United gets its first 787-9. Seems like just yesterday that airlines started flying the initially troubled 787 Dreamliner. But now United has taken delivery of the first new version, a stretched model called the 787-9 that can accommodate more passengers and fly longer distances (8,550 miles v. 8,200 for the 787-8). United’s version will have 48 BusinessFirst seats and 204 in economy (88 of them extra-legroom Economy Plus seats). The first of UA’s 26 787-9s will initially operate mostly between LAX and Houston, but it will begin regular international service October 26 between LAX and Melbourne.
Delta adds transatlantic routes. As part of a route realignment with joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic, Delta will take over one of Virgin’s two daily Newark-London Heathrow flights starting March 29, 2015, and start its own daily JFK-Manchester service beginning June 2. For its part, Virgin plans to eliminate its Asian routes from LHR to Tokyo and Mumbai in order to beef up transatlantic services in several markets, as we reported last week.
New Routes: SAS, China Southern, Alaska. SAS has started flying six times a week between Houston Bush Intercontinental and Stavanger, Norway, using a 44-seat Boeing Business Jet (a specially configured 737-700 with all-business-class service, regrettably with angled lie-flat seats) for energy industry execs headed to Scandinavia’s gateway city for North Sea drilling operations … China Southern plans to start a new North American route to San Francisco from Guangzhou and Wuhan three times a week starting December 16, with a 787. China Southern is part of the Delta-led SkyTeam alliance … Alaska Airlines last week added a new transcontinental spoke to its Seattle hub, operating one daily roundtrip between SEA and Baltimore-Washington International. Alaska also kicked off daily SEA-Detroit flights last week, and will add SEA-Albuquerque September 18.
Survey: Travelers want fee transparency. Do you have a hard time finding all the details about airlines’ various fees and charges when you book a ticket? A new survey of 1,000 air travelers found that consumers overwhelmingly support a proposed Transportation Department rule that would require airlines to share their fees for baggage and seat assignments through travel agents and on third-party websites. In fact, the survey found most consumers believe airlines should be required to sell ancillary services “wherever they sell their tickets,” and not just on their own websites.
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ATL will get more parking, other improvements. An Atlanta City Council committee last week heard a report on planned improvements coming to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Among first — due in the next couple of years — are a project to more than double parking capacity by replacing the existing four-story north and south parking garages with new ones of eight or nine stories; and the addition of a new taxiway that should speed up aircraft movements. Longer term, the master plan calls for building up to nine more gates east of the international terminal and eventually adding a sixth runway.
Mexico unveils plans for new airport. Officials in Mexico City have revealed the winning design for a new airport that will replace the aging Benito Juarez International. Plans call for a $9.2 billion facility that should have three runways operating by 2020 on a dry lakebed site close to the existing airport. Its first phase will handle 50 million passengers a year (vs. the current airport’s 32 million), but expansion plans over several decades call for a six-runway airport that could accommodate 100 million. The design from U.K. architect Norman Foster and Mexico’s Fernando Romero calls for a single large terminal with soaring interior spaces.
Related: BBC Business Trip: Mexico City
Hotel rates keep going up, up, up. Have you finalized your 2015 travel budget yet? Maybe you should allow more for hotel costs. Lodging specialists at PwC US say they expect U.S. hotels to achieve their highest occupancy level in 20 years in 2015 — 64.8 percent — and that will drive room rates up by an average of 5.7 percent next year. That’s on top of a 4.4 percent increase in 2014, and it represents the biggest rate increase since the pre-recessionary boom year of 2006. The company said hotels expect to see especially strong gains in group business — i.e., meetings and conventions.
Rebranding in London; new hotels in China. Less than two years after it opened, central London’s InterContinental Westminster is ending its affiliation with InterContinental this month and taking on a new identity with the Hilton family as the Conrad London St. James … Got business in China?Three major chains have openings there this month, including Marriott’s Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing, overlooking Beijing’s Forbidden City; Starwood’s St. Regis Chengdu in “the Silicon Valley of China;” and the new Hyatt Regency Suzhou in eastern China’s Suzhou Industrial Park, an hour by car from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.
In Case You Missed It …
> Delta partner Virgin Atlantic has revealed U.S. expansion plans for 2015.
> Airline change fees are getting ridiculous. Should they be waived for elites?
> Chris checks out the changes on Larry Ellison’s Hawaiian island of Lanai.
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