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Fancy: JetBlue to add sleeper seats SFO-JFK

Mock up of JetBlue's new premium seat for SFO-JFK. Thoughts?

Mock up of JetBlue’s new premium seat for SFO-JFK. Thoughts?

JetBlue Airways today unveiled its new, fully customized lie-flat seat which will be available on its Airbus A321 flights between New York and SFO and LAX starting spring 2014.

JetBlue introduced the new seat at the Global Business Travel Association convention (which I am attending) in San Diego.

A computer-generated video of the new, enhanced experience can be seen here (business class seats appear in the video at about :54) .

(UPDATE: 3:15 pm- not to be outdone, Delta reveals its new business class seat for transcon flights today, too. )

The new JetBlue seat will have a door that closes. (Photo: JetBlue)

The new JetBlue seat will have a door that closes. (Photo: JetBlue)

Interesting: JetBlue will be the first airline to offer customers the option of a completely separate single suite seat that includes a closable door for increased privacy. The new lie-flat seat, created in a partnership with Northern Ireland-based Thompson Aero Seating, will be displayed in a unique 2-1 configuration. Rows 1, 3 and 5 will offer 2-by-2 seating, and rows 2 and 4 will offer private suites, with one seat on each side of the aisle.

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The new seats also offer air cushions with adjustable firmness, a massage function, a 15-inch widescreen television featuring the most live entertainment in the skies, and a unique “wake-me-for-service” indicator if the customer chooses to sleep in, putting more control back into the customer’s hands. In addition, JetBlue will refresh the core JetBlue Experience in 2014 which will include a comfortable seat design with movable headrests, a new entertainment system with up to 100 channels of DirecTV programming on 10.1-inch widescreens, and 110-volt and USB power ports accessible to all customers. And of course, more legroom throughout coach than any other U.S. airline.

While JetBlue is being coy about pricing for the new seats right now, CEO David Barger offered this: “Transcontinental routes have had high premium fares we believe we can beat…By offering our own, unique seats and enriched service elements that will include some soon-to-be-announced partnerships, we are creating a one-of-a-kind experience that will serve this market in a way only JetBlue can.”

Currently Virgin America, United, Delta and American offer premium business class seating on transcon flights between SFO and JFK. Fares run in the $2,500-$4,000 range depending on demand, however, as we all know, most of those flying up front are on upgrades.

So what do you think? Would you be willing to give up your miles on another carrier to give JetBlue a try when the seats are introduced next year? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News - March 24 2013

 

Inaugural Hawaiian Airlines A330 gets a water cannon salute upon arrival in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: Hawaiian Air)

Inaugural Hawaiian Airlines A330 gets a water cannon salute upon arrival in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: Hawaiian Air)

A NEW WAY TO AUCKLAND. On Wednesday, Hawaiian Airlines added yet another new international route from Bay Area airports via its Honolulu hub: Auckland. Flights operate Monday, Wednesday and Friday only using a 294-seat Airbus A330. We checked on roundtrips in mid April and found fares as low as $766 round trip including all taxes and fees. (That is a remarkably good deal.) Business class is in the $5,000 to $6,000 range. Only Air New Zealand offers nonstops to Auckland from SFO. The New Zealand city is the seventh new international destination Hawaiian has added since 2010, which include Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Sapporo, Seoul, and Brisbane. Flights from Honolulu to Sendai, Japan start in June service to Taipei cranks up in July. Hawaiian has also launched a Facebook promo campaign for two free tickets. Would you consider flying Hawaiian to New Zealand or Asia? Why or why not?

Screenshot of Hawaiian Air booking

Screenshot of Hawaiian Air booking

NEW UNITED APP. This week United introduced a new app for Windows Phone 8 that allows users to book flights (including award travel), check in, get mobile boarding passes, monitor flight status and view Mileage Plus accounts. The United Windows Phone 8 app is available from the Windows Phone Store. Since the Bay Area seems to be Apple country, I have a question: Do you or anyone you know have a Windows phone? How is it?

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Knee room in an "Even More Space" seat on a recent JetBlue flight SFO-BAS. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Knee room in an “Even More Space” seat on my recent JetBlue flight SFO-BOS. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

JETBLUE ADDING PREMIUM FLIGHTS? JetBlue is hinting around that it might add some sort of premium seating on its transcon flights from Bay Area airports, according to AP. Have you flown JetBlue back east? What did you think of the product? From my experience, the JetBlue coach seat is quite comfortable, but without wi-fi for those 5-6 hour flights, it’s a tough sell for wired travelers. However, JetBlue says it is getting new satellite-based wi-fi this year.

Screen shot 2013-03-24 at 10.10.48 AM

MUSICAL GATES AT SFO. Here’s an interesting email from a dumbfounded reader who wasn’t warned about the fiasco of flying on United Express out of SFO. “So weird. We came to the United terminal at SFO to fly to Burbank but now we have to take this weird shuttle to another terminal. Had to go thru an ‘employee only!’ Entry down some rickety stairs and on to a tiny little bus thing.  So odd!!!” It could get even more confusing…we hear from SFO insiders that United will soon start using gates in the Delta gates (C) at Terminal 1, too. Stay tuned…

ON-TIME PERFORMANCE AT SFO. When you hear Virgin America and United chest beating about their stellar on-time performance at SFO in January, don’t forget this important fact: January 2013 was the third driest January in SF history! Just wait til the fog rolls in!

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BUSINESS TRIP: BANGKOK. Are you headed to Bangkok…or do you just dream about going there? Check out the advice and photos in Chris McGinnis’s latest BBC Business Trip: Bangkok- read up on the rash of new luxury hotels, where to get great Thai food, where to get a suit made, and why you should NOT ask for chopsticks.

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How we use inflight wi-fi [Infographic]

Locations of Gogo's ground based antenna beaming wifi to planes (Chris McGinnis)

Locations of Gogo’s ground based antenna beaming wifi to planes (Chris McGinnis)

Bay Area Travelers (BATs) are lucky. Since the area’s technocratic elite demand wi-fi access on planes, most airlines offer the service on flights to/from Bay Area airports. Hometown carrier Virgin America offers it on all flights. Delta, the third largest carrier at SFO offers it on all domestic flights. United and American offer it on all their flights between SFO and New York JFK- but it’s hit or miss on other flights.

Southwest now has wi-fi on 75% of its fleet. United says that it should have 300 wi-fi equipped aircraft by the end of this year. JetBlue is talking about adding a newer, faster version of satellite based wi-fi and offering it for free to all passengers.

This week Gogo, the major purveyor of inflight wi-fi produced some interesting numbers around how we use their service- see below for an interesting infographic.

RELATED: Gogo to upgrade inflight wi-fi capacity. 

From Gogo:

When it comes to staying connected at 36,000 feet, tablets and smartphones now make up a whopping 67% of the devices being used to connect to Gogo. Tablets are the most preferred device at 35%, followed closely by laptops (33%) and smartphones (32%).

Apple devices are still reigning above the clouds, following the tablet trend with the iPad being the device of choice. Among all mobile devices being used to connect through Gogo, 84 percent carry Apple’s iOS operating system while 16 percent carry the Android operating system. If you look only at the smartphones our customers are using, the iPhone makes up 73 percent and all Android devices make up 26 percent, with Blackberry and Windows based devices each making up less than 1 percent of devices being used in air.

So, what are our passengers doing once they connect at 30,000 feet? It’s no surprise that general Web surfing ranked as the number one in air, online activity users want to do. Besides Web surfing, passengers spend their time in flight accessing personal email, engaging in social media, checking sports scores and shopping. Business travelers ranked accessing their work email and finalizing reports as the most frequent activity above the clouds. Passengers also utilize Gogo to explore their final destination’s weather, entertainment options and directions upon their arrival.

13GO_005_2013Infographic_v5 (2)

Virgin announces 2 new routes from SFO

Screen shot 2013-02-12 at 9.53.40 PM

Virgin America’s #Nerdbird N941VA (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Virgin America will fly from San Francisco International (SFO) to Austin, TX and Anchorage, AK starting this May. The new Austin flights will be year round, but the Anchorage flights are only seasonal (June-Sept).

Both new routes are pretty thin, however, with only one flight daily in each direction, which makes the flights only mildly attractive to business travelers.

JetBlue and United also offer nonstops from SFO to Austin—but currently neither offer wi-fi onboard, which should be a strong selling point for Virgin. (Both United and JetBlue have said more planes will be outfitted with wi-fi later this year…we’ll have to wait and see about that…) Only Southwest flies nonstop from San Jose to Austin- and from what I’ve heard from BAT readers, Southwest has been good about keeping a jet with its Row 44 wi-fi deployed on the route.

From SFO, the Austin flight will depart at around 10 am and arrive at around 4 pm. Returning from Austin, the flight will depart at 5 pm and arrive SFO at 7 pm. (Compared to United which offers four flights in each direction per day. JetBlue has only one.) Virgin’s introductory fares start at $180 roundtrip.

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In 2011, Virgin named one of its aircraft “#nerdbird” – in a nod to the prevalence of wired travelers on its flights. American Airlines’ flights between San Jose and Austin were at one time referred to as “nerdbirds.” Virgin says its Elevate members have routinely named Austin as a ‘most wanted’ new destination.  In addition to being the Texas capital, the Austin area is home to the University of Texas at Austin and a robust technology and innovation sector – many Bay Area employers including Apple, Google and Intel have significant presence in the Austin area.

Virgin will fly to Anchorage six days per week, with introductory fares starting at about $400 round trip. United also flies to Anchorage once per day, and it’s current coach fares for June are closer to $600 round trip.

Coming soon to a flight near you: video streaming

JetBlue announced this week that it will (finally) offer a new, faster satellite-based inflight wi-fi product starting in early 2013. (Currently, JetBlue does not offer inflight wi-fi at all.)

JetBlue (with flights between SFO and Oakland to destinations such as Long Beach, Austin, Ft Lauderdale, New York, Washington and Boston) says that the new service from Live TV and ViaSat (not Gogo) will be fast enough to allow streaming of movies in-flight.  On its blog, JetBlue is promising that every passenger on the plane will be able to log on and have an “at-home experience” in terms of speed. The carrier offered no firm date for the launch, only promising “early 2013.” In an unusual twist, it says it will offer the service for free until the first 30 planes get it. After that, it will offer a tiered product, with a free basic connection, but charges for more bandwidth.

Not to be outdone by JetBlue, Delta says that it, too will offer the option of streaming movies and TV shows using inflight wi-fi on all 800 of its domestic two-class aircraft “by the end of 2013.” Delta currently provides Gogo wi-fi on its entire domestic fleet.

In related news, Canadian regulators have given the greelight to Gogo to get started on extending its ground-based network north of the US border. Service should be available starting in 2013.

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With SF-based Virgin America offering wi-fi on 100% of its flights, plus Delta, United and American providing it on all SFO>JFK flights, Bay Area Travelers (BATS!) are pretty spoiled. Such ubiquity is not the case elsewhere, and in fact, only 31% of domestic flights (1,165 aircraft) in the US have it. At Southwest, 35% of planes have it; 22% of American Airlines planes have it, and at United, the largest carrier in the world (and at SFO), only 1% of its flights have it, according to Business Travel News.

What is surprising is that usage of inflight wi-fi on the planes that offer it is miniscule—just a scant 5.4% on average for the first half of 2012 according to Gogo. I think that number is low because most flights are so short that it does not make sense to log on in-flight. But anyone who flies across the country frequently has witnessed a much higher usage rate- on some of those SFO-JFK flights sometimes it seems that the whole plane is logged on… and speed suffers as a result.  So all these promises of faster products are heartening.

Whether it is land-based or satellite-based,  the availability of wi-fi is THE deciding factor when I’m chosing an airline for flights longer than three hours. What about you? How important is in-flight wi-fi in your airline decision? Will you fly JetBlue more often if it comes through on its promise of a superfast in-flight wi-fi experience? Do we really need to stream video in-flight? Please leave your comments below.

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