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(Almost) 100% lie-flat United + Asian fare sale + p.s. updates slow + run on Economy Plus

Is United new business class in the bubble on a 747 best in class at SFO? (Photo: United)

Is United new business class in the bubble on a 747 best in class at SFO? (Photo: United)

Catching up on Bay Area Travel news:

UNITED NOW 100% FLAT. Last week, United Airlines confirmed to The BAT that in long-haul business class, it is now 100% all-flat-all-the-time—all long-haul international aircraft now have United’s new 180-degree lie-flat seat. United succeeded in beating Delta, its nearest US competitor, to the punch on this front. I have to admit, I’m a fan of the new seat, especially when perched upstairs inside the bubble on a United 747-400. It feels like a private plane up there! The least desirable biz class seats are those in the middle of the middle in a 2-4-2 configuration on its reconfigured 777’s. Luckily I’ve always snagged a window or an aisle. What about you? What do you think about United’s new business class seat? Is it the seat to beat these days on long hauls out of SFO? Please leave your comments below.

UPDATE: July 11: United spokesperson Karen May writes: “It appears I misspoke when I said 100 percent of our long-haul international flights have flatbed seats. I just learned today that our flights between Honolulu and Tokyo do not have them yet. I apologize for the error.”

ASIAN ALTERNATIVE TO PRICEY EUROPE? Have you checked fares to Europe this summer? During peak summer travel season, nonstop, roundtrip fares from SFO are approaching $2,000. Singapore Airlines has just kicked off an interesting sale if you are interested in heading to Asia instead. For the next six weeks, it’s going to offer one special discounted fare per week from all its US gateways, including SFO. This week, the deal is to Singapore with round trips going for just $999 all-in for late summer and fall trips (Aug 18-Nov 15). Details here.

Emirate's foot washing station at its SFO business class lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Emirate’s foot washing station at its SFO business class lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

CLEAN FEET AT SFO. In addition to the posh foot-washing station inside the Emirates lounge at SFO, observant Muslims can now clean up for prayers in the parking decks.  SFgate reports that the airport has opened a new foot washing station on the ground floor parking deck for Muslim cab drivers.

HYATT IN VEGAS. If you are a Hyatt Gold Passport member, you should be pleased to know that starting in August you can earn and burn your points at some of the hottest names on the strip such as the Bellagio, Aria, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay—all of which fall under the MGM Resorts umbrella. Hyatt follows the recent entry of other hotel programs onto The Strip scene, such as Marriott Rewards at the Cosmopolitan or IHG Priority Club at the Venetian/Palazzo.

Whoa! Check out those biz class fares to NYC!

Whoa! Check out those biz class fares to NYC!

FARES HURTING. As we predicted, summer airfares are hitting stratospheric levels. It’s interesting to see how the airlines, online agencies and assorted discounters are trying to convince us that $450 is a “great deal” for a nonstop roundtrip between the Bay Area and New York or Washington. Business class fares on SFO-JFK nonstops are currently running at an astounding $4,000 round trip. On The BAT Facebook page, reader L.N.H. wrote, “Round trip economy fares for July trips to Florida are consistently $800+. I snagged a flight one week when they dropped to $600, and they quickly went back up to $800 and now over $1000. Crazy.” Do you have any examples of appallingly high summer fares? Please share them with us below! 

ALTERNATIVES TO AIR TRAVEL. Did you read our post last week about the idea of travel via tubes, which could reduce travel time between California and New York to about 45 minutes? If you missed it, you’d be one of the few—it was the BAT’s most popular post so far this year—nearly 50,000 people have read it so far! While the idea sounds far fetched at the moment, did you know that Japan is now working on a new 311-mph MagLev train that will cut travel time between Tokyo and Kyoto from 90 minutes to just 40 minutes? I wonder if they will have that built before our “high speed” 165-mph train between SF and LA is completed in 2026 (maybe).

UPDATED PS SERVICE SFO-JFK. Rollout of new p.s. Premium service aircraft on United’s San Francisco-New York JFK run is creeping along. Currently only one aircraft (out of 15) is in service, however United Spokesperson Karen May tells The BAT that three more of the Boeing 757-200s will be ready for prime time by the end of June. Have you taken a ride on an updated p.s. flight yet? Let us know how it went!

Room service breakfast at the Shangri-La Paris. Ooo-la-la! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Room service breakfast at the Shangri-La Paris. Ooo-la-la! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

NEW YORK HILTON DUMPS ROOM SERVICE. The giant 2000-room New York Hilton Midtown (On 6th Ave) says that starting in August, it will no longer offer room service. Guests who’d like a bite to eat in their rooms will be directed to the cafeteria-style Herb n Kitchen restaurant in the hotel lobby. How do you feel about a “full service” hotel cutting out a key amenity like room service? No more late night delivery of club sandwiches or pots of coffee in the morning? Do you care? Please leave your comments below.

SUBSCRIBE TO ECONOMY PLUS? This week United rolled out new $499 annual “subscriptions” to Economy Plus seating. Subscriptions are an option for those who don’t fly United enough to obtain Gold (or higher) elite status, but still want access those roomier seats at the front of the coach cabin at the time they make their booking. Those who hold paid subscriptions will have the same first-come-first-served access to Economy Plus seats once reserved for United’s Elite Mileage Plus members. How do you feel about this? Will enough folks be willing to fork over the $499 to make a difference in elites’ ability to nab these seats first? Please leave our comments below.

NEW PERK FOR CHASE/UNITED EXPLORER CARD. Just in time for summer trips to Europe, the Chase/United Explorer card is adding a benefit long offered by the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred card: no foreign transaction fees, which can add an irritating and extra 2-3% to all purchases made in other countries. While 3% may sound inconsequential, it adds up! Spend $3,000 on a week in Europe, and you’ll get hit with an extra $90 fee if you use a card that zaps you with foreign transaction fees.

ANA IS BACK AT SJC! Last week, ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner went back into service on the San Jose-Tokyo Narita route. If you recall, the plane was grounded shortly after the inauguration of the SJC-NRT flights. ANA invited me on that flight back in January and I wrote about my experience here. I must say that it was one of the best business class flights I’ve taken in the last five years!

Check out the BAT in the Noe Valley Voice!

Check out the BAT in the Noe Valley Voice!

THE BAT FEATURED IN NEWSPAPER. The Bay Area Traveler was recently featured in the best little neighborhood newspaper in San Francisco, The Noe Valley Voice. Take a read to learn more about The BAT’s fearless editor Chris McGinnis and his outlook for the summer travel season!

-Chris McGinnis

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New boarding procedure at SFO + Virgin PreCheck + CLEAR/PreCheck integration

United's new boarding area queues at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

United’s new boarding area queues at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

NEW BOARDING PROCEDURE AT SFO. United has installed new gate layouts at SFO and other US airports to help better manage the boarding process. Instead of waiting to board in bunches, each group is now divided into separate boarding lines in the following order:

  • Group 1 -  Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum, first, biz class
  • Group 2 -  Premier Gold, Star Gold, Premier Alliance Silver, Star Alliance Silver, paid Premier Access, Chase Club Card and Chase Presidential Plus Card holders
  • Group 3 -  All Economy Plus and regular economy window seats (most likely to get overhead bin space)
  • Group 4 -  Regular economy middle seats
  • Group 5 -  Regular economy aisle seats (least likely to get overhead bin space)

I flew United to Boston last week and have to say that the new system seems to be working well, even if it does remind me of the frequently derided Southwest Airlines “cattle call.” United claims the new boarding process is 20% faster. What do you think? Have you been through the new boarding process? Please leave your comments below.

Precheck logo TMVIRGIN JOINS PRECHECK. No airline can claim to coddle business travelers unless they are part of the wildly popular PreCheck program, which offers member access to TSA’s “trusted traveler” fast lanes at 40+ airports across the US. Last week, Virgin America joined American, Delta, United and US Airways as the PreCheck’s fourth US airline. (Southwest Airlines says, “we are working on it.”) This means that  members of Virgin’s Elevate program who are part of Global Entry or similar trusted traveler programs offered by Customs and Border Protection can now pass through special security lanes that do not require the removal of shoes, belts or coats and laptops can stay inside carry-on bags for x-ray screening. If you are already a member of PreCheck through another airline, be sure to add your PASS ID to your Virgin America profile! IMPORTANT: Members of PreCheck are randomly chosen—while it’s likely you’ll hear those lovely “three beeps” when your boarding pass is scanned by agents, it’s not guaranteed like CLEAR. For more information on PreCheck, Clear and Global Entry, be sure to see our post, The No-Hassle Travel Trifecta.

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CLEAR, PRECHECK INTEGRATION AT SFO. Clear and PreCheck are integrating operatons at SFO. PreCheck is currently located in T3 (main United entrypoint) and T2 (American and Virgin America) at SFO. (Even though United operates flights out of T1, there is no PreCheck lane there.) As part of the integration, CLEAR  says that Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 12.47.21 PMwill soon add  a location adjacent to PreCheck United Premier/First/Business security entrypoint on the western end of T3. Once the integration is complete, CLEAR members who also qualify for PreCheck will enter security under the CLEAR cube, and then get an escort to the PreCheck lane. How will it work? CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker told The BAT: “It is the exact same CLEAR process as today, but when we scan the boarding pass, we not only do a name match, but our system can read also the embedded barcode to determine whether a member is PreCheck eligible for that particular trip. If eligible, the member is guided to the PreCheck physical screening lane.”

ONE YEAR OF CLEAR AT SFO. Last week CLEAR celebrated one full year at SFO and provided The BAT with the following tidbits: There are now six CLEAR lanes at SFO (at least one at every terminal) and the company has created 50 jobs in the Bay Area. CLEAR members have passed through CLEAR lanes at SFO over a million times. Nearly 200 Bay Area companies offer corporate plans to help their frequent travelers steer clear of security lines. San Francisco is home to the largest number of active CLEAR members.

ROCKETMILES REMINDER. Remember when we recently wrote about the new mega-mileage bonuses offered by new sites like Rocketmiles and Pointshound? These sites curate upscale hotels in major cities and offer travelers huge airline mileage bonuses for bookings made through them. For today only, Rocketmiles is offering DOUBLE miles on hotel bookings- so if you have any trips coming up, today would be the day to make those bookings. Plus, since we signed on for referral bonuses from Rocketmiles, we earn 1000 miles for each booking you make from this link- and so do you!

Have you seen the new-style Global Entry kiosks at SFO? (Chris McGinnis)

Have you seen the new-style Global Entry kiosks at SFO? (Chris McGinnis)

LINES FOR GLOBAL ENTRY KIOSKS? Last month BAT reader D.I. wrote in stating: “Just arrived on UA 838 from Tokyo and the Global Entry Kiosk line stretched to the entry to the hall (where you turn left to go to the kiosks).   Average line size seems to be increasing, which diminishes the value of this perk.  Any news on whether more kiosks are coming?” Seemed surprising since nearly every time I’ve entered the US via Global Entry kiosk, the wait (if there was one at all) was more like one minute. So I asked DI for more details. He said, “There were at least 50 people in line and it took about ten minutes. Actually this was faster than two weeks ago when the line was shorter but two of the kiosks weren’t working and also there were a number of people who weren’t familiar with the machines. On the good side, there is now an agent there helping people work the machines and to make sure people don’t wait when there are open machines down the line.” Have you noticed back ups at Global Entry kiosks at SFO or elsewhere? Please leave your comments/experiences below.

-Chris McGinnis

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San Francisco to New York in 45 mins? Maybe

Since Elon Musk (the mind behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX) quipped about a new “hyperloop” high speed transportation system last week, futurists and techies have been abuzz about a new mode of transportation that could eclipse air travel one day—cutting travel time between San Francisco and New York to just 45 minutes, or between New York and Beijing to just two hours.

One company called ET3 is apparently working on a plan for “Evacuated Tube Transport” which is loosely based on pneumatic systems once used in banks, offices or hospitals (for those old enough to remember) to transport documents within buildings using capsules inserted into suction tubes.

(ET3/YouTube)

Six person capsules include luggage bays (ET3/YouTube)

ET3 says that its tubular network could transport 6-passenger, automobile-sized capsules up to 4,000 mph in a frictionless environment inside tubes using magnetic levitation. The company claims that ET3 can be built for a tenth of the cost of high speed rail, or a quarter of the cost of a freeway, and provide 50x more transportation per kilowatt than electric cars or trains. Tubes could be built along US interstates, could travel across Alaska to reach China or even go underwater.

(ET3)

Travel by tube? (ET3)

Is this the answer to carbon spewing aircraft…or how we’ll be traveling when we run out of fossil fuels? Who knows? But it’s certainly an interesting thought and likely something we’ll be hearing more about.

While Musk was short on details, he has described the technology as ”a cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table.” He hinted that he might have more to say about it later this month.

How would you feel about a 45 minute hop to NYC for lunch? Should we be building a hyperloop instead of a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and LA? 

We’ve got a lot of catching up to do! Stay tuned for a “Catching up with Bay Area Travel News” issue later this week, which will include United’s new boarding procedures at SFO, Virgin’s new fast lane, the newest United Club, slow progress on new PS flights to NYC and much more! 

-Chris McGinnis

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Which Cathay Pacific flight is right for you? (Photos)

Chris McGinnis economy Cathay Pacific Economy class Cathay 777 Knee room Cathay 777 Economy Class on Cathay Pacific 777 Overhead bins Cathay Pacific B777 Row 72 Cathay Pacific 777ER Personal TV Cathay Pacific Cathay Pacific Boeing 777 300 ER Cathay Pacific business class 777ER Business Class Cathay B777 Premium Economy Cathy Pacific B777 Cathay Pacific Business Class 747-400 Cathay Pacific Fixed Economy
That's 6 feet of me in an economy class seat on Cathay's B777-300-ER (Chris McGinnis)
Economy Class seats on Cathay Pacific's new B777 (Chris McGinnis)
Knee room on Cathay's B777 economy class (Chris McGinnis)
Knee room in economy on Cathay Pacific's B777-300ER (Chris McGinnis)
Huge overhead bins in Cathay Pacific's new B777 (Chris McGinnis)
Back of the plane on Cathay Pacific's B777-300ER with new economy seat (Chris McGinnis)
Cathay Pacific's personal seatback touchscreen AVOD system in economy (Chris McGinnis)
A brand new Boeing 777-300 ER at the factory in Seattle (Chris McGinnis)
New business class on the Cathay Pacific 777-300ER (Chris McGinnis)
Roomy business class seats on Cathay Pacific's B777 (Chris McGinnis)
That's Chris in full recline in Premium Economy on a Cathay Pacific B777 (David Flynn)
Cathay Pacific Business Class onboard its 747-400 (Chris McGinnis)
Cathay Pacific's fixed shell economy seat onboard its Boeing 747-400 (Tom Mascardo 3)

.

Cathay Pacific now has a Boeing 777-300ER and a Boeing 747-400 flying between San Francisco and Hong Kong every day. BAT reader AG emailed us for some help on choosing the right flight.

>>Please click thru the slideshow above- click on white circle with arrow on right side of photo<<

Dear Chris: I’m a long time reader of your travel articles on SFGate & The BAT.  You provide some great insider knowledge of travel all over the world and I look forward to each new story that you post. I was wondering if you could do an update to the story you originally posted about Cathay Pacific’s updated long haul cabins

In particular I was wondering if you could do an update on their plans on completing the swap out of their fixed shell economy class seating. When will that be finished for the SFO to Hong Kong route? 

Cathay Pacific's fixed shell economy seat onboard its Boeing 747-400 (Tom Mascardo 3)

Cathay Pacific’s fixed shell economy seat onboard its Boeing 747-400 (Tom Mascardo 3)

I am not sure if you are aware how horrible those seats are in long haul economy.   There is no recline in the seat shell.  This helped keep your personal space as the passenger in the seat in front of you couldn’t recline into your space.  But the sacrifice with this design is that when you push the recline button, the seat slides down into the shell pushing your legs out and putting all the pressure in your lower back.  Long haul flights in these types of seats are a nightmare for me and plenty of others have complained in reviews that can be found all over the internet.

I’m a frequent flyer on Cathay and I was elated when I heard that they were swapping out those seats.

The question I have is when are they going to swap them out for their twice daily flights out of SFO to Hong Kong and back?   I read the Cathay website for information on the new Economy Class and I am even more confused.  Some say only the Boeing 777-300ER’s are getting the new seats.  But which ones?  The ones flying out of SFO to HKG?

I have a trip planed for August and if they still have the old seats, I think I’m going to flip over to Singapore Airlines as my back will not be able to tolerate those old Cathay economy seats on another international flight.

Thank you very much. — AG

Thanks for this note AG! I think you’ll be pleased with the quick response from Cathay Pacific regarding recent aircraft changes on the SFO-HKG route—it now sounds like you have a choice between the fixed shell seat and the newer, more standard model. I’ve heard both sides on this issue… some folks love the protected personal space offered by a fixed shell. But it’s uncomfortable for others. I guess it just depends!

>>Please click through the slideshow above which illustrates the difference between cabins on the 777 and 747.<<

In any case, here’s what I heard from Cathay’s spokesperson Julie Jarratt:

Cathay Pacific now has the new long-haul Economy seats on our Boeing 777ER, which is operated on the night flight from San Francisco (CX873).

A brand new Boeing 777-300 ER at the factory in Seattle (Chris McGinnis)

A brand new Boeing 777-300 ER at the factory in Seattle (Chris McGinnis)

Regarding the 747, which is our daytime departure flight from SFO (CX879), we are not planning to replace it this year, and it will likely fly next year as well with the current Economy seats your reader refers to.

While we do understand your reader’s frustration, many customers do appreciate the fixed shell back, which generates extra space by preventing the passenger in front from reclining into your personal space.

The 747s serving SFO have been updated with a new personal TV content, a new Premium Economy cabin and refreshed business class product, but will retain the Economy seat for the foreseeable future.

Our recommendation to your reader would be to book CX873 to experience the new Economy seat.

Jarratt added that both Cathay flights from SFO to Hong Kong now have Premium Economy cabins.

-Chris McGinnis

***

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Review: San Francisco-Copenhagen on SAS [SLIDESHOW]

Business class on SAS A340 configured 2-2-2 (Chris McGinnis)

Business class on SAS A340 configured 2-2-2 (Chris McGinnis)

Notes from my recent flight from San Francisco International (SFO) to Copenhagen (CPH) on SAS.

>First of all, thank you to SAS for inviting me, free of charge, to check out its new business class service between SFO and CPH, which launched on April 21.  Tak! I flew over a week after the inaugural run. >>See the SLIDESHOW below!>>

>SAS flies an Airbus A340-300 on the route with 46 seats in business class, 28 in premium economy and 171 in economy. There is no first class on this flight. The flight I took was completely sold out.

>Roundtrip fares this summer are running in the $1,500 range in economy, $1900 in premium economy and $2,800 in business class (this summer business class fare is a remarkably good deal from the west coast!). SAS is a Star Alliance carrier.

>SAS Flight 936 departs San Francisco six days a week (no Tuesday flights) at 5:35 pm and arrives Copenhagen at 1:15 pm. On the return, SAS flight 935 departs CPH at 12:25 pm and arrives at SFO at 2:45 pm the same day. Flight duration is about 11 hours.

>To understand a lot of what I’m going to say about the business class experience on SAS, you must first know about the Danish concept of hygge. (Sounds like “hoo-guh”) There is no word in English that truly captures the meaning of hygge; the closest we get to it would be “cozy.” But from what I picked up from the Danish, hygge is all about warmth, camaraderie, familiarity and comfort. Think about the feeling you get when you see candles burning in a window on a cold, wet night. The smell of baking bread or cookies. Or an afternoon cuddled up next to a fireplace in a big chair with a blanket, a cup of tea and a chat with your grandmother. In nearly everything they do, Danes seem to aspire to create a feeling of hygge—even on an Airbus A340!

Here’s the slideshow! Read below for my take on the flight…

SAS check in at SFO SAS Business Class A340 SAS Business class seat A340 SAS business class seat in full recline sleeping on SAS A340 In seat power outlet on SAS A340 SAS business class full recline Angled lie flat business class seat on SAS A340 Noise canceling headsets on SAS business class kid in business class on SAS Large lavatory on SAS A340 Premium economy on SAS Premium Economy on SAS economy class on SAS economy class on SAS Flight attendants as chefs on SAS smoked salmon on SAS Reindeer sandwich on SAS prosciutto starter on SAS Orrefors crystal on SAS Cocktails menu SAS business class Smorrebrod onboard SAS Wrapped meal on SAS business class snack bar on SAS Menu card on SAS San Francisco black leather gloves on SAS Wood floors at Copenhagen Airport Fast Track Entry SAS CPH SAS business class lounge Copenhagen CPH Salad Bar at SAS lounge CPH Hygge fireplace at SAS lounge Copenhagen Local Carlsberg brew on tap at SAS business class lounge Dining tables at SAS lounge CPH Kiddie playroom at SAS CPH lounge business centre at SAS lounge CPH Departure lines back up a CPH Copenhagen Airport Train from Copenhagen Airport CPH to City Copenhagen Central Station Train
Checking in for SAS flight 936 departing SFO at 5:35 pm (Chris McGinnis)
Business class on SAS A340 configured 2-2-2 (Chris McGinnis)
SAS business class seats comfortable & well maintained, but look a bit old (Chris McGinnis)
SAS business class seat is "angled lie flat" (Chris McGinnis)
My seatmate had no problem sleeping on the SAS business class seat (Chris McGinnis)
Nice: Every seat has international power outlet (Chris McGinnis)
Notice sharp angle down at foot of seat (Chris McGinnis)
Dozing in an angled lie-flat seat (Chris McGinnis)
Noise canceling headsets help reduce cabin noise. See next. (Chris McGinnis)
Cute? Or terrifying? ;) (Chris McGinnis)
An oversized business class lavatory on SAS A340 (Chris McGinnis)
SAS premium economy configured 2-3-2 (Chris McGinnis)
SAS Premium economy offers enough space to work inflight (Chris McGinnis)
Regular economy on SAS configured 2-4-2 (Chris McGinnis)
SAS flight attendants wear chef uniforms for meal service (Chris McGinnis)
A lovely smoked salmon starter in SAS business class (Chris McGinnis)
Reindeer meat in these rolled sandwiches on SAS (Chris McGinnis)
Tasty fresh prosciutto starter in business class on SAS (Chris McGinnis)
Drinks served in Swedish Orrefors crystal glassware. (Chris McGinnis)
Unusual, interesting cocktails menu on SAS (Chris McGinnis)
Danish smorrebrod open faced sandwiches on SAS (Chris McGinnis)
Unusual: Flight attendants do not remove plastic wrap before serving (Chris McGinnis)
Snack bar set up near SAS business class galley (Chris McGinnis)
Business class dinner menu on SAS (Chris McGinnis)
Not sure why FA wore black leather gloves to serve pre-flight bevs (Chris McGinnis)
Love the gorgeous, sustainable and cozy wood floors throughout Copenhagen Airport (Chris McGinnis)
Special entrypoint for business class passengers at CPH (Chris McGinnis)
Spacious 2 level SAS business class lounge at CPH (Chris McGinnis)
Generous food selection at SAS business class lounge at CPH
Cuddly, "hygge" fireplace at SAS business class lounge at CPH (Chris McGinnis)
The local Carlsberg brew on tap a SAS business class lounge (Chris McGinnis)
Live potted herbs on all dining tables at SAS lounge CPH (Chris McGinnis)
Thoughtful kiddie playroom inside SAS business class lounge (Chris McGinnis)
Check out all those Macs at the SAS lounge at CPH (Chris McGinnis)
What happens when too many flight depart simultaneously at CPH (Chris McGinnis)
Trains depart airport every 10 mins. Copenhagen Central rail station is only 15 mins from airport (Chris McGinnis)
Copenhagen's charming, functional central rail station (Chris McGinnis)

>The timing of the departure of SAS at 5:35 pm from SFO is near ideal. Taking off at 5:35 pm means you can have a full day at work. Then a nice cocktail after take off (see slideshow for eclectic bar menu), a lengthy dinner service, watch a movie and get some rest prior to arrival.

>Looking out the window at SFO’s International Terminal, the SAS Airbus A340 sports a grayish silver fuselage with the word “Scandinavian” in white and barely detectable along the side. The tail of the aircraft is navy blue, and each of its four engines is bright red.

>Upon entering business class, the best thing I can say is that it’s well, hygge…low-slung seats are configured 2-2-2, and the cabin feels open and airy, yet cozy with deep red curtains and light brown suede-ish walls. Although well maintained and clean, the blue fabric seats trimmed in gray plastic and light brown leather look and feel dated.

>Inflight entertainment screens are small, distant from the seat, and grainy—a far cry from the crisp, newer generation video screens now installed on most international carriers. Additionally, there is absolutely no in-seat storage space—all bags, purses and briefcases or laptops must be stowed in smallish overhead bins for takeoff.  On the positive side, every business class seat has a 110-volt electrical outlet.

>SAS joins fellow European carriers Lufthansa and Air France with an angled lie-flight seat, unlike the preferred truly horizontal lie-flat seat we know and love on transatlantic flights from SFO on United, British Airways and Swiss.

>Later in the flight, a fellow passenger muttered to me, “this is like trying to sleep on stairs.” However, the passenger next to me had no problem sleeping at all. Minutes after take off, he pulled a wool cap over his head, covered up with one of the nice blue and white all cotton duvets, and slept for the duration of the flight. (I took a photo! See the show above!)

>Prior to take off, a crew of cheerful flight attendants served champagne, juice or water in mod, curvaceous Orrefors crystal glassware. Once we took off, an unusual selection of cocktails was served in the same cool glasses. (See slideshow above) I had a tart and tasty concoction made with “pure green organic vodka.”

>About half an hour into the flight, cabin stewards changed into chef outfits to serve meals! They come out serving in starched tan shirts with black and white checked scarves (or kerchiefs of some sort)  tied around their necks, and full length aprons. Very cute and classy, and very hyggelig! (See slideshow) There was even a mom-like purser who walked around, smiled, passed out blankets and pillows and made sure everyone felt comfortable and attended-to. I have to admit that these nice soft touches turned my attention away from the hard product described above. This was fun…and felt good.

SAS flight attendants wear chef uniforms for meal service (Chris McGinnis)

SAS flight attendants wear chef uniforms for meal service (Chris McGinnis)

>Business class meals were hearty and very good. I was especially impressed with the array of bread and crackers in the frequently passed basket. See the slideshow for some close ups of these tasty meals. I’m not sure if flight attendants do this for hygienic reasons, but they served all plates covered in clear plastic wrap that passengers had to remove. Why?

>After a nice meal and a glass or two of wine, I became tired, donned my Bucky eye mask and the noise canceling headsets provided, and fell asleep… for nearly five hours! The angled lie-flat seat did not prove to be as uncomfortable as I expected.

>For breakfast service, flight attendants changed once again… this time into suits and ties… to serve.

>I took some time to crawl around the plane and snap photos of nearly everything. Be sure to see the slideshow for a look at the oversize business class lavatory—with two windows, a full length mirror and a toilet positioned at an unusual angle.

>The SAS premium economy section is located in the first few rows of the coach section. Seats are slightly large and wider than regular economy, and configured 2-3-2. I saw that many passengers had enough room to stretch out and work on laptops. Each seat has its own video screen.

>The economy cabin is configured 2-4-2 and each seat has its own inflight entertainment screen.

>Arrival in Copenhagen airport was easy. I was very impressed with the warm, sustainable and gorgeous stained wood flooring used throughout terminals. (See slideshow) The airport is small and manageable…and there’s a quick (15 mins) and easy rail link to Copenhagen Central Station.

>On my return, I took a quick look at the SAS business class lounge at CPH. It’s a big, bright and airy 2-story affair, with a very generous selection of food, salads, Carlsberg beer on tap. All tables in the dining area are topped with pots of live herbs. There are several cozy seating areas, a fireplace (see what I mean about hygge?) plenty of workspace, free wi-fi and a table full of new Macs and printers.

>Word of warning: The SAS lounge is located before passport control. And since there are several international flights departing at about the same time as the San Francisco flight, back ups and long lines are frequent—be aware of this before you get too comfy in the lounge and don’t leave enough time to get to your flight. (See slideshow for a look at what this line on the day of my departure.)

>The SAS lounge at CPH is head and shoulders above the hospital-like environment of the United Business Class lounge at SFO, which could use a little hygge help!

Overall, I really enjoyed this trip—in both directions. Despite the angled lie-flat seat, I was able to sleep, work, and enjoy meals. The quality and cheerfulness of inflight service made up for the less-than-stellar hard product.

Stay tuned for a slideshow of the highlights of my quick three day stay in Copenhagen where I check out the latest, greatest hotels, dined on new Nordic cuisine, and buzzed around town in an electric card!

-Chris McGinnis

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5 travel fees worth paying

The evening spread at the Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore is substantial. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The evening spread at the Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore is substantial. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The whole country seems to be making a collective groan when it comes to planning summer vacations.

And why not?

An early look at airfares (especially to Europe) shows some painful peak pricing, especially in July and early August. For example, nonstops from San Francisco International to cities such as London, Frankfurt and Paris are already running $1,400+ roundtrip. (And if you don’t book now, you’ll likely pay close to $2000 round trip later this summer.)

United made us all go bug-eyed when it announced that it was raising change fees on nonrefundable tickets to an egregious $200 last month. Our eyes popped even more when American, Delta and US Airways quickly matched the higher fee.

Then Frontier Airlines announced that it would begin charging $2 for in-flight beverages (including water) and $100 for gate-checked bags that don’t fit under the seat.

While I think that bag fees and change fees are rotten, the airlines love them—last year they collected nearly $6 billion in baggage and change fees alone. Fees, which now comprise nearly 30% of airline revenues,  are what’s been keeping them in the black in recent years.

But airlines aren’t the only ones playing fee-for-all. By now nearly every frequent traveler has been hit by a surprise “resort fee” or overpriced wi-fi fee at hotels. (Beware of those evil “per device” vs per room wi-fi fees, especially when traveling with others!) Rental car companies pile on all kinds of extra “concession” fees or hit us with obnoxiously high per-gallon fees when we don’t have time to fill up the car on the way back to the airport.

United Economy Plus seating usually provides enough room to work on laptops. (Photo: United)

United Economy Plus seating usually provides enough room to work on laptops. (Photo: United)

But all fees aren’t bad. As a matter of fact, I’m happy to pay fees that can truly improve my travel experience.

Here are five fees I don’t mind paying:

>Roomier seats. Elite level members of airline frequent flyer programs get free access to “premium economy” seats near the front of the cabin and by exit rows. However, non-elite travelers can pay a fee for access to these seats. Airlines determine such fees by the length of the flight and demand, and can range from $10 to $100. But on a long flight, a few extra inches can provide enough space to open up a laptop and be productive inflight. It can also make a big difference in comfort if you are tall like me, so it’s a fee I’ll pay when I have to.

>Early boarding. One of the most cherished benefits of elite status with airlines is the ability to board first and lay claim to overhead bin space. However, I spread my airline business around, and I’m not elite on every carrier I fly. So, for example, I’m happy to pay Southwest a $12.50 “Early Bird” fee to get me near the front of the boarding line—especially in the heat of the summer when planes are packed and overhead bin space scarce.

>Inflight wi-fi. When inflight wi-fi from Gogo or Row 44 works well (which seems increasingly rare), it’s definitely worth the fee to me, especially on transcontinental flights. This year, United is installing satellite-based wi-fi on its international fleet. It helps pass the time, keeps me productive and eliminates arriving at my destination to a full email box. $20 for a good connection on a five-hour flight? Sure. That’s money well spent to me.

Tip: To help sooth the sting of high fees, consider this: When you charge these travel related fees on credit cards linked to rewards programs, you are earning points you can use for free trips down the road. For example, with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I earn two points per dollar spent on travel (including most fees). Eventually, all those charges will add up to points I can redeem to help cut the high cost of future trips.

Inside the nice new Club at LAS near the Virgin America gates at Las Vegas McCarran Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside the nice new Club at LAS near the Virgin America gates at Las Vegas McCarran Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>Airport Club access. Have you ever been stuck in Chicago, Dallas, Houston or Atlanta during the summer thunderstorm season? Hordes of summer vacationers milling around…air conditioning systems straining to keep things cool…then the clouds roll in and gum up the works for hours. That’s the time it’s worth the $50 fee for a day pass to airport lounge. But get there early—once the lounge fills up, it’s open to members only. Also, be on the lookout for new non-airline, pay-to-play lounges such as The Club at SJC, Club at LAS (Las Vegas) or others like it- the per use fee is just $35 and definitely worth it during a long layover!

>Hotel Club Floor. When you know a trip is going to be all business all the time (and you don’t plan to get out much), a hotel club, executive or concierge floor is almost always worth the extra cost. When you pay the premium, you’ll likely get breakfast, snacks, booze (sometimes) and heavy hors d’oeuvres at night, free wi-fi, gym and business center access. Rooms are usually slightly larger and likely to be on upper floors offering better views. Plus, you can check in and out in the lounge and not have to wait in lines that can form in the hotel lobby. If I’m not planning to get out much, I’m usually happy to pay the premium of 20% or 30%.

Do you agree? Which travel fees seem most onerous to you? Which are you happy, even eager to pay? PLEASE leave your comments below. 

-Chris McGinnis

HAVE YOU READ THE CURRENT ISSUE OF THE BAT: New 787 Dreamliner flight at SFO, Mileage Plus ranks highly, Sour Milk, SFO Airport Tiff, Virgin America loss, Tito’s vodka, dream of a new Terminal 1 at SFO.  Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel news right now>>>

Disclosure: My company, Travel Skills Group, Inc, has a commercial relationship with Chase Card Services, which is mentioned in this post.

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Mileage Plus ranking + new 787 @ SFO + PreCheck + Airport standoff

In This Issue: New 787 Dreamliner flight at SFO, Mileage Plus ranks highly, Sour Milk, SFO Airport Tiff, Virgin America loss, Tito’s vodka, dream of a new Terminal 1 at SFO. Sorry for the recent lag in updates! Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel news right now>>>

A Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at San Diego Int'l Airport.

A Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at San Diego Int’l Airport- soon at SFO!

MORE 787 DREAMLINERS.  Starting September 1, Japan Airlines will fly a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between SFO and Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport, replacing the current B777 service. ANA will re-start Boeing 787 flights between San Jose and Tokyo-Narita on June 1. (Did you see the slideshow from my ANA flight from SJC to Tokyo?) Currently, United has no plans to fly Dreamliners from SFO.

UNITED EASIEST TO REDEEM. Among major legacy carriers, United ranks highest when it comes to redeeming awards online, according to a survey by Ideaworks. The report says that United had award seats available 80% of the time. By comparison, American had award seats available only 49% of the time. Delta and US Airways are the most parsimonious with awards, with seats available only 36% of the time. Only AirTran/Southwest and JetBlue ranked higher than United. Full report here.

VIRGIN AMERICA NARROWS LOSS. Our hometown carrier is still struggling to climb into the black, even as many of its competitors are showing relatively healthy and consistent profits (except United). In the first quarter of this year, Virgin America lost $46 million, which is not good. But it’s better than the loss of $76 million during the same period a year ago. It’s expanding, too, adding new flights between LAX and Las Vegas, and from SFO to Newark and Austin, and between San Jose and LAX. Based on that sorta good news, the carrier is flirting with the idea of an IPO. Would you invest in Virgin America if it manages to go public? Please leave your comments below.

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

DREAMING OF A NEW TERMINAL 1. Check out this interesting proposal for a massive re-do of SFO’s Terminal 1. It’s many years away, but it looks super cool. And tatty old T1 could use some help, that’s for sure.

PRECHECK NEWS. Have you noticed that United has started printing your PreCheck status on your boarding pass? Nice to know before you go whether or not you’ll get those glorious three beeps! Another good thing about PreCheck: It’s now available for those traveling on “select international flights.” Has anyone out there been able to use PreCheck internationally yet? SFO officials say that there are no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal yet—so is it smarter to use the PreCheck lanes at T3, and then walk to your international flight?  Please leave your comments below.

INFLIGHT WI-FI POLL. Last winter we visited Gogo headquarters in Itasca, Illinois and took a fun ride on their in-flight lab for a look-see at a new system called ATG-4 that is designed to improve Gogo’s connections and speed. That was six months ago and we are wondering… Have you noticed a difference? PLEASE ANSWER! (The “Vote” button might appear clear, but you must click it to VOTE and see the results)

Have you noticed an improvement with in-flight wi-fi performance?

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FlightCar

FLIGHTCAR UPDATE. By now you’ve likely heard of FlightCar, a new online service that offers air travelers free parking by SFO, plus the opportunity to earn some cash when they rent your car to other passengers arriving at SFO. Sounds like a good “sharing economy” deal, but the airport is not at all happy about these unlicensed interlopers (including other services like pink mustachioed Lyft).  Earlier this year, SFO issued a cease and desist order, forbidding these new companies from operating at the airport. To get around the C&D order, FlightCar hired a licensed black car service to shuttle its customers between the airport and their private parking lot. FlightCar’s Shri Ganeshram told The BAT: “We’re operating within the legal bounds of the system using independent licensed liveries to drop off and pick up passengers at the airport.” He says that FlightCar is now renting about 80 cars per week, despite the SFO cease and desist order. So we contacted SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel to find out if FlightCar is operating legally. He said, “As a public agency, we need to ensure a level playing field for all providers of ground transportation, and FlightCar must sign a permit and provide proof of insurance like every other off-airport rental car company.  This is a matter of basic fairness. FlightCar has yet to meet the obligations, including insurance, required for an SFO permit that would certify them for safe and legal operation at the airport. Their method of transportation to/from the offsite location does not change the fact that they are attempting to operate at SFO without a proper permit. It remains an issue of safety and fairness for us.” How do you think this will all shake out? Have you, or would you use FlightCar? Please leave your comments below!

6 MONTHS FREE AND CLEAR. Starting later this month, CLEAR card holders will be able to use their cards for expedited security screening at San Antonio International Airport. And starting this month, Visa Signature is working with CLEAR to bring the uninitiated a free 6-month CLEAR membership — and $60 off the annual rate of $179 when membership automatically renews. Do you have one of the many Visa Signature cards? Then check this out.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Dearest Bay Area Travelers: The BAT needs more readers. Can you help us out? Please forward this link to frequent traveling friends, travel agents, travel managers, travel bloggers and tell them why you love The BAT and encourage them to sign up! THANKS!

CLOUDY MILK. The campaign to rename San Francisco International after Harvey Milk has come to a vague close with only a promise to name an as-yet unnamed terminal at SFO after him. I’m glad the whole contentious issue is (mostly) behind us. What about you? Please leave your comments below.

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

MORE BARBIE JETS. United will add 30 Embraer 175 regional jets to the United Express fleet starting next year. The 76-seaters will replace the less efficient 50-seat RJs currently in use. United says, “The aircraft will be configured with 12 United First, 16 Economy Plus and 48 United Economy seats. The design of the aircraft will result in more personal space for customers with wider seats and aisles than those on the 50-seat aircraft. The aircraft can accommodate standard carry-on bags, resulting in more convenience for customers.”

BETTER VODKA. Starting in June, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, made in Austin, TX, will replace Absolut vodka on all United flights. Did you know that vodka is the most-served spirit on US flights?

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills chat on Friday mornings!

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills Twitter chat on Friday mornings!

SEEKING SUMMER TRAVEL DEALS? Join in the #TravelSkills chat with @JohnnyJet and me this Friday at 9 am PDT. Our new chat has been trending in the US on Twitter on nearly every Friday, so stop by and join the fun. And learn something, or uncover a summer travel deal! See www.travelskills.com/chat

MORE MEXICO AT SFO. Aeromexico will add a second daily round trip to Mexico City on July 15. Check out BAT editor Chris McGinnis’ recent Business Trip: Mexico City for BBC!

San Francisco  Mexico City

Flight Number Departure Arrival Frequency
AM 0665 01:00 am 07:14 am Daily
AM 0669* 01:25 pm 07:53 pm Daily

Mexico City  San Francisco

Flight Number Departure Arrival Frequency
AM 0664 08:26 pm 11:25 pm Daily
AM 0668* 09:30 am 12:07 pm Daily

*New flights schedules available starting July 15th, all in local time and subject to change without notice.

SEEKING SASSY WHEELS in Dallas or Austin? High end Silvercar (which rents only silver Audi A4s) is offering four Virgin America Elevate reward points per $1 spent, 2,500 bonus points with your first rental, and another 2,500 points for your fourth rental through November 30. Have you tried Slivercar? What did you think?

-Chris McGinnis

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New SFO flights + United fee hike + SFO Terminal video + 787

Catching up on Bay Area Travel news: New flights to France & China; United hikes fees; video inside new SFO Terminal; flirt on Virgin America flights from San Jose; 787 Dreamliner update, new Routehappy booking site; FlightCar is back.

China Eastern's A330-200 at SFO (Photo Peter Biaggi)

China Eastern’s A330-200 at SFO (Photo Peter Biaggi)

HUANYING AND BON VOYAGE. Last Friday (April 26) was a busy day at San Francisco International.

At 9:30 am, the first China Eastern A330-200 arrived from Shanghai to a water cannon salute and a welcome celebration at the airport. For now, here’s what we know: The Airbus A330 departs SFO at 11:30 am and arrives at Shanghai Pudong airport (PVG) the following day at 4 pm. On the return, the flight departs Shanghai at 1 pm and arrives at SFO at 9:30 am. Three days a week, the flight offers continuing service to Wuhan (pop 10 million), a central Chinese city many refer to as “the Chicago of China.” At the festive inaugural dinner at the Westin St Francis, I learned that China Eastern offers two types of business class seats on its Airbus A330-200—one type is the angled lie flight, the other is a true lie flat (180 degrees flat). China Eastern’s San Francisco manager Charlie Gu assured me that the San Francisco flight will always get the newer plane with the true lie-flat seats. It has to, if it plans on competing for business travelers with United since the deployment of its excellent new business class product on SFO-PVG nonstops. Every seat on China Eastern’s A330 (coach and business) has personal seatback entertainment systems and access to AC plugs. China Eastern is the second largest carrier in China (after Air China), and flies a relatively young fleet—with an average age of just seven years. SFO joins New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu as the fourth US city served by China Eastern—although, oddly, the airline does not have a US website. China Eastern is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which offers Delta flyers a new way to earn and burn points on flights to burgeoning China. We’ll provide an in depth look at the new China Eastern flight to Shanghai in a future post.

Passengers on United's inaugural Paris flight greet by a 12-ft Eiffel Tower & free French inspired food & drink. (Photo: United)

Passengers on United’s inaugural Paris flight greeted by a 12-ft Eiffel Tower & free French inspired food & drink. (Photo: United)

On Friday afternoon, United recommenced nonstop service between SFO and Paris-CDG. (United discontinued SFO-CDG nonstops in Oct 2005.) Flight 990 departs San Francisco daily at 2:45 p.m. and arrives at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport at 10:45 a.m. the next day. For the return, flight 991 departs Paris at 10:05 a.m. and arrives in San Francisco at 1 p.m. the same day. United operates this new service with Boeing 767-300 aircraft, which offer 30 flat-bed business class seats, 49 seats in Economy Plus and 135 seats in standard economy. The BusinessFirst cabin (configured 2-1-2) includes 15.4-inch touchscreen monitors for personal on-demand entertainment, electrical and USB outlets, iPod jacks and five-course meals. Each seat in Economy features a 9-inch touchscreen with personal on-demand entertainment, and all rows (configured 2-3-2) include access to electrical outlets. Book and fly United to Paris by May 31, and you’ll earn some tidy Mileage Plus bonuses. Air France is currently the only other carrier offering nonstops between SFO and Paris. Paris-based XL Airways offers summer season SFO-CDG flights.

UNITED HIKES CHANGE FEE TO $200. In what appears to be a poorly timed slap in the face to customers just coming off a year a dismal performance by United, the carrier has increased its fee to make changes to nonrefundable tickets by a whopping $50. That means if you want to change a domestic ticket, you’ll now pay $200 (plus any change in fare) for the honor. Want to change an international ticket? That will now be $300, thank you. Shortly after United hiked its fees, US Airways matched, which likely means its future merger partner American will follow suit. That leaves Delta as the hold out, but it’s probably waiting a bit to hike fees after taking so much heat for changing its same-day change fee last week. As we all know, Southwest does not charge change fees at all, but passengers do have to pay any difference in fare if it has increased from the time of purchase. Alaska Airlines and Virgin America still charge a much more reasonable $100 change fee. Is the $200 fee enough to make you switch away from United? Please leave your comments below.

A LOOK AT TERMINAL 3 PROGRESS. SFO has produced a video providing a virtual hardhat tour of the new Boarding Area E at United’s Terminal 3, which is due to open earlier next year. Some interesting facts picked up in the video: The glassy new terminal should be as nice or nicer than SFO’s award winning Terminal 2 (home to Virgin America and American). Expect very wide corridors, high ceilings, giant picture windows with dramatic ramp views, a new “information terrace” at the entryway, environmentally sustainable design and local food vendors.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Dearest Bay Area Travelers: The BAT needs more readers. Can you help us out? Please forward this link to frequent traveling friends, travel agents, travel managers, travel bloggers and tell them why you love The BAT and encourage them to sign up! THANKS!

MEGA-MILE BONUS SITES GET FUNDING. Remember when we wrote about mega-miles bonus sites Pointshound and RocketMiles last month? Seems like venture capitalists think the sites are on to something. This morning, The BAT received a note from RocketMiles announcing that the six-month old company raised $2 million in its first round of external financing.

GET FLIRTY ON VIRGIN AMERICA. You see that hottie in the boarding area and try to establish eye contact. Bingo! You got “the look” back! You get onboard and see the object of your desire a few rows ahead of you. Instead of posting a “missed connection”  on Craigslist (and hoping for the best), a new service from Virgin America allows you to send a drink to someone via its seatback entertainment and food ordering system. Locate that hottie on the seatmap, choose a cocktail, and then send it over to them, then follow up with a text message via the system’s seat-to-seat communications platform. (Have a few minutes? Then check out this hilarious Asian animation of the new Virgin service.)

SPEAKING OF VIRGIN AMERICA. South Bay and Peninsula dwellers should be happy to note that Virgin America’s new four-times-daily nonstops between San Jose International and LAX crank up on May 1. Why suffer on another carrier’s cramped RJ when you can jump on Virgin’s mod A320 and send the hottie across the aisle a cocktail? Virgin will be entering the very crowded San Jose-LAX run, which is already served by five carriers: Low fare leader Southwest , United (which dominates the Bay Area) as well as American, Delta and Alaska Airlines. Southwest flies a one-class 737 on the hour-or-so long route, Delta, United and American fly regional jets, and Alaska uses a turbo-prop. Virgin is offering a two-for-one sale on SJC-LAX flights through May 31.

STATUS OF SFO’s LONG TERM PARKING LOT? From BAT reader Damian: Chris, I love the BAT!  Have you written about the SFO Long Term Parking garageIt has had floor closures for a couple years and is now empty.  One parks outside or even gets a pass to go to short term parking at the same rate. Does the garage have structural problems?  Seems like it should be a scandal. Perhaps this is old news but in poking around on the Web I didn’t happen to find anything.” Having noticed the same thing…and wondered, we contacted SFO, and spokesperson Doug Yakel helped clear things up. He said, “The level closures in the Long-Term Garage are part of an ongoing, pre-planned schedule to accomplish routine maintenance. This includes pressure washing, restriping of ground markings and light bulb replacements. Only one floor is closed at a time for this work, and the work is scheduled to ensure all levels are open during peak demand periods such as the holiday travel season. We also monitor occupancy rates to ensure the appropriate match of supply and demand, and modify closure schedules if needed.”

ANA's expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

ANA’s expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

787 UPDATE. As you may recall, ANA’s important new nonstops from San Jose to Tokyo-NRT were waylaid by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner grounding, forcing all passengers to fly via SFO. While the FAA and Japanese authorities have given a conditional green light to new flights, ANA says it will begin by “replacing existing batteries with new batteries, changing to new battery chargers and installing new battery containment boxes and venting system. The improvements will require approximately one week per aircraft, with work on all seventeen aircraft scheduled to be completed by the end of May.” After that will be new crew training and a series of heavily monitored “proving flights.” This week, an ANA spokesperson told The BAT that it should have a firm date for the resumption of SJC-NRT by May 9. How would you feel about flying on a Dreamliner across the Pacific? Please leave your comments below.

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 9.41.54 AMARE YOU A HAPPY FLYER? Just fiddling around with the new Routehappy website makes us feel happy. Why? After a year of  researching, analyzing, and grading aircraft types and amenities, Routehappy applies “happiness factors” most business travelers care about such as seat pitch, width and layout, entertainment, Wi-Fi, in-seat power, plane quality, and trip duration to help you pick the option flight. In addition, it manually gathers complex information about flights from sources like the airline’s website, press releases, staff, industry analysts & influencers, blogs, forums, news stories and reviews from road warriors and “route experts.” It then applies a “happiness score” to each flight to help make the best decision. For example, I’ve always known that Delta’s roomy, jumbo B767 flights between SFO and Atlanta are much more comfortable than those long, narrow torture tubes known as Boeing 757’s. Routehappy exposes that. This sounded very similar to Hipmunk’s “Agony” index, which uses an algorithm to rank flights based on price, duration and stopovers. Routehappy seems to have taken flight ranking a step beyond that with more robust information that includes human input. Take a look at Routehappy and let us know what you think. Leave your comments below.

GET AROUND SFO CEASE & DESIST. The smart guys at FlightCar have found a way around the airport’s recent cease and desist order pushing it and other new-fangled airport transport options such as Lyft off airport property. Now, instead of dropping your car off with a FlightCar attendant at the airport, you drop your car at its off-airport lot, and then a licensed black car brings you to your terminal. When you land, you call FlightCar and the black car is sent to pick you up and brings you back to your car. Have you tried FlightCar? Should unlicensed transportation serviced be allowed at SFO? Leave your comments below. 

-Chris McGinnis

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Q&A with SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson

SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson chats with crew in the galley. (Photo: SAS)

SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson chats with crew in the galley. (Photo: SAS)

Last week SAS inaugurated flights to San Francisco International Airport  from its main hub in Copenhagen.  A large Scandinavian contingent included SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson, who agreed to a lively Q&A with The Bay Area Traveler-The BAT!

Our warm spring weather was a big hit for the shivering Scandos, who have endured a longer-and-colder-than-normal winter. SFO welcomed the first SAS A340 with a water cannon salute on a bright warm Monday afternoon.

There was also an elegant dinner at the Asian Art Museum where former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown offered his frisky and fun perspective to a crowd of consular and international business types. Word at the dinner was that the active Gustafson (with his  teenage kids in tow) took several sweaty morning runs to soak up the sun and scenery.

The BAT: Why did SAS decide to come to San Francisco? What is it about our city that drew you here? 

Gustafson: SAS has for almost two years experienced increasing interest from our clients towards this destination. Thus, opening this route is obviously a response to the demand from our customers. Then, taking a closer look at the city and the possibilities of the region, we realized that this was a good opportunity to return to the West Coast. [SAS had previously flown to Seattle and Los Angeles, but no more.] When you look at topics like innovation, ambience and the spirit of this large – and somewhat small at the same time – West Coast city it’s clear that San Francisco has plenty to offer.

The BAT: Why should a business traveler from San Francisco choose SAS over United or Lufthansa when traveling to Europe- all are Star Alliance, so what’s the difference? 

Gustafson: There are many good reasons for flying with SAS. We offer a convenient and time saving solution with good connections in our Copenhagen hub. [SAS departs SFO at 5:35pm and arrives in Copenhagen-CPH at 1:15pm. At around 2-3 pm, a large bank of SAS flights departs CPH for major cities in Northern Europe] SAS is renowned for our high service level and also the authentic Scandinavian product and experience on board.

The BAT: Why did SAS choose SFO over the other gateways (like LAX or SEA)? Because it’s a big hub for Star Alliance partner United? Were incentives involved?

Gustafson: We chose SFO primarily due to good connections with United. Then it turns out that we have a really good time slot at SFO which makes both transfer and customs extremely smooth compared to what our customers can experience in other US airports. Avoiding two-hour lines in immigration is definitely a good selling point. Regarding incentives. SFO offered SAS the normal incentives such as marketing support and reduced landing fees.

Copenhagen Airport has gorgeous, functional stained wood flooring throughout. Nice! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Copenhagen Airport has gorgeous, functional stained wood flooring throughout. Nice! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The BAT: How is Copenhagen as a connecting hub? 

Gustafson: The airport offers fantastic connection times and close proximity from intercontinental gates to European gates. Furthermore, SAS has many connecting routes out of Copenhagen to Scandinavia and Europe making it seamless and easy for the traveler.

In business class, SAS offers an "angled lie flat" seat. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In business class, SAS offers an “angled lie flat” seat. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The BAT: SAS currently has “angled lie flat” business class seats compared to other airlines like United with true lie-flat seats- are there any plans to change this? 

Gustafson: We are looking at new solutions for upgrading our cabin on long haul, but we can’t be more specific than that.

SAS economy extra offers larger coach seats with more legroom (Photo: SAS)

SAS economy extra offers larger coach seats with more legroom (Photo: SAS)

The BAT: Does SAS offer a premium economy product? How is that? How does it compare to business… and to regular economy? 

Gustafson: Yes on long haul we have economy extra, which will be renamed SAS Plus starting this June, where are changing our service concept completely on short haul flights. As a matter of fact our premium economy product was awarded as the best in 2012. On long haul we’ll rename our premium economy and regular economy to SAS Plus and SAS Go. With SAS Plus we offer better seats and legroom, an upgraded service concept and two meal servings. Passengers get access to SAS lounges and fast track immigration lines. In SAS Go we also offer two meal servings, free luggage and all our online check-in services. We say that SAS Go is for those who want much, and Plus is for those who want even more. [SAS adds that there are three meal services on longer hauls, such as CPH-SFO]

During business class meal service, flight attendants done chef uniforms, which adds to the flight's "hygge" (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

During business class meal service, flight attendants don chef uniforms, which adds to the flight’s “hygge” (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The BAT: What is inflight service like in business class on SAS? How does it differ from what a traveler would get on a US carrier? Is it Scandinavian-style service? What does that mean? 

Gustafson: Obviously, it’s an experience that one needs to acquire personally. We offer individual service with a warm, friendly and charming Scandinavian atmosphere. We serve modern Scandinavian food and our staff act sincere and true in their relation with the travelers onboard. [See “hygge” below]

The BAT: Is SAS owned or supported by Scandinavian governments? How does that work? 

Gustafson: SAS is listed on Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen stock exchanges. The Swedish government owns 24% of shares, the Danish government owns 14%, the Norwegians own 14%, and 7% is owned by the Knut och Alice Wallenberg Stiftelse Foundation. The other 41% is on the open market.

The BAT: If I have a three-day business trip to Copenhagen with a little free time on my hands, what are the TWO things I must do when I’m there? 

Gustafson: Experience the concept of Danish “hygge” (means have a good and cozy time) by visiting different town parts: Nyhavn, Tivoli, the Carlsberg grounds as well as parks and places around the town. And going to Copenhagen you must try many different restaurants – the city is known for premium food (new Nordic cuisine) with the world’s best restaurant Noma and several Michelin restaurants.

-Chris McGinnis

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Travel Q&A re: Boston bombing

Today SFO>Boston flights unaffected by bombs (Photo: Barkley Dean)

Today SFO>Boston flights unaffected by bombs (Photo: Barkley Dean)

What’s the situation at local Bay Area airports?

At 4 pm today, my contacts at the airports as well as readers surprised me with NO reports of longer lines, increased scrutiny, etc. Boston had a brief “ground stop” which lasted only about an hour, and apparently operations are back to normal there and elsewhere… FAA airport delay map shows green dots only across the country.

How early people should arrive at the airport?

As always, people should arrive 1-2 hours early– However, if delays increase at airport security due to more intense scrutiny, this is a great time to utilize what I call the “No hassle travel trifecta” 

What you should do if you’re traveling to Boston this week? 

Some Boston hotels are already offering no-questions-asked refunds. If you have a reservation downtown near site of bombing, I would cancel and ask for refund. If you are stuck with a non-refundable hotel reservation from a third party site (like Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire), I would call the online agency and ask to be moved to another nearby hotel at the same rate. Virgin America is waiving change fees for those traveling to/from Boston April 15-17.

Will airport security become more strict in coming days? 

No sign yet of increased airport security or more intense scrutiny of passengers. I’m monitoring this now. If you have noticed more intense scrutiny at security checkpoints, please leave your comments below. Best news is that we are currently in a relatively slow travel season… spring break has just concluded, so airports are relatively uncrowded and quiet. Expect to see a very visible police presence in most major downtown areas and famous, popular sites, as well as airports.

NOTE: The situation is still very fluid and subject to change.

 

Chris McGinnis

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