful, very similar to the inbound flight except for a few minor details.  However, I will say that we were very unimpressed with the JAL First lounge at Haneda.  I’ve read glowing reviews of it online from when this new lounge opened in 2014, so I was surprised at how lackluster it felt in our experience.  It would have been an OK business class lounge (not great, just OK), but definitely did not feel like anything special for first class.  In particular, the food situation was very disappointing.  Not only is there no table service, but the self-service buffet (including trays that felt almost right out of a high school cafeteria) was small and the food unappealing.

There was no bar (and of course, no bartender), but rather just a few self-serve bottles of wine and spirits.  In fact, there wasn’t even any bottled water — there was only a pitcher with the word “water” on it in the refrigerator.  I did see a worker at one point refill that pitcher with a large plastic bottle of Evian, but had I not seen that, I would have assumed it was just tap water.  At one point, I walked over to the business class lounge to check out the food there, and realized it was exactly the same, with one small exception.  The first class side includes a chef who is cooking teppanyaki (think along the lines of a Benihana restaurant) to order.  That sounds nice, and it was ok, but nothing really special.  The beef he cooked could have just as easily been sitting in a warmer on the buffet line and I wouldn’t have known any difference.

Since we were departing at midnight, my original plan was to eat in the lounge and then sleep right away once on board, but clearly that wasn’t going to pan out.  The food selection in the lounge was so lackluster, I barely ate anything and figured I would just have a meal on the plane.  Or so I thought.  I was shocked when we boarded that the menu only included a very limited “late night snack” service with a few measly food options.  I just had some noodles and tried to get some sleep, still feeling hungry.

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

Unfortunately, things didn’t improve prior to landing — again, much to my surprise, the meal they serviced prior to arrival was breakfast.  I can’t quite figure out the logic of that, as we were landing in San Francisco at around5pm local time, which should be dinner.  Granted, it would be around 9am in Tokyo, which I suppose could justify breakfast, but shouldn’t it be based more on local time?  Especially since the departure meal was so light, you’d think they’d give you a heavier meal on the other end.  I really think JL should re-consider the meal service on this flight, as it was a big let-down.

Summary

We had a very good experience on JAL.  They do some things great (boarding experience, LAX lounge — although it’s operated by Qantas, attentive and friendly crew, amenity kits/pajamas, great wifi), and there are a few misses (HND lounge, meal service on night flight, entertainment selection).  Overall, a very solid experience and I’d be happy to fly them again.  I also have a feeling their business class product on the 773 is pretty good and I’d be willing to give that a try in the future.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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

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

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

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

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

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

KLM Dreamliner flight schedule – on Wednesdays and Sundays only:

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

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

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

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

KLM 787

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

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

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

Cool! Track all Boeing 787 Dreamliners in flight right now

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

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

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

Take a virtual tour of the new plane here. 

KLM is a member of the SkyTeam alliance.

Have you flown KLM before? What did you think? Please leave your comments below. 

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NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Trip Report: QANTAS 747-400 business class San Francisco – Sydney (Photos)

QANTAS 747 Sydney

A QANTAS 747-400 parked at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport. Note the Sydney skyline in the background! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last month I took a dive to the land down under on a big QANTAS 747-400 in business class on its recently restored nonstops between San Francisco International and Sydney.

Highlights of this 14-hour flight include:

  • A business class lounge that exceeded my expectations
  • One of the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had onboard a plane
  • A spin through an empty 747 including the secret crew rest area
  • Bottled water that helps with jet lag
  • Pajamas worth changing into
  • Dramatic view from the cockpit on approach to SYD
  • A raucous greeting in Sydney that will make you smile
  • One of the easiest train rides from airport to city I’ve experienced in a while

Currently, QANTAS economy class roundtrip fares between San Francisco and Sydney are in the $1,400 range (but can dip as low as $1,000 during periodic fare sales). Premium economy fares are about $3,000 round trip, and business class roundtrips run from about $8,000 to $10,000. QANTAS does not offer first class on its SFO-SYD flights. United and QANTAS offer the only nonstops between SFO and SYD and their fares are identical.*

QANTAS covered the cost of my flights, but TravelSkills paid for hotels, meals and transfers related to this five-day trip.

QANTAS

So glad to be upstairs on the 747! Wow! (Chris McGinnis)

Checking in at SFO for an 11:25 pm departure was fast and easy. My ticket did not allow me to select a seat ahead of time, so I was worried that I’d be stuck in one of the few middle seats in business class. So I arrived at the airport early planning to spend a couple hours working in the lounge. Lo and behold, at check in there was one seat left upstairs in the “business class bubble” so I snagged it! Seat 14B is an aisle exit row, so I had miles of legroom. How much? See this.

Call me culturally confused: I'm headed to Australia, but the business class lounge says otherwise (Chris McGinnis)

Call me culturally confused: I’m headed to Australia, but the business class lounge says otherwise (Chris McGinnis)

At SFO, QANTAS passengers must use the Air France / KLM lounge. While I was hoping that I might be able to slip into the lounges of Oneworld partners such as British Airways or Cathay Pacific, I learned that due to crowding issues at night, QANTAS passengers are only provided access to the Air France / KLM Lounge.

QANTAS uses the Air France lounge at SFO- this is one of two rooms (Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS uses the Air France lounge at SFO- this is one of two rooms (Chris McGinnis)

My expectations for the lounge were set low– I had heard that there was nothing special about this lounge. But when I entered, I was greeted nicely by two fun and interesting agents who explained to me that I had to be sure and see BOTH rooms in the lounge. Apparently, many lounge visitors think the lounge is just the first room you see (above). But there’s a somewhat hidden door that leads to a much larger room with a big buffet, and plenty of tables and chairs. The back room was definitely where the action was.

A relic from its Northwest Airlines past- the Air France lounge still sports a fireplace (Chris McGinnis)

A relic from its Northwest Airlines past- the Air France lounge still sports a fireplace (Chris McGinnis)

This lounge used to belong to Northwest Airlines. Remember when most NWA lounges had fireplaces? This relic (not working) is still there, which adds a homey feel to the space. Apparently the fireplace will be removed next time this lounge is updated.

A friendly attendant passes around cups of fried rice that hits the spot at 10 pm (Chris McGinnis)

A friendly attendant passes around cups of warm fried rice that hits the spot at 10 pm (Chris McGinnis)

What the Air France / KLM lounge lacks in atmosphere is made up for in the service you get once inside. As I said, the door agents were fun and friendly (we joked about feeling French when flying to Australia). Inside the lounge, servers were all over the place, passing snacks, cleaning up and interacting with travelers. I arrived early, and the place was pretty empty, but as flight time approached, seat space became scant– it was a good thing that they had staffed up for the crunch.

A healthy hearty pre-flight plateful from the lounge buffet (Chris McGinnis)

A healthy hearty pre-flight plateful from the lounge buffet (Chris McGinnis)

I was impressed by the amount and variety of food and drink on offer at the KLM / AF lounge that QANTAS uses. The lounge also had a noisy and convivial feel– mostly Australians enjoying a beer and time with friends and colleagues on their way home.

Stairway to heaven: inside the business class bubble on a 747 (Chris McGinnis)

Stairway to heaven: inside the business class bubble on a 747 (Chris McGinnis)

Due to my status as a travel writer, I received a special favor– I asked if I could board five minutes early so I could get some good photos of the plane before it filled up with passengers. At the last minute my wish was granted, so I scrambled on board, up the “stairway to heaven,” threw my bags down and took off with flight attendant Jerry for a quick tour of the plane INCLUDING a look at the secret crew rest area in the aft section of the “bubble” with access via a special stairway from the main deck. See that here or scroll to the bottom for the video. This big bird has a crew of 14 flight attendants and four pilots and on a 14+ hour flight, they need a place to hide!

18 big business class seats upstairs on the QANTAS 747 (Chris McGinnis)

18 big business class seats upstairs configured 2-2 on the QANTAS 747 (Chris McGinnis)

There’s not a better place in the world than upstairs in business class on a Boeing 747-400. On QANTAS there are 18 seats up here configured 2-2 with a galley in the back and a lavatory and door to the cockpit up front. I was seated in 14B- the seat (seen below) with the suitcase in front of it. Not only is it in the cosy confines of the business class bubble, it’s an exit row seat. Upside of this seat: limitless legroom and no interference from your neighbor getting up. Downside: In seat storage is almost nil– window seat passengers get those nice big bins along the windows, but aisle seats don’t. Another downside with this seat: it’s tough seeing out the windows.

Row 15 upstairs on QANTAS 747 is exit row w endless leg room (Chris McGinnis)

Row 14 upstairs on QANTAS 747 is exit row w endless leg room (Chris McGinnis)

 

QANTAS business class massage

Seat controller for business class lie-flat seats- with massage! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS 747-400 business class seats are the same ones you’ll find on its A380s– fully flat, lumbar controls and with a nice massage feature. The massage was nice, but controlling it via these buttons was difficult.

There is no wi-fi onboard QANTAS 747s.

Main deck business class on QANTAS 747-400 (Image: Seatguru)

Main deck business class on QANTAS 747-400 (Image: Seatguru)

 

Row 1 on the main deck- I call these "windshield seats" because of the curvature of the plane in the nose (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Row 1 on the main deck- I call these “windshield seats” because of the curvature of the plane in the nose (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

While upstairs is nice, downstairs in the nose of the 747 is a pretty nice space, too. Especially if you are seated in row 1– these seats are super private and quiet and insiders say that this is usually where QANTAS seats its superstar VIP guests.

QANTAS business class 747

Least desirable business class seat on QANTAS 747 are middle seat on main deck, rows 5, 6,7 & 8 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The best seats on the main deck are row 1 (for privacy) and also row 5 if you are traveling alone- that’s because these two seats (B&J) are solo seats– there’s no one seated next to you. See what I mean here on the 747-400 V2 three class layout on SeatGuru. Seats to avoid if possible would be the three middle seats on row 5, 6, 7 and 8.

QANTAS 747 Economy

Economy class on QANTAS 747 configured 3-4-3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There are 270 economy class seats on this big bird. One cabin is green (pictured), the other is pinkish maroon. The best seats are those in the mid-cabin area. Avoid seats at the front or the rear of the cabins due to lines that form near lavatories.

Economy class seat pitch is 31 inches on QANTAS 747 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Economy class seat pitch is 31 inches on the QANTAS 747 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS also offers a distinct premium economy section with 26 seats configured 2-4-2 with wider seats and arm rests. Premium economy passengers also get a special menu, noise canceling headsets, preflight champagne, and special amenity kits.

QANTAS Premium Economy 747

QANTAS premium economy on 747 is configured 2-4-2- ask for the 2 side! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

QANTAS premium economy 747

Seat pitch in QANTAS premium economy is 38″ plus wider arm rests (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Back upstairs in business class… we took off on time at 11:25 pm. Shortly thereafter, a mad rush for the lavatory ensued as everyone was eager to change into pajamas for the long night ahead. This was also the time that flight attendants helped passengers position nice quilted cotton seat covers over cushions that really helped with the coziness factor of the cabin. (See below)

QANTAS SFO flight departs at 11:30 pm and arrives SYD about 14 hours later (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS SFO flight departs at 11:25 pm and arrives SYD about 14 hours later at about 8:00 am two days later (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Soft and stretch pajamas improve sleep quality & preserve your clothing for arrival (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Soft and stretchy pajamas improve sleep quality & preserve your clothing for arrival (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I’m usually not one to fuss over pajamas, but on a 14+ hour flight it was very nice to change into a shirt I’d not spent the night in. Plus, you get to keep the PJs for use at home (or for gifting those who did not get to go on this trip).

Salmon with spinach & sauteed egglant (Photo: Chris McGinnis

Salmon with spinach & sauteed eggplant (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I was disappointed that we did not get any menus on this flight… I usually like to peruse and photograph them. But on this flight there was a snafu due to the change from February to March, and the menus did not get loaded. So my choice was made based on a description provided by the flight attendant. I chose to go with salmon and was not disappointed. It tasted delicious, and was a right sized portion. Not pictured is the bread– flight attendants roll out two big loaves of warm bread (sourdough and whole wheat) which they offer while serving the main course. Warm bread is always nice.

A delicious vanilla custard with raspberries for dessert (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A delicious vanilla custard with raspberries for dessert (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Since I knew I’d be trying to sleep on this flight, I ate about half my entree and a few bites of this cool and velvety vanilla custard. After that, it was time to hit the sack on my cozy quilted lie flat seat.

QANTAS business class cover

Quilted seat covers help! Flight attendants place them at passengers’ request before or after meal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I tried to watch “The Intern” after my meal, but started to doze off. Once I put my seat down, Jerry was there with a bottle of flower-enhanced Balance water– supposedly to help with jet lag. You know what? It worked! No jet lag at all on this trip. But that might have more to do with the fact that I slept for 8 hours on this flight…. amazing because I rarely get 8 hours at home!

Here’s what worked for me: First, of course is the true lie-flat seat upstairs on a 747. Second, I made it a point to eat lightly and only had one glass of wine with dinner. Third, on this flight I tried using Mack’s Moldable Silicone Earplugs– each one is a small plug of translucent putty that covers up your entire ear canal and truly blocks out all sound. That, along with my Bucky eyemask and I was down for the count!

Special jet lag water provided to get you through the night (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Special jet lag water provided to get you through the night (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On this flight I slept for nearly 8 hours — I remember falling asleep as we approached Hawaii and I woke up with only about 2-3 hours flying time left! Wow!

Fell asleep somewhere near Hawaii & woke up 8 hours later- almost there! (Chris McGinnis)

Fell asleep somewhere near Hawaii & woke up 8 hours later- almost there! (Chris McGinnis)

I could not believe my eyes when I woke up and looked at my watch at around 6 am Sydney time. Perfect time for a flat white!

QANTAS coffee

Woke up to a fine flat white prepared by flight attendant (Chris McGinnis)

I strolled back to the galley to find the second of two flight attendants plating breakfast and making toast in a big toaster– that burnt bread smell reminded me of breakfast at my Canadian Granny’s house!

A hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and (my fave) baked beans (Chris McGinnis)

A hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and (my fave) baked beans (Chris McGinnis)

After a full night of sleep and a flat white, I was raring to go. In that sharpened state, I asked our flight attendant if I could pass my camera to the pilots to take some shots of the approach to SYD. They agreed and took about 30 shots- the best of which I posted below. Very cool!

I handed my camera to pilots for some great approach shots- note Sydney skyline! (Photo: QANTAS Pilots!)

I handed my camera to pilots for some great approach shots- note Sydney skyline! (Photo: QANTAS Pilots!)

 

QANTAS 747 pilots

A quick thanks to the crew for helping me out with some photos (Chris McGinnis)

Arrival at Sydney was quick and easy via kiosk. No lines at all at 8 am.

Quick and easy entry via kiosk at SYD (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Quick and easy entry via kiosk at SYD (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Now this was a surprise: Sydney’s big Mardi Gras festival was taking place during the week I was there… and the airport had drag queens welcoming flights– which caused quite a stir as we filed past them. One of them looked at me and said, “Sir, you must have flown in business class because you are looking fresh as a flower this morning!” I had to agree– and pose for a few selfies 🙂

Since it was Mardi Gras in Sydney, our flight was greeted by some festive drag queens. What a welcome! (Chris McGinnis)

Since it was Mardi Gras in Sydney, our flight was greeted by some festive drag queens. What a welcome! (Chris McGinnis)

Getting into the city for my meetings was a cinch using the quick and easy Airport Link, which takes about 20 minutes to reach the Central Business District or “CBD” as Sydneysiders say.

A quick, easy, one-seat ride from airport to central business district or CBD (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A quick, easy, one-seat ride from airport to central business district or CBD (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Trains depart for city every 10 minutes from airport station- a 20 minute ride (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Trains depart for city every 10 minutes from airport station- a 20 minute ride (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fares run about US$13 each way for the 20 minute ride to town– that’s pricey for two, but definitely beats the morning traffic. Taxicab fares run about US$35.

Plenty of room on the clean, modern & bright double decker trains to the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Plenty of room on the clean, modern & bright double decker trains to the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The train dropped me just a couple blocks from my Sydney hotel- easy! By the way, did you see my post: Trip Report: newest business class hotels in Sydney? Read up!

And stay tuned for a follow up post to this one where I’ll explore QANTAS’ flagship first and business class lounges at SYD!

Stay tuned for another post this- QANTAS first & business class lounges at SYD (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Stay tuned for another post this- QANTAS first & business class lounges at SYD (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s the video of the crew rest area:

–Chris McGinnis

*(Fares checked for May flights using Google flights on March 28 and subject to change)

Disclosure: QANTAS covered the cost of Chris’ flights. TravelSkills paid for related hotels, meals and transfers.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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4 more reasons to love San Francisco

Sunset at the Golden Gate Bridge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Sunset at the Golden Gate Bridge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Earlier this month Steven Shalowitz, host of the One Way Ticket Show podcast, interviewed TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis about recommendations for visitors to San Francisco– from that interview, he prepared the following post for us to share with readers. Enjoy! And please share YOUR best SF tips in the comments)

Chris McGinnis is the Founder of the Travel Skills Group, and the purveyor of the popular travelskills.com website, which offers money-saving, comfort-enhancing travel advice, with a business travel bent.

In my recent interview with McGinnis on The One Way Ticket Show, he chose San Francisco for his one-way ticket destination.

He shared with me some of his top picks in “The City by the Bay”, which he’s called home since 2005.

1. Hang Like a Local

Dolores Park San Francisco

The new playground at San Francisco’s recently revamped Dolores Park (Photo: Barkley Dean)

Chris loves Dolores Park, one of the most popular parks in America, and only blocks from his Noe Valley neighborhood.  According to McGinnis:  “It has just gone through a $28 million redo.  It’s a site to behold.  It’s a place where you’ll find local San Franciscans.  It’s where everybody that lives in a cramped little apartment in San Francisco (goes) when they want to get outside and get some fresh air and hang out with their friends and drink a beer and take in the view.  It’s always busy, and it’s always full of locals”.

Plus, Chris notes, you might even catch a glimpse of Noe Valley’s most famous resident, Marc Zuckerberg, walking his dog in the park.

2. Get Outta Town

The new Devil's Slide trail is just 30-min Uber ride away from the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The new Devil’s Slide trail is just a 30-min south of the city (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

McGinnis enjoys heading just 30 minutes south of the city to the Devil’s Slide Trail.  This was a precarious part of Highway One where, according to Chris, “You’d take those drives along the cliff and see the waves crashing and the birds flying over and whales jumping out in the ocean”.  As spectacular as it was, the road kept giving way and sliding down the cliff (thus the name).  Last year they put in a large tunnel so cars could avoid the danger.  They nevertheless preserved the roadway which is now a bicycle and pedestrian path

For Chris, Devil’s Slide is especially ideal for biz travelers who just want to take in something a little extra in an afternoon and don’t have the time to make it down the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur.   “You can even take Uber down there and and take a fantastic walk with one of these just spectacular Highway One views that is so iconic about California”, he says.

3. Come Hungry!

Fresh seafood always on the menu in San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fresh seafood always on the menu in San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“I think it’s the best food city in the world”, Chris says of his adopted hometown.  “We’ve got such a diverse ethnic population so we’ve got all kinds of great food that way.  We live close to so many sources of fresh produce, we’ve got the ocean, it’s just such a fantastic place for great food”.

When it comes down to the must-try, typical San Francisco fare, McGinnis opts for the Mission Style Burrito.  “It’s about as big as a shoe”, he says.  “It has your typical rice and beans and meat and whatever else you want”.

Generally found in taquerias in the Mission District, Chris’ personal favorite is Pancho Villa on 16th Street.  He also likes La Taqueria for their Tacos Dorados, a crunchy style taco stuffed with meat and avocado which he describes as “outstanding”.  It’s a popular place though, and apparently there’s always a line, especially at weekends.

Alongside San Francisco’s thriving burrito culture, lives cuisines whose origins are on the opposite side of the Pacific.

For Asian, Chris believes “The best Chinese food in San Francisco is not in Chinatown.”  He suggests heading to the western side of the city to the Sunset or the Richmond Districts where, with its large and vibrant Asian communities, you’ll discover the best Chinese food (Chris recommends asking locals where they like to eat), Vietnamese (he likes Thanh Long with its special roasted garlic crab), and Burmese (McGinnis’ choice is “Burma Superstar”).

4. Linger Before Flying Off

Inside SFO's Aviation Museum & Library inside the International Terminal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside SFO’s Aviation Museum & Library inside the International Terminal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A frequent flyer like McGinnis knows a thing or two about airports, and for him, SFO is “one of the best managed and most interesting airports in the country”.  With several entrances and security stations you don’t find the long lines you do at other airports.  And while it’s easy to access, once in, you may not want to leave.  For McGinnis, the highlight is Terminal 2, home to Virgin America, which he says feels like you’re walking into a four or five-star hotel lobby (it was built with that intention).  “There are designer chairs, there’s beautiful views, water stations, there’s lots of good food…And they’ve taken that Terminal 2 concept and they’re applying (it) in the other terminals”, McGinnis said.

If you want to take in a little culture before you take off, Chris states “San Francisco is the only airport in the country that is recognized as a museum”.  One can not only find a museum in the airport, but mini exhibitions throughout the terminals from the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum’s superb collection.

Whether for its outdoor spaces, food or culture, it’s easy to understand why Rudyard Kipling is reported to have said “San Francisco has only one drawback, ‘tis hard to leave”.

Click here for Chris McGinnis’ interview where he talks San Francisco, plus, offers valuable travel tips.

Steven Shalowitz is the Host of The One Way Ticket Show where he explores with his guests where they’d go if given a one way ticket (no coming back!).  Destinations may be in the past, present, future, real, imaginary or a state of mind.  Visit the site:  www.theonewayticketshow.com or search for it on iTunes.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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6 things about JetBlue + New credit card

All of JetBlue's A320s (pictured) and some A321s will get new seats and improved technology. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue’s big on the east coast, but less well known out west, or in Atlanta (Image: JetBlue)

A few things you may not know about NYC-based JetBlue, which just last month turned 16 years old and is now the fifth largest carrier in the U.S. Plus, it just added a new credit card (scroll down for details).

The biggest U.S. city that JetBlue does NOT serve is Atlanta. It jumped in the ATL-JFK market briefly, from May to December of 2003, but quickly retreated after a crippling fare war with Delta and AirTran. It’s never tried going back.

Even though it’s based in NYC, JetBlue is the largest carrier on TWO Caribbean islands: Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It was the largest carrier in the Caribbean until American and US Airways merged last year.

JetBlue now flies to THREE countries in South America: It just launched new flights between Ft Lauderdale and Quito, Ecuador, in addition to existing flights to Peru and Colombia.

See JetBlue’s extensive route map here.

JetBlue will add more Mint flights on transcon routes this fall. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue will add more lie-flat business class Mint flights on transcon routes from SFO. (Image: JetBlue)

Starting March 24 JetBlue will offer its outstanding lie-flat Mint business class product on those looong 6-hour SFO-Boston flights, which until now has only been available on flights to its JFK hub. See TravelSkills Mint class Trip Report here. Fares for Mint started as low as $986 round trip— below the $1,o00 threshold which is a screaming deal for front-of-the-plane transcon flying. Introduction of MINT will be staggered between now and October, so be sure to choose the Mint flight (among JetBlue’s three flights per day to BOS).

JetBlue is bigger in the Bay Area than you might think. From SFO, it flies nonstop to Long Beach, Las Vegas, Ft Lauderdale, New York and Boston. From San Jose, it offers nonstops to Boston and New York. And from Oakland, it flies nonstop to New York, Boston (summer only) and Long Beach. (And it even flies to nearby Sacramento and Reno.)

This month, JetBlue launched new credit cards – switching from American Express to Barclaycard. For consumers, there’s the basic JetBlue Card, and the more lucrative JetBlue Plus Card. I’d go for the Plus Card, which is currently offering 30,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days with a fee of $99 per year. Its basic card is not bad, either, offering 10,000 bonus points if you spend $1,000 in the first 30 days, plus no annual fee. Also good: no foreign transaction fees and Barclaycards offer true chip & PIN instead of the less useful chip & signature technology offered by other cards.

Have you ever flown JetBlue? Would you? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Flying to the tech center of the universe

SFO's new 221-foot air traffic control tower will open next summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SFO’s new 221-foot air traffic control tower is not just a gateway to the Pacific, it’s a gateway to Silicon Valley. CLICK to see inside it! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

San Francisco International Airport had the highest rate of international passenger growth among US airports last year, and continues to add new international flights at a dizzying pace. And it’s not just SFO that’s growing– San Jose and Oakland are picking up new overseas flights, too.

This is most likely due to the strength of the Bay Area economy, and the need for better, faster access to the tech center of the universe.

According to the International Trade Administration, SFO posted a 9 percent increase in international travelers in 2015, ahead of other major international gateway airports such as New York-JFK, LAX, and Miami. Much of the increased traffic to SFO and elsewhere in the US is coming from China which grew a whopping 25% in 2015.

If you are having trouble keeping up with all the new flights coming to the Bay Area, here’s a rundown:

In 2015, SFO added the following new flights:

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

The right side of Turkish Airlines inaugural B777 to SFO was a mural of Istanbul- on the left was a mural of San Francisco (Chris McGinnis)

  • April – Turkish Airlines launched nonstop B777 service to Istanbul
  • May – Swiss International nearly doubled its nonstop service to Zurich
  • June – China Southern began nonstop service to Guangzhou
  • September – COPA launched with nonstop 737 service to Panama City
  • December – Air India launched the first nonstop flight from U.S. West Coast to Delhi
  • December – Qantas returned to SFO with B747 nonstop service to Sydney
Fiji Airways is SFO's latest coup (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fiji Airways is SFO’s latest coup with flights starting in June (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In 2016, SFO keeps up the momentum:

  • March – United Airlines begins nonstop service to Tel Aviv
  • May – Air Berlin launches with nonstops to Düsseldorf, Germany
  • May – United Airlines begins new nonstop flights to Xi’an, China (Plus there are rumors of a new United nonstop SFO to Hangzhou)
  • June – United Airlines begins the first U.S. nonstop flight to Singapore
  • June – WOW Air launches nonstop flights to Reykjavík, Iceland
  • June – Fiji Airways inaugurates nonstop service to Nadi, Fiji

It’s not just SFO that is growing by leaps and bounds…so are other Bay Area airports. For example, San Jose International has recently snagged (or has pending) new 787-9 nonstops to London (British Airways), Frankfurt (Lufthansa), Beijing (Hainan) and Shanghai (Air China) in addition to its ANA nonstop service to Tokyo.

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

Norwegian Air flies 787 Dreamliners to Oakland International (Image: Oakland International Airport)

Oakland is on a growth spurt, too, with its major international carrier, Norwegian Air adding nonstops to London-Gatwick this June in addition to its flights to Stockholm, Sweden, and Oslo.

All this new competition is very good news for frequent flyers. That’s because more flights and more seats usually mean cheaper fares.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Most popular: Last chance 747 + Bankrupt airline + Europe on sale + United Global Services

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

How to jump on a big 747 like this for a domestic trip (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Get on it while you can! One easy, last chance to ride a United 747

2 How’d that happen? Another airline declares bankruptcy

3 Screamin’ deals: Fares to Europe tumbleWeekend Edition

Routes: Southwest, Delta, American, United

5 Up or down? It depends: Airfares all over the map

6 Gimme a break! Airlines face new scrutiny over surcharges

7 Big job ahead for Marriott How would YOU merge Starwood & Marriott? [Poll]

More, better food on Delta, United & American

9 Great comments! Excuse me, do you speak English?

10 Bay Area to London for $299 + United non-stops to Singapore? + New Paris route + more

Chris McGinnis on CNN at SFO

Chris McGinnis on CNN at SFO

Off to Australia! Hey folks! I’m off to Sydney, Australia for four days this week to give QANTAS a try and write up a Trip Report. Plus I’ll be checking out Sydney’s 5 newest business class hotels. And I’ll dip into the city’s famous Mardi Gras celebration on Saturday. Have you been to Australia lately? What should I see, where should I eat? Please leave your comments below or email me. 

Are you elated or worried about the impending merger of Marriott and Starwood? How would you suggest the two hotel giants merge their many brands? Stay tuned to TravelSkills for a post about our meeting last week with Marriott’s top loyalty brass! And be sure to offer your two cents because Marriott is listening!

The view from my room at the JW Marriott LA Live, Los Angeles (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view from my room at the JW Marriott LA Live, Los Angeles where I stayed for Marriott’s “Future of Loyalty” forum (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

What’s it like to be Global Services on United?

Delta’s newest, edgiest Donald-Sutherland-voiced commercial

Global corruption index 

Earn 10,ooo IHG Rewards points for stays in NYC, DC

Why did American threaten to dump Gogo?

Take a look at plans for world’s largest airport in Istanbul

Dubai International gets new billion dollar terminal 

Starbucks loyalty program follows airlines “spend more get more” mantra

A first class “bunk bed” proposed

Chris's "Caged Bird" on Instagram. CLICK on the pic to follow him!

Chris’s “Caged Bird” on Instagram. CLICK on the pic to follow him!

Free inflight wi-fi on QANTAS

Experts question security of in-flight Wi-Fi.

Crackdown of Uber. Lyft at Newark Airport may be back on.

Southwest flyers can use Pay With Amazon to access in-flight Wi-Fi.

Virgin America’s Elevate program hits 4 million members.

Australia gives final OK to Qantas-American transpacific partnership.

Climate change could make flights longer, more turbulent.

Choice Hotels loyalty program adds vacation rental option.

Norwegian passenger poll shows data on in-flight Wi-Fi usage.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Trip Report: Virgin America SFO-Honolulu

Virgin America

Headed west out over open water on one of Virgin’s new ETOPS rated A320s (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last week I jumped on a Virgin America flight to the islands- my first since the carrier launched nonstops from San Francisco to Honolulu and Maui late last year. It has since announced that it will add nonstops from LAX to Hawaii later this year.

Virgin’s entry into the Hawaii market has helped spur a fare war, with flights frequently falling into the low $300’s round trip from the west coast- quite a good bargain! The California-to-Hawaii market is packed with nonstops from nearly every other US carrier, including Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian and United.

"Flights with Benefits" is the racy name for one of Virgin America's new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Flights with Benefits” is the racy name for one of Virgin America’s new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

To be able to offer these flights, Virgin needed a new plane, an ETOPS-rated Airbus A320 (pictured above) that is equipped to fly long distances over water. So that’s the first thing I noticed when I boarded– that “new plane smell” as well as a shimmering new surfaces lit with purple hues from its mod mood lighting.

This A320 also has the newer, higher-definition version of the RED seatback entertainment system– which includes a much more robust, interactive inflight mapping program that kept me occupied for hours. (I am usually much more entertained by the inflight map than inflight movies!)

Inflight internet & live TV not yet operable on Hawaii flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inflight internet & live TV not yet operable on Hawaii flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Despite the fab new seatback system, I was disappointed to learn that the plane’s satellite-based connectivity system is not working yet, which means no inflight internet or live TV for the 5+ hour flight. Flight attendants rolled their eyes when I asked about this…saying that it’s a very common complaint from Virgin America regulars who love their inflight wi-fi. Regrettably they said that they don’t expect it to be operable until “later this year.” A Virgin spokesperson responded, “Not quite yet” when I asked when the service would be working.

Despite connectivity issues, the RED system does not disappoint– even without a connection, there’s a full roster of very good, current movies and TV shows to watch, some great indie and international choices, and that wonderful inflight mapping feature.

While this picture-of-a-picture is grainy, in real life seat back images are sharp (Chris McGinnis)

While this picture-of-a-picture is grainy, in real life seat back map images are sharp & interactive (Chris McGinnis)

Another downside on these 5+ hour nonstops is crowding at the back of the plane when lines for for the two lavatories form. On my flight, there was a nearly constant queue back there, especially 2-3 hours in. That’s uncomfortable for passengers seated the last 3-4 rows as well as flight attendants who told me that due to a new configuration of the galley area, they are unable to sit down for rest breaks. Luckily on this flight I upgraded to Main Cabin Select, and was seated in row 10 over the wing (exit row).

See Seatguru’s seatmap of Virgin’s newest A320

Main cabin on a new Virgin America A320 seats 138 (Chris McGinnis)

Main cabin on a new Virgin America A320 seats 138 (Chris McGinnis)

Overall, the flight was very nice and a standout when compared to other carriers– much like nearly all my Virgin America experiences. But to be honest, I was hoping for a bit more fun and celebration about the fact that we were flying to Hawaii. A lei, a flower or slice of pineapple in a cocktail, an aloha shirt or maybe a little ukele music over the PA system would have been a nice addition. All I saw that celebrated this a flight to paradise was a can of POG (Passion, Orange, Guava) juice available on the seatback food & drink ordering system. Nonetheless, the flight was pleasant and on-time.

Take a spin through my trip in the slides below:

At 6:45 am, PreCheck at SFO's Terminal 2 was a breeze (Chris McGinnis)

At 6:45 am, PreCheck at SFO’s Terminal 2 was a breeze (Chris McGinnis)

 

Gorgeous sunrise lights up our new A320 and SFO control tower (Chris McGinnis)

Gorgeous sunrise lights up our new A320 and SFO control tower for a 7:30 am departure (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

This is what a brand new Virgin America A320 looks like: black leather & mood lights. Wow (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Plenty of knee room on exit row 10 Main Cabin Select (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Seatback mapping system provides trip stats. Note that image is much clearer that what shows in this photo (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Note the clear HD image, and the POG reminder that this flight is paradise-bound! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

My go-to meal on Virgin America, the Protein Plate & Honest T Green Tea, did not disappoint (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

My seatmate ordered the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And a POG (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

I love the healthy food options on Virgin- this is one of three pages of choices- order from the screen & flight attendant delivers (Chris McGinnis)

 

IMG_2545

One of two shiny new lavs at the back of this A320 (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Flying over gorgeous Oahu on approach to HNL (Chris McGinnis)

 

Had some fun scrambling around Kauai! (Chris McGinnis)

Had some fun scrambling around Kauai! Then headed back (Chris McGinnis)

 

Japan Airlines HNL

I love Honolulu’s open air corridors. Such a nice welcome to paradise 🙂 (Chris McGinnis)

 

Spectacular view of Honolulu at take off. Note the sparkles in the paint on the engine! (Chris McGinnis)

Spectacular view of Honolulu at take off for SFO. Note the sparkles in the paint on the engine! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America Honolulu Waikiki

Final look at Waikiki and Diamond Head on our way back to SFO. Aloha! (Chris McGinnis)

What’s your favorite way to get to Hawaii? Been lately? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

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8 mistakes to avoid in San Francisco

Now that's an unusual approach to SFO, right? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Now that’s an unusual approach to SFO, right? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

With all eyes focused on San Francisco as the Super Bowl approaches, I thought now would be a good time for a reprise of one of our most popular posts about the mistakes many travelers make when visiting the Bay Area.

Nearly every frequent traveler visits San Francisco at least one time each year. And it’s most likely that visit will take place between September and December, the city’s peak convention season.

That’s especially true if you are in the tech or related fields. For example, San Francisco-based cloud computing giant Salesforce.com puts on its annual Dreamforce conference in the fall at the city’s sprawling Moscone Convention Center, attracting 60,000+ people. Oracle’s OpenWorld conference is usually just before or just after Dreamforce.

When a big “citywide” like that comes to town, nearly every hotel in the Bay Area is sold out, or its rates are hyper-inflated. During these peak weeks,  you’ll pay a minimum of about $500 for an decent room and feel lucky that you even found one. When citywides come into town, Airbnb hosts lick their chops and fluff their pillows. Restaurant reservations become scant. And Uber drivers kiss their families goodbye and work double shifts for several days in a row.

So now’s probably a great time to offer some advice to the arriving throngs—and this advice is good whether you are coming San Francisco next week or next year. (If you are in SF, please forward this to your future guests!)

1>Don’t schedule business meetings on Friday afternoons after 2 p.m. On Fridays, when New York closes for the weekend at 5 pm eastern, so does much of San Francisco (at 2 pm Pacific) especially when it’s warm and sunny outside. Cocktail and beer carts start making the rounds in offices at about 3 p.m. While there are exceptions to this rule, your Bay Area colleagues are likely to groan if you send out a calendar invite for a 4 p.m. meeting on Friday. Make it at 11 a.m. instead.

SF is hot these days- in more ways than one (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

You are most likely to find sunny weather in San Francisco in the spring and fall (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

2>Don’t be surprised about an early start. In a similar vein, know that the workday starts relatively early here, so an 8:30 a.m. meeting is not considered out of order. If that feels too early for you, just bring along some caffeine from Blue Bottle, Ritual or Philz and you’ll be fine. Lunch hour begins promptly at noon, but you find that locals may ask you to show up at 11:45 a.m. “to beat the crowds.” Expect the same early schedule for dinner meetings, which can and do start as early at 6 p.m. Most restaurants are empty by 9:30 on weekdays and by 10:30 p.m. on weekends.

3>Hailing cabs is so 1999. Use an app instead. This is the hometown of both Uber and Lyft, so download the apps and use them if you haven’t already done so. You can enjoy nearly all the different “flavors” of Uber available in the Bay Area, which include the standard town car UberBLACK, private car “citizen driver” UberX (cheaper than taxis), UberSUV, UberXL, and UberPOOL of LyftLine where you share a ride with someone else headed in the same direction. Cabs are fine when available, but the industry has been decimated by the likes of Uber and Lyft– for example, Yellow Cab Coop of San Francisco recently declared bankruptcy (but is still operating). One way to get around irritating “surge pricing” from car sharing companies is to use new taxi hailing apps such as Flywheel. Also, don’t rent a car at the airport unless it’s absolutely essential. SFO rental rates are notoriously high, the car rental center at is distant and unloved, and downtown hotel parking rates are in the $60 per night range.

Related: The “unofficial” airport of the big game giveaway

4>Don’t put off making dinner reservations. This town is HOT and wealthy right now, full of cool kids and visitors with sophisticated palates who love to dine out. If you are here to try the city’s best restaurants, make reservations at least two or three weeks in advance…or more for top spots like Boulevard, Frances, State Bird Provisions, Gary Danko, and others.  One common mistake among visitors is thinking that the city’s best Chinese food is in Chinatown. Not necessarily. Grab an Uber or jump on Muni and head out to the western neighborhoods like the Sunset or Inner Richmond which stake claim to the real thing.

MUNI, pictured here, and BART are not the same thing. (Photo Torbakhopper / Flickr)

MUNI, pictured here, and BART are not the same thing. (Photo Torbakhopper / Flickr)

5>Don’t confuse subways. You should know that San Francisco has TWO main subway systems—BART is the rapid rail regional system with several stations along Market Street connecting out to the suburbs and airport. MUNI is the slower central city subway & streetcar system used frequently (and frequently derided) by inner city residents. Of course, there are San Francisco’s fabled cable cars, but those are mostly a tourist attraction and rarely a primary means of transport for locals.

6>Don’t think BART to airport is going to save much time. BART is a great option for those who travel light, but you should know that it can take more than 30 minutes to get to the Embarcadero from SFO (for $8.65 each way). Plus, you’ll have to walk to your hotel from the nearest BART station (see below). If there’s no traffic, a taxi or Uber can get you between the airport and city in about 20 minutes. UberBLACK rates are around $68. UberX and Lyft can be about half that. And cabs run about $50 including tip.

7>Consider hills when walking. First timers with hotels on Nob Hill may look at a map and think, “Oh, I’ll just walk to my hotel from Market Street. It’s close.” Well, yes, it’s close as the bird flies, but try lugging your rollaboard up the side of the hill to the Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont, Scarlet Huntington or Mark Hopkins and you’ll learn quickly that this may not be the smartest option. Especially if you are wearing heels!

8>Don’t forget your layers. Winter is cool and wet, but never freezing. Spring and fall are typically the sunniest, driest months. Summer days can be gorgeous and bright, but the fog rolls in and cools everything off by about 4 pm on most days, so don’t venture out in evenings without a sweater.  (By the way, wear black here. It always works.)

Finally, never call San Francisco “Frisco” or “San Fran.” Laid back locals won’t say anything, but inside, you can bet they are groaning. To be safe, just call it “The City” or San Francisco.

Last year CNN dropped by for some advice about traveling to the Bay Area– see this video to find out what I had to say.

I’m sure our many Bay Area readers can add to this list, so please fire away in the comments section below and help your fellow frequent traveler headed west!

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

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Big airports by the numbers

SFO's new 221-foot air traffic control tower will open next summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SFO’s new 221-foot air traffic control tower will open next summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Even if San Francisco is not your primary airport,  a new report by the The City of San Francisco Controller’s office is an interesting read, ranking the airports we use most in a wide variety of factors, and comparing them to SFO.

Some interesting nuggets we gleaned from the report:

Boston has the most “origin and destination” traffic of most major US airports followed by Ft Lauderdale and Las Vegas. This means that BOS is used primarily by locals, or people flying to Boston– it’s not much of a hub airport where the majority of passengers are just connecting, such as Chicago, Houston and Dallas/DFW (and Atlanta, but for some reason, the report does not include the world’s busiest airport.)

Planespotters take note: New York JFK, Los Angeles and San Francisco (SFO) have the highest number of airlines serving them. JFK is home to a whopping 80 different carriers, while SFO has 49.

Related: Cloudy outlook for Washington Dulles

SFO, Las Vegas and New York JFK sell more stuff (food, beverage, concessions, duty free) per passenger than their peers. For example, those at the top of this list sell about $30 per passenger, while those at the bottom (Dulles, DFW, Ft Lauderdale) only sell about $10 per passenger.

Over the last 7 years, the number of passengers flying out of SFO grew 33%, followed by Miami and Seattle. (Much of that can be attributed to the arrival of Virgin America in 2007.) Washington Dulles is at the bottom of this list, having lost 13% of passengers in the same period.

Resolved to get your finances in order this year? Let Personal Capital, a free investment monitoring service,  show you how:

New York JFK, Miami and Las Vegas are where you’ll see the largest, fullest planes (they have the most “enplanements per flight”). Houston, Dulles and Chicago O’Hare are home to the largest number of  smaller aircraft. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles, SFO and JFK have the largest number of big planes flying overseas routes.

Those who live in Chicago, Dallas and Houston have the most nonstop flights to the most cities. (Again, I think Atlanta would rank highly here, but it’s not included in this report.) Boston, Seattle and Ft Lauderdale have the fewest among the major airports studied. JFK, Miami and Newark have the most international nonstop destinations.

And here’s some info specific to SFO and the airlines that serve it. Most notable is that American is now the #2 carrier at SFO after United.

SFO numbers

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

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Could this be the best flight of the year?

It's not every day you board a 747, destination: North Pole.

It’s not every day you board a 747, destination: North Pole.

By the time December rolls around each year, the last thing I want to do is to get on a plane. I am, by now, a jaded, tired business traveler. I am just plain done with TSA agents, done with vying for position in boarding groups, done with heaving my carry-on over my head.

But last Saturday I had the privilege of experiencing the joy of air travel again, on what was pretty much the best flight ever. Of course, this was no standard trip. It was the “Fantasy Flight,” staged by 120 United Airlines San Francisco-based employees for children recovering from serious illnesses.

The flight was to embark from SFO’s Gate 82, where the 54 families would board a 747, fly for approximately one hour, then land at the North Pole—AKA Gate 86. From check-in at a specially decorated ticket counter to arrival where kids, most dressed in their Christmas finest, received gifts and sat on Santa’s lap, smiles abounded. (OK, maybe they were punctuated with the occasional crying toddler sibling.) I eavesdropped on a conversation with one family, parents and two children, eager to board the plane because the kids had never flown before. What a way to spend a Saturday.

Have you ever seen an airport gate look like this?

Have you ever seen an airport gate look like this?

Normally bland gate areas were transformed to holiday wonderlands thanks to myriad blow-up decorations—life-sized Christmas trees, clusters of snowmen, Santa in a hot air balloon. A Lionel train ran the length of the departure gate. Meanwhile, choirs sang Christmas carols, elves offered refreshments, fairies painted children’s faces and Mike Hanna, United’s SFO station manager, introduced a cadre of special guests, including former 49er football players and 13 Olympians.

The SFO-based United employees have staged this event for 20 years running, and similar events are held at other United hubs. The effort requires months of fundraising to reach the $20,000 required to put on such an event: Employees generated $3,000 from a silent auction and food sales, United donated the use of the plane, and Chevron provided the fuel. From what I could hear, many of the employees—all of whom donated their time–had participated in the event before and looked forward to it each year.

Meanwhile, the frequent traveler in me wondered about the logistics of an unscheduled “fantasy flight.” As I pondered these questions, a series of conversations shed light on my musings. Here’s what I learned.

(This post is a “blast from the past”– a previously popular post on TravelSkills. Take a look at the original post here as well as the reader comments! This year’s United Fantasy Flight took place on Saturday, Dec 5)

It's hard not to smile when you share beautiful views of San Francisco, with candy canes and gingerbread men.

It’s hard not to smile when you share beautiful views of San Francisco, with candy canes and gingerbread men.

How do pilots develop a flight plan for a flight to nowhere?

I buttonholed Captain Jim Abell, United assistant chief pilot, NW region, who told me the main thing was for the flight to stay out of the way of traffic at the busy airport, maintaining close communication with TRACON. He mentioned that this 747 would “take off like a rocket,” because we would be unusually light—just a sip of fuel, no cargo and a load of lightweight passengers. This was basically a sightseeing flight, he said, so we’d maintain a cruising altitude of just 3,000 feet, making views a priority: taking a track across the bay, over Alcatraz, then a left turn and through the Golden Gate, flying down the coast as far as Monterey before turning back. (I loved the idea of sightseeing on a 747.)

Santa and Mrs. Claus hung out on the upper deck before making their dramatic appearance.

Santa and Mrs. Claus hung out on the upper deck before making their dramatic appearance.

How would the North Pole narrative deliver the magic for both skeptics and believers?

About an hour in, just when we flew over Pebble Beach, flight attendants announced that bad weather had delayed our landing at the North Pole. Instead, Santa and Mrs. Claus were landing their sleigh on top of the plane. And what do you know? The rosy-cheeked pair emerged down the stairs from the upper deck, to the delight of the kids. Ingenious. (I was amused earlier in the flight when I visited the upper deck and found it to be a rather surreal Green Room for the cast of characters and their children. In fact, the pilots’ grandchildren were on the flight and scrambled onto their laps in the cockpit after we landed.)

SFPD Airport Bureau bomb-sniffing dogs like Big and his handler, Sgt. Michael Andraychak, were just along for the fun of it.

SFPD Airport Bureau bomb-sniffing dogs like Big and his handler, Sgt. Michael Andraychak, were just along for the fun of it.

How do you keep a planeload of sick kids safe and still have fun?

Five paramedics from the South San Francisco fire department were on board the flight with their gear in case of medical emergency, donating their time. They told me later that they had a blast, and, happily, their services were not needed. In addition, the traditional safety demonstration by flight attendants had been rewritten to the cadence of “The Night Before Christmas.” I chuckled at, “In the unlikely event of a dip in the bay, put on your life vest and you’ll be OK.” Some other guests helped me appreciate what a special flight this was.

Two San Francisco police officers and their bomb-sniffing dogs were on board, small packs of children petting the dogs in the galleys. I have to say, there’s something relaxing and wonderful about seeing Black Labs roam the aisles of a 747.

Even the pilots were into it!

I was actually sad to have this flight end. Certainly, the day brought a special joy to the very deserving families for whom it was arranged. I was just along for the ride. But maybe it was the ultimate Christmas miracle for me, too, to embrace the fact that even airlines have big hearts this time of year. Air travel really is a wonder.

This time of year do you get travel burnout, or do you enjoy the ride? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

By Nancy Branka

(This post is a “blast from the past”– a previously popular post on TravelSkills. Take a look at the original post here as well as the reader comments! This year’s United Fantasy Flight took place on Saturday, Dec 5)

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: World’s largest passenger plane + Get on earlier flight without paying fee + New overseas plan from Verizon + Avoid surge pricing

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New on-airport Grand Hyatt for SFO

This image shows hotel location at the corner of Hwy 101 and airport entrance ramps (SFO)

This image shows location SFO Grand Hyatt at the corner of Hwy 101 and airport entrance ramps (SFO)

The new 350-room, on-airport hotel at San Francisco International Airport will be a Grand Hyatt.

The four-star hotel will be located on airport grounds near the International Terminal, Boarding Area A parking deck will be connected to all terminals via the airport AirTrain system.

The expected opening date is mid-2019, according to SFO. 

“The Grand Hyatt is recognized around the world for exceptional guest service, and with this approval we move one step closer in our vision to create the most innovative, luxurious, and environmentally sustainable on-airport hotel in the world,” said Airport Director John L. Martin.

This image shows how the hotel will connect to the AirTrain system (SFO)

This image shows how the hotel will connect to the AirTrain system (SFO)

SFO will construct and own the property, with the Grand Hyatt providing branding and day-to-day management of the facility.

The SFO Grand Hyatt will feature 17,500 square feet of meeting space, both full-service and casual restaurants, wine and sushi bar, health club, pool, spa and best of all: A rooftop cocktail lounge. (Can’t wait for the TravelSkills meetup there! Regrettably, due to the location of the hotel, it will likely have better views of Highway 101 than airport runways…)

Construction on the $230-million project is expected to begin in the spring of 2016.

Note: An airport spokesperson provided these images to TravelSkills.com, but noted that they, “in no way represent the final design, but it’s a starting place…”

–Chris McGinnis

Here's a rendering of what the hotel could look like (SFO)

Here’s a rendering of what the hotel could look like (SFO)

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  5 ways to save using Uber/Lyft  + New overseas plan from Verizon + Trans-Pac fare war?

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First look: Newest United Club & concourse [photos]

A United Dreamliner taxis by bright new space at SFO's Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A United Dreamliner taxis by bright new space at SFO’s Terminal 3 East Concourse (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

There’s a lot happening at United’s sprawling Terminal 3 at San Francisco International Airport this week.

First off, the airport unveiled its big bright Terminal 3 East Concourse, which connects the recently renovated T3E space with the rest of the terminal. Until this week, passengers walked to T3E via a narrow corridor fronted by a big construction wall.

The Terminal 3 East Concourse appears in green (Image SFO)

The Terminal 3 East Concourse appears in green (Image SFO)

The $253 million, 53,000 square foot expansion is comprised of a concourse connecting Boarding Areas E and F, a consolidated central security checkpoint, three additional gates, and a new United Club location. There are eight new retail and dining outlets, 230 power outlets, and 200 USB outlets.

Big bathrooms include private changing rooms– a unique new addition to the space I’ve not seen before. There are also four new art installations, along with mod lounge-style seating areas including the now ubiquitous egg chairs (seen in silhouette above) coffee tables and big communal tables. New retailers include Aveda, Jo Malone and Tom Ford.

New United Club

Entry to the new United Club at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

Entry to the new United Club at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

At just over 6,000 square feet, the newest United Club offers a panoramic view of airport operations through giant floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s space for 130 members in the new Club, and when it’s crowded, it will feel that way since there is not a lot of empty space between chairs. Nonetheless, the space feels light and airy due to the big view out to the ramp and a pale color palette. Plus, there are two small rooms with desks and glass doors that close if you need privacy.

New United Club at SFO packs em in- seating for 130 flyers (Chris McGinnis)

Main room in new United Club at SFO packs em in- seating for 130 flyers (Chris McGinnis)

There is one main room adjacent to the bar, which backs up to the windows, and a smaller space where the buffet is set up with items such as fresh zucchini, yellow squash and cherry tomatoes; butternut squash soup; spinach salad; and a variety of fresh meats and cheeses, and the standard hummus and mediterranean salad available at other United Clubs.

Sliced veggies and meats, cheese, hummus & chips, salads and more at United Club buffet (Chris McGinnis)

The new Terminal 3 East club will operate in addition to the larger, but relatively dated United Club location in Boarding Area F and in International Terminal G. There are some long range plans to get this old club up to new standards, but it will be part of an overall revamp of the rest of Terminal three that is still several years off. But eventually all of Terminal 3 should be as hip and bright as the new T3E boarding area.

The temporary, windowless United Club on the mezzanine level that opened last year is now closed.

Main room & bar at the new United Club SFO (Chris McGinnis)

Main room & bar at the new United Club SFO (Chris McGinnis)

United Club SFO

Dramatic tarmac views from the new 6,000 sq ft United Club at SFO (Chris McGinnis

The “look” of this club is nearly identical to recently remodeled United Club locations in Atlanta, Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, Boston and London.

Related: Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges

Have you been inside a new United Club recently? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Trip Report: Singapore Airlines + 5 ways to save using Uber/Lyft  + New overseas plan from Verizon + Trans-Pac fare war?

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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