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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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The world’s favorite airport?

Urinals with an amazing view

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

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

Some interesting tidbits I picked up along the way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Chris McGinnis

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

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

✈ 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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