Lots of new airline routes rolling out

A Hainan Airlines 787 like this one is coming to San Jose. (Image: Simon Auger/Flickr)

A Hainan Airlines 787 like this one is coming to San Jose. (Image: Simon Auger/Flickr)

In route news, both San Jose and Houston will get new transpacific routes in the next few weeks; JetBlue blows into Lake Tahoe; United kicks off a new U.K. service from Newark; and Orlando and New Orleans will see new Latin American routes.

  • China’s Hainan Airlines is set to launch its newest U.S. route on June 15 when it begins new 787 Dreamliner service between Beijing and San Jose. The airport is converting Gates 17/18 in Terminal B to accommodate the new international service.
  • JetBlue is adding summer and holiday season nonstops between New York JFK and Reno/Tahoe, the carrier’s 89th destination. Daily service will operate between June 18, 2015 and September 11, 2015, as well as between November 25, 2015 and January 4, 2016.
  • June 12 is the launch date for All Nippon Airways’ new route from Houston Bush Intercontinental to Tokyo Narita. ANA, a partner in the global Star Alliance with United — which has a hub at Houston — will use a 777-300ER for the daily flights.

Related: ANA’s Dreamliner ride to Tokyo!

  • The city of Newcastle in northeastern England has its first-ever non-stop air service to the U.S. following United’s launch of service this week between Newcastle and Newark. The seasonal service will operate five times a week until September. Newcastle is about five hours north of London on the road to Edinburgh.
  • Azul Brazilian Airlines plans to expand its route network to the U.S. on November 16, when it will start service between Orlando and Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The flights will operate five days a week through December 13, then increase to daily frequency.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Airport smoking ban? + Trip Report: Aer Lingus + Terminal shuffle at Heathrow + More Uber at airports


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1,000 Marriott points + AA/US combine + Most hated fees + Delta-Virgin expands + Daylight saving + new routes

A brand new Marriott Courtyard in Salisbury, NC (Marriott)

A brand new Marriott Courtyard in Salisbury, NC (Marriott)

Get 1,000 Marriott Rewards Points. Courtyard by Marriott hits its 1,000 hotel milestone on Tuesday (March 31) and is offering 1,000 Rewards points to all members checking into any Courtyard hotel worldwide on that day. The company says that it will give away over 50 million points as part of the promotion. The festivities will be centered around the brand new Courtyard in Walla Walla, Washington, designated as the 1,000th hotel. The very first Marriott Courtyard opened in Atlanta in 1983 near Northside Hospital (since razed) according to Mark Woodworth of PKF Consulting. The Courtyard brand celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013 and is Marriott’s second largest revenue generator.

Get 50,000 more Rewards points with the Marriott Rewards Premier Card

DaylightSaving-World-Subdivisions

Daylight Saving Time Reminder. Most of Europe switched over to Daylight Saving Time last night following the move made in the US three weeks ago. Did you know that Daylight Saving Time is primarily observed in the US and Europe only (See blue above)? The rest of the world remains on standard time. (Orange and red denote countries that have either stopped observing Daylight Saving Time or have never observed it.)

British Airways A380 arriving San Francisco. British Airways brings its big Airbus A380 to San Francisco today. The big new bird will fly SFO-London Heathrow five days a week complemented by a 747 on the remaining days. BA will also keep its second daily 747 on the route. Stay tuned for more details in a future post.

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 7.23.45 AM

AA starts merging loyalty accounts. March 28 is the day American Airlines begins merging US Airways Dividend Miles accounts into American’s AAdvantage program, a process that will take “several days,” the company said on its website. Dividend Miles members will be notified by email when the procedure is complete; once it is, they can book award travel through aa.com, but until then they can’t book free trips. Also, “Elite upgrades will vary by airline until we combine reservation systems later this year,” AA said. “To make sure you’re eligible for elite upgrades, you should book flights that are marketed and operated by the same airline – either US Airways or American. If you’re booked on a codeshare flight, you’ll only be eligible to upgrade when you check in, and as always, upgrades are based on availability.”

Readers all hot and bothered by this TravelSkills Reader Report: Shakedown in Mexico

Survey determines most hated fees. Even though major airlines have been trumpeting the amounts they’re spending on passenger enhancements these days, most air travelers — 62 percent — remain “frustrated” by the air travel experience, and would pay more to see improvements, according to a new consumer survey by the U.S. Travel Association. Three out of five said they would pay up to $4 more per ticket in user fees for larger, more efficient U.S. airports. Respondents cited airlines’ $200 change/cancellation fees as the most reviled, followed by $50 seat assignment charges, $25 checked bag fees and $50 priority boarding fees. On another issue, seven out of 10 respondent said that instead of trying to block access by foreign carriers, U.S. airlines should improve their own quality of service to be more competitive.

Tokyo's Haneda Airport is much more convenient than distant Narita.

Tokyo’s Haneda Airport is much more convenient than distant Narita.

DOT lets Delta keep Tokyo route. The Transportation Department tentatively ruled on Friday that Delta can keep its existing Seattle-Tokyo Haneda route, but only if it maintains year-round daily service. Delta had sharply reduced its Seattle-Tokyo schedule during the winter, prompting competitors to ask the government to give them the Haneda rights. American wanted to fly Los Angeles-Haneda and Hawaiian Airlines had filed for Honolulu-Haneda rights.

Delta, Virgin expand partnership. Delta and joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic announced an expansion of their joint venture schedules across the Atlantic this year. Upcoming new routes include a daily Philadelphia-London Heathrow flight starting April 26 and a daily New York JFK-Manchester flight beginning May 21, both operated by Delta; and a daily Detroit-LHR roundtrip starting June 1, operated by Virgin Atlantic. Next month, Virgin is set to add a second daily Los Angeles-LHR flight (in addition to Delta’s once-daily service, for a total of three a day) and to open a new Virgin Clubhouse at LAX. This weekend, Virgin lays on a second daily Atlanta-LHR flight and a second San Francisco-LHR service five times a week. Overall, the partnership’s schedule calls for 39 daily transatlantic flights this summer.

Shoulder Surfing. Have you ever been the victim of “shoulder surfing” when you just know that the person next to you on the plane is watching everything you do on your laptop. This hilarious video records what happens when someone fights back by turning on his laptop’s camera. How do you handle nosy neighbors on planes? 

United delays extra SFO-China flight. United Airlines has pushed back its plan to add a second daily San Francisco-Shanghai Pudong flight, citing slot issues. Instead of starting in early May, the extra flight won’t begin until July 2. United will use a 787-9 for the new service.

New routes: Emirates, Austrian, Philippine. Fast-growing Emirates will add another U.S. gateway on September 1, when it begins daily Orlando-Dubai non-stops, using a three-class 777-200LR … Lufthansa affiliate Austrian Airlines, a Star Alliance member, will start flying a 777 from Miami to Vienna five times a week on October 16 … Philippine Airlines has revived New York JFK-Manila flights four times a week, operating via a stop in Vancouver.

Weekend Edition

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Most expensive city + Airport phoning + 25 million more PreCheckers + Cameras in rental cars + 2-4-1 deal in LA

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New SFO competition + Delta fights for Love + United Wi-Fi + Air China’s 747-8s + Bag woes at Denver

The new terminal at Dallas Love Field feels a lot like SFO's Terminal 2- light, airy, modern with a broad selection of dining & shopping options. Were impressed! (Photo: Chris McGinnis(

The new terminal at Dallas Love Field feels a lot like SFO’s Terminal 2- light, airy, modern with a broad selection of dining & shopping options. We’re impressed! (Photo: Chris McGinnis(


AIRLINES

New SFO routes for Southwest, JetBlue. Virgin America got some new competition on a couple of key routes last week as Southwest kicked off new daily service between San Francisco and Dallas Love Field, and JetBlue started two daily flights between SFO and Las Vegas. Southwest also added daily flights between Love Field and Oakland, completing its initial expansion at the close-in Dallas airport following the end of Wright Amendment restrictions last fall. That rule basically restricted service out of Love Field to states bordering Texas, and when it ended Virgin America moved its Dallas operations from DFW to Love Field. As a result of all this, November 2014 passenger traffic at Love Field jumped by 37 percent over the same month a year earlier. Meanwhile, Delta executives last week were in talks with Dallas airport officials trying to find a way to maintain the airline’s presence at Love Field for its DAL-Atlanta flights. As of this weekend, Delta negotiated a deal allowing it to stick around Love Field for the next 180 days. Have you flown into Love Field yet? Thoughts? On a recent stopover there, we were very impressed (See photo above).

American will cluster DFW schedules. In a few months, American Airlines plans to overhaul schedules at its Dallas/Ft. Worth hub, bringing groups of arrivals and departures closer together into clusters or “banks” instead of spreading them out evenly over the course of the day. The change will mean shorter connecting times for many travelers. AA did the same thing at its Miami hub last year, and plans a similar change at Chicago O’Hare in 2015.

WeekendEdition

Wi-Fi launched in United regional jets. United announced that it has started to roll out in-flight Wi-Fi in its United Express fleet. The project, slated for completion by the middle of this year, will bring Internet service to more than 200 United Express E175s, E170s and CRJ700s, using Gogo’s ATG-4 air-to-ground technology. “Additionally, the company will begin providing Personal Device Entertainment on regional jets this year, offering customers hundreds of complimentary movies and television shows to view on their Wi-Fi-enabled iOS and Android devices using United’s mobile app, as well as on laptop computers,” the company said. Interesting: United has chosen to use Gogo for these aircraft instead of its own United Wi-fi system rolling out on larger aircraft. Which system to you think is better? Please leave your comments below. 

Carriers battle for Tokyo Haneda. American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines last week filed for new rights to fly to Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport (HND), as the Transportation Department studies whether Delta should forfeit its existing route authority in the Seattle-Haneda market. The U.S. only has access to four daily slots at HND; the others are used by United from San Francisco, Hawaiian from Honolulu and Delta from Los Angeles. American, which wants to use the slot for daily LAX-Haneda service, is arguing that Delta is underutilizing the Seattle authority, operating just a handful of flights through the slow winter season. Delta maintains it will resume regular service in March when business picks up. Hawaiian wants the slot for Kona-Tokyo service.

Air China brings 747-8s to New York, San Francisco (Photo: Air China

Air China brings 747-8s to New York, San Francisco (Photo: Air China)

Route news: Air China, Delta, JetBlue, etc. Star Alliance member Air China is bringing new four-class (including premium economy) 747-8 Intercontinentals to its non-stop Beijing-New York JFK and Beijing-San Francisco routes. Last week, the airline put a 747-8 onto one of its two daily JFK flights, replacing a 777-300ER; the SFO service starts May 1 … Delta will revive seasonal summer service between Pittsburgh and Paris CDG May 10 with five flights a week, increasing to daily in June …… JetBlue will expand at Ft. Lauderdale April 30, adding daily flights to Cleveland and Detroit; JetBlue also announced plans to fly from Portland, Oregon to Anchorage from June 18 to September 8 … On April 16, Spirit Airlines will launch regular daily flights from Boston to Las Vegas, and seasonal service from BOS to Detroit and Cleveland … Effective March 13, Frontier Airlines will add new daily service from Philadelphia to Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago O’Hare.

denverairport

United’s having baggage problems at its Denver International hub (Photo: Jim Glab)


AIRPORTS

Baggage woes at Denver. United Airlines last month brought in a new company at its Denver International Airport hub to handle baggage on United Express flights, and the changeover has been traumatic. According to the Denver Post, United and its passengers at Denver in the past few weeks have been facing problems of “lost luggage, delayed flights and a chaotic baggage claim area, with bags tossed everywhere.” Some travelers have waited up to two hours to see their bags on the belt, only to be told to go home and wait for delivery, the newspaper reported. The problems extend not only to arriving DEN travelers, but to bag transfers onto connecting flights. Readers: What’s the longest you’ve ever had to wait to get your checked bag back? Do you believe bag delivery problems are worse at some airlines/airports than others? Which ones?

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Airport lounge app debuts in U.S. LoungeBuddy, a smartphone app that lets users find and buy access to airport lounges, has expanded to the U.S. Previously available only in the U.K., the app is initially working with Alaska Airlines Board Room lounges as well as Minute Suites. “No memberships, elite statuses or premium seat purchases are required,” the company said. “As of today, instant lounge access will be available in 16 of the busiest airports throughout the world, including major hubs in the United States like Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Atlanta (ATL), Seattle (SEA), Philadelphia (PHL) and Los Angeles (LAX). LoungeBuddy will continue to roll this functionality out to more partner lounges within the US, Europe, Canada, Asia and Australia.” Download the free app here.

maseratighibli

Avis adds the 2015 Maserati Ghibli to its fleet (Photo: Maserati)

CARS

Avis’ hot new car. If you think an expensive, sporty vehicle will really impress your clients and colleagues, Avis has a new option for you. The rental giant has added the 2015 Maserati Ghibli to its Avis Signature Series; it’s available at locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix and south Florida. The car’s 3.0 litre twin-turbo V6 engine cranks out 345 horsepower. What’s the rental rate? If you have to ask… Other Avis Signature Series cars include the Chevrolet Corvette, Lincoln Navigator, Infiniti QX60, Mercedes GL450, BMW X5, the BMW 3 Series Sedan and the BMW 5 Series Sedan.

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4 comfortable classes on JAL’s Sky Suite 777

Check out the knee room in economy class on Japan Airlines' new Sky Suite 777 (photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the knee room (34 inches) in economy class on Japan Airlines’ new Sky Suite 777 (photo: Chris McGinnis)

Japan Airlines is making a big push to win back the hearts and wallets of frequent travelers, and in the US it is deploying its slick new Sky Suite 777 to do so.

Just this week, it added the newly configured aircraft to the busy San Francisco-Tokyo Haneda run, replacing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the route. JAL also flies the newly configured B777-300ER Sky Suite to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

When I first heard that JAL’s Boeing  787 Dreamliner being pulled off SFO-HND, I thought a downgrade was in store. But in fact, JAL’s new four-class, 232-seat Sky Suite 777 offers much, much more on this lucrative transpac route. JAL’s 186-seat B787 only offered only two seats: an unpopular angled lie-flat seat business class and a standard economy seat.

I learned all about this when JAL threw an elegant reception last month to introduce the new plane to San Francisco business travelers. Under a big tent at the Hyatt Regency near the airport, JAL had seats from all four classes on display.

Here’s what I saw:

JAL's new business class Sky Suite offers direct aisle access from every seat. This is what you'd see if peering in the window. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

JAL’s new business class Sky Suite offers direct aisle access from every seat. This is what you’d see if peering in the window. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The best part about this new service is JAL’s business class Sky Suite. The 2-3-2 configuration is staggered allowing direct aisle access from each of the 49 seats. This means that the middle seat is now probably the BEST seat on the plane– it has two access points to either aisle, lots of space to spread out and work in near total privacy. (These are the E seats in rows 5-12) Business class seats have big 23-inch entertainment screens and Panasonic noise canceling headsets. There is also On-Air wi-fi throughout the plane. Business class fares between SFO and Tokyo are currently at about $6,000 round trip for December trips.

If $6,000 is too much for your travel budget, you can now opt for Sky Premium economy class. This new class offers an extra four inches of seat pitch, plus seats have fixed backs and slide forward to recline, so you don’t have anyone reclining into your space. (My photos of this seat at the event did not turn out well, so here are JAL’s photos.) Sky Premium economy passengers get airport lounge access (nice!) and priority check-in lines. There are 40 premium economy seats that are selling for about $2,500 round trip on SFO-HND for mid-January trips.

Helpful: How to get from Haneda Airport to Tokyo

JAL's new Sky Wider economy class seat feels a lot more comfortable than it looks in this photo (Chris McGinnis)

JAL’s new Sky Wider economy class seat feels a lot more comfortable than it looks in this photo (Chris McGinnis)

I was very impressed with JAL’s economy class– the new Sky Wider seats feel a lot better than they look in this photo– they are wider than average at 18.5 inches, and offer 34 inches of pitch– roomy by current standards. I’m six feet tall and you can see how much room there is between my knees and the seat ahead in the photo at the top of this post. Entertainment screens are 10.6 inches across (12.1 in premium economy) and there are USB ports for charging mobile devices. Economy roundtrip fares for mid-January trips SFO-HND are currently about $1,200.

What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

JAL's spacious leather and wood trimmed first class sanctuary (Photo: JAL)

JAL’s spacious leather and wood trimmed first class sanctuary (Photo: JAL)

With the up-gauging of aircraft, JAL brings back a nice first class product on the route. From what I saw at the event, the JAL Suite is a nice wide, leather and wood trimmed sanctuary– one of the largest I’ve seen and with a humongous entertainment screen and Bose noise canceling headsets. But you’ll pay dearly for these seats: On JAL’s website, first class roundtrip fares on SFO-HND are about $20,000 for mid-January trips.

In addition to the new plane on SFO-HND, the schedule has changed. Now, flights depart both San Francisco and Haneda at around midnight– which is great for those hoping to get a good night’s sleep on the flight.

Related: United moves one Tokyo flight to Haneda 

JAL 001 departs SFO at 12:35 a.m. and arrives at Tokyo Haneda at 5 a.m. the following day. What’s nice about this is that flyers can now easily connect to a bank of JAL flights headed to other Japanese or Asian destinations. Plus, if you can get a good night of sleep in on the overnight flight, you’ll be good to go for business meetings in Tokyo on the day you arrive.

JAL 002 departs Haneda at 12:05 am and arrives SFO at 4:15 pm a day earlier– just in time for an early dinner and bed if you don’t get a chance to sleep well on the flight. Or if you are like me and you’d rather stay awake on the flight, enjoy the service and enjoy all the bells and whistles of the plane.

Have you flown Japan Airlines recently? Would you choose the new Sky Suite 777 over nonstop service from other airlines? What’s your preferred airline when flying to Japan? Please leave your comments below. 

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In Tokyo: New airport options

Haneda Airport International Terminal New Wing

The new wing at Haneda Airport’s International Terminal (Photo: Jun Seita / Flickr)

Quick — where is Tokyo International Airport? If you haven’t flown into Japan recently, your reflex response might be “Narita,” the airport located well over an hour east of the capital by train or even longer by taxi or shuttle bus.

However, closer-in Haneda (HND) is also known as Tokyo International Airport. This near-city-center airport is getting an increasing amount of attention with a newly expanded international terminal that turns four this month, and a handful of new flights.

For example, United launches a new daily nonstop from SFO to Haneda this Sunday October 26th, using a three-class 777-200ER. On December 1, Japan Airlines will deploy a larger, newly revamped, four-class Sky Suite 777 on the SFO>HND run. And American Airlines is fighting to get in on the Haneda action.

United’s new flight departs SFO at 6:15 pm and arrives at HND 10:45 pm the next day. From Tokyo, the flight departs at 1:00 am and arrives in SFO at 5:10 pm.

On the plus side of the scheduling for US flyers,  return flights from Haneda are a pleasing late night departure (ideal for connecting from elsewhere in Japan or Asia, since Haneda has far more domestic flights than Narita), and tend to arrive at west coast hubs in the late afternoon, in time for a 7-9pm connection– or dinner and bed.

(Note: Starting in Sunday, United will operate once-daily service between SFO and Narita, rather than the twice-daily service currently offered.)

United seat map

Looks like United’s new Haneda flight is popular with business travelers already… only 5 biz class seats left on Sunday’s inaugural flight last time we checked.

Frequent Tokyo traveler and TravelSkills reader Hitoshi Hokamura told us, “I have been flying SFO-Narita for 23 years but after a one-time experience on a Haneda night flight, I have completely switched to HND for both my business and pleasure trips. Haneda is much closer to Tokyo, plus timing is great. For example, with Narita flights, my first day and last day of the trip used to be chopped in two on both ends, but with this night flight to/from Haneda, I have almost a full day on both ends .”

In addition the United’s and JAL flights from SFO, flyers from or connecting in North America also have the option of Haneda flights from:

  • Los Angeles, Honolulu and Vancouver on ANA
  • Honolulu on JAL
  • Los Angeles (and seasonally Seattle, but more about that below) on Delta
  • Toronto on Air Canada
  • Honolulu on Hawaiian

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

So why aren’t we all flying to Haneda? Well, the authorities granting slots for Haneda have been slow to let non-Japanese carriers in — and when airlines like Delta and American have been granted slots, they’re forced to depart and arrive during inconvenient overnight hours. (Haneda is the second busiest airport in Asia and the fourth busiest in the world.)

That type of restriction on US carriers makes Haneda flights only effective for flights to and from the west coast. That’s why American cut its New York JFK-Haneda flight last October, and that’s why Delta shifted its Detroit-Haneda flight to Seattle.

More controversially, timing is also allegedly part of the reason why Delta’s flight is operating on what’s basically a seasonal basis. For its part, American doesn’t think Delta’s playing fair, and has asked the US DOT to hand over Delta’s slot for Los Angeles service — so we could see an American Airlines flight shifting from Narita to Haneda if the DOT agrees.

Haneda vs Narita: Which is best for you?

Choose Haneda for: Evening west coast US departures, evening US west coast arrivals/connections, late night Japan departures, if your destination is Tokyo, or if you’re connecting late in the day on a return from another city

Choose Narita for: More flight options, non stops from non-West-Coast cities, same-day connections to major Japanese cities, if you want to connect on a US airline elsewhere in Asia for upgrade or status reasons, wider choice of connections to Asia.

Related: Trip Report: ANA’s Dreamliner to Tokyo

map

Good Advice for getting to or from Haneda:

Keikyu, the primary railway company for access from Haneda, is probably the best way to get to or from Haneda for most business travelers, and offers three options: $10 on a fast, clean train to Shinagawa station in 12 minutes for Y410 (knock off two zeroes to convert approximately to USD, so about $4) or Tokyo station in 20-30 minutes for Y580). Compare that with over $30 on the NEX train from Narita or $25 on the more complicated Keisei option.

Second, Keikyu and other companies offer limousine buses that are direct with no transfers, take about an hour and range from $10-25 depending on your destination. That’s less than half the time and about half the cost of Narita limousine buses.

Third, there’s a set-fare taxi option that will set you back the best part of $85, but is obviously door-to-door to or from your hotel. That’s less than a third the price of a taxi from Narita, which is in excess of $200.

And, lastly, there’s the Tokyo Monorail, which is a bit of an advanced user option that connects to four lines including Tokyo’s circular Yamanote Line. If you’re familiar with Tokyo and know how the Suica card system works (it’s a tap-the-card payment system that works across Tokyo and several other cities in Japan for everything from transport to vending machines), then this is probably the best option for you.

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Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

ANA's gets its shiny new Boeing 787-9 (Photo: The Boeing Company)

ANA’s gets its shiny new Boeing 787-9 (Photo: The Boeing Company)

This week, Japan’s ANA (All Nippon Airways) announced that it will be the first airline to launch a new “stretch” version of the popular Boeing 787 Dreamliner on August 7.  The new 787-9 is “stretched” 20 feet longer than the original 787-8, allowing for up to 40 additional passengers. 

With this delivery, ANA will have 29 787s in its fleet, more than any other airline in the world. 

It's breathtaking to see the elegant bow of the 787's wing during flight. (Chris McGinnis)

It’s breathtaking to see the elegant bow of the 787’s wing during flight. See the Japanese sun symbol on the wing? (Chris McGinnis)

ANA inaugurated the Dreamliner flights between San Jose and Tokyo Narita in January 2013 , but put the service on hold shortly thereafter due to the plane’s well-publicized battery issues. Thankfully, the SJC-NRT nonstops resumed on June 1 last year. And since then, the 787 has been enjoying a honeymoon stage in the US and around the world as passengers praise its big tinted windows, giant overhead bins, smooth ride and more humid cabins. 

Among US carriers, only United currently flies the 787, but Boeing says that there are 160 Dreamliners now in operation around the world, and that sixty customers have ordered more than 1,000 of the fuel efficient, composite birds. The third iteration of the the Dreamliner, the 787-10, will be stretched another 10 feet and assembled in Charleston, SC. 

In case you haven’t had a chance to ride on one, here are some photo highlights of my ANA Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner flight between San Jose International and Tokyo-Narita last year.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Tinted windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>The windows on the 787 really are bigger (by 20%)– it’s the first thing you notice when stepping on the plane. Instead pulling shades up and down, those in window seats can adjust the tint electronically– sort of like Transitions Lenses. The downside is that they never completely black out like you you get with a regular window shade.

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

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Gigantic workspace- enough room for your laptop and meal (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>The plane exudes spaciousness with higher ceilings and a wider fuselage– there just feels like there is more space, even in economy class. The extra-large business class section (46 seats) seems to take up half the plane. And I’ve never seen a larger tray table in all my years of flying. (See above and below.)

Check out all the "spread out" space you get in the middle of the middle row (Chris McGinnis)

Check out all the “spread out” space you get in the middle of the middle row (Chris McGinnis)

>In ANA’s business class, the BEST seats are odd numbered window seats, and even numbered center seats– check out the photo above and you will see how a center seat on this plane is like sitting at the helm of Starship Enterprise. If you can put up with the commotion around the galleys and lavatories, bulkhead seats are the best of the best seats on the plane in terms of personal space. See Seatguru for the 787’s cabin layout.

The traditional Japanese dishes were a little fishy, but good! (Chris McGinnis)

The traditional Japanese dishes were a little fishy, but good! (Chris McGinnis)

Related: TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis recounts his unusual experience in Tokyo during the grounding of the Dreamliner in early 2013

I loved this homey and tasty snack of udon noodles in broth and topped with dried seaweed served mid-flight (Chris McGinnis)

I loved this homey and tasty snack of udon noodles in broth and topped with dried seaweed served mid-flight (Chris McGinnis)

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

Business class was full, but it sure did not feel that way (Chris McGinnis)

Business class was full, but it sure did not feel that way (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on ANA's B787-8 (Chris McGinnis)

Economy class on ANA’s B787-8 is 2-4-2(Chris McGinnis)

>ANA’s 787-8 is relatively small plane: Only 158 passengers (46 business, 112 economy), which makes it the right size for smaller markets like San Jose-Tokyo. Compare that to a Boeing 747 which holds 350-400 passengers. End result? Boarding is fast and easy– it feels like a less crowded domestic flight.

Talk about true lie flat in business class! Looks like Kansas! No tilt or angle at all (Chris McGinnis)

Talk about true lie flat in business class! As flat as Kansas! No tilt or angle at all (Chris McGinnis)

Nice touches: Window in the lav, and the toilet seat is warm! (Chris McGinnis)

Nice touches: Window in the lav, and the toilet seat is warm! (Chris McGinnis)

>Finally, there’s a window in the lavatory– and the Toto toilet has a heated seat with sprayer–  see above.

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

Thank you note from my sweet flight attendant (Chris McGinnis)

Thank you note from my sweet flight attendant who taught me that “Oishii” means “delicious!”  (Chris McGinnis)

>Memorable: Flight attendants write sweet thank you notes to passengers.

So whaddya think? Have you flown on a B787 with ANA or other airline? Please leave your comments below! 

–Chris McGinnis

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

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14 Amazin' Asian hotel pool views

[pb_slideshow group=”1″]

Over the last year or so, I’ve been making the trip across the big green Pacific a lot… and have seen some stunning, sparkling hotel pools along the way. Here’s a slideshow of the nicest ones I’ve seen. (All photos: Chris McGinnis)

I’m hoping this might help you all dream of warm tropical places after a long cold winter….

Happy Spring!

Let me know what you think about occasional slideshows like this….I travel a lot… and take a lot of photos. I’d like to share them here, but don’t want to bore my readers. So please provide some feedback about our slideshows below. Thanks!

Chris McGinnis

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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, March 17 2013

In this issue: New flights to Newark; free mags at Bay Area airports; new lie-flat seats to Japan; more car sharing at Bay Area Airports; take our POLL about car-sharing!; how to jump in a seat on a private jet.

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

25% OFF JERSEYLICIOUS FLIGHTS. To celebrate its new nonstops between SFO/LAX and Newark, New Jersey (EWR), Virgin America is offering a nice 25% discount on a future flight  to or from EWR. (somewhat restricted– no Fridays or Sundays). To get the discount, you must enter its “Fly Like a Boss” Facebook campaign. You can also win a chance to fly on the inaugural LAX-EWR run with Richard Branson and Mashable’s Peter Cashmore. Details here. Virgin says that since it announced the launch of EWR flights, fares on the EWR-West Coast routes have dropped by as much as 30 percent “and travelers now have an airline option that guarantees Wi-Fi, live TV and new aircraft on every flight.” Current roundtrip fares on the SFO-EWR run for mid-May flights are about $365. Virgin is also offering a double or triple points promo on flights between now and June 30, but you have to register to get the bonus.

FREE PREMIUM MAGS AT SFO/OAK/SJC. Here’s a helpful new app for TravelSkills Readers (BATs) who frequently find themselves stuck at the airport during delays, yearning for a good read, but hesitating to weigh down their bags with heavy magazines. The new Foli iPad app offers free access to premium magazine content (the stuff that’s normally behind a pay wall at glossies like Vogue, Car & Driver, GQ or Bon Appetit)—but it only works at the airport. Foli uses geolocation technology to limit access to Bay Area airports only—as well as a few coffee shops and hotels.  Download the Foli app for free at the iTunes store. It’s definitely worth a download because you never know when the fog will roll in.

Delta's flat bed seating on a 767. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

Delta’s flat bed seating on its Boeing 767s. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

MORE LIE-FLAT SEATS TO JAPAN. Starting April 1, Delta will offer business class seats that recline to a full 180 degree flat bed for sleeping on its Boeing 767-300ER flights between SFO and Tokyo Narita. That means that all business class seats on all airlines (United, ANA, Delta) on the heavily traveled SFO-NRT route are now flat.  Japan Airlines flies between SFO and the closer-to-downtown Tokyo Haneda Airport, but offers the less popular “angled lie flat” business class seat.  (Did you know that JAL’s SFO-Haneda flights are numbered 001 and 002?) Headed to Tokyo? Then be sure and check out my latest dispatch from the Land of the Rising Sun for BBC: Business Trip: Tokyo.

Are YOU signed up for BAT updates? If not, why not? Email in the upper right column, please! 

One of BMW's electric DriveNow cars in SF (Photo: DriveNow)

One of BMW’s electric DriveNow cars in SF (Photo: DriveNow)

DRIVING TO SFO. TravelSkills recently included mention of FlightCar’s car sharing service but we’ve heard from readers about other similar options. For example, DriveNow is a car sharing service that allows travelers to drive all-electric BMW cars from several locations in and around downtown San Francisco to parking lots near SFO or Oakland airports for less than the average cost of airport shuttle services and more than 50% cheaper than cab fares. The first 30 minutes costs $12 and then 32 cents for every additional minute. (There’s a $39 fee to join the car sharing service.) The service is part of BMW’s sustainable transportation initiative and currently only available in the Bay Area. A similar car sharing service for airport trips called Hubber is in the works, too, with locations at SFO and LAX expected to open this April.

DRIVING TO/FROM NYC AIRPORTS. Hertz on Demand has a similar service in New York City—members can drive a Hertz car between airports and several locations in Manhattan for less than half of what you’d pay a cab or car service…and with the Hertz plan, there is no membership fee. (Hertz on Demand has a location in downtown SF, but currently does not offer one-way drop offs at local airports.)

What do you think about new car-sharing options for airport transfers?

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A Gulfstream IV (Photo: Nima Pirzadeh)

A plush Gulfstream IV awaits private-jetsetters (Photo: Nima Pirzadeh)

PRIVATE JET SHARING, TOO. Since we are on the topic of sharing transportation, let’s take a look at a brand new service called Jumpseat, which has been billed as “the Airbnb for private jets.” Since many seats on private jets fly empty, Jumpseat is a new app that connects people looking to share those seats with those looking to fly, producing significant savings for both parties. Shopping is free and takes only a few clicks. Registered members can book a JumpSeat without paying a membership fee. For example, when I recently searched for flights from the Bay Area, I found several flights in March and April from San Jose to Santa Ana, CA available for $1000-$2,250 each way. In March, there’s a nice big Citation X jet flying from LA to Eagle (Vail), Colorado with two seats available at $5000 each. Eight seats on a March flight from New York to Aspen on a posh Hawker 4000 are going for $20,000 each. Flying private is not cheap, but there are few hassles—no airport security, for example, when using private jet terminals. Interested? Then check out this article about it on Forbes.com.

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Boeing’s 787 grounded: My report from Tokyo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis


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Bay Area gets its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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