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A special charter to London for Bay Area techies

A screenshot from BA's UnGrounded campaign.

A screenshot from BA’s UnGrounded campaign.

When airlines hold press conferences, they usually want to show off how passengers can get a good night’s rest in a business class seat that converts to cozy flat bed. Or they will announce their latest celebrity chef-inspired meals or big seat back video screens to keep travelers entertained on long haul flights.

That was definitely not the case at a British Airways presser in downtown San Francisco last night.

In a total about face, BA’s press conference was all about how they are going to ask 100 big shot Bay Area and Silicon Valley innovators to work during an 11-hour, chartered Boeing 747 flight from SFO to London.

And as soon as they arrive, they’ll have to present their findings to a like-minded group of global thought leaders.

Huh?

BA called the presser at to announce UnGrounded a new “innovation lab in the sky” that is designed to get Silicon Valley thought leaders, entrepreneurs, VCs and academics together in the confines of a jumbo jet to help solve global problems.

UnGrounded is the evolution of a business networking concept BA launched during the dark days of 2009 called Face-to-Face, which brought together hundreds of entrepreneurs hoping to expand their businesses overseas on free networking flights to London. (See The BAT report about BA’s Face-to-Face flights here Below is a video shot during that 2009 flight).

“Great innovation only happens face-to-face and our airline facilitates that,” said BA’s EVP, Simon Talling-Smith.

The first UnGrounded flight will depart SFO on June 12. The 100 industry leaders onboard will be tasked with coming up with a platform to help match tech talent with tech opportunities around the world.

“The talent crunch is a real issue for companies in major tech hubs around the world. We need to give more people the opportunity to discover and be discovered,” said Amir Dossal, a special representative from the UN on hand at the event. He said the gap between tech talent and tech opportunity is widest in the “STEM” fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

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BA 747 at SFO (Photo: AngeloAngelo / Flickr)

BA 747 at SFO (Photo: AngeloAngelo / Flickr)

To come up with an innovative way to solve that problem, 100 thought leaders will be holed up on a big 747 that can hold up to 345 passengers. BA has hired Palo Alto’s well-known design firm IDEO to help orchestrate this very special flight—and get the job done.

To help them find and invite those 100 bright minds, BA tapped into the networks of several Bay Area big shots such as Leor Stern of Google, Gerald Brady of the Silicon Valley Bank, Celestine Johnson of Innovation Endeavors, Marguerite Gong Hancock of Stanford, Rhonda Abrams of The Planning Shop, Duncan Logan of RocketSpace, and Todd Lutwak at Andreesen Horowitz. BA has also partnered with the UN and the Decide Now Act (DNA) Summit in London.

I asked if there was any way my readers could apply to be one of the chosen few for this flight. The response was sort of a “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” The special 100 will be “hand selected and curated” by the UnGrounded Advisory Board. Or you could try explaining why you’d be perfect for this flight by sending an email to: ba.ungrounded@ba.com

Interested? Here’s more.

-Chris McGinnis

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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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