My advice for travelers re Sandy

Hurricane Sandy at 8 am Monday. Landfall is expected late tonight and into tomorrow. (Screenshot from FlightAware.com)

This is going to be a tough week for business travel, no matter where you are headed.

That’s because the nation’s air travel network is deeply tied to getting people to or from the “Megalopolis” which extends from Washington DC to Boston. And the megalopolis is essentially shut down to air and rail travel today through at least Wednesday.

If you are flying anywhere this week- even if your itinerary does not have you anywhere near the Northeast, your flight could be affected due to the ripple effect of this storm. This means that the flight that you might be catching to fly from San Francisco to Chicago could be using a plane that is normally flying in from New York or Washington. And with Sandy bearing down on those airports and shutting them down…it’s likely that your plane won’t be arriving in San Francisco. You might end up on a different type of aircraft. Your seat assignment could be different. You might have to fly earlier or later than expected.

That is why it’s essential to stay in touch with your airline online (phoning is impossible) to monitor the situation. Other helpful resources are the flight delay maps at FlightStats or FlightAware.

I think the most important thing to remember during storms like this is that if your flight is cancelled, and you decide NOT TO TRAVEL AT ALL- meaning you decline any re-accommodations or waivers offered, and just zap the whole trip, you are entitled to a full refund from the airline. 

And that’s what I suggest you do if you have plans to travel to the Megalopolis this week. Your flight has likely been cancelled, so just don’t go,  give up your seat to someone who may really need it, take your refund and try again next week or next month.

Note: You are only entitled to a refund if you flight is cancelled- not simply delayed.  Also, if you are stranded by this storm, airlines are not required by law to provide you with overnight accommodations. Many will try to help, but remember, there is no federal statute that requires them to pay for hotels during force majeure events like this. 

Based on the severity and duration of this storm, I do not expect the air travel system to recover until this weekend, or early into next week. Currently, it appears that Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia are going to get the brunt of this storm. New York is going to get walloped, too- low lying La Guardia is especially susceptible to damage from a storm surge. Boston is still open this morning and might just get sideswiped.

Luckily, we are not in a peak travel period, so it will be somewhat easier for airlines to re-accommodate stranded travelers on flights that are not sold out. However, airlines have cut back on capacity so much in recent years, that empty seats are few and far between, so it’s going to take a while.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy the fall weather, and don’t try to get to the megalopolis this week if you don’t have to.

Have you been affected by this storm yet? How have you been treated by the airlines? Please leave your storm stories below! 

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For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.

 

 

UPDATE: United cancels East Coast flights; others waiting it out

Due to the threat of Hurricane Sandy hitting the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, a cascade of United cancellations from SFO to affected areas began this morning. (See chart below)

Here’s a link to United’s current waivers/exceptions policies for flights back east.

It appears that the last United flights out to the east coast departed this morning (Sunday) before 8 am. After that, all United nonstops to cities from Washington Dulles to Boston Logan have been scrubbed according to FlightStats. Many American Airlines flights to JFK are showing up as cancelled, too. Flights to other cities are not affected.

On the other hand, as of 9 am on Sunday, Virgin America flights from SFO to Washington, New York, Philly and Boston still are still showing active departure times. Delta and JetBlue  departures from SFO to New York still show active departure times all day today.

Everything is fluid right now…so if you have a flight back east over the next 3-4 days, keep an eye on FlightStats and your airline website.

Flight status for SFO-JFK flights as of 9:30 am Sunday:

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For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.

 

Singapore Air cancels world’s longest flight

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500 (Photo: Muhammad Ector Prasetyo)

I know that this is going to crush a lot of frequent travel dreams out there, but here goes- This sad story just in from AP: The world’s longest commercial flight — Singapore to Newark, N.J. — is being cancelled.

Singapore Airlines announced Wednesday that it will end its nonstop flight between Singapore and Newark, a distance of about 9,500 miles. A slightly shorter route between Singapore and Los Angeles will also end. The two routes were flown on gas-guzzling Airbus A340-500s.

The airline found the only way to make the routes profitable was by configuring the plane with 98 business class seats that sell for about $8,000 roundtrip. Other airlines operate the same plane with about 250 seats in first, business and economy classes.

The flight from Newark, right outside New York, to Singapore takes about 18 hours. The trip from Los Angeles is about 1,500 miles shorter but takes 18 hours and 30 minutes.

Here’s the full, sad story from AP: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/singapore-airlines-end-worlds-longest-flights

How does this make you feel? Did you dream of one day taking this flight? How does 18.5 hours onboard an aircraft sound to you…even if it’s posh Singapore Air business class? Please leave your comments below. 

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Sponsor:  

For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.

United fare sale for fall/winter trips

A United Airlines 777 at London Heathrow airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Today United Airlines quietly rolled out some rather remarkable deals for fall and winter travel.

As usual, the sale fares do not apply on the key peak travel days around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

But if you can travel in early to mid-December, or after New Years in January or February, you should check this out.

Currently, United is not showing an end date for booking this sale, but you can bet that seats on the most convenient flights will get scooped up fast. And the sale can be yanked at any moment…

(Are YOU signed up to get The BAT via email? Hop to it! Your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

Here are some of the best roundtrip deals (all in) I’ve seen from SFO:

>Seattle: $210

>Houston: $231

>Denver: $238

>Ft Lauderdale or W Palm Beach: $260

>New Orleans: $284

>Miami: $299

>Puerto Vallarta: $361

>Beijing: $909

Here’s the link to the United sale fares from SFO

- by Chris McGinnis

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Sponsor:  

For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.

Is your flight “nonstop” or “direct?”

(Contrails over Amsterdam. Photo: Keempoo / Flickr)

Given a choice between a nonstop or a direct flight between SFO and New York, which one would you take? What if an option for a connecting flight was thrown into the mix?

Your choice could have a big impact on the price, length and comfort of your journey.

I’m frequently amazed at how many travel agents, airline employees, frequent business travelers and even fellow travel writers tend to think that direct and nonstop are interchangeable terms when referring to flights. They are not.

If you are wondering which type of flight is best for you, consider these definitions:

Nonstop:

A nonstop flight is just what it says: a single flight between two airports with no stops. Business travelers favor nonstop flights because they are the fastest, but they are frequently the most expensive.

Direct:

While a direct flight might sound like a nonstop flight, it’s not. A direct flight makes at least one intermediate stop along the way to its final destination, but has only one flight number.

For example, if you choose a direct flight between SFO and New York you’d fly on one plane the whole way to New York. But that plane would make a stop in, say, Chicago or Milwaukee or Atlanta, where it would drop off and pick up more passengers, like a bus. Due to these stops, direct flights can add an hour or more to your total travel time.

I recently flew Southwest Airlines flight #1618 from Oakland to Phoenix for a meeting. My flight from Oakland to Phoenix was a nonstop. However, the plane continued on to St Louis. The passengers who stayed on the plane in Phoenix and continued flying to St Louis on the second leg of flight #1618 were on a direct flight.

Often, direct flights are less expensive than nonstop flights, but not always. If you have a choice between a direct or a nonstop and the price is the same, take the nonstop!

Connecting:

A connecting flight means it will take at least two different planes with two different flight numbers to reach your final destination. For example, a connecting flight from San Francisco to New York on United Airlines would mean flying from San Francisco to Denver, or Chicago, where you would then disembark and board another plane for another flight to New York.

Connecting flights are almost always less expensive than nonstop flights, but they are not always the best option for travelers who place a premium on time.

Why? First, you’ll have to schlep hand luggage on and off the plane multiple times in each direction. Connections often mean landing in one concourse, then having to take a train or a long walk to another concourse. When you take off and land, you double your chances of encountering delays due to weather or air traffic control. Connecting flights can also take significantly longer than direct or nonstop flights due to long layovers. For these reasons, connecting flights are always the least desirable in terms of convenience… but the most desirable in terms of price.

Were you aware of the difference between direct and nonstop flights? What type of flight will you be taking next time? Be sure you know before you book!

- by Chris McGinnis

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Sponsor:  

For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.

A vision of the future from Virgin America & Salesforce

Virgin America is once again going to change up the airline passenger experience- this time using Chatter, Salesforce’s wildly popular corporate social media platform. (Sort of like an internal Facebook for companies.)

This initiative was announced at the big Dreamforce conference held here in San Francisco last month with a video interview with Virgin CEO David Cush (above), and presentations by Salesforce execs with their grand plans on how it will all work.

Virgin spokesperson Abby Lunardini told The BAT that many of the stories in the blogosphere regarding the rollout of the initiative are premature. She said that Chatter will be launched internally later this fall, which should help bring  behind-the-scenes communication among employees into real-time. But she emphasized that the rollout of Chatter onto Virgin’s customer-facing seatback RED system is still in the distant future. So what follows is what we’ll eventually see. But not for a while. A man can dream, right?

So, at some point, maybe in 2013, Virgin’s seatback video screen will greet you by name and know your Elevate status when you sit down on your flight. It will offer you food and drink based on what you’ve ordered on previous flights.

If your flight is delayed, it will push information to your seatback regarding connecting flight information or changes- and provide you with alternatives before you land. It will also provide access to your Elevate account.

If you’ve chosen to provide Virgin with access to your Twitter or Facebook accounts, it will let you know if you have friends sitting nearby- and connect you with them for an inflight chat if you’d like. If you tweet or post on Facebook regarding positive or negative experiences during your flight, someone from Virgin America might respond.

Virgin customer service employees will also be using Chatter to communicate with each other… and with passengers in-flight or on the ground… using iPads. So, for example, a high high-ranking member of Elevate arriving on a late flight and in danger of missing a connection could be greeted by a smiling Virgin employee holding an iPad displaying a sign with the flyer’s name and photo- and then escorted quickly to the waiting flight.

What do you think? Is this new social enterprise solution going to improve your experience with Virgin America? Or will it feel like an invasion of your privacy? Please leave your comments below. 

>by Chris McGinnis

**DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING HERE? Help spread the word about The BAT! Forward this link to your frequent traveling colleagues, your travel agent, your corporate travel manager! We need new readers and will only get them from recommendations from readers like YOU! www.thebat-sf.com**

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Southwest launches big fare sale

 

Southwest Airlines has launched a nationwide sale offering some eye-poppingly good deals for fall and winter travel. How about SFO to Chicago  and back for just $175 all in? Oakland to Denver for just $150? Or SFO all the way to Atlanta and back for less than $200? These are just a few samples of hundreds of really good deals on offer.

 

 

BUT, there’s a catch, as always… so don’t get your hopes up for a great deal during the peak holiday travel season. The fares are only good during what I call the “dead weeks.” These are the slowest travel days of the year—Wednesday, November 28 through Wednesday, December 12, 2012, and then again from Monday, Jan. 7 through Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013

 

 

These fares are excellent choices for business travelers who can schedule their meetings during these dips in demand when fares plummet.

They are also good for those who cannot afford peak holiday pricing and don’t mind postponing family visits or vacations.

They are also great options for skiers headed to the Rockies if the snow is not up to snuff in the Sierra in January.

Here are the details:

>Book your trip at southwest.com by midnight on Thursday October 11, 2012. Note that Southwest and AirTran launched this fare sale today… and you can count on other airlines matching the sale later today with similar fares on competitive routes.

>To get these deals, you must enter the discount code BigDeal40 in the Promo Code box on southwest.com or SWABIZ.com in order to receive the discount.

>Act fast. The sale is good for travel Wednesday, November 28 through Wednesday, December 12, 2012, and then again from Monday, Jan. 7 through Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013 (Not good on Sundays and certain other blackout dates). The cheapest seats will sell out fast.

>Here are all the terms and conditions for Southwest.

A similar sale, but without the gimmicky discount code is also underway at Southwest subsidiary AirTran—check sale fares at www.airtran.com.

>by Chris McGinnis

**DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING HERE? Help spread the word about The BAT! Forward this link to your frequent traveling colleagues, your travel agent, your corporate travel manager! We need new readers and will only get them from recommendations from readers like YOU! www.thebat-sf.com**

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Why isn’t popular PreCheck at SFO?

Map of TSA PreCheck locations across the US. What’s missing from this picture?

By now every frequent traveler has heard about the TSA’s innovative and very popular PreCheck trusted traveler program.

In a nutshell, PreCheck offers certain high mileage frequent flyers access to special, faster lanes at airport security that do not require them to remove their shoes, belts or coats, or take their laptops out of their bags for screening. (When I was chosen to pass through a PreCheck line last summer in Atlanta, the process reminded me of pre-9/11 security… a breeze. I was through in less than a minute and walked away with a big smile on my face.)

The introduction of the speedy new PreCheck lanes has been one of the best things the TSA has ever done for frequent travelers. It has been a roaring success in terms of passenger satisfaction as well as PR for the frequently maligned agency. To date, 3 million travelers have passed through PreCheck lanes at 26 airports across the country- the most recent addition is United’s hub at Washington-Dulles. It’s also at United hubs in Newark (C3), Houston and  Chicago. Even LAX has it!

There’s only one problem: Not a single Bay Area airport has PreCheck yet.

Why not? Well, it’s been tough for me to get a good answer from the airport or the TSA… and I’ve been asking and asking ever since the program rolled out last year. I’ve been hearing from BAT readers, too wondering why we don’t have it at a major hub airport like SFO or even OAK or SJC.

Last week I got a hopeful response from SFO spokesperson Mike McCarron: “It is ultimately up to the airlines to work out the arrangement with the TSA.  From what we understand, PreCheck should start showing up with United and Delta about mid-November.” All the TSA will say is that it “will be in 35 airports by the end of 2012.”

Virgin America spokesperson Abby Lunardini told The BAT, “We’re in discussions with TSA and are supportive of program and hope we can offer to Virgin America’s T2 guests in the near future — but there is no definitive roll out date yet.”

So there you have it…. I guess we’ll just have to sit back and wait our turn. Stay tuned to The BAT for updates and a big announcement when PreCheck finally arrives- hopefully this November.

Have you enjoyed PreCheck at other airports? Have you used CLEAR lanes at SFO yet? Are you finding airport security a bit more manageable now that the summer crowds have gone home? Please leave your comments below. 

>Chris McGinnis

**DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING HERE? Help spread the word about The BAT! Forward this link to your frequent traveling colleagues, your travel agent, your corporate travel manager! We need new readers and will only get them from recommendations from readers like YOU! www.thebat-sf.com**

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Coming soon to a flight near you: video streaming

JetBlue announced this week that it will (finally) offer a new, faster satellite-based inflight wi-fi product starting in early 2013. (Currently, JetBlue does not offer inflight wi-fi at all.)

JetBlue (with flights between SFO and Oakland to destinations such as Long Beach, Austin, Ft Lauderdale, New York, Washington and Boston) says that the new service from Live TV and ViaSat (not Gogo) will be fast enough to allow streaming of movies in-flight.  On its blog, JetBlue is promising that every passenger on the plane will be able to log on and have an “at-home experience” in terms of speed. The carrier offered no firm date for the launch, only promising “early 2013.” In an unusual twist, it says it will offer the service for free until the first 30 planes get it. After that, it will offer a tiered product, with a free basic connection, but charges for more bandwidth.

Not to be outdone by JetBlue, Delta says that it, too will offer the option of streaming movies and TV shows using inflight wi-fi on all 800 of its domestic two-class aircraft “by the end of 2013.” Delta currently provides Gogo wi-fi on its entire domestic fleet.

In related news, Canadian regulators have given the greelight to Gogo to get started on extending its ground-based network north of the US border. Service should be available starting in 2013.

Have you ever read The BAT’s sister publication, The TICKET? You should check it out! 

With SF-based Virgin America offering wi-fi on 100% of its flights, plus Delta, United and American providing it on all SFO>JFK flights, Bay Area Travelers (BATS!) are pretty spoiled. Such ubiquity is not the case elsewhere, and in fact, only 31% of domestic flights (1,165 aircraft) in the US have it. At Southwest, 35% of planes have it; 22% of American Airlines planes have it, and at United, the largest carrier in the world (and at SFO), only 1% of its flights have it, according to Business Travel News.

What is surprising is that usage of inflight wi-fi on the planes that offer it is miniscule—just a scant 5.4% on average for the first half of 2012 according to Gogo. I think that number is low because most flights are so short that it does not make sense to log on in-flight. But anyone who flies across the country frequently has witnessed a much higher usage rate- on some of those SFO-JFK flights sometimes it seems that the whole plane is logged on… and speed suffers as a result.  So all these promises of faster products are heartening.

Whether it is land-based or satellite-based,  the availability of wi-fi is THE deciding factor when I’m chosing an airline for flights longer than three hours. What about you? How important is in-flight wi-fi in your airline decision? Will you fly JetBlue more often if it comes through on its promise of a superfast in-flight wi-fi experience? Do we really need to stream video in-flight? Please leave your comments below.

**DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING HERE? Help spread the word about The BAT! Forward this link to your frequent traveling colleagues, your travel agent, your corporate travel manager! We need new readers and will only get them from recommendations from readers like YOU! www.thebat-sf.com**

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What the new iPhone will do for travelers

Have you had a chance to check out what Apple has in store with its new iOS 6 operating system… the one that will be in the new iPhone when makes its debut this month? It’s got all sorts of new gadgets and gizmos that will appeal to frequent travelers- especially this one:

Travelers will also see changes in all-important, newly designed, non-Google Maps, a (hopefully) smarter and more international Siri, easier photo sharing on Facebook, instant text replies to calls you can’t take, helpful do-not-disturb functions, FaceTime that works over cellular OR wi-fi networks, a new and improved “Lost Mode” for when that little devil slips away…

CNET surmises that all of this is eventually going to morph into an entire, recently patented, Apple travel ecosystem called iTravel.

All very exciting. I’m currently an Android/HTC user, but am about 99% along in my decision to finally switch to the new iPhone when it’s comes out… What about you?? Will you be making a switch to a new smart phone this fall? Which one? Why? Please leave your comments below… 

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