Archive for the ‘Alaska Airlines’ Category

More in-flight wi-fi coming to the Bay

Alaska Airlines 737. Photo: Keith Gaskell

I’m a huge fan of in-flight Wi-Fi, especially for flights longer than 90 minutes, so I’m excited to learn that two more airlines that serve the Bay Area in a big way are adding it. But not for a while.

First off, Alaska Air announced that it’s reached a deal with AirCell’s Gogo—the same provider used by Virgin America, United, Delta and others. But don’t hold your breath. The carrier still has to go through testing and certification with the FAA. It plans to outfit its fleet of new Boeing 737-800’s first, but has not officially set a target date for installation.

One downside: Much of Alaska Airlines’ flying is over water or desolate areas in Alaska, Canada and Mexico where the ground-based Gogo system is currently out of range of the network of radio towers it depends on. That means I’ll get a good Wi-Fi signal in-flight if I choose an Alaska Airlines flight from here to Seattle or Austin. (It adds a second daily “Nerd Bird” nonstop between San Jose and Austin next week.) But my Wi-Fi is not going to work on those new Alaska Air flights from here to Hawaii. And it will be spotty at best on the long coastal flights between Seattle and Anchorage.

Here’s where this story gets ironic. Southwest Airlines, which flies almost exclusively over land, has chosen another in-flight Wi-Fi provider called Row 44, which uses a satellite-based system that works over water and just about anywhere else.

At one time, Alaska Airlines seemed close to landing a deal with Row 44, which would make sense given its flying patterns. Instead, it’s gone with land-based Gogo. Why? “Ultimately Alaska Airlines decided to go with Aircell’s Gogo service because of its proven track record of deploying affordable inflight Wi-Fi services to travelers. Its lower-cost equipment, coupled with the ease and speed of installation and finally its system reliability, allow us  to rapidly deploy a desirable service to customers,” Alaska Airlines spokesperson Bobbie Egan told The BAT.

Anyway, Southwest plans to start outfitting its fleet of 540 Boeing 737’s this spring, and says Wi-Fi will be available fleet wide by late 2012.

Frequent travelers from the Bay Area are lucky… they have more in-flight Wi-Fi choices than nearly any other major city. (Except maybe Atlanta, where AirTran offers it on all flights from its hub there, and Delta’s got it on well over half its fleet.) From the Bay, all Virgin America flights offer it. Delta, United and American offer it on all flights between SFO and JFK, and on select flights to other cities. AirTran offers it on all flights between here and Atlanta and beyond.

Have you tried in-flight Wi-Fi? Are you as big a fan as I am? I can’t think of a better way to take advantage of a long flight. To me, it’s the greatest thing since the introduction of the in-flight movie. I don’t mind paying for it either. It definitely drives my airline choice, especially when planning flights longer than 90 minutes. Please leave your comments and experiences with in-flight Wi-Fi below.

Here’s an interesting video that explains how Gogo’s ground-based in-flight internet works:

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The BAT on Bloomberg! (Talking Business Class)

United's Lie-Flat Biz-Class Sleeper. Now on ALL 747 and 767 aircraft

Hey Folks: Our new little BAT blog is getting some good press! Check out our quote in the following Bloomberg article about the s-l-o-w return of business class amenities on international flights.

Here’s the link: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=a10He8umbUY4

And here are a few lines from the intro:

By Mary Jane Credeur and Mary Schlangenstein

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) — Delta Air Lines Inc. and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, the world’s two largest carriers, are counting on lie-flat seats and Tahitian crab soup to help win back their most-profitable customers.

With the easing of an 18-month global slump in first- and business-class travel, Delta’s seats that recline 180 degrees into beds and American’s Asian-fusion appetizers are lures for the corporate passengers whose ranks dwindled when the global recession ravaged budgets for international flying.

Filling the premium seats at the front of airplane cabins is pivotal to U.S. airlines’ efforts to return to profit in 2010 after weak demand forced them into discounting to woo vacationers. Business fliers are prized because they typically pay the highest prices and take to the air more often.

“If you’re flying to Japan or Seoul, it makes all the difference in the world to put your legs up and really sleep and arrive rested and ready to go,” said Chris McGinnis, editor of The BAT, a San Francisco-based newsletter and blog for frequent travelers. “You’re going to feel really taken care of.”

U.S. airlines have been playing catch-up in recent years with overseas competitors such as Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. that moved more quickly to add amenities including seats that convert into beds.

Here’s the link: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=a10He8umbUY4

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San Jose Airport version 2.0: Wow! (video)

photo: Sherman Takata

(scroll down two view my two-minute video tour of the new terminals)

The sleek new look of Mineta-San Jose’s new airport terminal reminds me of my iPod. Or a space ship. Or a museum. In any case, it’s cutting edge design is now a much more befitting symbol of the Silicon Valley than the version 1.0, which sort of reminded me of my 60’s-era elementary school. (Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

[The BAT is now on SFgate! Check it out here.]

Last month, the Silicon Valley Business Travel Association invited me to their monthly meeting, which was hosted by airport officials. The SVBTA is a 240+ person organization that represents the interests of corporate travel buyers in the South Bay region—to the tune of just over $1 billion per year. (see svbta.org)

San Jose airport authorities brought in SVBTA members for a look-see because they are eager to get support from the business community necessary to attract more flights and more airlines to its fancy new digs. Why? Because the new digs cost a whopping $1.3 billion, and that mortgage will be repaid in large part by the fees airlines pay to fly in and out of SJC. (The airport is self-sustaining and does not rely on local tax funds.)

Despite its location in largest city in the Bay Area and adjacency to some of the world’s largest tech companies that spend billions of dollars each year on travel, San Jose airport handles less than 20% of all commercial flights in the region.

(Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

The tech bubble burst and recession have had a severe impact on the airport. For example, the number of daily flights at SJC has fallen from 232 in 2001 to just 125 in 2010—that’s a 42 percent decline. The number of destinations served nonstop has declined from 39 to 28 in the same period. International flights to Tokyo and Paris were scrubbed long ago. Passenger numbers have declined nearly 40 percent.

Airport authorities blame a lot of this decline on what they call the “Virgin Effect.” They say that when Virgin America cranked up operations at San Francisco International in 2007, airlines quickly “herded” around the new entrant, concentrating their Bay Area flying at SFO and slashing prices to protect their market share. That means SFO added 83 new flights since 2007 while OAK and SJC have experienced losses in flights and passenger numbers.

However, there are some notable new flights at SJC: Alaska starts flights to Maui and Kona in March; Horizon just added new flights to Mammoth Mountain and will add flights to Spokane next month. In May, JetBlue adds nonstops to Boston.

(Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

Airport Primer:

If you find your way to San Jose for a flight in the near future, here’s what you need to know:

>All that’s left of the old structure is the current Terminal C, which will be demolished by this summer. Currently, if you fly into Terminal C (Alaska/Horizon, Delta, Frontier, US Airways), your bags will actually arrive at Terminal B due to construction. (This will change in June 2010 when all airlines move to A or B.)

>Terminal A (16 gates), originally opened in 1990 but has gotten a complete makeover, with a brand new ticketing area, concessions, and a big, bright new security screening area which opened last November. Terminal A handles American, Continental, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Mexicana and United flights.

>The bright new Terminal B Concourse (see video) partially opened last summer with six gates for Southwest Airlines flights. However, until Concourse B is complete this summer, Southwest passengers must enter security at Terminal A and take a rather long walk to their gates. (Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

>Eventually, an entirely new south Concourse will rise from the site of the current Concourse C, but that depends on when  airport traffic levels recover enough to justify the expansion.

>A new consolidated car rental center and parking deck (the building with the exterior skin featuring giant hands, which can be seen for miles) should open in June.

For more information on airport changes, maps, and services, go to www.flysanjose.com.

(Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

[The BAT is now on SFgate! Check it out here.]

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A Mixed Bag of Newsy Nuggets: United VERY On-Time, Big New Plane Order, Vegas Packed for CES and more

Boeing's New "Dreamliner." Squint and look at that coach section at the back. Familiar?

UNITED ORDERS NEW PLANES. While they won’t be touching down at SFO until at least 2016, United recently announced that it’s placed orders for 50 new wide-body aircraft. It split the order 50/50 between the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” and the Airbus A350. Both are about the size of current Boeing 767 or 777 aircraft and will eventually replace them.

NOT SO DREAMY. We’ve got an issue with the whole “Dreamliner” name… and get irritated when we see reporters get all wistful and dreamy-eyed thinking that everyone’s going to get a massage and a flat bed for sleeping (and dreaming) on every flight. Sorry folks—the plane is a dream to the airline, because it purportedly uses about 20% less fuel. But it’s not so dreamy for passengers sitting in coach- it’s just another twin-aisle, wide-body plane…okay, with bigger windows, maybe, but still…. (See photo above. Look beyond those dreamy first class seats!)

LOOK RIGHT>>> AND CHECK OUT OUR NEW ADVERTISER! Cavallo Point, located next to the Golden Gate Bridge (down and to the right if you are headed north) has been on our list of must-see Bay Area hotspots since it opened last year. While it’s a gorgeous, historic and luxurious resort, locals should visit to sit in the winter sun on the veranda at it’s Farley’s Bar, soak in the rays and the views, have a great meal and a bottle of wine….and look for your BAT editor! I’ll be there! Really, folks, if you like what you are reading on The BAT, please support our advertisers! It helps us help you! -cjm

UAL: BEST ON TIME PERFORMANCE—EVER? Yep, it’s true. According to the DOT, United was on time 91% of the time this past November, its best performance since the government starting tracking it in 1987. How did this happen? It’s all about the money according to gadling.com. Since last winter, United has offered all employees a $100 bonus each month the airline tops the DOT on-time ranking. They get $65 for second place.

MORE JETBLUE TO THE BAY. Starting May 13, JetBlue will add new nonstop flights between San Jose and Boston. (Introductory fares start at $99 each way.) JetBlue already offers nonstops from San Jose to New York-JFK. It also offers nonstops between Boston and SFO and Oakland.

CONNECT IN THE BART TUNNEL…EVENTUALLY. If you take BART to/from the airport or to/from work, you’re gonna like this: AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint/Nextel and Verizon flipped the switch on their wireless networks in the Transbay Tube on Dec 20. However, the Chronicle reports that despite the announcement, the service did not work as well as expected, so seamless use of mobile devices in the tunnel could take a while…

FLOWN LOW COST LATELY? Did you know that just 10 years ago, 90% of all air travel in the U.S. was on so-called “legacy carriers” like United, Continental, Delta, etc. Only 10% was on low cost carriers such as Southwest, AirTran or JetBlue. Well, what a difference a decade makes. Legacy dominance has declined to just 74% of the market this year…low-cost carriers have 26% of the market and low-cost giant Southwest owns 64% of that market.

NO MORE THAN THREE. Lengthy tarmac delays are a rarity at Bay Area airports, thank goodness! But they do happen (but mostly back east and most often due to snow and ice or de-icing.) Nonetheless, the feds have enacted new rules (effective later this winter) that will force airlines to provide food and water after two hours on the tarmac and a mandated return to the gate if they’ve been on the tarmac for more than three hours. If they don’t, they are fined $27,000 per passenger (that’s $5.5 million for a planeload of 200 pissed off passengers). Ouch! While the airlines are saying that the new rule will do more harm than good, the reality is that when faced with a fine like that, they will be forced to make operational changes that, in the long run, will prevent the horror stories we’ve all heard about folks stuck in stinky planes for hours on end. Your BAT editor has a comment about the whole brouhaha in this ABCNews.com article.

NEW MEMBERSHIP REWARDS PARTNER. Got a big bank of American Express Membership Rewards points that you are aching to redeem? You’ve got a new option: British Airways Executive Club recently became the 17th participating frequent flyer plan in the program. BA flies to 150 destinations worldwide from SFO via its two flights a day to London. (Stay tuned for a first hand BAT report later this winter from the Maldives…BA’s newest, and perhaps sexiest destination ever!)

VEGAS WILL BE PACKED. All indications are showing that this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Jan 7-10) is going to be full to overflowing. Why? Pent up demand. This time last year we were all in economic shock. Attendees for CES and many other conventions were forced to cancel their plans. With things looking up this year, everyone wants to go back. So expect FULL flights between the Bay and Vegas, full hotels, and the necessity of restaurant reservations. The city is expecting in excess of 100,000 visitors for this, the city’s largest event of the year.

NEW ARRIVALS TAX IN ARGENTINA. Effective immediately, all U.S. citizens arriving at Buenos Aires Ezeiza Airport must pay a one-time “reciprocity fee” of USD $131.00 upon arrival. Why? Because that’s the amount the U.S. charges Argentines applying for entry into the U.S. (Several other South American countries such as Chile, Brazil and Bolivia already require such fees.) While the fee might make travelers wince, the Argentine government stands to pull in a cool $52 million from the 400,000 or so Americans that arrive each year.

REGIONAL UPGRADES ARE BACK FOR 1K’s. United is getting very good at listening to their best customers. After the backlash surrounding the elimination of regional upgrades, this announcement recently appeared on the UAL site: “Sometimes no change is good news. After our last announcement, we heard from our 1K members how much they value their Regional Upgrades. To thank them for their ongoing loyalty, we’ve decided to continue issuing regional upgrades to 1Ks, even after the unlimited domestic upgrades program launches.” Regional upgrades are considered more valuable than the newer “unlimited upgrades” because they can be applied at the time of reservation.

HILTON HHONORS—GOOD AND BAD NEWS. First the good. Members of Virgin America’s Elevate program can now earn miles for stays at Hilton’s family of hotel brands. Now the bad: Hilton is increasing the number of HHonors points required for award redemptions starting on January 14. Most reward categories will require an additional 5000 points for a free night stay. Stays at Hilton’s poshest brand, the Waldorf=Astoria Collection, are now pretty much standardized at 50,000 per night in the low season and 60,000 in high season.

SOUTHWEST BUMPS UP AT OAK—REINSTATES NASHVILLE. In May, Southwest will restore a single daily nonstop service between Oakland and Nashville, Tennessee. It will also add frequency between OAK and the cities of Albuquerque, Denver, and Seattle-Tacoma.

WHICH BAY AREA AIRPORT DO YOU USE? From a VERY interesting article in the San Jose Mercury News: “Among domestic passengers departing or arriving in the Bay Area, 57 percent use SFO, up from 43 percent just three years ago. By contrast, Oakland’s portion of the region’s passengers has dipped from 33 percent in 2006 to 23 percent now, while San Jose’s share dropped from 24 percent to 20 percent during that span. The analysts contend that the turning point arrived in 2007, when SFO landed low-cost carriers Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Virgin America. Southwest and JetBlue have long been Oakland territory, with nearly six of every seven passengers taking those two airlines, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. About half of San Jose’s passengers fly Southwest. Now, Southwest has quickly become the third-most popular airline at SFO, even though it does not fly international routes.”

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Mixed Bag of BAT News and BAT Tips

MORE $$ FOR MORE SPACE. United says that it will raise the price for annual membership to its Economy Plus Annual Option from $349 to $425 starting Jan 10. This promo is a good idea for someone who does not fly UAL enough to get elite status (and therefore automatic upgrades to more spacious economy plus seating) but would like to have access to roomier seats onboard.  Note: While you get the ability to reserve Economy Plus seats with this plan (for you and a companion), you are not always guaranteed one.

FARES A TWITTER. The new flight search engine Fly.com is now tweeting last minute flight deals from Bay Area airports…as we go to press, some deals:  SFO-Cabo for $294 round trip. Vegas for $99 round trip. Twitterati should follow at: #SFfares

RED CARPET CLOSED AT FRANKFURT. United has closed its Red Carpet Club in Frankfurt and encourages members to use partner Lufthansa’s (distant, but much nicer) clubs instead. (Notefrom BAT reader Mark: “The Lufthansa clubs in Frankfurt aren’t always farther away.  A good number of United’s daily departures leave from the A gates and the new Tower Lounge @ FRA’s A concourse is in the right spot to make relaxing before the flight a breeze.”)

KOREAN AIR TO BRING ON 747. Korean Air will switch out its current 777 flying between SFO to Seoul with a 747 starting next summer.

MILWAUKEE BOUND? Midwest Airlines, which abandoned SFO a while back, will return with new nonstops to Milwaukee, WI using an Airbus A319 starting in April.

UNITED COPAYS. After going back and forth on the issue,  United will begin charging copays for upgrades in January. This pay-to-play move is both good and bad: Good in that you can now score a confirmed upgrade off of any discounted fare, which was prohibited in the past. Bad in that you actually have to shell out some coin to get out of coach. So, BAT readers, what do you think….is this a positive or a negative? Would you rather UAL stick to the old plan, or is this new one a good thing?

SO LONG 737. In case you missed the celebration, United has officially grounded its last Boeing 737. (We’re glad. They were getting a little tatty and worn out.)

MORE FLIGHTS FROM BAY TO HAWAII. Fresh off its inauguration of new flights between Oakland and Hawaii, Alaska Air has announced that it will add new nonstops between San Jose, Sacramento and Hawaii (Kona and Maui) starting on March 11. It will use a two class 737 on the route. Current lowest fares for travel next spring are running at about $350 roundtrip.

SFO TERMINAL 2 TOPS OUT. Workers welded the final steel beam into place on the renovation at Terminal 2 at SFO, which will be the new home of Virgin America flights in about another 18 months. (Scuttlebutt: American Airlines is a possible Terminal 2 tenant as well. This would make sense if United’s new partner, Continental, moves into AA’s space in Terminal 3.) The state-of-the-art, LEEDS certified terminal will have 14 gates, a “slow food” marketplace (more wholesome, locally produced selections), a spa, and two 500-sq foot kiddie play areas. Bring it on! (The terminal is paid in part with stimulus funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Thank you President Obama.)

DOWN HOME WITH SOUTHWEST IN MANHATTAN. BAT editor Chris McGinnis checked out Southwest Airlines “porch” in New York’s Bryant Park. Southwest is using the porch to woo Big Apple business travelers to its new flights to New York’s nearby La Guardia Airport. Would you fly SW to New York? To do so, you’ll have to make a quick stop at Chicago Midway, and sale fares are currently running at about $300 roundtrip.

TRAIN TO/FROM THE PLANE IN SEATTLE. Starting on December 19, the long awaited light rail link between SEA-TAC and downtown Seattle will open! The station will be connected to the airport via walkways through the parking garage. Stops along the 35-minute trip to downtown Seattle Link include: SODO, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley neighborhoods and Tukwila.

NO UAL PREMIER OR 1K FOR YOU NEXT YEAR? If, like a lot of folks faced less frequent travel due to the recession, you’ve lost your elite status on United, you can buy your way into the perks you’ve grown accustomed to. Depending on flight length, you can pay a premium of anywhere from about $50 to $175 each way for “United’s Premier Travel Package.” With it, you’ll get access to the elite security lines, priority boarding, upgrades to Economy Plus, two-free checked bags and a Mileage Plus bonus. Pay twice that much, and you’ll also get a pass to the Red Carpet Club. (Purchase online or soon at United check in kiosks)

MORE ON TIME. With airlines parking more planes in the desert, airport congestion has become less of a problem at most airports (But not NYC!). In September, airlines had their best on-time performance since 2003, with 86% of flights arriving on time. That’s an improvement over August when just 80% arrived on time. It’s also slightly better than last September when 85% arrived on-time. Alaska Air and Southwest topped the list for best on time performance at about 90% on time.

AA TRANSCONS GET CREAMED. Starting Dec 1, business class passengers of American’s transcon flights out of SFO will get Ben & Jerry’s sundaes.

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New Flights From the Bay to Hawaii

JUST IN TIME FOR THE COLD RAINY SEASON HERE! Picking up where bankrupt Aloha Airlines left off …. Alaska Airlines today inaugurated four-times-weekly service between OAK and Maui and tomorrow will begin thrice-weekly service between Oakland and Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Fares over the next three months range from a low of about $380 to a high of around $700. (www.alaskaair.com)

Inflight Amenities:

The new flights are operated with Boeing 737-800 aircraft, accommodating 16 passengers in first class and 141 in the main cabin. All flights to Hawaii offer Hawaiian-themed beverages and meal service. Customers in the main cabin are offered complimentary Mauna Loa macadamia nuts and a complimentary Mai Tai or POG juice, as well as a Hawaiian-themed meal-for-purchase option for $6. Inflight service includes Alaska Airlines’ digEplayer, a personal entertainment system offering a variety of movies, television shows, music and other features.

Summary of flights:

Start date        City pair                    Departure time         Arrival time          Day of week
Nov. 9             Oakland-Maui             7:45 a.m.                11:05 a.m.          Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat
Nov. 9             Maui-Oakland             12:05 p.m.              7:10 p.m.            Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat

Nov. 10           Oakland-Kona             7:45 a.m.               11:15 a.m.          Tues, Thur, Sun
Nov. 10           Kona-Oakland             12:15 p.m.              7:30 p.m.           Tues, Thur, Sun

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UC Berkeley Grad Student Thesis About…Us!

UC Berkeley Grad Student Gabriel Leigh

Okay all you mileage-obsessed mileage mavens, mileage junkies, travel addicts, road warriors or anyone who has ever held an elite level membership with a frequent flyer program. You know who you are. This video is for you.

This 20-minute documentary (“Frequent Flyer”) is actually the master’s thesis of Gabriel Leigh, journalism grad student at UC Berkeley. I don’t normally have 20 minutes to devote to an online video, but this was time well spent. (The video is very professionally made and easy on the eyes…)

So sit back, relax, hit the full-screen button and enjoy this….it will be like looking in the mirror for many of you!

Frequent Flyer from Gabriel Leigh on Vimeo.

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Free In-flight Wi-Fi — the latest trend!

in-flight_wifi_feature-thumb-550x380-21828The optimal price for inflight Wi-Fi seems to be … FREE. At least on Virgin America, Delta, AirTran and American…

Some really great news today from Virgin America and Google- especially for those like us who have become addicted to in-flight Wi-Fi and expect it on EVERY flight. Especially those transcons! Although this offer has a time limit, we are thinking that this could be the beginning of a trend….free SPONSORED in-flight Wi-Fi. What do you think of that?

Here’s the announcement from Virgin:

San Francisco – Oct. 19, 2009 – Virgin America, the airline that is reinventing domestic travel, today announced an exclusive partnership with Google to offer free in-flight WiFi to all of its guests during the holidays. The two California-based companies known for innovation, entrepreneurialism and for connecting people in new ways, have again joined forces to give Virgin America fliers the gift of in-flight connection during the holiday travel season. From Nov. 10, 2009-Jan. 15, 2010, guests on all Virgin America flights will be able to check email, gift shop online, stay in touch with family and friends via social media, or just go wherever the web takes them – all for free. In May, Virgin America became the first airline to offer Gogo® Inflight Internet service on every flight. Here’s the whole story: http://www.freeholidaywifi.com

This comes on the heels of an announcement by a company called Row 44, which is working with Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines to install a new, free, commercially sponsored in-flight Wi-Fi system that works via satellite, versus the current Gogo systems which use a network of ground based antennae.

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