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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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SAS arrival + Fight over Jersey + Taipei Delei + United woes

The first SAS A340 arrives at SFO to a water cannon salute (Photo: Joe D'Alessandro)

The first SAS A340 arrives at SFO to a water cannon salute (Photo: Joe D’Alessandro)

SKAL TO SAS. SAS touched down at SFO last Monday at around 2:30pm. While the BAT was unable to attend the airport arrival celebration, reader Joe D’Alessandro sent along the above photo of the first SAS A340-300 getting a water cannon salute. Within 10 minutes, we posted the photo on The BAT Facebook page and our sister column on SFgate. D’Alessandro is the head of San Francisco Travel, and was at SFO to give a welcome speech, during which he mentioned the quickly posted photo as an example of the power and reach of social media in the Bay Area! Cool! (The BAT’s onboard SAS this week bound for Copenhagen, so stay tuned for our review!)

Pete Cashmore (Mashable) and Richard Branson on the Virgin America Inaugural LAX-EWR flight.

Pete Cashmore (Mashable) and Richard Branson on the Virgin America Inaugural LAX-EWR flight.

VIRGIN AMERICA IN JERSEY. Another inaugural this week: Virgin America jets touched down in Newark, New Jersey, with Richard Branson and Mashable’s Pete Cashmore onboard in a Google+ Hangout, in which Branson shared that fares between California and Newark are down 40% since Virgin’s entry into the market. In later interviews, Branson talked about the possibility of filing an antitrust complaint against United for its overwhelming buildup of flights in response to Virgin’s entry into the market, which The BAT pointed out in early March.  United was quick to point out that its response was nothing more than business as usual. What do you think?

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TAIPEI DELEI. United has postponed the start of its nonstops between SFO and Taipei for a full YEAR- until March 2014. Originally, flights were to have started this month, but that was then pushed until June. Routes Online reports that the delay is due to “market seasonality and the availability of wide body aircraft as a result of the ongoing Boeing 787 delays…. Due to the 787 issue, the Boeing 777 that we would use on the SFO-TPE route is now needed to support other existing routes that we planned to transition to Boeing 787s.” Speaking of United’s 787’s, the currently grounded plane is now back on United’s schedule starting May 31, flying between Denver and Houston. However, the FAA has not yet given airline the green light to fly 787s, but it’s expected soon. (United’s new flights to Paris, announced at the same time as Taipei, crank up on April 26.)

United CEO Jeff Smisek

UNITED CEO PAY CUT. The Miami Herald reports that CEO of United Airlines saw his total 2012 compensation shrink 41 percent last year after stumbles in the airline’s merger with Continental. Compensation for Chairman and CEO Jeff Smisek was $7.9 million last year, down from $13.4 million after a cut in his incentive payments.

MEGA-MILEAGE BONUSES. Did you check out our post this week on two new sites offering big bonuses for hotel stays… how about 15,000 United Mileage Plus miles for a three night stay in NYC or Chicago? Not bad. But not for everyone. Read about it here.

Virgin America's newest A320's have sharklets on the wings. Seen em? (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America’s newest A320′s have sharklets on the wings. Seen em? (Photo: Virgin America)

BEST AND WORST OF TIMES. Interesting to note that the much-ballyhooed (but generally ignored by consumers) “2012 Airline Quality Rankings” came out this week with the Bay Area’s two largest airlines at opposite ends. Virgin America ranked #1… and United ranked dead last at #14. Virgins’ win was attributed to its smaller, more manageable size, newer planes, wi-fi, fun crews, etc. Most of the blame for United’s dismal showing was based on its computer switchover and consolidation with Continental woes. Do these survey results make you MORE likely to choose Virgin and LESS likely to fly United? Please leave your comments below.

Here’s how the airlines ranked in 2012, as well as their position the previous year.

1) Virgin America (new to the ranking this year*)
2) JetBlue (3)
3) AirTran (1)
4) Delta (6)
5) Hawaiian (2)
6) Alaska (5)
7) Frontier (4)
8) Southwest (7)
9) US Airways (8)
10) American (10)
11) American Eagle (15)
12) SkyWest (9)
13) ExpressJet (new to the ranking this year*)
14) United (12)
*In order to qualify for inclusion in the report, an airline must carry at least 1 percent of domestic passengers.

ELEGANT EVENING. On Tuesday, SAS threw an elegant dinner party for about 150 at the Asian Art Museum. Among the dignitaries on the dais,  SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson and ex-SF-mayor Willie Brown, who’s energetic and spot on speech brought the relatively buttoned up house down. What a show! Bay Area Traveler editor Chris McGinnis was honored to be among the attendees.

photo

-Chris McGinnis

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Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO + Virgin matches SW elite + New arrival from Europe

In this issue: Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO, Virgin expands elite matching, SAS nonstops from Copenhagen land at SFO, United upgrades IAH terminal, Presidential visit, 787 flying (empty), $100K a year to travel and blog?

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Lyftstagrams)

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Soy_Fans - Lyftstagrams)

RIDESHARING UNWELCOME AT SFO. San Francisco International has issued cease and desist letters to six car/ride sharing services picking up or dropping off customers at the airport. Uber’s licensed, chauffeured town cars are allowed at SFO, but UberX “community drivers” are not. Sidecar, Lyft, InstantCab and FlightCar (recently included in The BAT) all received the letters. Do you use ridesharing services? What do you think about this? Leave your comments below. 

MORE ELITE STATUS. Virgin America has expanded and enhanced its elite-level status match promo. Now, Southwest Rapid Rewards elites (in addition to United and American elites) can get bumped up to Elevate elite. Virgin has also extended the deadline to enroll until June 30.

NEW ARRIVAL FROM EUROPE. A water-cannon salute awaits SAS’s first Airbus A340 at SFO when it lands this Monday (April 8) between 2 and 3 pm.  SAS will offer flights between San Francisco and Copenhagen six days per week (no Tuesday flights). The Bay Area Traveler-The BAT will be trying out the new service later this month, so stay tuned for a full report. Skål!

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

ENTOURAGE. President Obama and entourage arrived at SFO last week for some Bay Area fundraisers. In addition to the bright and shiny Air Force One B747, a giant C5 military cargo jet was also stationed at SFO all week (which transported the presidential helicopters, et al). Did you see it? Obama’s helicopters touched down at Crissy Field for Golden Gate Bridge photo ops, and then buzzed down to Atherton for the events.

OAKLINK. Have you noticed the progress on the 3.2-mile AirBART rail line connecting Oakland Airport to BART’s Coliseum station? There is now a 300-ft span over I-880. The project is now 60% complete…and should be operational in late 2014.  Will you consider Oakland Airport more often when the trains start to run?

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NEW TERMINAL AT IAH. If you fly United via its massive Houston Intercontinental hub a lot, you will be pleased to see the new $152 million Terminal B south concourse opening this month. The new concourse will house operations for all United Express regional flights. It’s about four times larger than the old terminal, with lots of new stores and celeb-chef and regionally inspired eateries.

COOL TRAVEL JOBS. Have you ever dreamed of being a travel blogger? Travel website Jauntaroo (set up to help you decide where to go on vacation) is hiring a “Chief World Explorer” to travel the globe for a year, at $100,000 salary, to blog about their experiences and give back to communities through the site’s “Travel With a Cause” commitment. Details are thin right now, but Jauntaroo says it will open applications later this spring, and has produced this teaser video to build awareness. Tourism Australia has just launched a separate, but similar “Best Jobs in the World” promo, offering six positions at $100,000 each for just six months work. What are you doing reading The BAT? Get that application in now!

DREAMLINER UPDATE. Boeing is now conducting test flights of its beleaguered 787 Dreamliner, and will submit results of those and other tests to the FAA. The New York Times reports that the FAA could approve the changes later this month, and the plane could be flying again in May—just in time for the busy summer travel season. Would YOU jump on a Dreamliner this summer? Please leave your comments below.

IN THE BAT LAST WEEK. United is expanding its operations at SFO’s Terminal 1 while delays have pushed back the completion of Terminal 3 renovations. Also, there are a few new details about United’s new p.s. service to New York.

-Chris McGinnis

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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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Screen shot 2013-03-24 at 10.10.48 AM

-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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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*

 

 

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