Business class fare sales + JetBlue dumps Bay Area flights

Norwegian Air is upsetting the apple cart on transatlantic fares for summer trips

Norwegian Air’s business class fares to Europe are upsetting the apple cart for summer fares

If you are planning to hit the skies this summer and would like to fly in business class, keep an eye on business class fares in coming weeks. They have been all over the map during the last few weeks, with some deal sites posting biz class round trips Europe for as little as $2,200. (That’s an incredibly good deal, especially from California cities.)

Airlines are in a quiet fare war, which appears to be the result of low-fare upstart Norwegian Air barging into the US to Europe market. (Its Boeing 787 flights from Oakland to Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen crank up in May.) This has forced SAS to drop its prices…and now US airlines are following suit. Norwegian Air does not offer business class, but it does offer a premium economy seat that’s equivalent to US domestic first class– a big seat with plenty of legroom, but it does not recline into a flat bed.

Below are some examples of summer business class sale fares I’ve found with a cursory search for July-August trips from SFO today. These could periodically dip by more than $1,000 as they did this week, so if you are interested, set up fare alerts or keep checking airline sites. (Norwegian’s premium economy fares are even lower.)

Peak summer season economy class airfares from the West Coast to Europe will likely hit $2,000 round trip during the July-August peak this year. If faced with a fare like that, it might make good sense to just pay the extra grand or so for a nice big seat at the front of the plane, right?

Keeping in mind that business class from West Coast to Europe typically runs in the $5,000-$7,000+ range, here is what’s currently on offer in business class:

  • SFO-Copenhagen or Oslo or Stockholm SAS $3,027 (Norwegian Air’s premium economy is about $1,900)
  • SFO-Paris American/British Air one stop $3,859
  • SFO-Frankfurt United nonstop $3,758
  • SFO-Rome Virgin Atlantic one-stop $3,911

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JetBlue's Even More Space seats will be missed on the LOOONG OAK-Washington Dulles flight! (Chris McGinnis)

JetBlue’s Even More Space seats will be missed on the looong Oakland-Washington Dulles flight! (Chris McGinnis)

 JETBLUE JETS AWAY FROM BAY

JetBlue announced this week that it will dump its nonstop flights between Oakland and Washington-Dulles. It’s also nixing its nerd bird flight between SFO and Austin. Both flights end on June 16.

In a statement, the carrier said that is will use the aircraft from these routes to bulk up its presence at Washington Reagan National Airport, where it recently acquired slots due to the American/US Airways merger agreement.

JetBlue told The BAT: “Any customers with existing reservations for flights after the last operating date will be contacted with the option to be re-accommodated on  other JetBlue flights or to cancel their reservation and receive a full refund. Customers will also receive a $50 good will credit for their inconvenience.”

 Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

--Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Behind the Scenes at Cathay Pacific: 10 Cool Things Revealed

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges

Aer Lingus arrives at SFO. What you need to know.

Busy week at Bay Area Airports…phew!

Virgin profit + Bevy of new nonstops + Free Gogo w tablet + Southwest warning + United plugs in

Aer Lingus + Changes at DCA + Marriott downgrades + United menus + Delta-LinkedIn

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

SFO by the numbers

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Behind the Scenes at Cathay Pacific: 10 Cool Things Revealed

Entry to Cathay Pacific's sprawling HQ in Hong Kong (Chris McGinnis)

Entry to Cathay Pacific’s sprawling HQ in Hong Kong (Chris McGinnis)

By Nancy Branka

Nothing is more fun than going behind the curtain at an airline, airport or hotel, to see how things really work. Luckily, travel writers get to do just that every now and then.

Recently Cathay Pacific invited me to tour the airline’s operations in Hong Kong along with a group of journalists from all over the world. That day, we saw Cathay’s flight operations, catering and cargo facilities and had an opportunity to talk with key executives, all at the airline’s headquarters.

Gazing from the windows of our group’s bus, I could see why the HQ megaplex is dubbed “Cathay City.” The large complex of many modern glass-and-steel office buildings is indeed a city unto itself. Cathay-logoed busses circulate everywhere and empty employees at office buildings’ front doors. In the center of it all in a small, grassy park, there’s a life-sized replica of Cathay’s second aircraft,  affectionately called Niki, positioned as if in perpetual take-off.

I learned a lot and saw some unusual sights. (Think: a giant “wok” of stir-fried rice big enough to serve 300, or a five-foot-long toy car wrapped in plastic for shipping.) And I experienced many “so that’s why” moments.

Here are 10 cool things I learned during my visit to Cathay City in Hong Kong.

1. A bit of history surprised me, given Cathay Pacific’s dominance in Asia and home base in Hong Kong. An American and an Australian, both ex-air force pilots, founded the airline following World War II. Even now, fewer than 20 percent of CX pilots are Hong Kong Chinese and the executives I met were mostly Brits. Cathay Pacific is the world’s 19th largest airline by operating revenue.

Cathay's super secret inflight testing lab-- who knows what lies beneath the sheets? (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Cathay’s super secret inflight testing lab– who knows what lies beneath the sheets? (Photo: Nancy Branka)

2. Shhh! We toured Cathay’s super-secret cabin lab, a mockup of an aircraft interior where new designs of everything from wall panels, seats, and carpet are tested. But most of what was in the lab had been covered with white bed sheets so our inquiring eyes couldn’t spot—and broadcast–the next big thing. When a new seat product is under development, everyone from frequent fliers to the Chairman tests it with overnight stays. (Seeing our looks of envy, our guide told us, “It’s not as much fun as you might think.”) My SFO-HKG-SFO flights were on Boeing 747s, outfitted with a walled business class seat in a 1-2-1 configuration. I call it the “introvert seat” because each seat’s high walls shield you from even making eye contact with another human. Others (extroverts, I suppose) describe it as “coffin-like.” In any case, I found the privacy to work even better than Ambien and slept like a baby. Cathay is in the process of replacing the 747 with the 777 to San Francisco, so passengers enjoy new seats with a little less privacy but more features.

3. Physiologically, we lose 30 percent of our capacity to taste at high altitude. Some airlines I’ve talked to bump up spices and salt to compensate. Cathay’s strategy is to avoid compensating with salt: Its effects on blood pressure aren’t diminished at altitude, they say, and frequent fliers in particular could experience health issues with over-salted meals, even if they tasted “normal.”

Omelets are made by hand in Cathay's massive, sterile kitchens (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Omelets are made by hand in Cathay’s massive, sterile kitchens (Photo: Nancy Branka)

4. All food created in an airline catering operation must be cooked, then cooled, then reheated onboard. Tricky. Some items, like beef, are initially cooked to medium rare, to allow for onboard heating. On my return flight I enjoyed an omelet that I may very well have watched being made (by hand) the day prior during our kitchen tour. At the time, I wondered why the eggs looked runny. Onboard, having been reheated, the omelet was the perfect consistency.

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

6. Every item offloaded from a plane that will be reused on a future flight must be sanitized. That means meal carts, headphones, soap bottles, on and on. These go through their cleaning in the inbound area of catering operations. For example, every emptied meal cart is run through the cart washer, cleaned with thermal sanitation, dried here and then returned for reuse. Makes sense: Your meal is only as sanitary as the cart from which it is served.

 Specially designed seatback nooks for mobile devices (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Specially designed seatback nooks for mobile devices (Photo: Nancy Branka)

5. Rapidly changing consumer technology can hamstring airlines, as they try and keep up. We sat in a cabin mockup of short-haul business class seats already in service. A niche is molded into the seatback to hold a phone. Nice touch. Trouble is, the niche was designed for iPhone-size smartphones. Now, many phones are larger and will not fit in the indentation. (You’re just going to have to rest your Samsung Galaxy S5 on your tray table.) Also, the seatback monitors were built with a dock for the iPhone. Then, Apple changed the pin-size of its dock connector. A good idea instantly became obsolete. 

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Brand new Cathay Pacific 747-8 freighter and B777-300 at Boeing factory in Seattle (Chris McGinnis)

Brand new Cathay Pacific 747-8 freighter and B777-300 at Boeing factory in Seattle (Chris McGinnis)

7. Cargo flies two ways: in the belly of passenger planes and in freighters (usually 747s). Since 2011, cargo demand has been weak, while supply of space has increased as airlines have expanded, especially internationally. That’s bad news for the cargo business. But I learned it’s just one more reason airlines love the 777 (besides its fuel efficiency): the 777 belly holds 20 tons of cargo, while the 747 (passenger version) holds only half that (10-12 tons). More and more of the cargo business has moved to bellies, to reduce costs. An indication of the lackluster cargo climate: Cathay Pacific currently has four freighters parked in the Arizona desert.

Everyone entering the kitchen must use a roller to remove errant hairs (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Everyone entering the kitchen must use a roller to remove errant hairs (Photo: Nancy Branka)

8. Ever found a hair in your airline meal? I didn’t think so. The standards of hygiene in airline catering are, by necessity, excessive. As visitors, not only were we required to wear a white coat, shower cap, and additional cap, but prior to entering the kitchen we used a roller to remove any stray hairs from the white coat and went through two rounds of hand washing and sanitizing. And we did not even get close to any food.

9. Cathay operates complete kitchens for kosher and halal meals, and each is separate from the general catering kitchen. Kosher meals are made according to Jewish guidelines based on the Old Testament. Halal meals are made according to Muslim guidelines based on the Koran. It was explained to us that regulations for halal meals are even more detailed than for kosher. The staffers who work in these kitchens must be trained by societies specializing in kosher and halal food preparation respectively. I did not order either of these meal types and would see no need to unless your religious beliefs required it, but I have no doubt they are excellent, as I saw the care with which they were made.

Cathay's secret weapon: Crystal! (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Cathay’s secret weapon: Crystal! (Photo: Nancy Branka)

10. Ever wonder how some airlines master superior soft service from flight attendants while others don’t? Well, I met one of Cathay Pacific’s secret weapons: Crystal. She is an inflight service manager, an über flight attendant who oversees the entire cabin crew on a flight. With us, she simulated a meeting she would lead with her crew before boarding. In the meeting, she consciously raises or lowers the energy level of the group. She also quizzes the crew on how certain safety situations are to be handled. But all with kindness and a smile. Listening to her felt a little like eavesdropping on a happy-flight-attendant cult. She must have used the airline’s tagline, “service straight from the heart,” a dozen times and clearly works hard to evoke this from her flight attendants. Sounds a little fakey, I know, but it sounded sincere enough that it hooked me. Crystal said if she died and came back for another life, she hoped she could work at Cathay Pacific again. You cringe. But the thing is, I believed her. By the way, lest you blame labor unions for U.S. legacy carriers’ inability to provide “service straight from the heart,” the CX flight crew union is said to be one of the most aggressive in Hong Kong.

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

--Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges

Aer Lingus arrives at SFO. What you need to know.

Busy week at Bay Area Airports…phew!

Virgin profit + Bevy of new nonstops + Free Gogo w tablet + Southwest warning + United plugs in

Aer Lingus + Changes at DCA + Marriott downgrades + United menus + Delta-LinkedIn

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

SFO by the numbers

***

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Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges

United's big bright new Club at London Heathrow Terminal 2. CLICK ON PHOTO FOR SLIDESHOW

United’s big bright new Club at London Heathrow Terminal 2. CLICK ON PHOTO FOR SLIDESHOW

United Airlines invited a small group of media folks (including The BAT!) to London Heathrow Airport this week for a preview of its two brand new lounges for premium customers – a United Global First Lounge and a United Club in  the airport’s new Terminal 2, The Queen’s Terminal. See slideshow

United will be the first airline to operate from Terminal 2 when it opens on June 4, finally bringing its 17 daily Heathrow flights – currently split between Terminals 1 and 4 – “under one roof.”  Later this year, the operations of United’s 22 Star Alliance partners at Heathrow will progressively move to Terminal 2, the alliance’s new home at the airport.

The airport is moving airlines in slowly at T2– it does not want a repeat of the fiasco that occurred when British Airways moved into the massive Terminal 5 overnight.

Conversation nook in United Club along with vintage photos (Chris McGinnis)

Conversation nook in United Club along with vintage photos (Chris McGinnis)

Together, the two lounges occupy 22,000 square feet of space near United’s gates in Terminal 2’s T2B satellite concourse. Both feature floor-to-ceiling windows with views of runways, modern décor and walls adorned with vintage black and white photos from United’s archives. Like T5, the Queen’s Terminal is comprised of a main terminal (T2A) and a satellite (T2B) connected by an underground walkway.

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Warm canapes from the elaborate United Club buffet (Chris McGinnis)

Warm canapes from the elaborate United Club buffet (Chris McGinnis)

Both the Club and the Lounge will offer elaborate meals (unlike anything you’ll see stateside), plenty of high end booze, wine and, of course speedy, free Wi-Fi.  It remains to be seen whether the quality and quantity of the spread laid out for the media will be the ongoing standard.

Nearly every seat in the joint is within a foot or two of a power outlet. And there are seven private “phone booths” set up with desks and glass doors for private conversations.  See slideshow

Global First Lounge

The United Global First Lounge is for United or Star Alliance customers traveling in first class. The centerpiece of the lounge is an oversized Big Ben-style clock in the tea lounge section.  Other features include a buffet area, an intimate dining room, private phone booths and a quiet zone with loungers and privacy drapes.

United Club

The United Club is for United Club members, those traveling in business class and Star Alliance Gold members. It’s the first Club outside the U.S. to feature the new United Club design concept– which we’ll likely see at SFO when the new United Club opens by T3E in 2015.

The Club has a big bright and open layout with seating over 280 guests.  Against a backdrop of runways is a 25-seat full service bar, two buffet areas, a TV lounge and seven private phone booths. See slideshow

There are eight well-appointed and spacious shower suites

There are eight well-appointed and spacious shower suites

There are eight spacious shower suites with complimentary toiletries and valet service– put your suit in the valet door while showering, and an attendant will press it and have it ready by the time you dry off.

While United executives would not reveal a dollar figure for the cost of the London clubs, they did say that this is part of a $50 million investment in club renovations across the system.

United operates 17 flights per day from Heathrow to six US cities: Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York/Newark, San Francisco and Washington, D.C./Dulles. See slideshow

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

--Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Busy week at Bay Area Airports…phew!

Virgin profit + Bevy of new nonstops + Free Gogo w tablet + Southwest warning + United plugs in

Aer Lingus + Changes at DCA + Marriott downgrades + United menus + Delta-LinkedIn

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

Spring Break Warning + United in London + Air New Zealand upgrade + TripIt hack

Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

SFO by the numbers

 

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Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

Aer Lingus arrives at SFO. What you need to know.

Air Lingus A330 touches down at SFO on Weds, April 2 (Photo: Aer Lingus)

Air Lingus A330 touches down at SFO on Weds, April 2 (Photo: Aer Lingus)

Storm clouds parted for the arrival of Aer Lingus’ distinctive big green plane from Dublin on Wednesday afternoon.

This is the first time the Irish flag carrier has touched down at San Francisco International since departing during the dark recessionary days of 2009.

Here’s what you need to know:

>Aer Lingus operates a 267-seat Airbus A330-200 on the SFO-DUB route. There are 24 business class and 243 economy class seats (no first class).  The flight, which will operate five days a week, departs for Dublin at 5:20 pm and returns to SFO at 3:20 pm. The flight takes 10-11 hours depending on direction and winds…it’s the longest flight in the Aer Lingus route network of 70 cities.

>At the moment, fares on Aer Lingus’ SFO-DUB nonstops are looking about standard for June flights. Business class on the nonstop flights is running about $5,500 roundtrip  and economy is running from a low of around $950 to a high of about $1300 round trip. (You’ll find cheaper fares in both business and economy on one-stop flights from competitors.)

Currently, business class seats on Aer Lingus are "angled lie flat"

Currently, business class seats on Aer Lingus are “angled lie flat”

>Business class seats on Air Lingus are angled lie-flat vs the more comfortable true-lie flight (horizontal) favored by frequent travelers. At an airport reception for the flight yesterday, I asked CEO Christoph Mueller about this, and he broke some good news: Since the San Francisco-Dublin route is the carrier’s longest flight, it will be the first route to get new true-lie-flat seats (from Thompson) in business class later this year.

>Currently, there are power ports in every first class seat, and every other economy seat and the plane offers satellite based wi-fi. Each business and economy seat has its own seatback video screen with a wide selection of movies, shows and games. Aer Lingus offers a unique bidding process for upgrades to business class. Details here.

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

>Having a new nonstop on SFO-DUB should be music to the ears of execs from Bay Area tech companies like Facebook, Google and LinkedIn who will likely be flying to/from their European headquarters in Dublin. The Irish Examiner reports, “There are 179 companies employing more than 36,000 people in Ireland from the West Coast of the US. These companies are primarily based in the technology and digital media sectors.”

>Aer Lingus is not a member of the Star Alliance, Oneworld or SkyTeam. However, it is a United code share partner. But the SFO-DUB route is not a route where the carriers share a code. Nonetheless, due to the partnership, United Mileage Plus members can earn miles on Aer Lingus flights… but there are limits based on fare paid. Business class fares earn 150% of base miles flown, but economy fares earn just 50%-75% of base miles. Many of the lowest fares do not earn miles at all. You can redeem 60,000 MileagePlus miles for economy round trips on Aer Lingus, or 140,000 for business class. Details here. In my conversation with CEO Mueller, he said that the carrier is working on boosting its frequent flyer program, but did not offer any other specifics.

>One of the best things about flying Aer Lingus is that passengers pre-clear US customs and immigration in Dublin before boarding the plane. That means when you land at SFO, it’s just like a domestic flight… you can hit the ground running as soon as you touch down. Aer Lingus currently flies into the international terminal (Boarding Area G).

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

--Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Busy week at Bay Area Airports…phew!

Virgin profit + Bevy of new nonstops + Free Gogo w tablet + Southwest warning + United plugs in

Aer Lingus + Changes at DCA + Marriott downgrades + United menus + Delta-LinkedIn

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

Spring Break Warning + United in London + Air New Zealand upgrade + TripIt hack

Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

SFO by the numbers

 

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

 

Busy week at Bay Area Airports…phew!

Late March and early April is when airlines switch from winter to spring and summer schedules, and there is so much going on at Bay Area airports this week, my head is spinning! Some happy arrivals and sad departures.

Here’s what you need to know:

A festive scene greeted those departing on Saturday's inaugural United nonstop to Taipei.  (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A festive scene greeted those departing on Saturday’s inaugural United nonstop to Taipei. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>United launched SFO-Taipei nonstops on Saturday with a big colorful celebration at Gate 92 in the International Terminal. The gate area was festooned with about 100 paper lanterns, dancing dolls and a free dim sum buffet. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee remarked that the rainy send off was a sign of good fortune for the route. SFO-Taipei now has service from United (B777), Eva Air (B777) and China Airlines (B747). Check out our Facebook page for more pics of the fun party!

SFO welcomed LAN nonstops to South America in 2010. Now there are none.

SFO welcomed LAN nonstops to South America in 2010. Now there are none.

>LAN’s nonstop B767 flight to Lima, Peru departed SFO for the last time on March 31. This is particularly sad because it leaves the Bay Area without any nonstops to South America.

>Aer Lingus revives its SFO-Dublin nonstops Wednesday afternoon with a lot of fanfare and a “dry salute” (weather permitting) at the airport. Stay tuned to The BAT for a Q&A with Aer Lingus CEO Christophe Mueller.

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

If you are headed to Atlanta, be sure to drop by The Varsity at the airport or downtown for a naked dog, FO and onion rings served with sassy southern hospitality. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

If you are headed to Atlanta, be sure to drop by The Varsity at the airport or downtown for a naked dog, F.O. and onion rings served with sassy southern hospitality. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>Starting Tues, April 1, United will use 737-800s to revive its nonstop service on SFO-Atlanta, Flights depart SFO at 8:54 am and 3:33 pm and return from ATL at 6:55 am and 5:24 pm.

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

>Delta’s final SFO-Tokyo nonstop took off last Friday March 28, leaving United,  ANA and Japan Airlines (to Haneda on a 787) offering nonstops.

>Air France’s A380 is back for the season and will be flying SFO-Paris through the end of October.

>KLM is now flying a nice Boeing 747-400 on SFO-Amsterdam sporting its nice new true lie-flat business class seat. (So glad to that ancient MD-11 go away!)

>Later this week, United will crank up a second daily nonstop from SFO to London for the season. United’s flights will arrive and depart at Heathrow’s stunning new Terminal 2– :

>Both Virgin America and Alaska Airlines have announced that they will skedaddle from the overcrowded San Jose-LAX market. At the same time, Southwest is bulking up at SJC with additional frequencies to: Denver, San Diego, Seattle and Orange County.

--Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Virgin profit + Bevy of new nonstops + Free Gogo w tablet + Southwest warning + United plugs in

Aer Lingus + Changes at DCA + Marriott downgrades + United menus + Delta-LinkedIn

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

Spring Break Warning + United in London + Air New Zealand upgrade + TripIt hack

Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

United carry-on “crackdown” not all it’s cracked up to be

Another spin on the frequent flyer merry-go-round

SFO by the numbers

Shoes + New STL flight + New A321T + Where’s the luv? + T3E cities + Free ice cream

Bikini-clad safety video

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

Busy week for Bay Area airports…phew!

Late March and early April is when airlines switch from winter to spring and summer schedules, and there is so much going on at Bay Area airports this week, my head is spinning! Some happy arrivals and sad departures.

Here’s what you need to know:

That BAT editor Chris McGinnis and contributor Nancy Branka at the Taipei inaugural send off. Click on photo for more.

That’s BAT editor Chris McGinnis and contributor Nancy Branka at United’s Taipei inaugural send off. Click on photo for more pics.

>United launched SFO-Taipei nonstops on Saturday with a big colorful celebration at Gate 92 in the International Terminal. The gate area was festooned with about 100 paper lanterns, dancing dolls and a free dim sum buffet. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee remarked that the rainy send off was a sign of good fortune for the route. SFO-Taipei now has service from United (B777), Eva Air (B777) and China Airlines (B747). Check out our Facebook page for more pics of the fun party!

SFO welcomed LAN nonstops to South America in 2010. Now there are none.

SFO welcomed LAN nonstops to South America in 2010. Now there are none.

>LAN’s nonstop B767 flight to Lima, Peru departed SFO for the last time on March 31. This is particularly sad because it leaves the Bay Area without any nonstops to South America.

>Aer Lingus revives its SFO-Dublin nonstops Wednesday afternoon with a lot of fanfare and a “dry salute” (weather permitting) at the airport. Stay tuned to The BAT for a Q&A with Aer Lingus CEO Christophe Mueller.

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

If you are headed to Atlanta, be sure to drop by The Varsity at the airport or downtown for a naked dog, FO and onion rings served with sassy southern hospitality. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

If you are headed to Atlanta, be sure to drop by The Varsity at the airport or downtown for a naked dog, F.O. and onion rings served with sassy southern hospitality. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>Starting Tues, April 1, United will use 737-800s to revive its nonstop service on SFO-Atlanta, Flights depart SFO at 8:54 am and 3:33 pm and return from ATL at 6:55 am and 5:24 pm.

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

>Delta’s final SFO-Tokyo nonstop took off last Friday March 28, leaving United,  ANA and Japan Airlines (to Haneda on a 787) offering nonstops.

>Air France’s A380 is back for the season and will be flying SFO-Paris through the end of October.

>KLM is now flying a nice Boeing 747-400 on SFO-Amsterdam sporting its nice new true lie-flat business class seat. (So glad to that ancient MD-11 go away!)

>Later this week, United will crank up a second daily nonstop from SFO to London for the season. United’s flights will arrive and depart at Heathrow’s stunning new Terminal 2– :

>Both Virgin America and Alaska Airlines have announced that they will skedaddle from the overcrowded San Jose-LAX market. At the same time, Southwest is bulking up at SJC with additional frequencies to: Denver, San Diego, Seattle and Orange County.

--Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Virgin profit + Bevy of new nonstops + Free Gogo w tablet + Southwest warning + United plugs in

Aer Lingus + Changes at DCA + Marriott downgrades + United menus + Delta-LinkedIn

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

Spring Break Warning + United in London + Air New Zealand upgrade + TripIt hack

Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

United carry-on “crackdown” not all it’s cracked up to be

Another spin on the frequent flyer merry-go-round

SFO by the numbers

Shoes + New STL flight + New A321T + Where’s the luv? + T3E cities + Free ice cream

Bikini-clad safety video

***

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Virgin profit + Bevy of new nonstops + Free Gogo w tablet + Southwest warning + United plugs in

Virgin America's star spangled wingtip over downtown SF. What a sight! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America’s star spangled wingtip over downtown SF. What a sight! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

KUDOS TO THE HOMETOWN CARRIER. Virgin America declared its first ever full-year profit this week. The SF-based carrier’s net income was $10.1 million in 2013, compared with a somewhat staggering loss of $145.4 million in 2012. How did it pull this off? By selling more tickets at slightly higher prices: It boarded 6.3 million passengers in 2013, up from 6.2 million in 2012. Average fares nudged up to $204 from $195 in the previous year. And its load factor increased a smidge…up just 1% from 79% to 80%. It grossed $1.425 billion in 2013, $92 million more than it did in 2012. Numbers like that will likely help Virgin with its proposed IPO later this year. Regrettably, this good news comes on the heels of the announcement that Virgin is pulling out of the crazy crowded San Jose-LAX market, and deploying those planes on money-making long hauls. Have you been flying Virgin America more this year? Why or why not? If it pulls off an IPO this year, would you invest? Leave your comments below! 

BEVY OF NEW NONSTOPS TO THE BAY. Starting April 1, United will use 737-800s to revive its nonstop service on SFO-ATL, a market already well served well by Delta, Southwest and AirTran. Flights depart SFO at 8:54 am and 3:33 pm and return from ATL at 6:55 am and 5:24 pm. A quick look at fares is showing the lowest coach roundtrips at $390 for May trips. In additions to new ATL flights, SFO will see new United nonstops arrive from Taipei (Mar 29) and Aer Lingus flights from Dublin (April 2). Norwegian Air’s new 787 nonstops arrive in Oakland in May. 

DELTA OVERWATER WI-FI ROLLOUT. FINALLY! This week Delta launched new satellite based Gogo wi-fi service on three B747s flying to Tokyo from Atlanta and Los Angeles-LAX. Delta says that the service should be on all its 16 747s by mid 2014, and its entire international fleet by the end of 2015. Rates start at $15 per hour and $25 per flight. Speaking of Gogo wifi, the onboard internet provider announced this week it will join forces with Samsung to offer a full year (up to 36 flights) of Gogo Inflight Internet access with the purchase of a new Samsung tablet. Accessing the free sessions from a new tablet is easy:  just launch your browser on any Gogo equipped flight and you will automatically be directed to a special landing page that will grant Internet access.

More power at United gates! (Photo: United)

More power at United gates! (Photo: United)

MORE JUICE AT GATE. United is rolling out 500 charging stations at airport gate areas at key hubs throughout the US. First to get them is Chicago O’Hare, Concourses B and C.  Each station offers six, 110-volt power outlets and two USB ports, and feature a design with a large power outlet icon to help quickly locate the units in gate areas.

SOUTHWEST DEVALUATION. If you’ve been hoarding your Southwest Rapid Rewards points, you might want to consider redeeming them before March 31. Wanna Get Away reward flight bookings made on or after March 31, 2014 will require 70 points per dollar, an increase from the 60 points per dollar that is currently required.

DELTA-ALASKA AIR DIVORCE. The breakup between Delta and Alaska Airlines is becoming long and ugly. Earlier this month, Delta basically declared war on Alaska when a top executive stated its intentions to make Seattle, Alaska’s base of operations,  a Delta hub. This week both carriers announced that some of the reciprocal benefits their elite customers have enjoyed, such as waived baggage fees, access to priority security lines, discounts on premium economy,  are getting yanked starting May 1. Delta changes here. Alaska’s here. The best news here is for Seattle residents, who are getting wooed with bonus mile offers, status matches, free Uber rides to the airport and more as both carriers battle for their business.

MEAL VOUCHERS FADING…Been delayed on a Delta flight recently? Whether it is a mechanical issue, weather or total cancelation, don’t expect Delta to print out meal vouchers anymore. Instead, some gate agents have told The BAT that it’s more likely that a cart will be rolled out with pretzels, snacks, water, and soda to tide you over. Five hour delay? Same cart. Agents stated that it is up to the station manager if they want to order in additional food for lengthy delays. Meal vouchers are printed at agent discretion, but apparently the new policy is that they are no longer part of irregular operations. Do you think airlines should provide vouchers to passengers when the delay is a mechanical and lasts several hours… is cart service at the gate okay by you? Leave your comments below. 

SFO-TOKYO ENDS. Delta will end its San Francisco-Tokyo nonstop flight, effective March 30. Delta spokesperson Anthony Black confirmed the move to us stating,  ”We are ending service between SFO and NRT with the last westbound service effective Friday, March 28, 2014, and final eastbound service effective Sunday, March 30, 2014. Delta is suspending its nonstop service due to an unstable revenue environment caused by yen devaluation.”

Arrival kiosks like these at Delta's new T4 at JFK are coming to Atlanta. Nice! (Photo: Delta)

Arrival kiosks like these at Delta’s new T4 at JFK are coming to Atlanta. Nice! (Photo: Delta)

ATL GETS IMMIGRATION KIOSKS…Following in the footsteps of JFK’s terminals one and four, Chicago O’Hare, Houston, and Seattle-Tacoma, Atlanta is finally getting automated immigration kiosks that speed up the arrivals process for international passengers. Those with Global Entry may be a bit miffed, however, that everyone is getting a speedier option for entering the United States as it only takes a swipe of your passport and a few screen clicks to print out a ticket. Travelers then present that ticket to an immigration officer before heading through customs and save almost half the time versus waiting in a traditional line. Still, it is not quite as fast (or exclusive) as Global Entry, but it is better than before. The system also means you no longer need to complete an immigration card/customs declaration card on arrival. No word yet on when the speedy kiosks may show up at SFO.

Help us help you by getting a new credit card via links from The TICKET!

CREDIT CARDS DESPERATE TO GIVE YOU $400. Last week  Time Magazine ran a story about how banks are battling for the biz of folks with good jobs, good credit and high spending. Sounds like the typical BAT to me! The two best cards with the biggest bonuses for business travelers: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard. Why don’t you take the banks up on their offer? You’ll get $400 in award travel, and you’ll help out The BAT when (and only when) you order up a new card from our links. So just do it!

--Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Aer Lingus + Changes at DCA + Marriott downgrades + United menus + Delta-LinkedIn

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

Spring Break Warning + United in London + Air New Zealand upgrade + TripIt hack

Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

United carry-on “crackdown” not all it’s cracked up to be

Another spin on the frequent flyer merry-go-round

SFO by the numbers

Shoes + New STL flight + New A321T + Where’s the luv? + T3E cities + Free ice cream

Bikini-clad safety video

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

Aer Lingus + Changes at DCA + Marriott downgrades + United menus + Delta-LinkedIn

Aer Lingus will use Airbus A330's like this one on SFO-DUB (Photo: Flickr - Steven Little)

Aer Lingus will use Airbus A330′s like this one on SFO-DUB (Photo: Flickr – Steven Little)

DUBLIN. Lovely deep green Aer Lingus jets will float into SFO from Dublin again stating on April 2. MileagePlus members should be happy to know that Star Alliance partners Aer Lingus and United have a code sharing alliance. Air Lingus nixed the SFO-DUB route in 2009 as the global economy sputtered, but came back due to deep ties to the booming tech sector in both cities. If you love business class, you might want to check this out: Aer Lingus offers a unique bidding process for upgrades to the front of the plane. Details here. Aer Lingus’ return to SFO has sparked a fare war, with several carriers offering some rather remarkable deals (in the $700 range) for one-stop flights– these have been short, flash type sales during the slow spring months and will not last into the summer. (LIKE our Facebook page and we’ll keep you up to date on fare sales like this one.)

DRY SALUTE. Speaking of Aer Lingus—when the first flight arrives at SFO on April 2, it won’t get a water cannon salute. And that’s not because this is not really an inaugural—just a relaunch. It’s because of the drought. Airport spokesperson Doug Yakel said, “…in support of water conservation efforts, Aer Lingus will receive a ‘dry salute’, with firefighters and their equipment positioned on the tarmac, but with no water used.” The same thing will happen down at LAX when the first Saudia B777 arrives from Riyadh and Jeddah. Apparently a water cannon salute from firetrucks uses about 3,000 gallons of water. (Check out this gorgeous watery welcome for Air France’s first A380 at SFO!)

MUSICAL GATES AT DCA. If you fly Southwest, Virgin America or JetBlue into Washington Reagan National Airport, you need to read this about their plan to swap terminals. Virgin and JetBlue will move into more modern digs in Terminal B/C.  Southwest will expand at the older Terminal A, which is slated for a major re-do to be completed in late 2015.  

Rooms like this one at the swank Cosmopolitan Las Vegas bump up from Marriott Rewards Tier 8 to Tier 9. (Photo: Cosmopolitan)

Rooms like this one at the swank Cosmopolitan Las Vegas bump up from Marriott Rewards Tier 8 to Tier 9. (Photo: Cosmopolitan)

MARRIOTT REWARDS DOWNGRADES. It’s getting downright tiring to write about loyalty program downgrades. But I’ll carry on! Marriott has increased the number of points needed for free nights at a slew of properties around the world. Most of the properties that you’d really want to stay at are increasing from Category 8  to the newly created Category 9. Here’s the list. Read it and weep.

TAIPEI.  United is reintroducing nonstop B777 service between SFO and burgeoning Taipei on March 29. To prime the pump, it’s offer up to a 100% MileagePlus bonus on all except the cheapest economy fares.

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

UNITED MENUS. United announced that it’s bumping up options for flyers trying to avoid gluten. You soon see more soups, salad dressings and fruit/nut bars labeled as gluten free. The “savory snack box” on sale in coach will soon be 100% gluten free as are most items packed into the “classic” and “tapas” boxed snacks. In addition, it’s replaced regular yogurt with Greek yogurt in business class and on p.s. flights between SFO and NYC.

Fabulous new "grand lodge" interiors at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe (Photo: Hyatt)

Fabulous new “grand lodge” interiors at Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe (Photo: Hyatt)

WORTH CHECKING INTO. Last week I was able to snag a super nice room at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe for just $100 per night by bidding low on Priceline. (Probably has something to do with the lack of snow there!) Having stayed there about five years ago, I was surprised at the REALLY nice full re-do of the 398-room high rise lakeside property in Incline Village, NV. The style is “grand lodge” and there’s lots of stone, leather and timber. The renovation project wrapped up this past December, with each room getting a $45K makeover… the total tab was about $25 million and it shows! Check it out! Overall, I’ve been impressed with Hyatt re-dos all over the world… have you noticed?

DELTA BOOSTS LAX AGAIN. Beginning this summer, Delta will add twice-daily nonstop service from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas aboard Boeing 717 and 737 planes. New daily service to Boise, Idaho will be added via Delta Connection, and a daily international link to San Salvador, El Salvador makes a comeback to the Delta network from LAX with 737 service each day. These moves in addition to a recent declaration that it intends to make Seattle a hub show Delta’s serious about building up its west coast presence.

DELTA PARTNERS WITH LINKEDIN. Delta has linked up with LinkedIn to offer business travelers the opportunity to fly with industry influencers on specific flights. Travelers that are intrigued with flying with a bigwig in their specific industry submit an application at Deltainnovationclass.com. Then, Delta will select and pair applicants with industry leaders. These pairings will be chosen throughout the year, and the winners will have the chance to fly side by side with their role model or industry icon giving them the chance to share ideas or discuss business topics along the way. Would you be up for some mentoring on a flight? If so, who would you most like to sit next to? 

DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING?? If so, help out The BAT by signing up for a new credit card! Check out our picks for Best New Credit Cards for Bay Area Travelers. When you sign up, we earn a commission, which helps us help you! Thank you for your support!!

--Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

Spring Break Warning + United in London + Air New Zealand upgrade + TripIt hack

Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

United carry-on “crackdown” not all it’s cracked up to be

Another spin on the frequent flyer merry-go-round

SFO by the numbers

Shoes + New STL flight + New A321T + Where’s the luv? + T3E cities + Free ice cream

Bikini-clad safety video

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

SFO's North-South Runways 1R & 1L will close. Arrivals and departures will use 28R & 28L.

SFO’s North-South Runways 1R & 1L will close for 4 months. Arrivals and departures will use 28R & 28L.

Plans to close half San Francisco International Airport’s runways for four months this summer could result in significant flight delays, especially for those departing during peak hours.

Today, SFO invited the media out to the airport to explain the runway closure. Here’s what you need to know:

>SFO has four runways, two of which will be closed for about four months from Saturday, May 17 until mid-September.

>Runways will close so the airport can construct new, federally mandated “Runway Safety Areas” (RSAs) at the end of runways 1L and 1R.

The engineered material arresting system – or EMAS – uses crushable concrete placed at the end of a runway to stop an aircraft that overruns the runway. The tires of the aircraft sink into the lightweight concrete and the aircraft is decelerated as it rolls through the material (Engineered Arresting Systems Corporation)

2010 photo from Charleston, WV runway overrun. The engineered material arresting system – or EMAS – uses crushable concrete placed at the end of a runway to stop an aircraft that overruns the runway. The tires of the aircraft sink into the lightweight concrete and the aircraft is decelerated as it rolls through the material (Engineered Arresting Systems Corporation)

>RSAs are large wide swaths of crushable concrete-like material that are designed to allow aircraft that overshoot, undershoot or veer off the runway to come to safely come to a stop (and not barrel on to Highway 101 or into the Bay!). Think of them as runaway truck ramps like you see on freeways… but for planes.

>Every time it rains at SFO, the airport shifts to a two-runway landing pattern, so the closure is not unprecedented. As a matter of fact, airport officials say that SFO operated with only two runways 101 times in 2013. (That’s 101 times… not 101 full days, but still…)

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

>SFO says that has worked closely with the FAA and airlines to minimize delays associated with the closure. For example, Delta’s hourly shuttle service to LAX will not operate at 11 am or 1 pm this summer according to its schedule. Those flights resume in October. A Virgin America spokesperson said,  ”We have proactively adjusted our schedules to allow for longer taxi times at SFO this summer and to minimize the impact for our guests.”

>SFO says that new flight procedures implemented last year to allow more planes to land during foggy conditions should help.

>Arriving flights will be given priority, which means that departures are most likely to be delayed. Those delays are most likely to occur during peak hours– between 10 am and 2 pm.

(Courtesy SFO)

(Courtesy SFO)

>All planes will take off to the west. Flights headed to Southern California and Asia will depart SFO, fly up and over the San Bruno gap, then head out over the Pacific. Flights headed to the east and to Europe will also take off to the west, but will make a sharp right turn shortly after take off, then head east over the Bay Bridge and Oakland. (It’s going to create some awesome plane spotting from cars on Hwy 101!)

>The airport will implement a metering system that will assign departure times during peak hours– this system will ensure that if your departure is delayed, you will wait at the gate area and not on the tarmac.

>Runways 28L and 28R had some minor adjustments made last year to meet the spatial requirements set by the federal government. This construction only required runway shutdown for a few days.

>When I asked airport spokesperson Doug Yakel if SFO’s delay problems might ever be permanently fixed by expansion into the Bay, he said no… “beyond the environmental concerns, building new runways out on the bay would simply be cost prohibitive.” He added that many of SFO’s delay issues would likely be solved by new technology instead of new runways.

How will this news impact your summer travel plans? Are you more likely to fly from Oakland or San Jose? Please leave your comments below!

DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING?? If so, help out The BAT by signing up for a new credit card! Check out our picks for Best New Credit Cards for Bay Area Travelers. When you sign up, we earn a commission, which helps us help you! Thank you for your support!!

--Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

Spring Break Warning + United in London + Air New Zealand upgrade + TripIt hack

Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

United carry-on “crackdown” not all it’s cracked up to be

Another spin on the frequent flyer merry-go-round

SFO by the numbers

Shoes + New STL flight + New A321T + Where’s the luv? + T3E cities + Free ice cream

Bikini-clad safety video

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

 

American Airlines’ brand new A321T now on SFO-JFK – Trip Report

American Airlines A321T now flying SFO-JFK (Photo: AA)

American Airlines Airbus A321T now flying SFO-JFK (Photo: AA)

An inaugural flight typically comes with some fanfare, and American Airlines’ first flight of the Airbus A321T from SFO to JFK on March 6 was no exception. I was lucky enough to be on that flight, then returned the next evening on another A321T. This aircraft will replace the old 767s between JFK and both SFO and LAX. But I wondered if when the inaugural fanfare faded, the glow would remain.

(Photo: Nancy Branka)

By June, AA will have five A321T flights per day SFO-JFK (Photo: Nancy Branka)

My work takes me frequently to New York, and I most commonly choose AA based primarily on schedule: a midday flight going east, and an early evening flight going west. But I loved to hate the 767s that serviced this route for as long as I can remember (though I know some appreciated the convenience of the widebody). As it happened, the inaugural flight and my return were the very same flights I typically have taken, making it easy to compare the old and new.

I believe American’s A321T is a winner, a classy upgrade in comfort, technology and inflight service. Social proof: I eavesdropped on a conversation of three people in front of me in the taxi stand line at JFK who apparently were on my flight. They couldn’t say enough about the new plane.

Here are nine features I think you will find exciting on the new A321T service:

American Airlines offers the only lie-flat first class bed on SFO-JFK (Photo: AA)

American Airlines offers the only lie-flat first class bed on SFO-JFK (Photo: AA)

1. Class distinction

American is now the only legacy airline to offer a first class cabin between the West Coast and New York. Clearly, the airline is targeting the deep pockets of the entertainment market with L.A. and technology with San Francisco, but it remains to be seen if there’s the market for first class over business. The A321T is outfitted with 10 first class seats, 20 business class, 36 premium economy and 36 economy.

I flew in a first class seat en route to New York and business on the way back. The 1-1 seating in first is incredibly spacious and offers a great deal of privacy, particularly for sleeping, but personally, I did not see much other value (except on a red-eye) to justify a price differential. Both first and business class seats are fully lie-flat. The catering and entertainment systems are virtually the same (exception: espresso/cappuccino available only in first), and both classes gain complimentary access to the Admirals Club. The same flights checked two weeks out show $5902 first class fare as compared to $4,916 for business and $438 coach. (The $986 first class premium over business is not worth it for my budget, but may be for those who weigh it against flying private.) If the market can’t quite support this cabin, the upside for the rest of us may be upgrade availability.

2. Power, power, power

There will be no excuse not to fire up the laptop on these flights. Every seat in the airplane is equipped with a universal AC power outlet and USB jack (though the USB was not working on the inaugural flight). In business and first classes, the outlet offers easy access above the left shoulder. In first, the table space between the seat itself and window allows a handy spot to place a laptop out of the way when eating, without cords getting in the way. Coach passengers will find their universal AC outlets and USB jacks on the seatback beneath the video screen.

AA's new A321T offers both standard and (Photo: AA)

AA’s new A321T offers both standard and Main Cabin Extra economy class seats (Photo: AA)

3. Stretch out

Half of the 72 main cabin seats are premium economy, which American calls Main Cabin Extra. This “class” includes four extra inches of legroom: 35” seat pitch, as compared with 31” in standard economy. By way of comparison, United’s Economy Plus seats on the 757 are 36” over the 31” standard economy. Main Cabin Extra passengers also receive early boarding privileges. A nice feature of the coach seat is that when reclining, the bottom of the seat slides forward, avoiding the laptop crunch when the person in front of you reclines suddenly.

4. Press play

You may be sorely tempted not to work (as I was). The in-seat entertainment systems are state-of-the-art and deep in choice, including still-in-theaters selections. I watched a couple of movies fresh off the Oscars, which had aired the week before: 12 Years a Slave and Philomena. The AA PR folks boast that you can press play when you take off, and the plane would have to circle the globe 14 times before you’d have to watch the same thing twice. In coach, there’s complimentary NBC Universal Television, radio and short content, but on-demand packages start at $4, including an exclusive Disney entertainment library that would be useful for families.

DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING?? If so, help out The BAT by signing up for a new credit card! Check out our picks for Best New Credit Cards for Bay Area Travelers. When you sign up, we earn a commission, which helps us help you! Thank you for your support!!

5. Flight attendants as baristas

The A321T has a built-in espresso cappuccino maker-- for first class only (Photo: Nancy Branka)

The A321T has a built-in espresso cappuccino maker– for first class only (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Espresso and cappuccino are made to order in first class. Strangely, business class is excluded from this service. The cappuccino I sipped was Starbucks-worthy, but it seems like a lot of hardware to add onboard for 10 possible customers. The flight attendant who made my cappuccino said she snuck one into business class for Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Houser, M.D. and How I Met Your Mother fame, but I suppose those of us without celebrity status will not be getting our cappuccinos unless in first.

6. Preordered meals

I had never ordered a meal before the flight (available for premium passengers) and very much liked the concept, somehow gaining a small sense of control. Options for business and first class meals are virtually identical. The menu included fare like grilled filet of beef, grilled chicken tapenade and mushroom stroganoff. Ice cream sundaes were served as dessert, with cookies offered later, fresh out of the onboard oven. I ordered gluten-free meals, which were unimaginative. The chicken on the first class flight was so dry and the rice so crusty that the flight attendant offered me a mini bottle of vinaigrette to sauce it up a little, an example of how attentive service can undo the damage of other missteps.

American's transcon business class seats are nearly identical to United's- both lie flat (Photo: AA)

American’s transcon business class seats are nearly identical to United’s- both lie flat (Photo: AA)

7. More schedule choice

With the larger 767 being replaced by a smaller plane, an additional flight will be added to bring the service to five daily each way. Currently, two flights a day are on the A321T (look for the 32B aircraft code when booking online). Beginning April 1, three of the four will be on the A321T, and by June 11 frequencies will be increased to five when the transition will be complete. What will happen to your old friends, the 767s that so earnestly serviced this route for so many years? They will be “retired from service” according to AA. It was time.

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

.

8.  Noise: cancelled

Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones are provided for those in premium cabins. The sound quality was excellent, but I thought flight attendants collected them too early.  Both times I was in the middle of a movie, which required an awkward hunt for the noise canceling ear buds I’d brought, to finish out the flight. On the way home, flight attendants offered ear buds just after they collected the Bose headsets. Thoughtful, but again, awkward.

Overhead storage is ample-- a nice change from the older 767s! (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Overhead storage is ample– a nice change from the older 767s! (Photo: Nancy Branka)

9. Happy stowing

Overhead space abounds in the A321T, right-sized to today’s carry-on greedy passenger. This feature is especially appreciated after becoming grumpily accustomed to the 767’s bins, fully half of which could not accommodate a rollaboard.

Overall, I found the A321T to be a lovely ride, beautifully upgraded to meet the needs of today’s passengers—both premium and otherwise. The fact that I was a guest of American did not color my view, and fellow passengers with whom I chatted were as enthusiastic as I. A couple of limited-time offers sweeten the pot for Bay Area travelers wanting to hop on board the A321T: Inflight entertainment in coach is complimentary through March 31, plus first and business class passengers earn double elite qualifying AAdvantage points through May 31 (must register). If your travels take you to and from New York, the A321T is a top-notch way to go.

What’s your preferred airline, airplane and class of service for transcontinental flights? Will you give the new American A321T a try? Please leave your comments below! 

–Nancy Branka

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent Bay Area Traveler posts :

Best new credit cards for Bay Area Travelers

Mercedes transfers at SFO + United Closer to Tokyo + Virgin’s new menu + Uber not here + Slick SkyTeam lounge

Spring Break Warning + United in London + Air New Zealand upgrade + TripIt hack

Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

United carry-on “crackdown” not all it’s cracked up to be

Another spin on the frequent flyer merry-go-round

SFO by the numbers

Shoes + New STL flight + New A321T + Where’s the luv? + T3E cities + Free ice cream

Bikini-clad safety video

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from The Bay Area Traveler every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

 

DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING?? If so, help out The BAT by signing up for a new credit card! Check out our picks for Best New Credit Cards for Bay Area Travelers. When you sign up, we earn a commission, which helps us help you! Thank you for your support!!

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