UNITED SLOWLY ADDING WI-FI ON NYC FLIGHTS. Some (but not all) United P.S. flights between SFO and New York-JFK now offer the Gogo in-flight wi-fi system offered on many other carriers. United promises that ALL P.S. flights will be outfitted my mid-November. (UAL is a little late to the game here…AirTran and Virgin America offer it fleetwide and it’s on about half of Delta’s fleet.) Fees range from $8 (for PDA’s) to $13 (for laptop users). Using it is a breeze…just log on as you would in an airport or coffee shop, pay with your credit card, and voila! High speed internet. Sure makes that five-hour schlep to NYC go by a LOT faster!
FLOOD OF NEW FLIGHTS TO FLL. Virgin America will launch new nonstops between SFO and Ft Lauderdale on November 19 using a two class Airbus A320 (the only bird in its fleet.) And guess what? JetBlue is launching nonstops on the same route on Nov 17! And both depart from SFO’s international terminal. Eastbound flights on both carriers are red-eyes (yuck) but mid-January fares are currently only $218 round trip. Not a bad place to go when its cold and wet here by the bay. Winter in Fort Lauderdale (located about 30-40 minutes north of Miami) is gorgeous, sunny and 70’s for most of the winter. JetBlue pro: more legroom in coach, a free sleep kit, and Dunkin Doughnuts coffee in the morning. Virgin America pro: in-flight wi-fi. Which one would you choose and why? Leave your comments below.
ECLECTIC EATS. Virgin America’s got a new fall menu that offers a virtual puu-puu platter of choices. Some of the more interesting-sounding fare for sale onboard: Banh mi flat iron beef sandwich: “A traditional street-vended Vietnamese sandwich made of grilled Asian marinated sliced flat iron steak with shaved cucumber, green leaf lettuce, baby frisée, fresh sprigs of cilantro and topped with a Vietnamese slaw of julienne carrots, daikon radish and red onion. Asian ginger dressing served on the side.” ($10)
HE’S A GOOD GUY! Your BAT editor recently spotted Virgin America CEO David Cush on a San Diego-SFO flight sitting in coach! With the traveling masses. Back there with the rest of us! Apparently Virgin employees, including the CEO, are forbidden from riding in those big white seats up front. Soon after witnessing this display of humility, we heard from a reader who spotted Delta CEO Richard Anderson in coach on a flight to Atlanta. Are we on to something here?
DELTA BATTLES ON SFO-JFK RUN. Delta is now flying 757’s equipped with international business class “cradle” seats on all nonstops between Los Angeles and and New York-JFK. By the end of October, the cradles will be on all JFK-San Francisco flights. Big seats are a nice addition and should do well competing against similar internationally configured nonstops from American and United P.S. as well as the swanky first class on Virgin America. Bad news is that chances of upgrades in DL flights are now slimmer— previously, the 757’s had 24-26 first class seats while the new ones will have only 16 business class cradles. (PLUS: All Delta’s 757 flights offer inflight wi-fi.)
NEW USE FOR UNITED MILES. Maybe. United is now allowing Mileage Plus members to redeem airline miles for hotels and car rentals. I’d say that this is only a good deal for folks desperate to dump miles because the redemption levels are quite steep. It also might work if you are faced with otherwise exorbitant rates. For example, if I wanted to redeem miles for a one-night stay at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago later this month, it would cost me 24,500 miles! (The best available rates are about $300/night incl tax.) That’s nearly enough for a domestic round trip award. Car rentals in Chicago are running 10,000 miles for a compact for one day.
ALASKA AIR BRINGS BACK THE NERD BIRD. Last month Alaska Air picked up where American Airlines left off, launching a new nonstop between San Jose and Austin. A second daily flight is planned starting in March. Both flights use a two class Boeing 737. Current fares are running just $219 round trip for mid-Nov departures. (JetBlue offers non-stops between Austin and SFO for about the same price.)
SJC SKIERS DELIGHT. Horizon Air will fly nonstop from San Jose to Mammoth Mountain starting Dec 17. It will use a propjet on these flights, but fares are now running just $168 roundtrip for mid-January flights.
FLYING TO NYC ON THE CHEAP. Here’s a nifty nugget from our friends at airlineweekly.com: “Q1 of 2007—before Virgin America arrived on the scene—United passengers flying between New York JFK and San Francisco paid an average of $620 each way. In Q1 of 2009, those same passengers in that same market paid only $421 each way.” Thanks, Virgin America!
LESS OF A SWA CATTLE CALL FOR $10. If you frequently end up forgetting to check in for your Southwest flight exactly 24 hours before departure, and then ending up stuck in a middle seat at the back of the plane or having to gate check your carry-on, there’s a new fix. With its new Early Bird Check-In, you pay Southwest a $10 premium (each way) when you make your reservation. Then you don’t have to play the 24-hour check-in game and you are allowed to board before everyone else, but AFTER A-Listers and those flying on Business Select fares. I personally don’t have a problem paying $10 for a nearly guaranteed good seat and space for my carry-on. But Southwest has taken a lot of heat for this new fee since it prides itself as being a fee-free airline.
NEW OAKLAND-HAWAII FLIGHTS. Picking up where Aloha left off last winter, Alaska Airlines will fly nonstop between Oakland and both Maui and the Big Island (Hawaii) on Nov 9 using a two-class Boeing 737. Mid-January round-tip fares are currently running about $500-$550.
TOILET KITSCH. Leave it to our hometown carrier Virgin America to spice up the toilet kit. For $10 you can order up a “How Could I Forget Kit” from the seatback of your next Virgin flight. (Just in case you forgot your own, or the one you had got nabbed by TSA screeners.) Contents include shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, lip balm, night cream and breath mints all packed up in a nifty little quilted kit. There’s a similar red-eye flight kit selling for $12 that includes a blanket, pillow, eyemask and ear plugs.
MORE GOOD NEWS. SORTA. Worldwide airline passenger traffic dipped just 1 percent in August compared to the same month last year. That’s the smallest year-over-year drop in 2009, says the International Air Transport Association. The biggest decline this year was in March, when traffic dipped 11 percent year-over-year. Despite the recent improvements, airlines are still having a very tough time withpricing—economy class ticket prices are down 18 percent; first and business class fares are down 22 percent.
AIRLINES BAGGING BIG BUCKS. Those irksome new baggage fees are helping to keep a lot of airlines afloat in these lean times. According to the DOT, it’s the low-cost carriers that are bagging the most fees as a percentage of their overall revenues .The top four fee earners in q2 are (in descending order) Spirit, Allegiant, AirTran and Frontier. Nearly 9 percent of Spirit’s revenue was baggage fees. AirTran earned 7 percent of its revenue that way. Delta came in at 3 percent. Southwest, which does not charge for the first two checked bags, bagged less than one percent of its revenue that way.
FULL NAME AND BIRTHDATE, PLEASE. The TSA now requires airlines to book your ticket under the EXACT name as it appears on the ID you will be using to check in for your flight. IMPORTANT: Check your online booking profiles to be sure that your profile name matches your ID and modify it if necessary. Airlines are also now required obtain your birth date. Why? Supposedly this should help folks mistakenly placed on terror watch lists.
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