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SFO gets United Boeing 787 Dreamliner after all

United’s new baby: The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is coming to SFO! (Photo: United Airlines)

United will deploy its shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliners on get-acquainted runs between domestic hubs and Houston for two months this fall, including one route to/from San Francisco International. Eventually, the planes will fly off on previously announced international routes. But in November and December, they’ll be making calls here at SFO.

From November 4 through December 2, a United Dreamliner will depart SFO at 12:15 am, arriving Houston at a painful 5:41 am five times per week. The return flight from Houston will depart at 5:45 pm, arriving SFO around 8 pm. From December 3 through January 3, the flights will be daily.

Yes, you read that correctly, United is positioning its shiniest, newest plane on a red-eye flight from SFO to Houston. Yuck. The upside is that there will be plenty of room in business class to lie flat and sleep (if you get upgraded to one of the 36 true lie flat seats). But if you are sitting in the back, looking out of those 30% larger windows, all you will see is the black of night. The same goes for the return flight from Houston… at that time of year, the sun has set by 5:45 pm.

A United spokesperson did not have a ready answer when I asked about this owly-bird scheduling for SFO flights. Dreamliner debut flights between Houston and Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), Cleveland, Denver and Dulles are all during daylight hours, so it seems odd that SFO’s are all at night. Too bad. (United’s release does say that scheduling is subject to change, so maybe we’ll get lucky…)

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Nonetheless, the allure of the new 787 is definitely going to draw interest among die-hard aviation geeks. However, flying between SFO and Houston is not cheap- mid November round trip fares are currently running about $480. For those interested in booking a seat on the new bird, these 787 flights will go on display on United.com starting September 1.

United has 50 Dreamliners on order- it will get five of them by the end of this year.

Below is an interesting infographic about United’s new bird.  Will you go out of your way to fly on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner? Please leave your comments below. 

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Another Airbus A380 arriving at SFO

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has announced that it will be flying its flagship A380 between SFO and Hong Kong with continuing service to Singapore this winter. SIA is the first Asian carrier to fly the double decker A380 into SFO. (Lufthansa and Air France arrived at SFO with the A380 first.)

Most frequent travelers have only dreamed of flying Singapore Airlines, renowned for its top notch service, Singapore girls and over-the-top business and first class cabins. It’s frequently cited as the best airline in the world. Airline spokesperson James Boyd told The BAT, “It’s important to note that the A380 will only be on the SFO route for three months. It’s a great ‘pop-up’ opportunity for Bay Area business travelers to get a taste of our premium flagship service.”

Singapore currently flies Boeing 777s between SFO and Singapore twice a day- one flight stops over in Seoul, the other stops over in Hong Kong. While the B777 service is nice, it’s now a little dated and not near as nice as what SIA offers on its big A380. Flip through the slideshow above to see its famous first class suite and the widest business class seat in the sky.

SIA’s got a super-sexy flight number on its SFO>HKG>SIN run: SQ1, which departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is 15 hours to Hong Kong, plus another four hours to Singapore, so you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury. SQ2 arrives back in SFO at around 8:30 pm.

SIA is a Star Alliance partner, but unfortunately, you cannot redeem United Mileage Plus miles for SIA’s business or first class seats. However, coach seats are available starting at 65,000 miles round trip.

Ready to go? A quick scan of roundtrip fares for mid January between SFO and Singapore shows coach at about $1250; business at $5,900 and first at $12,500.

Have you ever flown Singapore Airlines before? What did you think? 

Singapore Airlines’ flagship A380. (Courtesy: Singapore Airlines)

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United: 2 new long-haul routes from SFO

BusinessFirst seats configured 2-1-2 on United’s 767-300ER

This morning United Airlines broke news to The BAT that it will add new nonstops from San Francisco International (SFO) to Paris and Taipei starting next April.

PARIS:

United has not offered nonstops between SFO and Paris-CDG since it shelved the route in October 2005.

“The Bay Area is doing very well right now and we’d like to capitalize on that good fortune, and the Paris route is a good example of how we are doing that. Our corporate clients have been asking for this service,” said Greg Hart, United’s SVP of Network.

Starting April 11, 2013, United will deploy Boeing 767-300ER aircraft in a two-class configuration on the 11.5-hour, 5,600-mile flight to Paris.  The revamped 767-300 will offer 30 true-lie-flat BusinessFirst sleeper seats, 49 Economy Plus seats and 135 standard coach seats, but no first class.

Passengers will enjoy United’s new AVOD system, which offers individual seatback video entertainment systems in both business and coach, with hundreds of choices of movies, TV shows and games. All business class seats on the 767 have electrical and USB outlets for charging personal electronics. There’s one electrical outlet per row in coach.

“All of these 767’s were originally configured for mainland-Hawaii and hub-to-hub flying. With the reconfiguration currently under way, the airplanes are getting new seats, new (and larger) overhead bins,” said Hart.

Currently, only Air France offers year-round nonstops between San Francisco and Paris. XL Airways offers summer seasonal flights. Interestingly (and perhaps not coincidentally) just last week United announced that it would shelve its Houston-Paris nonstop in October, which observers say is part of an ongoing spat United has with Houston’s city leaders.

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TAIPEI

United will begin daily year-round nonstop service to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei on April 9, 2013, its eighth nonstop Asian destination from SFO.  Currently, United flights from SFO to Taipei stop over in Tokyo for about two hours making for a grueling 15-to-17-hour journey.

The new nonstop flights will operate using Boeing 777-200ER aircraft with 269 seats – eight in first, 40 in business (both front and rear-facing, true lie-flat), 104 in Economy Plus, and 117 in coach. As in the recently revamped 767s flying to Paris, all seats in all classes get their own seatback entertainment system on this 777.

There are 40 front and rear facing business class seats on United’s 777-200ER (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Currently there are two carriers, China Air and Eva Air, offering nonstops between SFO and Taipei. Neither of these carriers are members of the Star Alliance, so United will have a strong competitive advantage among hard-core Mileage Plus fans on the 6,500 mile, 13-hour route. [Update: EVA will soon be a full fledged member of the Star Alliance.]

Have you had a chance to fly on one of United’s revamped B777s yet? If not, take a peek at what The BAT saw at SFO’s maintenance base where these 11-13 year-old 777’s are getting their makeovers.

In related news, United announced this week that it will take delivery of its very first Boeing 787 Dreamliner this September, but has yet to divulge a specific inaugural route.Unfortunately, Hart told The BAT that there are no current plans to deploy the much anticipated Dreamliner at SFO this year.

Where would YOU like to see United fly nonstop from SFO?? Please leave your comments below. 

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✈ Bypassing security lines with CLEAR at SFO

CLEAR lanes are fast lanes at SFO security (Photo taken June 25)

Did you know that July is the busiest month of the year for air travel? As summer crowds begin to swell at SFO, frequent travelers are increasingly facing longer than expected lines at security… except for those who subscribe to the $179 CLEAR card, which cranked up operations at SFO in May.

From the looks of this photo, regular security lines during peak summer season are becoming reliably long, while CLEAR lines are reliably short…or even non-existent.

CLEAR is not revealing how many new subscribers it has in the Bay Area right now- the only number I could coax out of them was that members had used CLEAR lanes 600,000 times since the service re-started in 2010. The company also claims that 80% of its users in Denver and Orlando have returned since the company re-opened CLEAR lanes at airports in those cities. Prior to shutting down in 2009, CLEAR had 40,000 members in the Bay Area.

See the quiet CLEAR line at the bottom of this photo?

Currently, CLEAR has cranked up service in Orlando, Denver, San Francisco and just this week at Terminal E at Dallas Ft Worth. While it says it is working on getting back into other airports, it won’t name names.

To convince more of us to jump for the $179 annual subscription, CLEAR has started to layer on extras meant to appeal to frequent travelers. For example, they are offering a free one-year gold membership to the Regus network of workspaces and offices around the world. New members can also get a free three-month trial of of TripIt Pro, a service that helps travelers consolidate and keep track of their travel reservations. They are also offering free two-month trial memberships to those who have never been CLEAR members before.

Even with airline elite status, security lines are still rather unpredictable, especially in airline hub cities with a lot of frequent flyers (i.e. United hubs here at SFO or in Denver) so CLEAR execs are heavily promoting how having a CLEAR card provides predictability and no surprises when it comes to airport security. For a busy business traveler, this means leaving for the airport at the last minute and knowing that you won’t face a long wait at airport security.

Is that peace of mind worth $179 a year? Are airport security lines still a hassle or headache for you? Have your tried or re-activated your CLEAR membership? I’m waiting to renew mine until my heavy travel schedule kicks in this September. What about you? Please leave your comments below! 

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Messier at T1, new flights to Europe, UAL leaves OAK, PreCheck at SFO

(Photo: Rolling Thunder / Flickr)

MESSIER AT SFO T1. The BAT has learned that UAL has quietly expanded the list of cities it serves from Terminal 1 at SFO to at least two more than we reported in early June. This week we’ve heard from surprised readers on flights to or from Denver, Los Angeles LAX and Portland PDX using Terminal 1.  There’s little rhyme or reason…or transparency… about this from United, which makes the situation all the more frustrating. Just remember: If your boarding pass says gate 87 or 92A-F, United will tell you to enter at Terminal 3, go to the gate and take a shuttle bus under the airport to Terminal 1. But BAT readers know that if you have no luggage to check, you can enter directly at Terminal 1. If your plane arrives SFO at Terminal 1 and you have no checked bags, you exit at Terminal 1. If you have checked bags or a connecting flight, United will direct you to the shuttle for a ride back over to Terminal 3. Have you experienced this merry-go-round yet? If so, please leave your comments below.

UAL SEZ BUH-BYE OAKLAND. United took its very last flight out of Oakland on Sunday, June 4 with a flight to Denver. United had served Oakland for more than 75 years, and the airport gave the final flight a ceremonial spray from a fire truck. Over the years, Southwest has made its mark at OAK, and this undoubtedly had an influence on UAL’s declining fortunes there.

(Photo: Virgin America)

PORTLANDIA. Virgin America inaugurated new flights to Portland earlier this month—and celebrated by naming its newest A320 “Mount Hoodie.” Clever!

AIR FRANCE’S LARGEST LOUNGE. Fly to Paris much? Then you should check out this slideshow of Air France’s chic new business class lounge at Paris CDG—it’s the largest lounge in the system and open to business, first and SkyTeam partner passengers.

GIMME FREE WIFI. Seeking free hotel wifi? Silicon Valley based hotel booking site Room77 allows users to filter hotels by availability of free wi-fi. Smart!

STOLEN LAPTOPS. Some airports are worse than others when it comes to laptop theft. A recent study found that Atlanta-ATL is #1 for laptop theft in the US. SFO ranks fifth worst after Miami-MIA, Chicago-ORD, Orlando-MCO. Frankfurt is #1 outside the US.

MORE CLEAR. The CLEAR card, which is back at SFO with its popular expedited security screening service, expanded to Terminal E (serving UAL, Delta, Virgin, etc) at Dallas-Ft Worth airport last week. CLEAR is now available at all terminals at SFO. It’s also in operation at Denver and Orlando airports. If you had a CLEAR card in it’s previous life, whatever time you had left on it when the company shut down is now valid at SFO—so get bring your old card to SFO and give it a try. The service costs $179 per year.

Photo: Olivier Cabaret / Flickr

EURO-AIR. Are you aware of all the new airlines flying to Europe from the Bay Area? To make hay while the summer sun shines, airlines such as XL Airways (SFO-Paris CDG), Arkefly (OAK-Amsterdam AMS), Air Berlin (SFO-Dusseldorf) and Sata (OAK-Azores) now offer nonstops across the pond. All are offering roundtrip fares in the $1500 range—not much different than what you’ll currently find on more mainstream carriers. Note: These carriers do not offer daily service—it’s more like 1-3 times per week. Also, we don’t hear much about these carriers here since they are more focused on European business than US business—which becomes immediately evident when you try to search for fares on their balky websites.

EURO-CHEAPO? If those fares seem high, here’s some good news: The US dollar gaining rapidly on the euro, making trips across the pond a little easier on American wallets. Currently, you can buy a euro for about $1.25, and from the looks of this chart, it could be closed to $1.10 by this fall.

PRECHECK COMING TO SFO. Eventually. United has (finally) joined American and Delta as airline partners with TSA for it’s popular PreCheck expedited security screening program. However, United only has PreCheck at Chicago-ORD for now. The TSA’s western region spokesperson Nico Melendez told The BAT that while the agency expects to have PreCheck at SFO this year, there is still no formal date for introduction.

DELAY AT ANA FOR SJC. ANA has quietly pushed back the introduction of new nonstops between San Jose International and Tokyo using a new B787 Dreamliner into 2013. Last fall ANA said that service would start in 2012. Hmmm.

MORE BIZ CLASS ON UAL. United has revamped the first of 14 Boeing 767-300s with its new lie-flat business class seat—all facing forward, unlike the forward/rear facing seats on its B777s. United spokesperson Charles Hobart told The BAT that the newly configured 767’s won’t be flying internationally out of SFO but will be doing occasional domestic turns.

Bedroom at Las Alcobas, my fave hotel in Mexico City (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

MEXICO CITY. Got business in Mexico City? Check out my latest BBC Business Trip: Mexico City column for my take on latest, greatest and newest business class hotels, restaurants, airport lounges. Surprise: Mexico City has cut its pollution in half, and its downtown is safe, cosmopolitan and a lot of fun. Factoid: The city’s elevation is 7,200 feet—that’s 2,000 or so feet higher than Denver!

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Virgin to launch new SFO-Portland PDX nonstops

If you are going to be out at SFO’s Terminal 2 around noon on Tuesday, stop by for the festivities and a free cocktail as Virgin America launches its new nonstop service to Portland International Airport (PDX) with a red-carpet sendoff.

Virgin America CEO David Cush will cut the ribbon on the new route along with SFO leadership and first flight guests – including Portland Mayor Sam Adams and star of IFC’s hit show “Portlandia,” Kyle MacLachlan. Virgin teamed up with IFC around its hit show “Portlandia” to help launch the new service via a unique Facebook promotion. The quirky “Arts and Aircrafts” Facebook app invited Portlanders to help bring the style back to flying by allowing them to upload their favorite photos and “put a bird on it” – to score a 20% discount off Virgin America flights.

The top voted photo winners will join the inaugural flight and Portland hangar party – as well as score free PDX flights and a two-night hotel stay.  Upon touchdown at PDX, the airline will host a Portland-themed Hangar celebration for its first guests, teammates and friends – just off the runway.

Current fares on Virgin, United or Alaska (the three carriers offering nonstops on the route) now run as low at $218 round trip.

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Runway closure at SFO could cause big delays

Are you planning to fly to/from SFO this weekend? Even if the fog stays away, you might be delayed. 

First it was Bay Area bridges… now it’s airport runways! Authorities announced today that San Francisco International Airport will temporarily close Runway 28L, one of its two primary arrival runways, from Friday, June 1, 2012, at 8:00 p.m. PDT to 8:00 a.m. PDT on Monday, June 4, 2012.  Runway 28R, as well as departure Runways 01L, and 01R will remain open and operational throughout the closure period.

The weekend closure will allow construction crews to modify lighting and distance remaining signs and also install infrastructure for the Airport’s new Runway Status Lights.

As a result, during the closure, the arrival rate at SFO will be reduced from 60 aircraft per hour to 30 aircraft per hour and delays, particularly for flights originating within two hours of SFO, are expected to occur during peak travel times.  Travelers are strongly encouraged to contact their respective carriers regarding any potential delays associated with this weekend’s construction work.

The construction is the first phase of the federally mandated Runway Safety Area project at SFO, which is expected to be completed in the Fall of 2014.

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Brouhaha boils re: early boarding for babies

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=7323318

Here’s my opinion (via interview on CBS news last night) about that brouhaha brewing about United’s new policy not allowing families with kids to board early. Do you agree or disagree? Is the new policy fair to families? Or to frequent travelers?

My take: Airlines have lost control of the boarding process. There are so many people with “special” boarding privileges that the entire plane can fill up before general boarding (Zone 1) ever begins.

For example, United now offers special early boarding to those who have paid for its new Explorer credit card. They also offer early boarding to their best customers, such as Global Services or 1K members, or Star Alliance partners with status. Then there are those who’ve actually paid significantly more than everyone else on the plane for business or first class seats. United also offers early boarding to military in uniform and passengers using wheelchairs or crutches.

Until now, it’s allowed families with children to board early, too. Well, during summer travel season, families traveling with children can comprise half the passengers on the plane. (Flown to Orlando lately? You’ll see…)

So by the time “general boarding” starts, the plane is almost full- and nearly all the precious overhead bin space it taken. It’s crazy…and it irritates United’s best customers… those who have paid more for their tickets, or shown their loyalty as elite leve members of Mileage Plus.


So while it might appear that United’s policy change is an “anti-family” move, I think it brings some sanity back to the boarding process. And I also think that frequent travelers should be on the lookout for moms and dads boarding with them who need a little extra help when getting on the plane, and offer a hand getting settled.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

 

CLEAR security lanes return to SFO

CLEAR, which offers expedited access to airport security lines for $179/year, announced today it will launch its service at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on May 23, just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend travel crush.

CLEAR lanes will be located at every terminal at SFO, allowing every passenger on any airline to use their biometrics to speed through security. “We are thrilled to bring CLEAR’s biometric platform to San Francisco, a city synonymous with innovation and efficiency. SFO joins CLEAR’s growing network of airport partners bringing much needed speed and predictability to the travel experience,” said CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker.

CLEAR Lanes are now available only at Orlando and Denver. SFO will be the third airport to join since the company sprang back to life after a hasty retreat in 2009. Dallas-Ft Worth Airport is apparently next on the list, although no formal date has been announced.

CLEAR says it has a base of more than 200,000 members across the U.S., including about 40,000 in San Francisco. San Francisco International is introducing CLEAR says the launch means 85 new private sector jobs, enhanced security, and new revenue for the airport. For more info, see www.CLEARme.com.

Interested? Is predictability at airport security worth $179 per year? Please leave your comments below.

United moving flights to Terminal 1 at SFO

Terminal 1 at SFO

Just in time for the peak summer travel season….and with little warning… it appears that United Airlines will move many of its southern California (and Vegas) flights to Terminal 1 at SFO. Its “primary domestic operations” will remain in Terminal 3.

In an email, airport spokesperson Charles Schuler confirmed  ”that there is a plan for UA to start operations from T1 sometime in early June.” Schuler also said that United would be utilizing old Continental Airlines gates in Terminal 1 which were abandoned when flight operations were consolidated into Terminal 3 last year.

So far United has only confirmed that it is adding “new gates at SFO.” I have not been able to confirm that the slides below (sent to me by a reader) are from United.  I’ll post confirmations and dates here when I do.


So… this means that if you are flying from SFO to Las Vegas, Orange County (SNA), San Diego, Ontario, Burbank or Santa Barbara, you’ll catch your flight at Terminal 1 starting in June or July. Those poor souls arriving on a United flight at SFO’s Terminal 3 and then connecting on a United flight to one of these cities will have to take a bus across the ramp all the way around to Terminal 1. Below, United says buses will run every 5 minutes.

Another downer: There are no United Clubs in Terminal 1, so if you were planning on a Club visit to load up before your flight to Vegas, you’ll be sorely disappointed. In addition, there are no dedicated United GS/Premier security lines at Terminal 1- flyers with status will share special lanes with the other airlines operating in Terminal 1.

Please leave your thoughts and questions about this change below….

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