Category Archives: Airline Inflight Reviews

Flying KLM’s MD-11 Farewell Flight

By Ben Wang / Published November 15, 2014

KLM has a long history with Douglas. IMG_8703 copyThe strong relationship between the two companies formed 80 years ago when KLM flew its first DC-2 in 1934. KLM is the only airline to operate every Douglas model beginning with the DC-2, capping off the exhaustive list with McDonnell Douglas’ ultimate widebody, the MD-11.

KLM received its first of ten MD-11s in July of 1993. Unfortunately, the elegant trijet with its distinctive winglets was not a commercial success. Only 200 aircraft were built between 1990 and 2001.  Performance issues during initial entry into service, exasperated by late entry to market, followed by competitors introducing more fuel-efficient twin-engined aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330, sealed the MD-11′s fate.

The MD-11 did find its niche, however with cargo carriers such as FedEx, UPS and Lufthansa Cargo, which received the last MD-11 built. KLM stuck through and kept their reliable MDs in service until the bitter end thus becoming the last airline flying the passenger model.

Setting the Stage

When KLM announced that 2014 would be the last year of service for the MD-11, I had a great interest in flying on the last flight. It was well known via the reservation system that the last scheduled flight was on October 25 from Montreal to Amsterdam.  However, rumors of a final commemorative flight persisted.

On Sep 15th, KLM announced via social media that they would sell seats on three “farewell flights”, appropriately on November 11th, appropriately priced at 111 Euros. Flights would be one-hour sightseeing trips around Holland. Knowing the Dutch, ever mindful of their place in aviation history, would give an appropriate send off for such a historic occasion, I did not hesitate on getting a ticket on the farewell flight.  Since those flights would be the last flights where you can actually buy a ticket, I considered them to be the more historically significant “last” flight to take.

Tickets went on sale at 1:11 pm Central European Time onMD11 farewell flight EUR111 Sept 17th.  After setting my alarm for 2 am Pacific Time on the early morning of Sept 17th, I managed to secure one ticket on a flight. Demand was overwhelming. 592 tickets were sold out in mere minutes.  During the sale, KLM’s site was slow to respond (I later heard it almost went down) and I was only able to confirm that I got a seat because my credit card was charged. KLM later send out confirmation emails indicating which of the three flights you would be randomly assigned to; I got the second of the three. In addition, seats would be randomly assigned as well.

Preflight

A beautiful sunrise on Nov 11th hinted a glorious day ahead. IMG_8709 copyAt Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, I checked in at a special check in counter that KLM had set aside for the Farewell Flights.

I arrived well ahead of the designated 11 am arrival for my 1:00 pm departure.  The first flight has already boarded so the counter was quiet, save a few of us that got there early. At check in, I received my assigned seat 25C. I also received a MD-11 booklet and a sheet noting the “house rules” for the flight.

I tried to switch to a window seat, however, the request was denied. The agent noted that the seats were previously assigned at random. Since it was a sightseeing enthusiast flight, everyone would want a window anyway, so they could not take seat requests.

The house rules described the procedures for the flight. IMG_8701 copyWe would be taken by bus to a remote stand where another MD-11 and a DC-3 would be on display. Boarding would be via stairs according to the color code on the boarding pass. Orange would board via the forward stairs and green would board via the rear.

The sheet noted that plenty of time and opportunity would be allowed on the ramp for photo ops. Wow – an airline that actually caters to the enthusiasts – I was impressed!

I went up to the Panoramic Terrace above the terminal trying to spot the first flight. The fog had rolled in and the weather had changed drastically. It was cold, windy, and misty. After awaiting o the Terrace in the bitter cold along with hundreds of other spectators, I came up empty. I decided to instead head to my gate, C22.

Extra: Onboard the Final KLM MD-11 Commercial Flight 

Inside the gate area, there was an aura of excitement.  Stacks of goodie bags with “I Fly MD-11″ on one side and “I Flew MD-11″ on the other awaited us at the boarding door. Unfortunately, announcements were made in Dutch only – frustrating many (myself included).

Finally, well past the pre-described boarding time of 12 pm, the the orange group consisting of Business Class and forward cabin passengers boarded the first set of buses. I boarded a few minutes later with the green group.

On board the bus, after staring at the goodie bags for the past 45 minutes or so, everyone was eagerly wanting to know what was in the bag. It consisted of sandwich squares on a stick, bottled water, a KLM lanyard, a small bottle of gummy bears (with the MD-11 logo), two KLM barf bags, and most important piece, a MD-11 safety card in clean and pristine condition.

We pulled into the special sectioned off area located next to the cargo ramp. There, MD-11 “Maria Montessori”, registered PH-KCB, and Dutch Dakota Associations’ DC-3 “Princess Amalia”, registered PH-PBA, were on display.  The star of our show “Florence Nightingale”, registered PH-KCD, was already receiving her passengers. Both -KCB and -KCD had special decals applied on them: “KLM – Douglas Aviation History” along the fuselage top and a listing of all Douglas aircraft flown along the fuselage bottom (which is all of them), concluding with a large MD-11 logo.  By now, the fog had retreated and sun had come back out. As we boarded the aircraft, everyone stopped to take photos and of course, the obligatory selfie.

Extra: McDonnell Douglas MD-11 Sales Brochures from 1995

At the door, two flight attendants greeted the excited passengers aboard. Inside, the all-familiar KLM blue dominated. All the seats had the new MD-11 book “The Last KLM McDonnell Douglas Farewell” as well as special MD-11 headrest covers.

It was nice that buses loaded each group in waves. Because this allowed for time to take photos on board before departure. The cabin crew were enthusiastically asking whether anyone wanted their photos taken (“yes please!”).

My seat-mate joked, “I wonder which movie I am going to watch?”.  I actually was hoping the IFE would be in operations so I can see the flight map, but it was dark for the entire flight.

 

Legroom.  Really can’t say much about it.  I was not in my seat all that long!IMG_8743 copy

Welcome messages were given over the PA, initially mostly in Dutch,but later rectified. One of the pilots who authored the MD-11 book would narrate the flight.

As flight attendants gave their safety briefing, it was clear that they were having fun too.  At one point, our steward remarked it was funny cameras were on him recording his safety brief, which brought laugher and more lens pointed his way.

The Flight

KL 9897, Amsterdam (AMS) – Amsterdam (AMS)

Aircraft:  McDonnell Douglas MD-11

Registration:  PH-KCD “Florence Nightingale”

msn/ln:  48558/573

Delivered:  Sept, 1994

Scheduled Departure – Arrival:  1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Actual Departure – Arrival:  12:57 pm – 2:19 pm

Takeoff Runway 18L:  1:10 pm

Landing Runway 18R:  2:06 pm

Flightaware flight track

We pushed back from the stand four minutes ahead of the scheduled 1 pm departure. We were photographed from a hydraulic lift; it was the first of many photographers during our taxi. The funniest was vans chasing our plane trying to get ahead of us for photos.

Someone pointed out the center overhead bins were rocking and flexing as bumped around on the taxiway.  Since we also sat over the main center gear strut, we could also hear the brakes squeal.  Someone joked, those brakes are probably the first thing they are going to retire.

After taxing past the large crowd atop of the Terrace, we took position on Runway 18L.  It was announced that we would be using 90% power for takeoff (helpful translation courtesy from our seat mate).

Even though we had a full load of passengers, our aircraft was without cargo and baggage in the belly.  As a result, the takeoff was quite a rush.  We quickly accelerated as the whiny roar of the General Electric engines came to power.  Laughter and “woahs” can be heard around the cabin as we made a roller coaster style rotation some 35 seconds later.  We then made a very sharp right turn to the west.  It was clear that the pilots wanted everyone to have a memorable flight.

Only a couple minutes later, we leveled off at about 2000 feet and the seat belt sign went off.  Everyone at first thought it was in error and chuckled.  But after some hesitation, wow, it was real!  So people started moving about, trying to get views of the landscape below from available windows and touring the cabin.

Extra: Folded Wings – The Last Passenger DC-10 Flight Ever

People soon occupied every available floor space.  The cabin crew attempted to start service with beverage carts, but the fans made their job difficult.  As people noticed that we were being served petite fours and small bottles of wine both adorned with the MD-11 logo, that was encouragement enough to sit everyone back down so the carts can move through.

I quickly ate my petit four (you may call it “small cake”) so I can continue 5D3_5959 copyto explore the cabin.  By not having a window seat, I really couldn’t take in the view while an excellent tour was being announced over the PA anyway.  The narration also gave us status of the flight itself.  We had to depart 2500 feet and climb to 3500 and ultimately 5000 feet due to air traffic control.  As we toured Holland, the aircraft made sharp turns making walking extremely difficult.  We all had to hang on tight as the aircraft maneuvered about.

Windows around rows 10 to 12 gave excellent views of the engine and winglet, making it a popular photo spot.

All the galleys were decked out in party mode.

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Extra: Delta Air Lines 1991 MD-11 Launch Sales Brochure

Purser’s station – which I have never seen nor did I realize existed.  It reminded me of the loadmaster’s station on the C-17.

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Airways magazine editor Enrique Perrella took a moment of solitude while reviewing the MD-11 book.

Do you play the KLM MD-11 Challenge trying to win tickets on the farewell flight?

KL had a contest where players had to correctly answer 11 very difficult questions about the MD-11 for a chance to win daily prizes and a ticket on the last MD-11 flight.

So did you think the questions were pretty technical and esoteric?  I certainly did.  I had to take notes!  Well, I met the person that designed the site and came up with the questions.  He and a pilot purposefully made the questions challenging but interesting because they knew the enthusiasts would know most of the answers already.

As we neared the conclusion of our one-hour flight, people broke out their permanent markers and left messages on the overhead bin.  There was a quite bit of enthusiasm as the precious few markers got passed around.

As we made our approach to Runway 18R, the excellent flight narration informed us of the direction and altitude of our landing.  Final approach speed would be at 155 knots.

The seat belt light became illuminated pretty late into the approach process.  After everyone finally made their way back to their seats, the back of the plane – obviously the rowdy section – tried multiple times to start the wave.  They were unsuccessful.  Then they started chanting “go around, go around, go round”.  Alas there was no go around.  Fifty-six minutes after takeoff, after a loop around Holland, we made a perfect landing on Runway 18R to the applause of everyone on board.  Over the PA, the purser thanked us for flying on the last MD-11 and hoped to see us on another KLM airplane in the future.

As we made the long taxi back to the ramp, once again, like our departure, our arrival was met by photographers and service vehicles.  At 2:19 pm, we were once again back at our remote stand alongside the DC-3 and the other MD-11 to the applause to everyone on board.

We were told to quickly disembark so the crew can prepare for the next flight.  Surprisingly enough, deplaning was quick and orderly, absent of the congestion experienced during the flight.  I asked a flight attendant for a cockpit visit so the pilots could sign items I had brought with me.  Unfortunately, the request was denied.  Given there was a large interest for the same from almost everyone on board, it would not have been possible to accommodate all requests.  Disappointed, I made my way to the stairs at the aft door, savoring my last moments with the last wide body passenger trijet in service.  And yes, I was among the last people to leave the ramp, boarding the last bus back to the terminal.

 

Final Farewell Flight

Here are views of the final MD-11 farewell flight (KL 9899) taken from the Panoramic Terrace.

PH-KCD lining up on Runway 24.

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One hour later, PH-KCD approached Runway 27, and then did a Kai Tak style bank while on short final and struck Runway 24 with heavy tire smoke one last time.

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A fitting end.  Led by service vehicles, DC-3 PH-PBA and MD-11 PH-KCD performed a victory lap around the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.

5D3_6161 copy

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

Photos by the author.

Extra: Onboard the Final KLM MD-11 Commercial Flight 

Extra: McDonnell Douglas MD-11 Sales Brochures from 1995

Extra: Delta Air Lines 1991 MD-11 Launch Sales Brochure

Extra: TriJet Twilight – Inflight Review on One of the world’s last MD-11′s

Extra: Folded Wings – The Last Passenger DC-10 Flight Ever

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December 2014 Airways: LAN Airlines, Heathrow Airport, the De Havilland 84 and Delta BusinessElite


Available for sale worldwide through our online store and selected newsstands is the December issue of Airways Magazine.


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This month, a whole new set of features cover the latest in the commercial aviation industry, tackling historic airlines such as Transocean, and reviewing current operations such as LAN Airlines and Philippine Airlines.

Get yours today via our online store. Don’t risk missing a single issue of Airways!

 


In every issue

Airways Photo News • Departing Shot • Mailbag • Cover Wars

Left-Seat Chronicles • Airways Literature • Arriving Shot


Airways Feature

Cover 2 ​LAN Airlines – America’s Rising Star

JEFF KRIENDLER reviews South America’s biggest carrier since its inception. The LATAM Group is on the rise after the merger between LAN and Brazil’s TAM was announced in 2012.

“From its modest roots in 1929, the Linea Aerea Nacional (LAN) de Chile has pieced together a powerful mosaic across the South American continent through national investments in a handful of strategically-positioned airlines, instilling in each a common philosophy of service excellence and financial discipline.”


Airport Review

Heathrow, the new Terminal 2A, airside departure lounge, November 2013.

Heathrow Reinvented

London-Heathrow unveils its refurbished Terminal 2. ANDREAS SPAETH visits the stunning “Queen’s Terminal” and reports on its modernistic and efficient infrastructure.

​”THE OPENING OF THE ULTRA-MODERN Terminal 2 ushers in a new era at London’s main airport, but the issues presented by the lack of a third runway remain.”


Airline Review

PIX 18 B777-38N

Philippines Airlines

Asia’s oldest airline, Philippine Airlines, commemorated its 73rd anniversary this year after a very difficult past. Join MURRAY KIRKUS on a comprehensive Airline Review.

IN MARCH THIS YEAR, Asia’s oldest airline, Philippine Airlines (PAL) commemorated its 73rd anniversary at a time during which the carrier appears to be on a path toward re-establishing itself after having been considered by any within the industry to be on the brink of extinction. Re-energized with a new equity partner––the San Miguel Corporation, one of the country’s largest and richest conglomerates––PAL seems to be making a comeback, positioning itself to challenge the numerous domestic Low Cost Carriers that have emerged since deregulation. At the same time, the airline looks again to compete significantly on long-haul international routes.


Airways Special

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Aer Lingus DHC84

Hop on board a flying relic in Germany. ANDREAS ROHDE reports this unique experience as he flew a 1934 De Havilland 84, owned by the Aer Lingus Charitable Foundation.


​”Over the small, grass Tannheim airfield in southern Germany, at precisely the appointed time, the silhouette of a vintage, twin-engine biplane appeared. As the aircraft turned into a northerly downwind, the sun reflected against the silver fuselage before the aircraft revealed its identity. It was the de Havilland DH 84 Dragon EI-ABI, operated by the Aer Lingus Charitable Foundation, proudly bearing the name Iolar, after the first aircraft to fly for the iconic Irish airline.”


 

The Airchive

Taloa L1049 N1880 (Authors Collection - origin unknown)

Transocean

MAURICE WICKSTEAD reviews America’s quintessential post-war charter airline, Transocean Air Lines, as our monthly Airchive story.

“OVER A TIME SPAN of less than two decades Transocean developed into perhaps the quintessential example of a US post-war charter, or “irregular” airline. Against the odds, it accomplished much in a relatively short time period, not least in helping to establish airlines for a number of emerging nations after WWII. That it was able to do so was largely due to an energetic and imaginative United Air Lines (UAL) captain, Orvis Marcus Nelson, who together with a small group of fellow wartime transport pilots, had established the airline in 1946.”


Airways Traveler

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Delta’s Worldiner: Atlanta – London-Heathrow.

Premium traveler report on board Delta’s flagship, the Boeing 777-200LR. ENRIQUE PERRELLA travels to London-Heathrow in BusinessElite and reports his excellent experience.

“Flying from the United States’ East Coast to the capital city of the United Kingdom has become a subject of pride among American and British legacy carriers, with over 67 daily flights offered from Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington and Raleigh-Durham.”


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Special Flashback: United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner Inaugural, November 4, 2012

United's inaugural 787 at a Houston Intercontinental gate.  All photo courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airways News

United’s inaugural 787 at a Houston Intercontinental gate. All photo courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airways News

Editor’s note: today United Airlines celebrates two years of operating the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In those two years, the Dreamliner has been through its own trials and tribulations, including a grounding that lasted from January 16, 2013 to April 19, 2013. Below is an exercpt from a story that originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Airways magazine, covering the carrier’s first revenue flight.

At 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 4, 2012, the whisper-quiet ticketing hall of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport’s Terminal E did not offer any clues to anything special happening that morning. But it was the day for the first revenue service of United Airlines’ Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The event was covered by Editor Chris Sloan and AirwaysNews Social Media Correspondent Jack Harty.

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EXTRA: Via Airchive, UA 787 First Airline in the US

EXTRAUnited Hits One Year Of 787 Operations

EXTRA: Onboard United Airlines’ 787 Route Inaugural Flight from Denver to Tokyo

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After foregoing a major development event, there is concern that this launch might be devoid of much of the pomp and circumstance of other launch flights does little to dampen our enthusiasm for the inauguration of the first Boeing 787 to be operated by a U.S. carrier. We are being escorted through security by United PR executive Rahsaan Johnson, himself a fellow enthusiast who is as giddy with excitement as we are, as we only have 10 minutes onboard to jockey for photographs before the brief 6:25AM ribbon-cutting ceremony with Jeff Smisek, United’s President and CEO, and crew. Rounding the concourse to Gate E5, we are pleasantly surprised. The gate is already buzzing with activity, a large press contingent, festooned with party decorations, and generous buffet breakfast. A hip pop soundtrack wakes up the crowd. The message is clear: this isn’t no ordinary flight and after weeks of seemingly downplaying the event, United wasn’t going to let this historic moment passed unnoticed.  

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We quickly board the United’s Dreamliner for our 10 minutes of photo opportunities before we are required to exit the plane, even though we would re-boarding in just a few minutes. As we emerge, Smisek and the flight crew are already on a stage emblazoned with a “Proud to Fly the 787” backdrop to make a brief, 5 minutes of remarks welcoming everyone to this historic morning. Poignantly, he first offers his best wishes to all the people and United employees affected by Hurricane Sandy and his appreciation for all they did in the face of the challenges of the previous week.

Switching to an optimistic note, the CEO’s main theme is “The 787 is worth the wait and all of our guests and members of the press are about to find out why. If you want to be the world’s leading airline, you need to have the world’s leading airplane. We have that today in the new Boeing 787”. Beyond all the usual groundbreaking features of the 787 normally mentioned: efficiency, lower cabin altitude, larger electronically-tinted windows, dynamic LED transforming lighting, cleaner air, gust suppression technology to smooth the ride, the humidified cabin, the ultra-quiet flight experience; Smisek gets some laughs when he says that “you will all be very impressed with the lavatories”. Any frustration with the delays, schedule changes, or talk of compensation are not present on this morning. 

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EXTRA: Dreamliner Grounding Timeline

EXTRA: Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the hot seat again after Heathrow fire

EXTRAThe 787, One Year After Grounding

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United’s global business class on the 787.

Embarking the Dreamliner, my impressions of the cabin are positive. Though lacking the capacious stand-up bar entry way of other airline’s 787s, the entry through door L2 and the gallery and is still a major improvement over other aircraft, particularly with United’s blue LED boarding lighting program on display. I settled into my spacious lay-flat seat, 6A in United BusinessFirst. United wanted to leave nothing to chance to ensure an on-time departure at 7:20AM. At 7:12AM the doors were closed and 6 minutes later at 7:18AM we pushed back as the twin GE-nX engines began their almost imperceptible spool-up. Strangely, there was no water cannon salute scheduled on the departure but the custom produced Boeing 787 promotional and safety video received huge applause. With the clicks of cameras, cheers, and waves from the ground crew, we were on our way. As we taxied out to runway 9 I thought to myself what a long, strange trip it has been for United and Boeing to get to this historic moment. 

EXTRA: United 787 Re-inaugural on May 20th

EXTRAUnited Re-Inaugurates 787 Flights

EXTRAUnited Unveils its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner Seat Map

United 787 inaugural souvenir.

United 787 inaugural souvenir.

United’s first announced bookable 787 flight and new 787 exclusive route was the March 31, 2013 launch of Denver to Tokyo Narita, Japan. Today, November 4th marks the first significant operation of 787s in America by a North American carrier. United initially chose to go big: with a remarkable 8 flights scheduled on Day One involving 5 of United’s hubs: Houston Intercontinental, Newark Liberty, Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. These flights were to use United’s first 2 Dreamliners operating from the 787’s Houston base. United’s planned to temporarily rotate the 787-8 through all of its domestic hubs with domestic promotional and familiarization flights before the 787 begins its shift to international operations on December 4th.  

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The journey to this day has been over 8 years in the making.  United’s merger partner, Continental, was the first airline in America to placed an order for the Dreamliner shortly after the airliner was first offered to the market. Continental ordered 10 787-8s powered by the GEnx-1B. The Dreamliner would allow Continental to open up new long-range/thin routes such as Houston-Auckland, New Zealand (which was subsequently cancelled before launch) and Houston to Lagos, Nigeria, as well as replace the airline’s elderly 767s and eventually the 757-300s. Continental was so bullish on the plane that it ordered additional 787-8s over the next few years: In 2007, Continental ordered 5 of the larger and longer-range 787-9s, and converted an additional 12 787-8s to the 787-9 model.

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United itself ordered its first 787s in December, 2009 when the Chicago based carrier placed a firm order for 25 Dreamliners (also powered by the GEnx-1B) and 25 of the larger Airbus A350-900s with deliveries of these scheduled to start in 2016 and continue to 2019. The 787-8s and 9s are pegged as 757 and 767 replacements. The Airbus A350-900s are Boeing 747-400, and in some cases 777-200 replacements. The A350-900′s range is 11% greater than the existing 747s and older A market 777s.

EXTRAOnboard United Airlines’ Inaugural Boeing 787-9 Flight

EXTRAUnited Starts LAX-Melbourne with 787-9, Launches 3 New Pacific Routes

United's first 787 on the Boeing assembly line.

United’s first 787 on the Boeing assembly line.

This morning, Sunday November 2nd there are 4 flights operating the inaugural day: Our flight, 1116, is the first scheduled to depart early at 7:20AM with an arrival into Chicago’s O’Hare at 9:51AM. This plane is scheduled to turn-around and return back to Houston as flight 1510 after less than 2 hours on the ground in Chicago. As noted previously, originally there were 8 flights scheduled, but now just 4 remain today: Houston-Los Angeles-Houston (IAH-LAX-IAH). United hubs at San Francisco, Newark, Cleveland, Denver, and Washington Dulles were scheduled to join the 787 Hub Tour throughout the month depending on the timing of the 2nd 787 truly service ready. These domestic revenue and familiarization flights are scheduled to continue into early 2013.  

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All too soon, the seatbelt sign came on as we descended into Chicago ORD. Captain Starley turned the 787 auto-pilot off at 4,000 feet and at 9:36AM CST executed a perfect “grease job” of a landing onto ORD’s runway 10, to cheers and clapping. We quickly exited the runway and as we taxied the first words heard over the PA, were  “It’s A Dream Come True”, and yes you guessed it: there was more applause. What’s an inaugural flight without the obligatory Grand Finale: “The Water Cannon Salute”? These salutatory moments never get old as our 787 was given a bath from both sides of the jet.  At United’s Gate C20, I deplaned right behind Jeff Smisek to a throng of United employees, spectators, and press and they were all applauding! Surprisingly Smisek revealed that this was his first flight aboard the Dreamliner. His remarks said it all: “It’s just awesome! Just Awesome!”

United CEO Jeff Smisek.

United CEO Jeff Smisek.

After a short arrival ceremony, The 200 or so passengers and I boarded United flight 1510 for its on-time departure to Houston. This more subdued and conventional flight would be nearly devoid of all the ceremony of the inaugural flight. In fact, apart from being on the newest airliner of the 21st Century, it felt utterly normal. After all, there were 3 more flights left that day and no let up in line service over the coming weeks. The dream immediately became not just reality, but routine, and that was the point. 

See the complete photo gallery from the day’s events here.

United Airlines currently has 13 Dreamliners in its fleet: 11 787-8s and two 787-9s. The second 787-9 was just delivered last week. The carrier has another 52 Dreamliners on order for a total of 65.  The first 787-9 was just launched on the new Los Angeles-Melbourne route. Other routes are: San Francisco-Chengdu; Denver-Narita; Houston Intercontinental-Heathrow; Houston-Lagos; San Francisco-Kansai; Los Angeles-Narita; and Los Angeles-Shanghai.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

 

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InFlight Review: Lufthansa Airbus A380 Business Class

By Chris Sloan / Published October 29th, 2014
This article first appeared in Airways Magazine on May 2013

Editor’s note: since this story was written, Lufthansa has added the new Flying V Business Class cabin to its fleet of A380s. The German flag carrier has taken delivery of 12 of its 14 A380s since they entered service in 2010.

As a confirmed “AvGeek”, I have been fortunate enough to have a number of unique experiences involving the Airbus A380. In 2003-04 while a TV network executive at TLC, I oversaw a four-part documentary on the building of the Whale Jet and was able to procure John Travolta to host. In 2004, I paid a visit to the Airbus A380 Factory in Toulouse just as the giant jet was beginning final assembly.

In 2007, I was fortunate enough to be on the inaugural passenger flight with launch customer Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Sydney (Airways November, 2007). In 2011, when Lufthansa launched the first (and still only) A380 services to Miami, I was very involved in coordinating the event which featured a DC-3 and DC-7 flying in just in advance of the A380′s landing as kind of an airborne parade. Despite all this, I had only actually flown on an Airbus A380 one time, five years before, on that inaugural flight. Another VLA (Very Large Airplane) flight was on the Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental inaugural flight (Airways August, 2012). Comparing the two twenty-first century jumbos and experiencing Lufthansa’s A380 Business Product was too much to pass up, so when a business trip to Europe happened to fall on my birthday, I decided to gift myself a Business Class ticket on Lufthansa’s seasonal Airbus A380 Flight 463 from Miami to Frankfurt.

mia-terminal-j-17-b_25811As this was an international flight and I had requested to be onboard early to photograph the A380, I showed up two hours before the flight at Miami International’s world-class and newest terminal, South Terminal J, where Lufthansa and other Star Alliance carriers operate from. Even though the Business Cabin was checking in full, Lufthansa staffs their ticket counters and gates with a very efficient team to ensure a quick check-in.

With two hours before the flight, there were seven passengers in cue, but I waited no longer than five minutes to reach the check-in desk. The very friendly agent offered me a pass to the Club America Lounge, which Lufthansa shares with other airlines at Terminal J. Though far from opulent, it is quiet, well-appointed, and offers a full range of drinks and snacks. With only Lufthansa’s 1-2 flights per day at Miami, a dedicated lounge wouldn’t make sense. After enjoying a quick drink and the expansive view of the tarmac, I took the short stroll over to Gate J-17. This unique gate has three jet bridges and was built at a cost of more than $1.5 million just for Lufthansa’s Airbus A380 service. Typical of the German carrier, the flight was scheduled to depart on time at 4:20pm.

There would be no time to waste if I were to photograph the massive jet and get a behind-the-scenes tour of the cabin, flight deck, lower deck crew quarters, and flight deck crew quarters from Captain Roland Schmidt, who has flown virtually every aircraft in the Lufthansa fleet in his 30 years with the airline and Chief Purser Sybille Von Dewitz, who also has more than 30 years with the airline. Germans sometimes have an undeserved reputation for being “all business” but Captain Schmidt and Chief Pursor, and in fact the entire crew, couldn’t have been more welcoming and warm.

They had no idea I was a journalist — all they know was that I was an enthusiast who appreciated the A380. Captain Schmidt, who wore a bunch of bracelets commemorating his backstage passes to rock concerts, was very enthusiastic about the A380, declaring all other aircraft inferior to the A380, saying it is very easy to fly, yet still a “pilot’s airplane.” He was joined on the flight deck by two first officers for the long-haul flight across the Atlantic.

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The cabin crew consisted of 20 flight attendants under the direction of Chief Pursor Von Dewitz. I ascended the A380′s signature grand front staircase, more evocative of a cruise ship than a plane, to tour the ultra-exclusive first class cabin with its eight 19.7-inch wide seats with flat beds and 60-inch pitch, cavernous luxurious lavatories (the nicest part of the entire plane in my view), electric window shades (a first for me to see) in the classic Junkers-inspired finish and a beautiful buffet with an ice-bucket of champagne set out among orchids. This concept felt exclusive like a private jet, yet airy in contrast to the Singapore and Emirates First Class cabins with their enclosed suites.
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Jumping ahead for a moment, inflight I poked my head into first and can vouch that this is the quietest cabin I have ever heard, with its extra insulation and sealed curtain working miracles. I quickly toured the four economy-class cabins on the lower deck, which have a typical 10-abreast seating configuration with seat 31-inch wide and 31-inch pitch. Lufthansa just announced a Premium Economy Cabin to follow suit with many of its European competitors. One touch I’ve always liked is Lufthansa’s subdued signage and branding of each cabin.

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Typical of Lufthansa, they don’t resort to some of the amenities, like stand up bars, duty-free stores, or the showers of their competitors. Instead it prefers to use the space for additional seating and space, especially in the premium cabins. There were two very tasteful touches that I had not seen before on an A380: “the Loo with a View” window in the foreward Business Class lavatory and semi-transparent Lufthansa branded visors covering all the galley equipment during boarding. This was one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments as I have always found the industrial ovens and storage containers very unwelcoming during boarding.

lh-a380-lower-deck-entry-1_25816I exited the A380 and went back out into the main gate area to participate in the boarding process. In contrast to other airlines, that split premium and economy business classes on a single deck, Lufthansa’s Premium eight First Class passengers and 98 Business Class passengers are all located on the upper deck and they board through one of the three jet ways, while the 420 Economy Class passengers, all situated on the lower-deck, board through the other two jetways. A side note: on the new Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, Lufthansa’s First Class Cabin and one of the Business Class Cabin are located on the lower deck as those are the quietest parts on that aircraft. Boarding began promptly at 3:40 p.m. The boarding was accomplished in less than 30 minutes…amazing!

Our conveyance of the day was “City of Brussels” D-AIMJ (MSN073), which was then Lufthansa’s tenth A380 in the fleet. Lufthansa became the fifth operator of the A380 on June 11, 2010, with a flight from Frankfurt to Tokyo. I made my way to the upper deck forward Business Class cabin, located just behind First Class Cabin Galley.

lh-a380-business-cabin-1_25770The front Business Class cabin on the A380 with its 10 rows of six-abreast seating doesn’t feel as intimate as the eight rows of four-abreast seating on Lufthansa’s 747-8 Intercontinental, but it certainly felt roomy. The A380 upper deck basically is the same width of a Boeing 777. The upper deck is 19′ 5″ in contrasted to the 19′ 3″ in width of the 777 while the main deck measures 21′ 7″ in in width.

My seat, 15A afforded me an excellent view of the wing. The Business Class seating is the older 2006 era Business Class Product with the 168 degree angled reclining seat arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration. These 98 seats are located within two cabins and have a roomy and competitive 57-60″ pitch and 19.6″ width.

lh-a380-business-cabin-13_25766Cloaked in a blue fabric, they aren’t quite as comfortable as a flat-bed seat or attractive as Lufthansa’s world class new generation “Flying V” Business Cabin, but I found the current seats comfortable enough awake and while asleep. They also featured a USB port and AC power port requiring no adapters for U.S.

As these are new seats on a new aircraft, LH has yet to announce when the new “Flying V” Class will make it to the A380. The massage function, unnoticed by many, was certainly appreciated by me. I immediately put one of my favorite features of the A380 (and 747) to use: the dual sidewall storage bins unique to the upper deck of these aircraft. Meanwhile, champagne and water were offered, as is custom, during boarding.

lh-a380-upper-window-cruise-1_25731Lufthansa, famed for their punctuality, had been hit by a week of delays at their Frankfurt hub due to heavy snow, but with Frankfurt weather reporting fine, we would not be delayed today. At 4:20 p.m., we blocked out on time and taxied over to Miami International’s Runway 10,500 foot 26L where we were cleared for a direct easterly departure.

Our A380 was full in the premium cabins, but economy was only 2/3 sold. Coupled with a relatively light cargo and fuel load, we were only taking off at 476 gross tons payload out of a maximum of 560 tons. At 4:38 p.m., we commenced the quick and eerily quiet take-off roll. The A380 is still quieter than the 747-8I and the new Dreamliner on take-off and in cruise. V1 came on quickly at 140 mph, at 156 mph we rotated and overall in less than a minute we were airborne into the beautiful Miami skies.

lh-a380-ife-cameras-1_25718This gave me the first opportunity to watch the 3 cameras on the inflight entertainment system located on the belly, flight deck, and the amazing “tail cam” with its birds-eye view of the wings and forward fuselage. I was transfixed by these views as well as that of the A380′s flexing gull-like wing. The 747-8I doesn’t have the tail cam which is my favorite.

Lufthansa dubs their flight information system, moving maps air-show, and camera display Nice View and they weren’t kidding…well almost. The only issues I had with the entire flight centered on the IFE. The moving map air-show and flight information malfunctioned and my headphones had 1 speaker out. The high-fidelity Sennheiser headphones were quickly replaced and functioned well, but NiceView didn’t play “nice” the entire flight.

We were just 20 minutes in the air and the menus and hot towels were passed out. A bottle of water and the amenity kit consisting of eyeshades, booties, and toothbrush were already waiting for us in the nifty extra storage bin above the IFE monitor. Captain Schmidt came on to the PA as we climbed to our initial cursing altitude of 37,000 feet, a leisurely 37 minutes after take-off, and informed us that even with a powerful Atlantic headwind we would be looking at an 8:33 flight time, some 13 minutes longer than the typical scheduled time, eventually climbing to 41,000 feet two hours and 20 minutes into the flight.

Trying to avoid that headwind as best as we could, our southerly routing would take us over the Bahamas, the open Atlantic Ocean, then the Azores before coming ashore over Northern France and then into Frankfurt. Our captain warned that there might be a few light bumps along the way due to CAT (Clear Air Turbulence) around the Azores, yet turned the seat belt light off, which would remain off the entire flight.

Forty minutes after take-off ,we were each handed a small bag of cashews and the beverage service began. Highlights of the vast list included Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaique from France and the two wines I decided to sample: a 2008 Chateau La Roqye de By, Medoc France and a 2009 Kamptal Zweigelt, Weingut Brundlmayer, Austria. I do not have a sommelier’s palette, so I won’t even attempt to describe the wines and champagne except that I enjoyed them. There was a full selection of spirits and liquors offered as well. I try to keep hydrated, especially during long-flights so I generally have no more than a glass or two of wine and stick to water.

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The highlight of any flight is often the meal service which began after 80 minutes in the air and this flight would prove to be no exception: Our appetizers were Tuna Carpaccio with Sarachi Aioli, pickled ginger and baby micro greens; salad of Plum, Watercress, and Ricotta with Apricot Puree; or my choice: the Seared Beef Tataki with green Papaya and Peanut sauce accompanied by slice of pretzel bread! The Tataki had a nice contrasty taste and texture, especially when it was accompanied by a 2011 Riesling Trocken Chardonnay from Germany.

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The unhurried, but cordial, meal service continued on to the main courses about 24 minutes later. Lufthansa made it difficult on the passengers with three tantalizing choice of mains: Tenderloin of Beef with Sweet Potato Hash and Plum Chutney; Fresh Water Prawns in Fennel Saffron Reduction with Fingerling Potato; Eggplant Cannelloni with Tomato Compote. I always try the steak as a sort of “acid test” of an airline’s catering, as we all know how difficult it is to prepare for and taste a steak at altitude.

The tenderloin was juicy and on par with other steaks I have tried in the air. The Sweet Potato Hash and Plum Chutney were off the charts delicious. I almost asked for seconds, I am embarrassed (only slightly) to say. I am a picky eater and wanted to really to make the best choice so kudos to the patience and generosity of the Lufthansa cabin team as I queried them and photographed the selections. They were pretty proud of the offerings so they seemed to welcome all my inquiries with a smile.

Airlines seem to excel at different aspects of the meal service and Lufthansa’s sweet spot (pardon the pun) is the dessert and cheese plate. The elaborate presentation on the trolley, worthy of a fine restaurant, was definitely the highlight of the meal service for me. The crew spared my having to make a choice and offered me a bit of all 3 items: Sage Derby, Gruyere and Cambozola Cheese, Apple Spice Cake with candied Almonds, and a Fruit Salad. How could I say no?

lh-a380-ife-24_25668After all the plates were cleared away, the coffee and liqueurs were offered, but I had to show some willpower so I decided to just skip those and begin sampling the inflight entertainment system (IFE). Lufthansa’s IFE is the Panasonic X2 system introduced on the Airbus A380 five years ago. I have used this exact system on other Lufthansa flights and always found it user-friendly, very comprehensive, and the perfect cure for long-haul boredom.

This time, however the IFE let me down. The 10.4″ screen displays a well-stocked variety of movies, TV shows, hundreds of CDs, 30 radio stations, games, books, Berlitz language courses, special destination information, and a special kids section with music, movies, books, and games. I really just wanted to watch the map and listen to music while doing some work.

This is where the IFE let me down. Besides the non-working Airshow, the CDs and radio stations kept randomly pausing inexplicably. The rest of the IFE’s offerings including the movies and TV shows worked fine however. Unlike on Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-400s and some of their other long-haul aircraft, the airline’s new, blazing fast and innovative SkyNet inflight internet product is not offered on the A380 (nor 747-8 I) yet but is coming. By the way, Lufthansa pioneered inflight internet back in 2006 with Boeing’s now expired Connexion.

lh-a380-inflight-1_25709The lights were gradually and gently turned down 3 hours and 20 minutes into the flight. Most passengers took advantage of the opportunity to sleep. I dozed off for a couple of hours in my angled-seat. The flight crew offered me a blanket and pillow when they saw I was uncovered which was very thoughtful.

During the next few hours, we intermittently encountered light to light-to-moderate chop. The “Whale Jet” A380 handles it with aplomb with its massive wings and gust suppression technology doing the trick. Even though the North Atlantic can be a turbulent place, especially during the winter, most passengers didn’t notice. If we were on a lesser plane, I am sure we all would’ve noticed the chop. On our flight, the seat-belt sign never came on again until initial descent.

Two hours before our arrival into Frankfurt, the cabin lights very gradually came on to bring us all out of the darkness. The considerate crew began a very quiet and unobtrusive breakfast service so as not to disturb those who wanted to sleep. A second hot towel came out as a prelude to the morning meal: fresh fruit plate; ham, turkey breast and cheddar cheese or cream cheese on croissant; and my thoroughly delicious choice the omelet with red Bliss Potato wedges, and grilled tomato.

Thirty-six minutes before arrival, the flight deck crew throttled the giant Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines back for our gradual descent into Frankfurt am Main Airport. The captain came on to announce that the weather was good, told us we would just be a minute late to the gate, and bid us adieu. The sunrise, descent, and landing were particularly dramatic on the “NiceView” cameras.

We touched down at 7:20AM CEST, and after flying 5,154 statute miles we were on the ground after 8 hours and 37 minutes of flying time. After a 10-minute taxi to the gate, the flight was over. I then experienced the easiest and quickest immigration from an international flight I have ever encountered. The famous FRAport baggage system didn’t disappoint and my luggage was already waiting for me after emerging from immigration.

lh-a380-business-cabin-11_25768In conclusion, Lufthansa offers the efficient service it has always been known for, but those who haven’t traveled with the airline before or often may be surprised at how much flair and warmth is a key part of this German carrier. The quality of the crew and service even out-showed the A380 which isn’t an easy thing to do.

As far as the inevitable A (Airbus A380) vs. B (Boeing 747-8I) comparison goes, for the moment this is only a Lufthansa comparison as LH is the world’s only operator of both (Korean Air will be second). I am very impressed with the new “Flying V” Business Cabin on their 747-8 I but this will come to the A380 eventually. The Boeing 747-8 I’s upper deck can’t be beat for its intimacy and exclusiveness for a Business Cabin. The A380 is somehow quieter, particularly in the First Class Cabin. Aesthetically (and this is really subjective) it’s advantage 747-8 Intercontinental but the A380 wing is a piece of sculpture. Choosing between both is a “high class” problem and I personally am just as happy on either aircraft.

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Contact the author at Chris.Sloan@airwaysnews.com

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End of an era: Onboard the Final Commercial Passenger Flight of the MD-11

By Seth Miller / Published October 26, 2014 / Photos by author

The era of widebody tri-jet commercial passenger service came to a close this weekend. Early Sunday morning KLM flight 672 touched down at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport, the final landing of the MD-11 type in scheduled operation. And with that landing – as well as the retirement earlier this year of Biman Bangladesh Airlines’ final DC-10 – the widebody tri-jet is history. KLM operated the flight from Montreal to Amsterdam as regular scheduled service so it was not only aviation junkies on board, though that group was certainly well represented amongst the passengers.

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The KLM MD-11 “Audrey Hepburn” arrives in Montreal on her penultimate flight

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KLM MD-11-2Perhaps too well represented, actually. KLM and the Montreal airport celebrated the final flight with a party at the departure gate. There were drinks and cupcakes for all the passengers plus a photo station providing pictures of passengers with the MD-11. And there were the scores of passengers on board solely to be part of the historic event. The crowd glued to the window as PH-KCE “Audrey Hepburn”, completed in September 1994, pulled in to the gate was a mix of crew and passengers alike. Of course, there were also the “other” passengers who had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Several of them came over to see what the commotion was about and quickly started to blend in with the aficionados while others simply enjoyed the cupcakes.

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My “golden ticket” to be a part of the final flight celebration

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The crew posing with “Audrey Hepburn” outside prior to the flight

The celebration continued throughout boarding (the Purser reminded everyone to pay special attention to the safety video “as this is the last time it will ever be shown”) and through to the in-flight service. Prior to the regular meal every passenger was offered a glass of Champagne and a petit four to keep the mood light and fun. During the service one of the flight attendants commented on the upbeat nature of the flight, “Normally we are so tired because it is the middle of the night. With the celebration everyone is so happy and awake. It is much more fun.”

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The flight attendants were chipper throughout the flight, even when reminding us to tone down the celebration

As for the AvGeek crew, there were plenty of familiar faces; about a dozen on board were also on the final commercial DC-10 flight with Biman Bangladesh Airlines earlier in the year. But this was a much larger crowd than that trip and attracted so many new faces as well. Most came from the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe but Americans were also well represented and at least one fan came from Taipei for the celebration. And some are far more dedicated to the craft than others. Rien Moerland is one of the passengers from Holland who made the journey over to Canada in order to be on the final MD-11 flight. He is perhaps the most committed of MD-11 fans; his left bicep bears a large tattoo of the aircraft in KLM colors.

Extra: Folded Wings Final DC-10 Passenger Flight

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Rien Moerland is one of the most dedicated MD-11 fans; that’s a tattoo of the plane on his left arm

Jose I. Soria was another of the AvGeek crowd, though rather different than the rest. Mostly because Jose is a month shy of his twelfth birthday. He and his mother made the trip from Spain to Montreal as a birthday present, including a side trip to do some planespotting in New York City. About half way through the flight he and I spoke (fortunately his English is spectacular because my Spanish is not) about his admittedly brief history of AvGeek-dom. It started with plane pictures while on holidays and has slowly expanded to a full-on AvGeek obsession earlier this year. He participates actively in online communities and seems to have a long future of AvGeek-dom yet to come.

The youngest AvGeek on board; he turns 12 next month

The rest of the in-flight experience was typical KLM. A full dinner was served and then the cabin lights were dimmed to allow passengers a short night’s rest. Unlike most transatlantic redeye flights this one saw many passengers not even bother to try to sleep. This was an AvGeek party and that attitude remained present even while the “normal” passengers dozed. And there were more than a few incidents where the party was a bit more rowdy than the typical in-flight experience such that the flight attendants intervened. Roughly 90 minutes before landing a small breakfast (muffin & yogurt) was served. Most of us hadn’t actually slept yet and it was only 12:30am back on the east coast of the USA and Canada so we were still going strong.

Extra: In-Flight Review KLM MD-11 from August, 2014

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Sweets and bubbles for everyone on board!

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The MD-11 arguably should never have really been flying. It was something of a copycat design mimicking and theoretically slightly improving on the DC-10 but far from a commercial success. It never quite delivered on the range or payload capacities originally promised and the manufacturing cycle was cut short well before enough were built for McDonnell Douglas to break even on the investment to build the type. Most of the aircraft were retired from passenger service well before they were 20 years old, far younger than most other aircraft types. Ironically, the MD-11 only lasted flew in passenger service from 1991-2014 as compared to its its DC-10 predecessor that flew from 1971-2014 in passenger service.

Extra: KLM Announces Final MD-11 Flight Schedules

klmd11-photos

Some of the crew awaiting the arrival of our ride home; they were arguably more sentimental about the aircraft retirement than the AvGeeks on board

And yet the MD-11 is still somewhat beloved by passengers. Perhaps it is because of the distinctive silhouette it cuts with the tail-mounted engine. Or because the cabin is rather wide but still fitted in a 3-3-3 configuration which is rather comfortable, especially compared to the newer 777 layouts at 10-abreast or even their 9-abreast layouts. Of course, the higher operating costs not offset by such passenger adoration and KLM is now joining the rest of the industry in finally retiring the type after 20 years of service. And one spectacular farewell party at 37,000 feet. There will be a final short enthusiast flight on November 11th from Amsterdam Schipol, but after nearly 25 years in service for the type and 20 years for “Audrey Hepburn”, this really was the end.

Extra: Delta Airlines MD-11 Launch Brochure from 1991

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Pre-flight cupcakes; that’s how you know it is a real party!

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 Note: The initial paragraph was updated to reflect that this is the end of widebody service on the tri-jets, not all 3-holer commercial operations

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Trip Report: Qatar Airways Inaugural Airbus A380 Flight

By Guest Contributor / Published October 14th, 2014

Editor’s note: Below is a trip report submitted by contributor Gino Bertuccio. Bertuccio has traveled the world on major airline inaugurals for the Airbus A380, the Boeing 787 and the 747-8. This is his first-person account of his adventures on the inaugural flight on Qatar Airways’ first A380, from Doha to London Heathrow.  Qatar Airways has 341 aircraft on order, including 12 A380s.

Qatar Airways at Hammad International Airport.

Qatar Airways at Hamad International Airport.

I was a little bit sad and disappointed when Qatar Airways’ original Airbus A380 inaugural, set for July 1 2014, was postponed indefinitely. On September 19, the first A380 landed at Doha’s Hamad International Airport. Then the date for the inaugural flight was set for October 10, when my reservation was made for seat 2K. On the magic day, I arrived at Hamad International Airport at 5:20 a.m. on October 10 in order not to miss any of the festivities.

Pre-Departure

It took less than three minutes to check in, from the comfortable first-class counters to the escort through immigration and security to Qatar Airways’ Business Class Lounge, since the First Class Lounge won’t open until spring 2015. The lounge was more spacious and elegant than any other. The inside restaurant on second floor is available. It had a very limited a-la-carte selection, but a generous selection from the buffet menu.

The gracious lady who escorted me told me to be ready to proceed to gate A3, a short walk from the lounge, at 7:00 a.m., but I preferred to leave the lounge at 6:45. Boarding time was set at 7: 05 a.m., with a scheduled departure time set for 7:55 a.m.

I was surprised and disappointed that nothing happened at the gate to commemorate Qatar’s first A380 flight. There was no celebration, no speech and no decoration, just Qatar Airways’ staff distributing red roses to business- and first-class passengers, along with a banner.

There were no giveaway, no formal certificates, no souvenir – nothing. At least for the inaugural Doha-Miami flight, I got a small souvenir. All we received was a simple letter informing and welcoming all passengers about the flight.

Inflight

The Qatar Airways A380 first-class seat.

The Qatar Airways A380 first-class seat.

At first glance, it appeared that there was not enough space for a carry-on under the companion seat, so the flight attendant took mine away and stored it in a closet. The seat was very comfortable, and the seat and IFE controls were very easy to use. My only difficulty was in pulling out the magazines stored in a very tiny space. The IFR, Oryx, was equipped with a 26-inch screen with great resolution. It offers a large assortment of movies, TV shows, documentaries, inflight shopping and flight information.

A small personal closet for clothes is located just beside the screen. Opening the door gives you a great surprise: Missoni slippers and a Giorgio Armani amenity kit. Missoni pajamas were also given out, and a welcome drink was offered to the eight of us sitting in first class.

Boarding was completed at 7:45 a.m., the doors closed immediately after and the A380 pushed back at 7:54 a.m. We took off at 8:08 a.m. just passing over Doha and heading north west toward London Heathrow.

A meal in Qatar Airways first class.

A meal in Qatar Airways first class.

At 8:16 a.m, the flight attendants started our meal service. Breakfast was served starting with drinks including fresh-squeezed orange or pineapple juice, a banana smoothie and a spicy tomato and celery health drink. Appetizers included fresh fruit with honey crème, Bircher Muesli, greek yogurt with honey and chopped pistachios and hazelnuts and salmon gravlax with dill crème.

The main meal was a choice of traditional Arabic breakfast , south Indian-style baked eggs with potatoes, create your own breakfast with a variety of eggs any style with 10 sides to choose from and cinnamon brioche french toast. My selection was very tasty, with generous portions and a superb cappuccino.

A bartender in the onboard first-class lounge.

Bertuccio in the onboard first-class lounge.

After the meal, I went to enjoy the lounge with other first-class passengers I met on other inaugurals, along with my great friend Isabelle. We all enjoyed cocktails and delicious chocolate cake was offered.

Post-flight

We landed at London Heathrow at 1:04. I was disappointed that there was no water cannon salute from the airport firefighters. We deplaned normally, without even a banner indicating the end of the inaugural flight. Only the captain made a mention of when welcoming passengers after we landed.

Having flown almost 20 inaugurals, most of them with the A380, and with that aircraft being the new Jewel of Qatar Airways fleet, I was expecting a lot more from them in terms of a celebration. Although the crew was attentive, the food was good and the IFE and seat comfort were extraordinary, it was not one of the best inaugural flight experiences. My next inaugural flight will be on December 27, on Etihad’s A380 Resident apartment.

IMG_8136 IMG_8139 IMG_8140 IMG_8146 IMG_8151 IMG_8152 IMG_8187 IMG_8195 IMG_8202 IMG_8206

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a complete list of Gino Bertuccio’s inaugural flights:

SR MD-11 CCS ZRH

CO 757 CCS IAH

CO 757 CCS EWR

SQ A380 SIN SYD

SQ A380 SYD SIN

SQ A380 SIN LHR

SQ A380 SIN NRT

SQ A380 NRT SIN

SQ A380 SIN CDG

SQ A380 SIN FRA-JFK

SQ A380 SIN -NRT -LAX

SQ A380 SIN HKG SFO

NH 787 NRT HKG

NH 787 HKG NRT

LX A340 ZRH SIN

LX A340 SIN ZRH

QR 777 DOH MIA

LH A380 FRA MIA

LH 747-8 FRA MIA

A380 Image Courtesy of Qatar Airways. Inflight Images Courtesy of Gino Bertuccio.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

 

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In-Flight Review: LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 Part 2 – Business Class

By Luis Linares / Published October 3, 2014

LAN 787 J Class - LFL

LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 business class

After an initial flight to Punta Cana from Miami in economy class, I upgraded myself to “Premium Business” for the return leg.  This gave me an opportunity to finish the trip by experiencing every aspect of LAN’s 787.

Business Class – Punta Cana to Miami

After enjoying a few hours beachside, I showed up at the airport two hours before the scheduled departure time of 5:50 PM.  LAN’s website offered two different one-way business class prices.  The fully-flexible one was $322, and the restricted one $204, so I opted for the latter. That afternoon, I  went online to track the inbound flight from Santiago, which departed 30 minutes behind schedule and our departure time from Punta Cana was adjusted to 6:50 PM.  Check-in was very crowded, since there was also a LAN (Peru) flight ahead of us, with one counter dedicated to business customers and elite frequent flyers from LAN and partner airlines. The process was quick, and a member of the LAN ground staff took my passport and boarding pass and walked me through security and immigration in dedicated lines. I passed a walkway consisting of various duty free shops and then proceeded to the food court which offers nice open-air views of the ramp. This particular evening, the ramp had various aircraft from the U.S. and Europe, the main highlight being a Jetairfly 787. Planespotting in Punta Cana must be a real treat during high tourist season, given the variety of mainline and charter carriers that frequent the airport. A new terminal with jetbridges will open in November, so the nostalgic experience of walking up to your aircraft and using the stairs will become a thing of the past.

EXTRA:  Airways News gallery of Punta Cana International Airport

LAN 787 Boarding at PUJ - LFL

Boarding at sunset

Boarding commenced at 6:20 PM.  One line was dedicated to premium and elite customers, while the other one was dedicated to economy.  Passengers from Santiago had to deplane and were holding yellow transition cards, and they were allowed to board first.  Soon it was my turn, and I boarded the bus to the 787.  Along the way, I got close-up pictures of a White Airways (Portugese charter company) A310-300 and a British Airways 777-200ER.  Our boarding time was during sunset, so I was able to get some shots of our 787 before going up the stairs. I walked up to the Captain, who was greeting us, and asked if I could get a picture of the flight deck. He showed me the way, and I greeted the other two pilots who were finishing up the preflight procedures. When I sat down again, the flight attendant offered me a welcome drink and nuts, and I chose a traditional pisco sour, which consists of a brandy, lemon juice, syrup, and egg whites.  A bit of friendly advice:  if you encounter a Chilean and a Peruvian, do not ask them which of the two countries invented the pisco sour, unless you want to revive a lively regional rivalry.

Check-in at PUJ - LFL Boarding Gate at PUJ - LFL LAN 787 Entryway - LFL LAN 787 Flightdeck - LFL  Check-in counter, boarding gate, arched entryway, and flightcrew

In the evening hours, the warm orange LED lighting created a very pleasant visual atmosphere in the cabin. In business class, the IFE screen in larger but farther away because the seat converts to a bed, and the screen is on the back of the seat in front.  The selections are identical to those of economy, so the only key differences are the screen size and the availability of noise-cancelling headsets.

We were quickly airborne for the two hours back to Miami.  I was going through the wine list, but noticed there was no dinner menu.  Soon the attendant came to offer only a snack service consisting of sanwiches.  Having experienced LAN’s fantastic meal service in the past, I was a bit disappointed, as I had figured it would not be too difficult to provide a full business class quality meal service in less than 90 minutes.  Despite the lack of a quality dinner, the crew did not miss a beat when it came to friendliness and attentiveness.  For the remainder of the flight the mood lighting changed to a dim blue color that made the cabin almost entirely dark.  I played with the seat settings and switched to the fully flat position. LAN did not opt for any staggered or herringbone configuration, which means all window customers will have to step over their sleeping neighbor, should they need to get up. I thought the bed position was very wide and comfortable, but the length is exactly six feet.  I am five feet, eleven inches tall and could immediately tell that anyone taller will not be able to fully stretch their body when sleeping.  There is also a stowable partition between seats.

LAN 787 J Seat - LFL LAN 787 J Class Bed - LFL
Business seat in upright and bed modes

Before I knew it, the captain announced the start of descent into Miami.  We were on the ground after an uneventful flight, which was about half-full, but I was still very impressed with the level of innovation and comfort of the 787.  We arrived in Miami around 9 PM, and there were no other international flights arriving in Concourse J.  Since I belong to the Global Entry program, customs and immigration took a matter of seconds, and since I had no checked bags, I was soon in my car.  It was actually longer to walk the length of the concourse than to go through the arrival formalities.

LAN 787 Mood Lighting - Bright LAN 787 Mood Lighting Dark - LFL
Different settings of LED mood lighting

Bottom Line

I will definitely have to experience LAN’s long-haul international economy or business service on the 787 in the future, based on the two very pleasant segments I flew.  I checked the 787 off on my AvGeek bucket list, and I look forward to flying it many other times, as more and more aircraft roll out.  American Airlines dominates Miami to Latin America service, but in my frequent travels from the U.S. to the region, I have always opted for LAN over American, when they serve the same city, not just because they are in the same alliance for frequent flier mile accrual, but simply because of the overall quality of service.  American is catching up by reconfiguring its fleet with the latest onboard technology and will have a leg up on LAN with Wi-Fi access on international flights, but LAN’s  level of comfort and meal service, especially for economy travelers, are still superior. American will also start to roll-out its 787s later this year, and this will allow for an even better comparison.  In the meantime, I strongly recommend LAN for anyone who has not experienced this great airline!

LAN Business Class Welcome Drink - LFL

Chilean (or Peruvian?) pisco sour welcome drink; cheers to LAN on their 787!

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Contact the author at luis.linares@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

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In-Flight Review: LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 Part 1 – Economy Class

By Luis Linares / Published October 2, 2014 

LAN 787 Y Class - LFL

LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 economy class

In August, LAN Airlines became the first airline to serve Miami with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, adding nonstop service to its hub in Santiago, Chile. The route is served daily, consisting of an evening departure and dawn arrival in both directions.  However, to maximize utilization, LAN added two weekly triangular routes, which means the aircraft does not stay parked at MIA during the day.  On Saturdays, it connects the 787 in both directions through Cancun, Mexico and on Sundays through Punta Cana.  Both resort cities are very popular with Chilean tourists, especially in the high vacation seasons of June, July, December and January.

SCL-MIA-PUJ Triangle - GC Map

LAN’s 787 Sunday circuit covering Miami, Punta Cana, and Santiago:  Image generated by Great Circle Mapper

With a busy schedule and no immediate vacation plans, I decided to book a Sunday day trip from Miami to Punta Cana and back, especially since I had never flown on the 787.  I first experienced LAN in 2002, when I was working in South America.  As a 24-year member of American Airlines’s Advantage frequent flier program, it was very convenient for me to use LAN since both airlines are part of the Oneworld Alliance, and during my three years in South America, I experienced short, medium, and long-haul service in economy and business class with LAN.  In my opinion, my experience with LAN has been among the best, especially when it comes to customer service.

Economy Class – Miami to Punta Cana

I booked my outbound leg on a deeply-discounted economy one-way fare of $102.  In addition to change penalties and no refunds, this fare did not allow me to choose my seat until 48 hours before departure, when check-in opens.  When I went to the LAN mobile app to check-in, I noticed the flight was virtually empty, so I was able to choose a window seat in the front of the economy section, though bulkhead and exit seats could only be requested at the counter on the day of the flight.  Since this was an international flight, I was still required to show my passport at the counter to get a boarding pass so I arrived at the airport a couple of hours before our scheduled 7:50 AM departure.  As a lifetime Gold member on American, I was able to use the business class check in line, which meant limited waits.  Also since it was early in the morning, there were no significant security lines and I was comfortably seated at Gate J18 less than ten minutes after getting my boarding pass.  Our aircraft arrived from Santiago 90 minutes before departure.  Thirty minutes before scheduled departure, instead of boarding, the pushback time was delayed to 8:20 AM without any explanation. Perhaps the explanation lies in the 787′s operational challenges. As of June, the 787 has a 98.5% dispatch reliability, compared to the 777’s 99.3%, and Boeing continues to work with airlines to improve it.  I did not see any maintenance crew at the gate or around the aircraft, so I was confident the teething pains were a thing of the past.  Any concerns quickly disappeared once boarding started.  Our flight included some passengers who originated in Santiago and those of us who boarded in Miami.  Overall, I estimate that the flight was 30% full.  While it’s nice to be able to fly the 787 on this two-hour route, I doubt LAN can sustain it with such a low load during low vacation season, unless a significant number of passengers are being picked up at Punta Cana to continue to Santiago.

LAN 787-8 - MIA - LFL

Our ride to Punta Cana at MIA shortly after arriving from Santiago

We boarded through entry door 2L, and the first noticeable feature was the arched ceiling with LED mood lighting on the entryway.  I quickly found my way to window seat 15L.  I took some pictures and then examined the inflight entertainment (IFE) touchscreen on the seatback, which offers 115 movies, 120 TV shows, over 1,000 music albums, and 24 video games.  Other options include a moving map display, duty free shopping, and onboard cuisine information.  The screen also has a USB port to keep mobile devices charged.  Furthermore, the seats have power ports near the floor to connect larger devices, such as laptops. I also tried the window dimming control that is unique to all 787s and replaced the traditional movable shade.  It definitely comes in handy when the sun is hitting you, or when there is too much glare on the IFE screen.

LAN 787 IFE Main - LFL LAN 787 IFE Movies - LFL LAN 787 IFE TV - LFL LAN 787 IFE Map - LFL      IFE options, including main menu, music choices, movie selections, and moving map

We pushed back and taxied to runway 8R.  Since I was seated next to the right engine, I was looking forward to experiencing the reduced engine noise firsthand.  The roar of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines when take-off thrust was set was definitely quieter than anything I have experienced.  I have not flown on the Airbus A380, which is supposedly even quieter, but this was very impressive regardless.  With a light load and a two-hour flight, the aircraft climbed to 41,000 feet.  The 787 boasts more humidity during cruise since the composite fuselage is less prone to corrosion, compared to the older aluminum types.  I was wearing a sports watch with an altimeter that showed that translated our 41,000-foot cruise altitude to 6,000 feet above sea level.  On any other airliner, this figure would be closer to 8,000 feet above sea level.  However, since this was a short flight, it was hard to tell if this made a difference in terms of comfort, but I have no doubt passengers will feel the improvement on the long flights the aircraft was designed for.

LAN 787 Y Class Bulkhead - LFL LAN 787 Windows - LFL
Roomier bulkhead space in economy and “every seat is a window seat”

The quick snack service consisted of a complimentary sandwich and accompanying beverage.  After eating, I got up to explore the 3-3-3 seat configured economy section.  I went to the last rows to get a good look at the impressive wing flex from the window.  The last window rows are reserved for flight attendants to rest and include a curtain for their down time.  Since the flight was virtually empty, I moved to bulkhead seat 12L.  The economy pitch is already very generous with 32 inches of pitch and 17.3 inches of width, and the bulkhead row has at least a couple of more extra inches for even more comfort.  Others took advantage of the lack of passengers by lying down open rows of three seats to get some sleep.

LAN’s mood lighting cycle consists of warm colors during boarding and deboarding and cooler ones during cruise.  Boeing introduced curved overhead bins 20 years ago with the 777, and the 787 retains the same features, which create a sense of extra space.  One of the 787’s sales pitches is that “every seat is a window seat”, given the larger size of the windows.  Looking across the seats to the other side, this is very evident and further enhances the extra sense of space.

LAN 787 Y Class Snack - LFL LAN 787 Wing View - LFL
Economy class snack service and wing view

Soon we were descending into Dominican airspace.  The ride had been very clear and smooth with many Caribbean islands visible during cruise.  We ran into some rainclouds during approach.  Typically these cause some bumpiness, and they gave me a chance to see if the gust alleviation system on the 787 lived up to the hype.  There was some movement when we crossed these clouds, and it was definitely less noticeable than on other aircraft.  After touchdown in Punta Cana, the aircraft parked in the ramp and exited using stairs.  This was a real treat since it gave me chance to take close-up pictures of the outside of the aircraft.  The flightline also had other visitors, which included a Nordwind Airlines (Russian charter airline) 777-200ER and two Canadian 737-800s belonging to charter carriers Air Transat and Sunwing Airlines.  A bus took us to the main terminal.  A unique feature of the airport is the open-air terminal covered in palm leaves.  It was a very warm day, so the interior of the terminal is not very comfortable.  Passport control and customs lines were short and quick.  I had eight hours on the ground before my return flight to Miami, so I headed to a beachside restaurant to enjoy some tropical drinks and seafood.

EXTRA:  Airways News gallery of Punta Cana International Airport

Arrival at PUJ - LFL

Arriving at Punta Cana

I had not flown on LAN since 2005 and was happy to see the overall good quality of service had been maintained.  Crews are very attentive and friendly, and even before the 787, the other widebodies that consist of the A340-300 and the 767-300ER, have had a very comfortable configuration in economy with enough IFE to make longer flights more enjoyable.

Over the last two years, I have been reading about the great inflight experience the 787 offers.  I finally got my opportunity, and can confidently say the aircraft lives up to the hype in terms of modernity, innovation, and passenger comfort.  LAN does a very good job with its economy class configuration, which is nice to have on those long-haul flights.  Stay tuned for the evening flight back to Miami, where I experienced LAN’s “Premium Business” class product on the 787.

LAN 787 Deaboarding at PUJ - LFL

Deplaning at Punta Cana

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Contact the author at luis.linares@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

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Onboard United Airlines’ Inaugural Boeing 787-9 Flight

By Seth Miller / Published September 23rd, 2014

The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner entered service with United Airlines Monday, making the Chicago-based carrier the third airline in the world to offer service on the type. The first flight operated from Houston to Los Angeles, a route the carrier has used for 787 training and proving runs since taking delivery of its first 787-8 two years ago. After a short period of domestic flights, the aircraft will enter international service this fall. The first route the 787-9 will serve is Los Angeles – Melbourne, which will be the longest 787 route in the world when it launches in late October. Airways News was a guest of United’s on the inaugural flight.

United's 787-9 parked at the gate as a 787-8 taxis in next door

United’s 787-9 parked at the gate as a 787-8 taxis in next door

IMG_8218

For most passengers (and the airline) this was business as usual; just another flight from Houston to Los Angeles. There was no special reception at either end, no balloons and nary a cupcake to be seen. Yet there was still a bit of excitement in the air. For some passengers it was just about flying on a Dreamliner. For others being on the inaugural was a specific goal. Neil Gamrod was up at 4am Eastern to make his way down to Houston for the inaugural flight. Like others he studied the airline schedules and adjusted his plans a few times, just to make it on board. And by the time we wrapped up the day with a celebratory dinner at the In-n-Out adjacent to LAX he was absolutely convinced it was a worthwhile trip, even if he was exhausted. Like many other 787 passengers Gamrod noted the more comfortable cabin comfort and the quieter ride as just a couple of the advantages the Dreamliner brings to the skies.

Neil Gamrod was one of several AvGeeks taking photos prior to the flight and also on board for the inaugural

Neil Gamrod was one of several AvGeeks taking photos prior to the flight and also on board for the inaugural

 

Those in-cabin benefits – higher air pressure and higher humidity being two of the most significant – are a large part of the draw for the 787 Dreamliner. The 787-9 is no different from the 787-8 in this regard, but it is 20 feet longer which means more passengers will get to enjoy those comforts on every flight. The 787–9 also has larger fuel tanks and engines with higher thrust ratings allowing for greater range even while carrying more cargo and passengers. In United’s configuration the aircraft includes 48 BusinessFirst flatbed seats in a 2-2-2 layout plus 204 economy class seats in a 3-3-3 layout. Of those 88 are in the Economy Plus section offering approximately four inches of extra legroom for passengers. This compares with 219 seats on the 787–8. From a passenger comfort perspective the good news is that nearly all of the additional seats are either in the EconomyPlus cabin (18 seats) or the BusinessFirst cabin (12 seats).

The forward BusinessFirst cabin of the 787-9

The forward BusinessFirst cabin of the 787-9

The seats are nearly identical to those in use on the 787-8 but both the economy and business class cabins have minor differences. In business class the main difference comes in the seat and in-flight entertainment controls. The IFE controller is now a touch-screen LCD offering the ability not only to control the larger display in front of the passenger but also a second screen where certain other features, such as the in-flight map, are available.  The movie collection is still approximately 150 titles with many – but far from all – offering multiple languages and subtitles. Beyond the control differences the business class seat is nearly identical to the version United has had in service for several years now on the pre-merger Continental widebody fleet. This includes subtle differences in the foot-well areas which can make seat choice particularly important for taller passengers.

Showing off the new touch-screen IFE controller with different content than the main screen

Showing off the new touch-screen IFE controller with different content than the main screen

In economy class the design of the seats has changed, particularly with respect to the recline function. The airline has limited the amount seats can recline a small bit versus the –8 version of the plane. Additionally the seat pan is now an articulating recline meaning the bottom slides forward as the top goes back. For the passenger behind the one reclining this is often seen as a good thing, though for the passenger reclining it means a reduction in knee room as they recline. Given the recent spate of spats related to reclining seats perhaps United’s choice on this front will be a viable compromise in the seat reclining wars.

Note the articulating seat design in Economy

Note the articulating seat design in Economy

The new aircraft is also one of the first delivered by Boeing with in-flight wifi connectivity available directly as a line-fit solution. United’s version uses Panasonic’s eXconnect Ku-band satellite-based connectivity and, despite some concerns from the engineers accompanying us on the flight, the internet connection was available on the flight. It was priced at $6.99 for the trip, similar to the pricing United offers on other Panasonic-based systems serving the route. The connection was reliable save for the window of our flight path near White Sands, a limitation I understand to be related to US government policies, and the speed tests I ran offered results similar to other flights I’ve taken using the Panasonic eXconnect system. All future United 787 deliveries are expected to come with in-flight connectivity as a line-fit option; the timing for retrofitting the existing 787-8s without connectivity is not yet clear.

In keeping with the theme of “just another flight” the meal service on board was a typical mid-con lunch offer. United revamped its catering at the beginning of the month so our options were the Asian noodle salad with chicken or the ham sandwich on pretzel roll. I chose the salad which, to me, is much more like a bowl of cold noodles than a salad. It tasted exactly like it did during the taste-test of the new United menu I did on the ground which is a good thing for me as I happen to like that one quite a bit.

Lunch on the Houston - Los Angeles route. This is one of the items added during the menu refresh at the beginning of September.

Lunch on the Houston – Los Angeles route. This is one of the items added during the menu refresh at the beginning of September.

So, yes, this was just another flight for United Airlines. But it is also something of a new beginning for United. The carrier is taking on delivery of the new 787s at a reasonable pace and using them to open up routes which previously had not been considered economically viable. Combine that with the improved passenger comfort levels and lower operating costs for the airline and it is easy to see the appeal for the airline and its customers. Adding the 787-9 to the fleet increases the options available to the carrier and passengers. It is easy to get excited about that sort of development.

Electronically tinted windows mid-flight.

Electronically tinted windows mid-flight.

The crew celebrates a successful first trip

The crew celebrates a successful first trip

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Contact the editor at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

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InFlight Review: KLM World Business Class: MD-11 Edition

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published August 27, 2014 / Photos by author

KLM MD11 YYZ JDL

A KLM MD-11 in Toronto.

The journey, it is said, is half the fun.  Thus I found myself at Dubai International Airport very early on a Saturday morning, prepping to head back to Seattle – via Amsterdam and Paris. This unnecessary journey, hours out of the way, came about when it occurred to me that KLM flies the MD-11, an airplane quickly on its way out of service, from this desert oasis to Amsterdam. Realizing it might be the only shot I’d have to get on one, a ticket was booked (via Delta), and an adventure set to begin.

Dubai’s airport is enormous, but the check-in counters are separated from the departure/arrival terminals. The process was quick and easy thanks to being ticketed in World Class, KLM’s business class cabin. A checked bag disappeared down the belt,  my ticket printed, and off I went on the long walk to the lounge.

KLM’s Crown Lounge in Dubai is a relatively muted affair, consisting of a mid-sized room outfitted with comfy chairs, a modest food tray, and a few TVs. It was nice, in a cozy sense, though clearly not the signature lounges found in the carrier’s major hubs. Several glasses of water, a browse of my email on the free WiFi, and a few finger snacks later it was off to the gate.

Seat 5J, in fully reclined mode.

Seat 5J, in fully reclined mode.

Thanks to a World Class ticket, boarding took no time at all. I settled into seat 5J, located on the right-hand side of the airplane in the rear premium cabin. The location is enclosed by a bulkhead both fore and aft, and is misaligned between center rows 5 and 6, leading to a very private feel. The remainder of the cabin is a 2-3 setup, while the front cabin is 2-2-2. Bags found a quick place overhead while preflight glasses of water and orange juice were offered.

Departure was on time as the airplane rocketed, seemingly literally, out of a warm Dubai. A big left-hand turn set our direction to the northwest, towards Amsterdam, and off we went.

KLM MD11-28A breakfast service began shortly after departure. The choice was between pancakes with mixed berries, and poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce. Pancakes won out the day, complimented with pineapple compote, roll, fruit salad, and a selection of cheese and cold cuts. Unfortunately, hindsight quickly showed the eggs were likely the better choice. While the middle of the pancakes tasted great, the edges were tough and rubbery in texture, probably a product of a warming microwave. The rest of the meal was great, in particular the pineapple compote.

Settling in for the rest of the six hour, thirty minute flight, it was time to play with the seat. Two generations removed from its current flagship product, the pod-like seat shows its age. For one, it’s an angled lie flat, bottoming out at 150 degrees of recline and 60 degrees of pitch. The inflight entertainment system was on the small size, and its graphics a bit dated.

Yet appearances can be deceiving. While the seat might be getting along in age, it was perfectly clean and perfectly comfortable; essentially a flying, customizable Lazy-Boy. A working power port, something that seems to frequently fail on much newer premium products, worked flawlessly. And while the interface graphics and screen resolution on the IFE were less than impressive, it was well stocked and played movies (such as Argo) and TV shows without issue. An intuitive tethered remote controlled the system.

KLM MD11-26 KLM MD11-12

RELATED: Tri-Jet Twilight Inflight!

Following a movie I took the opportunity for a short nap before a light meal was served. The tray held a number of enticing items: baba-ghanooush, humus and red bell pepper stuffed with cheese, Waldorf salad, chicken teriyaki skewer and beef kibbeh, and a passion fruit mousse with blueberries. Unlike the earlier meal, which was a bit disappointing, this sampler-like meal was truly excellent.

Not long after the second meal service had wrapped up we were on final approach to Amsterdam. The airplane landed on time, followed by a long taxi not uncommon to the sprawling airport. I was off the plane in short order and ushered into the terminal, ready for my connection to Paris.

KLM MD11-30 KLM MD11-29

Bottom Line:

Overall, good, but not overly impressive. The food was tasty, though held back from above average only by the tough pancakes. The flight crew kept a close, but not imposing, eye on the cabin throughout the flight with a generally dispassionate disposition. The cute little Delft Canal house souvenirs make a wonderful parting gift, even if I somehow didn’t realize it was full of liquor until nearly six months later.

KLM MD11-12The product, however, was a bit long in the tooth.  The angled lie-flat product might have been top of the line when it came out several years back, but it’s long been replaced by generously-sized true lie flats on many airlines, including KLM. Likewise, the IFE system wasn’t top of the line either, occasionally showing its age in response times and graphics quality.

That isn’t to say that the experience with the product was bad (it certainly wasn’t); it was just noticeable that it wasn’t the carrier’s latest and greatest. For a day flight it really didn’t make any difference: comfortable enough for a good nap (like a Lazy-Boy), movies played fine, etc. A night flight would likely be different, with the lie-flat seats found on the carrier’s other widebodies probably being much preferred by frequent premium travelers. If you find yourself on it, seats  5G & J come highly recommend as both of occupy their own cloistered mini cabin. Seats 5 & 6E, being middles, should be avoided.

KLM MD11-4But let’s be honest, this was mostly about having an opportunity to fly aboard an MD-11 while the party lasts. To that end, it fit the bill perfectly. A robust departure with one seriously impressive attack angle, gazing out the enormous windows, a visit to the flight deck (on the ground), and even a free safety-card souvenir (crew-approved) made for a truly wonderful experience.

But as any av-geek knows the MD-11’s days are quickly drawing to a close. KLM plans to retire its four remaining jets, the last in the world, later this year. Get ‘em while you can; you won’t regret it.

As for World Class, we enjoyed it. But we think we’d enjoy the experience on one of the carrier’s Boeing 747s or 777s even more.

Have you flown it? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Contact the author at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com
Disclosure: KLM partner airline Delta provided the flight to Airchive at no charge. Our opinions remain our own.

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InFlight Review: Virgin America Economy

By Benjamin Bearup / Published August 5, 2014

Virgin AmericaWhen presented the the opportunity to fly Virgin America from San Francisco to Seattle, I decided that it would be worth forking over a little extra money to experience one of America’s newest and most contemporary airlines. As with many aviation enthusiast, I like to experience airlines that I have never flown on before in order to knock them off of my “bucket list”, and since I am from Atlanta, Georgia (a city not served by Virgin America), I knew this would be a flight that I had to take, but did it meet my expectations?

The Day Before Departure

After flying to San Francisco the day prior to my Virgin flight, I found myself spending a day sightseeing around the Bay Area and spending the night near Fisherman’s Wharf, but all too soon, I was making a little checklist as I always do before a flight. I made sure to check in online, prepay for my checked baggage, and make sure my camera was fully charged. With all things packed and ready to go, it was time for a quick night’s sleep.

The Day of Departure

IMG_6073The morning of departure called for an early wake up call, having to be at San Francisco International Airport by the ripe hour of 4:30 AM. After arriving at the airport, I was able to check my bags, and I was at security in no time. To my surprise, I received TSA Precheck for today’s flight, a first. With its speed and more lax procedures it is worth the price if you are a frequent traveler. After clearing security, I found a restaurant to enjoy a hot breakfast and enjoyed the views before boarding started.

Time To For the New Experience

As I boarded the Airbus A320, I was amazed by the club-like purple and pink lighting aboard. I was seated in seat 22F, a window seat a few rows behind the wing (budget traveling). Shortly after push back, the hilarious and entertaining (as well as educational) safety video was shown, and then we were off to the Emerald City!

IMG_6113 IMG_6085

I tried out the Inflight Entertainment System, RED, on-board once in the air. After using the new American Airlines IFE system the day before, Virgin America’s system seemed outdated and not nearly as user friendly. However, it did offer a wide variety of movies, television shows, music, and my favorite-the “My Flight.” This shows you your altitude, airspeed, heading, and real-time position on Google Maps.

The on-board service was above average, but it was not very special. We were served a choice of Coke soft drinks, coffee, water, alcohol, and several juices. I opted for Diet Coke to wake me up a little. The young looking flight attendants were helpful and professional throughout the flight.

As we started our approach into Seattle, IMG_6101we passed by Mount Rainier. At a peak elevation of 14,411 feet, the mountain peaked out from the clouds below, providing an amazing view that very few airport approaches offer.

The wind gods were in our favor that morning as we landed in a North to South pattern that would give us great views of sites such as downtown Seattle, the Space Needle, the Port of Seattle, and Boeing/King County Airport which is home to much of Boeing’s flight-test program as well as the popular Museum of Flight.

IMG_6116We rolled right into our gate ten minutes early. On the way out I got a good look at the first class seats, which seem very nice. While taking the pictures, the pilot offered for me to visit the flight deck, and he was very informative about the A320 and shared several stories from his previous military experience.

Did it meet my expectations?

Overall, I loved flying on Virgin America. The product offered for the low price of $80 (one-way), along with friendly staff made this experience well worth it. The modern and trendy feel made flying more enjoyable. I will definitely fly with Virgin America again if I have the opportunity (please come to Atlanta soon).

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The author’s opinions are his own.

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Delta’s BusinessElite Farm-To-Tray-Table Meals

By Jack Harty; Photos by Chris Sloan / Published July 31, 2014

???????????????????????????????The farm-to-table movement encourages healthy eating, introducing sustainable agriculture practices, and supporting local farmers. It has been widely endorsed by local agriculture, food service, and restaurant communities. Now, it is starting to gain traction for meals served at 35,000 feet.

Meet the farm-to-tray-table movement. It is just like farm-to-table, but the food is served in an aircraft cabin at 35,000 feet. Since there is not a lot of humidity in this restaurant in the sky, the average person loses approximately 30% of their taste.

However, meet Chef Linton Hopkins. Last fall, Delta named him the winner of the “The Cabin Pressure Cook-Off” which was a culinary competition to find the next Delta chef.

He has been hard at work crafting meals with ingredients from local farmers in Georgia to serve to more than 500 BusinessElite customers every night. Currently, these meals are only available to customers flying to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, and Paris on flights from Atlanta.

Completing this task every day is nothing short of a team effort.

???????????????????????????????Chef Hopkins created Eugene Kitchen with the sole purpose of serving Delta’s premium class customers. The kitchen works with small farm operations and other suppliers who provide fresh ingredients for the meals and to ensure that the supply chain doesn’t become stressed. After the food is cooked, it is off to Gate Gourmet at the airport to be plated and delivered to the aircraft.

While the supply chain can be a challenge, Chef Hopkins must also make sure that the food tastes good at 35,000 feet. He explains that “we don’t lose taste buds at altitude. Traditionally it’s about using more salt to fight dryness.” So, he crafts his food based on what he knows will taste good, and he always asks if he would serve it to his family.

???????????????????????????????But, it’s not just food. Chef Hopkins explains that “this food is sacred and represents friends of mine because we are supporting local businesses.” This partnership with Delta has saved and helped grow many local businesses.

On tonight’s menu, we would have a five course meal that somebody would be having at 35,000 feet.

We started with a Corn Soup with a pickled shrimp salad and Benton’s Bacon. Followed by that, we enjoyed Sturgeon Caviar on top of a french omelette with sauce nantua.

Now, we moved into the main courses with vegetables a la grecque which had ham crisp, parseley pecan pistou, and many fold farm brebis. We continued with beef tenderloin with friend vidalia onion rings and mushroom fondue.

To finish it up, we enjoyed a peach mousse.

To sum up the experience in one word, I would say it was amazing. I realize it sounds cliché, but it was fascinating to learn about how Chef Hopkins is changing airline food. Plus, the food was delicious.

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

Disclosure: Delta Air Lines provided round trip airfare for two, meals, and accommodation for us to attend this event. Our story remains independent.

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Republic Airlines To Start Flying E-175 Out Of Miami For American Airlines October 2

By Jack Harty / Published July 28, 2014

Starting October 2, the E-175, operated by Republic Airlines ????????????????under the American Eagle brand, will begin flying out of Miami, Florida. Initially, the airline will operate flights to Atlanta, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee.

The E-175 is being used to replace some of the flights that are currently operated by Envoy’s ERJ-145s. There is no frequency change on any of the routes.

When comparing the October 1 and 2 schedules, three of the ERJ-145 flights between Miami and Atlanta will be upgraded to a Embraer 175 while four ERJ-145 flights between Miami and Jacksonville will be upgraded to E175s. Only one flight to Tallahassee will be upgraded to a E175, but both flights to Indianapolis (where Republic’s headquarters is located) will be upgraded to the E175.

All of the routes will see an increase in capacity as the E175s have 76 seats and are replacing 50 seat E145s. There are 12 first class seats, 20 Main Cabin Extra seats (economy seats with extra legroom), and 44 regular economy seats.

Currently, Republic Airlines operates 22 E175s under the American Eagle brand, and there are plans for it to operate 33 more E175s for American.

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

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Royal Jordanian Airlines: A Look at the Past and Present

By Luis Linares / Published July 9, 2014 / Photos by author

Royal Jordanian Airbus A321: Image by Luis Linares

Royal Jordanian Airbus A321 at Queen Alia International Airport, Amman.

The “Art of Flying” is currently the advertising motto of the Kingdom of Jordan’s flag carrier, Royal Jordanian Airlines (RJ), which currently has 110 daily departures covering two domestic and 85 international destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. The airline has been a member of the oneworld alliance since 2007.

History

RJ was founded as Alia, named after the eldest child of the late King Hussein, in 1963, and it is based at its hub airport, Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport (IATA: AMM / ICAO: OJAI) and also has a focus airport, King Hussein International Airport (IATA: AQJ / ICAO: OJAQ) in Aqaba.

The airline started with two aircraft, a Handley Page Dart Herald and a Douglas DC-7 serving Beirut, Cairo, and Jeddah.  Alia entered the jet age in 1971 with the delivery of the Boeing 707, and in 1977 New York’s JFK Airport became its first destination in the U.S. The airline changed its name from Alia to Royal Jordanian in 1986.  In 2001 the name was changed again to Alia – the Royal Jordanian Airlines Company, but it is still most commonly referred to as Royal Jordanian.

RJ is also the longest-serving Arab carrier to New York. Moreover, RJ is the only major Arab carrier serving Israel.  In addition to becoming the first Arab airline to join oneworld in 2007, RJ became a private company that same year with a market capitalization of $366 million USD. The Jordanian government holds a 26% stake.

Despite Jordan’s political stability, its location in a volatile region of the world, as well as fuel prices, have always been the main determining factors in the company’s financial bottom line. The “Arab Spring” that started over three years ago, as well as high fuel costs, resulted in a net loss of $81 million USD, but 2012 saw a recovery that resulted in a net profit of $1.5 million USD. Furthermore, revenue in 2012 was $1.1 billion USD, a nine percent rise from 2011. However, the delicate political situation, especially in Jordan and Egypt, led to a decrease in travel demand and contributed to a net loss of $60 million USD in 2013. Increasing competition from Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, the “Big Three” Gulf carriers, have also pressured RJ.

RJ aims to establish itself as the Middle East’s “regional carrier” by adding small routes to cities like Alexandria, Egypt, where a big competitor like Emirates would not use its much larger aircraft. RJ also competes with Egypt Air and Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines for these smaller routes, and it has dramatically improved its in-flight and ground services, in light of the emergence of low cost carriers, such as Air Arabia, Jazeera Airways, and flydubai. The airline recently hired the global advisory and investment banking firm Seabury Group to help define a new ten-year plan on how to move forward.

Fleet

RJ’s current fleet consists of a mix of Airbus and Embraer jets, and in 2008 it became the first Middle Eastern carrier to operate three aircraft of the Airbus A320 family. It currently operates four A319s (with one more on order), seven A320s (with three more on order), four A321s, three A330-200s, four A340-200s, three Embraer 175s, and five Embraer 195s.
Royal Jordanian Embraer 175 Royal Jordanian A330-200
Royal Jordanian Embraer 175 and Airbus A330-200 at Queen Alia International Airport, Amman.

RJ’s wide and narrowbody Airbuses provide all economy passengers with seatback IFE screens that include movies, television, audio, and games.  Passengers in business class, known as Crown Class, get a wider variety of the same features.  For Crown Class customers flying on the Embraer fleet, portable entertainment devices offering similar entertainment are provided.

In August 2014, RJ will receive the first of eleven Boeing 787-8 aircraft, and it will have five of the type by year’s end. The 787 will replace all A340s and eventually the A330s. With respect to replacing the A340, “two holes are better than four” in terms of fuel burn, operational, and maintenance costs. Moreover, the 787 has a six percent lower operating cost per seat than the A330. RJ plans to fly to more international destinations with the 787s, but as of this report, the airline has not provided any details. Chicago will be the first U.S. city served by the new aircraft starting on August 31, 2014.

RJ’s 787-8 will seat 267 passengers (23 in Crown Class and 244 in economy). Compared to the planned 787-8 configuration, RJ’s A340s seat 24 in Crown Class and 230 in economy for a total of 254, while its A330s seat 24 in Crown Class and 259 in economy for a total of 283.

For the 787 fleet’s inflight entertainment and connectivity, RJ selected Thales to install the the advanced TopSeries AVANT system and TopConnect cabin communications network.  The TopSeries AVANT system is distinguished for advanced technologies, such as high definition video, solid state hard drives, and faster processors, and is an award winning solution known for its thin profile, lightweight, modern design, and local content storage capacity.  For connectivity, the Thales cabin communications network supports swift broadband capabilities for GSM, WiFi internet, and integrated inflight entertainment applications.  The TopConnect solution also integrates OnAir as the communications service provider.  RJ installed OnAir to offer inflight internet and mobile phone services on some European and regional flights.

The hub: Queen Alia International Airport

Queen Alia International Airport (IATA: AMM / ICAO: OJAI), built in 1983, is Jordan’s largest airport, and it is located 20 miles south of the capital Amman.  It has two parallel runways 8L/26R and 8R/26L, each measuring 12,007 x 200 feet.  The airport is situated at 2,397 feet above sea level, and it is named after the third wife of the late King Hussein.  In 2013 a brand new state-of-the art terminal building opened to replace the original passenger terminal.  A second phase of this modernization will be completed in 2016.  The new terminal was designed by the British architecture firm Foster + Partners.  The expansion itself is handled by the Jordanian company Airport International Group.  The cost of the new facility is 118 million USD.  A key characteristic of the terminal’s design is 127 concrete domes that resemble the tents of traditional Bedouins tribes native to the region.
AMM Terminal AMM Pahse 2 Expansion RJ Crown Lounge AMM ATC Tower
AMM terminal, construction for phase 2 expansion, RJ Crown Lounge, and ATC Tower.

In addition to being RJ’s main hub, it is also a hub for the smaller Jordanian carriers Jordan Aviation, Petra Airlines, Royal Falcon, and Royal Wings (RJ’s charter arm).  The airport also serves 29 international carriers.  Cargo operations include Royal Jordanian, which has two Airbus A310F freighters, and four international carriers.  From Amman, Royal Jordanian serves the U.S. cities of Chicago, Detroit, and New York. Since the inauguration of the new terminal, the airport can handle up to 9 million passenger per year, and once all expansion is completed, this capacity will rise to 12 million.  The airport also improves the passenger experience by providing free wireless internet in the entire terminal.

Make sure to join us tomorrow as we take to the skies with Royal Jordanian, flying three aboard its Crown Class business cabin on three different flights. Don’t miss it!

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Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com
Disclosure: We paid for our tickets.

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PEOPLExpress Takes Off

By Oliver Porter / Published June 30, 2014

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: PEOPLExpress’ mission revolves around a basic, hassle-free, low-cost mode of transport around the east coast. From Airchive’s first look, the airline hit each of these points successfully.

Due to simplicity through the airport, an older plane, and stripped but friendly service, hopping onto PEOPLExpress felt like a different kind of air travel. The trip felt like a ride, whether in a bus or someone’s back seat, where the passenger spots a small fare, pops onboard, pops off, and has few frills yet few unexpected experiences. PEOPLExpress gets you there for a minimum fare, without making you feel overtly like a sheep in a herd.

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Terminal

Newport-News Williamsburg Airport (PHF) is situated in the Hampton Roads Metro Area. One barrier to arriving at the airport from the Norfolk area (south) is the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, which can have large delays. Besides a $60 one-way taxi fare to both Norfolk in the south and Williamsburg in the north, car is the only viable transit mode to PHF.

Once you arrive at the terminal however, the trip becomes quite simplistic. Check-in took longer than expected due to an antiquated computer-system. Combined with the ultra-small airport and effective security line, however, door-to-gate time was under fifteen minutes.

The terminal is modern, airy, and with lots of light. PEOPLExpress has the entire A-concourse, which makes flying through quite simple. The airline provided free mugs and breakfast refreshments in celebration of the new service. There were very few shops and restaurants within the airport, so eating options will probably be limited for frequent travellers.

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The Aircraft

The boarding attendant forgot that there was a premium section of the plane, and instead began boarding by the back five rows to the front. This was a minor mistake, however, and the back-to-front technique was fast and efficient, especially with our 75 percent load factor.

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On the jet bridge, one could clearly note the “operated by Vision Air” titles, but most would not know to look for them and instead find the fresh livery appealing. Interestingly, the premium cabin is not separated from the rest of the cabin; the large seats are the only difference. Each seat is an old-fashioned Recaro leather job with plenty of legroom and old fashioned recline. After several recent flights on slimline seats with no true recline, this is actually a welcome site. As with most LCCs, there is no IFE.

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The Flight

We took off of Runway 7 smoothly, and then had a brief snack service with pretzels and a drink. In the future, snacks will be free, but drinks will be extra. This is the reverse of most services. Several employees from the airline, family, and members of the PHF airport helped keep the load factor relatively high, and the mood was exciting as executives moved up and down the aisle to welcome people aboard.

Our arrival at Newark was uneventful, as the fire department could not make it for a spray-down. We arrived in Terminal B, which is quite old and could use a remodeling. Nevertheless, the terminal is quite easy to use and not crowded, which is a major advantage for stress-free travel.

Origins and Aura

The original PEOPLExpress began serving customers in the Northeast United States. on April 30, 1981. The airline grew quickly throughout the 1980s, and eventually merged with Continental in 1987. It concentrated its network at Newark, but grew quickly and consequently suffered when it competed with major carriers, especially on international routes.

Riders had mixed opinions about the airline, but it successfully moved people at low fares – some colleagues remember getting from New York to Boston by air for only $19. The airline was cheap, convenient, and had no frills, either.

The new PEOPLExpress bears some resemblance to the old airline, but is in many ways a different company. In order to begin operations, PEOPLExpress currently operates aircraft under a wet lease arrangement with Vision Air. Wet leasing provides an airline with an aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance, or ACMI for short. Vision is based in Las Vegas, and has several charter operations. On the first day of operations, the airline did not have a distinct culture or brand identity apart from fully marked check-in, aircraft, and personnel. Nevertheless, the service was personal and the overall experience had a small-business aura, almost like going to your local deli. There was an upstart, can-do attitude among the senior staff on the plane for the first flight to Newark.

The lack of a strong brand identity at this stage of the airline’s life is subjective, because the airline has not had time to showcase its service and culture for more than one day. From the moment the door closed to the moment it opened, the crew, was positive and quite excited, and did not mention Vision Air once during the flight. This is a good sign, because if all crews indeed act the same way, the airline will be able to build its brand and count on employee buy-in, which is a key element of a solid corporate culture.

One true believer in the PEOPLExpress idea is founder Mike Morisi, who rode the first flight to Newark. Morisi is a former employee of the original PEOPLExpress. and was among many cheering on takeoff, landing, and arrival, with palpable energy and a positive outlook on what he and his team believe will be the next upstart to contend with a new, ultra-consolidated legacy airline industry.

Executives remarked throughout the morning that there were several challenges before operations began, but they have proved doubters wrong by actually taking off.

The airline still does not have its own operating certificate, but Morisi remarked that his team is working with regulators and should have one within a year at the very latest.

The Newport News Story

Many people on social media have asked why the airline chose the name PEOPLExpress, why they did chose to start now, and why they began in Newport News. The name probably came from senior management’s – including Morisi’s – former association with the original airline, but the story behind Newport News and the timing behind today’s launch is much more business-oriented.

The Newport News Williamsburg Airport (PHF) is in the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Area. The area expanded in the gilded age, when the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad came to town under the direction of magnate Collis Potter Huntington. Huntington’s rain line still brings coal from West Virginia mines straight to the port of Norfolk. Huntington, who was one of the leading investors involved in building the Transcontinental Railroad, also contributed to the Huntington-Ingalls Shipbuilding Company, which currently is the sole U.S. manufacturer of aircraft carriers, and is the largest industrial employer in Virginia. South of the shipyard and across the James River Bay lies the Norfolk Naval Base, which, combined with Ft. Eustis, Langley Air Force Base, and Naval Air Station Oceana make the location an enormous military port and base area. Additionally, Maersk and other shipping companies have operations in Norfolk. With such a large military, industrial, and educational base – Old Dominion and Hampton Universities are nearby – there is a continuous market of travellers coming to and from the area for a variety of purposes. This makes the area ripe for new competition given recent consolidation and service cancellations following the mergers of American and US Airways as well as Airtran and Southwest.

Niche Market

Airtran was one of the first major airlines to thrive off of the large Norfolk metro area, with services at both Norfolk (ORF) and PHF. The airline effectively sidestepped legacy routes that relied on hubs and provided substantially lower fares. When Airtrain and Southwest joined forces, the combined entity dropped all flights from PHF. Morisi explained that this was a “big loss” for travellers in the area, and in a single move PHF lost about 50% of its service. This was a large influence on starting an operation at the airport, as fares have skyrocketed. For the Oceana Airshow Weekend, three months away, for example, US Air fares are about $250 round-trip from Boston with a connection. Enter PEOPLExpress, with a nonstop service that takes almost half the time, and that fare now drops to $150. Many, including Airchive analysts, have remarked that under basic operating assumptions, profitability will be difficult at a 66% load factor. The first flight, albeit filled with many airline employees, had a 75% load. Morisi expects many customers to buy ancillary services, such as checked bags and food, in order to keep the airline profitable.

Future

Growth plans for Florida, Atlanta, and New Orleans are still on track, according to Morisi. He explained that aircraft acquisition and further financing are a continuous process, and interestingly there is no financial backing from the airport itself. After using the service, it is clear that, while an infant, PEOPLExpress fills a huge need in the area. Even without marketing, the service is a no-brainer for those who want the lowest price. Government contracts and legacy frequent fliers may hurt PEOPLExpress in the short-term, but Morisi pointed out that in the end, fare price wins, and cost will be his airline’s major advantage as it expands to seven daily services out of PHF.

Related Stories:

Analysis Part I: Nostalgia is Not a Viable Business Model for PEOPLExpress

Analysis Part 2: Nostalgia is Not a Viable Business Model for PEOPLExpress

PEOPLExpress Announces Initial Operations

Flashback: Check out these vintage original PeoplExpress timetables and route maps

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InFlight Review: US Airways A330 Envoy Class

By Luis Linares / Published June 23, 2014

US Airways Envoy Class Seat

US Airways Envoy Suite Image by Luis Linares / Airchive

Let’s take a hop across the pond with US Airways, in business class!

Since 2009, the A330 fleet has been using a lie flat seat, called the Envoy Suite.  The vast majority of my business class travel experience has been on American Airlines, and with American and US Airways currently morphing into the new American Airlines, I jumped at the opportunity to experience the premium product on the US Airways side of the family when  recently had to travel from Philadelphia to Frankfurt. Can Envoy Class compete with the product of other trans-Atlantic carriers?

I landed in Philadelphia from Baltimore on a 31-minute US Airways Express flight. The flight arrived fourteen minutes early at concourse B, which meant no rush or long walk since my flight to Frankfurt departed from the adjacent concourse A.

View of Philadelphia' ramp from US Airways Club

View of Philadelphia ramp from US Airways Club: Image by Luis Linares / Airchive

The extra connection time gave me a chance to stop at the US Airways Club, which was on my way from concourses B to A. The club offers a variety of complementary snacks and beverages, but a coupon or payment is required for the alcoholic variety, and it has a good view of the ramp. About 45 minutes before the scheduled departure of 20:40 local time, I proceeded to gate A23, where boarding soon got started. The aircraft for this flight was an A330-243, seating 20 passengers in Envoy Class and 238 in economy. The 20 Envoy Class suites are arranged in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration, which offers every passenger direct aisle access.

I quickly settled into seat 4A and was greeted by a very friendly staff. They quickly showed their good humored nature, when one of the attendants asked me to get her good side, upon noticing I was taking pictures. Abe, the attendant in charge of my section, immediately handed out amenity kits and offered pre-departure drinks: I chose a glass of champagne. He also handed out the dinner menu, which listed the starter plate, appetizer, main course, dessert and wine list.  As is the case with that of other airlines, the menu also gave passengers the option of an express meal, in which everything is served at once to allow more time to work or sleep.  The menu lists a mid-flight snack, but the description states that passengers can go to the galley for refreshments during the flight.  For breakfast, the menu offered a hot or cold option.

Capt Jim Allen quickly got things underway after greeting us over the public address system.  Once airborne, there was a hot towel service.  I was then offered a beverage of my choice, I went with a cabernet sauvignon, and a nut plate as a starter.  One difference I noticed compared to my experience on other U.S. airlines was that the nuts were room temperature, instead of warm, which is more common.  A salad and appetizer cold plate soon followed.  The menu offered four choices for the main course.  I chose a fillet of beef, which turned out to be very tasty.  There were three dessert options, a cheese plate, a four seasons mousse cake, or ice cream.  I set my mind and appetite on the mousse, but by the time Abe got to me, he informed me the mousse was gone, so I settled for the ice cream.  The mousse apparently was popular with the passengers who got to order before me.

Envoy Class Menu Envoy Class Appetizer Envoy CLass Main Course Envoy Class Dessert Menu, appetizer, main course, and dessert: Images by Luis Linares / Airchive

Envoy Class offers a wide variety of of IFE options, including 252 movies, 36 TV programs, and 11 video games. The crew also handed out American Airlines Bose headsets, which shows the merger is well underway. This is also a likely indicator that these headphones are popular with passengers. Likewise, it resonates with American Airlines Group,CEO Doug Parker’s intention to adopt the best practices of each carrier. The IFE also has the popular moving map display that gives passengers situational awareness data, such as position, speed, altitude, and estimated time of arrival.  Envoy class seats are also equipped with a power outlet and USB connections to keep mobile devices powered and charged.  For any passenger not familiar with the Envoy Suite, there is a handy two-sided instruction card.

IFE Screen Envoy Suite Instructions
IFE screen and Envoy Suite instruction card: Images by Luis Linares / Airchive

The flight duration was seven hours and thirty minutes. I opted for some sleep after dinner, as we were leaving Newfoundland, requesting to be woken up for breakfast, about an hour and a half before landing. Envoy Class offers a light blanket and small square pillow that resembles a cushion more than an actual pillow, maybe because the head position of the seat is more tapered than square in shape, so a wide pillow would probably not fit.  I slept for almost four hours and woke up over the coast of Ireland.  I opted for the cold breakfast, which consisted of fresh fruit, yogurt, and bread. Soon we were descending into Frankfurt.

Verdict?

Parked at Frankfurt

Leaving the aircraft at Frankfurt: Image by Luis Linares / Airchive

The Envoy suite and service are excellent!  My only previous experience with a US Airways premium product was in 2009 on a three-hour flight from Philadelphia to Santo Domingo aboard an A320.  At the time, I thought the US Airways offering was very inferior based on my business class experiences with American and Delta on U.S. to Caribbean segments of a similar duration.  For one thing, while the competitors served a hot multi-course meal for premium passengers, US Airways only provided a tray covered in plastic wrap containing a cold sandwich and accompanying snacks.  In all fairness to US Airways, Doug Parker at the time was aware of these and other short comings of the newly combined America West and US Airways and was intent on fixing them.  Five years later, the fruits of his labor are obvious.  I was very pleased with Envoy Class as a whole.  The crew was attentive and friendly, the food was very good, and the IFE can keep passengers fully entertained for hours.  Envoy Class is very comparable to the competing trans Atlantic business classes offered by its U.S. and European competitors.

What’s in store for the future?

Going back to Doug Parker’s comments on best practices, it will be interesting to see what he does with three different international widebody business class products under the new American Airlines. The A330s have the five-year old Envoy Class.  The 767-300s will adopt a brand new staggered 1-2-1 seating arrangement that will offer aisle access to all passengers, and the 777-200ERs will be retrofitted with the highly popular 1-2-1 reverse herringbone product similar to the one that debuted in early 2013 with the 777-300ERs.  One letdown for passengers is that the new 767 seat does not have integrated IFE.  Passengers will instead be offered Samsung tablets Bose headsets for IFE.  The 777 business pod offers wider head space in lie flat mode, which allows for the larger pillow size that does not fit in the Envoy Class equivalent.  In my opinion, the A330s and 777s offer an overall advantage over the 767, given their integrated IFE, while the three types retain a similar level of comfort for passengers wishing to sleep.  Furthermore, the 787s and A350s arrive in late 2014 and 2017 respectively.  They could potentially offer a glimpse of business class commonality for the future of the combined airline, as it aims to be more competitive with other major world airlines in the premium seat sector.

AA 767 New Business Class AA 777 New Business Class
American Airlines 767-300 New Business Class (L) and American Airlines 777-300ER Business Class (R): Images Courtesy of American Airlines

 

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An Island Hopper Adventure Unlike Any Other

By / Published May 15, 2014

Looking for a grand flight adventure? How about flying on a 737-800 across the Pacific Ocean, westward from Honolulu to the tiny spits of sand which make up the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. It is a 15ish hour travel day which could be completed in 7 on the nonstop to Guam. But for the people living and working on these remote atolls, the United Island Hopper represents their primary connection to the outside world. It is one of the last true “milk run” flights operating in the world, much the same as it has since Air Micronesia inaugurated the route more than 45 years ago. It is (or should be) on every aviation geek’s bucket list. And it was on my calendar for a long weekend mid-March.

Air Micronesia Route Map 1976

My version had an extension to the 737 theme. I managed to book myself from Newark to Hong Kong flying only on that type. A trip typically 16 hours en route blocked in at just over 47 hours for my flights, thanks to layovers, longer routings and extra stops. Alas, I never did make it to Hong Kong, though that’s just a small part of this tale.

The initial positioning segments were typical United flights. The transcon from Newark to Los Angeles had the slightly upgraded catering (better entrees, ice cream sundaes) relative to the LA-Honolulu segment.

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IMG_0632 Much better food on the EWR-LAX flight (top 2) than the LAX-HNL segment.
Photos by Seth Miller / wandr.me

And I had enough time during my layover to walk over to In-n-Out for a quick lunch while I enjoyed the planes arriving from all over the world.

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IMG_0623 #AvGeek heaven at In-n-Out near LAX.
Photo by Seth Miller / wandr.me

Bright and early Friday morning (technically not bright as the sun wasn’t up yet) we made our way back to Honolulu International Airport. Our flight had a small delay on the first segment due to baggage loading issues at HNL but our connections were still intact and legendary friendly service of the Guam-based crews had us relaxed and on our way quickly enough.

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My flight to Majuro and beyond, almost ready for boarding.
Photo by Seth Miller / wandr.me

The Island Hopper is unique in many ways. One of them is the pilot staffing requirements. The new FAR 117 rules effectively make the operation impossible without an exception from the FAA (this will be important later). United has such an exception for this route and they meet that by carrying a second pair of pilots for the entire trip. One crew works the longest segment Honolulu-Majuro and the other pair works the short hops among the atolls. The same crew goes out and back and they alternate who does what each trip. When they’re not flying the crew has a couple seats in first class for napping, reading, eating and being pestered by aviation geeks like me. Not that we interrupted their sleep or meals or anything like that, but we did chat with them a lot. And once they realized how enthusiastic the group on board was they became even more engaged. One of the pilots started to talk about the World War 2 history in the region and was giving us tips on things to be watching for as we flew in and out of the various islands. He even suggested that they’d take the approaches and departures a bit more “low and slow” than normal to give us better views. It was going to be spectacular.

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Buh-bye, Honolulu. We’ll see land again in ~4.5 hours.
Photo by Seth Miller / wandr.me

And it really was spectacular for the first hop. Arrival into Majuro – a 65-mile long curve of sand in the middle of open ocean – was an amazing sight.

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Final approach into Majuro.
Photo by Seth Miller / wandr.me

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IMG_0691 Welcome to the Majuro Airport. Not a ton of infrastructure, but it gets the job done.
Photo by Seth Miller / wandr.me

We spent about 40 minutes in the “terminal” while they refueled the aircraft and then we loaded back on board for the first of five short hops. Departure from Majuro was, as promised, a “low and slow” affair. We held at 1,500 feet for nearly 70 miles, clearing the end of the island with spectacular views the entire way before climbing to our normal cruise altitude. A quick drink service was offered (mine magically included a vodka mini as well) and then it was time for our approach into Kwajalein. And this is where things started to go a bit astray.

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The Island Hopper is one of very few routes in the world where a mechanic flies along with the plane, just in case anything happens en route. The airports served are real in the sense that they have runways and lights and such but there are virtually no facilities available. If a plane has problems it is up to the mechanic traveling with the flight to solve it.

And we were having problems. I heard the mechanic say what I thought was “flaps” (turned out to be “slats”) while on the phone with the pilots. There was much back and forth as he moved between the windows and the phone in the galley. And then the cockpit door opened and he went inside for additional discussions. Not long thereafter the pilot was on the PA to explain the situation to us.

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The proximity sensor which indicates the position of the slats to the pilots was faulty. Even though a visual inspection confirmed that they were deployed the lights in the cockpit showed nothing. The pilots were comfortable making the landing at Kwajalein but it would not be a typical approach. We were going to come in fast and hard, quite the opposite of our departure from Majuro. The flight attendants quickly moved into action. An abbreviated version of the safety briefing was given with particular focus on the brace positions – we were all asked to practice – and the exit door operations. Those sitting at the doors or windows were given additional briefings about opening their assigned exits, with one person assigned the responsibility for actually opening the exit while the other would control the passengers, essentially playing blocker. The jokes stopped quite quickly and that vodka mini seemed to evaporate from my system. We were making an emergency landing on Kwajalein, a 6700′ runway in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and it was gravely serious. As promised we came in fast and the pilots put us down quickly, using nearly the entire length of the runway to slow the plane. It was a spectacular landing by most measures.

And now we were stuck in Kwajalein.

Kwajalein’s role in recent history was mostly defined during World War Two. A huge battle was fought on the island; the bombings by the US military were some of the heaviest in the Pacific theater. And the US victory was a turning point in the move to defeat Japan. Fast forward to the current era and the island still holds a significant strategic position for the US military. The Army Garrison on Kwajalein is small but it is a vital link in the strategic missile testing and monitoring systems by way of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site. Security is taken VERY seriously and we were reminded several times that photos were not permitted, not that the airport gave us much to see. And, because of that security, we were held on the airplane.

Our pilots were open and informative, explaining the checks and tests they were performing on the aircraft. By now our connection to Hong Kong was blown, though the pilots said there was a chance they’d overfly one or more of the stops to make up some time (and stay legal) if necessary. That would require a working plane, of course, and we still didn’t have one. Around 2.5 hours in to the repair job they rebooted the control computers and the lights indicated that the sensor was working. Much joy and elation was felt on the plane. Alas, it was fleeting. The fix didn’t hold and we were not leaving any time soon. The crew finally negotiated with the ground staff to unload us into the tiny terminal building. It is designed to handle maybe 70 passengers at most. We put 130+ in to the room. They off-loaded the catering and served us the snacks and sodas from the plane while we waiting for word of what would come next. The terminal building also had one major amenity unavailable to us anywhere else on the island: Internet service. It was here where we learned that MH370 had gone missing just after our emergency landing, putting things in a bit of perspective.

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Taking photos in Kwajalein is likely to get you in trouble. I don’t recommend it.

After three more hours in the waiting room we were moved again. The security detail needed a break and there weren’t spare staff around to replace them. Plus it was clear that the broken plane was not leaving with us on board. A “rescue flight” was summoned from Guam and we were taken to a ferry terminal a short distance away where we would wait out most of the rest of the day. The ferry terminal had very little in the way of amenities, though the fried chicken was OK at the food counter. And eventually cases of bottled water showed up along with pizzas from another commissary somewhere else on the island. We sat in the terminal or in the fenced in yard outside, watching as the local contractors came and went on the ship to their adjacent island, expecting that we’d be sent there eventually, too.

Many had told us that remaining on Kwajalein after dark was not allowed. We presumed as the delays dragged on that we would be sent across on the ferry to the neighboring island, not because accommodations were particularly good there but because we had no choice. Fortunately it did not come to that. We remained on Kwajalein, eating our pizza and trying to remain calm while wondering where our recovery plane was. One of the security officers was nice enough to check Flight Aware for me a couple times but the plane was not yet flying. It was just over four hours from when the reserve crew got the call until the plane was in the air out of Guam, stocked for the return flight and also carrying two more mechanics and a lot more spare parts.

Around hour ten on the island, with the rescue flight now airborne, we were moved back to the airport terminal. As a US Army facility the security screening was handled per TSA standards. This meant that the water bottles they’d just given us were all confiscated or disposed of. And then, once through the screening several more cases of the same bottles were given to us again. We fortunately had WiFi access again at this point so we could check in on the world and get in touch to rebook our flights, but there was little else to do, and it was still a couple hours yet until the plane would make it to Kwajalein to take us the rest of the way home. At least we got a passport stamp out of the deal (customs, not immigration).

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At least my passport can prove it was in Kwajalein.

Around 12:30am, nearly twelve hours after our “exciting” landing, we were on board another 737-800 with a new crew and ready to depart. Because a large number of passengers were still planning on stopping at the other islands we were due to hop through the new crew set out with the intention of performing all the final hops. We made the quick flight over to Kosrae and then were treated to more bad news. The FAA had denied United’s appeal to exempt the rescue flight from the FAR 117 rest rules. While the “real” Island Hopper is exempt with the double crew this rescue flight was not the Island Hopper and therefor the pilots were going to time out. They had only one more departure available in their duty day.

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The “rescue plane” on the ground at Kosrae. We spent 2+ hours figuring out how to complete the trip.
Photo by Seth Miller / wandr.me

The original plane was fixed by this point (it seems to have taken the new mechanics and their stash of spare parts about 30 minutes to get the work done) and the original crew was about 3 hours from completing their mandatory rest. This meant that the repaired plane could complete the hopper itinerary for passengers headed to Pohnpei and Chuuk while the rescue plane would continue on to Guam. It took just over two hours to get that all sorted out, off-loading passengers and their bags, boarding those in Kosrae who were going through to Guam and otherwise dealing with operations and dispatch paperwork. We finally left Kosrae near 3:30am local time and arrived in Guam at 6am.

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Sunrise over the Pacific, shortly before our arrival into Guam roughly 12 hours delayed.
Photo by Seth Miller / wandr.me

We had left Honolulu 26 hours prior, expecting an Island Hopper adventure. We certainly got an adventure, though it was not at all what we had planned.

Having now missed the connection to Hong Kong by more than twelve hours we aborted the trip and turned around to head home. I was on another 737-800 from Guam to Narita where I finally, after nearly 11,000 miles, switched to a wide-body aircraft for the flight back to the USA. Some in our group headed onward to Hong Kong anyways, via Japan or Manila. Others headed back to the USA via Honolulu. At least they tried. That flight was canceled due to mechanical issues as well. We all made it home safe and sound and the United Customer Service reps I’ve spoken with since my return have mostly been great about the situation. There were a few trouble agents along the way, mostly in Guam (4+ hours to get our rebooking completed and boarding passes issued, mostly without any communication as to the status) but nearly everyone else was a pleasure to fly with. They were up front about the issues and made reasonably regular announcements about the progress. I’m sure it helped that I was in first class so I could see and hear everything going on in the cockpit during the troubleshooting; overhead PA announcements were probably made every 45-60 minutes.

Roughly 80 hours after leaving New York I was home again. It was a 17,000+ mile trip, taking in some incredible sights and reminding me that a huge metal tube hurtling through the air at 500+ miles/hours really is an amazing technical achievement. And it is one which is, from time to time, a bit tenuous.

Now I just have to decide when I’m going to try again to get all the hops during daylight. I really do want to see the islands. Maybe next time I’ll actually plan a trip where I stop on purpose for a few days.

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Follow Seth on Twitter @WanderngAramean
Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com

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Frontier adds two new routes from Wilmington, DE: Inaugural report

By / Published May 1, 2014

Wheeeee!!

I generally feel that way any day I’m flying and getting to do four inaugural flights in one day is even more fun. Add in some weather en route and a bit of a roller coaster landing and that’s really the only thought in my mind.

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Extra flying! Wheeee!!

Frontier Airlines is shifting its business model into a completely unbundled approach, with fees to be found for everything from a soda to a seat assignment to a carry-on bag. It’s also expanding its route map, picking up services where others have cut or simply hoping to create a market where one had not previously existed. Wilmington, Delaware fits squarely in the latter category. The airport has seen commercial service come and go over the years from a number of airlines. Few have taken the multi-destination approach that Frontier did. With a handful of destinations now served from New Castle County Airport Frontier is hoping to build a customer base mixing leisure and business travelers. This week saw two more destinations – Detroit and Atlanta – join the map, with both launching service the same day. Given an introductory fare of $36 round-trip on each route it was hard for me to say no when a friend suggested that I join him on board for the Atlanta turn. And since I was going to be in Delaware anyways adding on the Detroit trip seemed quite reasonable.

The folks in Wilmington brought the party with tourism information, balloons and free coffee on offer prior to the flight. And Frontier brought Andre the Antelope. Let’s go for a ride!

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Unfortunately the weather was not so great in Delaware, but that didn’t stop the local authorities from offering up the traditional water-canon salute for the departures.

The grey sky and drizzle in Delaware had nothing on the rough skies over Detroit. We were not more than a couple minutes out from landing when the pilots gunned the throttle, initiating a go around due to warnings of wind shear on the field. It was well communicated and the second approach, while bumpy coming down through the clouds, put us on the ground perfectly.

One the flight over I spoke Greg Kouba, an engineer in the aviation market commuting to Detroit for a couple days’ work. Kouba raved about the ease of access at the airport as a great draw to him as a passenger.

I can park closer to the terminal than I typically can at my supermarket. I was standing at the check-in counter and could still see my car parked right across the driveway.

For a South Jersey traveler who was often flying out of Philadelphia or Atlantic City the new Frontier service at Trenton and Wilmington was most welcome to him. That said, he noted that the Classic fare bundle was a big part of what he enjoyed, with the STRETCH seating and checked bag fee included. He was a bit disappointed when I told him that Frontier killed that product the day prior, but suggested he’d still compare the total cost including those benefits as he checks fares going forward.

Less than 20 minutes after walking off the plane into the terminal I was one of the last passengers to make my way back on board for the Detroit-Wilmington half of the inaugural. Other than the airport authority not properly showing the flight on the monitors at the gate there wasn’t much special at the Detroit end, though the station staff were friendly for the few minutes we chatted. Another bumpy ride due to the weather and soon enough I was back in Delaware, getting ready to do it all over again.

I met Dawn on the return flight from Detroit; she was one of a dozen or so of us who made the round-trip turn. Much like me she was in it for the fun of being in the air for a few hours, taking to the sky as a great way to spend a morning. And the $36 round-trip fare didn’t hurt.

I was a bit disappointed that I had to leave the secure area at Wilmington; they don’t really plan for connecting passengers there. That disappointment was quickly muted by the snacks the local authorities had set out for the group. The security officer I spoke with saw me later with a handful of the pretzels and joked that he did me a favor. I suggested that next time he lead with the “free food” option and no one would ever argue again.

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Come for the flights, stay for the #AvGeek soft pretzels

I wrapped up a conversation with Dawn and headed through security to meet David, the friend who invited me along in the first place and, once again, it was time to fly.

I had booked a window seat for the flight but upon boarding we learned that two young boys and their father were each assigned middle seats in separate rows. I swapped with one of them to sit next to my friend in the middle. That still left them needing an aisle-for-middle swap to get the family together. That didn’t happen. Oops. Another water-canon salute and we were off to Atlanta on a flight which was much smoother than the weather forecasts had predicted.

IMG_5053Our stay in Atlanta was a bit longer than Detroit but also much less friendly. I grabbed a quick snack in the terminal and then came back to the gate and asked about swapping seats (my friend got Op-Up’d to the STRETCH seating) at which point I was brusquely brushed off by the gate agent, “The entire plane is full.” I stepped into the jetway to the sight of bags being tagged to gate-check through to Wilmington. I was the final passenger to board and was greeted by a bunch of empty seats – including the one I specifically asked about – and tons of space in the overhead. From a customer service perspective it was most disappointing (and, yes, I know it is contract workers, but still not great).

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Make friends with the flight attendants. Life gets much better.

On the plus side, however, the same crew was still on board and still just as cheery as they were at 8am when I met them for the initial flight of the day. And, unlike me, they were actually working the whole time.

There are some quirks about the Wilmington-based service, like the plane is not catered there. In our case that meant a six-segment run between Denver and Orlando, with the Detroit and Atlanta turns mixed in, between refills. With most items carrying a surcharge the take rate was relatively low (even for passengers who get freebies thanks to their ticket category) but there were still a few out of stock well before the day ended. Boarding from the ground is great, so long as it isn’t raining or snowing or too cold. It works great in Long Beach, California; less so in Wilmington, Delaware. And the terminal is pretty cramped for a plane as big as those Frontier flies. The flight to Atlanta was full and it was standing-room only in the gate area waiting for departure. Plus, this is baggage claim:

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More quirks than outright bad. And the ease of access will likely keep many coming back. But it is most definitely a budget service and a budget airline.

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Follow the author on Twitter: WanderngAramean
Contact the editor at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com

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