Category Archives: Airline Inflight Reviews

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: 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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JetBlue: Is Its Jettitude Culture Enough To Carry It Into The Future? (Part Two)

By Chris Sloan / Published March 17, 2014 / Photos by author

The second in our two part series, find out what makes JetBlue’s corporate so unique, but does blue translate into green? Read part one!

JETTITUDE

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A poster hangs in the JetBlue University, with signatures.

The cornerstone of the JetBlue Culture are “The Be’s: Our Jettitude”. These values are constantly instilled in each crew member, right down to appearing on each identification badge. CEO David Barger, who has been with the company since the beginning, and VP/Customer Service Frankie Littleford who worked for David Neeleman back at his original airline Morris Air personally take the Baby Blues through “The Be’s”:

Be thankful to every customer – Acknowledge every airline is getting better so we have to be appreciative of our customers. JetBlue doesn’t carry passengers we have customers.

Be engaging – Just try to be present and be engaged. Littleford says this is as simple as showing someone whose bag has been lost the computer monitor so they can see it is being addressed, or pilots addressing the customers before the flight on the PA system from the front of the plane in person, not behind the cockpit door.

Be in blue always – personal appearance, how the terminal looks, and how the airplanes look all matters. Littleford says Dave Barger “has X-ray vision and sees gum in the corners. If a tray table is broken what does that say about the airplane as a whole?”

Frankie Littleford. Photo courtesy JetBlue

Frankie Littleford. Photo courtesy JetBlue

Be Personal – Be present; know what’s happening on the plane. Littleford tells a story of some recent flights she’s been on. “If you’re flying to Syracuse, it might be a big basketball game and we became Jet Orange. Realize where you’re flying as the flights are all different. Have fun with where you’re going. I was on a flight on the JetBlue Boston Red Sox themed plane flying to Tampa and the gate agent comes on the P/A and says ‘If you’re a Tampa Bay Rays fan you will be boarding last’”.

EXTRA: Onboard the JetBlue A321 Inaugural

Be the answer – If you don’t know, help find someone who knows),

Be _____ – Find your own be. How do you want to be? Fill in the blank. This is the well respected empowerment part of the JetBlue culture.

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The six Be’s

The airline business is an industry known for multi-million dollar pieces of flying aluminum, egos as big as the sky, financial volatility (an understatement to say the least), tense and outright hostile relations between management and labor, not to mention feelings ranging from apathy to downright antipathy by its customers.

Indeed, many passengers would find a trip to the dentist more enjoyable than flying. Do these new-age egalitarian values and platitudes that aim to, as the carrier claims, “bring humanity back to air travel” translate into truly better customer service, personnel morale, and improved financial results?

From a customer experience perspective, Barger says “you can tell if the flight is clicking right off the bat.” Simi seconds that. “Culture is what people do when people aren’t watching. Culture is service. What a difference body language, eye contact and a smile make.” Henry Harteveldt, a senior analyst at Hudson Crossing, believes that the culture does translate to better service. “Because 80% to 90% of what airlines do are the same, corporate culture can have a disproportionate impact on the passenger experience, at all touch-points. JetBlue is a shining example of this.”

“Culture is what people do when people aren’t watching. Culture is service. What a difference body language, eye contact and a smile make.”

EXTRA: InFlight Review: JetBlue Even More Space

The airline also works hard to gauge customer service in the field via several programs. First up, “Culture is Service”, is a program for cabin and ground crews. The program is based on what percentage of customers gave the staff member ‘Wow’ scores in surveys. The results move a meter that motivates all crew members to be on their game and help each other out. Unlike other airlines, though, even the flight deck crew has its own program. Though voluntary, the Leading Edge Program provided customer-driven feedback to participating captains every sixty flights.

Not that the cabin crew need too much motivation, says Layton. “We are the first impressions people get about JetBlue. Customers decide how they feel about the airline after meeting us. They come on with expectation of how we’ll be. I get a charge out of when people are happy. I feel bad when we have a bad flight. I take it personally. If we’re happy, our customers will be happy.”

EXTRA: JetBlue historical timetables and route maps

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A slide underscores the semantic shift in attitude towards employees.

Addressing morale, JetBlue employees recognize each other’s performance in a program called Lift where they receive bonuses and other perks, but according to Simi “most perform intrinsically as they want to serve. A thank you and note of appreciation typically goes the farthest.” The airline also runs a program where employees help each other financially and in a myriad of other ways. This program came heavily into practice when many JetBlue employees lives were disrupted by Hurricane Sandy, including 100 who lost their homes.

Layton adds that morale, and therefore customer service, are high in part thanks to the exceptional freedom given to him to do his job. “I am empowered to do whatever it takes to keep customers happy if I can justify it in one of my five values. Why did I comp all the drinks? The TV’s were not functioning all the flight. Why? We were very delayed whether it was our fault or not. It’s the right thing to do. My supervisor said ‘nice job’”.

Hartveldt agrees that “The airline succeeds because it places such great emphasis on internal communications and creating and sustaining a positive work environment. Its employees are both trained and empowered to make decisions that take care of the airline’s customers. JetBlue is also careful about the people it hires, even if they are not in customer-facing roles. Attitude is as important as aptitude.”

DOES BLUE TRANSLATE INTO GREEN?

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A JetBlue Embraer at the gate in Boston.

While all this is great for the JetBlue’s customer and employees, the effect on the airline’s bottom line is mixed. “Well, so far JetBlue has unperformed the industry in terms of financial performance.  Certainly they created an offering that people were willing to pay for, but they also have a relatively high cost base for what they do.” says Snyder. Indeed, the carrier’s 2013 unit costs, at 11.71 cents, are 15-20% higher than those of ultra-low cost carriers like Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air, or Frontier Airlines. Unfortunately, JetBlue has to compete with these carriers for leisure travelers, which certainly creates a challenge. As fellow network-LCC hybrid Southwest Airlines has found out, maintaining an employee-friendly culture is hard on the financial bottom line.

EXTRA: JetBlue Announces Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2013 Profit

Yet the impact of corporate culture has certainly contributed to revenue growth by attracting new and high-paying customers, even if the effect is not necessarily quantifiable. JetBlue’s financial results are certainly strong on their own, though they lag behind those of Delta, Southwest, and the ULCCs since 2009. JetBlue’s annual net profit has risen steadily from $58 million in 2009 to $168 million in 2013, while its operating margin, at 7.9%, is better than every nationwide network carrier save Delta.

More important, however, is the role that JetBlue’s corporate culture will play in its future finances. As a one-time low cost carrier trying to change over to a full-fledged network airline, JetBlue is undergoing a company-wide restructuring almost as challenging as a merger. Things like tackling business travel in Boston, launching the Even More premium product, launching Mint, and (eventually) launching long haul international service with a business class product represent a remarkable evolution from JetBlue’s founding business model. The United-Continental merger shows what can happen when a company’s corporate culture isn’t set up to handle that kind of change, and so the most significant financial impact of JetBlue’s corporate culture has been to allow the company to survive (thus far) these business model evolutions with the bottom line unscathed.

EXTRA: JetBlue Unveils New Premium Product in NYC

FEELING A LITTLE BLUE?

The airline, accounting for about 5% of the U.S. market, is finding it more challenging to be a disruptor and innovator competing in a land of now profitable, giant legacy carriers and their alliances in a post consolidation environment.

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Inside the a JetBlue cabin: Image Courtesy: JetBlue

First up, ironically an improving economy has added to the airline’s pressures. JetBlue’s rivals, now out from under the thumb of bankruptcy, have caught up and in some cases surpassed the airline on a number of fronts: the hard product of live DirecTV that was once so innovative has been matched by carriers offering the same thing, or going a step further and offering competitive entertainment options with TV and/or WiFi. And of course there’s been the rush by legacy carriers to upgrade premium cabins, something JetBlue doesn’t offer…yet.

JetBlue is challenging this competitive position with its new core economy offering and premium cabin Mint Product. It will feature high-speed satellite based internet dubbed FlyFi along with an upgraded in-flight entertainment system featuring multitudes of high-def channels.

JetBlue’s fleet, once brand new, has aged and are some older planes are showing their age. JetBlue began taking delivery of new, larger Airbus A321s in late 2013 and has ordered the next generation A320 neo family of aircraft. Troublesome, JetBlue’s costs from labor (even though it is non-unionized) to maintenance for the aging fleet have increased while the legacy competitors have re-organized under bankruptcy and reduced costs. Of course the employee ranks have swelled and aged (affecting health costs) as the airline has only grown and never furloughed a single person, ever.

Mother nature again didn’t help matters when the recent weather related operational disruptions in January when JetBlue was forced to cancel much of its schedule have begun to taint its reputation. Many wondered if this was a repeat of 2007 all over again. While the airline is in crises, remains profitable, and generally well regarded, its indisputable that a perfect storm of circumstances have conspired to bring its highly valued JD Powers numbers a bit.

WHAT WILL BLUE DO?

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JetBlue University, located in Orlando, Florida.

Now, more than ever, culture matters as the overall mission the company lives by is the key to the carrier maintaining its edge as the competition improves their game.

Instead of being intimidated, the Baby Blues in the audience seem captivated and ready to take on the challenge as they introduce themselves one by one around the room. “I am so excited. I want to jump out of my seat” says one cabin attendant. “I’m happy to be on team JetBlue and be with my new brothers and sisters” a new pilot passionately remarks while adding that his “new favorite color is blue”. Another says “I’m changing my name for my initials to Lucky Winner” as I got chosen by JetBlue”. From a place of totally honesty, one anxious Baby Blue who used to play for the New York Mets confides “I am a total newbie to the airline thing and I am a nervous wreck but so excited”.

Likewise, the existing Blue Crew seems equally buoyant while acknowledging the challenges ahead. CEO Dave Barger hammers home the crux of the issue: “Anyone can replicate planes. They are like bricks and mortar. No one can replicate the culture. I am really jazzed to do this. Working with us is not for the faint of heart. It’s about interaction as much as transaction. What got us here will get us there from a cultural aspect. You can be a small player and be disruptive in industry landscape. You don’t have to be the biggest. You just have to be disruptive.”

Layton puts things into perspective from his nearly fifteen years with the company “I was here when customers said ‘you all are great, but let’s see how it is in five years.’ Media doubted us. As we’ve grown, it’s been challenging, but my responsibility and all of our responsibility is to keep the culture alive and flourishing.” Littleford echoes “We need to keep the small feeling while we’re growing. We need to continue to inspire humanity. We need to watch our competition, who is stepping up”. Finally, Simi points out that the Blue Crew is in this together “We are family who you can trust. We have your back.”

Next, stay tuned for an inside look at JetBlue University, coming soon!

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Does it Pay Off to Pay for Premium Economy?: InFlight Review

By Michael Slattery  / Published March 6, 2014

Qantas A380 in LAX. Photo courtesy jplphoto

Qantas A380 in LAX. Photo courtesy jplphoto

I fly, on average, 60,000 miles per year. Some of those flights are short-haul routes (many to Costa Rica, which I highly recommend), but most are long-hauls to Africa, Europe, the Middle East and, on the odd occasion, Australia and New Zealand. On pleasure, the flight planning is easy: find dates and airlines that have award mileage inventory in the front of the plane. Champagne and warm nuts, why thank you!

On business, however, the decision becomes far more problematic. You see, I am a college professor by day, and universities and granting agencies do not pay for business class tickets. That makes sense, given that most are in the $6,000 to $8,000 range to either Europe or Southeast Asia. Even corporate travel departments have cut back on shelling out this sort of money to send their employees in a premium cabin, especially in the wake of the most recent global financial crisis.

EXTRA: Lufthansa Launches Premium Economy Cabin

But squeezing my 6’5” frame into a coach seat for between 10 to 16 hours becomes, well how should I put this, a survival course. I am absolutely fine with all my food arriving at once in little compartments, and with my wine choice being simply “white or red” in mini screw top bottles. To be honest, even business class and first class meals can be pretty hit-and-miss at times (I recently had a filet steak in business class that could have doubled as a hockey puck on any given night in the NHL). Rather, it’s the chronic lack of s-p-a-c-e that makes long-haul coach such a miserable experience. It’s the cabin where limbs go to die, where DVT becomes a real, statistical possibility, and where any sort of sleep becomes all but a dream. This is where premium economy comes in as a potential long-haul savior.

The premium economy product, pioneered by British Airways (BA), started becoming popular when long-haul business class cabins started to introduce flatbed seats (again, BA’s Club World set the early pace here). The chance significantly increased the gap between economy class products and business class products. Positioned in price, comfort, and amenities somewhere between economy and business, premium economy has helped to fill this gap with airlines.

EXTRA: In-Flight Review: LOT Polish 787 Premium Club

Be warned, though: unlike business and economy cabins there is no general consensus in premium economy cabins. The product varies significantly among carriers, making it difficult to compare apples-to-apples when planning a long-haul trip. For some, premium economy is limited to just a bit more legroom and nothing more. Others offer a product that is closer to the business class cabins of the 1990s and early 2000s.

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British Airways 787                                                                      LOT Polish 787

In addition to product inconsistencies, pricing can also vary tremendously among carriers, depending on what type of premium economy ticket you actually buy. Just like economy, business, or even first class pricing, the cost of a ticket can increase dramatically as you build flexibility into the fare. With these two aspects in mind, namely amenities and pricing (which equal value-for-money in my books), I thought it would be useful to review two premium economy products that, in many ways, have become industry benchmarks: BA’s World Traveller Plus (WTP) and Qantas’ Premium Economy.

My routing on BA was Dallas/Fort Worth-Abu Dhabi (via London) on a 747/777 combination. On Qantas, I opted to fly to Los Angeles to connect to Sydney on the A380, rather than take the 747 direct on the world’s longest non-stop. In both cases, I paid the difference between economy and premium economy out-of-pocket (as both trips were business related). In fact, my wife accompanied me on the Australia trip and paid for the premium economy ticket herself, so having skin-in-the-game meant we really focused on the issue of value.

The premium economy cabin, as marketed by both companies, is supposed to offer a significant upgrade from the economy experience without breaking the bank. The question then is, have these airlines succeeded in putting the premium into premium economy?

For Qantas, the answer is simply a resounding yes! Its premium economy experience trumped BA’s WTP in every department: dedicated check-in desks; priority boarding; and a meal service much closer to business class than economy (try champagne prior to takeoff, individual tableware, and an anytime snack and refreshment service with excellent choices). The Qantas cabin, situated on the upper deck of the A380 immediately behind business class is intimate and quiet, with just 28 seats in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration (for comparison, there is a small economy section behind premium configured 2 x 4 x 2, whereas downstairs it is a bone-crushing 3 x 4 x 3 layout).

QA Y+QA Y+3
Photos courtesy Qantas

There are dedicated flight attendants in the premium cabin and, crucially, we could use the lavatories at the back of business class which meant hardly any wait, even in the 45 minute window prior to landing. The Qantas seat is superb: 38” of pitch and 19.5” wide (versus 31” and 17.5” in economy class, respectively). This translated into a comfortable, spacious environment with plenty of room to configure my legs in any number of yoga combinations. The seat also had a well-designed, multi-way adjustable headrest, although the footrest wasn’t of much use for a person my height.  There is also a very handy storage compartment next to the window seat which eradicates the need to visit the overhead bins. The IFE was extensive and intuitive with a 10.6 inch personal touch screen with complimentary noise-cancelling headsets.

All round then, a really outstanding product from The Flying Kangaroo. The BA seat in WTP had similar pitch but was only 17.5” wide, which made the overall experience feel a bit more cramped. To be fair, this was the older WTP product, but even the upgraded WTP seat, according to BA’s website, is only 18.5” wide, which still gives the edge to Qantas. In fact, on BA the WTP experience is really just about being in a smaller cabin with more legroom, with everything else essentially an extension of the economy experience. Most annoyingly, even the lavatories are shared with economy, so queues and wait time were extensive. Certainly, the BA WTP seat is much better than their economy seat, but after four legs in WTP, I left fairly disappointed, wondering whether paying the difference between economy and WTP was really worth it in the end. That question really comes down to how the actual premium economy ticket prices on any given leg.

BA Y+ ba744-2_28907
British Airway’s World Traveller + on its 787 (L) and 747-400 (R). Photo by BA, JDL/Airchive

For example, I recently priced a two-week return ticket DFW-LHR on BA and LAX-SYD on Qantas over three time periods: a mid-February flight (essentially, booking about two weeks out), a mid-May flight before the U.S. summer break, and a mid-August flight falling within the busy summer travel season. On BA, the lowest WTP ticket priced consistently between 39% and 43% higher than economy (e.g., $1,612 versus $2,241 on the peak summer fare). On Qantas, the premium economy fare was generally 73%-81% higher than economy (e.g., $1,545 versus $2,800, again for the summer peak). But be warned: these premiums can increase significantly depending on availability and, in some cases, start approaching business class fares.

The Bottom Line

The verdict on these two industry benchmarks then? Premium economy on Qantas was definitely worth the higher fare despite being almost double that of regular economy. The experience was, what I would call, Business Lite: significantly more pleasant than regular economy. My wife and I both agreed that any further travel to Australia or nearby countries would definitely be in the premium economy cabin, so if you can afford it, my advice is, do it! BA’s WTP, on the other hand, is more problematic. Yes, the seat is wider with more leg room, but that’s about it. I would still probably pay the $300 one way “upgrade” to WTP on the trans-Atlantic simply for that extra legroom, but any more than that on a more flexible WTP ticket would certainly be a waste of money in my view. In fact, I’d probably opt for the approximately $140 increase from economy to Main Cabin Extra on American’s 777-300 across The Pond, with 36” of pitch, if money alone was the deciding factor. What is disappointing is that it wouldn’t take very much to really put the premium back into premium economy on BA, with simple changes such as dedicated check-in, separate lavatories, and a few upgraded amenities on board.

So while Australia has whitewashed England in the recent Ashes cricket series, I’m afraid they’ve done the same in the air!

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Folded Wings – The Last Douglas DC-10 Passenger Flight Ever

Story and Photos By Chris Sloan / Published Monday February 24, 2014

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - ON RAMP AFTER FLIGHT - FEB 2014 - 2BIRMINGHAM, UK: The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 carried its last passengers Monday, after nearly forty-three years of service, as the final passenger flight landed in Birmingham, UK.

The last flight, dubbed Biman Bangladesh 008, was greeted by a mob of passengers and press at the gate in Birmingham Airport. Cake and champagne were served A total of 200 boarded this last flight, coming from around the world to do so. On board, BBC’s Janice Long, a radio personality and former flight attendant, performed the in flight safety briefing announcement.

STORY: Final DC-10 Long-Haul Scheduled Passenger Flight Arrives into Birmingham, UK 

The airplane’s three General Electric CF6-50C2 engines, each with 52,000 pounds of thrust, lifted the half empty airplane (it only weighed 185 metric tons) at 141 knots into the skies over the UK, despite being de-rated by 15%, in only 43 seconds. The noticeably loud and thrilling cacophony of engine noise ingesting our fifty tons of fuel, along with shaking overhead bins, provided the day’s audio entertainment while we waited to reach our cruising altitude of 24,000 feet over Scotland.

Yet almost immediately everyone left their seats (mine was 31A), walking up and down the aisles, snapping photos, and chatting – feeling more like a reunion of old friends than a memorial service. A mad rush to the cockpit also began, on the hopes that the flight-deck door would be open (it was not).  An employee with Ian Allen Tours, the group that organized the last flights, walked up and down the aisle hawking DC-10 SWAG joking saying “I will lose my job if I don’t sell this stuff. Save my job!” The CEO, flight attendants, and flight crews became celebrities, posing for photos, and stopping for hugs in between offering water and juice to passengers.

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Speaking of crew, a total of fourteen pilots showed up in Birmingham, rotating into and out of the flight deck through the course of the weekend’s nine scenic flights (which had a unique smell combo of lilac and nicotine on board). Each flight was manned by additional eight cabin crew, all of whom were sad to see the airplane go. Flight crew member Aporna said “This was like our home. We love it and we are emotional [it is leaving us]. This is [a] really comfortable [airplane] and wider in leg space and my passengers are happy. More stable than a 777-300 [and a better ride].” All that love, even despite the airplane making crews work hard (it had a five degree upward angle while cruising, meaning flight crews had to push carts up the plane). Aporna had an even more personal connection: her husband proposed to her on the DC-10. Most of the cabin crew will be transitioning to the carrier’s new Boeing 777-300ER airplanes.

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During my short time on board I had an opportunity to chat with many of the people on board. The mood was electric and energetic the entire time, unlike anything I’d flown on before. One family I met, the Wohlfarth’s from Switzerland all had connections to the DC-10. Husband Thomas was a mechanic on DC10 for Swissair, wife Barbara first flight was on DC-10, Julia daughter first and last time on DC-10. It was Barbara’s idea. “It’s the real way to travel back in time.” Mark Headay, from Birmingham, was on the DC-10 for the first time in twenty years. His first flight was with Iberia, to Lima Peru. He said he found out about these scenic flights at the last minute and “wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - SWISS FAMILY - FEB 2014 - 1 FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - BERNIE AND CP AIR CLUB EMPRESS - FEB 2014

Cody Diamond, of Miami, Florida, was on the final DC-9 and now the last DC-10 flight. He remarked that the festivities for the -10 were much better. Airline Reporter’s Bernie Leighton was on his fourth flight on the DC-10 trip. He said the airplane was to him and Western Canada because it’s what we flew to Hawaii as a kid so the CP Air empress class placards on overhead bins made him nostalgic. Anthony Marcus, from Washington, DC, flew on the last Northwest Airlines DC-10 in 2007. That was a normal scheduled flight but this is much more of a party, he remarked. He said the plane takes him back to the 1970s, a memory he will enjoy.

Captain Ishrat Ahmed, a 27-year veteran of Biman, talked about the DC10 being a “pilot’s aircraft, very stable. Of course, I will miss it but you can’t argue with the comfort and 35% increased fuel efficiency of our new Boeing 777-300ER’s.” Ahmed has logged an impressive 10,000 plus hours on plane himself over twenty years.

After only an hour the airplane began its descent at 4:03PM, forty-three minutes after our departure at 3:20PM. The airplane loudly shook and shuddered when spoilers deployed, and the airplane then turned whisper quite for the rest of the smooth flight. Watching the engines and control surfaces was quite spectacular.

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The final flight landed at 4:17PM local time to huge applause on board, and a water cannon salute was had after a lengthy tour of the Birmingham ramp. It was a nice change to the mood on the earlier flight of the day, when the mood on board turned silent through much of descent, with only the drone of the engines to hear. You could almost hear a pin drop when they throttled back for landing. Once we greased the runway at 136 knots, the thrust reversers kicked in and brought us to a stop, breaking the silence. Only when the thrusters stopped did thunderous applause take over. Unlike a regular commercial flight there was no rush to disembark and everyone stopped for cockpit photos as the engines shut down at 4:30PM local with a following press conference. Nearly forty-five minutes later, when I left, the airplane was still mobbed.

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - POST LANDING PRESS CONFERENCE - FEB 2014 - 2 FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - FLIGHT DECK - FEB 2014 - 3

Biman Bangladesh’s DC-10, S2-ACR, first flew in January 1988 and was delivered to the airline in December 1988 and named “New Era”.  As line number 445 out of 446 DC-10s built, the airplane was one of the last delivered to any airline, with Nigerian received the last one in 1989. It spent a few decades plying the skies over Southeast Asia, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf region. The aircraft arrived into Birmingham on Thursday from Dhaka, Bangladesh via Kuwait City for three days of one hour special enthusiast flights.

Extra: Final DC-10 Delivery in 1989

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - LANDS AT BIRMINGHAM - FEB 2014 - 1Tomorrow, the airplane will be ferried back to Dhaka to be scrapped in a last minute twist of fate. Originally destined for the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the plan was mothballed when the museum did not have the space to house the airplane for six months. Unfortunately the airplane was due for service in only two months and Biman’s license to fly it expires at the end of the month, making it financially unsustainable to wait. A UK museum had offered to take it, but the airline wound up receiving a substantial offer for the parts, particularly the GE CF-6 engines and understandably caved to finances. In total, the airplane, which first flew on January 9, 1988, completed over 22,000 cycles and over 80,000 hours in flight.

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - IN FLIGHT CABIN - FEB 2014 - 7I have been on a number of inaugural flights of an airplane including the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 and 747-8, but until today I have never been on a retirement flight of an aircraft. These first flights were often full of paying, normal passengers. This is the first all AvGeek flight I have ever been on, and there’s not exactly the normal fanfare. It’s all geeks, some of whom have never flown on the DC-10 before, including many who were born after the DC-10 ended production.

Extra: McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Sales Brochures and Memorabilia from 1970 and 1971.

The last time I flew a DC-10 was LAX-JFK where I sat or slept in the last row (all five seats empty) on American Airlines (AA) in Nov 1996. My first time was LAX-HNL in November 1992. I don’t have a long history with the aircraft flying in it, but as I grew up in Tulsa, OK where AA maintained the DC-10s, I have a very personal connection to it. When American Airlines DC-10 Flight 191 crashed on May 25, 1979, I was ten years old and an AvGeek, many of my friend’s parents worked at American and that and the consequential grounding were the talk of many of my friend’s and their parents. It was a shock to all of us. I remember where I was when I heard the news. Time stood still at the tragedy of it all, and lingered when the type was grounded.

ams-ramp-concourse-e-7-klm-md11-ph-kcd_25401The tri-jets are certainly in their sunset years. Later this year, the handful of remaining passenger MD-11s, now only flown by KLM, will be a thing of the past. Its life-span, entering service in 1991, of 23 years is almost half of the service of its older brother the DC-10. Yet while it is possible that we’ll see a few scenic flights, it seems unlikely that the MD-11, or any other large jets, will see anything but a similar fate.

Unlike prop aircraft like the DC-3, DC-6, Ford Tri-Motor, or Lockheed Constellation, the track record of retired jets (such as the 707, 727, DC-8, etc) is not great for enthusiast flights, often simply by virtue of size – and thus operating costs – alone. After the DC-10 and then the MD-11, What’s the next plane to end its flying life? The IL-62? The A300? A310? Even the A318?

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Launch Brochure from 1971

Airlines are typically very sentimental so I’d like to congratulate Biman, who is in a recovery phase after a steep dive, to actually do something so special for AvGeeks and those who loved the airplane. Many airplanes are quietly pulled from service, and most don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Biman did something that some have said is a public relations stunt, but CEO Kevin Steele, who was involved with Concorde, says he “understands enthusiast’s desire to say goodbye.”

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Still, I find it unfortunate that it was flown all the way here only to be flown all the way back to die. Whether it was the never confirmed Museum of Flight, Future of Flight, or Bruntingthorpe Aviation Museum in England, it is tragic that at this point, no DC-10 passenger airplanes will be on display barring a last minute change. The airplane will continue to live on as a cargo hauler for FedEx for some years to come, but its days are clearly numbered.

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - TAKE OFF FROM OB DECK - FEB 2014 - 3Back in Birmingham, Steele, wearing jeans and a DC-10 last flights T-shirt, said “I’m a little sad with a lump in my throat but this is as much about celebrating Biman’s past as its future.” Let’s raise a toast to the DC-10, and Biman for a job well done, and blue skies ahead. The carrier will be back at the airport soon – they begin service to New York City soon: via Birmingham using a brand new state of the art Boeing 777-300ER.

*Also, congrats to Ian Allen Tours for pulling off a great last day of DC-10 flying!

SLIDESHOW! Click to advance:
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Airchive’s Final DC-10 Flight Coverage and Related Items:

STORY: Final DC-10 Long-Haul Scheduled Passenger Flight Arrives into Birmingham, UK 

STORY: The History of the DC-10, Part One: Taking Shape and Taking Off

STORY: The History of the DC-10, Part Two: Problems, Popularity, and Post Production

STORY: Remembering the DC-10: A Pilot’s Perspective

Extra: McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Sales Brochures and Memorabilia from 1970 and 1971.

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Launch Brochure from 1971

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Scrapped at Las Vegas, NV in 1995

Extra: American Airlines DC-10 Being Converted to Trans-Aero Russian Airlines at Marana, AZ in 1996

Other Airchive Firsts and Lasts Photo Galleries!:
Singapore A380 Inaugural   /   Boeing 787 Dreamliner ANA Inaugural
Boeing 747-8 Inaugural     /    CSeries Rollout
Airbus A350 XWB First Flight

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FIRST PHOTOS: Final Passenger DC-10 Flight

As the final McDonnell Douglas DC-10 passenger flight comes to a close, our very own Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren is on board and has sent back some amazing pictures. While we have a full story coming up later, we wanted to pass along these historic pictures as soon as possible. Enjoy!

At the same time, news on the aircraft’s future has surfaced. While it was rumored that the aircraft was to be donated to a museum in Seattle (not clear if Future of Flight) it turns out they have no room for 6 months but Biman’s crews are not licensed to fly the DC-10 after Feb 28. Because of this, the aircraft will return home and be sold for scrap after scheduled scenic flights. Airchive will be on board one of the scenic tours Biman is offering before the aircraft is chopped to pieces.

EXTRA >> Airchive Readers Share Their Stories of the DC10

 

The very last passenger DC-10 rests in the sunlight prior to its final commercial flight on February 20, 2014.

The very last passenger DC-10 rests in the sunlight prior to its final commercial flight on February 20, 2014. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

The air stairs have been pulled back, and the airplane is ready to go. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

The air stairs have been pulled back, and the airplane is ready to go.

Bernie Leighton from Seattle, WA and Maarten Van Den Driessche from Belguim hold a Bangladesh flag in front of the airplane.

Bernie Leighton from Seattle, WA and Maarten Van Den Driessche from Belguim hold a Bangladesh flag in front of the airplane. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Captain Shoaib Chowdhury prepares the aircraft for departure from Dhaka Bangladesh.

Captain Shoaib Chowdhury prepares the aircraft for departure from Dhaka Bangladesh. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Flight engineer Selim Azam makes adjustments to the aircraft while in flight.

Flight engineer Selim Azam makes adjustments to the aircraft while in flight. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

The final DC-10 flight lines up on the runway

The final DC-10 flight lines up on the runway (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Bernie Leighton Aaron Willis Tilburg from the Netherlands share a meal and stories on board the flight.

Bernie Leighton Aaron Willis Tilburg from the Netherlands share a meal and stories on board the flight. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Meals are prepared on the airplane's galley.

Meals are prepared on the airplane’s galley. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Hafiz with Biman

Hafiz with Biman

Breakfast is served to the thirty some-odd passengers on board this unique flight.

Breakfast is served to the thirty some-odd passengers on board this unique flight.

Each passenger received a special final flight certificate from the airline. Passengers travelled from around the globe to catch the flight, such as Guy Van Herbruggen from Belgium.

Each passenger received a special final flight certificate from the airline. Passengers travelled from around the globe to catch the flight, such as Guy Van Herbruggen from Belgium.

 

Extra: The History of the DC-10, Part One: Taking Shape and Taking Off

Extra: Remembering the DC-10: A Pilot’s Perspective

Extra: The History of the DC-10, Part Two: Problems, Popularity, and Post Production

Extra: McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Sales Brochures and Memorabilia from 1970 and 1971.

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Launch Brochure from 1971

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Scrapped at Las Vegas, NV in 1995

Extra: American Airlines DC-10 Being Converted to Trans-Aero Russian Airlines at Marana, AZ in 1996

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Planes Vs Trains: The Race from DC to NYC, Part Four

By Vinay Bhaskara & Jason Rabinowitz / Published February 4, 2014

*Editors note: The fourth installment in this four part series, we take a in-depth, deep-dive look at one of the most interesting transportation markets on the planet: New York to Washington DC. Long enough to fly, short enough to drive, the market is one of the more unique in the US if not the world. Today the race end as the Acela train is pitted against the air shuttle from DC back to NYC (note that the race was run back in September, 2013, and read part three, NYC to DC, here!). Read part one, on history, here!  Dive into the numbers behind the route and read part two here! 

The next morning I woke up at 5:30 am to try and get to the Capitol Building in time for our 8:15 am start. The Washington D.C. metro system is fantastic, or at least much cleaner and more comfortable than the New York City subway or the CTA trains in my new hometown of Chicago. Jason jumped onto his ten minute walk to Union Station, while I pulled out my phone and pinged the Uber app for a car. I suppose calling a car on Uber is the modern day facsimile of getting out on the street corner and hailing a taxi, but it’s much more convenient and guaranteed to accept credit cards, unlike most taxis in DC. Regardless, it only took me about 21 minutes to make it to the airport from downtown, though at that time of the day DC traffic is coming into the city from Virginia.

Jason’s Review – Acela Express WAS-NYC

On the way back from Washington to New York, we switched roles and I rode Amtrak’s Acela Express service. While Regan Airport may be close to the city center, Union Station is pretty much is the city center. The station is pretty much within walking distance of anything downtown, so catching a train right after a meeting is no problem.

Inside Union Station, a remarkable transit hub. (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

Inside Union Station, a remarkable transit hub. (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

Union Station is a beautiful transit hub, a truly classic rail terminal. High decorative ceilings, shops, and eateries make it an ideal place to spend some time before your train. Once at the gate for the 9am Acela, all the great points about the place are lost: Travelers are packed into a tiny waiting area with minimal seating, non-functional (but free) WiFi, and a looping security video. The boarding process did not begin until just a few minutes before the scheduled departure; however, we did depart on time.

Amtrak does not allow passengers on a later train to travel standby on an earlier train, even if there is room onboard. Several announcements were made that only passengers with a ticket for the 9am train would be allowed on board, with no mercy for those who arrived early. This is in stark contrast to the Delta Shuttle, where passengers on any later flight may fly standby for free if there are empty seats. This alone may be enough to convince passengers to fly.

Just like the Delta Shuttle, Amtrak uses an open seating policy. I decided to try out the quiet car towards the rear of the train, and settled into a window seat. The quiet car, marked with hanging signs from the ceiling, discourages any cell phone conversations, loud music, and dims the lights so passengers can get some sleep. This is a great amenity for those who want to rest, or focus on getting some work done on the journey.

With several different seating configurations, there is something for everyone on Acela. (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

With several different seating configurations, there is something for everyone on Acela. (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

My seat had plenty of legroom, a foot rest, massive tray (and stable) table, two 120V power outlets, and an overhead reading light. I could not possibly expect this level of comfort out of an economy class cabin on any airline running between New York and Washington, which gives the Acela a nice advantage. I was also able to set up my laptop and start working immediately after sitting down, all the way through arrival in New York. No wasting time waiting for 10,000 feet, and that provides Amtrak with a leg up in productivity. Because the shuttle flights are so quick, you are unlikely to get any work done.

Acela WiFi Speeds (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

Acela WiFi Speeds (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

Speaking of getting work done, passengers expect WiFi on this route, and Amtrak did not disappoint. While GoGo WiFi on the Delta Shuttle was available, it was quite slow and not free. Amtrak provides a free WiFi service, and the Acela was recently upgraded to a 4G connection that should theoretically be faster than GoGo. Amtrak WiFi relies on cellular carriers like AT&T and Verizon, so its coverage will only be as good as those services. I found the speeds to be pretty good, but that may be because they block all video and most streaming audio services. That is annoying, but for the greater good to ensure everyone gets decent speeds.

Amtrak arrives at Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, which is pretty much the opposite experience of Union Station. Dark, dingy, and generally overcrowded, Penn Station’s best quality is that it usually gets the job done. What Penn Station does provide, however, is direct access to the core of New York City, and you just can’t beat that. Taking a cab into midtown from LaGuardia could be quite a process in rush hour.

Vinay’s Review – US Airways Shuttle DCA-LGA

After disembarking at the far end of Terminal C (in front of gates 23-34), I walked down to the security checkpoint for gates 35-45. Regardless, I made it through security painlessly though not without waiting in a line for about fifteen minutes only subject myself to the trained monkey routine that is called “security” by the TSA. For someone who’s offended or annoyed by the process, I suppose that’s a point in favor of the train, but I don’t really mind the whole charade so it wasn’t awful. Still, the relative convenience of the Acela purely from a time perspective (given the variability in security waits), does merit mentioning as an attractive factor for those who travel the route frequently.

Inside Terminal C at Washington Reagan

Inside Terminal C at Washington Reagan

Once I cleared security, I had about an hour and a half left before my flight, so I made a beeline straight to the US Airways Club in Terminal C, which is nothing special, though certainly above average by US standards. At that time of the morning, after the early morning rush subsided, the club was relatively emptied, though it had begun to fill up rapidly by the time I left 45 minutes later. As far as the productivity factor for Acela over the Shuttle, the potential to get some work done in the lounge can offset that to some degree. Then again, as an international Star Alliance Gold member, I get free access to US Airways Clubs (a privilege I’ll be losing soon), so for those who have to pay the annual fee, it might not be that attractive of a perk. Regardless, with comfortable seating and plenty of outlets, I would have been able to get lots of work done. Since I had nothing urgent to work on that day in advance of several client calls that night, I instead settled down with a copy of The Economist and grabbed a bagel and some cereal for breakfast.

The US Airways Club at Reagan Terminal C

The US Airways Club at Reagan Terminal C

*Unrelated Tangent: My routine for flights has traditionally been to read the latest weekly edition of The Economist, while underneath the electronic device ceiling, and switch to other forms of passing the time once in the air. Looks like that will effectively end (at least the mandated part of it) thanks to the FAA.

They had one of those rolling bagel toasters (like the ovens you see at a Quiznos), and it was set too high, so the bagel came out almost burnt, but otherwise the food spread was decent. Certainly better than most domestic United Clubs (including the one that I frequent in Terminal 1 on Concourse B at O’Hare, where all you get are snacks. I think there’s a club in San Francisco where I saw a couple of pastries once, but much like United’s profits, they were marginal at best (rimshot?…. I kid… I Kid…). But regardless, the food spread was decent and I managed to get through around 70% of the magazine and a good chunk of The Wall Street Journal.

Snacks at the US Airways Club

Snacks at the US Airways Club

At t-minus 45, I left the lounge and went out to Gate 42, stopping to pick up brunch at California Tortilla. While in line, who happens to walk up but Scott Kirby, then president of US Airways and now president of American Airlines? For most people, seeing an airline executive up close in an airport is nothing special, but for avgeeks like me, it’s the equivalent of seeing Jack Nicholson at a Lakers game or Justin Bieber at a Heat game.

Boarding was relatively orderly, thanks to my Star Alliance Gold status (and thus early group access), and I settled into the aisle seat of the bulkhead on a full flight. Lacking my preferred window seat, I once again jumped into The Economist as we pulled back from the gate on time and waited in the customary fifteen minute line. Once we got in the air, the beverage service immediately began. Unlike the Delta Shuttle, the US Airways Shuttle does not feature free newspapers, though snacks, beer, and wine are all complimentary. Since it was the morning (and I don’t drink on flights anyway), I stuck to the snacks and my customary can of ginger ale as I thumbed through US Airways’ inflight magazine.

Once I finished the beverage service, I pulled out my phone and attempted to connect to GoGo’s inflight internet so that we could continue with the live tweeting of the race. No dice. So I tried again…. And again…. And again. After my fourth attempt, I gave it up settled down to try and take a nap after a late night with friends the previous evening and an early (at least contextually) morning in DC. Naturally, there was a baby with her mother seated to my left, and while there was no crying, the silence was overshadowed by the incessant kicking. Feeling magnanimous, I let it go and managed 25 minutes worth of fretful shut-eye before waking up when we touched down at La Guardia.

And then there was La Guardia. Unlike Jason, I was not flying out of the serene, Sky Club-esque Marine Air Terminal but rather Terminal C. Of course La Guardia as a whole is a dump, and that goes for every terminal there (though Delta is trying hard to change that), but I guess you could say that Terminal C is the common landfill to the Superfund site that is the Central Terminal Building. Being seated in the bulkhead, I was out the door within 15 minutes.

On the Ground in New York City

If the traffic gods smiled on Jason the day before, what I had to deal with would probably be described as mild frowning. The traffic was not awful but it was slow moving enough that I could see Jason steadily gaining on me on the Google Plus map. Because there were no delays for the Acela this time (and of course because Manhattan was unseasonably devoid of cars in mid-afternoon), the race came down to the wire, though I eventually made it to the NYSE around 8 minutes ahead of Jason.

Social Media Interaction

A key part of the race was the social media involvement. Airchive’s followers and other Social Media friends were invited to follow on Twitter (up against the 787-9’s first flight on the same day) using the hashtag #PlaneVsTrain, and the response was amazing. In addition to responses from Delta (through spokesperson) and Amtrak themselves, the #Avgeek community on Twitter became really invested in the train (rooting heavily for the plane of course), with over 1,000 tweets being sent using that hashtag over the course of the two day race. Though everyone followed along breathlessly to the finish, we didn’t reveal the winner, until now.

Race Conclusion/Implications and Future Predictions

While the plane won the race we were able to see why the Acela has become an extremely attractive option. In particular, the free WiFi and enhanced productivity (time isn’t tied up in boarding and deplaning or in flying under the 10,000 feet ceiling for) of the Acela, along with the option to avoid the TSA made the Acela a really attractive value proposition. Under normal conditions, of course the plane is still likely to win given its heavy speed advantage, but given the extreme variability of New York City traffic, the train can actually get there faster (as our second race showed). On the flip side, Jason made it to the airport so quickly before the Delta Shuttle that he could have stood by on the earlier flight, which would have torpedoed the race before it even started. So even today, there’s probably a clear advantage to the Shuttle.

But more importantly, the success of the Acela and its relative competitiveness bodes well for the future prospects of high speed rail in this country. Keep in mind of course that the Acela is nothing close to high speed rail with a maximum speed of 150 miles per hour, which is only achieved at select locations along the route due to rail gauge limitations. But if the Acela has been able to achieve success at this level despite only limited speeds, imagine what it could do if the proposed 220 miles per hour speed (targeted by 2040) was achieved? Therein lies the attractive potential of the Acela and thus the train

Moving forward, we believe that the balance of power will continue to shift towards the Acela Express, which is critical given that is the only profitable segment of Amtrak’s entire portfolio of services. US Airways will likely eventually reduce its services to 70 seat regional jets like Delta, and the two carriers will persist with the route at those levels. Given the corporate contracts tied to a presence on the route, neither Delta nor US Airways will be able to leave entirely. Still in the battle of Plane Vs. Train, it is the Train who appears to be the long term winner.

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InFlight Review: JetBlue Even More Space

By Taylor Michie / Published January 30, 2014 / Photos by author

Photo courtesy jplphoto.

Photo courtesy jplphoto.

JetBlue has found itself in the limelight several times in the past few months. It will introduce Mint premium service on transcontinental routes in June, just premiered A321 service on JFK-SJU, and recently launched superfast Fly-Fi service on A320 aircraft. Despite all of the fanfare surrounding its most recent accomplishments, it’s not as if these are its first forays into the world of passenger experience.

In fact, JetBlue prides itself on having one of the best complimentary passenger experiences in the industry — one checked bag free, unlimited snacks and soft drinks onboard every flight, and free AVOD with DirecTV at every seat. Aside from its occasional winter weather meltdown, the carrier has developed a solid reputation and nearly fanatical following. I recently flew JetBlue between New York and Washington, and had a chance to experience the carrier’s most basic level of service. The question is, did it live up to the hype?

LANDSIDE / CHECK-IN / SECURITY

I was scheduled to fly the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which was looking iffy thanks to a storm that was causing delays at Northeast airports, primarily because of wind. My evening departure pitted me right on the cusp of predicted delays. While this wasn’t the news I wanted to hear, it would be the first test of JetBlue customer service.

I headed to the airport via the LIRR and AirTrain, arriving around 3:00pm for my 5:40pm departure. I had already checked in online, but needed to drop off my checked bag. JetBlue does have an iPhone app with Passbook integration, so you can skip checking in with an agent or at a kiosk if you’re doing carry-on only. The check-in area is large space-wise, but there are only about eight or so manned desks. It didn’t seem to be a problem on this occasion, as I had to wait less than five minutes to send my bag on its way, but during peak periods it may be crazy.

Security was perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the entire operation. I had upgraded to an Even More Space seat, which comes with Even More Speed priority boarding and security for a limited time. There were two TSA officers checking IDs at security: one was solely devoted to the non-expedited line, and one was alternating between another non-expedited line and the Even More Speed line. This setup is common at many airports across the board, and typically when passengers with expedited security screening turn up, their IDs are checked before others in the non-expedited lane. In this case, the agent was alternating back and forth between Even More Space passengers and the passengers in the non-expedited lane. While this is perhaps a more fair approach, it sort of defeats the purpose of expedited security. It took about ten minutes to get past the ID check.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get better during screening. Employees, who neither work for Jetblue or the TSA but are contracted through a third party, were directing passengers to security lines seemingly in a random fashion. They directed me to one line, but I quickly scanned the open lanes and saw one that was moving more quickly and looked mostly to be comprised of business-type travelers, so I stepped out of the line I was in and began to walk over to the shorter one. I was immediately stopped by one of the stewards who ordered me back into the original line, saying that switching was not an option, and I needed to stay where I was directed. All in all, security took about 45 minutes, much longer than it needed to.

TERMINAL

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetAfter clearing security, it was time to explore JetBlue’s Terminal 5. The terminal is laid out in a semi-triangular shape. Security lets out into a central area with the majority of restaurants and shops, and there are a handful of gates to your left or right, and then a long hallway with gates directly in front of you. The concourse is bright and modern, with high ceilings and plentiful seating, somewhat reminiscent of SFO’s T2. As far as dining goes, there were plenty of options to go around (full list here: http://www.jetblue.com/travel/jfk/), but it was a pleasant surprise to see some more playful options in the terminal: Popular cupcakery Baked by Melissa, Cheeburger Cheeburger, Ben and Jerry’s, and Illy Coffee. Of course, there were the requisite grab-and-go staples, as well as a variety of more formal dining experiences covering everything from sushi to barbecue.

photo 1(1)After placing my order and swiping my credit card, I was given an estimated delivery of 2:30am (?) and an order number. I figured this was just a glitch and had work to do any way, so with plenty of time before my flight, I just waited. And waited. And waited. After about a half-hour of waiting for my hummus and pita bowl, I pressed the “Assistance” button on the screen, which assured me that someone would be over immediately. Well, an hour came and went, with no food in sight. With fifteen minutes before scheduled boarding, I needed to find food, and ended up with so-so sandwich, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. While JetBlue isn’t responsible for the food ordering system (it’s implemented and managed by OTG, a contractor), it is part of the experience, and reflects badly on the airline when things don’t go as planned. The same goes for security — while they can’t necessarily control the TSA and their actions, they can control lane management post-ID check, and it would serve the airline well to create a more orderly and expeditious process.

THE FLIGHT – JETBLUE 1407, JFK-IAD

As I mentioned earlier, weather conditions were iffy in the Northeast. At JFK, things were running smoothly, but my aircraft was arriving from Syracuse, NY, where things were not going so smoothly. The aircraft left Syracuse late, meaning an hour’s departure delay here at JFK. The gate crew were extremely communicative and gave us updates every ten minutes or so, which was appreciated.

Our E190 pulled up to the gate around 5:45, and the passengers were quickly offloaded, service trucks pulled up, and by 6:00, we were boarding. Even More Space and Mosaic customers board first, and, after that, JetBlue boards by rows, back to front. I was nearly first onboard, and took my bulkhead seat, 1A (note that photos are from return trip, hence the extra legroom).

photo 2 photo 5 Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I picked a bulkhead on this flight as making a quick exit at Dulles was essential. Despite this being an Even More Space seat, legroom seemed scarcely larger than the JetBlue standard 34″ — still generous in this day and age, but perhaps this bulkhead seat was not worth the additional fee. We pushed back at 6:43, and the crew specifically mentioned that our electronic devices didn’t need to be switched off, save for “full-size laptop computers.” We had a relatively quick taxi to the active runway, and were off into the night sky.

Flight time is around 50 minutes, so an expedited snack service was conducted. Passenger were given the choice of water, Coke, Diet Coke, or Sprite, and either Linden’s Butter Crunch Cookies or a nut mix — I was disappointed that the Terra Blue chips didn’t make an appearance, but such is life. By the time the flight attendants had completed service and were on their way back through to pick up trash, we were descending into Washington. The flight attendants were cheery and pleasant on this flight, and the captain made active use of the intercom, keeping us informed every step of the way.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetWith such a short flight, there was little time to fully explore JetBlue’s AVOD system. However, I did get to scroll through the 36 channels of DirecTV, which came through loud and clear, and glanced at the moving map every so often. If I were to fault the system, I would say that the small screen size is its largest downside, but it was perfectly adequate for such a short flight.

Bottom Line

Presently, I think JetBlue’s biggest asset is its people. Every JetBlue employee I encountered was extremely helpful, warm, and kind. It is clear that the “customer first” ideology is clearly ingrained into the JetBlue culture, and I think JetBlue is doing a great job providing excellent customer service.

With that said, I think I was expecting to be blown away, and, to be honest, I wasn’t.  The security checkpoint situation is an absolute mess. It seems that a better system of lane management could be implemented so that everyone gets through faster — business travelers don’t need to be stuck behind families or inexperienced travelers. Plus, expedited security (“Even More Speed”) doesn’t seem so expedited. As I mentioned, it’s currently included with Even More Space purchases, but I wouldn’t spend the money outright for it, at least not at JFK. Secondly, the touchscreen meal ordering system at T5 is an absolute failure. If the system is going to be in place, it needs to work. In fairness, after I tweeted my displeasure to OTG, someone followed up with me, refunded the charge, and promised me a better experience next time. Are these in JetBlue’s control? Probably not on either, but both reflected poorly on the overall experience.

As far as Even More Space seating goes, I think it’s absolutely worth $20 each way. Priority boarding means your bag is more likely to ride overhead (especially on JetBlue’s smaller E-190s – there was a lot of gate-checking amongst the passengers who boarded towards the end of the process), and the legroom is adequate. On the return, I chose row 14, the E-190 exit row, and there was miles of legroom, owing to the already-generous configuration and the presence of the exit (see photos above).

I think it’s an interesting time of transition for JetBlue. Its soft product is its biggest asset, and customer service is definitely better than many of its legacy counterparts. However, the hard product isn’t as revolutionary as it once was. Legroom is plentiful and highly appreciated, but small-ish seatback TVs and no onboard power means that JetBlue needs to play catch-up in order to stay competitive. The launch of its Mint service this year will be a huge upgrade for passengers flying transcontinental routes, but it looks like the rest of us will just have to wait.

Cover photo courtesy jplphoto.

 

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