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Boeing’s 787 grounded: My report from Tokyo

The view from the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view from the 47th floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(TOKYO, JAPAN) Here I sit at the Park Hyatt, Tokyo (the Lost in Translation hotel) watching the morning sun hit Mt Fuji, and watching the headlines and emails about the FAA’s grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner spew forth from my laptop.

As you may know from previous posts, I flew to Tokyo last Saturday aboard one of the first Dreamliner flights to depart San Jose International airport. While there were operational issues with the aircraft at that time,  passengers I spoke with felt confident about flying the brand new 158-passenger bird across the Pacific. Our 10-hour flight to Tokyo was delightful and without incident.

I was traveling with a group of travel media, and during our interviews with ANA executives on Tuesday, we were assured that these were “teething issues” that fell within the band of normalcy for any new aircraft. They were still very excited about the aircraft with plans to buy several more.

While new at San Jose, ANA has been flying the 787 for a year and a half, with rave reviews from passengers, pilots and the media in general. We had heard US Transportation secretary Ray LaHood state a few days earlier that he’d feel confident flying on a 787.

Then, on Wednesday morning here in Tokyo, we heard that a Dreamliner had made an emergency landing at an airport in western Japan, and that all passengers had been evacuated. Apparently, an indicator light told pilots that there was a battery issue, and that there was an unusual odor in the cockpit. After that incident, ANA immediately grounded its fleet of 17 Dreamliners and launched an investigation into the cause. At that time in the US, the FAA said that it was looking into the incident.

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

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

Half of our media group had reservations to fly out of Tokyo bound for San Jose on the 787 on Wednesday afternoon. However, thanks to the slower winter travel season and quick action on the part of ANA staff, there was enough room on Wednesday’s ANA flight to San Francisco to accommodate the group and they all got home safely. I was glad I had already booked my return trip to SFO on an ANA Boeing 777 (instead of the 787 into SJC) for later this week.

Last night, I pondered what all this meant as I sat having a meal in the Park Hyatt’s New York Grill & Bar, thinking about Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation drinking Suntory whiskey, listening to a “Sausalito”-like chanteuse croon while the Tokyo skyline twinkled 52 stories below.

I had a great night’s sleep (almost no jet lag on this trip…maybe due to the 787’s new cabin pressurization … or the Park Hyatt’s comfy beds?) and awoke to another bombshell: The US Federal Aviation Administration had grounded the 787 until it could determine the cause of the incident.

With sketchy information and investigations underway, it’s too early to conclude that the aircraft is fundamentally flawed. But the recent rash of incidents and media hype around them are certain to cause concern…

Here’s a list of what is swirling around in my head about this now. Conclusions will come later….

>First, I’m grateful to be safe and sound in a nice hotel in Tokyo, and not stuck at an airport due to a flight cancellation. I’m glad to have the chance to ride on the 787… and equally glad I have a reservation to get back to San Francisco an ANA 777.

>It’s tough to speculate on what this means for ANA’s new 787 flights between Tokyo and San Jose. The 158-passenger Dreamliner is perfect for a “long, thin” route like Tokyo-San Jose. I think it’s unlikely that ANA will substitute another aircraft on the route—such as a Boeing 777 or 767 because they are simply too big—there is not enough demand in the South Bay to keep a 200-300 seat aircraft full. (American Airlines used to have a 777 on the route, but discontinued the flight in 2006.) So if the grounding of the 787 is short term, the outlook for the route should be okay… is it’s a long-term affair, the future of the route is cloudy.

>ANA is handling cancellations on a day-to-day basis- for example, I’ve just learned that Friday’s flight between Tokyo and San Jose has been canceled, but no decision has been made for Saturday’s flight. On ANA alone, Dreamliner cancellations affect the plans of 4,800 passengers per day, according to a spokesperson.

>The impact of the controversy is likely felt most acutely here in Japan- ANA has a fleet of 17 Dreamliners, most of which are used for domestic flying, so re-accommodating passengers is causing some pain. Japan Airlines has grounded seven 787s. In addition, the lithium ion batteries in question are made in Japan. It’s difficult to watch all this come down on the gentle, polite Japanese who feel deeply embarrassed and apologetic about the whole affair.

>The current FAA grounding will affect flights on United’s 6 Dreamliners, however, none of them now fly into the Bay Area, so the local impact is minimal. United is the only US carrier now operating the plane.

>For perspective, I think it’s important to look at a similar incident regarding the giant Airbus A380 last year. If you recall, serious structural and mechanical issues (cracks in wings and an engine fire) forced Australian authorities to ground the plane until remedies were in place. The grounding was temporary, and the A380 was quickly back in the skies. Hopefully, engineers will be able to find a similar fix for the Dreamliner’s lithium-ion batteries, which seem to be the cause of the jet’s most severe problems at the moment.

>Even if the 787 gets back in the skies quickly, some business travelers will likely book away from 787 flights out of fear that future groundings or reliability issues could foul their travel plans.

>Regarding how the airlines might get this fixed, Hudson Crossing aviation analyst Henry Harteveldt told The BAT: “It’s possible the correction may be a multi-step process — a short-term ‘tactical’ fix followed by more in-depth corrections, which may be more complex. Short-term, we may see the FAA recommend airlines limit the types of routes where they operate the 787 — for example, flights that last no longer than a certain number of hours, flights that operate only over land (or close to it), or both. Longer term, the FAA may recommend adding a fire suppression system to the battery bays, replacing the lithium-ion batteries, or something else.”

>The big question remains: Is this plane truly safe to fly? At this point, no one really knows. It’s going to be interesting to watch this pan out.

I’m firmly in the “wait and see” category when it comes to the idea of booking flights on the 787 in the near future. What about you? How do you feel about the 787? Do you trust the airlines, manufacturers and government regulators to keep you safe? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

Inflight: ANA’s Boeing 787 from San Jose to Tokyo [PHOTOS]

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Checking in at SJC-- 40 minutes south of SFO (without traffic)
Since the 787 holds only 168 passengers, check in is fast and easy
11:45 am departure from San Jose
First stop: SJC's new business class lounge
The lounge had Japanese newspaper and mags, but no miso soup for breakfast
Time to board the shiny new bird
Note the slight curvature of the wing's edge
46 of the plane's 168 seats are in business class-- all full on this flight
Pre-flight champagne or cold green tea
And we are off! Arcing out over Moffett Field, north over SFO and The City
Business class seats are staggered 1-2-1 or 1-1-1-- all on an aisle
If working, the center single seats are best-- look at all that space to spread out
Space is a little tighter on the center aisles in the 1-2-1 rows...but still...fine
This is a window-side aisle seat-- large workspace to the left, and then window
I had a center aisle seat-- with a shelf for in-flight parapernalia
tray tables fold out into enormous work spaces...
My tray table was large enough for my food tray and iPad
Plenty of storage space for reading material, menus, etc
Nice view from a window seat of the wing's elegant bow. See the Japanese red sun out there?
Here's the money shot: lav with a view! See the big Rolls-Royce engine out there?
Japanese-style toilet with seat warmer and sprayer (seriously!)
Sprayer controls! Front or back?
Economy class seats configured 2-4-2
Excellent inflight entertainment options and large screens
Economy seats get a generous 34" of pitch, compared to 31" or 32" on US carriers
In the middle of the middle in economy there are TWO armrests.
Back at the front of the plane, it's time for champagne.
3 types of sake on the menu
I chose a sake Hakkaisan Ginjo, from northern Japan
A nice starter-- chicken salad tart, melon wrapped in prosciutto
I chose from the Japanese menu-- seabream and octopus sashimi
assorted cold fish
excellent miso soup
European style cheese offering
With a robust Selene Cabernet Sauvignon
ice cream, too
All biz class passengers get Sony noise canceling headsets- leave the Bose at home
Plenty of power-- with outlets at every business class seat
For sleeping, seats recline into true lie-flat position
ANA's expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)
Now that's one very flat surface.
I'm 6'1" and fit comfortably-- but found the seat cushion a little hard
Our flight path-- 10 hours in the air
My favorite course: mid-flight bowl of warm udon noodles
Tint can be adjusted electronically on oversized windows- like transitions lenses
Sweet note from flight attendants helping me with key Japanese phrases
Almost there!
Deplaning onto a tarmac bus offered a nice photo opp
Wow! What a flight. I did not want to get off the plane.

(Tokyo, Japan) Wow. I’ve just flown across the Pacific on the world’s most advanced commercial jet- the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. It is the  only 787 currently flying out of the Bay Area (United’s 787 to Houston was only temporary), and the only transoceanic flight out of San Jose International Airport. And despite the recent concerns about the 787, I felt completely safe on this plane, as did all other passengers I spoke with.

Now I’m sitting in a Tokyo hotel loading up some great slideshow photos of the trip and recounting the flight. Some thoughts:

>I live in San Francisco, so I imagined that the 45-60 minute drive (depending on traffic) down to San Jose would be a pain- however, the quick and easy check-in, security and boarding process at SJC made up for time I felt I’d lost on the trip down.

>The windows on the 787 really are bigger (by 20%)- it’s the first thing you notice when stepping on the plane. Instead pulling shades up and down, window seaters can adjust the tint electronically- sort of like Transitions Lenses.

>Lower pressure and higher humidity in the 787 cabin are detectable- for one thing, your eyes and lips don’t dry out as fast. I’m not sure how to describe the feeling other than to say that cabin air just felt softer. And I felt better when I got off the plane.

>I felt slightly more vibration from the engines on this flight, likely due to the plane’s composite structure. Also, seat cushions seemed harder than average.

>The plane exudes spaciousness with higher ceilings and a wider fuselage- there just feels like there is more space, even in economy class. The extra-large business class section (46 seats) seems to take up half the plane.

>Seatback inflight entertainment screens are big- 17 inches in business, 11 inches in economy. Both classes have 160 channels to choose from.

>In business class, the BEST seats are odd numbered window seats, and even numbered center seats- check out the slideshow and you will see how a center seat on this plane is like sitting at the helm of Starship Enterprise. If you can put up with the commotion around the galleys and lavatories, bulkhead seats are the best of the best seats on the plane in terms of personal space.

>Inflight dining in business class blew me away- the food and drink menu is 24 pages long (!), well suited to both western and Japanese palates. (I went native and ordered off the Japanese menu…See the slideshow above to learn which was my favorite dish. Oishii!)

>The Dreamliner is relatively small plane: Only 158 passengers (46 business, 112 economy), which makes it the right size for smaller markets like San Jose. Compare that to a Boeing 747 which holds 350-400 passengers. End result? Boarding is fast and easy- it feels like a less crowded domestic flight.

>ANA’s roundtrip coach fares between SJC and NRT are about $1,500… Business class fares are in the $4,000 range,  pretty much the same as Tokyo fares out of SFO. ANA is a Star Alliance partner, which means opportunities for earning and burning Mileage Plus miles on these flights.

>Finally, there’s a window in the lavatory- and the Toto toilet has a heated seat with sprayer-  you’ve got to flip through the slideshow above to see it!

So whaddya think? Would you be willing to drive down to San Jose to give ANA’s 787 a try? If you live in the South Bay, will you be able to break out of your habit of driving to SFO to fly to Asia? Would you consider flying ANA to points beyond Tokyo? Please leave your comments below! 

Disclosure: ANA covered the cost of my trip to Tokyo.

 

ANA’s B-787 Dreamliner at San Jose Airport [PHOTOS]

A water cannon salute for the arrival of ANA’s first flight from Tokyo (Photo: San Jose Int’l Airport)

ANA’s B787 Dreamliner unloading at San Jose International Airport. (Photo: San Jose Int’l Airport)

ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner prepares for takeoff as media look on. (Photo: San Jose Int’l Airport)

Sayonara to ANA’s first departure from San Jose at 11:45 am. Plane arrives Tokyo tomorrow at 4:10 pm. (Photo: San Jose International Airport)

Here’s the press release from San Jose Airport about the arrival of ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner today.

I’ll soon be on this big bird across the Pacific, and then return on an ANA Boeing 777  into SFO…and I’ll compare the ride. Which one do you think I’ll prefer??

 

New business class lounge at San Jose Airport [PHOTOS]

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To enter The Club, take the stairs by gate 15
Welcome to The Club at SJC
Priority pass regular and select members get free access
A fun and friendly bar area
Seats for socializing
A nice lipstick pop of color here and there
A fun communal table (with electrical outlets, natch) in the bar area
The single shower feels a little cold and sterile
Classy wood stained work carrels
Enough plugs for an army of business travelers (US style only)
Access to two PCs and a printer
Mostly cold buffet items
The view from the club overlooking Gate 15-- boarding area for ANA's flight to Tokyo
Several works from local artists on display... and for sale
Seating on the quieter "business side" of the club
Inside the private meeting room

 

To coincide with the launch of ANA’s new nonstops to Tokyo, San Jose International Airport opened a big, bright, world-class, $1.6 million business class lounge this week.  And The BAT was there with a camera! (so please click through the slideshow above!)

A big, bright room for socializing

A big, bright room for socializing

The Club at SJC” is located across and upstairs from gate 15 (Terminal A) and is only accessible to those inside airport security. While ANA business class passengers can use the lounge for free, anyone can enter by paying the $35 fee for day use. Priority Pass cardholders (both regular and select) have access, too.

The lounge will be busiest during the hour or two prior to ANA’s departure at 11:45 am, but the club is open daily from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Once inside, everyone gets:

  • Snacks and beverages, including beer, wine and well-brand booze. You pay a premium for call brands like Patron or Grey Goose.
  • Free Wi-fi access
  • Access to a single shower room (towels, shampoo and soap provided)
  • Business center with access to two PCs and a printer
  • One private conference room

The 7,400 square foot club consists of two large rooms separated by the bar/buffet area. The eastern side is for socializing, with a bar, a large communal table and plenty of comfortable seating arranged in conversation nooks. It’s also the bright side,with views east over parking lots toward downtown San Jose.

ANA crews are ready to welcome business travelers to the new Club at San Jose

ANA crews are ready to welcome business travelers to the new Club at SJC

The western side is the business side—where you’ll find handsome stained wood work carrels with electrical outlets, and seats for those who need to sit and relax or get some work done. Windows look out at the airport concourse below, and beyond to runways. (See slideshow above)

In between the two rooms is the buffet, which will offer mostly cold snacks such as sandwiches, cheeses, vegetable crudités and chips. However, the lounge will offer hot breakfast items from 9:30 to 11:30 each morning prior to ANA’s 11:45 a.m. departure.

The lounge has a maximum capacity of 128. There are enough electrical outlets (US-style only) throughout the club for an army of business travelers. The interior design is modern and comfortable, with mostly neutral tones, but occasional pops of color, such as lime green. (See slideshow above.)

The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art has partnered with the lounge, and is exhibiting eye-catching and unusual travel-related works from local artists that are also available for sale. (See slideshow above for a look at the art.)

San Jose’s lounge is the fifth “common use” business class airport lounge opened by The Club Airport Lounges. It has recent opened two lounges at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, one in Dallas Ft Worth, and another at the new terminal at Raleigh-Durham.

Do you like what you see? Is an airport lounge enough to get you to give SJC a try? Why or why not? Please take a look at the slideshow above, and leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

 

5 most annoying habits of infrequent flyers

Filthy airplane feet (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Over time, most frequent travelers adopt an unruffled, zen-like attitude when it comes to flying. But at times, especially during the peak season, infrequent flyers exhibit certain behaviors that get under their skin. Here are my top five irritants. What are yours?

1) Seatback tappers- You know,  the ones who repeatedly tap-tap-tap on the seatback entertainment screen to play games, change channels or who knows what. Since they don’t fly much, they don’t realize how irritating it is for the person in front of them to feel that constant knock that hits square on the back of the head. As soon as you think they’ve quit, it starts over again. After about 15 minutes, I’ll turn around and give ‘em an arched eyebrow… what about you?

2) Pushy recliners- These folks can do real damage to an open laptop, or knock a drink right out of your hand and into your lap. They apply full backward pressure on the seatback, and then POW! They discover that that funny little button is what makes the seat go back- and right into your personal space. I can’t say this with complete authority, but from what I observe, most frequent travelers no longer recline their seats unless they are on an overnight flight. Do you still recline?

3) Aisle hogs- During boarding, these are the folks who think they can yank their overstuffed wheelie-bag down the aisle, and act surprised when it doesn’t fit and they keep running into seats and knees. Pick the bag up already, and get down the aisle! There are 150 people behind you! And once you’ve stuffed that monster into the bin, don’t go back and block the aisle while you fetch your magazines or iPod. Sit down in your seat and get outta the way. You can go back to your bag after we take off.

4) Boarding line breakers- These are the novices who act like they are deaf or don’t speak English, or can’t read when gate agents are boarding by zone, and wander into the zone 1 group when they are actually in zone 5. What are even more irritating are gate agents who don’t pay attention and let these slouches board anyway. Back off, Jack!

5) Typhoid Marys- Most frequent travelers know that when they are in tiny tubes darting through the stratosphere, they should keep their germs to themselves. Most infrequent travelers haven’t learned that yet, and sneeze or cough without covering, prop their feet (sometimes bare) up on the the bulkheads, tray tables or armrests … even after a trip to the lavatory. These are the same folks who grab their bags in overhead bins by the wheels (which have rolled through all kinds of muck), and then touch your seatback, tray table, armrest, light switch or air vent. If you are seated by the window, these are also the hands passing drinks and food to you. Yuck! Bring on the Handi-Wipes!

Okay, now that I’ve had my Crabby McCraberton moment, it’s time  for me to retreat back into my frequent traveler zen skin and to remember that now’s the time to offer tolerance (and maybe even help) to the infrequent flyers, especially during this peak summer travel season.  All of us were once one ourselves.

But… what about you? What habits of infrequent flyers irritate you most? Please leave your comments below!

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PreCheck trusted traveler lanes arrive at SFO

Look for the PreCheck logo at SFO starting next Wednesday, Nov 14.

It’s official: Starting on Wednesday, November 14,  the TSA’s popular PreCheck trusted traveler security lanes make their long-awaited debut at San Francisco International Airport.

PreCheck offers certain high mileage frequent flyers access to special, faster lanes at airport security that do not require them to remove their shoes, belts or coats, or take their laptops out of their bags for screening. SFO is one of the last major airports in the US to get PreCheck.

Initially, there will be 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 will be located on the far left side of the checkpoints with PreCheck directional signage.

There will be no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal checkpoints because PreCheck is for domestic passengers only.

Only specially selected passengers flying United or American can use PreCheck lanes when they open on Wednesday.

(Are YOU signed up to get The BAT via email? Hop to it! Click here or enter your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

There is no definitive word yet on when or whether Alaska, Delta or US Airways passengers will see PreCheck lanes at Terminal 1.  A Delta spokeswoman told The BAT, “We will continue to keep an eye on the number of our customers [in the Bay Area] who participate in PreCheck.  As that number grows, a specially designated PreCheck line is possible in the future.”

For now, Virgin America passengers cannot use PreCheck lanes at T2 because the carrier is not yet part of PreCheck, which the TSA still considers a pilot program. Virgin spokesperson Jennifer Thomas said, “Carriers need a certain number of eligible participants in their frequent flyer programs for TSA to accept them into the testing and initial operation of the program. TSA recently expanded that pool, and as a result we are now working with them on this and hope to be in - in the near future.”

In order to be able to use PreCheck lanes at SFO, you must first opt in to an invitation from United or American or sign up here. You can 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 are eligible for PreCheck.

PreCheck or CLEAR?

Starting next Wednesday security checkpoints at SFO will have THREE special fast lanes for frequent travelers: PreCheck,  CLEAR  and airline first class/elite lines. These three options are all slightly different.

CLEAR, which operates at SFO as well as airports in Dallas/Ft Worth, Denver and Orlando, provides guaranteed access to the front of the standard security 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. (Click here for a free two-month trial of  CLEAR )

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 smartphone. 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. PreCheck is a free program if you are one of the lucky few chosen by your airline for this status. If not, you can buy your way into PreCheck status by spending $100 to get Global Entry from Customs and Border Protection (which provides access to faster kiosks vs immigration lines when returning to the US from abroad).

For those who have CLEAR and PreCheck,  CLEAR just announced that it has been approved to integrate PreCheck eligible CLEAR members into the PreCheck screening lane after they verify with CLEAR. “We are working with the airports and local TSA to operationalize the integration, which will hopefully be done soon,” said CLEAR spokesperson Nora O’Malley.

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Finally, if you are flying in first or business class, or are an elite level member of an airline frequent flyer program, you will have access to a special, shorter (most of the time) security line. United recently discontinued its Premier Line option, which allowed non-elite members to pay a fee for access to faster elite security lines.

So which line makes the most sense for you? Will you opt-in for PreCheck? Spend $100 for Global Entry? Pay $179 for guaranteed CLEAR access? Or just stick with what you’ve got? Please leave your comments below!

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Sponsor:  

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

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

 

 

NE Airports: Some open, some closed

Screenshot from FlightStats shows which NE airports are closed as of this morning. Click on map for updates.

In the wake of superstorm Sandy, many key airports are closed today. But surprisingly, many are open. According to FlightStats

The following mid-Atlantic/Northeast airports are closed this morning as of 7:30am PDT.

  • (JFK) John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • (LGA) La Guardia Airport
  • (EWR) Newark Liberty International Airport
  • (ACY) Atlantic City International Airport
  • (GON) Groton-New London Airport
  • (HVN) New Haven Airport
  • (MMU) Morristown Municipal Airport
  • (TEB) Teterboro Airport.

Airports that are OPEN include Boston, Hartford, Providence, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington Dulles and Washington National- however, while the airports are technically open, many flights are still cancelled or off-schedule as airlines try to get their planes back in place. With local public transportation shut down in NYC today, its three main airports will have a tough time cranking back up with only skeleton staffing in place.

The situation remains fluid, and many airports could crank up again today, so here’s the link to get current airport closure information.

Looking at current flight boards, it appears that most early morning flights from SFO to Boston-Logan Airport, Washington-Dulles and Washington National were canceled, but flights later today are on schedule. Flights into New York appear to be cancelled all day.

Some good news: While airlines cancelled some 7,000 flights yesterday and today, only about 600 are cancelled for tomorrow. So we are making some progress.

But I do not think that the nation’s air travel system will full recover from this blow until this weekend at the earliest. My advice from yesterday still stands: If you don’t really need to go this week, and your flight is cancelled anyway, get a full refund from the airline and take your trip next month instead.

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

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Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

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Sponsor:  

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

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

 

 

Why isn’t popular PreCheck at SFO?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>Chris McGinnis

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Runway closure to cause delays at SFO

If you are flying to from or through SFO on weekends during September, prepare for delays during peak hours (roughly 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.).

This just in from SFO:

San Francisco – September 12, 2012 - San Francisco International Airport will temporarily close Runway 28L, one of its two primary arrival runways, on three consecutive weekends beginning Friday, September 14, 2012, at 10:00 p.m. PDT, with the runway reopening on Monday, September 17, 2012, at 8:00 a.m. PDT.  The other closures are scheduled between Friday, September 21 at 10:00 p.m. and Monday, September 24 at 8:00 a.m., and again between Friday, September 28 at 10:00 p.m. and Monday, October 1 at 8:00 a.m.

These weekend closures will allow construction crews to restore Runway 28L/10R to its full length (10,704 feet) following the installation of Runway Status Lights, driving timber piles on the approach trestle light structure and commission the new taxiway called Taxiway Z1 (Zulu One).

During the closure, the arrival rate at SFO will be reduced from 60 aircraft per hour to 30 aircraft per hour. Delays for flights originating within a two-hour radius of SFO are expected to occur during peak travel times. Travelers are strongly encouraged to contact their respective carriers regarding any potential delays.

The construction is part of the federally mandated Runway Safety Area project for Runways 28L/10R and 28R/10L at SFO, which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2013.

The best news here is that SFO is making these improvements during September, a fair-weather month in the Bay Area, so hopefully delays will be kept to a minimum.

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United playing musical gates at SFO, again.

Travelers wait for United's short bus shuttle at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Travelers wait for United’s short bus shuttle at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Earlier this summer, The BAT reported on United’s surreptitious move into Terminal 1 at SFO. At the time, United said it would move a handful of flights (mostly to Southern California) into Terminal 1, and transport passengers from United’s main Terminal 3 via 20 passenger shuttle buses. But over the summer months, United begain using Terminal 1 willy-nilly—we heard from cranky passengers forced to use Terminal 1 when flying to or from cities all over the country.

Now that’s all changing. Again.

Starting this week, United is moving at least 100 United Express flights to Terminal 1. The move is designed to free up space in Terminal 3 (and on those tiny short-bus shuttles) so United can have all its mainline flights there.

Here are the details the United has confirmed with The BAT:

>Most (but not all) United Express flights moved to Terminal 1 on September 5.

>All mainline flights will now use Terminal 3

>United still wants all customers to check in for ALL flights at Terminal 3, then walk to gates 71A or 87A for a shuttle ride over to Terminal 1. (However, we’ve learned that some wily frequent fliers just print boarding passes at home and go straight to Terminal 1 when they see that their gate number is 71A or 87A.)

>Gate 92 in the international terminal will no longer be used for shuttle transfers.

>There will be no more mainline United flights using Terminal 1

Eventually, all this will change again. All United operations will be happily reunited in Terminal 3 when boarding area E in re-opens after a massive renovation, which an airport spokesperson said is  expected to be completed in November 2013.  (Boarding area E is the old American Airlines space.)

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UPDATE: Sept 7: Here’s the official notice about this now appearing on United’s website:

United flights from San Francisco International (SFO) depart from Terminal 1, Terminal 3 and the International Terminal. Ticketing, check-in and baggage drop for all flights are located at Terminal 3.

You may proceed through security at Terminal 3 and, if you are departing from Terminal 1, take the shuttle bus from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1. If you are departing from Terminal 1 and have already checked in, do not need to see a United representative, and do not have any bags to check, you may proceed through Terminal 1 security with your boarding pass.

Shuttle buses depart every five minutes from Terminal 3 (Gates 71A and 87A) to Terminal 1 (Gate 39). For elevator access to a bus stop, please use Gate 87A.

Have you been faced with United’s musical gates routine at SFO yet? How did that go for you? Please leave your comments below. 
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