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Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO + Virgin matches SW elite + New arrival from Europe

In this issue: Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO, Virgin expands elite matching, SAS nonstops from Copenhagen land at SFO, United upgrades IAH terminal, Presidential visit, 787 flying (empty), $100K a year to travel and blog?

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Lyftstagrams)

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Soy_Fans - Lyftstagrams)

RIDESHARING UNWELCOME AT SFO. San Francisco International has issued cease and desist letters to six car/ride sharing services picking up or dropping off customers at the airport. Uber’s licensed, chauffeured town cars are allowed at SFO, but UberX “community drivers” are not. Sidecar, Lyft, InstantCab and FlightCar (recently included in The BAT) all received the letters. Do you use ridesharing services? What do you think about this? Leave your comments below. 

MORE ELITE STATUS. Virgin America has expanded and enhanced its elite-level status match promo. Now, Southwest Rapid Rewards elites (in addition to United and American elites) can get bumped up to Elevate elite. Virgin has also extended the deadline to enroll until June 30.

NEW ARRIVAL FROM EUROPE. A water-cannon salute awaits SAS’s first Airbus A340 at SFO when it lands this Monday (April 8) between 2 and 3 pm.  SAS will offer flights between San Francisco and Copenhagen six days per week (no Tuesday flights). The Bay Area Traveler-The BAT will be trying out the new service later this month, so stay tuned for a full report. Skål!

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

ENTOURAGE. President Obama and entourage arrived at SFO last week for some Bay Area fundraisers. In addition to the bright and shiny Air Force One B747, a giant C5 military cargo jet was also stationed at SFO all week (which transported the presidential helicopters, et al). Did you see it? Obama’s helicopters touched down at Crissy Field for Golden Gate Bridge photo ops, and then buzzed down to Atherton for the events.

OAKLINK. Have you noticed the progress on the 3.2-mile AirBART rail line connecting Oakland Airport to BART’s Coliseum station? There is now a 300-ft span over I-880. The project is now 60% complete…and should be operational in late 2014.  Will you consider Oakland Airport more often when the trains start to run?

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NEW TERMINAL AT IAH. If you fly United via its massive Houston Intercontinental hub a lot, you will be pleased to see the new $152 million Terminal B south concourse opening this month. The new concourse will house operations for all United Express regional flights. It’s about four times larger than the old terminal, with lots of new stores and celeb-chef and regionally inspired eateries.

COOL TRAVEL JOBS. Have you ever dreamed of being a travel blogger? Travel website Jauntaroo (set up to help you decide where to go on vacation) is hiring a “Chief World Explorer” to travel the globe for a year, at $100,000 salary, to blog about their experiences and give back to communities through the site’s “Travel With a Cause” commitment. Details are thin right now, but Jauntaroo says it will open applications later this spring, and has produced this teaser video to build awareness. Tourism Australia has just launched a separate, but similar “Best Jobs in the World” promo, offering six positions at $100,000 each for just six months work. What are you doing reading The BAT? Get that application in now!

DREAMLINER UPDATE. Boeing is now conducting test flights of its beleaguered 787 Dreamliner, and will submit results of those and other tests to the FAA. The New York Times reports that the FAA could approve the changes later this month, and the plane could be flying again in May—just in time for the busy summer travel season. Would YOU jump on a Dreamliner this summer? Please leave your comments below.

IN THE BAT LAST WEEK. United is expanding its operations at SFO’s Terminal 1 while delays have pushed back the completion of Terminal 3 renovations. Also, there are a few new details about United’s new p.s. service to New York.

-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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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*

 

 

Catching up on Bay Area Travel news (Feb 10)

New fees on the way at Southwest Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New fees on the way at Southwest Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s what Bay Area Travelers (BATs!) need to know this week….

United Mileage Plus in court. A federal judge has rejected United’s attempt to throw out a lawsuit accusing the world’s largest carrier of taking benefits away from some of its most loyal fliers. The suit claims United revoked Million Milers’ “Lifetime Premier Executive” status, which entitled them to favored treatment in bookings, seating priority and upgrades, and demoted them to lower-tier “Gold” status.

Superstorm Nemo forces airlines to waive fees. The giant snowstorm that swept through the Northeast this weekend forced airlines to waive change fees for travelers holding tickets for air travel through Monday Feb 11. United was the last major carrier to join the gang offering to waive the fees, and then had to expand the window for waivers from 8-9 Feb to 8-11 Feb. Remember, if your flight is canceled and you decide to not take a trip at all (instead of accepting the airlines’ offer to re-accommodate you on another flight) you can ask for a full refund.

Spring break could be pricey, dicey this year. An early Easter (Sunday, Mar 31), that cold winter back East, and an improving economy means that travelers should brace for an expensive and crowded Spring Break travel season this year. Whether you have business trip plans or beach trip plans, if you plan to travel during the last two weeks of March—you need to make reservations now… and plan to deal with crowds and high prices. Listen to BAT editor Chris McGinnis discuss this news on KCBS last Friday.

Earn Virgin Elevate points when dining out. Virgin announced a new partnership with Mogl, allowing Elevate members earn points for something we all do a lot of in the Bay Area—dine out. All you have to do is register your credit card with Mogl, and then dine out in participating restaurants (good selection in SF and other California cities) The offer’s a bit complicated, but why not sign up? Details here.

American + US Airways merger expected this week. It’s been a long time coming, but most industry watchers say that a merger between American Airlines and US Airways will finally be announced this week. Most expect the new airlines to be called American, but the new CEO will be US Airways current CEO Doug Parker. The airline will be based in Dallas. Since both American and US Airways have little presence in the Bay Area, the impact here will be negligible.

Winter hotel promos: Marriott’s Megamiles promo is back—you can earn double airlines miles for every stay through April 30. Stay at Best Western three times between now and April 14 and you’ll get a certificate for one free night good for those price spring or summer peak season stays later this year.

Fly American from the Bay to Hawaii? An enhanced codeshare agreement between American and Alaska Airlines will allow American to put its code and sell tickets on the 22 Alaska Airlines flights from the Bay to Hawaii. For those of you with big banks of unused AAdvantage miles with dreams of tropical paradise, now’s the time to redeem.

ANA Dreamliner cancellations at San Jose extended. Until the root cause of battery malfunctions and fires can be determined, the Dreamliner will not fly to San Jose (or anywhere.) While investigators seem to be making slow progress, ANA decided to go ahead and cancel Dreamliner flights all the way through March 30 (That’s nearly 10 weeks of no flights.) The BAT asked ANA why they don’t substitute another aircraft on the route, they said that they only have certification to fly the 787 on the route and that applying to use another aircraft could take weeks or months. In addition, ANA is likely having a tough time filling the holes in its schedule by the grounding of 17 of its aircraft, and for now, its easier to bus San Jose passengers up 101 to catch their flights at SFO.

New fees at Southwest. Southwest Airlines passengers who are used to not showing up for a flight and then requesting full credit for that flight for future use later are in for a surprise. Southwest says it will soon impose a no-show fee on cheaper restricted tickets if you don’t contact the airline and cancel your plans within 24 hours of flight time. Southwest’s “Early bird” check in fees have increased to $12.50 from $10. In addition, if you want to nab an open position in the first boarding group, Southwest now charges a $40 fee for that. In addition, the fee for oversized or overweight bags, or a third checked have increased from $50 to $75 each. Southwest still does not charge for the first or second checked bag…but industry scuttlebutt is that Southwest will likely join other carriers in charging bag fees starting next year.

Business class to Orange County. Did you know that AirTran flies daily a 2-class Boeing 737 (business and coach) with Gogo wi-fi between SFO and Orange County? Coach class roundtrip fares are in the $150 range, and business class is only $315. (The flight stops at SNA, then continues on to Cabo)

BAT headlines from this week:

10 things about Singapore Airlines A380 at SFO (Photos)

United maintains dominance at SFO

Virgin America CEO David Cush: Why San Jose?

 

 

 

United revamps popular PS flights to New York

The new United PS business class seat will be identical to Continental BusinessFirst seat pictured here. (Photo: United Airlines)

United’s super-popular “Premium Service” (PS) flights on the business-travel-heavy route between SFO and New York-JFK (as well as LAX-JFK) are about to undergo a radical re-do. To me this is great news because the current PS interiors have been tatty and worn out for a while…

Last week United revealed details of the new PS to The BAT, so here’s what you need to know:

>Reconfiguration of all 13 United Boeing 757s offering PS service will begin this October and should be complete by summer of 2013. All seats, walls, floors, bins, lavatories and galleys will be replaced, so they will feel like brand new planes. (No word yet on when you will actually be able to book a new PS flight.)

>The reconfigured aircraft will have business class, Economy Plus (EP) and standard economy seats.

>There will be no first class seatson the new PS aircraft. (Currently, there are 12.)

United’s current PS business class seat. (Photo: United Airlines)

>Reconfigured aircraft will have 28 true-lie-flat business class seats, up from the current 26 cradle-style seats. The new business class PS seat will be the same as Continental’s flatbed BusinessFirst seat on its internationally configured 757s. (See photo above) United says it will call this class of service United BusinessFirst.”

>Each business class seat will have an individual 16-inch video monitor connected to and audio-video on-demand (AVOD) system, a three prong universal 110v electrical outlet and USB port. (No more Dig-E-Players!)

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>In-flight service in business class will be the same—you’ll still get pre-flight cocktails, warm nuts, and two hot towels. (There will still be the peachy Bellinis and other featured cocktails served.)

>There will be 48 Economy Plus seats on the new PS flights, down from 72 in the old version. The downside is that there are fewer EP seats, but the upside is that EP seat pitch on the new PS flights will be 36 inches. (Current PS flights have 34 inches between each coach seat. And as we all know, two inches can make a big difference!)

>There will be 66 standard economy seats on the new PS flights with 31-32 inches of pitch—current PS flights offer EP only.

>Both EP and standard economy seats will have individual 9-inch seatback video screens with access to the AVOD system. (No more fuzzy overhead screens!)

>All PS flights will be getting an upgraded Gogo in-flight wi-fi system that a spokesman said should be faster (9.8 Mbps, up from the current 3.1) and better able to meet the high demand on these flights.

Mock up of American’s “Transcontinental Series” business class seat. (Photo: American Airlines)

>On the competitive front, American has announced that starting in late 2013 it will dump its current 767’s flying between SFO and JFK and replace them with much smaller, but specially outfitted, stretch versions of the Airbus A321 with first, business, Main cabin Extra and standard coach seats. Delta and Virgin America offer the same first class Recaro seat on the route, and have not made or announced any recent changes. (Here’s our post and video about a recent Delta Business Elite flight to JFK.)

How do YOU like to fly to New York? Are you pleased with the changes coming to United’s PS flights? Are these changes a net gain or loss for BATs - Bay Area Travelers? Please leave your comments below.

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Virgin America blows into Chicago (ORD)

Virgin's star-studded arrival at Chicago-O'Hare included appearances of stars like Adrian Grenier of Entourage and the swashbuckling entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson. (Photo: Bob Riha, Jr.)

Virgin’s star-studded arrival at Chicago-O’Hare included appearances of stars like Adrian Grenier of Entourage and the swashbuckling entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson. (Photo: Bob Riha, Jr.)

On Wednesday, Virgin America inaugurated nonstops between San Francisco International and Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) in typical fashion- by throwing a big, glam party on a Chicago hotel rooftop full of stars (like Adrian Grenier) and swashbucklers (like Richard Branson).

On Wednesday, Virgin America inaugurated nonstops between San Francisco International and Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) in typical fashion- by throwing a big, glam party on a Chicago hotel rooftop full of stars (like Adrian Grenier) and swashbucklers (like Richard Branson).

Fans of Virgin have long awaited flights to the Windy City, but the carrier’s attempts to enter the SFO-ORD market were stymied due to lack of gate space and the power of entrenched legacy carriers American and United Airlines.

However, recent gate swapping among consolidating airlines plus a full-on charm offensive on the Chicago political machine finally landed Virgin with rights to fly from both Los Angeles and San Francisco into O’Hare.

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This is great news for Bay Area travelers who fly regularly on this very busy route. Entry by a new low-cost carrier means that fares will remain in check and hopefully decline. Virgin offered a few $200 round trip fares to kick off the service, but looking out over the summer months, you’ll pay $300-$400 or so to get to and from Chicago on any carrier. If that seems painful, I’m certain it would be a lot worse if Virgin were not in the market. With all these flights plus Southwest’s service into Chicago Midway airport, I can smell a fare war brewing…but it won’t happen until demand starts to wane in the fall months.

Members of frequent flyer programs are already benefiting from a slew of new promos to attract and/or keep them from shifting. American AAdvantage and United Mileage Plus jumped in with their biggest marketing guns: double elite qualifying miles for flights through the end of August. With that, Virgin’s Elevate countered with a triple points promotion (that’s a cool 15 points per dollar spent. Not bad!) Too bad Virgin does not have an elite level for Elevate members yet…but execs tell me it’s in the works….stay tuned.

Residency in California or Illinois and registration is required for all the promos: Virgin America | United| American

Virgin America entered the SFO-ORD market with three flights per day. United responded to that by adding five new flights per day on the route, for a total of 17. American offers six flights per day. [UPDATED: Continental Airlines now offers a single daily round trip between SFO and ORD using a nice new B737-900]

So, who’s going to win this epic battle? Travel industry analyst for Forrester Research Henry Harteveldt (who’s also a resident of San Francisco) says:

“Virgin America is a very credible challenger to American and United on the SFO-ORD route. Our research shows that even among frequent business travelers, 40% do not consider themselves to be brand loyal to any travel company. Virgin has some key amenities which business travelers value and that United lacks- satellite TV, in-seat power, and Wi-Fi. Between United and American, I believe that United will retain more of its market share, since it operates hubs in both Chicago and San Francisco. With a large base of Mileage Plus members in both cities, United’s double miles bonus offer will resonate. Even with double AAdvantage miles, I believe American is apt to lose more market share, since SF is not one of its five key ‘cornerstone’ markets.”

Frequent travelers should keep in mind that Southwest Airlines flies nonstop to Chicago’s Midway Airport four times per day from Oakland, three times from SFO and once a day from San Jose. Southwest’s summer fares to Midway are also in the $300-$400 range.

What do YOU think? Next time you fly to Chicago, which airline would you choose…and why?

So long QANTAS. Last SFO flight departs Saturday

QANTAS 747-400 parked at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS 747-400 parked at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS will depart San Francisco International for Sydney for the last time tomorrow night, Saturday May 7. The flight departs at 11:10 pm.

QANTAS is moving the daily nonstop flight to Dallas/Ft Worth where it has close ties with Oneworld partner, American Airlines.

With QANTAS out of the SFO-SYD market, only United will offer nonstops on the route. One stop options from SFO include Air New Zealand via Auckland, or QANTAS via Los Angeles. I’m wondering if perhaps the newly named Virgin Australia may consider adding nonstops from Sydney to connect with SFO-based Virgin America. Stay tuned for more on that…

I’ll sure miss seeing that graceful kangaroo on the big red tail of the QANTAS 747 parked at SFO’s international terminal.

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SFO officials are sad to see it go, too. “We are sorry to see them go and we would warmly welcome back QANTAS in the future,” said airport spokesperson Mike McCarron.

I’ve been unable to get QANTAS officials in Los Angeles to make any sort of statement about its departure. SFO says that no formal farewell is planned.

So I guess the big Aussie bird will go quietly into the night tomorrow. A sad sight indeed.

How do YOU feel about QANTAS’ departure? Please leave your comments below!

Virgin America’s messin’ with Texas

A Texas-style greeting for Virgin America's inaugural flight to DFW today.

A Texas-style greeting for Virgin America’s inaugural flight to DFW today.

First it was the San Francisco-based Giants. Now it’s San Francisco-based Virgin America tearing into Texas and hoping to tan some hide.

Virgin America is throwing a big hoedown in Dallas today to celebrate its arrival at Dallas-Ft Worth International Airport, the primary hub and headquarters of American Airlines. (American also happens to be the former employer of Virgin CEO David Cush.)

Dallas is also home to Virgin archrival Southwest Airlines, so it is time to pull out all the stops.

Those lucky enough to be on Virgin’s first flight (from LAX…SFO service starts Dec. 6) were treated to a catered Texas-style barbecue lunch on the tarmac upon arrival. Mayors of both Dallas and Ft. Worth along with small herd of Texas longhorn steers were there to greet them (see photo above).

Tonight, there’s a big party benefiting cancer research at the Dallas Opera House that will include a performance by Willie Nelson and an appearance by Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson (natch).

American Airlines is not about to take a whoopin’ from a San Francisco-based outsider like Virgin, especially when it comes to the lucrative business travel market. To fight back, it’s pulled out its most powerful (and expensive) marketing gun: double elite qualifying miles on all flights between DFW, SFO and LAX from now through February 28. (To get the bonus miles, AAdvantage members must register prior to travel.)

From SFO, Virgin will operate just two flights per day compared to American’s nine. Its arrival in the market has brought down fares, with the lowest promotional ones now running about $260 round trip- matched, of course, by American and United. (Like Virgin, United offers only two SFO-DFW roundtrips per day and so far has not matched American’s double mileage promo.)

How will Virgin’s fleet of brand new planes equipped with seatback TV, Wi-Fi, signature cocktails and mood lighting stand up to American’s more conservative offering? Wrangling business travelers could be a tough for Virgin according to San Francisco resident Henry Harteveldt, principal travel analyst at Forrester Research. He said,

“It’ll be tough for Virgin America to get many business travelers with its limited schedule. Still, American’s actions show that it takes Virgin America seriously as a competitor, as they should. American will have to work hard to defend its market share. Virgin’s product and experience are tangibly better than what American offers. If Virgin adds more flights between Dallas and LAX/SFO, or adds other cities from DFW, they will give American a run for its money.”

In addition to some tough competition from American, Virgin is going to have to fend off nonstop competition between SFO and Dallas Love Field from Southwest starting in 2014. That’s when the Wright Amendment fizzles out, allowing Southwest to offer nonstop flights from SFO, OAK, SJC to Dallas Love. (Currently, it’s only allowed to offer one stop or connecting flights.)