Seats (and suites) for sale on new Delta A350

The first new A350 with Delta livery recently came out of the paint shop. (Image: Delta)

Want to be the first to fly on Delta’s new Airbus A350, which will introduce new in-flight seating products?  Now’s your chance, but act fast.

Delta just started selling seats on the first flight of its first new A350 wide-body, which will take to the skies on October 30 from Detroit to Tokyo Narita. (Cheapest Delta One fare we could find for November trips: $7,600 round trip)

In addition to Delta’s new Delta One front cabin, which features innovative passenger “suites,” the aircraft will also debut the Delta Premium Select seating category – the airline’s new international premium economy product. ($2,400 round trip in November)

A passenger suite in the new Delta One cabin. (Image: Delta)

“In addition to the DTW-NRT flight, Delta Premium Select will be sold on select flights from DTW to Incheon (ICN) for flights scheduled Nov. 16, 2017, and beyond, as well as on select flights from DTW to Beijing (PEK) for flights scheduled Jan. 17, 2018, and beyond,” Delta said.

The new Premium Select (true premium economy) seats will be up to 19 inches wide, with pitch of up to 38 inches, up to seven inches of recline, and adjustable leg and head rests. Premium Select travelers will get noise-cancelling headphones, pre-departure drink service, upgraded meal service, free in-flight entertainment selections on a 13.3-inch screen, in-seat power ports, and Delta’s Sky Priority treatment (expedited check-in, baggage and security screening, and premium boarding).

As Delta’s long-haul aircraft get the new Premium Select seating, they will no longer offer Comfort+ extra-legroom economy seating. But during the transition period, things could get confusing for travelers who want an upgraded economy option, depending on how and where they book. See this interesting analysis from Runway Girl for a detailed explanation. (Comfort+ roundtrips are $1,700 in November. Main cabin fares are $1,300. Oddly, Basic economy is $1,300 too.)

Delta’s new international premium economy seats will debut on the A350. (Image: delta)

The new Delta One Suites will each provide fully-flat seat-beds; aisle access; a “full-height door;” privacy dividers between the two center suites; customizable lighting; special stowage compartments for shoes, headphones and laptops; 18-inch video monitors, and power and USB outlets.

Delta’s new Airbus A350s will come equipped with the new design, and the company also plans to retrofit its existing 777-200 fleet with the Delta One Suites and Premium Select seating over time.

What do you think of the new Delta One suite with a sliding door? Have you flown on an A350? Please leave your comments below. 

Delta One

Top down look at the new Delta One suite (Image: Delta)

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10 most popular: United bags + Delta upsell + SFO Sky Club + Inside the A350 + Snow in Hawaii

United socks

What is it about airline amenity kits that we find so interesting? (Photo: Kim Grimes)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order)… plus a few newsy nuggets we missed.

1. Take a sneak peak: In the bag: United’s new amenity kits (Photos)

2. Branding matters: Delta: ‘Up-selling’ is working

3. Who’s in control? Fewer choices, higher airfares + SFO’s new #2 carrier

4. Heads up: Preview: New Delta SkyMiles changes + SFO Sky Club opening date

5. New routes: Delta to Shanghai + Air France upgrades + Air China adds Newark + AA aircraft changes Weekend Edition

6. Airlines are raking it in: No end in sight to frustrating airline fees

7. Another line you can avoid: How to avoid long customs and immigration lines

8. Worth the copay? Getting a decent upgrade on United

9. You might need this: How to buy the best travel insurance by InsureMyTrip

10. Will you be visiting? Atlanta airport’s exclusive new lounge (photos)

 

Hawaii

Image: East Asian Observatory / Twitter

A few helpful nuggets of news from other sources that we missed on TravelSkills this week:

See this? Summer snow in Hawaii

Jeb Bush hails Hillary-voting Uber driver in San Francisco

Careful what you say! Novelist bases book on conversations overheard at #ATL airport

Inside an Airbus A350 (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Inside an Airbus A350 (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

Here’s what Delta’s & United newest plane, the Airbus A350, will look like

Meet the man who flies around the world for free (and hates this headline)

Delta’s $1 billion quarterly profit

Going to extremes to avoid airline fees

Okay to bring pot to this airport – And it’s not Bob Marley International 🙂

AA/US switchover begins this weekend. Why you should worry…

 

Virgin food award + Delta beer + New flights to Europe + 3 Miami hotels + First A350

VirginAmericasobanoodles

Virgin America soba noodles serving (Photo: Virgin America)

AIRLINES

Virgin takes top honors in food study. Charles Platkin, a nutritionist also known as the Diet Detective, has come out with his annual ratings of airline food in terms of its nutritional quality, and Virgin America has captured the top spot. “It’s great that Virgin America also provides ALL nutritional information, NOT just calories, and it’s on their website, too.  Virgin America also has on-demand eating – you simply select the food you want, when you want it right at your seat,” he wrote.  Platkin rated Delta’s in-flight food as most improved this year, thanks to a new partnership with healthy food company Luvo. Do you care about the nutritional value of in-flight food?  What’s the best meal you’ve had this year? Please leave your comments below. 

Delta broadens beer selections. The craze for regional craft beers is getting a boost from Delta, which said it is introducing seven varieties to the beverage carts on a number of its most popular business travel routes. The providers of the new brews range from New York’s Brooklyn Brewery to San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing.

Qatar Airways A350 (PHOTO: Qatar Airways)

Qatar Airways A350 (Photo: Qatar Airways)

Qatar debuts world’s newest airliner. Qatar Airways, the global launch customer for the new Airbus A350 XWB, said it will take delivery of the first aircraft on December 13, and plans to put it into commercial service between Doha and Frankfurt in January. Qatar, a member of the Oneworld global alliance, has expressed its confidence in the new Airbus model by ordering 80 of them. The A350 is a wide-body, mid-sized aircraft designed as Airbus’ answer to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, to be used on medium to long-haul international routes. Like the Boeing plane, the A350 relies on composite materials and aluminum alloys to reduce its weight and increase fuel efficiency. The XWB stands for extra-wide body — its cabin is a few inches wider than the 787’s. TravelSkills got an advance look at the A350 a few months ago; here’s our report.

Oneworld expands benefits. Frequent flyers who have achieved Sapphire status in the Oneworld alliance (American, British Airways, et al.) are getting an additional baggage benefit. In economy class on member airlines using a weight-based system, they’ll get an extra 15 kg. over the usual economy class allowance; and on those using a piece system, they’ll get a second checked bag (when the allowance is one) of up to 23 kg. Allowances were also increased for first and business class customers. In addition, Sapphire and Emerald-level elites will get priority baggage delivery.

International routes: Etihad, United, Lufthansa, Azul. Etihad Airways last week kicked off new non-stop service between Abu Dhabi and Dallas/Ft. Worth, using a three-class 777-200LR; its initial three flights a week will increase to daily next April … United on Sunday (December 7) begins daily non-stops between Houston Bush Intercontinental and Santiago, Chile, with a 767-300 … Lufthansa last week resumed seasonal Miami-Munich service five times a week, with a three-class A330-300 … Brazilian carrier Azul — run by JetBlue founder David Neeleman — has started its first service to the U.S. with a daily Ft. Lauderdale-Sao Paulo flight; it will add Orlando-Sao Paulo on December 15.

Delta sets seasonal Europe service. Delta last week unveiled plans for its 2015 seasonal transatlantic schedule additions. March 29 is the launch date for New York JFK-Nice service, using a 767-400 and operating five times a week, increasing to daily on May 2. Also on May 2, Delta will kick off daily JFK-Shannon, Ireland non-stops with a 757-200. On June 2, the airline will begin daily JFK-Prague non-stops, using a 767-300, and daily Atlanta-Barcelona service with an A330-300.

What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!
TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is in Washington DC this week-- flew nonstop SFO-Washington National on Virgin America

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is in Washington DC this week– flew nonstop SFO-Washington National on Virgin America

AIRPORTS

Clear Card in Vegas. CLEAR, the provider of biometric identity-based expedited access to airport security lanes, has finally added Las Vegas McCarran as its 10th location. The $179-a-year service is already available at SFO, SJC, DFW, DEN, IAH, HOU, SAT, MCO and HPN. Miami International MIA is next on the list for Clear although there is no firm start date. Do you use Clear? Is is still worth $179 per year? Leave comments below. 

Washington D.C.’s airports dilemma. The nation’s capital has expected Dulles International Airport to handle the region’s long-term traffic growth, but a report by the Washington Post notes that growth at IAD has stalled as more passengers and airlines are flocking to close-in Reagan National Airport. Part of the blame goes to Congress, which has opened up DCA to more long-haul flights, but part of it is due to Dulles’ remote location.

CARS

Uber, Lyft OKd in Denver. Ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber have both won approval from Denver International Airport officials to pick up and drop off passengers at the passenger terminals. Have you used Uber or Lyft for airport transportation? How would you describe the difference between the two?

HOTELS

marriott-edition-hotel

Miami Beach Edition Room (Photo: Marriott)

South Florida gets three new properties. The newest product of Marriott’s partnership with hotelier Ian Schrager has opened its doors — the Miami Beach EDITION. The 298-room EDITION — a remaking of the old Seville Hotel at 2901 Collins Avenue — was designed as an “urban resort” to appeal to business travelers who want to work and play in Miami Beach … Down the road at 4041 Collins Avenue, Thompson Hotels has cut the ribbon on the 380-room Thompson Miami Beach in an historic Art Deco building; it has 47,000 square feet of meeting space and a gourmet restaurant called Seagrape from local celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein … And in Palm Beach, Kimpton Hotels has added a new oceanfront property, taking over the former Omphoy Ocean Resort and rebranding it last week as the Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa after making a number of enhancements.

JW Marriott Houston Downtown room (PHOTO: Marriott)

JW Marriott Houston Downtown room (Photo: Marriott)

Openings: Houston, Brussels, Johannesburg. The century-old Samuel F. Carter building at 806 Main Street in downtown Houston has been remade into the newly opened, 328-room JW Marriott Houston Downtown. Each room has a 55-inch TV, Nespresso machine, touch-screen room controls, and an iPad for ordering hotel services … A landmark building in the heart of Brussels, close to the Grand Place and the Square Brussels Meeting Center, has been transformed into the new Hilton Brussels Grand Place, with 123 rooms and suites … The renowned Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa, has undergone an 18-month, $56 million renovation and reopened as The Four Seasons Hotel-The Westcliff Johannesburg. All 117 rooms were renovated, and the hotel has new contemporary restaurants, lounges and a spa …In Australia, luxury operator Langham Hotels has finished a $25 million renovation of The Langham Sydney (formerly the Observatory Hotel).

In Case You Missed It…

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>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<

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Routes: Hong Kong Airlines to LAX + Delta, Cathay Pacific, United, LATAM & more

Business class on a Hong Kong Airlines A350-900. (Image: Hong Kong Airlines)

In international route developments, there’s a new entrant in the U.S.-Hong Kong market; Delta will put a new aircraft on a China route and will beef up transpaciifc code-sharing; Cathay Pacific will add another U.S. gateway next year; United is eliminating first class on many routes and cuts back China service; a Lufthansa affiliate is adding a new business class; LATAM is coming to Las Vegas; San Jose gets more service to Mexico; Copa begins Denver service; an Italian airline plans new U.S. routes; Alaska ends its relationship with two European partners; and Norwegian revamps its U.S. schedules next summer, adding frequencies from the West Coast.

Hong Kong Airlines, a Hong Kong-based sister company of China’s Hainan Airlines, this week started service to the U.S. for the first time. The carrier is using a new Airbus A350-900 on the Los Angeles-Hong Kong route, configured with 33 lie-flat business class seats, 109 premium economy seats with 34-inch pitch, and 193 regular economy seats with 31-32 inch pitch. The new LAX-Hong Kong flights operate four times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday), with a 10:45 a.m. departure from LAX. Hong Kong Airlines plans to add San Francisco service in late March, and New York flights later next year.

So far, all of Delta’s Airbus A350-900s have been scheduled for routes out of Detroit or Atlanta, but now the airline is planning to operate one of the new planes out of Los Angeles. According to Routesonline.com, Delta plans to start flying the new plane from LAX to Shanghai Pudong on July 2, alternating days with a 777-200LR until July 18, when the A350 will go onto a daily schedule. Delta’s A350s – which feature the airline’s new Delta One suites and new international premium economy section – are already used on flights from Detroit to Tokyo Narita and Seoul Incheon, and are slated to start Detroit-Beijing service January 17; Detroit-Amsterdam and Atlanta-Seoul March 24; and Detroit-Shanghai April 19.

Meanwhile, Delta will expand code-sharing with its transpacific partner Korean Air on January 10, putting the DL code onto Korean’s flights to Seoul Incheon from Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Cathay Pacific will fly a new A350-1000 to Washington Dulles. (Image: Airbus)

In other transpacific news, Cathay Pacific has unveiled plans to add another East Coast gateway in mid-September 2018, when it will start flying from Hong Kong to Washington Dulles. The carrier already serves Boston, New York JFK and Newark. Cathay reportedly plans to fly the route – which will be the longest in its system – four days a week with a brand-new Airbus A350-1000.

A couple of months ago, we reported on United’s plans to reconfigure its international long-haul 777-200s, putting in new lie-flat Polaris business class seats, taking out first class, and going from nine-across to 10-across seating in economy. A recent entry in Routesonline.com about United’s 2018 schedules shows where the reconfigured 777s will be deployed, based on the elimination of first class from seating availability. It shows the elimination of 777 first class in late April from San Francisco to London, and from Washington Dulles to Brussels, Frankfurt and Tokyo Narita; and at the end of August from Chicago O’Hare to Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo Narita, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Frankfurt and Munich. Meanwhile, United’s seasonal summer route from San Francisco to Xi’An, China, which had previously been scheduled for three 787 flights a week from May 6 through September 4, has been eliminated for 2018.

Las Vegas is due to get its first non-stop service to South America next summer. LATAM Airlines Brasil has filed plans to operate a 767 three times a week between Las Vegas and Sao Paulo from June 21 through August 31.

We recently reported that Lufthansa’s lower-cost leisure affiliate Eurowings plans to launch new transatlantic routes in 2018, including JFK-Dusseldorf starting April 28, Dusseldorf-Miami as of May 4, and Dusseldorf-Ft. Myers beginning May 3. Now it appears that the airline will try to entice business travelers onto those flights by adding a new business class cabin. According to reports from Europe, the new Eurowings cabin, simply called Bizclass, will feature seats that recline fully and will include upgraded meals and other special amenities. Details of Eurowings’ new Bizclass are expected to be introduced in March at the big ITB Travel Fair in Berlin.

Mexico’s Volaris added two new routes out of San Jose. (Image: Volaris)

Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris, which already had service out of San Jose to Guadalajara, has now added two more routes. Volaris has started twice-weekly flights from SJC to Morelia on Fridays and Sundays, as well as twice-weekly service from SJC to Zacatecas on Mondays and Thursdays. Next summer, Aeromexico is due to begin SJC-Mexico City flights.

Panama’s Copa Airlines, a member of United’s Star Alliance family, has added Denver as its 13th U.S. gateway. The carrier has kicked off new non-stop service four days a week from Denver to Panama City, with Denver departures on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 10:16 p.m. Copa offers onward connections in Panama to 55 Latin American destinations.

Italian carrier Meridiana plans to add two U.S. routes next summer. On June 1, it will begin daily service from Milan Malpensa to New York JFK, followed up on June 8 by four flights a week from Malpensa to Miami.  The airline will use a 247-passenger, two-class Airbus A330 on both routes.

On April 30, 2018, Alaska Airlines will end its Mileage Plan partnership with Air France-KLM – not really a surprise considering that the European duo has a joint venture partnership with Alaska’s arch-rival Delta. Alaska and Delta ended their own mileage partnership last spring. The Alaskan carrier notes that it still has partnership agreements to Europe in place with British Airways, Finnair, Icelandair and Condor.

The latest schedule updates from Norwegian show the low-cost carrier plans to boost service on several U.S. routes in late March, increasing its weekly Barcelona frequencies from three to four out of Los Angeles, from three to five out of Oakland, and from four to six out of Newark. The carrier will also boost LAX-Copenhagen service from three flights a week to four. At Boston, Norwegian plans to increase London Gatwick service from four flights a week to seven starting June 12, but it will discontinue its seasonal Boston-Oslo and Boston-Copenhagen flights.

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Even Singapore Airlines joins unbundled fare bandwagon

Singapore Airlines A350

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 at SFO (Image: Singapore Air)

Singapore Airlines is the latest carrier to overhaul its fare structure, offering new pricing tied to the level of service and amenities included.

The Asian carrier’s announcement comes after Delta, American and a couple of other carriers decided to roll out basic economy-type pricing for international travel on some transatlantic and Latin American routes. Airlines are adding these new fares to beat back competition from the new generation of ultra-low-cost international carriers such as Wow and Norwegian in Europe, and Air Asia, Tiger and Peach in Asia.

Effective January 20, Singapore and its SilkAir affiliate will introduce the new pricing on all tickets sold worldwide. The biggest changes are for those flying economy class. 

The change will bring a selection of three fare types for economy class travelers, called Lite, Standard and Flex. Those buying the cheapest fares – Lite – will incur a US $5 charge for advance seat selection  (i.e., more than 48 hours before departure) — except for families traveling with children. Standard and Flexi fare buyers won’t see a seat selection fee, but Standard purchasers will face an unspecified new fee if they select “forward zone” seats “which are in higher demand,” the airline said.

Singapore Airlines A350 economy class

Economy class on Singapore Air’s new A350. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Buyers of Flexi fares in economy class will get an increased checked bag allowance of 35 kg. (77 lbs.); it will remain at 30 kg. (66 lbs.) for the other two fare types (except on U.S. routes, where the piece concept is unchanged). Reservations booked with Lite fares can’t be canceled, and changes will incur a fee. Cancellation and change fees will apply for Standard fares; Flexi fare buyers will get free changes but will be charged for cancellations. The level of the fees may vary and is subject to change, the airline said.

For members of the airline’s KrisFlyer loyalty program, only Flexi fare purchasers in economy class will get 100 percent credit for mileage flown. It will be 75 percent for standard fares and 50 percent for Lite fares.

The three tiers of Singapore Air’s economy class tickets (Image: SIA)

Premium economy seating will have two fare classes – Standard and Flexi. The only difference is in the level of miles earned – 125 percent for Flexi fares and 100 percent for Standard.

Business class will also have Lite, Standard and Flexi fares, with KrisFlyer mileage accrual set at 125 percent for Lite and Flexi, and 150 percent for Flexi. Advance seat selection remains free and baggage allowance (40 kg./88 lbs.) is unchanged.

The airline didn’t indicate what the pricing differential would be between the new fare types. You can see Singapore’s announcement here, with details and FAQs on its website.

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United adds new nonstops to Tahiti

Tahiti bungalows

Tahiti’s overwater bungalows will soon be accessible via nonstops from SFO (Image: Pixabay)

Today United announced that it will fly between San Francisco International Airport and Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, in 2018. 

United will operate nonstop service, three times weekly with Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft between SFO and Fa’a’ā International Airport (PPT), beginning Oct. 30, 2018, through March 28, 2019, subject to government approval.

United’s announcement comes on the heels of French Blue, a new Paris based airline, announcing its intentions to fly between San Francisco and Tahiti starting in May 2018. (However, our contacts at SFO say that they have not heard officially from the airline yet.)

Currently, the only non-stop service to Tahiti from the U.S. mainland is out of Los Angeles on Air Tahiti Nui and Air France with economy fares in the $1,300 roundtrip range.  Hawaiian Airlines also flies once a week between Honolulu and Papeete.

Paris-based low-cost carrier French Blue says it will begin San Francisco-Papeete flights in 2018 using a new Airbus A350. (Image: French Blue)

Until now, one stop fares from SFO via LAX have been in the $1,500. A quick search on United’s site today showed SFO-PPT fares of $1,467 roundtrip in the first week of Oct 2018. Searching for mileage redemptions, the cheapest we could find for October flights was 160,000 round trip.

Before this announcement, United Mileage Plus members did not have an easy way to fly to Tahiti using their miles.

Here’s the San Francisco – Papeete schedule,  which still requires government approval.

FlightCityFrequencyDepart*Arrive*
UA 115SFO – PPTTues/Thurs/Sun2:45 p.m.9:25 p.m.
UA 114PPT – SFOTues/Thurs/Sun11:45 p.m.9:50 a.m. next day

Flight time between SFO and PPT is about nine hours. It is about 4,200 miles from SFO to PPT each way.

Tahiti is part of French Polynesia (see map), which is located on the eastern side of the International Date Line, so flights arrive on the same day they depart, not two days later as they do when flying to Asia.

“This route has been on a white board in my office for at least the last seven months,” United’s Patrick Quayle, VP International Network, told TravelSkills. “It’s a honeymoon, bucket list type destination…a unique life experience that we can offer to our customers.”

SFO Papeete

Tahiti lies just east of the international date line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean about 9 hours from SFO (Image: Google)

United says Tahiti is the “South Pacific’s gateway to more than 118 islands in French Polynesia including Bora Bora, Moorea, the Marquesas and Raiatea.”

Have you been to Tahiti or French Polynesia before? Do you dream of going there? Is there room for TWO airlines to fly nonstop from SFO to PPT? Please leave your comments below. 

Gogo accelerates shift to higher-speed Wi-Fi

The external antennas for Gogo’s 2Ku satellite Wi-Fi should reduce drag on the aircraft. (Image: Gogo)

As passengers demand more broadband capacity and faster in-fight Internet service, Gogo is moving as fast as it can to change its airline Wi-Fi service from ground-based to satellite-based links.

The company said this week that the number of commercial aircraft equipped with its 2Ku broadband satellite technology has just passed the 500 mark, up from 100 at the beginning of this year. That’s out of a total of 3,000 Gogo-equipped planes. Orders for 2Ku installations now exceed 2,000 aircraft, the company said.

Where is 2Ku being installed, and how do you know if your aircraft has it?

In the US, most of these are with Delta, and they inform passengers before boarding through their app and email notifications,” a spokesman tells Travelskills. “They also have ‘high speed Internet’ signs at the boarding door, as well as branding on their portal. With other airline partners like GOL, 2Ku is the only technology offered.”

Gogo

On Delta jets, you’ll know you have a satellite based connection when you see this sign by the boarding door (Photo: Gogo)

Gogo said it takes about 30 hours to install the satellite-based technology on an aircraft – less than half the time it normally takes to install a broadband link.

In recent months, the company installed 2Ku on Delta’s first new Airbus A350; won regulatory approval to install 2Ku technology on Boeing 777s; signed a deal with Alaska Airlines to put 2Ku on all of the airline’s Airbus and Boeing aircraft; won a contract from LATAM Airlines Brazil to put satellite connections on 100 of its A320s; finished installing satellite Wi-Fi links on all of Virgin Atlantic’s A330s, A340s and 747s; and finalized an agreement with Cathay Pacific Group to put the technology on Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon wide-bodies, including A330s and 777s.

 

The dome atop this Delta A350 means it has 2Ku satellite Wi-Fi. (Image: Jujug Spotting/Gogo)

By the way, there’s one other way to tell if your aircraft has Gogo 2Ku Wi-Fi: There’s a distinctive little dome on top of the plane.

“2Ku is the best performing connectivity solution in the market and that performance has resulted in the technology becoming the most rapidly adopted broadband satellite connectivity solution in the history of commercial aviation,” said Michael Small, Gogo’s president and CEO. “While we continue to grow our backlog of 2Ku aircraft, we are also focused operationally on making sure 2Ku also becomes the most rapidly deployed technology in commercial aviation history.”

Has your inflight wi-fi experience improved in recent months? Please leave your comments below. 

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Routes: SFO-Tahiti + Lufthansa, AA, WOW, Aeromexico, Volaris

Paris-based low-cost carrier French Blue will begin San Francisco-Tahiti flights in 2018. (Image: French Blue)

In international route developments, a low-cost French airline plans to fly from San Francisco to Tahiti next year; Lufthansa starts a new non-hub route from New York; American targets Iceland in the face of new competition; Iceland’s WOW will add a new U.S. gateway and expand at another; Aeromexico sets a new seasonal Denver route; and Mexico’s Volaris plans more service to California.

A one-year-old French low-cost airline called French Blue – which currently flies from Paris Orly to the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean – plans to add another long-haul route next year: Paris to Papeete, Tahiti via a stop in San Francisco. The carrier plans to use an Airbus A350-900 on the route, which will begin in May with two flights a week, eventually increasing to three. Currently, the only non-stop service to Tahiti from the U.S. mainland is out of Los Angeles on Air Tahiti Nui, Air France and Qantas. The airline has a website at www.frenchblue.com, although currently it is only in French.

Lufthansa is using an A330 on its new JFK-Berlin Tegel route. (Image: Lufthansa)

Lufthansa last week started its promised new non-stop service from New York JFK to Berlin’s Tegel Airport – bypassing its Frankfurt and Munich hubs — following the recent demise of Airberlin. Lufthansa is using a three-class Airbus A330-300 to fly the route five days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday). It’s the first time in 16 years that the German carrier has operated a long-haul aircraft out of Berlin. Next summer, Lufthansa plans to transfer the JFK-Berlin route to its Eurowings subsidiary.

In recent weeks, new 2018 service from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Reykjavik, Iceland, was announced by both Icelandair and low-cost competitor WOW. And now DFW’s hometown airline is jumping on the Iceland bandwagon as well. American Airlines announced it will operate seasonal daily flights from DFW to Reykjavik from June 7 through October 26, using a 176-seat 757-200.

Wow Air will use an A321 on its new JFK-Iceland route. (Image: Wow Air)

Speaking of WOW, the low-cost Icelandic airline plans to add another U.S. gateway next year, kicking off daily flights to Reykjavik from New York JFK as of April 26. WOW will operate an Airbus A321 on the route. The carrier already offers daily flights out of Newark Liberty International, which will continue. Elsewhere, WOW plans a significant increase in capacity from Baltimore/Washington International next summer, boosting its BWI-Reykjavik schedule from daily departures to 11 flights a week from May 18 through September 16,

Aeromexico, now a joint venture partner of Delta, has been adding more U.S. service as the two coordinate their schedules, and now the Mexican carrier has unveiled plans to revive another U.S. route – but only for a limited time. The carrier said it will offer seasonal service between Denver and Monterrey, but only twice a week (Saturdays and Sundays), and only from December 16 through January 14, using a 76-seat E175. Aeromexico already offers DEN-Mexico City service year-round.

Another Mexican carrier, Volaris, plans to add three California routes next month, but only offering two flights a week on each of them with Airbus single-aisle aircraft. Volaris will start San Jose-Zacatecas flights on December 18, San Jose-Morelia service on December 15, and Fresno-Morelia on December 16.

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Emotional goodbye to United’s Boeing 747

United 747

Today’s flight is United’s final journey for the Boeing 747 pictured here loading up for the trip SFO to Honolulu (Image: United)

Not everyone could be on United’s final Boeing 747 flight today, including me. But I’ve been watching the event unfold on social media while flying across the Pacific on a brand new wi-fi equipped Cathay Pacific A350 by following #UA747Farewell on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. (Click on the links to see the stream).

It looks like a fun trip, which included toasts by United CEO Oscar Munoz and a cast of lucky passengers and flight attendants (mostly) dressed up in 70’s garb.

United flight attendants lining up for a pre-flight photo opp at the airport (Image: United)

The trip got off to a rocky start with a maintenance delay (not unexpected for a plane destined for a desert retirement!), but then took off and made a dramatic exit right over the top of San Francisco, and then a low run over the Golden Gate Bridge before turning out over the Pacific for the final 2,500-mile flight to Honolulu. Check out the flight path here.

UA747 #ua747farewell #sfo #planespotting

A post shared by Simon Leong (@_simon_leong_) on

While I was unable to make this trip, our writer Nancy Branka is onboard and will have a full report on her experience later this week.

The flight included a special meal catered by Trader Vic’s…and plenty of mai-tais!

A special Hawaiian style menu for United’s final 747 flight to HNL (Image: United)

United says, “From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro uniforms for flight attendants to inflight entertainment befitting of that first flight, the ‘Queen of the Skies’ is being sent off in style. Seats for this flight sold out in less than 90 minutes when this farewell celebration was announced in September.”

Delta will retire its Boeing 747s in December while other international carriers such as British Airways and Qantas (as well as many cargo carriers) will be flying them for many more years. Also, the newer Boeing 747-8 flown by Lufthansa, Korean Air and Air China should be around for decades.

There was also a very nice goodbye to the graceful Queen of the Skies on CBS This Morning on Sunday. Here’s the 5-minute clip in case you missed it.

What will you miss most about the Boeing 747? What do you think about the new generation of planes taking over long distance flying, such as the Boeing 777-300 or 787 Dreamliner…or the Airbus A350 and A380? Please leave your comments below. 

Routes: United’s longest + Delta Comfort+ American to China + more

United 787-9 Dreamliner

United will use a 787-9 Dreamliner on its new Los Angeles-Singapore non-stops. (Image: United)

In international route developments, United has inaugurated the longest U.S. non-stop service and has revived Auckland flights; Delta starts selling its Comfort+ seats on transatlantic flights and launches its first A350 flights; American begins a new China route; Air France replaces Delta on a Paris route; Air Canada adds capacity to India from the West Coast; and Pakistan’s national carrier drops a U.S. route;

New non-stop service launched last week by United between Los Angeles and Singapore takes the number one spot as the longest flight from the U.S. at 8,700 miles. That surpasses the 8,446-mile route that United started up last year from San Francisco to Singapore, and tops Qantas’ 8,576-mile Dallas/Ft. Worth Sydney route. As with its San Francisco route, United is using a 250-passenger 787-9 for the LAX-Singapore flights. The new flight departs LAX at 9:25 and takes almost 18 hours. Don’t miss: Chris’ Trip Report on SFO-SIN from last year 17 moments in 17 hours on Singapore Airlines

In other news, United just revived its seasonal service between San Francisco and Auckland, New Zealand, which is also served by Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand. United will fly the route six days a week from now through December 17, boosting the schedule to daily service through March 22. The carrier’s Auckland flights are using a 777-300ER fitted out with United’s new Polaris business cabin, featuring lie-flat seats that all have aisle access. United and Air New Zealand have created a new website at www.united.com/airnz that provides information on both carriers and destination tips about New Zealand.

Delta’s Comfort+ seating is now on sale for transatlantic flights. (Image: Delta)

Delta has just started selling its Comfort+ product – extra-legroom main cabin seating – on transatlantic flights effective for travel January 22 and beyond. That includes all its flights from North America to Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Delta started selling Comfort+ seating two years ago for travel within North America, and by earlier this year had expanded it to Asia/Pacific and Latin America/Caribbean flights. (Nice for those who buy it, but less nice for those hoping to get comp upgrades.)

Meanwhile, Delta this week put its first new Airbus A350 into commercial service on its Detroit-Tokyo Narita route. The new plane features a new Delta One front cabin with lie-flat seats in private suites, as well as the airline’s new international premium economy cabin called Premium Select, which is being installed in Delta’s A350s instead of Comfort+ seating. As of this week, Delta is now using the 747 on a single route, Seoul-Detroit and that is only through December 17 when it will be replaced by a shiny new Airbus A350.

American will use a 787-8 on its new LAX-Beijing route. (Image: American)

After months of negotiations with Chinese officials to secure commercially viable slot times, American Airlines is finally due to kick off its newest route to China in a few days. November 5 is the launch date for American’s daily flights from Los Angeles to Beijing, which it will initially operate with a 787-8, switching to a 787-9 next spring. Delta had also filed for the route, but lost out when the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the rights to American in December of last year.

Air France said it will step in and replace joint venture and Skyteam partner Delta this winter on the Chicago O’Hare-Paris CDG route.  Air France will use an Airbus A330 to fly the route up to five times a week.

Air Canada has foiled plans for a schedule increase this winter on its Vancouver-Delhi route. The carrier will increase frequencies on the route from five a week to daily service effective December 9 through at least December 23. Air Canada uses a 787-9 on the route.

Over the past weekend, Pakistan International Airlines ended its service between Karachi/Lahore and New York JFK, which it had been serving with a 777-200LR via a westbound stop in Manchester, U.K. PIA had been flying to New York since 1961.

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American adds more premium economy seats- will United follow?

American’s premium economy cabin on its 787-9s has 2-3-2 seating. (Image: American)

As American Airlines brings more new 787-9s to its long-haul fleet, it is making its international premium economy cabin available on additional routes – starting with Australia and New Zealand.

American’s new 787-9s are being delivered with premium economy seating already installed. The airline is also busy at work putting the new middle cabin into its 47 777-200s, a job that should be finished by next March; and its A330-200s, expected to be finished by this December. AA’s 20 777-300ERs should have the extra cabin by June of 2018, and its 787-8s will also get the refit next year.

It’s too early to say when those other wide-body models with new premium economy seating will start flying in specific markets (with a few exceptions – see below), but when a 787-9 is scheduled to start on a route, the new middle cabin automatically comes with it. American’s 787-9s also feature a business class with 30 new lie-flat seats, all with direct aisle access.

On November 8, American is due to introduce the premium economy option on its Los Angeles-Sydney flights when it replaces the 777-300ER on that route with a 787-9.

And this month—after a two-month hiatus on the route – American started flying a 787-9 on its daily Los Angeles-Auckland service, replacing a 787-8. (American has decided to convert LAX-Auckland into a seasonal route, operating only from October through March.)

Amenities that come with an AA premium economy seat. (Image: American)

American introduced the premium economy-equipped 787-9s out of its Dallas/Ft. Worth hub last fall and winter, putting it on routes to Sao Paulo, Madrid, Paris and Seoul.

On November 5, American is due to inaugurate its long-awaited Los Angeles-Beijing daily service with a 787-8. But according to Routesonline.com, American has plans to replace that aircraft on March 25 of next year with a 787-9, offering premium economy seating in the market.

American is expected to put the 787-9 into service early next year on a pair of Japan routes — Los Angeles-Tokyo Haneda and LAX-Tokyo Narita — both beginning January 8. They will replace 777-200ERs on those routes.

Looking at American’s recent schedule filings, we can see 787-9s scheduled to begin flying between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Shanghai Pudong on March 4, replacing a 787-8; and LAX-Shanghai Pudong starting March 25, also replacing a 787-8.

The schedule filings also show AA taking the 787-9 off its DFW-Paris and DFW-Madrid routes starting March 25, replacing them with 777-200ERs. However, those 777s are listed as three-class aircraft, so they presumably have the premium economy option. The schedule also shows a three-class 777-200ER replacing a 777-300ER on AA’s DFW-London Heathrow route starting March 25.

Although it is reconfiguring its wide-bodies with premium economy seating, American is planning to keep offering a Main Cabin Extra option as well – i.e., its extra-legroom seating in the economy cabin. While Main Cabin Extra provides up to six inches of extra seat pitch, AA’s premium economy product will offer slightly more – 38 inches, along with extendable foot, leg and head rests; larger touch-screens; and additional services and amenities including one checked bag free. Seating is in a 2-3-2 layout on the 787-9s.

Delta’s premium economy cabin will debut on its A350s. (Image: Delta)

Delta is also introducing a new international premium economy seating option, called Premium Select, as it puts its new Airbus A350s into service. The first one starts flying next week (October 30) on Delta’s Detroit-Tokyo Narita route. Last week, we detailed other Delta routes that will have new A350 service coming in the weeks and months ahead.

All this of course leads us to the question of when or if United is going to follow American and Delta down the path to real premium economy. Right now it sounds like they are not ruling it out– when we asked directly about this, a spokesperson said, “At this time we do not have details to share regarding Premium Economy. We’re always looking at ways to improve the customer experience and the choices we offer our customers for their travels with United.”

Have you or will you try the new American versions of Premium economy? Will United add one, too? Leave your comments below. 

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Popular: 747 Tears + Delta’s new jet + United burger + Dreamliner + Madrid nonstop

United 747 flight attendant maxi-skirt

Nostalgia for the 747 is booming as the Queen’s retirement nears. United flight attendant wearing a maxi-skirt in the 747 upper deck lounge (Image: United)

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

“Fond farewell to our 747”- a tearjerker video from United

Delta unveils new seats on new Airbus A350 & sets routes

Passport needed for domestic travel? Come on!

United bags a new cheeseburger for $10

United smoked gouda cheeseburger

United’s new smoked gouda cheeseburger from seat 7A (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Routes: Aeromexico at SJC, Southwest, Air New Zealand, BA, United, AA, Etihad + more

Qantas unwraps its Dreamliner, coming to LAX soon (photos)

Iberia adds San Francisco – Madrid nonstops

As we boarded this sleek Embraer plane, you could look east and see the San Jose International terminal across the runways (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New Hotels: Hilton LAX, Nikko SF, Mondrian NYC, Marriott Denver, Ritz Chicago, Hilton DC

Shocking bomb simulation at Singapore Changi Airport [VIDEO]

10 The newest Embraer jet you may never fly on

Don’t miss: Kimpton Karma and IHG Rewards finally hook up

Kimpton Wilshire hotel LA

Rooftop pool deck at Kimpton’s Hotel Wilshire in Los Angeles (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

Former United CEO selling his Trump Tower condo

United Clubs doing away with paper passes

Did you hear about this attempt to bomb Asheville Airport? 

Apple iOS 11 adding more indoor airport maps

Here’s a first look a Beijing’s gorgeous, largest airport in the world

Will rising jet fuel costs lead to higher fares? Not for a while

More debate on how “Southwest effect” will change Hawaii market

Moving photos from behind the scenes at Virgin America

As with the 747, nostalgia for Virgin America is building as the airline approaches extinction (Photo: Virgin America)

Baller! Former GE CEO Immelt reportedly used TWO corporate jets on some trips 

JetBlue revises boarding procedure

FAA wants airlines worldwide to ban electronic devices from checked luggage

Singapore Airlines expected to order 39 Boeing wide-bodies for $13 billion

JetBlue stops selling tickets through several online travel agencies

Delta offers meal pre-selection for international Delta One passengers

After Brexit, EU passenger protection rules will no longer apply for U.K. flights

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Popular: Cheaper Hawaii? + Sleeper hotel program + Paris find + Delta app + 747 tears

Fly Southwest to Hawaii while burning off some SPG points at the St Regis Princeville on Kauai? Coming soon! (Photo: Barkley Dean)

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

1 Still plenty of questions- Confirmed: Southwest to fly to Hawaii. Unconfirmed: Lower fares

2 Expired, but more on the way as winter approaches- Another big fare sale starts today

3 4,100 hotels- The best hotel loyalty plan you might not be using

Routes: American, United, JetBlue, Southwest, OneJet, Frontier

Airport news: Portland, Vancouver, LaGuardia, Miami, Nashville + Buh-bye Airberlin

6 This was fun! Come along for the ride- Trip Report: Tweeting my way to Paris on Lufthansa

Le Baron Rouge Paris Oysters

Fresh oysters, charcuterie and Sancerre on the sidewalk Sundays at Le Baron Rouge near the Bastille in Paris (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

7 Good comments on both sides- Delta app eliminates flight check-in

American Express changes Centurion lounge access policy

Deal: $945 SFO/LAX-Auckland roundtrip on United, Air New Zealand

10 The end is near- A real tearjerker from United: Fond farewell to our 747

United 747

We’ll be hearing a lot more about this fine flying machine in coming weeks! (Image: YouTube/United)

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

Alaska Air  first class passengers to pre-order meals

NZ Deal: United SFO-LAX to Auckland just $945 round trip now thru Mar 2018

Chris’ new favorite website: Brilliant Maps

Are you a map freak like me? Then check out Brilliant Maps (Image: Whidbey Sounder/Brilliant Maps)

United packing more seats on its B777-200

Lufthansa taking over most of Air Berlin routes

United lets customers book Singapore Airlines award travel online

Singapore Airlines A350

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 at SFO (Image: Singapore Air)

Survey: Most road warriors enjoy their business travel

Biz travelers’ biggest headaches: transit time, layovers, booking changes

Dubai airport will replace security checks with walk-through, face-scanning tunnel

A 747 pilot reminisces about his favorite aircraft

TSA expands rollout of new checkpoint procedure

A hotel run by robots in Japan: Would you?

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Aloha Delta 747

Delta’s final 747 flight to LAX from Honolulu SEE VIDEO AT BOTTOM OF PAGE (Image: Delta)

Remember Delta’s final domestic 747 flight from LAX to Detroit a few weeks back? You know, the same beautiful bird that was looking forward to retirement, but was put back into duty to help evacuate Florida as Hurricane Irma approached? Yes, that one.

Well before that plane arrived in Los Angeles, it received the royal treatment in Hawaii, and Delta made a fun video about the affair.  What many of you may not know is that Delta has been running a 747 between Honolulu and Japan for many years. There’s a lot of love for the old bird in Hawaii as you’ll see in the video above where Delta employees made her a giant lei for big send off. There were gate and Sly Club lounge parties including food, drink and dancing. Also, a group of Delta Diamond Medallion flyers bought out the entire business class section (including the upper deck or “bubble”) for the trip.

Related: Reader Report- Final ride on a Delta 747

A gate party including cake celebrating the final domestic 747 flight (Image: Delta)

Here’s what Delta’s News hub wrote about the flight:

Employees in Honolulu paid tribute to the aircraft, which regularly operated the Honolulu-Narita route, with traditional Hawaiian customs by fashioning a maile lei big enough to fit over the top of the aircraft as a sign of respect. The team also held a gate celebration, and several employees held back tears as the group sang Aloha Oe and watched the aircraft depart Honolulu for the last time.

The Los Angeles team also had a chance to say their goodbyes to the “Queen of the Skies.” Employees lined the ramp at LAX and waved orange wands as it made its late-night departure to Detroit. Employees in Detroit met the aircraft when it landed, though the 747 will continue flying through Detroit for a few more months.

First look deep inside a Delta 747- parked in Atlanta! 

Final flight touching down in LA (Image: Delta)

A group of 50 Delta Diamond Medallion customers joined in on the festivities as well. When one member of a Diamond Medallion Facebook group saw that the 747 would be flying two domestic legs, he notified other members of the group, who jumped at the chance to take one last flight on the aircraft. The group booked nearly the entire Delta One cabin and some of the Main Cabin as well, and they flew in from all over the country to catch one last ride on the 747.

​​Additionally, employees in Los Angeles hosted a reception for the group in the Delta Sky Club, and each member of the group received model 747 aircraft as a parting gift. All customers on the flight received commemorative ear buds in celebration of the final scheduled domestic flight.

SEE THE VIDEO HERE

Delta 747 (and Porsche!) at LAX (Image: Delta)

Delta expects the remaining 747s in its fleet to be retired by the end of 2017. The retiring aircraft will be replaced by the Airbus A350, which will be Delta’s flagship international aircraft and the first to feature the airline’s all-new Delta One Suite, the world’s first business class cabin to feature a sliding door, as well as Delta Premium Select, a new premium economy experience. Delta will take delivery of five A350s in 2017 with more coming in 2018.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Catching up after time off: What happened in August

I spent the last week of my summer break on assignment in Mexico City. Photo taken at Contramar where I had my best meal

I’m baaaack! Tanned and relaxed after a nice, long late summer vacation. Hope you’ve been able to take the time to have a good one, too!

Our break ended with a quick trip to Mexico City– a remarkably upscale, interesting, inexpensive and easy trip– stay tuned for our full report later this week.

Even when I’m taking time off, I can’t keep my eyes off what’s happening in the travel world. Over the last few weeks I’ve trolled the headlines, and taken some time today to catch up on what I missed.

Here’s a roundup of important stories and deals that caught my eye- in no particular order. Lemme know if I missed anything!

Airbus A250

Delta’s newest baby: The Airbus A350 (Photo: Airbus)

DELTA’S NEWEST PLANE: Delta has taken delivery of its first shiny new A350 and will put it to work in Asia later this fall> Delta’s first Airbus A350 routes

PARTNERS: Now you can earn Alaska miles when flying Singapore Air (and vice versa). Redemptions will come later> Alaska Airlines and Singapore Airlines partner up

STATUS MATCH: In its battle for the hearts and wallets of California flyers, Southwest is currently offering to match your elite status with other carriers. Want to get on Southwest’s A-list? Register here.

VOICE ACTIVATION: A cool new addition- especially helpful with those early morning flights> Hey Alexa: What’s the status of my United flight?

MORE SPACE: A nice upgrade for Alaska Air elites… Virgin’s Main Cabin Select is a very nice upgrade on a long flight> AlaskaAir elites flying Virgin America get free upgrades to Main Cabin Select

Cabin offers sleep pods for overnight trips. (Image: Cabin)

SLEEPER BUS: LA Times reporter liked the experience. But I wonder about sleep quality. And the $115 price. Still I need to give it a try. Would you?> Review of Cabin, the new sleeper bus service between SF & LA

$1 BILLION: That’s what restaurants and shops at the world’s busiest airport grossed last year! PF Chang’s is at the top of the heap> Busiest restaurants at ATL gross $5-$10 million per year

CHINA: Since it’s located just down the road a piece from Shanghai, we wondered why United added this one in the first place. Wondering if Xian might see same fate> United exits SFO-Guangzhou

GERMANY: SJC has paid many airlines (via reduced fees) to serve Silicon Valley. Now that those discounts are drying up will airlines flee?> San Jose-Frankfurt on Lufthansa goes seasonal only

RENTAL CAR REWARD: National’s popular One Two Free promo is back for the fall/winter. You get one free rental day for every two rentals now thru Feb 28,2018. Book 3x and you get bonus points. Register here

Global Entry

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

FASTER ARRIVALS. Global Entry is not just for Americans– citizens or nationals from 10 countries can participate> Indian citizens to get access to US Global Entry

SOUTHWEST STEPS IT UP AT SJC: Battle for California continues bringing more flights at lower prices to the Golden state> Southwest adds 8 new cities from San Jose

EARN MONEY FOR FLEXIBILITY: If you are a “rogue traveler” and make your own travel arrangements, you’ll save by using these> 3 new incentive platforms reward business travelers for taking cheaper options

DEATH BY 1000 CUTS: I’ve been writing about this for 30 years and the story remains the same. Our only hope is that a downturn in the economy will force airlines to use programs as marketing tools again> Another Delta SkyMiles devaluation

HILTON BONUS. Now thru the end of the year, Hilton Honors member get double points. Diamond members get even more> Register here

 

QANTAS

A mock up of Qantas’ new upper deck lounge on its A380 (Image: Qantas)

NICER A380s: As Qantas slowly phases out its 747s, A380s are becoming its new flagship- check out the upgrades its making to these big birds> Upgrades in 4 classes coming to Qantas A380 fleet

BEST RESTAURANTS: Our favorite new restaurant recommendation site. We agree with all its SF recos and will use it when on the road this fall> The Infatuation: Our favorite new restaurant recommendation site

DARK SHADES. Remember our review of the new AC Hotel Atlanta where we mentioned it’s new electrochromatic windows? Or the first time we saw them on an ANA Dreamliner? Now the same tech is coming to SFO’s new Terminal 1> Electro-chromatic glass on Dreamliners coming to SFO Terminal 1

LITTLE BUSES UNDER THE AIRPORT. Once again, United is running out of space at SFO’s Terminal 3. Where to go? Back to Terminal 1> United adding gates at SFO to accommodate growth

Is your inclination to tip drivers changing? (Photo: Uber)

TIPPING ON UBER. If you’ve been wondering why your Uber drivers seem more friendly these days, consider this> Uber drivers have already bagged $50 million in tips

HOW TO NOT TICK OFF YOUR UBER DRIVER. Since the departure of Uber’s embattled CEO this summer, it’s been getting a lot more driver-friendly. First we saw tipping added. Now drivers don’t have to accept unusually long rides> Uber to notify drivers when customer requests “long trip”

A BETTER WAY TO GO? The Wall Street Journal reports on why flying Air Canada via its international hubs makes sense for bargain hunters from the US> Why Air Canada’s the best way to get to Europe or Asia 

Mexico City

Flying out of Mexico City last week, I saw the outline of its new spider-like airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRPORT LOVERS: At TravelSkills we love a big new airport and we know you do, too. Here are a handful that are coming relatively soon> 3 new airports to get excited about

RETIRING QUEEN: This week Delta is celebrating its final domestic Boeing 747 flight on a leg between LAX and Detroit. EVA retired its Queen in August> EVA Air retires its last Boeing 747

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Routes: Hong Kong, LOT, United, Aeromexico, British Airways, Air India + more

The laptop ban was lifted for Royal Jordanian. (Image: Royal Jordanian)

In the latest international routes news, two more Middle Eastern airlines were removed from the Department of Homeland Security’s “laptop ban” this week; an Asian carrier will start its first U.S. service to Los Angeles; LOT Polish will fly from the U.S. to Hungary; Aeromexico adds a U.S. route at San Jose; United goes year-round on a key European route; British Airways starts flying a Florida route; Denver will get new non-stops to Switzerland; and Air India adds a U.S. gateway.

More Middle Eastern airlines and airports have met the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s new passenger inspection standards to guard against explosives in electronic devices, so this week DHS dropped its laptop ban for them. The latest carriers to allow passengers to carry laptops and tablets into the cabin are Royal Jordanian and Kuwait Airways. Royal Jordanian has 16 flights a week from Amman to New York JFK, Detroit and Chicago, while Kuwait Airways flies from Kuwait to JFK.

Last week, the ban was dropped for Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines.

Hong Kong Airlines will fly a new A350 to Los Angeles. (Image: Airbus)

Hong Kong Airlines, a 10-year-old carrier operating out of (where else?) Hong Kong and partly owned by China’s Hainan Airlines, is due to take delivery of its first Airbus A350-900XWB late this year, and will use it to begin service to the U.S. According to Routesonline.com, the launch is set for December 15. The two-class A350 will fly the LAX-Hong Kong route once a day with a late morning departure from Los Angeles. Hong Kong Airlines currently has a fleet of A320s and A330s as well as code-share agreements with several carriers including Virgin Australia, Asiana, EVA, Hainan and China Eastern.

Budapest will get non-stop service from the U.S. next year. (Image: Jim Glab)

There has been no non-stop service between the U.S. and Budapest, Hungary for the past six years, but that is due to change next spring. Instead of a Hungarian or U.S. carrier, though, the flights will be operated by LOT Polish Airlines. LOT plans to use 787 Dreamliners to fly twice a week from Chicago O’Hare to Budapest starting May 5, and four times a week between New York JFK and Budapest beginning May 3.

At Mineta San Jose International, Aeromexico has kicked off new daily flights to Guadalajara using a 186-passenger 737-800. The southbound flight leaves SJC at 10:15 a.m. and the northbound service departs Guadalajara at 7:15 a.m. Aeromexico is the sixth foreign carrier to start flying to San Jose since 2015. Don’t miss our post about super low fares on this route! 

Instead of ending its seasonal Newark-Rome flights this fall as previously planned, United Airlines now says it will make EWR-FCO a year-round operation. From early November through March, United said, it will fly the route from three to seven times a week. But instead of using the 242-seat 767-400 operating in the peak season, it will switch in November to a 214-seat 767-300 with 30 flat-bed business class seats and 184 economy seats, including 49 Economy Plus extra-legroom seats.

United’s decision might have been influenced by low-cost specialist Norwegian, which plans to begin 787 flights between Newark and Rome four times a week on November 9, increasing to daily frequencies next February. (We’ve asked United why it has not added SFO-Rome nonstops, but have not heard back…)

Speaking of competition against Norwegian, British Airways last week kicked off new service between Ft. Lauderdale and London four days a week, using a 275-passenger 777-200ER with business, premium economy and regular economy seating. But this route doesn’t go to BA’s Heathrow hub – it goes to London Gatwick. Norwegian started flying FLL-Gatwick three years ago.

Edelweiss will add Denver-Zurich flights next summer. (Image: Edelweiss Air)

We recently reported on new service from San Diego to Zurich operated by Edelweiss Air, a leisure affiliate of Lufthansa subsidiary Swiss International Air Lines. Next year, Edelweiss will add service from another western U.S. city: Denver. In June 2018, Edelweiss will start flying twice a week between Denver and Zurich with a 315-passneger A330-300. The carrier will offer evening departures from DEN on Mondays and Fridays

Air India’s newest U.S. gateway is Washington Dulles. Last week, the carrier started non-stop service from IAD to Delhi three times a week (Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays) using a 777-200LR with first, business and economy seating.  The flight takes about 15-1/2 hours. Air India also serves New York JFK, Newark, Chicago and San Francisco, and plans to add Los Angeles service later this year.

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Routes: More United Polaris from SFO + Etihad, ANA, Asiana, SAA, El Al

A typical window seat in United’s new Polaris business class. (Image: United)

In international route developments, United will deploy more 777-300ERs with new Polaris cabins on routes from San Francisco and Newark; Etihad catches a break from the U.S. laptop ban; ANA adds a third daily Los Angeles flight; Asiana will fly a new A350 to San Francisco; South African Airways puts its newest aircraft on all its Washington D.C. flights; El Al will fly its new Dreamliner in a key U.S. market; and Southwest drops a pair of Cuba routes.

So far, United’s full-blown new Polaris business class with flat-bed passenger compartments is only available on its new Boeing 777-300ERs – and it doesn’t have many of them yet. But more are on the way, and the airline is gradually extending the new Polaris cabin to more routes. Routesonline.com reports that United’s latest schedule update shows the 777-300ERs going onto three more routes in the next few months: On September 6, the 777-300ER will replace the 747-400 on United’s San Francisco-Beijing route; on October 6, the new plane will take over SFO-Frankfurt, also from a 747-400; and on October 28, a 777-300ER will replace a 777-200ER on the Newark-Tokyo Narita route.

Last month, United put the new plane onto its SFO-Tokyo Narita route, and SFO-Taipei service is set to begin August 1. It also flies them from SFO to Hong Kong and from Newark to Tel Aviv.

Some bad news on the Polaris front: The new Polaris Lounge at SFO, which was first expected to open in mid 2017 will now open in “late 2017 or early 2018” according to a spokesperson. Stay tuned. (See our previous post about the Polaris lounge here.)

Although the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been threatening to expand its so-called laptop ban to more airports, it looks like the ban is actually getting smaller. DHS last week laid out new, tougher inspection and security standards for foreign airlines and airports to meet if they don’t want the ban extended to them, and one of the first to meet the new standards is Abu Dhabi-based Etihad. As a result, DHS said it has lifted the laptop ban for Etihad, and passengers can once again carry their personal electronic devices on board. The ban remains in place for non-stop flights to the U.S. from nine other Middle Eastern and North African airports.

Starting October 29, ANA plans to increase its schedule from Los Angeles International to Tokyo, citing “strong demand” in the market and “constant growth in the number of passengers.” The airline said it will increase its LAX-Tokyo Narita schedule from one flight a day to two; ANA also operates one daily roundtrip between LAX and Tokyo Haneda. The new Narita flight will offer a late-evening departure and will use a three-class 777-300ER.

Asiana will put a new A350 onto its San Francisco route. (Image: Airbus)

South Korea’s Asiana Airlines is planning some changes for its San Francisco-Seoul Incheon route. For one thing, instead of using a 777-200ER as previously planned, it will switch to a brand new Airbus A350-900XWB effective August 14. Then when its winter schedule kicks in on October 29, its SFO departure time will switch from daytime to late-evening (11:30 p.m.), making more connections possible at Incheon. The return flight will arrive in SFO in the afternoon.

Earlier this year, South African Airways started flying an Airbus A330-300 with its new Premium Business Class product three times a week between Washington Dulles and Johannesburg via a stop in Dakar, Senegal. Now the airline has increased Dulles service with the new plane to daily frequencies by deploying the A330-300 on its four weekly IAD-Johannesburg flights that operate via Accra, Ghana. The new business class seats recline 180 degrees and all of them offer direct aisle access, power/USB ports and on-demand entertainment systems. The aircraft’s economy section has also been upgraded.

Business class in El Al’s new 787-9 Dreamliner. (Image: El Al)

Israel’s El Al is a little late to the Dreamliner game, but it has set the schedule for deployment of its first 787-9s starting later this year. For U.S. passengers, El Al will put the plane into service six times a week beginning October 29 on its Newark-Tel Aviv route (the same route where United recently started flying its new 777-300ER), gradually increasing frequencies to 11 a week by next March. El Al will also deploy the 787-9 on its Tel Aviv-London Heathrow route starting September 12, and Tel Aviv-Hong Kong beginning March 18 of next year. El Al’s 787-9s will have a three-class configuration including a new premium economy class. Here’s a visual preview of the interiors.

The bloom is off the rose for all the new Cuba routes that U.S. carriers introduced some months ago. The latest pullback is from Southwest, which said it will discontinue its daily Ft. Lauderdale-Varadero and Ft. Lauderdale-Santa Clara, Cuba, service on September, and instead will focus on its Havana service.  Southwest flies to Havana twice a day from Ft. Lauderdale and once a day from Tampa, and has applied for rights to a third daily FLL-Havana flight. The airline said it dropped the other two routes because its analysis “confirmed that there is not a clear path to sustainability serving these markets, particularly with the continuing prohibition in U.S. law on tourism to Cuba for American citizens.”

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Contest: 2 Singapore Airlines tickets to Hong Kong!

Hong Kong

We’re giving away a trip for two to Hong Kong this summer! Ready to go? (Image: Pixabay)

UPDATE: Contest is now closed to entries. We’ll announce the winner on Friday, June 30. WINNER ANNOUNCED!

We are thrilled to announce that TravelSkills and Singapore Airlines have teamed up to offer TWO round trip tickets between San Francisco and Hong Kong to a very lucky reader!

Singapore Air’s new premium economy seat and service will debut on the busy San Francisco-Hong Kong route on July 22. (Flights SQ1 and SQ2) That introduction will complete the carrier’s rollout of the popular new service on all flights from all four of its U.S. gateways: San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Houston.

Would you like to give the new seat a try (for free) and write about it?

Singapore Airlines A350 premium economy

Singapore Airlines new Premium Economy seats on my A350 inaugural SFO-SIN flight last fall. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s how our contest works: Regular readers of the TravelSkills blog are familiar with our famous Trip Reports— where we chronicle inflight experiences on a wide variety of airlines. Over the last year, a growing  number of TravelSkills readers have submitted their own Reader Reports— many of which have become some of the blog’s most popular posts!

To find the right reader for this trip, we’ve created a contest and will pick a winner for the two tickets.

Interested? Then fill out the entry form below by June 28 and tell us why YOU would be the best person for this mission. We’ll review all entries by June 30 and choose a winner based on several factors: Cleverness, eagerness, writing style, ability to take good photos with a phone or camera, and an explanation of what a trip like this would mean to you personally. (Keep your entries to less than 300 words, please.)

All we ask the winner to do is to take notes, plenty of photos and then write about your premium economy experience on Singapore Airlines. (Submitting a report to us within two weeks of your return.) That’s it! Don’t worry if you’re not a professional writer– I’m happy to help the winner craft and edit his or her Report.

Some important notes: We are only providing air transportation for this trip. The winner is responsible for all other costs related to this trip such as hotels, visas, transfers, food, etc. Both tickets must be booked together. We are not responsible for additional costs due to irregular operations such as delays and cancellations. The winner is responsible for obtaining proper visas or any other documents needed for travel to Hong Kong. We’d prefer that the winner travel on the inaugural outbound flight from SFO (Friday, July 21) to enjoy the airport and inflight festivities celebrating the service. But we realize that may not be possible– so the winner could take the trip any time before August 30. (Note: Be sure to read the full official contest rules at the bottom of the entry form!)

Singapore Airlines new premium economy seat will soon be onboard all its Airbus A350, A380 and B777-300ER aircraft from the U.S. With a 2-4-2 configuration you’ll get 38-inches of pitch with eight-inches of recline. For entertainment, there are big 13.3-inch touchscreen HD monitors, noise-canceling headsets, power outlets, and two USB ports. Dining? You can reserve your main course from a variety of “Book the Cook” dishes up to 24 hours before you fly, or select from three meal choices on board– all served with Champagne.

Currently, roundtrip premium economy fares on Singapore Airlines for late summer trips are running about $1,900.

Learn more about Singapore Air’s premium economy seats on a special website.

Ready to go? Then fill out the form embedded below (or click here)… and hurry! The contest ends  midnight PT on Wednesday, June 28. We’ll select the winner by Friday June 30! And the winner will take off for Hong Kong as soon as July 22!

Increase your chances of winning by sending this post to your potential trip companions- so they can enter, too! ?

Questions? Ask Chris

Don’t see a form embedded below? Then click here.

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. 

Most popular: Marriott policy change + Domestic 747 + Cheeseburgers + American inch

Le Meridien Atlanta

Starting June 15 a new cancellation policy went into effect at all Marriott and Starwood properties like the Le Meridien in Atlanta (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

Marriott/Starwood confirms restrictive new cancellation policy

United adds 11 new nonstops to Hawaii

Routes: United, Domestic Delta 747 flight, Virgin America, Southwest, Frontier

Alaska’s new double miles partner promotion

Cheeseburgers, pizza take off in economy class

A back of the bus burger on United– very good! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Another Mideast carrier cuts U.S. service

Airport news: Denver, LAX, San Diego, Houston, Las Vegas

American gives back an inch

Delta, TSA test fingerprints as boarding passes

10 Reader Report: Final ride on a Delta 747

Watch Boeing show off its sleek and nimble new jets in this video released for this week’s Paris Air Show.

 

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

Beware when connecting through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport! Here’s a tip from reader D.M.:

You may have addressed this earlier and I missed it but Europe travelers need to know to avoid connections at CDG at all costs. I recently went to Venice, via CDG, and even though it was through Delta (and adhered to their minimum connection times at CDG) it still took nearly two hours to connect to an Air France flight into VCE. Needless to say, we missed the original connection and had to take a later flight. Upon returning to ATL, I discussed this with three other frequent Europe travelers who confirmed that they had the same recent experiences in CDG. Part of the problem is the layout and part is the fact that, with about 200 people attempting to connect to other concourses, the French police only had two agents checking passports and documents for intra-airport passengers.

Air France’s bhub at Paris Charles de Gaulle. (Image: Parisinfo.com)

Trump’s new travel ban- on Americans

“Manspreading” banned in Spain

Take a look at Delta’s newest bird: The Airbus A350

Expansion plans Atlanta’s popular Concourse T, housing United, American & Delta gates

Oy: United flight attendants to earn $50 for hawking Chase cards on planes

United: More than 30 percent of main cabin customers are buying Basic Economy

DOT saw a spike in passenger complaints after release of United ‘dragging’ video

Southwest tests dual-door deplaning at two California airports

See a United 767 spewing fuel from a wing just before takeoff at Newark

First look: Cabin designs for El Al’s new Dreamliners

How hotels are upgrading their fitness facilities

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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United’s longest flight won’t have this

United’s new nonstop LAX-SIN will take about 18 hours (Image: United)

United will introduce daily nonstop flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) on October 27, 2017 using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.  

The flight between LAX and SIN will set the new distance record for any airline operating a flight to or from the United States, at 8,700 miles. Flying times will be approximately 17 hours, 55 minutes westbound and 15 hours, 15 minutes eastbound.

Fare info is currently not available since the flights still require government approval. But for an idea of what they may be, let’s look at SFO-SIN. Currently, the lowest roundtrip economy fares for July flights are about $850. Business class is about $4,200.

Even though this will be United’s looooongest flight, business class passengers will not fly in the new Polaris business class seat. Eventually United will get around to installing the new seats on its Dreamliner fleet, but for now, the new seat is only found on its newest Boeing 777s, currently deployed on SFO-Hong Kong, Newark-Tel Aviv, and soon, SFO-Tokyo.

United will use a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner on LAX-SIN. (Image: United)

United’s existing service between San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and SIN started one year ago and holds the current record for the longest scheduled 787 Dreamliner flight operated by any airline and is currently the longest scheduled flight operated by any U.S. carrier, at 8,446 miles. 

With the launch of SIN-LAX nonstop, United will terminate its service between Hong Kong and Singapore.

UA 37 will depart Los Angeles at 8:55 p.m. daily, arriving in Singapore at 6:50 a.m. two days later (all times local). The return flight, UA 38, will depart Singapore’s Changi Airport at 11:00 a.m. daily, arriving at Los Angeles International Airport at 10:15 a.m. the same day.

United will have flat bed business class seats like this (configured 2-2-2) between LAX and SIN starting in October (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Sneaky: It’s important to note again that United will NOT offer its much ballyhooed new seat on this flight. We’ve written before about the confusing way United markets its Polaris business class. Last fall it rebranded all its business class as “Polaris business class.” This means that when you see “Polaris” when booking your flight, or on your boarding pass, you will not necessarily fly on a plane with the new Polaris seats– as a matter of fact, for the next several years, it’s more likely that you WON’T fly in the new seat.

Here’s the wording from United’s press release about the LAX-SIN flights… sneaky or not?

United’s 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft will feature a total of 252 seats – 48 United Polaris business class, 204 United Economy, including 88 Economy Plus. United Polaris business class, a reinvention of the airline’s international premium cabin travel experience, offers elevated comfort and service for a restful night’s sleep in the air.

Singapore Airlines now flies nonstop between San Francisco and Singapore using a new Airbus A350. TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis was on that inaugural flight, so check out how he survived the 17 hour flight in a business class playpen!

Eventually, Singapore Airlines will also offer nonstops between LAX and Singapore, as well as New York and Singapore when it get’s its newest, longest range Airbus A350.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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American’s premium economy: 777-200s are next

American’s new premium economy seating is currently on 787-9s in select markets. (Image: American Airlines).

Now that American Airlines started selling a new premium economy class of seating this month on its first 787-9s, the company has detailed the timetable for retrofitting its other wide-bodies with the new cabin.

American CFO Derek Kerr told an industry conference this week that the company will begin installing the new seats during the current quarter on 777-200s. The airline has 47 of those planes, comprising the largest segment of American’s long-haul fleet. Work on those aircraft should be finished by March of next year.

During the third quarter, work will start on the airline’s 15 Airbus A330-200s, due for completion in December of this year. Next in line will be AA’s 20 777-300ERs beginning in the fourth quarter and ending by June 2018, followed early next year by its 20 787-8s.

American is now estimating that its entire wide-body fleet will have the new cabin by the end of the third quarter of 2018; previously, it had targeted June 2018 for completion of the job.

Delta’s premium economy cabin will debut on its A350s later this year. (Image: Delta)

Although it is reconfiguring its wide-bodies with premium economy seating, American is planning to keep offering a Main Cabin Extra option as well – i.e., its extra-legroom seating in the economy cabin. While Main Cabin Extra provides up to six inches of extra seat pitch, AA’s Premium Economy product will offer slightly more – 38 inches, along with extendable foot, leg and head rests; larger touch-screens; and additional services and amenities including one checked bag free. Seating will be in a 2-3-2 layout.

Delta is planning to introduce its own international premium economy product later this year as it starts to take delivery of new Airbus A350s. Unlike American, Delta will not continue to offer extra-legroom Comfort+ seating in the economy cabin when premium economy is introduced. In 2018, Delta will extend the premium economy cabin to its 777s.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Delta reveals plans for 777 makeovers

Delta’s A350s will debut its new Delta One business cabin later this year. (Image: Delta)

Last year, Delta unveiled plans for all-suite business class seating on the new Airbus A350s it will start putting into service later this year; and now it has revealed details for bringing the same new Delta One cabin layout to its existing fleet of 777-200s.

According to FlightGlobal, Delta said in a filing with the FAA that installing the business class suites in its 777s will shrink passenger capacity in the front cabin from the current 37 lie-flat seats to 28 mini-suites with lie-flat seats.

Delta hasn’t yet issued a schedule for reconfiguring its 18 777-200s, but when it does, it will also give the planes 48 new premium economy seats and 220 economy seats. They currently have 36 extra-legroom Comfort+ coach seats and 220 regular economy.

The airline has said that when it puts the new premium economy section into its A350s and 777s, Comfort+ seating will no longer be offered in them. The premium economy section will offer up to 38 inches of pitch, 19-inch seat width and up to seven inches of recline.

Delta’s premium economy cabin will also debut on its A350s. (Image: Delta)

And here’s some good news for economy travelers: A company official told FlightGlobal that when the 777s are remade, they will continue to offer nine-across seating in economy instead of going to 10-across like some of its domestic and foreign competitors are doing with their 777s.

Delta has ordered 25 A350-900s, but the airline said this week it will defer deliveries for 10 of them by two to three years, pushing them back to 2021-2023. The company also said it has increased its A321-200 order to 30 new planes, boosting the total from 82 to 112 for delivery by 2021. Those aircraft will replace older planes on domestic routes.

The airline said it is still on track to begin its first A350 flights in the fourth quarter of this year.  The new wide-bodies are initially expected to fly on transpacific routes out of Delta’s Detroit hub.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Catching up on last week’s travel news with TravelSkills

United Hawaii

Cruising into Lihue Airport on Kauai last week on a United 757 sitting in the exit row (Chris McGinnis)

Last week TravelSkills was on vacation. And it looks like we picked a great week to take off– there was not a whole lot of breaking travel news when we were spring breaking in Hawaii. We’ve spent this morning catching up…and you can catch up, too with our top posts from last week AND last week’s most important travel stories found elsewhere.

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

Trip Report: Oakland-London, British Airways business class

2 Another violent onboard altercation caught on video (American stroller incident)

What is Thomas Cook Airlines?

Thomas Cook Airlines

Premium economy on Thomas Cook Airlines (Image: Thomas Cook)

‘Big Data’ tips for saving on summer travel

3 ways United plans to win back business travelers

Third “real” United Polaris flight revealed

A new fare increase for business travelers?

Delta 747

Delta and Unites say buh-bye to the Queen of the Skies this year (Image: Delta)

United, Delta 747 schedule: final flights

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

10 The big difference between direct & nonstop flights

Don’t miss Chris’s Instagram feed for some nice images of his spring break in Hawaii!

Last pic of paradise #kauai #hawaii #travel #springbreak #hanalei

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

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

Runway repaving to cause weekend headaches at SFO thru June 12

Hey LAX flyers: Delta wants YOU

Double or Triple Hilton Honors points for summer trips

United ends interline agreements with five Mideast carriers

Southwest and Marriott/Starwood come out on top in annual Freddie Awards for loyalty programs

United settles quickly and quietly with Dr Dao

American will delay delivery of Airbus A350s by two years

Delta brings new headphones to premium passengers

United unveils a 10-point plan for treating passengers better

Southwest Airlines special livery

Southwest Airlines “Tennessee One” livery. Like it? (Image: Southwest Airlines)

Southwest CEO: We’re going to stop overbooking

U.S. air fares fell more than 6 percent last year

Delta offers easy helicopter transfers at New York JFK

Alitalia faces prospect of bankruptcy

Qantas will begin London-Australia non-stops next year

Uber app update gives you quick access to your rating

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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British Airways’ posh plans for business class [PHOTOS]

British Airways 787

British Airways has posh plans for the pointy end of the plane (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

With $490 million in his pocket, British Airways’ CEO Alex Cruz has big plans to snag more business travelers with a massive product upgrade rolling out now.

To show off what he’s talking about, Cruz invited 40 travel writers, bloggers and media personalities from around the world to London for an action- and content-packed one-day event. TravelSkills was there! (Chris flew over on British Airways’ new Oakland-Gatwick nonstop–stay tuned for his Trip Report!)

In the morning, we met in BA’s newest lounge at Gatwick Airport. From there we boarded a brand new four-class Dreamliner for lunch and a press conference on a two-hour joyride over the bright green English countryside up to Scotland and back.

On board, BA offered a sneak-peek of its upgraded inflight food/beverage offerings, and Cruz revealed news about the airline’s new business class seat and its plans for a rapid roll-out of inflight wi-fi, among other juicy details. After that, we landed at Heathrow Airport for a chat in BA’s busy arrivals lounge (with a whopping 78 showers!) and then walked through its exclusive new “First Wing” located in the far right end of Terminal 5.

A most unusual boarding pass: Check the origin and destination! (Chris McGinnis)

Here are highlights:

BA has taken its lumps recently for implementing something that Americans have long been used to: Buy-on-board food, or “Bob” as Cruz called it. (See new menu and prices here.) Now that it does, the British are going bonkers. This day was Cruz’s chance to show how the cutbacks that economy class passengers may feel will not be felt at the front of the plane. He said, “We need to focus on enhancing premium – offering contemporary service, improved catering and lounges, and a consistent service experience. In economy, where we know that price is the driver, we need to focus our efforts on delivering more seats at the lowest fares and giving customers choices.”

British Airways First class

British Airways’ latest version of first class on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New Planes: We took a ride on a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner with four classes of service: First, business, premium economy and economy. The plane was gorgeous and quiet. It now flies to San Jose and Newark from London. But the biggest change in fleet will come when BA gets its new Airbus A350s this summer. These big wide-bodies will soon be the workhorses of BA’s long haul fleet, replacing the carrier’s much-loved but long-in-the-tooth Boeing 747s. Cruz said that with oil at $50 per barrel, there is less incentive to get rid of these gas-guzzlers; but nonetheless, they’ll likely be phased out in the next five years. The last 747s will disappear from U.S. carriers at the end of this year. (See Delta’s 747 Experience here.) It also sounds like BA will be moving to a 10-across economy configuration on its 777s. “A 10-across 777 is an incredibly competitive machine, especially on leisure routes out of Gatwick,” he said. Currently, the 777-200 on OAK-LGW is nine-across.

British Airways business class

At one time, British Airways’ forward- and rear-facing seats were considered innovative. They’ll soon be retired. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New seats: The biggest news that Cruz broke is that BA will move away from its famous forward/rear-facing business class seats. To me, the seats are fine, but make for awkward moments during takeoff and landing when you feel weirdly in the personal space of your seatmate and his or her direct gaze. Cruz would not offer specifics (other that saying the new seats will offer 100% aisle access), but said, “The time has come for us to change. We are falling behind our competitors and intend to catch up with a new design.” BA was the first airline to introduce lie-flat business class seats in 1999, which revolutionized long-haul travel. In a veiled reference to United’s recent issues with the delayed roll-out of its new Polaris seats, Cruz told me, “We will not over-promise on our new seat like some of our competitors have done. Instead we intend to over-deliver.”

New flights: Last month IAG, which owns British Airways and Iberia, created a new low-fare carrier called Level, which will be based in Barcelona. This summer it will offer cheap non-stops to Oakland and Los Angeles. When Cruz and I discussed this, I told him I thought it was great to get non-stops from the Bay to Barcelona, but that Norwegian was already in that game. I said what we really need in the Bay Area is a non-stop to Italy. His reply? “I think Level will take care of that need very soon.” Stay tuned for more on that!

Metallic walls separate first class passengers from the riffraff at London Heathrow Terminal 5 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New First Wing: These days nearly everyone is a super elite, business or first class passenger — or so it seems when you enter the so-called “fast” lanes at airport security. The same thing has been happening at British Airways’ big Terminal 5 at Heathrow. In order to better serve its paid first class passengers, gold-level Executive Club members and Oneworld Emeralds, BA has carved out a new, exclusive lane called the First Wing. After checking in, First and Gold members proceed to an adjacent sleekly designed private security area for screening. (Sorry, no photos: Photography not allowed.) After that, they walk a few hundred feet through a wood-paneled corridor and directly into BA’s first class lounge, where they can relax, eat, work or proceed directly to their flights. Nice touch! An executive told me that about 2,000 passengers per day will use the First Wing.

British Airways’ big, bright first and business class lounges–big views, high ceilings and a few pink crushed velvet chairs (Chris McGinnis)

New/Refurbished lounges: BA bragged about its new lounge at Boston, which I’ve not seen. But apparently it’s big, bright and has a horseshoe bar that passengers are raving about—not only for the drinks, but also for the fantastic sunset views through a wall of west-facing windows. Plus it has direct access to the plane. BA’s lounge at New York JFK is slated for a $65 million redo that should be completed in two years. BA’s lounge at SFO has been bursting at the seams since the carrier introduced its A380—there’s simply not enough room to accommodate all the business, first and elite flyers (from BA and partners) at peak times. BA execs told me that the plan is still to add a new mezzanine level, but they could not offer a firm date about when that might occur, or how they will accommodate passengers displaced when construction begins. “We are working with the airport to explore temporary accommodations,” said one. At Heathrow, BA’s massive lounge complex in Terminal 5 is now 10 years old—still nice, but due for a makeover, according to Cruz, although no timetable has been set for the upgrade.

Alex Cruz

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis and British Airways CEO Alex Cruz on a Dreamliner joyride (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New Gatwick Lounge: BA recently moved from the north to the south terminal at London Gatwick and has opened a mod new two-level rooftop lounge with fantastic runway views, modern furnishings (including new pink crushed velvet chairs) and a generous buffet with a very British “Toast” bar (yes, a buffet line consisting of toast only. So Brrritish!). The lounge is 40% larger than the old one in the south terminal, but on the day we were there, it was quite full at around noon.

More wi-fi: Believe it or not, BA has only one aircraft outfitted with inflight wi-fi at the moment, but that will soon change. Cruz said that 90% of its short- and long-haul aircraft will get wi-fi in the next two years. He said that long-haul flights will use a satellite-based system and short-haul European flights will use a ground-based one. Similar to what we see at hotels, BA will offer two tiers of wi-fi–basic starting at 5 pounds per hour,  and full service for 8 pounds (including streaming).

There’s a nice heft to BA’s new cocktail tumblers (Chris McGinnis)

British Airways bread

Bread served in a small silver basket instead of a plate (Chris McGinnis)

Meals served from tier trolleys instead of boxy blue carts (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dessert on British Airways

British Airways has teamed up with Do & Co for catering– it’s the same company that works with Turkish Airlines (Photo: Chrisi McGinnis)

Cheese

Cheeses served on slate-like plates (Photo: Chris McGinnis

Better food and drink: Cruz said that BA will invest heavily in business class food and drink, which passengers will begin to notice this summer. On our flight up to Scotland and back, we were served some of the new food—for example, instead of bread on a plate, you get a warm roll served in a small silver basket. Champagne is served from big bowls of ice. Instead of bulky carts, flight attendants roll starters and dessert options on tiered trolleys– a great show. (Reminds me of how Turkish Airlines does it.) Part of the upgrade includes all-new cups, glasses and cutlery, with larger wine glasses for fuller pours and hefty cut crystal-like tumblers for cocktails. (See photos above.) BA’s busy New York-London flights will be the first to see the upgrades as soon as this summer, and it will roll out to other routes later in 2018.

Better sleep: Also on the way: bigger pillows, new mattress toppers, duvets, ear plugs and eye masks as well as revised inflight service schedules designed to maximize good sleep (sounds like United Polaris to me!). Regrettably, none of these features were on our joyride, so no photos.

New self boarding gates at Heathrow use your boarding pass and facial recognition (Image: British Airways)

More self-boarding gates: Currently, BA has three automated boarding gates at Heathrow. These gates operate turnstile-like entry points activated by facial recognition and the bar code on your boarding pass. (At Heathrow, your photo is taken when you enter security, and is matched with another photo taken when you board. If they don’t match, you don’t board.) Cruz said that based on the success and positive feedback from business travelers, there will soon be more of these.

British Airways created a hashtag for the event and coverage of its new investment—check it out here” #BAinvesting4U

Are you a regular on British Airways? What do you think of the changes? Please leave your comments below.

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First look deep inside a Delta 747-400 [PHOTOS]

The Delta 747 Experience as seen from the road near Delta HQ (Chris McGinnis)

This week Delta opened a fantastic new exhibit near runways at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The new “747 Experience” at the Delta Museum features a retired Delta/Northwest Boeing 747 (Ship 6301) that’s been spiffed up, hollowed out, peeled back and lovingly restored for up-close-and-personal interaction with the public.

This year Delta and United will retire their 747 fleets. So if you’ve ever flown on this graceful bird and would like to see it again, or if you’ve never been on one and always wondered what it’s like, here’s your chance!

Delta flew TravelSkills to Atlanta for the grand opening and a look-see before the crowds arrive– here’s what we saw!

Chris (seated on stairs to “the bubble”) was one of the first to take a scramble through the new 747 exhibit at the Delta Museum in Atlanta

The ‘747 Experience’ provides a look into the history and magic of the iconic Queen of the Skies, which Delta will retire from its fleet by the end of 2017. (No details of final flights have been revealed yet. Currently Delta’s 747s fly from Detroit and Honolulu to Asia.)

For those United loyalists who want to book a seat on the airline’s last 747 flights, the carrier has set the schedule for the plane’s retirement later this year. All the affected routes are out of San Francisco. The last 747-400 departure from SFO will be a flight to Seoul on October 28, returning October 29.

TIP: Delta’s closer ties to Korean Air means that you’ll still be able to fly on a 747 using your Delta SkyMiles, but you’ll be flying on one of Korean’s new 747-8 birds- what a treat!

The end of the 747 era will usher in the beginning of the Airbus A350 era for Delta— the first new 306-passenger widebodies arrive this summer and should be on proving runs by the fall. Delta has 25 A350s on order, and should get the first five by the end of this year. The new planes will be used primarily on Delta’s transpacific routes.

General admission to the Delta Museum (including the 747 Experience) is $15 for adults, $12.50 for seniors (65 years or older), $10 for children under 18 and free for children under 5. The exhibit is open noon – 4 p.m. on Thursday – Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased at tickets.deltamuseum.org.

Let’s take a look- and be sure to read the captions! 

Delta 747

Two permanent staircases and and elevator provide access to the big bird (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

Rear staircase to enter and exit ship 6301 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

You’ve got to get up under one of these ships to realize its enormity (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747 wheel

Part of the 747 experience is crawling around and under the plane, touching the landing gear and peering up inside the underbelly (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

I walked up the rear staircase, walked in and saw the entire aft economy class section cleared of seats, with a glass floor and open ceiling for a full view. Very cool! Amazing how much space there is without the seats. Delta plans to rent this space for private events like weddings or meetings. Great idea! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In the renovated area, the exhibit gives visitors a unique look behind the scenes. An exposed ceiling and glass floor reveal the insulation, wires, air conditioning ducts and more that are essential for the operation of a commercial airliner. The walls are lined with historic achievements in aviation, specific 747 graphics and statistics and a video screen capable of projecting various multimedia displays.

Delta 747

Delta flight attendants stationed at the event in vintage uniforms from the 1970s (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

747 Crew Rest Area

Did you know that there are two staircases on the 747? The one in the back goes to the crew rest area. Regrettably, you can only look at the rest area thru a plexiglass pane, but you can climb the tight staircase (Chris McGinnis)

 

Glass floor allows views into the guts of the plane (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

On one side of the plane you can walk out on the wing for a fantastic, unique view of the 747’s beautiful curves (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

Unusually up-close exterior views from the wing walk (Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

It’s important to point out that this 747 first belonged to Northwest Airlines, which merged with Delta. These are vintage Northwest uniforms from that era– the red one designed by Yves St Laurent (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

Vintage pilot and maintenance uniforms from the 1970s. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

Up inside the bubble, Delta has removed the rear galley and replaced the wall with glass so you can look down into the main deck. So cool! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

Looking forward in the bubble, Delta has preserved the Delta One cabin (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747 cockpit

Visitors can enter the cockpit, and peer at the seats and controls through plexiglass (Chris McGinnis)

 

747 crew rest area

Looking back from the cockpit, you can look into the pilot crew rest area (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta red coat

A Delta Red Coat from back in the day. Remember those coats? (Chris McGinnis)

 

Delta 747

! An unusual view of the nose of this beautiful aircraft from the fore entry/staircase- click for Instagram! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Delta says that Ship 6301 logged more than 61 million miles, enough to make 250 trips from the Earth to the moon, between its first flight with Northwest Airlines December 1989 and its last with Delta in September 2015.

Did you ever get a chance to ride on a Delta or Northwest 747? What do you think of its impending retirement? Please leave your comments below! 

–Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: Delta provided TravelSkills with an economy class ticket between San Francisco and Atlanta to attend this event.

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Popular: Alaska invasion + Amex changes + Airport lounges + Nowhere flight + Cathay Pacific

Chris McGinnis TV

What will happen to fares when Alaska moves in? Listen to what Chris said on CBS5 (Image: CBS5)

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

1 See Chris discuss this on TV- 13 new nonstops with Alaska Airlines’ big Bay Area bump

2 A slew of good comments- Game over for American Express card gamers?

3 Ummmm, yesss! Are airport lounges getting too crowded?

Some additional notes regarding Amex: See below for Amex guest policy changes announced this week to fix overcrowding at lounges; additionally, we’ve heard from a few readers who called Amex to protest the 22% rate increase, and were offered a $300 credit on the spot to not cancel their cards)

4 Getting cushy- Double beds in business class

5 Seriously! A new trend? Oh, no! Another 4-hour flight to nowhere

Flight Aware

Another one! Hawaiian Air flight 43 took off from San Jose, and returned 4 hours later (Image: Flight Aware)

Airport news: Atlanta, LAX, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orlando

7 One of this year’s most popular- United flies Boeing 747 SFO-LAX

8 Tried Lyft yet? Get the app! 5 key reasons to try new Lyft Premier

Lyft Uber

Lyft now offers a classier ride to the airport with new Premier option (Source: Lyft)

9 Both airlines have final hurrahs in the works- United, Delta 747 schedule: final flights

10 Another reason to fly Southwest Getting on earlier flight getting easier

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

This week Cathay Pacific announced that it would add a THIRD daily SFO-Hong Kong nonstop on October 29 using an Airbus A350, its first deployed in the U.S. The new jet will offer Cathay’s newest business class, premium economy and economy class seating (no first class). What’s really nice about this plane? It burns 25% less fuel (with corresponding reduction in emissions) and its carpet and blankets are made with nylon and plastic recycled from bottles and salvaged fishing nets, which pose a threat to marine life. Even better, this will be the first Cathay plane to offer inflight wi-fi– essential for those 12-14 hour flights to Hong Kong!

Cathay Pacific A350

Cathay Pacific’s first U.S. A350 coming to SFO this fall (Photo: Cathay Pacific)

American Express restricts Centurion lounge guests to 2 family members only 

Chris on CBS5 talking about Alaska Air’s big Bay Area bump

Emirates, Etihad on the verge of a merge? 

At LAX, agents detain Playboy bunny believed to be Russian spy

JetBlue to ATL: Thanks but no thanks for ghetto gates on Concourse D

NY Post: How to survive LaGuardia’s construction chaos

Why are new planes still delivered with ashtrays?

Leg rest or lie flat? More buy up to premium economy than buy down from business class

Study finds radiation threat on long-haul flights is worse than previously believed

TWA hotel

Construction starts on new hotel inside Saarinen terminal at JFK. (Photo: NY Governor Cuomo office)

TWA Terminal Hotel at JFK will have a restaurant inside a Lockheed Constellation

Qatar Airways plans to launch a subsidiary in India with 100 planes

Here’s what happens when your seatmate dies in flight

Trump wants to slash TSA’s budget to help pay for border wall

Hughes Network Systems claims in-flight Wi-Fi speeds of 400 Mbps

TSA pat-downs get more personal

On Delta #1583 SFO-JFK on Feb 22 met by CBP agents demanding ID? @ACLU wants to talk to you 

Get the app and get $10 off your first Lyft ride!

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Double beds in business class

Qatar’s new QSuite permits creation of private double-bedded accommodations. (Image: Qatar Airways)

A new business class design introduced this week by Qatar Airways uses movable privacy panels to create double beds or even four-person suites- and it will hit the skies this summer.

The new 42-seat “QSuite” cabin will first appear on a Qatar 777 between Doha and London Heathrow in June. It will also be going into all the carrier’s other 777s, and will be installed on Qatar’s new Airbus A350-1000s. Currently, round trip business class fares on London-Doha route in July are running about $5,274.00. Qatar is a member of the Oneworld Alliance.

If you ever wonder why international first class cabins are gradually disappearing from the skies, you only need to see the innovations in luxury and amenities that are coming to international business class these days. In many cases, layering first class on top of them would truly be gilding the lily.

Case in point: The new QSuite business cabin introduced at a Berlin trade show this week by Qatar Airways.

The keys to the creative configurations possible in QSuite are stowable privacy panels and movable video monitors. Two persons seated next to each other can deploy the privacy panels to create a private room with a double bed.

Four persons traveling together can share a private suite. (Image: Qatar Airways)

And four seats in the center of the cabin can be walled off together to create a four-person suite for business meetings, socializing and/or dining together.

“These new features provide the ultimate customizable travel experience that enables passengers to create an environment that suits their own unique needs,” Qatar said.

The new business seats themselves are crafted from hand-stitched Italian leather. The cabin also features the next generation of Oryx One, Qatar’s in-fight entertainment system, redesigned to permit easy surfing of content that includes 3,000 programming options. Here’s a video:

The QSuite food and beverage service has also been upgraded; in addition to new cuisine options served at the time of the passenger’s choice, the airline will also provide “sharing dishes” any time during the flight, so passenger can partake together. Qatar also is offering an express breakfast service for those who want to sleep late.

Private window suite for one. (Image: Qatar Airways)

Also coming are new business class “sleeper suits” and amenity kits from top international designers. And the airline announced that it will be deploying “best-in-class” Wi-Fi connectivity sometime this summer.

Doubles for couples or colleagues. (Image: Qatar Airways)

So what do you think? Would you fly Qatar to experience business class like this? Or would you stick to something more tried and true? Please leave your comments below. 

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Routes: Swiss to SFO + Lufthansa, Aeromexico, Hainan, Delta/KLM, Air Canada

Economy class on SWISS’s new 777-300ER. (Image: SWISS)

In international route developments, Swiss will increase San Francisco service and lay on more 777-300ERs to the U.S. this summer; Lufthansa sets the date for its first new A350 service to the U.S.; Aeromexico brings a new route to San Jose; Hainan Airlines adds a pair of routes from Los Angeles; Delta code-shares on more KLM flights; Air Canada adds a new Vancouver route and reshuffles Ottawa service.

Lufthansa subsidiary Swiss International’s newly issued summer schedule calls for an increase in San Francisco-Zurich frequencies from the current three 777-300ER flights  a week to daily service beginning April 22. All the flights will use the carrier’s new 777-300ERs. Swiss already uses the new aircraft on its Los Angeles-Zurich route, and said that between June and October of this year, it will also deploy the new aircraft on six of its 12 weekly flights between Zurich and Chicago O’Hare. Take a tour of “the new SWISS flagship” here. 

Lufthansa recently took delivery of its second A350 from Airbus and it’s headed to Boston. (Image: Lufthansa)

Lufthansa has taken delivery of its second brand-new Airbus A350-900, and it has set March 14 as the date when that aircraft will start flying between Munich and Boston. (The first one recently started flying from Munich to Delhi, India, and the third will go onto the Munich-Mumbai route starting in late April.) Innovations on the Lufthansa A350 include an in-flight entertainment system that lets passengers create their own programming playlists from an app before leaving home, and LED technology that makes it possible to provide two dozen different lighting schemes in the cabin.

The latest international carrier to announce new service to San Jose is Aeromexico. The Mexican airline set a July 1 start for new service between SJC and its Guadalajara hub, operating six 737 flights a week (not on Tuesdays). The flight will depart San Jose at 10:15 a.m.

Hainan Airlines is adding two 787 routes from Los Angeles. (Image: Simon Auger/Flickr)

China’s Hainan Airlines has started taking reservations for new service from Los Angeles to two destinations in western China. On March 15, it will begin service between LAX and Chengdu, followed on March 21 by new flights from LAX to Chonqing. Both routes will operate twice a week, and both will use 787-8s.

Delta continues to expand its roster of code-share flights with joint venture partner KLM. Beginning March 26, according to Routesonline.com, Delta’s code will go onto KLM’s flights between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Amsterdam. Also getting Delta codes will be KLM flights beyond Amsterdam to Milan Malpensa; Graz, Austria; Gdansk, Poland; Freetown, Sierra Leone and Monrovia, Liberia; Split, Croatia; and the Italian destinations of Catania, Sicily, and Cagliari, Sardinia.

Air Canada’s Jazz unit has started new daily non-stops between Vancouver and Dallas/Ft. Worth, using two-class CRJ-705s. On the east coast, meanwhile, Air Canada said it has ended its three daily flights between Ottawa and New York LaGuardia, but will add three flights a day between Ottawa and Newark beginning March 26. (Meanwhile, Delta is poised to pick up the slack from LGA, starting twice-daily service to Ottawa as of April 2.) In other news, Air Canada will use a 787-9 on one (AC737/738) of its six daily San Francisco-Toronto flights for the summer season, beginning June 1.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Most popular: Boeing 747 + Mexico + Biz class sale + Burbank + Korean 787

United 747

Looking out at a graceful 747 wing & Greenland from the cozy bubble of a United 747 (Chris McGinnis)

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

1 Final mop-up mission for The Queen- Seriously! United flies Boeing 747 SFO-LAX

2 Spring breaker beware- Reader Report: Shakedown in Mexico

3 Book by Feb 28- Business class sale: US to Europe this spring

4 A few of these left- Fare war: California-Chicago $100 roundtrip

5 Biz traveler favorite- Burbank loses Hope but gains flights

6 Probably not- Should you ever book a Basic Economy fare?

7 Still popular after 2 weeks!- United’s 4-hour flight to nowhere

San Jose SJC Terminal B

San Jose getting even more new nonstops to East Coast! (Photo: SJC)

8 Plenty of faves left out (see comments)- Best & worst airport-to-city trains

Routes: United, Alaska at San Jose + American, Delta, Spirit

10 Norwegian invasion- Ten new Europe routes will offer $65 fares

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

Qantas unveiled its new Premium Economy seats, which will go on its new 787s this fall (Image: Qantas)

Getting a good cocktail at airport or plane getting easier

Qantas rainbow themed livery for Sydney Mardi Gras

Gogo’s newest Wi-Fi satellite technology exceeds 100 Mbps

American’s revised boarding procedure has nine passenger groups

Korean Air’s new 787 Dreamliner is made in Charleston, SC (Photo: Boeing)

Korean Air takes delivery of its first 787-9 Dreamliner

Spirit’s CEO sees no threat from Basic Economy fares at legacy airlines

Delta’s first Airbus A350 takes shape

Virgin Atlantic is showing Oscar-nominated films in flight through May

Comments to DOT on in-flight phone calls are strongly negative

Non-EU airlines ordered to compensate passengers for lengthy flight delays

Cathay Pacific introduces beer designed for consumption at 35,000 feet

Chris visited Atlanta this week and had a perfect Martini, a great meal (and oysters!) at the Kimball House in Decatur. Been yet? Follow me on Instagram! 

#cocktails #martini #decatur #atlanta #travel

A post shared by Chris McGinnis (@chrisjmcginnis) on

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Most popular: Best program + San Jose boom + Fare sale + Golden Age + SIA Trip Report

snow

Looking down from the plane at the snowy Sierra is gorgeous. This is what it looks like from the ground this week! My sister-in-law’s house near Lake Tahoe.  (Photo: N. Dean)

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

Is this really the best frequent flyer program?Weekend Edition

Deal Alert: SFO-London $481 nonstop, roundtrip United, Virgin (STILL AVAILABLE for Spring Break trips!)

Mineta San Jose airport adding even more flights in 2017

Reader Report: Singapore Airlines Premium Economy, Airbus A350 SFO-SIN

6 reasons why now is the “golden age” of air travel

Passengers retreat to the lounge upstair "inside the bubble" on the Pan Am 747 (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Passengers retreat to the lounge upstair “inside the bubble” on Pan Am 747 experience in LA (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Airport updates: Atlanta, JFK, Newark, Boston, Dulles, BWI

Get $200 for booking a trip on new Upside site

Southwest announces 22 new routes

Is that paleo? Eat like a caveman on your next trip

10 American rolls out cheap new low-frills fares

Don’t miss: Should I convert my Virgin America points to Alaska miles right now? 

Don’t miss this great deal from this week’s sponsor! Three free meals when you try Blue Apron

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

21% of flight attendants admit to having sex on planes sez new survey

United will start its new Basic Economy fares on Minnesota flights

Bloomberg report sees hard times for Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines

Transportation Dept. proposes new rule to make baggage fees more transparent

Uber reduces number of SPG points offered per ride

Special branded floormats in the Uber that picked me up (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Special branded floormats in Uber when the SPG partnership started two years ago (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Did you know you can earn Delta miles in India’s Jet Airways flights? 

JetBlue offers triple TrueBlue points on flights to Cuba

Hyatt buys Miraval “wellness resort” group

Passenger survey finds seat-kicking is the most annoying in-flight behavior

Delta adds new content to Delta Studio in-fight entertainment

Airbus is working on a futuristic self-flying taxi

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Air Canada’s new transpacific partnerships

Air Canada uses a 777-300ER on its Vancouver-Hong Kong route. (Image: Air Canada)

Air Canada uses a 777-300ER on its Vancouver-Hong Kong route. (Image: Air Canada)

Air Canada has created new code-sharing and frequent flyer partnerships with Cathay Pacific and Virgin Australia.

The link with Cathay Pacific is in effect for travel beginning January 19, with tickets going on sale starting January 12. Passengers will be able to book a single ticket for connecting travel and check bags through to their final destination.

Passengers on Air Canada’s carrier’s flights to Hong Kong from Toronto and Vancouver will be able to connect onto code-share flights operated by Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon to Manila, Cebu, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Travelers on Cathay’s transpacific service to Vancouver and Toronto will find Cathay’s code on connecting Air Canada service to major cities in Canada.

Members of Air Canada’s Aeroplan and Cathay’s Asia Miles programs will be able to earn and redeem miles on the code-share flights of both airlines, Air Canada said. The two airlines are not global alliance partners; Air Canada belongs to United’s Star Alliance, while Cathay is part of American’s Oneworld.

Cathay will put a new Airbus A350 onto its Hong Kong-Vancouver route this spring. (Image: Airbus)

Cathay will put a new Airbus A350 onto its Hong Kong-Vancouver route this spring. (Image: Airbus)

Cathay Pacific also announced plans to increase frequencies on its Vancouver-Hong Kong route from 14 a week to 17 effective March 28, when it will begin flying an additional three flights a week with a new Airbus A350. The existing double-daily service uses 777-300ERs.

Meanwhile, Air Canada has created a similar agreement with Virgin Australia that should take effect early in 2017 following regulatory approvals.

That agreement will allow passengers on Air Canada’s flights to Sydney and Brisbane to connect with Air Canada code-shared Virgin Australia flights to Adelaide, Canberra, Cairns, Melbourne and Perth in Australia as well as Christchurch and Auckland in New Zealand; and on Virgin service from Sydney to Brisbane and to the Gold Coast; and from Brisbane to Wellington, New Zealand. Travelers on Virgin Australia flights to Los Angeles will see that airline’s code on connecting service via Air Canada to Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal.

Aeroplan members and Virgin’s Velocity members will each be able to earn program credits for flights on the code-share services operated by the other airline. Air Canada said additional loyalty program reciprocal benefits will be announced later.

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Routes: American, China Airlines, Xiamen, JetBlue, Alaska + more

American's new premium economy seating is on 787-9s in more markets. (Image: American Airlines).

American’s new premium economy seating is on 787-9s in more markets. (Image: American Airlines).

In international route updates, American Airlines is adding premium economy-equipped 787-9s to more markets; China Airlines planes an aircraft change and more flights to San Francisco; Xiamen opens sales for a new LAX route; JetBlue boosts Bermuda capacity; Alaska adds a Mexico route from Sacramento; Avianca increases Los Angeles service; and Delta expands Caribbean code-shares.

The new premium economy section that American Airlines is putting into its 787-9 Dreamliners will soon appear on more routes. The section first appeared on Dallas/Ft. Worth-Sao Paulo and DFW-Madrid flights in November, and now it is due to debut on DFW-Paris and DFW-Seoul flights starting January 9 and February 16 respectively.  Although the seats are out there, they’re not yet officially on sale as premium economy fares. That will begin early next year, American said. In other news, American is planning to upgrade the aircraft on its Raleigh-Durham to London Heathrow route. On March 5, it will switch from a 767 to a 777-200, offering about 40 percent more seats.

China Airlines will put a new Airbus A350 onto its San Francisco-Taipei route next spring. (Image: Airbus)

China Airlines will put a new Airbus A350 onto its San Francisco-Taipei route next spring. (Image: Airbus)

More flights are coming on the San Francisco to Taipei route, along with a new aircraft type. China Airlines, a member of Delta’s SkyTeam alliance, reportedly plans to boost frequencies on the route from seven a week to nine starting May 14, and to switch aircraft from a 777-300ER to a new Airbus A350. Then in early August, the carrier will add two more weekly flights on the route for a total of 11 a week.

China’s Xiamen Airlines has started taking bookings for its planned new service between Xiamen and Los Angeles International, due to begin on June 27. The carrier will use a 787-9 Dreamliner to fly the route three times a week.

JetBlue is adding more capacity to Bermuda from its Northeast focus cities. Beginning May 18, it will operate daily year-round flights from New York JFK, with a second daily frequency from May 18 through October. The airline will also increase its Boston-Bermuda daily service from seasonal to year-round as of May 18, and will upsize aircraft on its Bermuda routes from 100-seat Embraer 190s to 150-seat Airbus A320s.

Alaska Airlines plans to add a new route from California to Mexico next summer. As of June 10, the airline will offer weekly 737 service (on Saturdays) between Sacramento and San Jose/Los Cabos.

The LAX-Bogota route will get more Avianca Dreamliner flights next year. (Image: Avianca)

The LAX-Bogota route will get more Avianca Dreamliner flights next year. (Image: Avianca)

Got  business in Colombia? The Colombian carrier Avianca will boost its West Coast service in 2017, increasing frequencies on the Bogota-Los Angeles route from four a week to daily starting on March 28. Avianca uses a 787-8 Dreamliner on the route.

Delta is expanding its code-share partnership with Seaborne Airlines on flights beyond San Juan to various Caribbean island destinations. In recent weeks, Delta has put its DL code onto Seabourne flights from San Juan to St. Maarten, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, and on March 5 it will do the same on Seabourne service to La Romana, Dominican Republic.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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New aircraft coming on key global routes: LAX, Boston, SFO, Chicago, Houston

Qantas' first 787-9 will enter service to LAX next year. (Image: Qantas)

Qantas’ first 787-9 will enter service to LAX next year. (Image: Qantas)

Several airlines have scheduled the introduction of brand-new planes on key international routes to the U.S., including Qantas, Lufthansa, Swiss International and Singapore.

Qantas announced that its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner will enter service on December 15, 2017, flying the Melbourne-Los Angeles route. The new 236-passenger, three-class Dreamliner will fly the route six days a week, replacing a 364-seat 747, and will supplement Qantas’ daily A380 flight on the route. That will give Qantas 13 flights a week on the route, up from nine today. Even though the 787 is smaller than the 747 it will replace, the larger plane is only flying twice a week, so that’s a net capacity increase on the route of 1,400 seats a week. The Dreamliner will have business class, economy class, and a new premium economy section that the airline will introduce early next year.

Lufthansa recently took delivery of its first A350 from Airbus. (Image: Lufthansa)

Lufthansa recently took delivery of its first A350 from Airbus. (Image: Lufthansa)

Lufthansa recently took delivery of its first brand-new Airbus A350-900 which will begin regular commercial service February 10 between Munich and New Delhi. But the carrier announced last week that its second new A350 will start flying in March 2017 on the Boston-Munich route. Lufthansa said its first 10 A350s will all be based at its Munich hub. The aircraft will have 48 business class seats, 21 in premium economy and 224 in regular economy. The airline will introduce a new in-flight service for A350 business class flyers: a self-service area offering snacks and cold drinks. The new aircraft will also have larger video screens and “the latest FlyNet technology and improved web surfing,” Lufthansa said. The plane will offer a variety of lighting schemes and improved cabin pressure so travelers will arrive “feeling more rested,” the airline said.

Economy class on SWISS's new 777-300ER. (Image: SWISS)

Economy class on Swiss’s new 777-300ER. (Image: Swiss International)

Swiss International, a Lufthansa subsidiary, has been rolling out new 340-seat Boeing 777-300ERs as the flagships of its long-haul network. It has six already, with three more coming online in 2017. This year, it started flying them to Los Angeles in June and Miami in October. And they’ll soon be coming to San Francisco and Chicago. According to the Swiss website, The 777-300ER will begin flying between Zurich and San Francisco three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) starting February 16. And the airline will reportedly boost that 777 schedule to seven flights a week starting April 17. Meanwhile, Routesonline.com reports that Swiss will put the new 777-300ER into service between Chicago O’Hare-Zurich beginning June 1, flying that route six times a week. The new 777s carry 340 passengers, with eight seats in first class, 62 in business and 270 in economy (in a 3-4-3 configuration). Check out a photo tour of the Swiss 777-300ERs that we ran last year.

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)

Singapore Airlines continues add new Airbus A350s to its long-haul feet, and the next deployment of the aircraft will be on its Houston-Manchester (UK)-Singapore route starting January 17, according to Routesonline.com. The Singapore A350s have 42 business class seats, 24 in premium economy, and 187 in regular economy (in a 3-3-3 configuration).  Two months ago, Singapore put one of the new A350s into service on its Singapore-San Francisco route. Chris was on board for one of the first flights, and you can read his comprehensive report here about seating and in-flight service aboard the Singapore A350.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Delta tweaks SkyMiles upgrade policies

Free upgrades to Delta's Comfort+ seating are now available to Starwood elites. (Image: Delta)

Free upgrades to Delta’s Comfort+ seats are now available to Starwood elites. (Image: Delta)

Delta Air Lines has updated its rules for snagging a better seat, including changes for Starwood Preferred Guest elites, passengers on international flights equipped with the airline’s new Delta Premium Select cabins, and travelers on transatlantic partner Virgin Atlantic.

Platinum Preferred members of Starwood’s loyalty program who are enrolled in Crossover Rewards for travel on Delta can now request free upgrades to both First Class and Delta Comfort+ based on their SPG tier level when they have paid tickets. The free upgrades apply for flights within the U.S. and Canada, and select Asia/Pacific and Latin America/Caribbean markets. A few months ago, shortly after the conclusion of their merger, Starwood and Marriott introduced the ability for members of both loyalty programs (and Ritz-Carlton’s) to link their accounts, and also offered them elite status match with reciprocal benefits.

Delta's premium economy cabin will debut on its A350s in about a year. (Image: Delta)

Delta’s premium economy cabin will debut on its A350s in about a year. (Image: Delta)

Delta’s new ‘Premium Select’ international premium economy cabin will start to appear as the airline deploys new Airbus A350s in 2017, and the airline confirmed that SkyMiles members can use miles to upgrade to those seats after they buy a Main Cabin ticket. Diamond Medallions who select Global Upgrade certificates as a benefit can use them to upgrade to Premium Select from Main Cabin or Delta Comfort+ seats, but neither regional upgrade certificates nor complimentary upgrades can be used for Premium Select. The airline also said that Medallion members who purchase Premium Select seats will get a 50 percent Medallion Qualification Miles bonus.

And SkyMiles members can now use miles to book partner Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy cabin on flights from the U.S. to the U.K., either by phone through Delta reservations or through delta.com. Virgin’s premium economy section includes priority boarding and dedicated check-in, upgraded dining and leather seats with power ports. (See Virgin Premium economy video above or here.)

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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What a great week to be in Washington DC on the eve of an election for a Boarding Area conference (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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Hilton HHonors members who book through the HHonors App (get it here) and pay with a Visa credit card for stays during November 2, 2016 – January 31, 2017 will earn an additional 5,000 Bonus Points.  How? Here are the details http://www.HHonors.com/VisaBonus.

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REDRUM! We checked out this gorgeous new hotel recently and will write about it this week. Any guesses? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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Delta details plush premium economy plans

Delta's premium economy cabin will debut on its A350s in about a year. (Image: Delta)

Check out the waffle weave on Delta’s premium economy cabin which will debut on its A350s next year. (Image: Delta)

Last spring, a few months after American Airlines announced that it would put a new premium economy class of seating into its international fleet, Delta promised that it would do the same – but it offered no specifics except to say the product would debut on its new Airbus A350s. Well, today Delta unveiled the details of that new seating class.

Delta said the new cabin, called simply Delta Premium, will be introduced on select international A350 flights starting in fall of 2017; in 2018, Delta Premium will spread to the airline’s 777 aircraft, and “additional fleets may be added,” Delta said.

The new seating will provide “up to” 38 inches of pitch, 19 inches of seat width, and seven inches of recline, Delta said, along with adjustable leg and head rests and power ports. Seatbacks will have 13.3-inch high-res video screens, and Delta Premium passengers will get noise-canceling headphones, Westin Heavenly in-flight blankets and Tumi amenity kits.

Delta Premium

Delta’s A350s will have 48 premium economy seats- this one is in the recline position note footrest (Image: Delta)

At the airport, Delta Premium customers will be offered a pre-departure beverage service and the benefits of the airline’s Sky Priority service – faster check-in and security screening, priority boarding and expedited baggage handling. There’s no word yet on the pricing premium that Delta will charge for the new seating category.

The new Delta Premium cabin will be distinct from and superior to the airline’s extra-legroom Comfort+ economy seats, which it started selling earlier this year as a separate fare category. Speaking of Comfort+, will that option still be there in between regular economy and Delta Premium seating? “Comfort+ will not be available on the A350,” a Delta spokeswoman told TravelSkills.

Delta said the A350s will have 32 Delta One suites, 48 Delta Premium seats in a 2-4-2 layout and 226 main cabin seats. These are the same planes on which Delta will introduce its new Delta One suites, which it calls “the world’s first business class cabin to feature a sliding door at each suite.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Singapore Airlines also has premium economy seating on its new A350s, which started flying to San Francisco last month. See Chris’s first-person trip report plus images of SIA’s premium economy cabin.

______________________________________________________________________________

Delta's A350s will also debut its new Delta One business cabin. (Image:" Del;ta)

Delta’s A350s will also debut the new Delta One business cabin. (Image: Delta)

This is a busy time for new international cabin classes on U.S. carriers. American’s new premium economy product will make its first appearance starting this week on the airline’s new 787-9s flying from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Madrid and Sao Paulo.

And in just a few weeks – starting December 1 – United’s new Polaris international business class is due to start appearing on its 777-300ERs, and United officials will cut the ribbon on a new Polaris business class lounge at Chicago O’Hare — the first of nine new lounges coming to the airline’s primary international airports.

Delta’s announcement leaves United as the only one of the U.S. Big Three international carriers that has not yet issued any plans to add premium economy seating to its long-haul fleet.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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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)

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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.

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US State Department orders departure of family members at Istanbul consulate

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(Image: Delta News Hub)

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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)

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(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.

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Singapore Air opens up about longest nonstop

Singapore Airlines business class

Guests at St Regis gala take a gander at Singapore Air’s newest business class seat (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This week in San Francisco, Singapore Airlines put on a posh gala at the St Regis to celebrate the launch of its newest, longest nonstop flight between San Francisco to Singapore.

SIA will deploy its newest aircraft, an Airbus A350, on the 17-or-so-hour flight, the first of which departs from SFO this Sunday. It’s the first time an Airbus A350 has touched down for commercial service at SFO. Fares for November flights 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. (TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis will be on the inaugural flight, so stay tuned for his trip report!)

The city’s travel and diplomatic community gathered for a fancy fete where we dined on appetizers, meals and wine served in business and first class on Singapore Airlines flights. On the floor of the event space were two of Singapore’s latest generation business class seats– just like the ones on its new A350– along with a dozen or so “Singapore girls” to assist in transforming the plush leather seat into a nice wide bed for sleeping.

Don’t miss! Chris’s Trip Report from this historic inaugural flight

Singapore Airlines menu

Dinner menu included dishes served onboard Singapore Airlines flights (Chris McGinnis)

Prior to the event, I was able to sit down with Mr. Mak Swee Wah, Singapore Air’s Executive VP – Commercial, to talk about the new plane and the new nonstop flight, which will be the longest in the SIA network. Here are some highlights from our chat:

TravelSkills: What’s so great about the new A350? What will passengers notice about the plane as soon as they walk onboard? How does it differ from the current B777s used on the route? 

Mr Mak: This is the very latest generation twin jet in the market and is much more efficient than other planes. It is perfectly sized [253 passengers] for us to deploy on less dense routes. Singapore-Amsterdam was the first route for our A350s and San Francisco is the latest. The first thing passengers may notice when boarding is how spacious the cabin feels. The shape of the A350 fuselage is such that the side walls are nearly vertical, providing additional shoulder and head space for passengers seated at the windows.   When onboard, passengers will notice the latest generation of our seats in all classes- for example, in business class, they’ll enjoy the third iteration of our new business class seat. The carbon fiber used to construct the plane not only makes it lighter and more efficient, it also helps in pressurization and humidity, which makes flights feel more comfortable and helps prevent jet lag. It also makes inflight food taste better.  Hepa-filters keep cabin air as clean as in hospitals. Plus, the windows on the A350 are larger than on other Airbus planes- so better views, too.

TravelSkills: SIA is using SQ 31 and SQ 32 as the flight numbers for the SFO-SIN nonstop service. Did you all consider giving the new flight the iconic SQ 1 and SQ 2 designation that you now use on the SFO-Hong Kong-Singapore flights?

Mr Mak: There’s a logic to our flight numbers. For example, all the flights to/from the Americas have single or double digits. Since SQ1 and SQ2 were our first flights ever to the US, we want to preserve that history. Our flights to Singapore via Hong Kong are well established and popular, so we don’t want to change a good thing. When I see the numbers 31 and 32, though, it makes me think in Cantonese where numbers can have significant meaning. The number 3 signifies life and the number 1 is something like long-lasting or longevity. So flight #31 could be about long-lasting life. With 32, you have 3 meaning life, and 2 meaning easy or comfortable.  This is not how the company came up with those flight numbers, but it’s a nice way for me to explain them to you and your readers! [Read more about Chinese number superstitions here]

Singapore Airlines execs, Singapore's ambassador to the US, local media and Singapore girls on stage at the St Regis (Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Airlines execs, Singapore’s ambassador to the US, local media and Singapore girls on stage at the St Regis (Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills: What did Singapore Air learn about long distance flying when it ran A340s between Newark and Singapore- an 18-20 hour flight that was then the longest in the world? 

Mr Mak: We flew the Airbus A340 between Newark and Singapore from 2004-2013. It was an all business class flight with just 100 seats. On long flights like that, our service proposition really comes out and we take a three pronged approach offering good seats, good food and good entertainment. On the new A350, we’ll have the latest generation of our inflight entertainment system, which is arguably the best one in the world. We are currently working on expanding flexible dining options on ultra long haul flights so passengers can eat and sleep on their own cycle. [Later in the evening during a speech Mak said:] When we launch New York-Singapore nonstops in 2018 with the new A350ULR [“ultra long range”] we will reclaim the crown of the world’s longest commercial flight. And we’ll make business travelers in New York and Singapore very happy.

Singapore Air Silver Kris lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Airines nondescript SilverKris lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills: Are there any plans to upgrade or enhance the Singapore Air Silver Kris lounge at SFO? 

Mr Mak: We are looking at our options there. We are aware of the complaints from passengers about the facilities and are working on solutions to improve the lounge.

TravelSkills: United is sure to put its Polaris business class on its SFO-SIN nonstop soon. How will SIA compare or compete with that? How will you convince the many hardcore United Mileage Plus members to fly SIA instead? That’s 17,000 miles round trip!

Our schedules, our hard and soft product, our route network and our well-known inflight service all contribute to a very compelling value proposition. We are also a member of Star Alliance, so MileagePlus members can still earn miles when flying on SIA. [Here’s how you’ll earn United miles when flying Singapore Air]

TravelSkills: Will the A350 be able to fly full year-round or will there be weight or passenger limitations? 

Mr Mak: The aircraft can definitely perform on the SFO-SIN flight. However during winter months when winds shift, we will have to carry more fuel and less weight–  fewer passengers, less cargo or a little of both.

See Singapore Airlines A350 microsite for details and a tour of this new bird!

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 Los Angeles and New York in 2018. (Image: Airbus)

Paul Edwards, the head of Design and Brand Management at Airbus made a speech at the St Regis gala about the new flight and the new plane– here are some interesting nuggets about the A350 that he shared:

>The current version of the plane is the Airbus A350XWB, which stands for Extra Wide Body. At 19.6 feet wide, it’s more spacious than the competing Boeing 787 Dreamliner at 18 feet, 11 inches. The longer range version is the A350ULR which stands for Ultra Long Range, and will be deployed on the New York and Los Angeles runs. [Interesting to note that SFO is closer to Singapore than LAX!]

>The A350 is 25% more efficient than other similar aircraft, which means it burns less fuel per passenger making it “the most environmentally friendly aircraft in the sky”

>The A350 has the largest overhead bins flying– so large that they don’t install them in the center of the plane– which makes it feel much more spacious.

>Cabin air on the A350 is changed every 2-3 minutes and is recirculated through hepa-filters which helps maintain a “fresh smelling” cabin

>There are 12 separate temperature zones on the A350, so rarely will you find hot or cold spots.

>The rate of change in cabin pressure is controlled by onboard computers and gradually increases or decreases during take off and landing, preventing ear-popping.

>Cabin pressure is the same as you’d find at about 6,000 feet on the ground [so about like Denver]. Other aircraft have cabin pressure at about 8,000 feet.

>The A350 is about six decibels quieter than other aircraft, which results in better sleep– and less need for noise canceling headsets.

>In economy class, those obnoxious underseat metal boxes that contain inflight entertainment systems have been removed to provide more legroom.

>New LED cabin lighting has thousands of variations, and they use a blue hue which supposedly helps counteract the effects of jet lag.

Have you flown Singapore Air? Do plan to? Please leave your comments below! 

Don’t miss! Chris’s Trip Report from this historic inaugural flight

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Most popular: Upgrades + Brexit + New routes + SFO secrets + Turkish Updates

Turkish Airlines

A sea of Turkish Airlines tails at Istanbul Ataturk Airport last month (Chris McGinnis)

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Learn how to pour a perfect pint at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin (Chris McGinnis)

Learn how to pour a perfect pint at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin (Chris McGinnis)

Don’t miss out on an amazing Delta/Air France / KLM sale to Dublin, Ireland with fares as low as $368 round trip from SFO (seriously!) and around $275 from East Coast cities. These fares won’t last, but they have been live since Friday.

Check out this super cool visualization video of all flights tracked by FlightRadar24 during June

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American's Admiral's Club at SFO has unusual bonsai type trees (Image Chris McGinnis)

American’s Admiral’s Club at SFO has unusual bonsai type trees (Image Chris McGinnis)

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In NYC, taxis still dominate over Uber, Lyft

Delta partner Virgin Atlantic orders a dozen new Airbus A350s

American Express Global Business Travel forms a partnership with Airbnb

American adds Barclaycard

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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Be the first to try American’s premium economy cabin

American's new Premium Economy section will have leather seats in a 2-3-2 layout. (Image: American Airlines)

American’s new Premium Economy section will have leather seats in a 2-3-2 layout. (Image: American Airlines)

Last December, American Airlines said it would introduce an international premium economy cabin, and now it has set the date when customers will begin to see that new seating option. The move by American marks a new era for major U.S. carriers and is just one more step in the long-term reconfiguration of long-haul aircraft as the traditional first class cabin continues to disappear.

American said that on November 4, it will start flying 787-9 Dreamliners equipped with the new premium economy cabins on routes between Dallas/Ft. Worth-Madrid and DFW-Sao Paulo. Seats can be booked starting July 10 (so no fare info yet). The aircraft will have 30 lie-flat business class seats arranged 1-2-1; 21 premium economy seats in a 2-3-2 configuration; 21 Main Cabin Extra seats (up to six inches of extra legroom) arranged 3-3-3; and 207 regular economy seats, also in a 3-3-3 layout.

The premium economy section will offer leather seats with 38 inches of pitch; extendable foot, leg and head rests; and on-demand entertainment systems with larger touchscreens. Premium economy passengers will get to check one bag free, and will receive noise-reducing headphones, amenity kits, and an enhanced meal service with free alcoholic beverages of their choice. The new AA 787-9s will also offer international Wi-Fi. Besides the new 787-9s, American plans to retrofit its existing wide-bodies with the new cabin over time.

U.S. carriers are behind their foreign counterparts in adding true premium economy sections to their long-haul aircraft. According to Seatguru.com, which has compiled a comparison chart of premium economy seating worldwide, some 28 foreign carriers already offer the service.

Delta will introduce premium economy sections on new A350s in 2017. (Image: Delta)

Delta will introduce premium economy sections on new A350s in 2017. (Image: Delta)

American’s status as the only major U.S. carrier to offer international premium economy won’t last too long, however; Delta has already said it plans to introduce premium economy seating on the new Airbus A350s that it will start adding to its fleet in 2017, and then will extend the new cabin to its 777s as well.

All this is putting pressure on United Airlines to follow suit, but so far that carrier hasn’t said anything about premium economy. United’s last big announcement about its long-haul fleet was its plan to install an all-new Polaris Business Class product, which will start to appear in December on its 777-300ERs and then on its new 787-10s and A350-1000s; the new business cabin will also be deployed on United’s 767-300s and 777-200s as part of a three-year project that will also mean the gradual elimination of first class service on the airline’s long-haul fleet.

A typical window seat in United's new Polaris business class. (Image: United)

A typical window seat in United’s new Polaris business class. (Image: United)

And United’s not alone in that respect; we recently noted that a number of the world’s leading airlines are moving to eliminate traditional first class as they buy new aircraft and retrofit their older ones. Think of it as a gradual recycling of cabin classes, with newer, plusher business classes replacing traditional first class, and improved premium economy seating taking the place of traditional business class.

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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Bay Area gains one new Asia route, loses another

United 787-9 Dreamliner

United is using a 787-9 Dreamliner on its new San Francisco-Singapore non-stops. (Image: United)

There’s good news and bad news for Bay Area business travelers this week. The good is that United will launched its much-anticipated non-stops from San Francisco International to Singapore tonight. The bad is that San Jose won’t be getting new Shanghai service this month as previously expected.

San Jose Airport spokesperson Rosemary Barnes told TravelSkills that Air China said it is “still in dialogue with Chinese aviation officials” about the planned new non-stops to Shanghai, and that while the route will not be launched on the previously announced June 16 date, “they hope to do so at a later date.”

“Air China did not post the route to their website, so no tickets were sold resulting in no inconvenience to air travelers,” the spokeswoman said. The carrier had planned to fly the route three days a week with a two-class, 237-seat Airbus A330-200. It would have been San Jose’s second China route following Hainan Airlines’ inauguration of San Jose-Beijing service last year. The airport recently welcomed new British Airways service to London, and will see new Frankfurt flights from Lufthansa starting in July.

Air China will use an A330-200 between San Jose and Shanghai. (Image: Mehdi Nazarinia/Wikimedia Commons)

Air China had planned to use an A330-200 between San Jose and Shanghai. (Image: Mehdi Nazarinia/Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, United’s San Francisco hub will take big step forward as the premier base for its international Dreamliner fleet with the launch Wednesday night of the airline’s new 787-9 non-stops to Singapore – “the longest scheduled 787 flight operated by any airline, and the longest scheduled flight by any U.S. carrier,” United said.

United Flight 1 will depart San Francisco at 10:55 p.m. daily, arriving at Singapore’s Changi Airport at 6:15 a.m. two days later (all times local). On the return, Flight 2 will depart Singapore at 8:45 a.m. daily, arriving at San Francisco International Airport at 9:15 a.m. the same day.

Pool and hot tub available for all passengers at Singapore Changi (Chris McGinnis)

Pool and hot tub available for all passengers at Singapore Changi Airport (Chris McGinnis)

The 8,446-mile trip takes 16 hours 20 minutes westbound and 15 hours 30 minutes eastbound. Because new non-stops are now available, United has terminated its Tokyo Narita-Singapore service, although it notes that its alliance partner ANA still flies that route. United’s flights are the only non-stops form the U.S. to Singapore; Singapore Airlines used to offer non-stops from New York and Los Angeles but discontinued them in 2013 — although it plans to resume U.S. non-stops in 2018 with new Airbus A350s.

United’s growing international network from SFO includes recently-launched flights to Xi’an, China and to Tel Aviv; coming next month is new service to Auckland, New Zealand and to 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

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First class phase-out picks up steam

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

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

Whenever we see news about international first class cabins these days, it’s usually that they are being discontinued.  This trend has been going on for at least 20 years, and it shows no signs of slowing down – which makes us wonder: Does international first class have a future?

In recent news:

Cathay Pacific has just decided it will not put a first class cabin  into its new Airbus A350-900s or the larger A350-1000s it has on order, instead configuring them with business class, premium economy and regular economy seating. News reports cite Cathay executives as saying the airline will still offer first class, but that the market for it is becoming a “niche segment” that will only allow it to work on key international business routes. Qatar Airways new A350s have no first class. Singapore Airlines’s new A350, which debuted in March, has none, either. Nor does the new Finnair A350.

Lufthansa, which has long been a defender of first class for international routes out of its Frankfurt hub, doesn’t feel the same way about its Munich hub. This coming winter, it plans to eliminate it on many intercontinental A330-300 flights out of Munich, including service to Charlotte, Montreal, Boston, Chicago, New York JFK and Washington Dulles.

Did you know: First Class” has its own Wikipedia page

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

That big QANTAS 747-400 that Chris flew to Australia in March was all business class- even on row one in the nose of the plane pictured here (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Air India earlier this year decided to get rid of the first class cabin on the three 777-200LRs that it uses for its new Delhi-San Francisco route. Airline officials told the India Times that the occupancy rate for seats in the front cabin was only reaching about 25 percent.

Late last year, Emirates created the world’s largest passenger airliner – an Airbus A380 with 615 seatsby eliminating first class and reconfiguring the plane with 58 business class and 557 economy seats. Other A380s in Emirates’ large fleet have 489 or 517 seats in three classes.

Delta got rid of international first class a long time ago, and we reported a few months ago that United is gradually following suit, ordering new 787-8s, 787-9s and A350s that have no first class cabins. It also plans to end first class on its existing three-class 767-300s, although it will continue on some 777s and 747s for now. (UPDATE: With the introduction of Polaris business class, United will eliminate Global First.) American still has a few first class seats flying around, but will they be pushed out of the sky with it rolls out a new international premium economy seat later this year?

Korean Air's first class cabin flew empty from ICN to ATL (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Korean Air’s first class cabin was empty on a recent Seoul-Atlanta flight  (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

An analysis a few months ago by Airways News cited a few big reasons why first is falling out of favor with global business travelers.  There is the usual concern of corporate bean-counters that travelers shouldn’t be allowed too much luxury, making budgets for the big seats tighter or non-existent. But there’s also the fact that international business class has improved on many airlines to the point where buying a first class seat instead of business class would just be gilding the lily (e.g. seats that recline to a fully flat position and offer aisle access for everyone are becoming standard for international business class, whereas in previous decades you could only find them in first.)

And finally the analysis noted that C-suite business travelers who used to routinely fly in first around the world now have another option: private jets. New kinds of purchase plans are making the cost of private jet travel more affordable, and new technology is producing larger business jets that have a much greater range. Major private jet operators like NetJets are concentrating their new plane orders on these intercontinental business jets to meet a growing global demand.

The analysis noted that the “vast majority” of passenger demand for first class airline travel has retreated to routes linking just 15 global business centers, including London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dubai, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, Frankfurt, Paris, Zurich, Beijing and Sydney.

Would it matter to you if first class disappeared completely? Why or why not? 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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Briefs: Alaska/JAL, AA biz seats, BA Wi-Fi, Lufthansa in Silicon Valley

Japan Airlines has a new partnership with Alaska Airlines. (Image: JAL)

Japan Airlines has a new partnership with Alaska Airlines. (Image: JAL)

International carrier news briefs include a new transpacific partnership for Alaska Airlines, a look at American’s new long-haul business class seating, a Wi-Fi decision by British Airways and its siblings, and a move by Lufthansa to fund travel-related start-ups in Silicon Valley.

Starting this summer, members of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan will be able to earn miles on Japan Airlines, thanks to a new partnership between the two carriers. The code-sharing and frequent flyer cooperation pact will mean seamless connections for travelers between Alaska’s flights and JAL’s transpacific services to Tokyo from San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Vancouver, as well as JAL’s LAX-Osaka service. While mileage-earning on JAL will begin this summer for Mileage Plan members, award travel redemptions on the Japanese carrier “will begin later in 2016,” Alaska said. Strategically, the tie-up with JAL is a logical step for Alaska; its merger partner Virgin America already has an interline partnership with JAL for connections at SFO and LAX, and Alaska recently started a big expansion of code-sharing with American Airlines, which has joint venture and Oneworld global alliance partnerships with the Japanese carrier.

Japan Airlines and Alaska will link up at four West Coast gateways. (Image: JAL)

Japan Airlines and Alaska will link up at four West Coast gateways. (Image: JAL)

American Airlines will turn to a next-generation “Super Diamond” business class seating configuration for its next-generation long-haul international aircraft, according to a report in Forbes. The new seats will all recline fully flat, will be enclosed in a kind of personal shell, and will offer aisle access from every seat. They’ll go into the new 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A350s that will be coming to American in the next few years, and will also be retrofitted onto some 777-200s. American recently broke off its ties to French-based seat manufacturer Zodiac and is turning to B/E Aerospace for the new business class seats.

American Airlines' new international business class seat. (Image: American)

American Airlines’ new international business class seat. (Image: American)

International Airlines Group, (IAG), the parent of British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus, has signed a deal with Wi-Fi vendor Gogo for installation of that firm’s next-generation 2Ku satellite-based Wi-Fi technology. Passengers should start to see the technology appearing on aircraft next year, and by 2019, IAG said, it should be on 90 percent of the airlines’ long-haul fleets. “In addition to providing faster access to web-based services, passengers will enjoy more entertainment options throughout their entire journey. In the future, inflight Wi-Fi will also transform the duty free experience, allowing travelers to order from their phones and tablets and arrange for items purchased on board to be delivered to their homes,” the company said. It will be installed in BA’s 747s, 777s, 787s and A380s as well as Iberia A330s and A340s and some Aer Lingus 757s.

Gogo will greatly increase broadband satellite Wi-Fi capacity in 2017. (Image: SES/Airbus Defence & Space)

Gogo will greatly increase broadband satellite Wi-Fi capacity in 2017. (Image: SES/Airbus Defence & Space)

Earlier this year, JetBlue announced the formation of a subsidiary that will invest in travel-related technology start-ups in Silicon Valley – and now Lufthansa is doing  the same. The airline said its Lufthansa Innovation Hub unit will team up with Plus and Play, a venture capital group in Silicon Valley. “The objective is to identify and promote innovative technologies and digital business ideas along the entire travel chain,” Lufthansa said. “Over the course of a twelve-week mentoring program, 20 to 30 selected start-ups will receive support for the further development of their business models. They will also make contact with companies in order to talk about partnerships and joint projects as well as investment.” The airline is backing up its interest in Silicon Valley with new San Jose-Frankfurt non-stops due to start July 1.

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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International premium economy cabins coming to Delta

An A350 visited Delta's Atlanta base last year. (Image: Delta)

An A350 visited Delta’s Atlanta base last year. (Image: Delta)

In December, American Airlines announced that it plans to start installing a dedicated premium economy class of service on its long-haul international flights. And now Delta is following suit.

Although the Atlanta-based carrier hasn’t yet issued a formal announcement, top executives said at a media event that an international premium economy cabin is definitely coming to Delta, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – and they said it has been in the planning stages for two years.

They provided few specifics except to say that the premium economy class will be launched on the new Airbus A350s that Delta will start to receive in 2017, and then will be added to its 777 fleet. They stressed that the new section will be a big step up from the airline’s existing Comfort+ seating, which is basically regular economy seating with a few more inches of legroom.

Delta has ordered 25 A350-900s, and plans to deploy the first ones mainly on transpacific routes starting in the second quarter of next year.

According to the newspaper, the executives said the new premium economy section will offer different seats than Comfort +, with even more legroom, a leg rest, and higher levels of service and amenities. They did not mention whether Comfort+ will continue in the affected aircraft, but American plans to keep offering Main Cabin Extra seating in aircraft that will get its premium economy section.

The plans by Delta will put added pressure on United Airlines, the last of the Big Three U.S. legacy carriers that has not yet announced plans for premium economy on international routes.

No doubt Delta also felt compelled to get on board with premium economy so that it can offer customers a standardized product across its global partnerships; for example, both Virgin Atlantic and Air France already offer the extra cabin.

According to Seatguru.com, some 31 international carriers currently have a premium economy seating option, not counting the plans by American and Delta to add one.

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: San Francisco, JFK, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto

 

United 787-9 Dreamliner

United will use a 787-9 Dreamliner on its new San Francisco-Tel Aviv non-stops. (Image: United)

In international route developments, United kicks off new service from San Francisco to Israel; Qatar Airways doubles up its New York-Doha schedule; SAS and Norwegian both add new service out of Boston; Iberia comes to LAX; Chicago O’Hare gets new service to Iceland, China and Mexico; American and TAM both drop South American routes; and Air Canada revives a Salt Lake City route.

March 30 is the starting date for United’s new non-stop flights from San Francisco to Tel Aviv. United will use a 787-9 Dreamliner to fly the route three times a week, with SFO departures at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The eastbound flight is estimated to take 14 hours and 10 minutes, with the return taking 15 hours 5 minutes. The carrier also flies to Tel Aviv from its Newark hub.

 Qatar Airways, which started service earlier this month to Doha from Boston, is due to add a second daily frequency between New York JFK and Doha starting April 1. The airline will use a new Airbus A350-900-XWB for the extra flight, which departs JFK at 6 a.m. The other flight still uses a 777.

The view from my room at the Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view from my room at the Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Boston is getting new service to a pair of European destinations. March 29 is the launch date for SAS to start flying from Boston to Copenhagen every day. The Scandinavian carrier is using a non-standard aircraft on the route – a 737-700 Boeing Business Jet operated by PrivatAir, with 20 business and 66 economy seats. The other new Boston route that started this week is Norwegian’s Boston-London Gatwick service. The low-cost airline is using a 787 to fly the route four days a week. Norwegian also announced plans to start weekly service from Las Vegas to Oslo starting in November.

Iberia, a member of American’s Oneworld alliance, begins seasonal service March 30 from Los Angeles to Madrid. Using A330s and A340s, Iberia will start off with three flights a week, increasing to five a week May 17, then six a week beginning June 6 and daily frequencies from July 3 to August 28 before it starts to scale back the schedule again.

Icelandair Aurora

Icelandair’s stunning Hekla Aurora 757 livery (Photo: Icelandair)

At Chicago O’Hare, Icelandair has kicked off year-round service to Reykjavik, using a 767 to fly the route four days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays), with an early-morning arrival in Iceland that permits easy connections to 20 destinations in Europe. Also at O’Hare, China Eastern Airlines has launched new non-stops to Shanghai Pudong, where it offers scores of connections to other Chinese cities. China Eastern is using a 777-300ER for the daily flights. And Mexican carrier Volaris announced plans to start service from Chicago O’Hare to Monterrey, Mexico on June 17, flying the route twice a week with an A320.

South America is losing a couple of routes to the U.S. On April 4, American Airlines plans to suspend its three-month-old New York JFK-Caracas flights “until market conditions improve.”  And on June 3, Brazilian carrier TAM is due to discontinue its three to four flights a week from Orlando to Brasilia.

Air Canada plans to return to Salt Lake City International on May 27, offering daily service to its Toronto hub with a 97-seat, two-class Embraer 190.

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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Routes: Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Salt Lake, Toronto

 

Qatar Airways is using an A350 on its new Boston-Doha route. (Image: Qatar Airways)

Qatar Airways is using an A350 on its new Boston-Doha route. (Image: Qatar Airways)

In international route developments, Qatar Airways starts flying to a new U.S. gateway, SAS adds a West Coast route, a Delta seasonal route to London will go year-round, American deploys a 787 Dreamliner on a U.K. route, and a WestJet division starts new service to the northeastern U.S.

Qatar Airways this week inaugurated service on its newest U.S. route, offering daily non-stop flights from Boston to Doha, Qatar. The carrier is using a new Airbus A350 on the Boston route, which is one of three new U.S. markets it will serve this year. In January, the airline started daily non-stops from Los Angeles to Doha, and it plans to launch Doha-Atlanta daily non-stops on June 1. And on April 1, Qatar Airways will add a second daily non-stop from Doha to New York, also using an A350.

SAS light attendants change into chef outfits when serving dinner (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SAS flight attendants change into chef outfits when serving dinner (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Another new route that kicked off this week is Scandinavian Airlines’ daily service from Los Angeles International to Stockholm Arlanda. SAS, a Star Alliance member, is also on a growth track in the U.S. this year; at the end of March, it will begin Boston-Copenhagen service, and in September it plans to add flights from Miami to Oslo and Copenhagen. On the LAX-Stockholm route, SAS is using an Airbus A330-300 with three cabins: SAS Go has seats in a 2-4-2 configuration with 31/32 inch pitch; SAS Plus has 2-3-2 seating with 38-inch pitch; and SAS Business has a 1-2-1 layout with lie-flat seat-beds that have a massage feature.

Delta’s new non-stops from Salt Lake City to London Heathrow that start on May 1 were intended to be seasonal, but now the airline plans to keep the route going year-round, according to Airlineroute.net. The airline will cut back its daily frequencies after October 28, offering three flights a week through December 18, then four a week starting December 19. Delta will use a 767-300 on the route.

American is using a 787 Dreamliner on its new Los Angeles-Tokyo Haneda route. (Image: American)

American’s new 787 Dreamliner (Image: American)

The 767-300 that American Airlines uses on its daily service from Chicago O’Hare to Manchester, U.K. will be replaced this summer with a 787-8 Dreamliner. The changeover, which begins June 3, will put an extra 154 seats a week onto the route.

 A three-year-old affiliate of Canada’s WestJet called WestJet Encore has launched its first transborder service, flying three times a day between Boston and Toronto Pearson. Encore’s fleet consists entirely of Q400 turboprops. The carrier plans to start Toronto-Nashville flights in June.

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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One easy, last chance to ride a United 747?

United 747 Chicago

A United 747 at Chicago O’Hare (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Although United won’t confirm it, it’s now being widely reported that the carrier is planning to retire its aging fleet of 747s earlier than expected. This could mean that its current fleet of 22 “queens of the sky” could fly away by the end of 2018– two years ahead of schedule.

But there’s one easy way you can jump on a United 747 on a rare domestic run…but more on that in a minute…

Delta has followed a similar, accelerated path to retiring its gas guzzling 747s. Last April it put six out to pasture, and plans to retire the final six by the end of next year, to be replaced by the newer, more efficient Airbus A350. Just last month, Air France celebrated the final flight of its last 747 after flying the plane as the mainstay of its intercontinental fleet for almost 46 years.

Brian Sumers, who first reported the United news, wrote: “For now, United flies 747s from San Francisco and Chicago. But this week, United also told pilots it will remove the 747 from Chicago in February 2017, leaving only San Francisco with 747 service.”

If you are feeling reminiscent about this beautiful bird, and fly frequent between Chicago and San Francisco, consider picking up a leg or two on an one of the few domestic 747 flights United is running this spring.

TravelSkills reader Daniel E emailed us this week with this tip: “Everyday from March 3 there is a 747  leaving SFO at 8:35am (UA1570) to Chicago, O’Hare. Then I dug around some more and there is another one returning from ORD to SFO, UA1213 leaving at 4:05 pm also from March 3. I’ve flown back and forth between San Francisco and Chicago A LOT in the last 10 years and wide bodies are rare, let alone a 747.”

We checked and sure enough, we found the 747 flights on SFO-ORD– and United confirmed to TravelSkills that it “will operate daily 747 service between March 3 – March 25 and then again from April 6 – May 25, 2016. The flights are loaded and available for purchase.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 3.03.22 PM

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 3.22.15 PM

Wouldn’t it be nice to ride on a gorgeous and graceful 747 instead of the standard 737s or A320s United normally flies on this route? Maybe upgrade for a sweet ride upstairs in the business class bubble?

Still plenty of business class seats on the flights we selected (Image: United.com)

Still plenty of business class seats on the flights we selected (Image: United.com)

What do you think about the retirement of the 747… on United or other airlines? Will you miss it, or have you found a newer, younger more efficient favorite? 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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United’s first class phase-out

A comfy United Global First seat. (Image: United Airlines)

A comfy United Global First seat. (Image: United Airlines)

Have you ever experienced the luxury of United’s Global First front cabin on an international flight? If not, you better do so soon, because your options to get a Global First seat will be shrinking over time.

All of the new intercontinental aircraft that United has on order — including Boeing 787-8s, 787-9s and its upcoming Airbus A350s — are being delivered without Global First cabins. United’s 767-300 fleet currently has two-class and three-class configurations, but that will change.

“Our three-cabin 767s are going through a modification that includes conversion to a two-cabin configuration,” with no more Global First, a company spokesman confirmed to TravelSkills.

But he noted that the Global First cabin that’s currently on “a few dozen” 777s and 747s “will continue to be on United aircraft for some time.” United, like other airlines, is gradually phasing out the remaining 747s in its fleet.

United's summer business class sale. A 747 at ORD (Image: Chris McGinnis)

United’s 747s still in service, but slowly phasing out (Image: Chris McGinnis)

Last summer, before his sudden firing, United CEO Jeff Smisek told a European trade publication that Global First’s days were numbered. International first class service, Smisek said, “is a money-loser, and we will be eliminating it over time.” Apparently the change in leadership at United has not affected that policy.

Smisek added: “The problem is that it takes a lot of real estate, and people are not willing to pay for that. I suspect the other carriers, apart from the subsidized Gulf airlines, would say the same thing.”

As for keeping United’s international product compatible with its Star Alliance partners, that’s a toss-up. For example, Air Canada eliminated international first class, but Lufthansa thus far seems committed to keeping it. 

Delta eliminated its first class section on overseas flights several years ago, and last year rebranded its business/first hybrid product DeltaOne.

Readers: Do you think international first class service has a future? Are improvements in international business class cabins making first class unnecessary?

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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Routes: LAX, Washington, New York, Vancouver, Costa Rica

Business class on Qatar's 777-200, now flying to Los Angeles. (Image: Qatar Airways)

Business class on Qatar’s 777-200, now flying to Los Angeles. (Image: Qatar Airways) 

In international route developments, Qatar starts flying to its newest U.S. gateway; Emirates will take up the slack when United drops a Mideast route; JetBlue takes its code-sharing pact with Icelandair to the next level; Southwest schedules a new Costa Rica flight; and Alaska drops a Canada route.

Qatar Airways has inaugurated service on its newest U.S. route, beginning daily non-stops between Los Angeles International and Doha, Qatar with a 777-200. LAX departures are at 3:10 p.m., arriving in Doha at 6:10 p.m. the next day. It’s Qatar’s first step in an ambitious U.S. route expansion this year: The carrier plans to start new service to Boston on March 16 and to Atlanta on June 1. Qatar has also introduced the first Airbus A350 service to the U.S., putting the new aircraft onto its Philadelphia route this month. It plans to begin A350 service between New York and Doha in April.  

Since United plans to eliminate its Washington Dulles-Dubai service on January 25, Emirates is moving in to fill the gap. (United had blamed government-subsidized overcapacity by Emirates and other Middle eastern carriers for its decision; it also ended Dulles-Kuwait/Bahrain service this week). Effective February 1, Emirates — which will then  have a monopoly on Dulles-Dubai non-stops — plans to replace its 777-300ER on the route with an Airbus A380 super-jumbo offering 489 seats in three classes. Meanwhile, Emirates also said it will increase its Los Angeles-Dubai schedule starting July 1 with the addition of a second daily A380 non-stop.

JetBlue has had a code-sharing relationship with Icelandair for almost five years, but it’s been mostly a one-way affair, with Icelandair’s code going onto JetBlue flights but not the other way around. But that all changed this week: JetBlue said it is now putting its B6 code onto Icelandair’s flights into Reykjavik from New York JFK, Newark, Boston, Orlando and Washington Dulles. That means tickets to Iceland can now be booked directly with JetBlue, with single ticekting, one-stop check-in and automatic baggage transfers. “In the future, the B6 code will be placed on additional Icelandair routes between the U.S. and Reykjavik and on flights beyond Iceland to select destinations in Scandinavia and continental Europe,” JetBlue said.

Alaska Airlines has been flying between Los Angeles and Vancouver for 20 years, but that will end on June 3, when the carrier will discontinue the route, according to Airlineroute,.net. Alaska currently operates just one daily flight between LAX and Vancouver, although in recent years it had as many as six a day. 

Southwest Airlines has set an April 12 start for its new international route from Los Angeles International to Liberia/Guanacaste, Costa Rica, Costa Rica. Through February 1, the carrier is offering introductory fares starting at $149 each way for travel April 12-May 25.

 

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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Bay Area to London for $299 + United non-stops to Singapore? + New Paris route + more

Norwegian's Oakland-London Gatwick service will start at $299 one-way. (Image: Jim Glab)

Norwegian’s Oakland-London Gatwick service will start at $299 one-way. (Image: Jim Glab)

In international route news this week, Norwegian confirms its plans for Oakland-London service; United says it is considering new non-stops to Singapore; Air France will add a new Paris route — but not to Charles de Gaulle; a Chinese carrier plans new LAX flights; KLM will boost its San Francisco schedule; and Southwest will drop a Mexico route.

Following up on our report from last week, European low-cost carrier Norwegian has confirmed that it plans to start new service from Oakland to London Gatwick effective May 12, operating three flights a week. The carrier said fares on the route will start at $299 one way, including taxes (plus ancillary fees, of course; it’s already taking bookings at www.Norwegian.com/us).  Norwegian also announced plans to increase its Los Angeles-London Gatwick schedule from three to four flights a week starting May 10, and to move up the start of Boston-London service from late May to March 27, with five weekly flights instead of four. The carrier’s long-haul routes use 787-8s with economy and premium seating.

Have you flown or heard from someone who has flow Norwegian? What’s it like? Please leave your comments below.

London Gatwick airport is about 30 minutes south of the city (VisitLondon.com)

London Gatwick airport is about 30 minutes south of city center by train (VisitLondon.com)

Now that Singapore Airlines is on track to resume non-stop flights to the U.S. in 2018, United Airlines is considering a competing service. A United executive told Aviation Daily that the company is considering its aircraft options. “When we have the right aircraft, we will tackle that market” (i.e., non-stops to Singapore), United’s VP-Network Brian Znotins told the publication. Singapore Airlines will use a long-range version of the Airbus A350 designated the A350-900ULR. Znotis did not say which U.S. gateway United has in mind, but Av Daily noted that San Francisco would be the carrier’s hub closest to Singapore.

Air France already operates several flights a day from New York JFK to Paris Charles de Gaulle, but in June it plans to add a daily flight from JFK to Paris Orly, using a 309-seat 777-200 with business, premium economy and regular economy classes. Connections at Orly are available to the airline’s domestic network. Air France also plans to begin three weekly flights from CDG to Teheran, Iran in April.

According to Airlineroute.net, China’s Hainan Airlines plans to begin service between Changsha and Los Angeles on January 21, operating two flights a week with a 787-8. Changsha is the capital of Hunan Province in south-central China.

For its summer schedule beginning May 4, KLM plans to increase its Amsterdam-San Francisco schedule from seven flights a week to nine, using 787-9 Dreamliners for the two extra flights. The others will continue to use a 747-400.

Southwest Airlines will change its Mexico City operations on March 16, according to Airlineroute.net. The carrier plans to discontinue its daily service between San Antonio-Mexico City and to add a second daily roundtrip between Houston Hobby and Mexico City.

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  New Oakland-London route + Big hotel acquisition + Uber at Las Vegas McCarran + American’s international Premium Economy service + Healthy eating for travelers

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American will bring Premium Economy to long-haul fleet

American's new Premium Economy section will have leather seats in a 2-3-2 layout. (Image: American Airlines)

American’s new Premium Economy section will have leather seats in a 2-3-2 layout. (Image: American Airlines)

American Airlines said it plans to install a Premium Economy section into its long-haul international aircraft over the next few years.

American already offers Main Cabin Extra seating — the same configuration as regular economy, but with more space between the rows — but this will be a true premium economy option, located between Business Class and Main Cabin Extra, the company said.

The new Premium Economy section will align American’s international in-flight product offerings with those of key Oneworld alliance partners including British Airways, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas.

The new section will offer leather seats in a 2-3-2 configuration with 38 inches of pitch and more width than regular coach. Customers in Premium Economy will get noise-reducing headphones and personal on-demand entertainment systems with larger touch screens; amenity kits; and AC power outlets and USB ports at every seat.

A seat in Premium Economy will also entitle passengers to priority boarding and the right to check up to two bags for no fee, American said; and they’ll get an enhanced in-flight meal service and free alcoholic beverages.

But it will be almost a year until the first Premium Economy section makes its debut. American said that will be on its new 787-9s that start to enter service in late 2016. Those aircraft will have business class, Premium Economy, Main Cabin Extra and regular economy seating. The new section will also be in the new Airbus A350s that American has ordered for delivery starting in 2017.

The company said it will also retrofit all its 777-300ERs and -200ERs as well as 787-8s and Airbus A330s over the next three years to include Premium Economy seating along with Business Class, Main Cabin Extra and regular economy. The 777-300ERs will still offer First Class as well.

American’s aging 767-300s will not get Premium Economy because they are slated to be retired in the coming years.

The company has created a new web page giving details of its Premium Economy service, as well as an interactive video tour of the section.

American currently offers free Main Cabin Extra upgrades for AAdvantage and Oneworld elites and customers who buy full-fare coach tickets. But its Premium Economy announcement said nothing about upgrade options for that section, or the price differential between regular economy and Premium Economy.

The news from American puts pressure on its major U.S. rivals, United and Delta. Will they follow the same path and install a true Premium Economy section on long-haul flights in order to keep their share of the market that might prefer that option? Time will tell.

Readers: Do you think major U.S. carriers need a true Premium Economy option on their international routes? Would you buy a seat in Premium Economy? Post comments below.

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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Top 12: Fare sale, Uber Lamborghinis, Pants, New Centurion lounge, Air marshals, more

Uber turned 5 years old this week. To celebrate, some SF riders were picked up in Lamborghinis or trolleys.

Uber turned 5 years old this week. To celebrate, the service picked up some SF riders in Lamborghinis or trolleys. (Photo: Uber)

TravelSkills’ 12 most popular posts over the last week… plus a few newsy nuggets we missed.

1. Nice deals while they lasted! All airlines match latest fare sale | Big summer-fall fare sale- 3 days only

2. Scary seat, but… An airline lie-flat seat to avoid

Weekend Edition3. TravelSkills readers go bonkers for these Betabrands:  My new favorite travel pants

4. Comfort vs security: Who wins? Bumped out of first class by an air marshal?

5. What a mess for renters Beware: Technology takes a toll on car renters

6. Cool behind the scenes look at How airlines make inflight fare beautiful [photos]

7. Where to wait out summer storms? First look: New AmEx Centurion Lounge at Miami [PHOTOS]

8. Doing what it can to fight off rival cards: AmEx beefs up Starwood SPG card perks

9. A perennial fave: How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

10. Some like it, some don’t (good comments!): Nice! 10 more airports to get U.S. customs pre-clearance

11. Just take the CTA: Chicago: No UberX or Lyft pick-ups at O’Hare

12. If they can pull this off, we’ll be amazed: Beijing tries to clear the air

Updates: Chicago: No UberX or Lyft pick-ups at O’Hare | New hotel roundup: Marriott, Hyatt, Starwood, IHG

Some other good suggestions for travel pants from readers on our Facebook page. Follow us!

Some other good suggestions for travel pants from readers on our Facebook page. Click here and Follow us!

Juicy nuggets of news from other sources that we missed on TravelSkills this week:

In just five years, Uber shakes up taxicab industry in 311 cities in 58 countries.

United decides against adding Airbus A380s to its fleet

TSA chief is ousted after undercover tests find security screening lapses.

United postpones second Shanghai flight, again

Which US city gets the first Airbus A350?

First A321 flights to Hawaii won’t be on on Virgin America

Southwest’s plans for Latin American hub at Houston Hobby

Mecca gets the world’s largest Holiday Inn at 5,000+ rooms

Despite negative news, Frontier betting on growth, orders 12 new planes

Delta staff might offer to pre-load your carry-on for you with ‘Early Valet’.

Omni Hotels will lock in rates on mobile bookings for 24 hours.

These are the nationalities most likely to steal from hotel rooms.

Qatar Airways eyes Atlanta, Boston, LAX routes

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + The most outrageous luxury suites in the sky + Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 

Qatar Airways plans to bring the new Airbus A350 XWB to Boston and New York. (Image: Qatar Airways)

Qatar Airways plans to bring the new Airbus A350 XWB to Boston and New York. (Image: Qatar Airways)

As U.S. airlines continue lobbying the U.S. government to rein in the ambitious expansion of the Big Three Mideast carriers, one of them — Qatar Airways — just announced plans to add three more U.S. gateways in 2016, giving it a total of 10.

Qatar said it intends to begin daily flights from Doha to Los Angeles on January 1, using a two-class Boeing 777; daily flights to Boston on March 16, operating a two-class A350 XWB (Airbus’s new widebody); and daily service to Atlanta starting July 1, also with a 777.

Qatar also said it will double its service between Doha and New York JFK effective March 1, adding a second daily flight with an A350 XWB; the existing JFK-Doha flight uses a 777.

Qatar is a member of the Oneworld Alliance–while Emirates and Etihad have shied away from alliances.

The three Mideast airlines — Dubai’s Emirates, United Arab Emirates’ Etihad and Qatar — have dismissed allegations by the U.S. carriers that they are competing unfairly thanks to billions of dollars in subsidies from their governments. If the U.S. airlines’ share of the market is slipping, they say, it’s because the Mideast airlines offer superior comfort and service.

Still, Qatar’s announcement of such an ambitious expansion of capacity is certain to draw even more howls of outrage from the big U.S. airlines. It remains to be seen whether Congress and/or the Obama Administration will let the U.S. carriers get what they want — although historically, they usually do.  Qatar’s early announcement could be an effort to nail down as much U.S. access as possible before the government slams the door to more.

Besides JFK, Qatar currently flies to Washington Dulles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, Miami and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Have you flown on Qatar Airways or any of the other UAE carriers (Emirates, Etihad)? Would you? Why or why not…

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + The most outrageous luxury suites in the sky + Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 

Where will American fly its shiny new 787 Dreamliners?

American Airlines 787 - Business Class

Note the forward and rear facing seats on American’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: AA)

American Airlines has started taking delivery of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and just announced it will put the planes into commercial service for the first time this spring, starting with domestic flights in May and international routes in June.

That will make American the second major U.S. carrier to put the Boeing widebodies into service; United is already flying more than a dozen 787s, and has about 60 more on order. There are no 787s at Delta right now, or in its immediate future.

If you’re an AA regular and would like to be among the first to sample the new aircraft, here are the details: The first American 787 flight will operate between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Chicago O’Hare starting May 7; international routes on the 787 deployment schedule include DFW-Beijing starting June 2 and DFW-Buenos Aires beginning June 4. More routes will be added during 2015 as additional Dreamliners join the fleet, American said.

Nasty! Watch flu particles disperse on plane

American Airlines 787 - Main Cabin

Economy class on American’s new Dreamliners. Love that blue ceiling! (Photo: AA)

The American Airline 787-8s will have business class and economy cabins, providing 28 fully-flat Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration; 48 Main Cabin Extra seats; and 150 regular economy seats. The Main Cabin Extra and regular economy seating will have a 3-3-3 layout. (No first class on these birds.)

Business class will feature both forward- and rear-facing seats to allow direct aisle access for all passengers, and AA’s 787 business cabin will offer a walk-up bar with snacks and drinks. The aircraft will be equipped with satellite-based WiFi, and all seats in both cabins will have AC power outlets and USB jacks.

American has ordered 42 787s, with options for another 58. Although American is well behind United in deploying the new wide-bodies, it is perhaps fortunate in another way: It didn’t have to go through all the angst and schedule disruptions that United and other early customers suffered due to the problems of 787 batteries overheating and sparking fires — a situation that took months to correct.  See our Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

8 things every frequent flyer wants

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 11.27.09 AM

Flying onboard a brand new United Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Click to read post (Photo: Ramsey Qubein)

United currently operates 787s on some routes linking its U.S. hubs, and on select intercontinental routes, mostly between the U.S. and Asia, like Denver-Tokyo, Los Angeles-Tokyo and Los Angeles-Shanghai. Most recently, United deployed the newest Dreamliner model — the 787-9 — onto its LAX-Melbourne route, making it the world’s longest Dreamliner flight.

Check out our popular report from last year about flying on a brand new United 787.

There was some speculation last year that Delta might turn to Boeing for an upcoming order of new widebodies, including 787-9s and 777-300ERs, but instead Delta went with Airbus. The Atlanta-based carrier ordered 25 Airbus A350-900s — the manufacturer’s newest twin-aisle aircraft — and 25 A330-900neos, a deal worth an estimated $6 billion.

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

 

Have you been following our super popular Planespotting 101 series? Check out our first two installments here: 

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

+++

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Best photo + United meals + Bid for Virgin upgrades + Delta downgrade + New Asian nonstop for SJC

A mesmerizing look at a Delta jet from a window of ATL's Concourse E (Photo: AP Gouge Photography)

A mesmerizing look at a Delta jet from a window of ATL’s Concourse E Delta Sky Club (Photo: AP Gouge Photography)

AIRLINES

Hot mushroom soup and a pretty fruit/chicken salad on a recent SFO-ATL lunchtime flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hot mushroom soup and a pretty fruit/chicken salad on a recent SFO-ATL lunchtime flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

United improves front cabin meals. February 1 is United Airlines’ launch date for upgraded meal service in United First and United Business cabins on North American mainline flights of at least 800 miles. Transcontinental and Hawaii flights will get a new multi-course meal service with “heartier entrees,” United said, while flights of four hours to five hours and 19 minutes will offer three entree options instead of two. Meal flights of less than four hours will provide breakfast options like French toast souffle or steel-cut oatmeal with yogurt and fruit, and dinner choices like tandoori chicken instead of sandwiches. Also new on certain flights: Cookies baked fresh on board. Starting in March, United said, United Express premium-cabin travelers on flights of at least 800 miles will get fresh meals served on china instead of snack boxes; international long-haul economy flyers will see a new multi-course meal service; and new premium cabin menu choices will be introduced on p.s. transcontinental flights.

Best Photo! Thanks to TravelSkills reader Tony Gouge who responded to the request for plane photos in our recent 6 Tips for Better Plane Pics post– one of our most popular “how to” stories so far this year. Tony said that he used a technique called HDR on this (High Dynamic Range) to get the effect you see in the photo at the top.

Just in: Bomb threat leads to evacuation of Delta and Southwest jets at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport. Developing story. 

Bidding for upgrades on Virgin America. Over the last few months, Virgin America has been quietly rolling out a new program inviting certain Elevate members to bid for upgrades to unsold Main Cabin Select and first class seats about a week before departure. We have learned that Virgin is experimenting with a service called Plusgrade that several other carriers have utilized. Here’s a quick video showing how it works on Air New Zealand. Sounds like a nice idea, but don’t sit around waiting for that email asking for a bid.  A Virgin spokesperson told TravelSkills that the program is available in some markets for select flyers only and, “We are testing to see how travelers react to it first before instituting a broader program.” At present there is no way to get on the email list. Have you been asked to bid on an upgrade on Virgin America? Did you make a winning bid? Leave your comments below. 

Double points on Virgin. Members of Virgin America’s Elevate loyalty program who register online will earn double points — or 10 per $1 spent — for travel from January 20 through March 31.

A big green Aer Lingus A330 at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A big green Aer Lingus A330 at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Aer Lingus enhances SFO service. Bay area travelers will be the first to experience Aer Lingus’ new business class service starting January 28 on the carrier’s A330 non-stops to Dublin. The new cabins are coming this year to all of Aer Lingus’ A330 U.S. routes, including New York, Boston, Chicago and Orlando. You can check it out in this Youtube video. Meanwhile, the Irish carrier plans to boost SFO-Dublin service to daily frequencies (from the current five a week) on May 1, and to launch new Washington Dulles-Dublin flights four times a week on the same date.

American Airlines’ new baby. On Friday, American Airlines flew its first Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner (N800AN) from the factory in Everett, Washington to Dallas/Ft Worth. As part of a massive (and much needed) fleet renewal program, AA has firm orders for 42 more of the efficient widebody. American expects its first 787 to enter revenue service in the second quarter, flying domestically between American’s hubs for several weeks before being launched on international flights.

Delta downgrade? A blogger who specializes in scrutinizing Delta’s SkyMiles program says that Platinum elites are no longer eligible to request upgrades on the airline’s JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-San Francisco routes. The unannounced change would mean that only Diamond-level members can ask for upgrades on those plum routes. Anyone else encountered this new downgrade? Please leave your comments below. 

United eyes new aircraft type. United Airlines is reportedly considering switching some of its existing orders with Boeing to an aircraft type not currently in its fleet: the 777-300ER. The carrier is said to be thinking about adding 10 of the planes — Boeing’s largest twin-engine model — possibly in place of some 787s currently on order. United was the launch customer for the original Boeing 777 back in 1995; the company already has dozens of Airbus A350 widebodies on order. What’s your favorite long-haul aircraft type? Why? Post comments below.

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

A Hainan Air Boeing 787

A Hainan Airlines Boeing 787 like could find its way to San Jose this summer (Hainan Air)

New China service from San Jose, Dallas. Silicon Valley workers might not have to go to San Francisco International to get a non-stop to China starting in June. That’s when Hainan Airlines plans to begin non-stop San Jose-Beijing 787 flights five days a week, subject to government approval. The airline already flies to the Chinese capital from Boston, Chicago and Seattle. Meanwhile, the trade journal Travel Weekly reports that Hainan has also filed for U.S. approval to begin non-stop service to Shanghai from Seattle and Boston … American Airlines has received Transportation Department approval for its planned Dallas/Ft. Worth-Beijing service, which will start May 7. AA will use a 777-200 for the daily non-stops. (Meanwhile, American is offering double miles for flights to Asia on AA and its partner Japan Airlines, for travel from now through March 20. Online registration is required.) Related: Did you see our story on the new high speed rail line between Beijing and Moscow?

And finally… we bet you’ve never seen a 747 that looks like this one! Take a peek and let us know what you think! 

Back tomorrow with more of TravelSkills Weekend Edition!

WeekendEdition

 

6 tips for better plane pics

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

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British Airways to spruce up its 747s

A British Airways 747 prepares for takeoff at San Francisco International (Photo: Angelo Angelo - Flickr)

A British Airways 747 prepares for takeoff at San Francisco International (Photo: Angelo Angelo – Flickr)

Good news for passengers used to flying British Airways’ Boeing 747 jets from San Francisco, New York and elsewhere. BA is helping the “Queen of the Skies” age gracefully with plans to outfit eighteen 747-400s with new entertainment throughout, and upgrade seats in the economy and premium economy cabins.

BA admits these “much-loved” planes, which “have a special place in the heart of many of our customers” need sprucing up to compare favorably with the draw of younger birds, such as its big new A380s, 787 Dreamliners, or its shiny new 777s like the ones recently put into service on the Atlanta-Heathrow run.

The big news for passengers, especially those whose travel budgets don’t stretch to the airline’s business class cabin, is an upgrade to the entertainment and power systems on board. BA’s “next-generation” entertainment system will offer  twice as much content and a brand new tablet-style interface. BA’s introduced its unusual forward-and-rear-facing business class seats in 2000, but the current version dates to 2006.

Most of BA’s 747s have seen refurbs of the first class section in recent years, and the airline isn’t currently selling the “old” First cabin as First Class. Instead, lucky high-status business class flyers will get to sit in what used to be first class, though they’ll see the business class service. British Airways confirmed to TravelSkills that the very small number of 747s that still carry the “old” first cabin will be withdrawn from service next year.

Related: British Airways adds a new A380 in the US

British Airway's inflight entertainment getting an upgrade in coach (Photo: John Walton)

British Airway’s inflight entertainment getting an upgrade in coach (Photo: John Walton)

British Airways has been concentrating on its inflight entertainment recently, with the addition of content from HBO and the Discovery Channel, with new programming like a “paws and relax” section for the pet lovers, or a video showing the relaxing monotony of the sights you’d see on a Norwegian train journey.

Also in the cards: a full universal (UK, US, EU, etc) power outlet in premium economy, and a USB socket in economy. That’s a big step up from the annoying (and aged) EmPower port in premium economy and a big fat nothing down the back.

As for the seats, unfortunately there’s no upgrade planned to bring the seats up to the standard set in BA’s newer A380 or 777-300ER planes — see here— although the airline will try to make them look similar.

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BA's premium economy seats (British Airways)

BA’s premium economy seats (British Airways)

They’ll still be the same seats, but “new seat foams will be installed in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus to increase customer comfort and new style seat covers fitted to improve appearance and match those on the A380 and 787,” BA says.

Related: Boeing 747s slowly disappearing from US

The refurb is going to take a while: British Airways says 18 refits won’t begin until August 2015, and will be completed a year later, in August 2016. Unfortunately, since the seats are a like-for-like refit, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to tell if you’ll have a refurbished bird when booking.

The airline has nearly 50 747s still in use, though as more Airbus A380, Boeing 787 and particularly Airbus A350 aircraft reach the fleet the older planes (which date back as far as 1989) will be retired. According to Flightglobal, BA will speed up the retirement of older planes as larger 787-9 planes and the bigger A350s start arriving from 2017.

In the meantime, hope is not lost for a more modern experience on British Airways, which has finished taking delivery of a fleet of 12 Boeing 777-300ER planes with new seats and all the mod cons. These new planes started flying on BA’s Atlanta flights just this month. And of course, there’s BA’s new A380s from LAX, soon from Washington, Dulles, and from San Francisco next April.

-John Walton

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Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic A330-300 with the 1-2-1 reverse herringbone config (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic A330-300 with the 1-2-1 herringbone configuration (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Virgin Atlantic announced some major network changes today that will mean more opportunities for Delta flyers to give the popular Virgin product a try…and earn or burn SkyMiles while doing so. 

Here’s what’s coming our way in 2015:

>A year-round daily roundtrip between London Heathrow and Detroit

>A new daily nonstop between Atlanta and Manchester

>An additional summertime nonstop between London and Atlanta and San Francisco 

>Additional frequencies on the busy routes between London and New York JFK and Los Angeles

>An additional daily flight between London and Miami

The Upper Class bar on a new Virgin Atlantic A330-300 (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

The Upper Class bar on a new Virgin Atlantic A330-300 (Photo: Tom Mascardo)

Some notes:

Flights are not yet loaded and bookable, but soon the added capacity will mean more award seats for Delta SkyMiles members.

Virgin’s nonstops between Atlanta and Heathrow (announced last May) begin on October 26 using Airbus A330s.

Virgin has also announced that it will build a new Clubhouse airport lounge at LAX.

It’s aging fleet of Airbus A340s will soon be replaced with 16 new Boeing 787 Dreamliners– the first of which will be deployed 0n Boston-London in October.

In order to bulk up in the U.S., Virgin is withdrawing from several markets elsewhere– it will cease flying from London to Tokyo, Mumbai, Vancouver, and Cape Town.

Related: Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta! 

Here's how Virgin's flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s how Virgin’s flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s a look at Virgin Atlantic’s new long haul network in the U.S. including the new flights which come on board in 2015:

  • Atlanta/Heathrow
  • Atlanta/Manchester
  • Boston/Heathrow
  • Chicago/Heathrow
  • Detroit/Heathrow
  • Las Vegas/ Manchester
  • Las Vegas/Glasgow
  • Los Angeles/Heathrow
  • Miami/Heathrow
  • New York (JFK)/Heathrow
  • New York (Newark)/Heathrow
  • Orlando/Belfast
  • Orlando/Glasgow
  • Orlando/Manchester
  • San Francisco/Heathrow
  • Washington DC/Heathrow
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Here's how Virgin Atlantic flights appear on Delta.com

Here’s how Virgin Atlantic flights ATL-LHR appear on Delta.com

For now, Delta flyers can earn SkyMiles (including MQMs) or burn SkyMiles for Virgin Atlantic flights– when you book flights on Delta.com, Virgin flights are shown as options. However, it’s still uncertain when or if Delta Medallions will be able to use miles or Global Upgrade certificates for upgrades. Delta SkyMiles Gold Medallion (and higher) members get dedicated check in, priority security, boarding and baggage when flying Virgin Atlantic. 

In the past, Virgin’s Upper Class business class product and over-the-top lounges far exceeded anything Delta could offer. But since Delta has been upping its game lately, the product and service gap is narrowing. In what situations would you choose Virgin over Delta… or vice versa? Please leave your comments below.

— Chris McGinnis

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Should airlines waive change fees?

Airline change fees have been around for as long as, well, the airlines (Photo: AJMexico Flickr)

Airline change fees have been around for as long as, well, the airlines- or at least since this old IBM reservations terminal from the 1980s was used (Photo: AJMexico Flickr)

A TravelSkills reader is shocked when he’s asked to pay a $200 change fee to get a lower fare. 

Dear Chris:

I read your blog entry on the end-of-summer fare sale and checked on an existing reservation I have for a San Francisco-San Diego flight in February 2015.

I saw that the dates I had already booked were indeed eligible for the sale, and that the sale price was about $100 cheaper for the two seats combined than what I already paid.

So I called United’s Premier desk, explained the situation, and relayed that I am a Platinum Premier this year and last, 1K in 2012, and will be 1K again at end of this year. I asked if they could give me the sale price, keeping all the original routing.

United’s answer: Yes, if I paid a $200 change fee.

Seriously? Pay a $200 change fee to get a $100 fare decrease?

Frustrated, I ended up getting a Premier Supervisor on the line who ultimately was able to issue me two $50 travel certificates, but was unable to refund the fare difference.

I certainly appreciate the agent’s efforts, but it seems pretty odd that United won’t give customers (let alone elite customers) some kind of protection for advance purchases that protects for both fare increases as well as fare decreases.

Thoughts? I am thinking it’s not very likely I’m the only guy in this situation, would expect there are lots of folks who are facing it as well.

Thanks,

A.K.

My reply to A.K.: You are definitely not alone… charging change fees is a longstanding practice by the airlines– and they are increasingly less likely to bend rules, even for elite level flyers. I’ve watched airline change fees creep up over the years… the last big jump was in May 2013 when fees for domestic flight changes jumped from $150 to a stinging $200. (I remember the howls when I reported on change fees jumping from $25 to $35 in the 1990’s.) 

Airlines say that they impose change fees on cheap seats so travelers with uncertain plans will instead buy their more expensive full-fare, unrestricted tickets. They say that by paying higher prices, travelers are buying flexibility.

All major airlines charge now $200 change fees for domestic tickets, and $300 for international changes. Virgin America and JetBlue change fees vary from $75 to $150.  Passengers who want to change nonrefundable tickets not only pay change fees, but must pay any fare difference. Southwest does not charge a change fee at all– passengers only pay the fare difference.

Airlines earned a whopping $2.8 billion on change fees in 2013 (Source: US Bureau of Transportation Statistics)

Airlines earned a whopping $2.8 billion on change fees in 2013 (Source: US Bureau of Transportation Statistics)

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics says that in 2013,  airlines collected a total of $2.8 billion from reservation change fees, 1.4 percent of total operating revenue. (That’s second to baggage fees, from which airlines earned total of $3.3 billion last year.)

So what do you think… are change fees fair or egregious? Should they be waived for elites? Have you been able to talk your way out of paying them? Please leave your comments below.

— Chris McGinnis

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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!

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Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

Arriving at Lanai's tiny airport

Chris arriving at Lanai’s little airport (with wi-fi provided by Four Seasons)

By now you’ve likely heard that billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison recently paid an estimated $300 million for 98% of the Hawaiian Island of Lanai.

Included in that sale were two Four Seasons resorts and nearly all the land on the tiny (140 square mile) island.

What’s been going on since the transaction closed in 2012? A lot!

While on a business trip to Hawaii last week, Four Seasons invited me over for a stay and a look-see at the progress. (See photos below.)

Here’s what I saw:

The Four Seasons Lanai at Manele Bay has a spectacular position on a secluded white sand beach. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The Four Seasons Lanai at Manele Bay has a spectacular position on a secluded white sand beach. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

First off, big changes are underway at the Four Seasons secluded Manele Bay property. As soon at the deal closed, renovations of public areas began. The dramatic lobby is now sheathed in rich wood paneling and stark white furniture with views out to an aquamarine pool deck that spills down to the hotel’s almost private white sand beach.

There are only two other hotels on the island, the homey, high-country Four Seasons Lodge at Koele in the cool uplands– with a revamped grand lobby and famous golf course awaiting a makeover by Jack Nicklaus (opening date unknown), and the rustic 10-room Hotel Lanai, recently purchased by Ellison.

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At Manele Bay, a hotel staffer told me that, “Mr. Murdock’s style is a lot different from Mr. Ellison’s.” Hearing that, I assumed that the previous owner was billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but soon found out that it was actually David Murdock, the head of Hawaiian conglomerate Castle & Cooke, which owns Dole Foods, and the 98% of Lanai that Ellison recently bought.

How different are the the two owners’ styles? Very different! Check out the lobby chinoiserie before the recent design changes.

Major room revamp hidden behind temporary walls at Four Seasons Manele Bay (Chris McGinnis)

Major room revamp hidden behind temporary walls at Four Seasons Manele Bay (Chris McGinnis)

In addition to the modern Hawaiian look in the lobby, a new Nobu restaurant is under construction. When I was there, about half of the hotel’s 217 rooms were closed for a major revamp, which will bring them up to global five-star resort standards with see through glass balconies, hardwood and slat