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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News (March 3, 2013)

UnitedBizClass

Big seat with a big smile from London to SFO in United Business Class last summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

LIE-FLAT SEATS ON UAL. United said this week that 87% of its international fleet now has true lie-flat business class seating, and it should reach 100% lie-flat seats by the end of March—beating out competitors in the race to all-flat biz class. Hooray for that! I think United’s new business class seats are some of the best out there—comfortable, roomy, excellent entertainment, plenty of room (and power) to get work done. What do you think?

IMPROVING ON-TIME PERFORMANCE. After a year of performance issues, United says that it’s improving, especially here by the Bay. As a matter of fact, employees received $100 bonuses when more than 80% of United flights (domestic and international) clocked in on time during February. Among United hubs, Cleveland performed best during February at 87%. SFO came in second at 83%. (So do you credit United… or Mother Nature? In February, we enjoyed record dry, non-foggy conditions in Northern California.)

New configuration for United PS 757's between SFO and JFK.

New configuration for United P.S. 757′s between SFO and JFK.

NEW PS FLIGHTS COMING TO SFO-JFK. After many fits and starts, it now seems that United’s newly configured PS flights may take off from SFO starting in June (at least according to the UAL website—PR is not committing to a date yet). The newly configured 757s will have 28 lie flat business class seats, 48 Economy Plus seats and 66 standard coach seats. The currently shabby-yet-comfortable P.S. 757 fleet offers only Economy Plus seats, which will be a big loss for non-Elite level flyers who’ve enjoyed the extra space at no extra cost.

DOUBLE POINTS ON SOUTHWEST. Sign up for Southwest’s double-tier-qualifying points promo and you’ll get 12 points (vs just six) on its cheapest fares, 20 points on its standard “anytime” fares and 24 points on business select fares. The promo is good for flights all the way through May 15! This is a no brainer, so get registered now.

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS COMING TO SFO. Scandinavian Star Alliance partner SAS kicks off new nonstops between SFO and its main hub at Copenhagen on April 8. The 11-hour-20-minute flight using an Airbus A340 will depart SFO six days a week (not on Tuesdays). It offers angled lie-flat biz class, premium economy and standard economy seats (see map). Current coach fares are as low as $813 round trip in April. To celebrate the arrival of a new carrier, San Francisco International is sponsoring a free ticket sweepstakes on Facebook. Have you flown SAS lately? How was it? Please leave your comments below. 

Amex "black" card.

Amex “black” card.

NEW AMEX “CENTURION” LOUNGE AT LAS. American Express told The BAT that it is “experimenting” with a new airport lounge concept for its super-spendy “black card” or Centurion cardmembers at Las Vegas McCarran Airport. The new Centurion Lounge is located in next to gate D4 in Concourse D (the one that floats between Terminals 1 and 3) used primarily by United, Delta and American. AMEX says that lounge guests enjoy dishes prepared by a celeb chef (like: polenta waffles with pumpkin compote,  or roast chicken with baby potatoes, shallots, and rosemary) and specialty cocktails prepared by a “mixologist.” Guests also enjoy free wi-fi and shower suites. While Centurion cardholders get in for free, any AMEX cardholder can pay a $50 fee to enter. Pay-to-play lounges are becoming de rigueur at McCarran—for example, if you are flying Virgin America (in the new Terminal 3) you can use Club at LAS for a daily fee of just $35. There’s also a Club at LAS in Terminal D.  Which one will you pick?

AIRPORT LOUNGES AT SFO. Speaking of posh lounges, have you been inside the new Emirates or Cathay Pacific lounges at SFO? Your BAT editor Chris McGinnis recently convinced CNN to come out to SFO for an interview and a look inside. Take a watch! The BAT on CNN! How about that? See below!

PLEASE, RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS. If you like The BAT, would you please tell your friends and colleagues about it? The ONLY way we grow is via word of mouth from happy readers. Like every online publication, we need more eyeballs and appreciate your support.  Here’s something you can copy and paste into an email TODAY!

Have you ever heard about The Bay Area Traveler—The BAT- for frequent travelers? It’s a free local travel blog that I subscribe to. It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us. For example, I first learned that PreCheck was coming to SFO, or that Virgin America was matching United Premier status from The BAT. I think it’s definitely something you could use. See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here. Thanks! ADD: *Your signature*

TSA PRECHECK EXPANDS: If you love PreCheck at Terminals 2 and 3 at SFO, you’ll be pleased to know that you can leave your shoes on when passing through security in five more airports: Austin, Memphis, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. PreCheck is now available at 40 US airports—however, it’s not in every terminal, and it’s still a random selection—you cannot count on getting it.  What’s been your batting average with PreCheck? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

American + US Airways: mmeh!

American's nice Admirals Club at SFO's Terminal 2 to see more action. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

American’s nice Admirals Club at SFO’s Terminal 2 to see more action. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

What’s the impact on Bay Area Travelers (BATs!) of the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways? Minor at best. Here’s why:

Neither carrier has a major presence at any the Bay Area’s three airports.

For example, at San Francisco International, American has been cutting back for several years now, dumping flights to Honolulu in 2011 and Boston in 2010. Currently, it has about 30 departures per day from SFO to (Los Angeles, Dallas Ft Worth, Miami, Chicago and New York) which is a drop in the bucket when you consider SFO handles some 600 departures every day.

When SFO recently revealed its top airlines in terms of market share for 2012, American and US Airways didn’t even show up. For 2012, AA and US took the  5th and 6th place positions for airline market share at SFO, with 6.9% and 3.5% shares respectively. However, combining the two carriers “as-is” would result in an airline about the same size as Virgin America, which has only about 9% of the market at SFO.

American walked away from Oakland in 2008. It stopped flying to Tokyo from San Jose in 2006. Its famous “nerd bird” flights between San Jose and Austin disappeared in 2009, but it still offers a handful of nonstops between SJC and Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas Ft Worth.

US Airways operates just 14 daily departures to three cities from SFO’s Terminal 1: Phoenix, Charlotte and Philadelphia. From San Jose and Oakland, it only flies to Phoenix.

A spokesman at SFO told the BAT that based on current usage at Terminal 2 by American and Virgin America, flights to cities currently served by US Airways could be folded into American’s operations there. That means American’s swishy, but relatively quiet Admirals Club at T2 (complete with pine trees and a fireplace) could soon see a little more action from former US Airways Club members.

On the upside, there are likely many Bay Area Travelers who still have large banks of American AAdvantage miles from back in the day when American was a major player here. Now, they will have the opportunity to use their miles to fly nonstop to cities served by US Airways.

And if anyone out there has a few stray miles in both AAdvantage and Dividend Miles accounts, those will now be combined into a merged program and could amount to something.

On the downside, United Mileage Plus members who earned and burned miles on Star Alliance partner US Airways will lose that option in the deal.

In any case, despite the media hew and cry this week over this merger, don’t expect change to come fast—the deal will have to go through regulatory approvals first, which could take at least six months or more. Then begins the long painful process of trying to merge two unpopular old airlines into something new and attractive.

Do you think they can pull it off? How will the American-US Airways merger affect you? How do you feel about having just four major US carriers: American, Delta, Southwest and United? Where does this leave our hometown carrier Virgin America? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

10 things about Singapore Airlines A380 at SFO (Photos)

 

Here’s a slideshow of the The BAT’s private tour of a Singapore Airlines A380 parked at SFO. Enjoy!

IMG_1686 IMG_1688 IMG_1694 IMG_1693 IMG_1691 IMG_1695 IMG_1697 IMG_1703 IMG_1706 IMG_1719 IMG_1712 IMG_1720 IMG_1711 IMG_1713 IMG_1783 IMG_1718 IMG_1754 IMG_1730 IMG_1746 IMG_1747 IMG_1743 IMG_1748 IMG_1749 IMG_1750 IMG_1732 IMG_1756 IMG_1740 IMG_1763 IMG_1721 IMG_1722 IMG_1757 IMG_1758 IMG_1768 IMG_1779 IMG_1777 IMG_1776 IMG_1791
Signs and banners all over the airport announcing the A380
Winner David Zippin and friends go through security
Checking in at the SilverKris lounge
The lounge offers a nice spread for business and first class passengers
Winner David Zippin and our guide Paul Ng, Singapore Airlines VP
Economy class boards downstairs, business and first upstairs
Singapore Air calls its first class seats "Suites"
Boarding the plane before the crew arrives
Upon entering, the first thing you see is a graceful staircase to the upper deck
First class (Suites) are downstairs, business class is up
Here's what a first class suite looks like from above
That's seat 1A-- a first class suite. Note the "murphy bed" panel behind the seat
BAT editor Chris McGinnis snuggles into a suite for a moment
Zippin checks out the side-by-side suites in the middle
View from the back of the 12-suite section
A suite for the pilots! Private rest area is located adjacent to cockpit.
Upstairs in the 60-seat business class section
34" wide biz class seats softened by two pillows. See the nice window bins?
Paul Ng demonstrates the murphy bed
Making up the bed for a nice nap!
Cuddle down cozy!
Zippin gives the bed a try
Zippin is 6'3" tall
Feet fit into a little nook. (Nice socks!)
Kicking back
He likes it!
Check out the size of that wing!
Secret spiral staircase at the back of the plane.
This is the lower deck coach section
Coach configuration is 3-4-3
An endless supply of inflight entertainment on a large screen
Knee room in coach
Secret locked door to crew rest area
Looking up from the "basement"
Plush, quiet quarters for the crew
There are eight berths in the crew rest area
BAT contest winner David Zippin on a private tour of Singapore Airlines' A380

 

While the double-decker Airbus A380 has been plying the skies around the world for five years now, it’s still a sight to see it take off or land at SFO. While you may have seen one of these big birds from the outside…only a few have been able to see what they look like on the inside.

Last week, lucky BAT contest winner David Zippin got one of those prized close-up looks when he took a private tour of a Singapore Airlines’ A380 parked at SFO. The BAT chose Zippin randomly from the hundreds of readers who helped us attract nearly 300 new subscribers in a word-of-mouth contest late last year.

BAT contest winner David Zippin on a private tour of Singapore Airlines' A380

BAT contest winner David Zippin on a private tour of Singapore Airlines’ A380

Thanks to all of you who helped turn your friends and colleagues on to The BAT! As a result, we are growing like gangbusters! And thanks to Singapore Air and other BAT sponsors- their support keeps The BAT free (and in this case, very interesting) for readers.

Now, back to that tour… BAT editor Chris McGinnis accompanied Singapore Airlines VP Paul Ng along with Zippin and three of his friends to see the plane. Here are nine interesting things we learned about Singapore’s A380 service at SFO along the way:

1-SEXY: Singapore Airlines (SIA) has a super-sexy flight number on its SFO>HKG>SIN run: SQ1, which departs SFO at 10:50 pm for Hong Kong and Singapore. SQ2 arrives back in SFO at around 8:30 pm. Ng told us that the SFO flights bear those numbers because San Francisco was Singapore Air’s first US destination 33 years ago.

2-BEST BUSINESS CLASS: There are 60 business class seats on the A380—and they are so wide (34 inches) that SIA has added a pillow and a cushion to cozy the expanse up a bit. Upstairs window seats have special storage bins. (See slideshow above.) The business class cabin in split into two sections- the section closest to the front is smaller, more intimate and likely more quiet. Business class fares on Singapore for mid-March flights run from $4,000 to $6,000.

3-BEST COACH SEATS: There are 88 coach seats at the rear of the upper deck (which are considered the best coach seats—windows in this section have the same special seat-side bins as in business class.) Upstairs, coach is configured 2-4-2 vs 3-4-3 on main deck. Due to the curvature of the fuselage, coach seats downstairs on the main deck don’t have the bins. Round trip coach fares on Singapore Air currently run around $1,200.

4-FIRST CLASS SUITES: Downstairs, there are 12 “Suites” in the first class section at the front, and then 311 coach seats in the back.  Each plush, rich leather, first class seat is enclosed in a private shell, with a sliding door to the aisle. Sleeping mattresses are 4″ thick. A seat in a first class suite to Hong Kong or Singapore runs about $12,000-$14,000 round trip. Ng said that the two pairs of adjoining suites (non-window) with collapsible walls between them are usually the first seats to sell out. (Think about that, all you Valentines Day romantics!)

5-MURPHY BEDS. Unlike other airlines, Singapore seats in both business and first class fold over, and then down, so you sleep on a separate mattress thick mattress, a different surface that what you sit on. See the slide show above for a demonstration. (On most other airlines, first and business seats recline to a flat bed-like surface for sleeping.)

6-THREE LEVELS. There’s a basement on this bird! Behind a combination-locked door in the middle of the main deck, there’s a steep staircase down to a crew rest area. The space consists of 12 bunks—with entertainment systems, mirrors and noise deadening privacy curtains. It’s a bit claustrophobic down there, but those nice flat beds look cozier than the first class suites upstairs. (Several shots of this in the slideshow above)

7-BIG BIRD.  The top of the tail of the A380 stands eight stories off the ground. According to Ng, one wing could keep a group of 2,000 people dry in the rain. We were skeptical about that claim until we peered out the window at the massive wing.

8-TWO VERSIONS: Singapore Airlines flies two different configurations of the A380. Version 1 is configured with both business and coach seats on the upper deck. Version 2 is all-business-all-the-time (86 seats) upstairs; first and coach are on the main deck.  Both versions have a grand wide staircase in the front, and a smaller curves staircase in the back.

9-SINGAPORE GIRLS. A small army of 22 flight attendants (Singapore girls and boys) staffs the flight, which takes about 13 hours to reach Hong Kong… then 3-4 hours more to Singapore. The flight departs SFO at 10:50 pm, crosses the International Date Line and then arrives in Singapore at noon—two days later. (So if you leave on a Sunday night, you get there in time for lunch on Tuesday.)

10-SAD TO SEE IT GO. Singapore Airlines’ A380 is currently scheduled for what the carrier is calling “popup” service at SFO—it started on Dec 28 and will revert back to a Boeing 777 service on March 24. But there’s hope: Ng says that the airline is always evaluating where to deploy its fleet of A380s, and it could come back.

 

United maintains dominance at SFO

San Francisco International at night (Photo: Trodel / Flickr)

San Francisco International at night (Photo: Trodel / Flickr)

Today San Francisco International released a report card of sorts for 2012 full of interesting stats.

What surprises you most about these numbers? For me, the biggest surprise is that after five years at SFO (and lots of local love and attention), Virgin America still only has a 9% market share at SFO. United clearly dominates at SFO with nearly 50% market share. Any surprises here for you? Please leave your comments below. 

SFO Announces Record Passenger Traffic in 2012

Record of 44.5 million passengers breaks previous milestone

SAN FRANCISCO – February 5, 2013 – The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) announced an all-time record for passenger traffic in 2012, with a total of 44.5 million passengers traveling through SFO. This surpasses the previous record of 41 million passenger set in 2011, and represents an 8.5% increase in traffic year-over-year.

Economic impact
SFO continued to be a vital source for job creation and contribution to local economies. The airport generated a total of 29,555 direct jobs and $1.7 billion in personal income. SFO also generated $469 million in state and local taxes. Construction projects launched during 2012 continue to add jobs to the area.

Market share
SFO offers a wide variety of travel options to passengers, 30 international carriers serving 31 international points, as well as 15 domestic airlines offering nonstop service to 74 cities in the U.S. In the Bay Area, SFO accounts for two-thirds of all domestic flight activity, and continues to serve as the primary international gateway.

Bay Area Market Share (Domestic Flights)
66% SFO
19% OAK
15% SJC

Bay Area Market Share (International Flights)
97% SFO
2%   SJC
1%   OAK

Airline Market Share at SFO
46%  United Airlines
9%     Virgin America
8%     (tie) Delta, Southwest/AirTran

Total landings by operator
29%  United Airlines
28%  SkyWest [United]
9%     Virgin America

New routes launched at SFO in 2012

• May – Reagan National Airport (DCA) via United Airlines
• June – additional service to Paris (CDG) via XL Airways-France
• Aug – Raleigh-Durham (RDU) via United Airlines
• Aug – Reagan National Airport (DCA) via Virgin America

 

 

Virgin America CEO David Cush: Why San Jose?

(Phoot: Drewski2112 / Flickr)

(Photo: Drewski 2112 / Flickr)

This morning, Virgin America announced that it will add four daily nonstops between San Jose International (SJC) and Los Angeles (LAX) starting May 1.

Virgin CEO David Cush told The BAT that he has been actively engaged in talks with San Jose airport and civic leaders for the last 18 months. He said that while San Jose was more interested in Virgin adding long haul flights to the east coast, he wanted to test the waters at SJC with new flights to LA first. “With high fuel costs, adding new flights from San Jose to east coast cities is just too risky for us right now,” he said.

Virgin will be entering the very crowded San Jose-LAX run, which is already served by four carriers: Low fare leader Southwest (which has pushed Virgin off routes such as SFO-Orange County), United (which dominates the Bay Area) as well as American and Alaska Airlines. Southwest flies a one-class 737 on the hour-or-so long route, United and American fly one-class regional jets, and Alaska uses a turbo-prop.

Cush told The BAT that Virgin is already competing well with those carriers on the SFO-LAX run, where it offers eight flights per day. “We will be the only carrier on the route to offer first class, wi-fi and satellite TV on a mainline, two-class jet (Airbus A320). Plus, we have a nice new lounge at LAX to attract business travelers.”

Virgin America CEO David Cush

Virgin America CEO David Cush

Another plus for business travelers: Virgin’s flights will depart from gates adjacent to the nice, new, $35-per-visit Club at SJC. Cush said that he would investigate how Virgin might team up with the lounge to offer special access elite-level members of the Elevate program.

Another reason frequent travelers might consider driving down to San Jose to catch a plane to LAX: weather. “For example, this morning our flights at SFO are delayed at least an hour due to low visibility, but flights are running on time in San Jose. I think that many of our customers in the indifferent zone around Palo Alto are likely to opt for San Jose on days like today,” said Cush.

He said that his market research shows that Virgin customers in the South Bay are willing to drive to SFO for its long haul flights to the east coast, but not so much for short hop flights to points along the west coast. For this reason, Cush decided it was time to “dip our toe into the market and see what happens.”

This marks the first time Virgin has ventured south to the San Jose International, which its leaders have said suffers from “the Virgin effect”—referring to the popularity of SFO compared to airports in San Jose or Oakland due Virgin’s low fares—and those of its competitors.

Current mid-week fares on the route are at about $178 round trip. Virgin will post its fares on the route tomorrow morning. Cush said he expected fares on SJC-LAX and SFO-LAX would end up on par with each other. Here’s the schedule:

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 10.46.49 AM

To entice Virgin into this fray, San Jose is waiving landing fees at the airport for one year- a savings of about $490,000 according to airport officials. San Jose Airport spokesperson Rosemary Barnes said, “We will realize increased revenue from more passengers who park on-Airport, spend at restaurants and shops, and increased  passenger facilities charges (PFCs) which go back to reinvesting in our infrastructure.” San Jose offered similar enticements to ANA to snag its (currently mothballed) 787 Dreamliner flights to Tokyo.

“We are delighted to welcome Virgin America as our newest airline partner and I’m confident they will receive a very warm welcome in San Jose,” said SJC’s Director of Aviation Bill Sherry. “Silicon Valley includes the world’s most tech-savvy frequent fliers who we know will love and embrace Virgin America’s unique product and branding; this is a winning combination.”

What do YOU think will happen? If you live on the peninsula or in the South Bay, will you choose Virgin to fly to LA from San Jose? Please leave your comments below.

Virgin Press Release

-Chris McGinnis

Singapore Airlines giant Airbus A380 arrives at SFO

Singapore Airlines’ giant Airbus A380-800 on a rainy Friday night at SFO preparing to depart for a midnight departure for Hong Kong (Photo: SFO)

Last  Friday (Dec 28), a giant double-decker Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 arrived at San Francisco International from Hong Kong at 7:10pm, marking the first A380 flights between SFO and Asia. (SFO has seen A380s from Lufthansa and Air France previously.) Singapore Airlines is offering this “pop-up” service on the San Francisco>Hong Kong>Singapore route between now and March 24 only- and will switch back to standard Boeing 777 service after that.)

To mark the occasion, Singapore held a reception at the gate for its flight SQ 1, departing at 11:48pm for Hong Kong and then continuing on to Singapore.  There were 438 passengers on the departing flight, with eight in the jumbo’s well-known luxury suites (first class); 45 in business class, and 385 in economy class.

The big bird departs from gate 101 at SFO’s international terminal- specially designed to accommodate passengers entering the upper and lower levels. When boarding, economy class passengers take an escalator down to the lower level for boarding. Business and first class passengers board from the terminal’s main level via a third jetway connected to the plane’s upper deck. (See photo)

Unlike other carriers, Singapore’s seat configuration on the A380-800 has its 12 first class suites at the front end of the lower deck, with 311 economy class seats behind. Upstairs, there are 60 business class seats in the front end of the deck,  then 88 economy class seats behind that. (Here’s a link to the configuration.) There are staircases at both the front and the rear of the aircraft.

**Would you be interested in a private tour of Singapore Airlines’ giant Airbus A380 double-decker? Click here for details! **

One of three jetways help speed boarding the giant aircraft which carried 438 passengers on its first flight from SFO. (Photo: SFO)

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Passengers onboard Singapore’s first A380 flight from SFO saw special signage at check in and were treated to a special reception at the gate. (Photo: SFO)

 

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SFO spent millions to accomodate the A380 with three separate jetways- two for economy passengers who enter on a lower level, and one for business and first class passengers who enter from the main level. (Photo: SFO)

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The tail of this big bird soars 80 feet in the air. It’s 238 feet long, and its wings span a whopping 262 feet. (Photo: SFO)

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More United 747′s coming to SFO

A United 747 (Photo: United Airlines)

Starting in April of 2013, United plans to turn its San Francisco International Airport base into a 747 hub of sorts.

In an internal memo obtained by The BAT, United tells employees it’s doing this to concentrate all the 747 parts, tools and spares at one hub, resulting in a more reliable 747 fleet. Maintenance for United’s internationally configured 767s and 777s will be consolidated at Chicago, O’Hare.

This means in addition to current 747 flights from SFO to places like Sydney, Hong Kong or Tokyo, it will soon be all-747s-all-the-time between SFO and Frankfurt, Heathrow, Osaka and Taipei (starting in Oct). United’s new flights to Paris, which begin April 11, will use a B767.

It also means using 747′s on its Honolulu-Tokyo NRT flight. The 747s on the LAX-Sydney route will remain in place.

Cozy, updated United business class upstairs on a 747. (Photo: TransWorldProductions / Flickr)

United has 26 747s in its fleet, with an average age of 17 years.

While some fliers may consider the 747 the “Queen of the Skies,” many airlines have begun to dump the plane recently in favor of the more fuel efficient Boeing 777 and 787. For example, Singapore Airlines, which at one time operated more 747′s (37) than any other airline, retired the big bird last Spring.

Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air and Malaysian have already or will soon phase the 747 out of their fleets. British Airways is now the largest 747 operator, with 55 in its fleet. Among US carriers, only United and Delta operate the 747. Delta recently did a nice job re-doing interiors (business and coach) on its fleet of 16 747′s.

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At an average age of 17 years, United’s 747 fleet is getting a little long in the tooth. For business and first class passengers, seats have been upgraded to true lie-flat seats — and it does not get much better than a nice lie-flat seat upstairs on a 747 (see photo above).

Back of the plane on United’s 747-400′s (Photo: Flikr / Altair78)

But the situation is a bit different at the back of the plane- Unlike its revamped 777s and 767s, there is no seatback entertainment in economy or premium economy classes on United’s 747s. Even United CEO Jeff Smisek has said that economy class on United’s 747s is “unacceptable.”

Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Concierge service told The BAT: “The good news is that having the 747 operation focused on SFO where maintenance is will help improve reliability.  The 747 fleet isn’t exactly the best operational performer for United, and I assume that’s why they’re making this change.  The bad news is that coach still sucks.  They still have overhead video screens back there and the 3-4-3 configuration isn’t going to be a favorite for many.  They say they are putting in some wireless streaming video that people can use on their own devices, but good luck finding a device with a battery that will last all the way to Hong Kong.”

What do YOU think about United’s fleet of 747s? Is a 747 base at SFO a good thing…or not? What’s your preferred bird for transoceanic flights? Why? Please leave your comments below.

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Runway closure to cause delays at SFO

If you are flying to from or through SFO on weekends during September, prepare for delays during peak hours (roughly 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.).

This just in from SFO:

San Francisco – September 12, 2012 - San Francisco International Airport will temporarily close Runway 28L, one of its two primary arrival runways, on three consecutive weekends beginning Friday, September 14, 2012, at 10:00 p.m. PDT, with the runway reopening on Monday, September 17, 2012, at 8:00 a.m. PDT.  The other closures are scheduled between Friday, September 21 at 10:00 p.m. and Monday, September 24 at 8:00 a.m., and again between Friday, September 28 at 10:00 p.m. and Monday, October 1 at 8:00 a.m.

These weekend closures will allow construction crews to restore Runway 28L/10R to its full length (10,704 feet) following the installation of Runway Status Lights, driving timber piles on the approach trestle light structure and commission the new taxiway called Taxiway Z1 (Zulu One).

During the closure, the arrival rate at SFO will be reduced from 60 aircraft per hour to 30 aircraft per hour. Delays for flights originating within a two-hour radius of SFO are expected to occur during peak travel times. Travelers are strongly encouraged to contact their respective carriers regarding any potential delays.

The construction is part of the federally mandated Runway Safety Area project for Runways 28L/10R and 28R/10L at SFO, which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2013.

The best news here is that SFO is making these improvements during September, a fair-weather month in the Bay Area, so hopefully delays will be kept to a minimum.

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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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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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