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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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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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Google purchases Frommer’s travel guides

News broke this morning that Google has purchased the famous Frommer’s travel guide brand for an undisclosed sum. The purchase comes on the heels of Google’s 2011 purchase of Zagat guides, and is a clear signal that the search giant intends to get into the travel content business in a big way. I’m thinking that Google is prepping for a battle with Apple when it finally unwraps its mostly secretive, recently patented iTravel app sometime in the next year.

Frommer’s has a small editorial staff based in San Francisco that manages its website and online content.

The travel world is abuzz with comments on Google’s latest acquisition. What do you think?

Wall Street Journal: “In Frommer’s, Google sees an opportunity to broaden its consumer offerings outside of restaurant reviews. That Frommer’s provides information about hotels and destinations globally made the acquisition that much more attractive. The deal is expected to close shortly. Google hasn’t yet decided whether the Frommer’s guidebooks will continue to be published in print or whether they will eventually migrate entirely to online. It is also possible that the Frommer’s brand could be melded into the Zagat brand.”

CNET:  “It’s not all that surprising that Google has jumped in to swipe Frommer’s. The company has been making a significant travel push over the last couple of years with its acquisitions of travel software provider ITA and restaurant reviewer Zagat. Presumably Frommer’s is a natural extension of the Zagat purchase. ‘The Frommer’s team and the quality and scope of their content will be a great addition to the Zagat team,’ a Google spokesperson told CNET in an e-mailed statement. ‘We can’t wait to start working with them on our goal to provide a review for every relevant place in the world.’”

TechCrunch: “Although not confirmed at this point, it’s probable that Google is only interested in the travel content Frommer’s has amassed, and the book publishing portion of Frommer’s business will cease. As for what Google saw in Frommer’s, that’s not quite as clear. Although its brand is still well-known, the quality of its content can be a little shaky – its reviews, for example, are often outdated. Perhaps the selling price just made the deal worthwhile?… We’re also now hearing that the Frommer’s team will be joining the Zagat team, and indeed the acquisition is related to improvements related to the local search experience across Google. Initially, the Frommer’s content will come to Google under its own brand and will be further integrated with Zagat over time. No definitive decision has been made on the Frommer’s printed guides, but the deal is supposed to enable users discover reviews across Google, which means online.”

Fast Company: “One of Google’s major priorities has been the transformation of Google Maps and the Zagat-powered Google+ Local into a Yelp and Facebook killer. Frommer’s databases are also used by Kayak to help fuel hotel searches. Although the last few years have been rough for print travel guides as the internet ate away at their past dominance, Frommer’s has extensive brand recognition and a large network of contacts throughout the travel and hospitality industries.”

 What do YOU think? When was the last time you used a Frommer’s guide? Do you think Google can make travel content better? Please leave your comments below.
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