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United to remain in Terminal 1 at SFO until 2014

Construction progress on Boarding Area E at United's Terminal 3 at SFO. (Photo: SFO)

Construction progress on Boarding Area E at United’s Terminal 3 at SFO as of March 14. (Photo: SFO)

Have you flown United Express out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) lately?

If so, you likely know that most (but not all) United Express flights now use Terminal 1 instead of United’s Terminal 3.

Passengers who don’t know- and enter the airport at United’s T3- must descend a metal stairway and into a small shuttle bus that moves through the bowels of the airport and then deposits them on the ramp by Terminal 1.

Since The BAT broke this news last June, United has been using Terminal 1 for its Express flights while it waits for reconstruction of Boarding Area E (the old American gates) to be completed, allowing it to consolidate its operations in Terminal 3.

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Originally, the reconstruction of Boarding Area E was to be complete in October 2013. This week SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel told The BAT that completion of Boarding Area E has been pushed back “until late January 2014.”

Yakel explained that the delay is due to, “the addition of items in the project scope, including additional airline and concession space as well as expanded wayfinding. The biggest single item was the addition of another elevator, which required the creation of a new elevator shaft.”

Yakel also confirmed a rumor we reported last week that is only going to add more to the confusion: SFO has allocated Gate 47 in Terminal 1, Boarding Area C (the Delta terminal) to United starting July 1. But, he said, “It remains to be see how United ends up using it.”

So far, our requests to United for more information have not been answered.

Have you experienced United’s musical gates at SFO? Please leave a comment about your experience(s) below.

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-Chris McGinnis

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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News - March 24 2013

 

Inaugural Hawaiian Airlines A330 gets a water cannon salute upon arrival in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: Hawaiian Air)

Inaugural Hawaiian Airlines A330 gets a water cannon salute upon arrival in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: Hawaiian Air)

A NEW WAY TO AUCKLAND. On Wednesday, Hawaiian Airlines added yet another new international route from Bay Area airports via its Honolulu hub: Auckland. Flights operate Monday, Wednesday and Friday only using a 294-seat Airbus A330. We checked on roundtrips in mid April and found fares as low as $766 round trip including all taxes and fees. (That is a remarkably good deal.) Business class is in the $5,000 to $6,000 range. Only Air New Zealand offers nonstops to Auckland from SFO. The New Zealand city is the seventh new international destination Hawaiian has added since 2010, which include Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Sapporo, Seoul, and Brisbane. Flights from Honolulu to Sendai, Japan start in June service to Taipei cranks up in July. Hawaiian has also launched a Facebook promo campaign for two free tickets. Would you consider flying Hawaiian to New Zealand or Asia? Why or why not?

Screenshot of Hawaiian Air booking

Screenshot of Hawaiian Air booking

NEW UNITED APP. This week United introduced a new app for Windows Phone 8 that allows users to book flights (including award travel), check in, get mobile boarding passes, monitor flight status and view Mileage Plus accounts. The United Windows Phone 8 app is available from the Windows Phone Store. Since the Bay Area seems to be Apple country, I have a question: Do you or anyone you know have a Windows phone? How is it?

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Knee room in an "Even More Space" seat on a recent JetBlue flight SFO-BAS. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Knee room in an “Even More Space” seat on my recent JetBlue flight SFO-BOS. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

JETBLUE ADDING PREMIUM FLIGHTS? JetBlue is hinting around that it might add some sort of premium seating on its transcon flights from Bay Area airports, according to AP. Have you flown JetBlue back east? What did you think of the product? From my experience, the JetBlue coach seat is quite comfortable, but without wi-fi for those 5-6 hour flights, it’s a tough sell for wired travelers. However, JetBlue says it is getting new satellite-based wi-fi this year.

Screen shot 2013-03-24 at 10.10.48 AM

MUSICAL GATES AT SFO. Here’s an interesting email from a dumbfounded reader who wasn’t warned about the fiasco of flying on United Express out of SFO. “So weird. We came to the United terminal at SFO to fly to Burbank but now we have to take this weird shuttle to another terminal. Had to go thru an ‘employee only!’ Entry down some rickety stairs and on to a tiny little bus thing.  So odd!!!” It could get even more confusing…we hear from SFO insiders that United will soon start using gates in the Delta gates (C) at Terminal 1, too. Stay tuned…

ON-TIME PERFORMANCE AT SFO. When you hear Virgin America and United chest beating about their stellar on-time performance at SFO in January, don’t forget this important fact: January 2013 was the third driest January in SF history! Just wait til the fog rolls in!

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BUSINESS TRIP: BANGKOK. Are you headed to Bangkok…or do you just dream about going there? Check out the advice and photos in Chris McGinnis’s latest BBC Business Trip: Bangkok- read up on the rash of new luxury hotels, where to get great Thai food, where to get a suit made, and why you should NOT ask for chopsticks.

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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, March 17 2013

In this issue: New flights to Newark; free mags at Bay Area airports; new lie-flat seats to Japan; more car sharing at Bay Area Airports; take our POLL about car-sharing!; how to jump in a seat on a private jet.

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

25% OFF JERSEYLICIOUS FLIGHTS. To celebrate its new nonstops between SFO/LAX and Newark, New Jersey (EWR), Virgin America is offering a nice 25% discount on a future flight  to or from EWR. (somewhat restricted- no Fridays or Sundays). To get the discount, you must enter its “Fly Like a Boss” Facebook campaign. You can also win a chance to fly on the inaugural LAX-EWR run with Richard Branson and Mashable’s Peter Cashmore. Details here. Virgin says that since it announced the launch of EWR flights, fares on the EWR-West Coast routes have dropped by as much as 30 percent “and travelers now have an airline option that guarantees Wi-Fi, live TV and new aircraft on every flight.” Current roundtrip fares on the SFO-EWR run for mid-May flights are about $365. Virgin is also offering a double or triple points promo on flights between now and June 30, but you have to register to get the bonus.

FREE PREMIUM MAGS AT SFO/OAK/SJC. Here’s a helpful new app for Bay Area Travelers (BATs) who frequently find themselves stuck at the airport during delays, yearning for a good read, but hesitating to weigh down their bags with heavy magazines. The new Foli iPad app offers free access to premium magazine content (the stuff that’s normally behind a pay wall at glossies like Vogue, Car & Driver, GQ or Bon Appetit)—but it only works at the airport. Foli uses geolocation technology to limit access to Bay Area airports only—as well as a few coffee shops and hotels.  Download the Foli app for free at the iTunes store. It’s definitely worth a download because you never know when the fog will roll in.

Delta's flat bed seating on a 767. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

Delta’s flat bed seating on its Boeing 767s. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

MORE LIE-FLAT SEATS TO JAPAN. Starting April 1, Delta will offer business class seats that recline to a full 180 degree flat bed for sleeping on its Boeing 767-300ER flights between SFO and Tokyo Narita. That means that all business class seats on all airlines (United, ANA, Delta) on the heavily traveled SFO-NRT route are now flat.  Japan Airlines flies between SFO and the closer-to-downtown Tokyo Haneda Airport, but offers the less popular “angled lie flat” business class seat.  (Did you know that JAL’s SFO-Haneda flights are numbered 001 and 002?) Headed to Tokyo? Then be sure and check out my latest dispatch from the Land of the Rising Sun for BBC: Business Trip: Tokyo.

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One of BMW's electric DriveNow cars in SF (Photo: DriveNow)

One of BMW’s electric DriveNow cars in SF (Photo: DriveNow)

DRIVING TO SFO. The BAT recently included mention of FlightCar’s car sharing service but we’ve heard from readers about other similar options. For example, DriveNow is a car sharing service that allows travelers to drive all-electric BMW cars from several locations in and around downtown San Francisco to parking lots near SFO or Oakland airports for less than the average cost of airport shuttle services and more than 50% cheaper than cab fares. The first 30 minutes costs $12 and then 32 cents for every additional minute. (There’s a $39 fee to join the car sharing service.) The service is part of BMW’s sustainable transportation initiative and currently only available in the Bay Area. A similar car sharing service for airport trips called Hubber is in the works, too, with locations at SFO and LAX expected to open this April.

DRIVING TO/FROM NYC AIRPORTS. Hertz on Demand has a similar service in New York City—members can drive a Hertz car between airports and several locations in Manhattan for less than half of what you’d pay a cab or car service…and with the Hertz plan, there is no membership fee. (Hertz on Demand has a location in downtown SF, but currently does not offer one-way drop offs at local airports.)

What do you think about new car-sharing options for airport transfers?

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A Gulfstream IV (Photo: Nima Pirzadeh)

A plush Gulfstream IV awaits private-jetsetters (Photo: Nima Pirzadeh)

PRIVATE JET SHARING, TOO. Since we are on the topic of sharing transportation, let’s take a look at a brand new service called Jumpseat, which has been billed as “the Airbnb for private jets.” Since many seats on private jets fly empty, Jumpseat is a new app that connects people looking to share those seats with those looking to fly, producing significant savings for both parties. Shopping is free and takes only a few clicks. Registered members can book a JumpSeat without paying a membership fee. For example, when I recently searched for flights from the Bay Area, I found several flights in March and April from San Jose to Santa Ana, CA available for $1000-$2,250 each way. In March, there’s a nice big Citation X jet flying from LA to Eagle (Vail), Colorado with two seats available at $5000 each. Eight seats on a March flight from New York to Aspen on a posh Hawker 4000 are going for $20,000 each. Flying private is not cheap, but there are few hassles—no airport security, for example, when using private jet terminals. Interested? Then check out this article about it on Forbes.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BritishAirwaysA380SeatMap

 

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PLEASE, RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS. If you like The BAT, would you please tell your friends and colleagues about it? The ONLY way we grow is via word of mouth from happy readers. Like every online publication, we need more eyeballs and appreciate your support.  Here’s something you can copy and paste into an email TODAY!

Have you ever heard about The Bay Area Traveler—The BAT- for frequent travelers? It’s a free local travel blog that I subscribe to. It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us. For example, I first learned that PreCheck was coming to SFO, or that Virgin America was matching United Premier status from The BAT. I think it’s definitely something you could use. See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here. Thanks! ADD: *Your signature*

 

 

The no-hassle travel trifecta

ClearLines

Airport security lines could swell at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

With sequester-mandated budget cuts at the TSA (and the possibility of delays at understaffed security checkpoints) giving frequent travelers and the media the heebee-geebees, now is the time for BATs to invest in what I call the “no-hassle travel trifecta.”

This tripartite plan for avoiding airport bottlenecks involves signing up for three tools that will help you sail through airport lines with a smile: CLEAR, Global Entry and PreCheck.

1) CLEAR Card- $179 per year.

CLEAR, which operates at SFO as well as airports in Dallas/Ft Worth, Denver, New York-Westchester County and Orlando, provides guaranteed access to the front of the standard security lines (even ahead of those in airline elite level lines) for an annual fee of $179.

Members still have to remove shoes, laptops, etc. There are CLEAR lanes at all entrances at all terminals, including international, at SFO.  CLEAR’s biggest selling point is that it guarantees access to the front of the line—and this certainty about the airport experience is very valuable to time-pressed frequent travelers. Over the last few months, lines have been so short at SFO that I’ve not had to use my CLEAR card… but the few times it saved me from 20-30 minute waits have made it worth the $179 fee.

While CLEAR won’t reveal how many subscribers it has, this week it said that cardholders have sped through airport security one million times over the last two years. (Click here for a free two-month trial of CLEAR.)

2) Global Entry - $100 for five years

Directional signs to Global Entry kiosks at SFO

Directional signs to Global Entry kiosks at SFO

Last month, I arrived at SFO from Puerto Vallarta at about the same time that two full jumbos jets from Asia arrived. Waits at immigration queues were 30-45 minutes—the entire arrivals hall was packed. With Global Entry, I was able to sneak off to a special queue, and along with a handful of other savvy travelers, use one of four Global Entry kiosks… and ended up getting to the airport curb in less than five minutes. The friends I was traveling with were not amused!

To get a Global Entry card, you must fill out an online application, and then appear at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office at SFO for a personal interview, and allow agents to take a photo and few biometric measures. The $100 fee is good for five years. Last year, United Airlines began reimbursing the fee for “premier priority” Mileage Plus members. The American Express Platinum card does the same. As a result of these incentives, I have learned from BAT readers that the current wait time for an interview at the CBP office is 2-4 months! And if sequester cuts kick in, waits could be even longer.

According to CBP, more than 1.4 million trusted travelers now have Global Entry benefits. SFO is one of 34 airports in the United Sates and 10 pre-clearance locations in Canada and Ireland with Global Entry kiosks. In Australia, Global Entry cardholders can now use the country’s SmartGate kiosks for expedited immigration processing. Sign up here: www.globalentry.gov

3) PreCheck (Free for Global Entry cardholders, elite flyers) 

Precheck logo TMPreCheck 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. At SFO, there are only two PreCheck lanes: One at United’s premium or elite level member checkpoint (“F3”) in Terminal 3; the other at the joint American/Virgin America checkpoint at Terminal 2. Both PreCheck lanes are located on the far left side of the checkpoints. There are no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal checkpoints because PreCheck is for domestic passengers only.

In order to be able to use PreCheck lanes at SFO, you must be a US citizen, opt in to an invitation from United or American or request an invitation from United here (requires Mileage Plus sign in).  American Airlines AAdvantage members can opt in here.

In addition all Global Entry, Nexus and other card-carrying trusted travelers that hold special clearance from US Customs and Border Protection (see above) are eligible for PreCheck. For the process to work, be sure to enter your Global Entry number on your airline frequent flier program profile.

The most important thing to know about PreCheck is that selection is random—which means that even of you have obtained PreCheck status, you are NOT guaranteed access to the PreCheck lane. You will only know that you are selected for the PreCheck lane when you arrive at airport security and allow the agent to scan your boarding pass or smart phone. Three beeps from the scanner means that you can proceed to the PreCheck lane. One beep means that you must enter the (likely longer) non-PreCheck line for standard screening. For security reasons, the TSA will not reveal its selection criteria.

Do YOU have the no-hassle travel trifecta yet? Please leave your comments below. 

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PLEASE, RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS. If you like The BAT, would you please tell your friends and colleagues about it? The ONLY way we grow is via word of mouth from happy readers. Like every online publication, we need more eyeballs and appreciate your support.  Here’s something you can copy and paste into an email TODAY!

Have you ever heard about The Bay Area Traveler—The BAT- for frequent travelers? It’s a free local travel blog that I subscribe to. It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us. For example, I first learned that PreCheck was coming to SFO, or that Virgin America was matching United Premier status from The BAT. I think it’s definitely something you could use. See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here. Thanks! ADD: *Your signature*

Catching up on Bay Area Travel News (March 3, 2013)

UnitedBizClass

Big seat with a big smile from London to SFO in United Business Class last summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

LIE-FLAT SEATS ON UAL. United said this week that 87% of its international fleet now has true lie-flat business class seating, and it should reach 100% lie-flat seats by the end of March—beating out competitors in the race to all-flat biz class. Hooray for that! I think United’s new business class seats are some of the best out there—comfortable, roomy, excellent entertainment, plenty of room (and power) to get work done. What do you think?

IMPROVING ON-TIME PERFORMANCE. After a year of performance issues, United says that it’s improving, especially here by the Bay. As a matter of fact, employees received $100 bonuses when more than 80% of United flights (domestic and international) clocked in on time during February. Among United hubs, Cleveland performed best during February at 87%. SFO came in second at 83%. (So do you credit United… or Mother Nature? In February, we enjoyed record dry, non-foggy conditions in Northern California.)

New configuration for United PS 757's between SFO and JFK.

New configuration for United P.S. 757′s between SFO and JFK.

NEW PS FLIGHTS COMING TO SFO-JFK. After many fits and starts, it now seems that United’s newly configured PS flights may take off from SFO starting in June (at least according to the UAL website—PR is not committing to a date yet). The newly configured 757s will have 28 lie flat business class seats, 48 Economy Plus seats and 66 standard coach seats. The currently shabby-yet-comfortable P.S. 757 fleet offers only Economy Plus seats, which will be a big loss for non-Elite level flyers who’ve enjoyed the extra space at no extra cost.

DOUBLE POINTS ON SOUTHWEST. Sign up for Southwest’s double-tier-qualifying points promo and you’ll get 12 points (vs just six) on its cheapest fares, 20 points on its standard “anytime” fares and 24 points on business select fares. The promo is good for flights all the way through May 15! This is a no brainer, so get registered now.

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS COMING TO SFO. Scandinavian Star Alliance partner SAS kicks off new nonstops between SFO and its main hub at Copenhagen on April 8. The 11-hour-20-minute flight using an Airbus A340 will depart SFO six days a week (not on Tuesdays). It offers angled lie-flat biz class, premium economy and standard economy seats (see map). Current coach fares are as low as $813 round trip in April. To celebrate the arrival of a new carrier, San Francisco International is sponsoring a free ticket sweepstakes on Facebook. Have you flown SAS lately? How was it? Please leave your comments below. 

Amex "black" card.

Amex “black” card.

NEW AMEX “CENTURION” LOUNGE AT LAS. American Express told The BAT that it is “experimenting” with a new airport lounge concept for its super-spendy “black card” or Centurion cardmembers at Las Vegas McCarran Airport. The new Centurion Lounge is located in next to gate D4 in Concourse D (the one that floats between Terminals 1 and 3) used primarily by United, Delta and American. AMEX says that lounge guests enjoy dishes prepared by a celeb chef (like: polenta waffles with pumpkin compote,  or roast chicken with baby potatoes, shallots, and rosemary) and specialty cocktails prepared by a “mixologist.” Guests also enjoy free wi-fi and shower suites. While Centurion cardholders get in for free, any AMEX cardholder can pay a $50 fee to enter. Pay-to-play lounges are becoming de rigueur at McCarran—for example, if you are flying Virgin America (in the new Terminal 3) you can use Club at LAS for a daily fee of just $35. There’s also a Club at LAS in Terminal D.  Which one will you pick?

AIRPORT LOUNGES AT SFO. Speaking of posh lounges, have you been inside the new Emirates or Cathay Pacific lounges at SFO? Your BAT editor Chris McGinnis recently convinced CNN to come out to SFO for an interview and a look inside. Take a watch! The BAT on CNN! How about that? See below!

PLEASE, RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS. If you like The BAT, would you please tell your friends and colleagues about it? The ONLY way we grow is via word of mouth from happy readers. Like every online publication, we need more eyeballs and appreciate your support.  Here’s something you can copy and paste into an email TODAY!

Have you ever heard about The Bay Area Traveler—The BAT- for frequent travelers? It’s a free local travel blog that I subscribe to. It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us. For example, I first learned that PreCheck was coming to SFO, or that Virgin America was matching United Premier status from The BAT. I think it’s definitely something you could use. See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here. Thanks! ADD: *Your signature*

TSA PRECHECK EXPANDS: If you love PreCheck at Terminals 2 and 3 at SFO, you’ll be pleased to know that you can leave your shoes on when passing through security in five more airports: Austin, Memphis, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. PreCheck is now available at 40 US airports—however, it’s not in every terminal, and it’s still a random selection—you cannot count on getting it.  What’s been your batting average with PreCheck? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

The world’s favorite airport?

Urinals with an amazing view

Bathrooms with runway views are one of many passenger friendly innovations at Singapore’s Changi Airport. (photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore’s Changi Airport is frequently recognized as the best in the world. On a recent trip to Singapore, I wanted to find out why, so I asked their communications team for a tour. We walked all over the massive facility, and even took a breezy ride in one of those beeping carts! Come on along for the ride and see why people love this place so much. (Slideshow starts below.)

Some interesting tidbits I picked up along the way:

>There is an outdoor pool, jacuzzi, patio and tiki bar that anyone can enter for a $14 fee. Nice! (See photos below)

>Airport security screening is done at each gate instead of a central security checkpoint- that means all you have to do is show your passport and ticket to get into the terminals. This decentralized approach eliminates any peak time lines. Smart!

>There’s an outdoor butterfly garden open to all passengers. Talk about peaceful…and beautiful!

>The airport has a full time staff of 10 horticulturalists and 100 gardeners and there’s not one fake plant anywhere.

>Changi is pronounced “Chawng-eee” with a soft g sound.

>The airport provides free internet access via wi-fi and 550 free terminals placed in pods throughout.

>What we call “moving sidewalks” they call “travelators.” (I like travelator and plan to incorporate that into my lexicon!)

>There is a basic by-the-hour hotel in each of its three terminals. There’s also a 280-room Crowne Plaza hotel in the middle of the airport, which mainly houses travelers on layovers from the “kangaroo route” between the UK and Australia. (However, QANTAS is switching its stopover point on the kangaroo route to Dubai next year.)

>Changi is the name of a local tree- a pleasant, eco-friendly change from other big airports named after politicians.

What’s your favorite airport in the world? Please leave your comments below. 

-Chris McGinnis

Use the arrow keys on each image to move forward or back. Be sure to read the captions for an explanation of each shot.

IMG_2587 IMG_2150 IMG_2204 IMG_2162 IMG_2209 IMG_2210 IMG_2590 IMG_2598 IMG_2198 IMG_2203 IMG_2202 IMG_2190 IMG_2193 IMG_2194 IMG_2172 IMG_2186 IMG_2177 IMG_2582 IMG_2164 IMG_2157 IMG_2147 IMG_1898
There are 550 free (seriously!), internet connected PCs throughout the airport
10 horticulturalists oversee 100 gardeners at Changi
Lush vertical gardens on every available wall
One of many floral displays throughout the airport-- no fake plants allowed!
Long layover? No probs. For $14, anyone can swim or take a jacuzzi at the outdoor pool
Cool your jets with an exotic tropical cocktail at the pool's bar
Singapore Airlines's business class lounge: one of the poshest in the world
Trolley service inside the lounge at tea time
Urinals with an amazing view
Excellent immediate feedback system helps keep bathrooms clean
Bathroom feedback system
By-the-hour hotels in each of three terminals
Airport hotels are basic, but clean and very quiet
First run movies in a free theater for those with long layovers
A butterfly garden! One of several outdoor gardens in terminals
Outdoor butterfly garden is just a few yards away from planes
When was the last time you saw a butterfly at the airport?
Changi is home base for Singapore Air's fleet of 19 big A380s
The enormous new Terminal 3 swallows crowds. And makes good use of natural light.
Changi's original Terminal 1 just emerged from a total re-do with a tropical feel.
I love an exotic old school departure board like this.
Now that's an immigration line anyone could love!

Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, Feb 24

FREE PARKING AT SFO? Last week a new service called FlightCar soft-launched an innovative new car sharing service at SFO. FlightCar lets people parking at the airport rent their vehicles out to other travelers. Every rental is insured up to $1 million, and every renter is pre-screened. Depending on the size, age and condition of your car, you can also make up to $10 per day in gas credits. (And you avoid having to pay for airport parking.) Airport valets are at SFO to pick up and drop off cars to renters. They even wash your car. If you are a renter, FlightCar valets meet you at the airport with your rental. Rates are about 30% less than what you’d pay the big guys like Hertz or Avis. Watch the video above to see how it works. Would you do this? Please leave your comments below!

NEW UNITED FLIGHT BONUSES. Remember last year when The BAT broke the news about United’s new flights from SFO to Paris and Taipei? Those inaugural flights are coming up soon, and United is offering mileage bonuses on both runs. To Paris (11,000 miles roundtrip), you’ll earn 50% to 100% bonus award miles for flights between April 11 and May 31. Register here. For Taipei (13,000 miles round trip), United is also offering 50% to 100% bonuses for flights between April 9 and June 30. Register here. (UPDATE 2-25-13: United has confirmed that dates for the launch of these flights has been affected by the grounding of the 787 Dreamliner. Tentative new start dates: SFO-Paris: April 26; SFO-Taipei: June 6.)

Chris McGinnis inspecting ANA's maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BAT-man Chris McGinnis inspecting ANA’s maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

787 UPDATE: If you didn’t get a chance to jump on one of those shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliners when United had them at SFO, or when ANA was flying them from San Jose to Tokyo, it sounds like it might be a while until you get the chance to do so. United announced this week that it was dropping the 787 from its schedule through at least June, and has put off new routes set to use the plane, such as Denver-Tokyo. ANA announced today that it has canceled all 787 flights, including San Jose-Tokyo, through at least May 31.

STARWOOD SPG TEAMS WITH DELTA. Delta and Starwood have launched a unique new program called Crossover Rewards, which offers reciprocal benefits in both programs. This means that starting March 1, Starwood Preferred Guest elites get access to Priority lines when checking in and can board Delta flights early. Delta Diamond and Platinum Medallions will get elite level benefits in the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, including 4 pm checkout, free internet, and one SkyMile per dollar spent on room rate in addition to Starpoints. They will also get one free check bag. Details and registration here:delta.com/crossoverrewards or spg.com/crossoverrewards. Insiders tell The BAT that a Starwood brand will team up with Delta later this spring with some trendy inflight amenities or other promotions. Have you flown Delta from the Bay Area recently? What did you think?

HILTON HHONORS DEVALUED: Effective March 28, Hilton HHonors will play under a new set of rules. Instead of the current seven award tiers, there will be 10. The highest tier will now require a whopping 95,000 points per night, up from just 50,000. You’ll pay more during high season, and less during low season. This is indicative of a travel industry trend I’ve been following—when paying with cash or with points, peak season prices are rising through the roof due to rising demand from travelers. The only way to get the best deals at rates that feel reasonable is to fly or stay during low or so-called “shoulder” seasons. How do you feel about this? Angry enough to dump Hilton and move to a competitor? Well, not so fast…This week Starwood rolled out its adjusted list of hotel award categories, with more hotels moving up than down—not as severe as Hilton’s, but still. Thoughts?

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Atop the shiny new $7 billion Marina Bay Sands complex in Singapore (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SWEATY IN SINGAPORE. Your BAT editor recently traveled to Singapore to research and write his latest BBC Business Trip Column: Business Trip: Singapore. If you haven’t been there recently, check out this column to learn about the city’s newest hotels, hottest tables, and how those new casinos are affecting the local economy.

STREAMING MOVIES ON SOUTHWEST. Last week Southwest announced that it would offer more on demand TV and movies on all wi-fi equipped aircraft (75% of its fleet). Movies cost $5 per device. Wi-fi access (via Row 44) costs $8 per day. Most Southwest flights I take are so short that movies aren’t really an option. What do you think? Have you tried using Southwest’s in-flight Row 44 wi-fi product, which seems to get about as many complaints as the Gogo system used by other carriers? Please leave your comments below.

Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport?

Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport?

HARVEY MILK AIRPORT. Despite the lukewarm reaction to the idea (among BAT readers and others) the campaign to add Harvey Milk’s name to SFO continues. SFgate’s City Insider blog said, “Privately, politicos say they’ve heard from plenty of local constituents, including gay and lesbian residents, who like the brand name of SFO, don’t think it’s worth the cost, fear the embarrassment of losing at the ballot or just don’t think it’s worth getting worked up over either way.” The Harvey Milk Foundation has donated $4,500 to a campaign to get the measure on the November ballot, and there’s a slick new website promoting the cause. Have you voted in our poll yet? Please do!

How do you feel about renaming San Francisco International Airport?

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Please leave any additional comments you have about renaming SFO in the comments box below.

- Chris McGinnis

 

 

American + US Airways: mmeh!

American's nice Admirals Club at SFO's Terminal 2 to see more action. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

American’s nice Admirals Club at SFO’s Terminal 2 to see more action. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

What’s the impact on Bay Area Travelers (BATs!) of the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways? Minor at best. Here’s why:

Neither carrier has a major presence at any the Bay Area’s three airports.

For example, at San Francisco International, American has been cutting back for several years now, dumping flights to Honolulu in 2011 and Boston in 2010. Currently, it has about 30 departures per day from SFO to (Los Angeles, Dallas Ft Worth, Miami, Chicago and New York) which is a drop in the bucket when you consider SFO handles some 600 departures every day.

When SFO recently revealed its top airlines in terms of market share for 2012, American and US Airways didn’t even show up. For 2012, AA and US took the  5th and 6th place positions for airline market share at SFO, with 6.9% and 3.5% shares respectively. However, combining the two carriers “as-is” would result in an airline about the same size as Virgin America, which has only about 9% of the market at SFO.

American walked away from Oakland in 2008. It stopped flying to Tokyo from San Jose in 2006. Its famous “nerd bird” flights between San Jose and Austin disappeared in 2009, but it still offers a handful of nonstops between SJC and Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas Ft Worth.

US Airways operates just 14 daily departures to three cities from SFO’s Terminal 1: Phoenix, Charlotte and Philadelphia. From San Jose and Oakland, it only flies to Phoenix.

A spokesman at SFO told the BAT that based on current usage at Terminal 2 by American and Virgin America, flights to cities currently served by US Airways could be folded into American’s operations there. That means American’s swishy, but relatively quiet Admirals Club at T2 (complete with pine trees and a fireplace) could soon see a little more action from former US Airways Club members.

On the upside, there are likely many Bay Area Travelers who still have large banks of American AAdvantage miles from back in the day when American was a major player here. Now, they will have the opportunity to use their miles to fly nonstop to cities served by US Airways.

And if anyone out there has a few stray miles in both AAdvantage and Dividend Miles accounts, those will now be combined into a merged program and could amount to something.

On the downside, United Mileage Plus members who earned and burned miles on Star Alliance partner US Airways will lose that option in the deal.

In any case, despite the media hew and cry this week over this merger, don’t expect change to come fast—the deal will have to go through regulatory approvals first, which could take at least six months or more. Then begins the long painful process of trying to merge two unpopular old airlines into something new and attractive.

Do you think they can pull it off? How will the American-US Airways merger affect you? How do you feel about having just four major US carriers: American, Delta, Southwest and United? Where does this leave our hometown carrier Virgin America? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

Virgin announces 2 new routes from SFO

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Virgin America’s #Nerdbird N941VA (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Virgin America will fly from San Francisco International (SFO) to Austin, TX and Anchorage, AK starting this May. The new Austin flights will be year round, but the Anchorage flights are only seasonal (June-Sept).

Both new routes are pretty thin, however, with only one flight daily in each direction, which makes the flights only mildly attractive to business travelers.

JetBlue and United also offer nonstops from SFO to Austin—but currently neither offer wi-fi onboard, which should be a strong selling point for Virgin. (Both United and JetBlue have said more planes will be outfitted with wi-fi later this year…we’ll have to wait and see about that…) Only Southwest flies nonstop from San Jose to Austin- and from what I’ve heard from BAT readers, Southwest has been good about keeping a jet with its Row 44 wi-fi deployed on the route.

From SFO, the Austin flight will depart at around 10 am and arrive at around 4 pm. Returning from Austin, the flight will depart at 5 pm and arrive SFO at 7 pm. (Compared to United which offers four flights in each direction per day. JetBlue has only one.) Virgin’s introductory fares start at $180 roundtrip.

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In 2011, Virgin named one of its aircraft “#nerdbird” – in a nod to the prevalence of wired travelers on its flights. American Airlines’ flights between San Jose and Austin were at one time referred to as “nerdbirds.” Virgin says its Elevate members have routinely named Austin as a ‘most wanted’ new destination.  In addition to being the Texas capital, the Austin area is home to the University of Texas at Austin and a robust technology and innovation sector – many Bay Area employers including Apple, Google and Intel have significant presence in the Austin area.

Virgin will fly to Anchorage six days per week, with introductory fares starting at about $400 round trip. United also flies to Anchorage once per day, and it’s current coach fares for June are closer to $600 round trip.