United’s silver sedans + iPads inflight + Virgin fees up + RelayRides SFO + more

Sorry for the recent lag in updates! Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel (BAT!) news right now! Due to the info overload, I’ve split this post into two parts… Part One today, Part Two arrives tomorrow!

United has deployed two silver Mercedes at Houston IAH to shuttle arriving passengers. (Photo: United)

United has deployed two silver Mercedes at Houston IAH to shuttle arriving passengers. (Photo: United)

UNITED PERKS INCLUDE MERCS. If you have Global Services status or fly in first class to or through Houston, United might pick you up in a new Mercedes sedan at the jet bridge when you land and then drive you to your next flight. The new service is similar to what Lufthansa offers first class passengers at its super elite first class terminal in Frankfurt. It’s also very similar to the Porsche rides Delta has been surprising its super elite with at Atlanta airport. Currently United is using silver S or GL class models “to surprise and delight our top customers who may be anxious about missing a connecting flight.” Right now it’s only in Houston, but United is saying that it could add it at “another United hub” in the future. Have you received this rock star treatment yet? What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Here's my view of the Asiana 214 crash as I flew in from Atlanta on a Delta 767 on July 11. What a sight! (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s my view of the Asiana 214 crash as I flew in from Atlanta on a Delta 767 on July 11. What a sight! (Chris McGinnis)

ASIANA AFTERMATH. Asiana will re-number its daily flight between Seoul and SFO in light of the recent crash. What was Asiana flight 214 will become Asiana flight 212 from Seoul and flight 211 for the return SFO-Seoul flight according to the AirlineRoute.net website. It also reports that United has quietly canceled its code share agreement with Asiana on this route only due to the ongoing investigation of the accident. United has its own 747 deployed on the SFO-ICN route every day. In similar news, in light of the Asiana accident, the FAA will no longer allow foreign carriers to touch down side-by-side with other airlines as they sometimes do on clear days at SFO. Domestic carriers will still be able to touch down in tandem.

IPAD OR KINDLE IN FLIGHT? Remember hearing that the FAA was convening a passel of experts to determine if it was okay for us to use our iPads or Kindles during take off, landing and taxi? The group was to have made their recommendations this week. But they didn’t. They’ve asked for an extension on a decision until Sept. 30. Bah!

RelayRides come-on to SFO travelers-- avoid airport parking fees, get a free car wash.

RelayRides come-on to SFO travelers- avoid airport parking fees, get a free car wash.

ARRESTING DRIVERS AT SFO.  NBC Bay Area reports: “In the past month, San Francisco International Airport officials have been citing and arresting drivers from mobile-app enabled rideshare companies that pick up and drop off passengers. Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said there have been seven citizen arrests issued to various offenders since July 10.  The airport had issued cease and desist letters to several rideshare companies, including Lyft, Sidecar and Uber, in April. Since then, Yakel said airport officials, in conjunction with airport police, had been ‘admonishing’ drivers that came to the airport. Yakel said the companies are not permitted to offer their services at SFO and they are now being arrested for unlawful trespassing.” While the situation sounds increasingly bellicose, yet another company, Relay Rides has opened up shop down by the airport. Relay Rides (with services similar to FlightCar) is hoping to get around airport rules by operating out of the Aloft SFO airport hotel parking lots and having its customers use existing hotel shuttles to get to/from the airport. An SFO spokesperson told The BAT: “Relay Rides contacted us to request the information to get permitted to operate with SFO. They’re not permitted yet, but we have provided the information to them.” What do you think? Is it fair to let this new and disruptive breed of “sharing” services operate without paying its dues at the airport? Would you consider renting out your car parked at SFO to avoid $18/day parking fees? Please leave your comments below. 

VIRGIN AMERICA ALTERS UPGRADE FEES. Upgrades to Virgin’s Main Cabin Select up to 24 hours before flight time now range from $39 (short haul west coast flights) to $159 (transcons). Upgrade fees to first from Main Cabin Select are up significantly- now $50 to $240, up from the previous $39 to $169. Upgrades from standard coach to first class are now $89 to $299. While higher fees and fares are painful for travelers, they could spell salvation for our hometown carrier, which has struggled to post profits in its five years of existence. Stay tuned for Virgin’s financial reporting for summer quarter due out next week.

PS FLIGHTS SFO-JFK UPDATE. United’s new TV spot for transcon p.s. flights seems a tad early considering there are only four of 15 refurbished p.s. flights flying between SFO, New York and LAX. It’s tough to tell, but I’m hearing that LAX is seeing more refurbished planes than SFO. Have you been on one? Thoughts or observations?  

United's 757-200 refurbished

United’s 757-200 refurbished- the one to look for when booking SFO-JFK in biz class

HOW TO BOOK A REFURBISHED 757? How to tell if the plane/flight you are booking is refurbished?  Go to united.com to book a flight. Before selecting a flight, click on the “View Seats” link and look for the 757 that has 28 business class seats. Keep in mind that United reserves the right to swap around planes, so you may not always get what you think.

JETBLUE SUITES TO JFK? As the battle for the premium transcon passenger heats up, JetBlue is apparently considering adding four enclosed “mini-suites” on its transcon A321 aircraft. While JetBlue remains hush-hush on the topic, the blogosphere lit up last month when plans for the plush new seats were uncovered in a filing with the FAA and revealed by the APEX Editors Blog.

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ALASKA AIR FEES UP. Starting October 30, the fee to change an Alaska Air ticket within 60 days of departure will cost $125, up from $75. Gold or 75K MVP members will continue to have the fee waived. Checked bag fees on Alaska are now $25 each for the first or second bag, and a steep $75 for the third. Elite level members of Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage get can check two bags for free.

The world's first "edgy" hotel: Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Chris McGinnis)

The world’s first “edgy” hotel: Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Chris McGinnis)

COPENHAGEN ON BIZ? Remember when I wrote a trip report about my flight to Copenhagen on the SAS inaugural SFO-CPH run last spring? Here’s part of the result of that trip, my BBC Business Trip: Copenhagen story. I think the Danish city might be one of the best in the world for business travelers. Check out the story (and slideshow!) and see if you agree.

MORE CLEAR. Clear expedited security lines will open this fall at Houston’s Intercontinental and Hobby airports. The service also recently opened at San Antonio. Clear operates at every entry point at SFO. Do you use Clear? What do you think? How does it compare to PreCheck? Please leave your comments below.

SILVERCAR RENTALS FOR FREE? Silvercar, the new rental car company with a fleet of silver Audi A4s (only) is giving away two free rental days in Dallas or Austin between now and August 15. Catch: you must fly Virgin America by Aug 15 and book by tomorrow, July 31! Details here.

SINGAPORE AIR OVERHAUL. Singapore Airlines will overhaul eight of its Boeing 777-300ER jets starting this September. Those nice wide sofa-like biz class seats will get new 18-inch inflight entertainment screens and more stowage space. Best of all, the planes will get the newest version of Singapore’s excellent Krisworld in-flight entertainment, which will feature touch screen hand controllers. Economy class passengers will have access to the same content (1000+ movies, programs) on larger seatback screens. Plus, economy class seats get a revamp adding an extra inch of knee room and more cushioning. CNN asks if it could be the “world’s best economy class.” However, there is no firm date set for the arrival of Singapore’s overhauled 777s at SFO. Stay tuned.

-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?




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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)



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)


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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Singapore Air cancels world’s longest flight

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500 (Photo: Muhammad Ector Prasetyo)

I know that this is going to crush a lot of frequent travel dreams out there, but here goes- This sad story just in from AP: The world’s longest commercial flight — Singapore to Newark, N.J. — is being cancelled.

Singapore Airlines announced Wednesday that it will end its nonstop flight between Singapore and Newark, a distance of about 9,500 miles. A slightly shorter route between Singapore and Los Angeles will also end. The two routes were flown on gas-guzzling Airbus A340-500s.

The airline found the only way to make the routes profitable was by configuring the plane with 98 business class seats that sell for about $8,000 roundtrip. Other airlines operate the same plane with about 250 seats in first, business and economy classes.

The flight from Newark, right outside New York, to Singapore takes about 18 hours. The trip from Los Angeles is about 1,500 miles shorter but takes 18 hours and 30 minutes.

Here’s the full, sad story from AP: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/singapore-airlines-end-worlds-longest-flights

How does this make you feel? Did you dream of one day taking this flight? How does 18.5 hours onboard an aircraft sound to you…even if it’s posh Singapore Air business class? Please leave your comments below. 


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For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.