Category Archives: Airline Inflight Reviews

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!

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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 After using the new American Airlines IFE system the day before, Virgin America’s system seemed outdated and not nearly as user friendly.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.

RELATED:

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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.

BA Review-28     Premium Economy        LOT007-3-2
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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The Frozen Triangle: LGA-MSP-ATL-LGA In One Cold Day

By Jason Rabinowitz / Published January 22, 2014

A very, very cold looking Great Lake (Photo: Jason Rabinowitz)

A very, very cold looking Great Lake (Photo: Jason Rabinowitz)

While I’m still not totally sure what the heck a polar vortex is, one thing is certain – extreme cold and the aviation industry do not mix. Two weeks ago, I planned to venture around the eastern half of the United States in order to cover the final scheduled Delta DC-9 flight. While I made the flight, what I also got was a first hand lesson on how ill-prepared this industry is for climate change and extreme weather.

My itinerary, while ambitious, would have been a piece of cake on an ordinary day. I was booked on the 10:10am flight out of LGA to MSP, 4:20pm flight out of MSP to ATL, and 9:45pm flight out of ATL back to LGA. Both connections had multiple hours between flights, as I wouldn’t be tempting fate with a 39 minute connection on this day.

The weekend leading up to my flights was treacherous for the New York area airports. JFK had been closed for several hours on Friday due to extremely low visibility and drifting snow, and again on Sunday due to equipment failure, severe icing, and other dangerous conditions. This had a cascading effect throughout the entire aviation industry, canceling thousands of flights across the country and generally causing chaos. In fact, the same thing is happening right now as the northeast goes through another cold spell and snow storm.

Just to be safe, I attempted to change to an earlier flight out of LaGuardia the night before. Unfortunately, the type of ticket I had could not be modified online, which is a huge problem during irregular operations. I called up Delta and the menus prompted me that the hold time would be greater than three hours. Yikes. Alternatively, I could have the system call me back when it was my turn. I had heard others talk about this, and decided to give it a try. I waited, waited some more, and eventually forgot about it.

On the morning of my flight, I arrived at what I assumed would be a hellscape. Oddly, LaGuardia seemed calmer than most normal days. I breezed through security in seconds with TSA PreCheck. I was chatting with with a TSA agent about my travel plans for the day, and he responded with a playful “that’s what you think.” A nice vote of confidence to start the day.

I picked out at spot at a restaurant in terminal C to wait for my flight. Unbelievably, it was still listed as on time just two hours before departure. As any true aviation geek would, however, I checked where my aircraft was coming from, and the news wasn’t good. The aircraft was coming in from Detroit, one of the coldest cities in the country that day.

An hour went by as the inbound aircraft was listed as “awaiting takeoff” by Delta. I’m sure the wait for deicing at DTW was long, but they got the job done, and my aircraft arrived about an hour and a half late. I wasn’t worried, as I baked in a four hour layover at MSP for just this reason. Well, the news got worse. Our aircraft and cabin crew had arrived, but the pilots were on the following flight from DTW. Oops. Another 45 minutes on the clock, our pilots arrived and we were on our way. Later on, I would learn that this aircraft, an MD88, was involved in a deadly accident in 1996. Not a good omen.

While in the air, I learned that JetBlue made the shocking decision to cancel nearly all their operations in the New York Metro and Boston areas. This, I thought to myself, can only be bad news. What if Delta did the same? How long would I be stranded at MSP or ATL?

BdUdzjUCMAEqGBJMy flight arrived to MSP a few hours late, but I was shocked that I had even gotten out of NYC, considering that two out of the three earlier flights had been cancelled. Minneapolis was cold, the coldest in decades actually. My phone said it was -11F, but the people of MSP didn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, at Chicago, O’Hare airport practically shut down as its fuel supply had frozen. MSP was ready, however, while other airports caved under the ice.

Despite the bitter cold, the final DC9 flight pushed back early, without deicing, and we were off to ATL. Two out of three flights for the day down, one to go. This is where things started to get interesting.

The southern United States is not ready for cold weather, even if northern states laugh at their concept of cold. Miraculously, my flight back to LGA was listed as on time. Just before boarding, a delay was posted because one of the flight attendants was stranded elsewhere.

A Delta employee sits on the frozen MSP ramp. I bet he has a few tips for ATL in cold weather.

A Delta employee sits on the frozen MSP ramp. I bet he has a few tips for ATL in cold weather.

As we sat on the Boeing 737-800 waiting to push back, the pilot came on the PA with three pieces of bad news. First, the fuel supply at ATL had potentially been contaminated with ice crystals, which is a very bad thing. Fuel would have to be trucked in from an alternate location, and that was taking a while. Second, the potable water distribution had frozen, so the lavatory sinks would not work, nor would the flight crew be able to offer coffee or tea. Third, our late flight attendant had finally been located, but was not yet with the aircraft.

After about 30 minutes, our pilot came back on the PA with some more news. All three of our prior problems had been solved, which  is great! We got our fuel, hand sanitizer for the lavatory sinks, and a new flight attendant. However, a new problem cropped up- the push bar to push us away from the gate had frozen. It wasn’t that cold at ATL, with temperatures of about 28 degrees. At this point, I wondered if my luck had run out, and if our crew was about to time out for the day, stranding us at ATL.

Another 20 minutes and one new push bar later, we finally started rolling in the right direction. I asked a flight attendant how close the crew came to timing out, and I was told a mere 13 minutes. Once in the air, we were told to expect a very bumpy flight, and they weren’t kidding. We were being thrown all over the place with a monster tailwind. The tailwind was so strong, in fact, that the pilot came on the PA once more to say “this is about as fast as I’ve ever gone in an aircraft, nearly 750 MPH.”

I was so close to completing this improbably triangle of flights on one of the worst travel days in recent history. “What if we have to divert to another airport because of the weather” I thought to myself. Thankfully, the pilots set us down on LGA’s runway 31 with the wind putting up its best fight, and the day was done.

Map via http://www.gcmap.com/

Map via http://www.gcmap.com/

I checked into LGA on Foursquare, and friends responded in awe on Twitter. “OMG, you made it. #stunned” said my friend John Walton. I really couldn’t believe it myself, either. I’m pretty sure I used all my “flight Karma” for 2014 in one day, but what a day it was! Oh, and remember that callback from Delta? That never really worked. They tried calling me three times, but only after 24 hours, and each call failed on their end.

Whether you want to believe this or not, climate change is here. Winters will be colder and summer storms will be harsher. While Atlanta may not see freezing temperatures every day, they may want to take a lessons from their cousins in Detroit and Minneapolis, unless they really like fuel popsicles. The aviation industry needs to take a hard look at itself and better prepare for this severe weather, it won’t be going away any time soon.

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InFlight Review: KLM IntraEuropean Business

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published January 10, 2014 / Photos by author

After an exciting, but very cold, visit to Amsterdam Schiphol’s famous observation deck, it was time to head back into the far warmer terminal to thaw out. Holding a business class ticket, I learned I was entitled to expedited security. With no one ahead of me I blazed through in a grand total of five minutes. By virtue of traveling within the Schengen Area, I did not have to clear immigration, saving even more time.

With two hours left to spend before my flight, I paid a visit to the KLM Crown Lounge nearest Pier B. The lounge was well appointed, as far as lounges go. A number of seat styles and arrangements dotted the space, though partitions between them were hard to come by. I sampled a few Dutch-style cookies and had a few drinks (water), before catching a badly needed 45 minute nap in a corner.

The Flight

No, it wasn't this lucky. But it was a similar 737.

No, I wasn’t this lucky. But it was a similar 737.

Twenty minutes prior to final call I headed for the gate, and quickly boarded the Boeing 737. Expecting a comfy first class seat I was surprised to see instead a cabin outfitted in all coach seats. I settled into seat 2A, and noticed that the middle seat had a head rest with the words “Reserved for your personal space” imprinted above the KLM logo. I was not entirely sure whom the ‘your’ was addressing, but recalling the European trend toward blocking the middle seat in an economy row then calling it business class, I assumed it meant me: Excellent.

As we prepared for take-off it became clear that I had the entire row to myself. Not long after we were airborne I stretched out for another nap, further assuming that 2C was also reserved for my personal space. A flight attendant woke me up twenty minutes into the fifty minute flight, offering drinks and a meal box. I had passed eating anything substantial at the lounge, knowing a meal was coming on board, and thus was quite hungry. Consequently, I was disappointed when the box consisted of chicken on a bed of sauerkraut and two deserts arrived. The chicken tasted great, but 50% of the meal was the sauerkraut bed, and I don’t like sauerkraut. The two deserts, though small, were also enjoyable.

KLM 737-3KLM 737-4

By the time I finished the meal the flight was well past half over. I enjoyed the remaining the twenty-five minutes with my 33 inches of pitch and 17 inches of seat width before touching down in Paris. Taxi time lasted about fifteen minutes before pulling up to our gate in the E pier. The wait for my luggage took the better part of forty minutes, after which I was on my way to the hotel for the evening.

Bottom Line

The flight was the first time I’d seen the new ‘European style’ of business class. KLM launched its version in 2011. The difference between this evolved business and economy is somewhat difficult to ascertain, but the experience was significantly underwhelming compared to domestic first class in the US. Still, there are a few factors to consider.

KLM 737-2First, the flight was only 50 minutes long. If I were flying in the US there’s a good chance I’d be on a CRJ700 or similar, which is not exactly a bastion of comfort in first class (or any class, for that matter). Was I thrilled about having a regular economy seat that tried to pass itself off as a business class seat? No, not really. But for 50 minutes did it really matter? Can’t really say it did.

Second, I did get a meal. A little trolling around frequent flyer sites yielded a generally negative perception of intra-European meals on most full service carriers, but we did get one (and I found it rather good). You’d be hard pressed to find a carrier in the US that offers something similar on a route as short as ours.

Third, lounge access. Lounge access comes through as the unlikely big winner of the experience.  The Crown Room nearest Pier B did not have the best view (I like lounges with a view), but was well stocked, well laid out, and quite comfortable. It was a great way to whittle away a four hour layover. While many US carriers offer lounge access for those travelling domestically in first, some, like American, do not.

Fourth, business does have more legroom; even if it is only by two inches. The seat-width is the same cabin-wide, at 17 inches. Most US domestic first products will be at least four to five inches above coach, by comparison.

Fifth, prices are not that much higher than KLM coach. A unscientific sample of fares on the same route yielded an average increase of roughly $125US for business class over coach (average coach fare was $600). The amount is low enough to entice those looking for an inexpensive upgrade. On the other side, if you price out the amenities you’re receiving, you can easily quantify the total value. Let’s assume that the economy ticket is $600, and business is $725. If an economy ticket plus a $50 lounge pass (meal/snacks appear to be offered free in coach) is $650 and row 20 has an empty middle seat, you’re receiving a nearly equivalent experience for $75 less.

Just to make it crystal clear, this is not avoidable by taking your business to Air France or Lufthansa. Almost every major European carrier offers a variation on the middle-seat-blocked theme. I have not tried the others, so I cannot speak on the experience from a comparative perspective. Compared to US domestic first, the US carriers have a very good chance of coming out ahead.

In sum, KLM intra-European business class boils down to one thing: a guarantee. You’re guaranteed to get priority security, you’re guaranteed to have overhead space, guaranteed to have the middle seat open, and are guaranteed to get a meal. Flights over two or three hours? Might swing for it. Under two? Enjoyable, yes, but it feels like an indulgence, and a small one at that.

Delta paid for our flight, but our opinions are our own.

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In-Flight Review: American Airlines Inaugural Airbus A321T LAX-JFK

By Chris Sloan / Published January 7, 2013
Photos by author / slideshow at bottom

BdZ3aDHIMAItrRgNEW YORK JFK: American Airlines officially upped the ante in the high stakes, high yield LAX-JFK transcontinental wars Tuesday with the launch of its long-awaited Airbus A321T.

This latest inaugural, just one month after consummating its merger with US Airways, caps off a period of extensive fleet changes for the carrier. The Embraer ERJ-175Airbus A319, and Boeing 777-300ER all joined the fleet as the newly merged carrier continues on its path toward the largest fleet renewal in commercial aviation history.

The process began in January 2011 with the 777-300ER order and the record 460 aircraft order in July 2011 for 200 Boeing 737-800s and 260 A319s and A321s.

Ever since, American (AA) has averaged a delivery of one new aircraft per week. The airline received its first A321T in November and  the company unveiled the airplane to the press and high-value customers at LAX and JFK late last month. Familiarization flights between the two cities began shortly thereafter.

With five A321T’s in the fleet at present, AA is initially operating two roundtrips per day between the two cities. The A321Ts, which are replacing the ancient 767-200s, will be joined later in the year by standard new-build A321s that are designed to replace the Boeing 757-200s. Down the road, 93 A321s (as well as 17 outstanding orders) will come over from US Airways once the merger is completed. This review covers the inaugural flight 118, scheduled for a 7AM departure.

Extra: Apollo 11 – Inside American Airlines Landmark Airbus Order

Extra: American Airlines Massive Fleet Renewal and Delivery of First Airbus A319

AA-Mercury-NonStop-November-1-1953Historically, American has been a market leader and pioneer in the transcontinental market. It has operated between the two cities, LA and NYC, almost since its founding. It launched the first non-stop transcontinental flights in 1953, and in January of 1959 upgraded the routes to Boeing 707s, the first carrier to use jets domestically in  continuous service.

At one time, big jets such as Boeing 747s and Douglas DC-10s were mainstays on AA’s JFK-LAX/SFO transcon flights, but by the late 1990s, these flights were dominated and eventually operated solely by the Boeing 767-200.

Lacking personal seat-back in-flight entertainment even in premium cabins, and lie-flat sleeper seats the product has remained unchanged from the 1990s. The only real innovations in recent years have been the Samsung Galaxy tablets handed out to premium cabin customers and GoGo wi-fi (AA was first, in 2008)

American launched the first regularly scheduled jet service, 55 years ago in January 1959. The New York IDL-LAX route was chosen.

American launched the first regularly scheduled continuous domestic jet service, 55 years ago in January 1959. The New York IDL-LAX route was chosen.
Image from: Airchive collection

The air travel market between the Los Angeles area and New York City is, by far, the most lucrative in the United States. The bi-directional origin and destination (O&D) market was worth $389.5 million in the second quarter of 2013 alone. Of this, close to two thirds, or $234.4 million flies between the primary two airports: LAX and JFK.

Despite previously operating the oldest equipment with dated passenger experience on the route, AA is still indisputably the market leader on the JFK-LAX route in O&D with 27.2% of the market, followed by Delta with 22.7%. The other three main carriers are all clustered around 15% market share (all figures from Q1 2013).

This is clearly due to two main factors. First, American is the only carrier operating a true three-class cabin with First / Business / Economy service in the market. And they also offer the most frequency in the market with Delta, United, jetBlue and Virgin America (tied) trailing in that order. With the decreased capacity of the narrow-bodied A321 fleet’s 102 seats versus the 767′s 168 seats it’s replacing, American’s frequency will further increase by four flights per day (from the current summer peak of nine) to thirteen between the city-pair from June 11, 2014 onwards. Schedule wise, JFK-LAX will be an almost hourly service in the morning and late afternoon/early evening, while LAX-JFK flights will feature a near hourly shuttle from early morning through late afternoon. The late evening flights out of JFK and red-eyes out of LAX will be retained.

Extra: The Transcon Wars – The Ultimate Airline Battleground

A321T flights between JFK and SFO will begin in March, eventually replacing the 767 on all five frequencies. On JFK-SFO, surprisingly the market share leader is  Virgin America, who slots in just ahead of United with a 21.3% O&D market share. United, Delta, and American are all clustered not far behind, with 21.2%, 21.1%, and 20.3% O&D market share respectively. JetBlue again brings up the rear with 12.8% of the market.

AA’s elderly wide-body Boeing 767-200s are configured with 10 First Class seats, 30 Business Class, and 128 in Main Cabin Economy Class. In comparison, the new narrow-body Airbus A321T offers 10 First Class seats, 20 Business Class seats, 36 Main Cabin Extra, and 36 standard Main Cabin Economy Class seats. First Class seat pitch remains the same in both aircraft at 62″, but the new A321 seats are true lie-flat beds at 82.5″ long in a spacious 1-1 configuration that feels more like an executive jet. On the A321T, Business Class pitch increases to 58″ in a 2-2 configuration from 49″/50″ on the 762. The B/E Aersopace designed seats on the A321 fold out to a lie-flat bed as well at 75-78″ instead of the reclining cradle seats on the older Boeing. Main Cabin Extra pitch is 35″-37″ on the A321 for the Recaro designed slimline seats. Main Cabin pitch is the same between both at 31″-32″ with both cabin in a standard narrow-body 3-3 configuration. Seat width is nearly the same between the two aircraft with the A321T holding a slight edge of .5″ to 1″.

First Class Cabin Pre-Board of AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 6Business Class Cabin Pre-Board of AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 1   Business Class Cabin Pre-Board of AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 3Main Cabin Pre-Board of AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 2

Extra: American Airlines Boeing 767-200 Cabin Images

Extra: American Airlines to Retire the Boeing 767-200 on May 7, 2014

Airchive business analyst Vinay Bhaskara reports the shift to the smaller A321 results in a capacity decrease of 186 seats per day, or 12.3%, in each direction. First Class capacity will actually increase a whopping 44.4% to 130 seats per day each way, perhaps accounting for residual demand from United’s elimination of First Class from its P.S. offering on the route. Business Class capacity is essentially flat, dipping 3.7% to 260 passengers per day each way, while Economy Class sees the biggest drop of 18.8%.

The 767-200s were nice, but the A321 makes them look very dated (because they sort of are...) Photo by Chris Sloan.

The 767-200s were nice, but the A321 makes them look very dated (because they sort of are…) Photo by Chris Sloan.

The A321T hard product is a major upgrade over its Jurassic predecessor. Every seat onboard features seat-back entertainment via the Thales TopSeries and its slick Android inspired GUI; very similar to that found in the A319,  777-300ER, and most recent 737-800 deliveries. It boasts up to 200 movies, 180 TV programs, more than 350 audio selections, up to tweny games, and 3-D moving maps. The full swath of entertainment is included in the premium cabins, while there will be a $4 charge for most of the VOD movies and TV series in Main Cabin as is now custom in the new domestic fleet.

First and Business Cabins boast an HD 15.4″ screen while economy’s screens measure 8.9″. Individual AC power outlets and USB jacks are available at every seat throughout the aircraft as well. Wi-Fi has been upgraded to Gogo’s ATG-4 service, though this is not of the same speed or caliber of KA-satellite based solutions.

Extra: American Airlines A319 / A321T Thales TopSeries Screen Captures

Extra: In-Flight Review of American Airlines’ Inaugural Boeing 777-300ER 

Extra: In-Flight Review of American Airlines’ Inaugural Airbus A319

Though it is a mostly symbolic move, American’s introduction of the A321T is just the first step in the coming shift in the balance of power towards the A321 in the US market. Currently, US carriers operate 453 passenger Boeing 757-200s, and 124 Boeing 737-900s (both ER and non-ER – as well as 176 NGs and 117 MAX 9s on order). However, many of these 757s are slated for retirement (close to 300 – basically the non-international 757s that operating trans-Atlantic and South American routes for the legacy carriers & AA will use new regular A321s to replace 757s reportedly beginning with routes from the West Coast to Hawaii). Meanwhile, US Airways operates 93 A321s (with 17 on order), American has five A321s on property (with an additional 190 – 60x ceo, 130x neo on order), Spirit Airlines operates two (with 30 on order), JetBlue operates four (with 79 more on order), and Hawaiian Airlines has sixteen A321neos on order.  When all of the orders are filled for both types, the A321ceo/neo will be the most operated large narrowbody in the US, narrowly edging out the 737-900/MAX 9 with 431 frames versus 417, a massive shift from the current status.

Business Class is the heart of this premium high-yield market so we booked seat 12D in the intimate 20-seat Business Cabin to review the new product ourselves.

The Flight

The morning started off bright and early. I arrived at LAX around 5:00AM local time to American’s elite Flagship Check-in. The folks at the premium cabin only ticket counter (which has its own special entrance) quickly squared away my reservation, handed me a ticket, and personally escorted me to security.

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The walk to Gate 40 in Terminal 4 was short. The terminal was crowded with people going home from yesterday’s BCS bowl game, reminding me more of a zoo than an airport. Unlike many inaugural flights I have attended, there were no special decorations or acknowledgements of this new milestone (I later found out a celebration had been planned, but was scrapped due to concerns that it would look insensitive in light of the weather.

Boarding commenced approximately on time. I boarded through the L1 door (generally it will be L2 to preserve first class exclusivity), and made my way to my seat in the swank new business class cabin. Upon passing through the first class cabin I noticed a special compartment for pets, as the first class product does not have any under seat storage (same as AAs 777-300).

Before taking my seat in 7D I noticed that each seat had a complimentary SWAG bag, filled with a T-Shirt, DVD, and 500 AAdvantage miles. While settling in, the preflight customary champagne and water were offered as the cabin power flickered on and off. Best to get the jitters out of the way early, I suppose.

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Once power was solidly established the airplane’s mood lighting was turned on. Shades of blue and purple swept over the cabin, eliciting ohs and ahs throughout the airplane. Our friendly crew excitedly thanked us for being on board the inaugural flight, and pointed out that for many it was their first time working on board the airplane. We pushed back at 7:03AM, taxied for awhile across the vast LAX landscape, and leapt into the sky 19 minutes later at 7:22AM.

Once aloft the flight generally proceeded like any other. One hour into the flight, Fern Fernandez, AA’s Vice President of Global Marketing, gave a spirited champagne and cupcake toast (Fernandez later gave up his business seat to an employee, taking his seat at the back of economy). After which, our breakfast service began.

Our two flight attendants (there are two in each cabin for six total, instead of the nine on the old 762) busily worked the cabin, delivering our breakfast choices. My choice consisted of tasty a gruyere fontina cheese omelette and chicken apple sausage, red pepper potatoes, and chicken apple sausage. It was superbly delicious. Other options included Belgian waffles along with cereal and yogurt.

While our meal in business might have come with the fare, all passengers on board wound up receiving free food and drinks on board the flight. Typically those in main cabin extra or the main cabin would have the option of buying off the menu.

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Once I had finished the delicious breakfast I turned my attention to the seat, and promptly fell asleep. It was exceptionally comfortable. I set one of my electronics to power up, but was dismayed by the awkward location of the AC and USB power ports, both located near my head.

After my much needed and very enjoyable nap, it was time to mess around with the inflight entertainment system (IFE). All entertainment, in all classes of service, is free on the A321T (in contrast to the AA A319 and 737 where it is not in Y). The Thales powered, Android GUI based system had an incredibly quick response time – one of the faster I’ve ever seen.

While most choices mirrored a predictable set of choices ranging from movies to TV to music, two options in particular stuck out to me. The first was a sort of e-reader. It functioned much like a Kindle, offering a selection of reading material, which is certainly unique. The other was the moving maps function. Normally pretty unexciting, I found it to be mind blowing with pinching like a smart phone and multiple views including cockpit and wingman which displays heading, ground speed, and altitude. Who needs anything else on the IFE? Very AvGeek and cool. Regardless of your choice, you could listen to it via the set of spiffy three-pronged Bose headsets passed out to each premium passenger.

Thales IFE Business Class on AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 13 BdYla0rIQAAiqw8

The system can be controlled via touch screen or by a very nifty universal remote. The remote also controls flight attendant call and overhead seat lights but doesn’t completely control the IFE, which is annoying as you have to reach far forward. #firstworldproblems.

Ultimately, however, I thought the IFE set a new standard (more photos in the slideshow, below).

As the flight neared its final hour cookies were provided, along with a selection of snacks including chips, candy, and fruit. Thanks to the weather, it was a very bumpy approach below 10k feet – not quite as smooth as the larger 767-200 it will replace.

Our pilots greased the landing at 3:05EST to applause. Predictably, there was no water cannon salute, as it would have all frozen to the airplane with the 10 degree temperature. We blocked into the gate at 3:15PM. And thus a wonderful flight came to an end.

SLIDESHOW: Click to advance
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Another point of significance not lost on the day was when American Airlines and US Airways  made the significant step of allowing both airline’s customer’s miles to be earned and redeemed in the AAdvantage and Dividends loyalty programs. Billed as “Customer Day One”, the changes involve primarily premium passengers, who besides linked loyalty programs, also can use either lounge, access to preferred seats, and combined ticket counters (for more see our story here).  This is the first major customer-facing change resulting from the merger.

And just a month following the completion of its merger with US Airways to form the world’s largest airline, American is clearly on a quest to become what new CEO Doug Parker says is to become “the world’s best airline” with the new A321T product being a significant factor. The Transcon Wars have only begun, however as jetBlue launches its new premium Mint and updated Core product in June followed by Delta’s new BusinessElite Cabin in July. United completed its conversion to its new P.S. product on the 757-200 platform last month. This leaves the innovative and customer friendly Virgin America left, who is now the only transcon player in the market without lie-flat seats in the market, to respond.

What is clear, however, it that AA’s quest to be the top airline in the US has found a good direction in the A321T. Our vote? It’s the new best-in-class.

Additional Stories and Galleries

AA / US Merger – What Comes Next?

Onboard a SpeciAAl 777-300 Delivery Flight

American Airlines Vintage Sales Brochures and Memorabilia

American Airlines Timetables and Route Maps Over The Years

American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum Gallery

* Cover & top photo by Jason Rabinowitz / Airchive

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End of an Era: Delta’s DC-9 Completes Final Scheduled Flight

By Jack Harty / Published January 6, 2014

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The two pilots for flight 2014 complete final checks on the flightdeck before the last departure of the DC-9.

ATLANTA, GA: Appropriately tagged as Delta flight 2014, the last scheduled U.S. commercial DC-9 flight landed at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at 7:32PM EST. The touchdown of flight 2014 marks the end of the DC-9′s 48 year career of scheduled commercial flight in the United States. Although saying farewell to the airplane is bittersweet for aviation enthusiasts, the final flight is a welcome step for Delta as they continue a trend of replacing older aircraft with newer, more efficient frames.

A small but vibrant ceremony complete with balloons and cake greeted passengers in Minneapolis as they arrived for an otherwise mundane flight to Atlanta. The significance of the final flight number, 2014, along with the penultimate flight number of 1965, did not go unnoticed by many. Any DC-9 fan can tell you the airplane entered service in ’65, leaving today in 2014.

And there were no shortage of ‘Dirty-Niner’ (the plane has several nicknames), fans on hand. Dozens of DC-9 enthusiasts traveled from across the US for one last ride, many trekking through the deep freeze that has gripped the nation over the past few days. They gathered at the gate and on board, swapping stories, taking photos, and otherwise basking in the glory of being one of the last to fly aboard the cozy two-three configured cabin.

The two hour flight passed quickly once aloft, and was decidedly low-key. The high moment came when a bottle, or two, of champagne was passed around the cabin. A toast to the airplane was made, after which it was back to business as usual on board. The flight landed on time in a comparatively warm Atlanta, effectively ending 48 years of scheduled passenger flights in the US.

A nod to the airplane’s days plying the skies over the North Central US, the last two flights made sure to work in former Northwest DC-9 hubs Detroit DTW and Minneapolis/St. Paul MSP. It was perhaps fitting, then, that the airplane made its last visit to both as temperatures plunged well below zero, conditions the venerable aircraft had faced on a daily basis for years.

The airplane has finally been phased out as newer airplanes, such as the Boeing 717, join the ranks of the Delta fleet. The carrier has embarked on an ambitious, albeit unorthodox, fleet renewal plan as of late. Many smaller and older regional jets, such as the DC-9 and CRJ-200s are being replaced by larger and more efficient 717s and CRJ900s. New Boeing 737-900 airplanes will begin replacing older 757-200s. Down the road, orders for fresh airplanes, mostly from Airbus for  A321 & A330 types, will join the fleet as well. The combination of leveraging both used and new airplanes to realize profits has made the airline a unique case as competitors gun for the latest and greatest on the production lines instead.

Despite the final flight today, the airplane will continue to serve Delta for up to two more weeks on an ad hoc basis. Come the end of the month, it will be gone for good.

Slideshow! (click to advance)
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EXTRA:Delta DC-9 Photos

The legendary past of the Dirty-Niner

When the DC-9 began service in 1965 the 737 was three years away, Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, the Ford Mustang had just been introduced, the United States was in Vietnam, the price of a Coke was 10-15 cents, the population of America was 194,302,963, there were three networks, the internet was still thirty years into the future, and the 727 only entered service a year before (with Eastern in 1964). Prior to ’65, there was an increasing need for an aircraft for for frequent short-range flights to small airports with short runways. Consequently, Douglas started developing the DC-9 in 1962, and Delta flew the very first passenger flight on December 8, 1965. Without any serious competition, the Dirty Niner quickly became the backbone of Delta’s short-haul fleet.

Everets Air Cargo DC-9, one of only a handful remaining. Photo courtesy jplphoto.

Everets Air Cargo DC-9, one of only a handful remaining. Photo courtesy jplphoto.

From 1965 to 1982, Douglas delivered a total of 972 DC-9s in eleven different variations to dozens of airlines and government organizations around the world. As of August 2013, there were 90 DC-9 aircraft in commercial service worldwide. USA Jet Airlines (a charter company in the United States), Everets Air Cargo, Aeronaves, TSM, Aserca Airlines, LASER Airlines, Fly Sax, African Express Airways, and a few other small operators still fly the DC-9.

Delta flew the DC-9-10 and DC-9-30 Series from 1965 to 1993. They started taking delivery of the Boeing 737-200 in 1983 which eventually allowed Delta to phase out their entire DC-9 fleet. However, the DC-9 re-joined Delta’s fleet when they merged with Northwest Airlines in 2008. Northwest acquired their DC-9s from Republic Airlines in 1986.

Extra: A DC-9 Flight for the History Books and A Look Back

Since it entered service 49 years ago, only the DC-8, 707, and DC-3 have matched this longevity for passenger service. However, the DC-9 has lasted the longest of any commercial airliner ever built in frontline, mainline service. In the time the DC-9 has been plying the skies over the US the country has faced three major wars, nine US Presidents, and population growth to 317 million, all while Delta went from a smallish trunk line to the second largest airline in the world.

Delta did not necessarily start with all of their DC-9s, however. Through the process of acquisition and mergers, the airplanes flew for regional and full services carriers alike, such as North Central, Southern, Hughes AirWest, Republic, and Northwest. During this time, Delta also purchased Western (1986) and Northeast (1973). All told, the carrier has operated 305 DC-9 aircraft since 1965, despite phasing out the airplanes by 1994 until its merger in 2008 with Northwest. Based on a 65% average load factor, Delta estimates they have flown about one billion passengers on the DC-9.

Today’s airplane, N773NC, first flew in 1978, delivering to North Central in 1978, and it flew for Republic in 1979. The plane began flying for Northwest Airlines in 1986, following the purchase of Republic. It later went on to operate for Delta in 2009 after the carrier merged with Northwest.

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren in Seattle contributed to this report

EXTRA: A DC-9 veteran shares his experiences from years on the flightdeck: The Mighty DC-9

EXTRA: DC-9 Sales Brochure from 1970

This evening, we learned that Darren Booth of Frequently Flying passed away over the weekend. I would like to thank him for being a very nice and kind friend. In honor of his memory, I would like to dedicate this story to him. Rest in peace, Darren.

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