Catching up on Bay Area Travel News (March 10 2013)

Virgin America wingtip over downtown San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America wingtip over downtown San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES (OVER) REACT TO VIRGIN MOVES? It’s interesting to see how other airlines have reacted to Virgin America’s recent, and relatively minor expansion plans.

>For example, a day after Virgin’s announcement of plans to serve the San Jose-Los Angeles LAX market, Delta announced it would jump on the route, too, but with regional jets versus mainline aircraft offered by Virgin and Southwest. Alaska serves the route with a turboprop.

>Within days of Virgin’s announcement of a single daily nonstop between SFO and Austin, United countered with the addition of TWO more nonstops on the route, for a total of six daily (beware, most of those 3-4 hour hauls are on United’s regional jets). JetBlue also jumped into the fray with one additional daily SFO-AUS flight with continuing service to Ft. Lauderdale.

>Anchorage? After Virgin announced a single daily flight, United came back by increasing its daily summer season flights from just one to two daily.

>Back in December, Virgin announced new nonstops (3x daily) to United’s fortress hub at Newark starting on April 2. Notice how United (over) reacted to that? It increased daily SFO-EWR nonstops to 16 each way (!) from the current seven per day starting June 6. (Hat tip to routesonline.com for staying on top of all these changes!)

VIRGIN CONTRACTING TOO. Despite new routes, Virgin, which is still struggling to get into the black, is trimming schedules to cities it already serves. Examples: Starting May 1, SFO-Cancun is reduced to once weekly; SFO-Ft Lauderdale reduced to once daily instead of twice; SFO-New York JFK down to four daily instead of five. Orlando down from daily to just 4x per week. Philly: once daily down from twice. Washington Dulles down to three daily from four.

A China Eastern Airbus A330. (Photo: Kentaro / Flickr)

A China Eastern Airbus A330. (Photo: Kentaro / Flickr)

NEW NONSTOP TO SHANGHAI. Currently, only United offers nonstops (on a B747) on the red-hot route between SFO and Shanghai. But China Eastern Airlines cranks up new daily nonstop service between SFO and Shanghai (PVG) on April 26 using an Airbus A330. Currently, it’s US website is down and its San Francisco office is just getting established, so stay tuned for more information as we get it. SFO-PVG Fares are already declining—coach is down to just $1100 round trip compared to about $2,200 prior to MU’s arrival. Business Class is now about $4,500 round trip. China Eastern recently joined the SkyTeam alliance. Last year it won “World’s most improved airline” from the SkyTrax World Airline Awards. Have you flown China Eastern? How was it?

TIPS FOR USING PHONES OVERSEAS. One of the most-viewed posts on The BAT over the last year was our primer on saving money when using smart phones overseas. CNN liked it, too, and interviewed BAT editor Chris McGinnis about it at SFO. Check it out here:

VIRGIN AMERICA, SINGAPORE RECIPROCATE. Starting this month, members of Virgin’s Elevate program can earn and burn their points when flying Singapore Airlines. Since Virgin’s program is revenue (points)-based…and Singapore’s is miles-based, it gets complicated. Here’s a helpful breakdown of the deal from The Wandering Aramean blog. To celebrate the launch of the partnership, Virgin America is offering the chance for one Elevate member to win two round-trip economy class tickets on Singapore Airlines to Hong Kong or Seoul.  You’ll earn 500 Elevate points just for entering the Win a Stylish Ride on Singapore Airlines contest on Virgin’s Facebook page.


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NICE WORK, UNITED. Did you catch this bittersweet tale about how United held a flight for a San Francisco man whose mother was dying in Texas? He made it to Lubbock just in time, thanks to the work of United crews.

NO HASSLE TRAVEL TRIFECTA ON KCBS. My post last week about how using the “no hassle travel trifecta” could alleviate worry about impending slowdowns at airport security and immigration lines due to the sequester received a ton of play locally. KCBS called BAT editor Chris McGinnis for a chat about the strategy. You can listen in here!

BRITISH AIRWAYS A380. British Airways is deploying its first big Airbus A380 to California on October 15. Alas, it’s going to LAX instead of SFO. But nonetheless, BA’s Executive VP Simon Talling-Smith reached out to The BAT with some interesting info:  When it comes to configuration, BA is putting all premium class seats (14 in first and 97 in business) at the front of the plane, on both the main and upper decks—this makes for a quieter flight, and faster boarding/deboarding. (Most other carriers have business class on the upper deck—front to back.) BA says that it knows that premium passengers don’t like to fly at the back of the plane, even if in a business class seat. BA’s move represents the first time an A380 will be deployed between the US and London. LAX is BA’s second largest market after NYC. Introductory roundtrip business class fares between LAX and London will be just $3,800 round trip. Premium economy is $1380; coach is $830. Currently, BA does not have plans to bring its A380 to SFO. Would you add an extra leg from SFO to LAX in order to jump on this big new bird?




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  1. Thanks for those observations, Mara! Interesting to hear first hand from someone who has flown China Eastern. Love “the great firewall” HA! — chris

  2. Hey Brad: I agree about the odd fascination… Los Angeleeez and all that. ;) — chris

  3. I’m not at all surprised that BA is deploying the A380 to LAX; the British have a strange fascination with LA.

  4. Delta was already flying regional jets from SFO-LAX, which were always oversold. Made $300 twice on travel vouchers! Nice to have a similar option in SJC. American Eagle and United Express have been pretty active on the SJC-SAN runs (the latter dumps you into the quieter Commuter Terminal, much preferred). Hopefully Delta will do the same, since connecting in LAX sucks unless you want that travel voucher!

    Flew China Eastern last year when I needed a cheap Beijing-Tokyo roundtrip. Connecting in Shanghai was a nightmare — the entire “connect in China” process can be a nightmare — I’d say it’s on par with connecting in CDG, perhaps a tad worse given the language barrier. Food in domestic economy left a lot to be desired — one unpeeled orange wrapped in Saran Wrap and a piece of bread with a questionable piece of meat inside. (Then again, that still might be better than many US airlines at this point!). Lounge in PVG was horrid — dirty, dark. But the internet didn’t appear to have the Great Firewall in place, so I suppose it could be worse. Planes were new and clean, and I even got slippers in Economy due to my Delta status. Safety videos included a sign language interpreter, something I’ve only seen one other time (AF).

    This sounds like a great deal if you’re not connecting in PVG!

  5. John Michael says:

    After doing some research, the new Tom Bradley expansion at LAX has opened 3 new gates, and I believe Singapore is using one of the three new gates for it’s A380 service. Two out of the three new gates can handle the A380, and more gates will open in the summer. Seems LAX is gradually opening the new expansion (so no public tour, like we had in 2000 with our terminal). There is a description of the new gates with soaring ceilings.

    The SFO international terminal needs more flora and fauna, and less corporate grey, and transfer some of the cluttery art displays. Let’s get more earth tones in that titanic structure. I feel like I need a life vest in looking up at the ceiling.

    SJC did a great job with Terminal B……gleaming terminal. Terminal A’s re-do was good, but it needs business. Virgin and Delta will help with more flights in Terminal A. SJC needs to contact West Jet or Virgin Atlantic and get another international flight out of there since ANA is on hold with the 787 debacle. A movie called skyjacked with Susan Dey (aka Laurie Partridge) and James Brolin (aka Mr. Babs) was shot at Oakland back in the 70s. They used a World Airways 707. World had a major base out of Oakland and operated charter flights to Europe for the most part.

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