Category Archives: Airline Inflight Reviews

Meeting New LAN Airlines’ 787-9 Dreamliner

By: Enrique Perrella / Published 28 July, 2015

From its modest origins in the late 1920s, the Linea Aerea Nacional de Chile (LAN) has pieced together a powerful mosaic across the South American continent through national investments in a handful of strategically positioned airlines, imparting in each a common philosophy of service excellence and financial discipline.

With their home base on a sliver of geographically inhospitable land (only a scant 2.6% of which is arable) sandwiched between 2,700 miles of southwestern Pacific Ocean coastline and the Andes mountain range, Chile’s Cueto family (led by brothers Enrique and Ignacio) created the LATAM Airlines Group, which in the first semester of 2015, transported almost 54 million passengers.

The airline counts with a large and diverse fleet of more than 295 aircraft, and employs over 53,000 workers with an on-line network stretching from Australia and New Zealand through the Americas to Europe. The high standards of service both LAN and TAM offer, were recently awarded among the top three best airlines in Latin America, according to Skytrax.

In early February, the Chilean carrier took delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, intended to replace its aging Airbus A340-300 fleet, which were retired two months later after 15 years of reliable long-haul service.

LAN’s books, today, include an order for 32 Boeing 787s, while its Brazilian partner TAM include an order for 27 Airbus A350 XWBs, with deliveries set to start in the fourth quarter of 2015. According to Jim Proulx, who handles international media relations for Boeing, “The LATAM Group has long been a strong customer for Boeing airplanes in its wide-body fleet, including the 767 and 777. He also notes that, “As the first Latin American operator, LATAM is a key South American customer for the 787, having already taken delivery fifteen 787s in building to a fleet of 32.”

On the other hand, Raymond Kollau, founder of Trend Analysis—an European-based publication which follows trends and innovations in the airline industry—notes that product and service innovations have been less of a priority at LAN and TAM, as both airlines have been concentrating on integrating parts of their operations following the merger. “As one of the early airlines to receive the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, LAN has been able to offer some of its passengers the experience of flying its latest generation aircraft,” he said. “The IFE systems on LAN’s 787s are especially noteworthy. For example, passengers can read destination guides on their high definition screens and play a game of poker against other passengers on board.”

In a continued effort to improve its service and become the number-one airline in the Americas, LAN announced in December 2014, that on July 20, 2015, its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner would operate daily, nonstop service from New York (JFK) to Santiago (SCL), departing daily at 20:00 and arriving in Santiago at 06:20 the following day.

Pablo Chiozza, Senior VP, USA, Canada and the Caribbean at LATAM Airlines Group, said in a statement, “The Boeing 787-9 is one of the first aircraft to feature the new unified cabin design.” He then added, “Travelers will experience the vibrancy and warmth of the region the moment they step on board. The 787-9 Dreamliner is a testament to our dedication to minimizing our environmental footprint and providing the best experience for all our passengers.”

To showcase its newest wide-body aircraft and unified cabin, LAN invited Airways to experience its flagship service from JFK to SCL on its inaugural scheduled service with the Boeing 787-9 and test the new product which will be customary in all long-haul aircraft once both carriers are merged into one single image and corporate identity at the end of 2015.

Inaugural Flight: JFK

LAN’s flight 533 to SCL was scheduled to depart (SDT) at 20:00. Four hours before, we arrived at JFK’s Terminal 8, home to American Airlines (AA) and its Oneworld partners.

SQ_ - 1Check-in was easily accomplished thanks to the gentle TAM and LAN staff behind the counters, who greeted us for being part of the media group that would cover the event. Passing through TSA was also a quick task thanks to the priority access granted to all Oneworld premium cabin passengers. In less than 10 minutes, we reached AA’s Admirals Club, where we had to check-in handing a coupon given by our carrier.

Boarding

SQ_ - 2At 19:00, we approached gate 16 where pre-boarding started. We managed to make our way into the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner first, allowing us to picture the insides of the aircraft as the wonderful Chilean crew posed inside their brand-new jet. The aircraft’s interiors, beautifully colored in the airline’s blue, red and gray, craft an inviting ambiance that evokes a spacious feeling that’s second to none.

Making our way through the economy cabin, we noted a big difference between the 787-9 and its smaller version, the 787-8. Its stretched fuselage, high overhead bins, tall windows, and mood lightning come together as a comfortable hard product for long-haul flights.

The Cabin Interior

LAN’s Boeing 787-9 fleet is fitted to carry a total of 313 passengers in a two-class configuration. Developed by the international design/consulting firm PriestmanGoode, the elegant and modern design is noted as soon as one enters the aircraft through the L2 door. Stunning wooden floors and super ample galleys strike as a first excellent impression. Upon walking inside, the impressive mood lightning gives a futuristic sense that old generation airliners could never dream to emit.

Up front, the new LATAM Airlines Group unified Premium Business Class is configured in a 2-2-2 layout, totaling 30 comfortable seats. According to the airline, this Business Class will be standardized in both LAN and TAM long-haul products once both carriers are completely merged as one corporate image later this year. “Every element was carefully selected and designed to include the best elements of the countries in the region to create a world-class project,” claims Jerome Cadier, the Group’s Marketing Vice-President. “With these objectives in mind, the rich wood textures of the Amazon are present in several elements throughout the cabin, including part of the floor and details on the seats. The fabric, textures, colors, and patterns are reminiscent of the beautiful landscapes of our region. Even the iconic beaches of Ipanema were a source of inspiration for the cabins,” he notes. In fact, a nice combination of gray, red, white and the many colors that come off the mood lightning, create an ambiance that’s futuristic and elegant.

SQ_ - 7Each Business Class seat has 75 inches of leg pitch and 23 inches of width, capable of converting into full-flat beds. Passengers can enjoy movies, TV shows, a moving map, and many other entertainment features through a large 15.4-inch touch screen, also manageable with a remote control.

Moving down to Economy Class, 283 red and blue seats are configured in a 3-3-3 layout, boasting a 32-inch leg pitch, and a nine-inch individual touch screen on each seat, loaded with over 40 films, 120 channels, 20 games, USB ports and iPod eXport connections for passengers to enjoy their own media.

Pre-Flight

SQ_ - 19As passengers settle into their seats and we get situated in the Premium Business Class, Charles, our Flight Attendant (FA), introduced himself both in Spanish and perfect English. He immediately offered Champagne or the airline’s signature drink, Pisco Sour, as a pre-flight drink. After ordering the famous South American cocktail, Charles came back informing that JFK’s catering service forgot to load its main ingredients, for which Champagne ended up being our choice. Served at a perfect temperature, the French drink arrived along with a small plate of assorted nuts.

Minutes later, a team of FAs passed through the aisle with the airline’s spectacular amenity kits, furnished by Ferragamo. Amenity kits are often the Achilles’ heels for many premium carriers. In fact, Singapore (SQ) and ANA (NH) don’t even offer one. LAN, however, does have one of incredible quality, almost good as Alitalia (AZ)—an airline known for its superb kits.

SQ_ - 20Five minutes behind scheduled departure, the Captain announced our flight would be slightly delayed because the jet bridge couldn’t detach from the Dreamliner due to a technical malfunction. About 15 minutes after the announcement, we finally pushed back and the two Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines began spinning into life. A strong and pleasant roar was felt inside the cabin, and in less than five minutes, our 787-9 began taxiing to the runway. The cabin was dimmed into a spectacular deep blue color while the airline’s safety briefing video was shown on the screens.

At 20:42, we lined up with the runway and performed a spectacular takeoff, complemented by the thunderous roar of the two Trent 1000 engines and the Dreamliner’s noticeable wingflex.

Main Service

SQ_ - 22

After climbing through a stunning sunset, our crew began prepping the cabin for service. Warm towels were distributed as Charles jokingly observed that he’d better rush so that passengers don’t fall asleep before serving dinner.

The first components of the main service arrived: A small plate with two types of cheese and Jaramillo compote, accompanied with greens salad and olive oil vinaigrette. Our choice of a Dried Tomato Cream Soup was the main component. The quality of the cheese plate was indisputable, pairing greatly with the sweet compote. The greens salad, fresh and abundant, worked perfectly before tasting the flavorful soup.

As the main service continued, it took the crew over thirty minutes to clear our empty plates, and an additional fifteen to bring the main course (entrée). It seemed as if they were rushing, though our impression was that it was slightly disorganized.

SQ_ - 26

A round piece of beef, slightly overdone, arrived to our table. A side of overcooked veggies (asparagus and beans) unsuccessfully tried to pair with the dried beef, making it a somewhat disappointing dish. The meat was tough and dry, and the veggies overly cooked, gaining a gooey texture, which was quite unpleasant.

SQ_ - 27

As soon as the tray was cleared, our “Italian Cheesecake” quickly made its way to our table, lying on top of succulent fruit marmalade. I often do not care much for dessert, but I must say this was quite exceptional. We ordered a glass of Chilean dessert wine, though unfortunately wasn’t boarded either.

After main service ended, we were handed a Breakfast Menu, which had to be filled up before going to sleep. Before collecting them, Charles came by our seats, kindly handed our covers and pillows, and wished us a good night’s sleep.

Overnight on the Dreamliner

The full-flat bed configuration on the Boeing 787-9 is what the combined LAN and TAM carrier will offer once the merger is complete. The seat, albeit slightly narrow for long-haul flights, is very comfortable for resting and enjoying the airline’s excellent in-flight entertainment (IFE). The only flaw we were able to find, however, was that the bed’s length could be bothersome to tall passengers. At 5’10” (1.82m), my feet touched the wall of the seat when trying to sleep at full length. However, the comfort provided by the excellent pillow and cover, plus the low altitude cabin of the Boeing 787-9 allows for excellent resting.

Six hours after falling asleep, we were kindly awakened by Charles, who had our breakfast tray ready to be served. With 70 minutes left of flying time, we enjoyed a great pre-ordered breakfast of Special K Cereal with milk, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and sautéed mushrooms. Butter and Apricot jam, as well as a choice of warm bread and a hot cup of coffee with milk were also served.

Breakfast was light, refreshing, and just what was needed after a nine-hour flight on the same time zone. Thanks to the fact that Santiago is just one hour ahead of New York, jetlag was not something to worry about.

As we approached foggy Santiago, the Captain announced we’d be landing ten minutes ahead of schedule. At this time of the year (July), winter reins the southern hemisphere, with sunshine coming up as late as 08:30 and sunset at 18:40. As a result, we touched down in a pitch dark SCL with a cold temperature of 32 degrees (0°C).

A conclusion to a great flight

LAN’s newest Dreamliner proved to be more than a comfortable aircraft, capable of transporting its passengers in the utmost comfort, including a superb cabin atmosphere, which helps battle the associated stress of spending many hours inside a pressurized cabin.

This South American airline not only delivers a world-class product with its polite and punctual crewmembers on board the industry’s best airliners (soon to be improved with the arrival of the Airbus A350), but also continues to grow to become a leading carrier, which will practically own a majority stake of Latin America’s commercial aviation market share.

On this flight from JFK to SCL, all crew performed impeccably. A few flaws in service and small attention to detail could be the two imperfections we could notice; however, for an airline that is in constant growth in a region where countries are facing economic and social crises, LAN does exceed the expectations and nothing remains ahead but a successful future.


t_8_epawnEnrique Perrella is the Publisher and Editor in Chief of Airways Magazine. An Aviation Enthusiast, Commercial Pilot, Writer and Traveler with a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Aviation Business Administration. Enrique joined Airways in March 2014 as his group took over the reigns of the publication after 20 years under the tenure of John Wegg, founder and former Editor in Chief. Contact him at enrique@airwaysmag.com.


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Dinner on the Tarmac with Qatar Airways

 By: Roger Hyde / Published July 18, 2015

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

I would rather sit through nine solid days of a junior Karate tournament than voluntarily wade through rush-hour airport traffic on a messy Thursday afternoon, but I happened to be a guest of Qatar Airways who were wining and dining a few guests on-board a Boeing 777 parked near JFK’s Terminal 8.

Having swallowed my fair share of bumpy inflight meals at a variety of altitudes, I can confidently declare that the airlines have pretty much thrown everything they can at the challenge of pre-made, flash-frozen and reheated food that gets plated and served in an artificially dry environment, where passengers’ senses of smell and taste are quickly replaced by escalating boredom. Some airlines have requisitioned the talents of celebrity chefs and master sommeliers to improve their menus. Others have permitted passengers to pre-select their meals a week prior to departure. Some have introduced themed dishes or on-demand food service via the in-seat touch-screen. But regardless of whether the menu was signed by Daniel Boulud or Joel Rubichon, when you find yourself dining while strapped to a chair, the real battle between you and what’s on the end of your fork is at the hands of a caterer 30,000 feet below you.

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Qatar is very proud to have commissioned master chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Vineet Bhatia, who put together some of their inflight meals a couple of times a year. Does this mean you can always expect Michelin star-worthy sushi and Indian food on board? The short answer according to the airline’s head of Food & Beverage, Colin Binmore, is “not exactly”. The long answer involves customer profiles and cultural preferences based on global routes and regions, and the availability of fresh ingredients from foreign airport caterers. So let’s crack that egg open. Once the celebrity chef has had his menu preparations thoroughly photographed, documented, sniffed and scratched, the caterers are painstakingly trained with regular check-ins to make sure that no corners are cut, and that the seasonal fruits are in fact in season and chewable, or that there is consistency with vinegar and chili use (apparently two very popular travails), and that the taste to the passenger closely matches the chef’s original intent.

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Onboard plating instructions

Quality control and consistency keep Binmore’s team up all night all over the world, given how broadly things can vary from airport to airport. Why is FCO still over-salting? What’s making the panna cotta from JHB so rubbery? If mangoes are out of season in IAD, then why the hell are they still on the plate? Etc.

3

Pre-plated Heritage Tomato salad

It’s a little easier for the wines to be consistent, even though they too suffer at the fickle hands of lazy taste buds at altitude. James Cluer, who heads up the airline’s wine program, does an annual blind tasting of more than 1,000 bottles. The airline’s staunch policy of selecting wines purely based on taste rather than labels, scores or price, make for a very varied and unusual onboard selection. Wines are rotated for inbound and outbound flights to keep things fresh for frequent fliers, and the lists are replaced quarterly (except for a few permanent mainstays like the Kopke Colheita 1974 Tawny Port – arguably the only vintage Port offered inflight anywhere in the world). To better understand the affects of taste at 30,000 feet, Cluer and a few of his colleagues recently performed a very rare challenge by sampling wines at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Talk about going the extra mile!

So, on to Qatar’s award-winning Business class dinner meal (prepared by a kitchen somewhere in Jamaica, Queens.)

4

With the amount of trips the multilingual and beautifully manicured flight attendants in dark green and burgundy uniforms clocked from seat to galley and back, they deserve their own frequent flier miles program. First on the tray table was an amuse bouche of a rather bland disc of Lamb Tikka sitting on a too soft Risotto cake, which was rescued by a mint chutney with a latent spice kick to resuscitate those airborne taste buds.

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Pea Mint Soup

The few times I have eaten soups on board, they have usually been of the overly salty and peppery variety, and so I was somewhat surprised to see a Pea Mint on the menu. Gorgeous presentation with a dollop of basil oil and micro greens, but the abundance of heavy cream and mysterious absence of mint was disappointing. The crouton didn’t help matters either, as it appeared to have done more mileage than the crew. Not sure where (or when) it was toasted, but it had to be abandoned after two fruitless chewing attempts.

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The highlight was the spectacular Classic Arabic Mezze platter. A triumphant triptych of creamy hummus, wonderfully citrusy and tangy tabouleh and a surprisingly sweet moutabel (aka babaganush) served with fresh brown and white pita wedges.

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Heritage Tomato, feta and Kalamata Olive Salad

Having seen the pre-plated Heritage tomato, feta and Kalamata olive salad in the galley earlier, I was enormously impressed at how delicately and affectionately the various additions, garnishes and dressings were layered, stacked and tucked into position to yield an incredibly beautiful and flavorful dish.

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Broccoli, Potato and Cheese tart

I fully understood the dilemma of catering to diverse palettes and ethnic cultures by how well the main course options covered ground: a vegetarian, a lamb and a shrimp. Vegetarians seldom get much in-flight love, and so it was encouraging to see such a solid option with the delightfully fluffy and moist Broccoli, potato and blue-cheese tart. It was hard to fault the super-tender, ultra-slow Braised lamb shank perched on a mound of mash with a tangy chickpea and saffron sauce, but the ultimate re-heating challenge had to be the Arabic spiced shrimp. The window for shrimp crunchiness is shorter than Sarah Palin’s temper, so even if these handsome specimens were butter-poached on the ground, by the time they left the galley oven, they had transmuted into coils of mushy paste. Most certainly a very courageous attempt, but all the “machboos” sauce, fried onions and nuts couldn’t put humpty-dumpty together again.

Braised Lamb Shank

Braised Lamb Shank

I skipped the ice-cream, fruits and cheeses and indulged on the incredibly tastyCardamom panna cotta. The perfect consistency with a subtle, yet undeniably middle-eastern flavor was accented by a tart accompaniment of rhubarb and apple compote.

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Cardamom Panna Cotta

Our meal was well paired with about half of the on-board wine options. A refreshingly crisp and tart apple flavored 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Esk Valley, New Zealand. An amazingly rich tobacco, berry, spicy and caramely 2007 Bordeaux from Chateau Monbousquet. The juicy, fruity and honey forward flavored Fritz Haag 2012 Spätlese, and the epitome of in-flight extravagances – a (slightly-too-small) sample of the nutty, marvelously smooth and deliciously dried fruit flavored ’74 Kopke Tawny port.

Bon voyage! Bon appetite!


About the Author: Roger Hyde has been writing about food for almost as long as he’s been eating it. His incurable interest in aviation and in-flight service, (as well as a three decade career in the entertainment industry) has afforded him the opportunity to enjoy and dissect meals, wines and airlines at a variety of altitudes all around the world.  Hyde has lived on three continents and currently calls New York his home. He pens a popular food blog/restaurant guide and spends his free time cooking and participating in international culinary events and workshops. Hyde welcomes comments and questions from readers. Fell free to contact him via e-mail or visit his website at rogersdigest.com.


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Virgin Atlantic Goes For Gold In Economy and With Dreamliners

By Ramsey Qubein / Published June 30, 2015

Virgin Atlantic has built a reputation for a re-imagined, surely sexy, flying experience. Nevertheless, much of its marketing relies on its premium business class product. And, what with its inflight bar, flat-bed seating, pajamas on overnight flights, attractive uniforms, and an image that hinges on its fly boy founder Richard Branson, it is certainly well deserved.

However, the majority of the airline’s passengers do not enjoy many of those features, although there is no doubt their interest in choosing Virgin can be traced to this dependable, hip image. What is unique, however, is the lengths that the carrier is going to improve its economy class cabin.

New to Virgin Atlantic is its intense joint venture partnership with Delta Air Lines across the Atlantic which gives the airline shared access to the U.S. carrier’s revenue opportunity and route network. Cross fleeting was quick to follow the announcement with Delta taking over routes from Virgin Atlantic on flights from LAX and Philadelphia. Virgin has reciprocated with its operation of flights from Atlanta and Detroit.

RELATED: Virgin Atlantic Welcomes the 787-9 in Atlanta

RELATED: With Delta, Is Virgin Atlantic Getting its Mojo Back?

We have seen both United and Delta proudly announce investments in their economy class meals on international flights. Delta has even reintroduced amenity kits, and all three legacy U.S. carriers have reverted to offering free wine and beer in economy class to stay in line with their respective joint venture partners. Coinciding with the launch of the carrier’s new fleet of Dreamliners, Virgin Atlantic has undertaken a revamp of its inflight offering in the economy cabin. The change is timely given the joint venture with Delta.

RELATED: Maturity and Growth in the Delta-Virgin Atlantic Partnership

With the Dreamliner, Virgin Atlantic is already seeing many of its customers specifically book their travel on flights operated by the new aircraft. Airways joined the airline for the launch of its JFK Dreamliner flight. Numerous passengers planned their travel to fly on the 787 instead of the numerous 747-400 flights also operating that day.

Back-of-the-bus catering gets an upgrade

Stock pictures of Virgin Atlantic 787-9 aircraft Birthday Girl.Virgin is going one step further to put the fun back into flying for economy passengers. This revamp is not only for passengers on board the airline’s new Dreamliner, but also all passengers in its economy cabin. The joint venture with Delta is sure to have played a role in the harmonizing of products between the two carriers, and passengers are the immediate beneficiaries of small, but notable upgrades on board.

Upon boarding, all passengers (like on partner Delta and competitor Swiss International) receive a full-sized bottle of water. “Following extensive surveys of passengers, it became clear that flyers wanted more control about staying hydrated at their own pace,” says Head of Customer Experience Debbie Hulme.

Complimentary cocktails, beer and wine are now offered in a pre-lunch or dinner cocktail service, and again during and after the meal service. In a more customer friendly move (thanks to those passenger surveys), the airline is switching from pouring glasses of wine or mixing cocktails on the cart to offering splits of wine and minis of cocktails to passengers. New features of the economy class dining service include hot towels prior to the meal and a cheese and cracker course served as part of the main tray service.

“The simple and inexpensive act of offering a hot towel before a meal in economy class goes a long way in making passengers feel special and cared for,” says Chris McGinnis, founder of TravelSkills.com. “I’m surprised more airlines don’t do this.”

After-dinner chocolates will accompany the coffee and tea service following dinner. Pre-arrival meals on daytime flights will include a new selection of gourmet wraps. These little extras are part of what add to the Virgin experience.

Premium Economy gets a boost too. The Dreamliner aircraft are the first to be equipped with the new Wonder Wall concept featuring a small refrigerator and full buffet of snacks and drinks. It is located in the front cabin and is designed as a compact social space, similar to the concept of the Upper Class Bar (albeit with a bartender) for guests to commune or snack at their leisure.

Bring your selfie stick

To take advantage of the selfie craze, Virgin is launching a new campaign dubbed the ultimate #SkyhighSelfie on its new Dreamliner 787 aircraft, offering customers the opportunity to check in on Facebook and share their photos from 35,000 feet.

Developed in conjunction with Jiffybots, its app will allow customers to check in free of charge on Facebook and share their location and photos with their friends and followers during the flight via the aircraft’s Wi-Fi connection.

Designated #SkyhighSelfie spots in the cabin will offer passengers the chance to take the perfect selfie onboard and share their experience. Each of the airline’s Dreamliners will have a unique backdrop with the aircraft’s name so that passengers can “collect” various aircraft selfies. Virgin has 21 of the aircraft on order with routes to Boston, Newark, New York JFK, and Washington Dulles already featuring the new plane.

The first selfie spot went live on Birthday Girl April 1 allowing customers to take their picture with the iconic Virgin Atlantic Flying Lady carrying her celebratory champagne coupe. Also, a discussion forum will allow travelers to connect to other passengers on board and share their experiences. Both access to the discussion forum and selfie upload will be accessible via the wifi signal.

 

Surprise and delight

In an effort to move beyond the staid experience, the airline has also launched several surprise and delight events including one over Christmas that certainly had passengers talking. Travelers aboard flight 11 from London to Boston were treated to a special visit and gift from Santa Claus himself as the plane flew over the Arctic.

“We wanted to offer something extra special for the families flying with us this Christmas and who better to spread the Christmas cheer than Santa himself?,” says Hulme.

Santa dropped into the aircraft while passing by during one of his “reindeer training flights.” The experience began at boarding when all 264 customers were gifted an early Christmas present from Microsoft of a Windows tablet so they could log on to NORAD Track Santa and enjoy a live chat as he took his sleigh for a spin over the Atlantic

“Passengers tracked his movements from their Windows tablets and were able to live chat with him before sharing their Santa selfies using the on board Wi-Fi,” Hulme adds.

When the aircraft was over Greenland, Santa radioed the Virgin Atlantic pilots flying the aircraft asking permission to land on the plane for some refreshments and to give his reindeers a rest.

Passengers were then amazed to watch the sleigh land on the aircraft through glass panels in the roof before he accessed the plane through a special Santa hatch.

Santa then walked down the aisles of the plane, delighting children and taking selfies with surprised passengers.

Christmas continued for those on the plane with Microsoft prizes of Xboxes and Windows devices from Dell, Lenovo & Microsoft being won in competitions during the flight.

This type of creativity is reserved typically for premium cabin customers, and to see an airline exhibit such an effort for economy shows creative push that moves in the right direction for the industry as a whole. Certainly, other carriers will be hard pressed to match such an offer, but to see Virgin kick start a movement in the “back of the bus” is a refreshing start in the aviation industry.

“It will be interesting to see if Virgin can recreate part of the allure it has brought to the front of the plane in Upper Class,” adds McGinnis. “Virgin has a tremendously strong brand, and the investments that some airlines are making in economy these days are definitely a step in the right direction.”

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Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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ANALYSIS: JetBlue Crescendoes In Boston With New Mint Offering

By: Vinay Bhaskara / Published June 26, 2015

A JetBlue ERJ-190 at Boston Logan Image Credit: Chris Sloan/Airchive

A JetBlue ERJ-190 at Boston Logan
Image Credit: Chris Sloan/Airchive

Earlier this week, JetBlue announced a major expansion of its second largest hub at Boston, headlined by the debut of its ultra-premium Mint product on routes to Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), and Barbados. The expansion will also see JetBlue add frequency to 13 additional destinations and add new twice daily nonstop service to Nashville, and will push JetBlue’s operation in Boston (BOS) to nearly 140 peak day departures in Summer 2016.

The new Mint service in Boston will launch with three daily flights to San Francisco in March 2016. Barbados will join the same month with Saturday-only service the same month, mirroring a recent addition to Barbados and Aruba from JetBlue’s largest hub at New York JFK. Los Angeles will follow in Fall 2016, once again with up to three flights per day.

JetBlue’s Mint product has been expected at Boston since the day the product was announced, almost two years prior. While New York to SFO and LAX are much larger markets, Boston is far less competitive. And given JetBlue’s strength amongst high-yielding business travelers, their Boston Mint experiment should have a strong chance of success. Between the two markets, San Francisco has the stronger fundamentals. Not only is San Francisco is a larger overall market, with origin and destination (O&D) demand of 1,730 passengers per day each way (PDEW), versus 1,504 for Los Angeles, but it also has higher average fares, at $312.41 one-way versus $276.64 to Los Angeles. The advantage is only magnified in premium cabins, where the average one way fare is $65-70 higher for San Francisco, also the larger market (at 478 PDEW versus 429 PDEW for LAX).

Now obviously the average one-way premium fares in the ~$300 range at LAX and in the ~$340 range at SFO are far beneath the cheapest one-way fare for JetBlue’s Mint ($599 nonrefundable). While that $599 is a premium cabin discount in the JFK-LAX/SFO markets, it represents a substantial raise over the current market equilibrium, to say nothing of costlier fares with some degree of flexibility. JetBlue will have to target the upper quartile of current premium cabin flyers but filling 48 Mint seats daily (or 36-40 of the 48) is not an impossible task. Particularly in the BOS-SFO market, JetBlue can draw on its point-of-sale strength with business travelers in Boston, and the naturally high yielding business traffic in the tech industry.

LAX will be a harder market to crack. The business ties between Boston and LAX are broad of course, but there is no single industry tie that drives high yield business traffic like technology does for BOS-SFO. Moreover, on BOS-LAX, JetBlue will have to contend with competition from United, who is introducing its premium service p.s. Boeing 757-200 aircraft onto one of two daily flights from Boston this summer. JetBlue will have the edge in overall product (catering, ground services, etc.) but United will at least be competitive on in-flight product, which will challenge JetBlue’s market penetration in premium cabins.

For the moment, it is unlikely that JetBlue’s move will spark a flood of competition like that seen on NYC-LAX/SFO. But if JetBlue is able to convert a significant portion of premium cabin traffic with Mint, it is not inconceivable that United would move to protect its San Francisco hub with internationally configured 757-200s. Delta too has plenty of flexibility with internationally configured aircraft to defend LAX, and even American (despite its premium-heavy configuration and dedicated subfleet) could be pressured into adding BOS-SFO as the pressure ratchets up in Los Angeles. But the most likely scenario is for JetBlue to only be joined by United, if anyone.

Boston is now a powerhouse

The underlying story of JetBlue’s move is the resounding strength of its Boston hub. Nashville will become the carrier’s 60th destination from Boston and additional frequency to Orlando, Ft, Lauderdale, Tampa, San Juan, Raleigh/Durham, New York (JFK), Cleveland, Barbados, Aruba, Cancun, Turks and Caicos, Punta Cana, St. Maarten, and Liberia, Costa Rica from next summer will only re-iterate JetBlue’s market dominance. Already, JetBlue’s Boston operation is impressive, as indicated by the table below (which covers JetBlue’s operation for the week of June 29 – July 5).

Slide1

The 888 weekly flights (~126 per day) peak at 131 daily departures on Thursdays, but what is most impressive is JetBlue’s frequency to key business destinations. JetBlue offers 14 or more weekly departures (2 flights per day) to 28 different destinations, and this frequency has been a critical source of its strength with Boston based business travelers.

In the long run, Boston may well end up being JetBlue’s largest hub (given New York JFK’s slot constraints – JFK is at ~170 daily departures today) and the Mint introduction is likely a precursor to JetBlue’s launching a trans-Atlantic gateway at Boston. On the domestic side, there aren’t too many markets that have the premium cabin demand and stage length to justify Mint service from JetBlue, so near-term Mint expansion (before the A321neo) will likely consist of additional frequencies. The one exception to that might be Seattle, which has some of the same technology links that drive business traffic to San Francisco, as well as premium cabin O&D demand 2/3 the size of Los Angeles with similar one-way fares.

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All fare data courtesy of masflight.

Contact the author at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

 

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Op-Ed: Is Delta’s Comfort + A Third Class?

By Jack Harty / Published May 6, 2015

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New Comfort + stitching

Delta Air Lines has been upgrading all of its on-board products over the last year. From Delta Studio to new seat covers to upgraded snack basket offerings in first, Delta has made many, many changes to differentiate the flying experience based on what fare the customer buys and where they sit.

In March, Delta officially re-branded its extra leg room seats, formally known as Economy Comfort, to Comfort +. The re-brand was not as simple as a name change and new seat cover put on the seat; it came with additional perks–besides extra legroom–for those who sit in the seat. However, some will argue that the perks are to help lessen the pain when higher Medallions are not getting upgraded as often as in the past as the airline wants to sell more seats up front than upgrade. 

Some of the perks that come with Comfort + include:

  • Customers can take advantage of Sky Priority Boarding instead of boarding in Zone 1
  • There is dedicated overhead bin space for Comfort + customers
  • Extra leg room
  • Free wine, spirits, and regional craft beers
  • Snacks on all flights with a premium snack basket being offered on flights over 900 miles
  • Complimentary access to everything on Delta Studio

For passengers seated in Comfort + on transcon flights between JFK and LAX or SFO, they get all of the perks above as well as:

  • Luvo sandwich wrap and frozen Greek yogurt bar
  • A complimentary pillow and blanket, and block out sights and sounds with an eye mask and earplugs

Diamond and Platinum Medallions can select these seats for free at the time of booking, but since the changes, Gold Medallions now have to wait until 72 hours out to select seats for free. Silver Medallions will continue to wait until the time of check-in to select these seats for free. For all others, it comes at a cost to sit here, unless you are lucky and have no seat assignment and there are no other seats available right before your flight is to depart.

These seats come at a price, and it varies from flight to flight; primarily, it based on flight time, distance, number of Comfort + seats, the market, and sometimes seat location (some seats have lots of space when compared to others). For example, the seats can be $39 between Atlanta and Daytona Beach, but on a longer flight and with the same equipment on a flight such as Atlanta to Houston, the seat can be yours for $25.

When compared to other extra leg room seats on other U.S. airlines, the amenities appear to be slightly better as other U.S. carriers don’t offer free alcoholic drinks in these extra leg room seats nor is there a special snack basket on long domestic flights. Plus, it is nice to be able to browse Delta Studio and not worry about having to pay a few dollars to watch that movie you have been hoping to catch.

Taking Comfort + For a Test Flight

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Old Economy Comfort seat covers

I had the opportunity to try the new product on a recent flight to Detroit on-board a 757-300 for $49 extra. Since only middle seats in regular economy seats were open, it was also a good excuse to get the seat to guarantee a window seat.

This aircraft still had seat covers that said Economy Comfort with the old seat covers, but Delta has been putting on the new seat covers on plenty of MD88 and MD90 aircraft; these seat covers are just like the new First Class ones, but they say Comfort +. 

It was nice to board with Sky Priority, since I didn’t have elite status at the time. Once on-board, I stowed my luggage in the overhead compartments. For the most part, there was space in the overhead bins so the flight attendants did not really have to police the overhead bins over the Comfort + seats. I did notice a sign in the overhead bin that said this space was reserved for passengers in Economy Comfort seats; some MD88 aircraft are starting to get the new signs.IMG_6915

So far, it was just like an ordinary flight.

Once in the air, the flight attendants came through the cabin and offered the usual beverages, and we were offered complimentary alcoholic beverages, although it was not mentioned in the post-departire flight announcement which seems to be a hit or a mess.

The flight attendants also offered all passengers the snack basket which had bananas, Biscoff cookies, peanuts, pretzels, Gold Fish, and a few other options. It was nice to have a few options, and we were able to pick a few snacks which was also a plus (no pun intended). I opted to go with the Biscoffs; what’s a Delta flight without them?!IMG_6916

All too soon, we landed in Detroit, and that was the end to my Comfort + experience. It was like any ordinary flight if a passenger was seated in Economy Comfort before the changes, minus the complimentary alcoholic beverages and snack basket. Honestly the only minus was that the flight attendants did not come through with the snack basket again during the flight, but I do not think they are required to.

There are definitely some perks to seating in Comfort +, but it felt just like any other Delta economy experience which is hard to say that it is its own class.

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Contact the editor at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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First Southwest Airlines International Flight Lands in Houston

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Flight 2207 on the gate screen at Aruba Airport.

By Jack Harty / Published March 9, 2015

HOUSTON, Texas – On Saturday, Southwest Airlines Flight 2207 did not just mark Southwest’s first flight between Aruba and Houston; it also marked the carrier’s first international arrival into Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport. Now Houston is one of a handful of cities in the U.S. to have two international airports.

Back in 1971, Southwest Airlines started flying between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio with three Boeing 737s, and over the years, the airline rapidly expanded its reach from coast to coast. Up until it acquired AirTran Airways in September 2010, Southwest only flew within the continental U.S., but since AirTran flew to a dozen cities outside the U.S., this meant that Southwest would too.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Perry Miller of Houston Hobby Airport

A Southwest Airlines jet parked at a Houston Hobby Airport gate. Image: Courtesy of Southwest

A Southwest Airlines jet parked at a Houston Hobby Airport gate. Image: Courtesy of Southwest

Now that Southwest would have international access thanks to its AirTran acquisition, Southwest started looking into starting international flights in and out of Houston, but the airline would have to win over the city’s approval to build an international terminal at Houston’s William P. Hobby Airport where has build up a large presence.

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The entrance into William P. Hobby Airport.

To try to get the city of Houston on-board, Southwest launched the “Free Hobby” campaign in 2012, which almost sparked a war in Houston. Many in northern Houston were concerned that this would cause significant changes to United’s presence at Intercontinental Airport, but for those in south Huston, they would be able to fly out of an airport closer to their home.

Over the next few months, the city council, along with city leaders, held many debates about building an international terminal at Hobby Airport before it would go the city would make a final decision. Plus, United was very vocal about preventing Hobby from becoming an international airport.IMG_6478

Ultimately, Southwest won approval from the city of Houston to build the international terminal. The new $156 million, five-gate international concourse is still under construction. The new facility will increase capacity for all airport functions and add a Federal Inspections Services (FIS) facility to streamline U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) screening and baggage processing for arriving international passengers.

An airport spokesperson says that opening day is expected sometime mid-October. He also explained that Southwest will get preferred treatment at four of the five gates, and the airport is actively looking to add another international airline at Hobby once the new terminal opens.IMG_6335

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U.S. Customers and Border Protection Pre-clearance area at Aruba Airport.

Southwest has big plans for international expansion in Houston, and back in December, the carrier announced it filed applications with the U.S. Department of Transportation to start flights to six international destinations this fall once the new international concourse opens.

Pending government approval, Southwest plans to launch new international flights from Houston to Cancun, Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and San Jose del Cabo in Mexico. Plus, Southwest also plans to launch flights to Belize City, Belize and San Jose, Costa Rica from Houston.

“This is an exciting first step in achieving our goal of establishing regional international air service at Hobby Airport,” said Houston Aviation Director Mario C. Diaz.  “We are making dramatic progress on the new international concourse building and have a definitive route map now available from the team at Southwest Airlines. The importance of strong connectivity with Latin America and the Caribbean cannot be overstated in Houston and these flights will undoubtedly strengthen those business and cultural ties.”

Now Taking Off: Aruba-Houston

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I Heart Aruba is a popular sign near The Renaissance Hotel in Aruba that many enjoy taking pictures with.

Although the new five gate international terminal at Hobby is expected to open in Fall 2015, U.S. CBP pre-clearance–which provide U.S. border inspection in certain foreign countries including Aruba–helps make it possible for Southwest to start Saturday-only international flights in and out of Houston sooner to Aruba. With pre-clearance, customers are able to deplane in Houston without further CBP inspections into the domestic terminal, quickly claim baggage and depart the airport, or make seamless connections to more than 40 destinations Southwest serves from Hobby.IMG_6457

“CBP’s Pre-clearance program allows us to deliver early on the promise we made Houstonians to couple our low fares and high-value Customer Service with Heart to places outside the U.S.,” said Teresa Laraba, Southwest’s senior vice president of customers. “This is just the beginning of a very big 2015 for our Houston employees and customers with an additional six destinations across three countries coming online at Hobby later this year.”

The First Flight

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The gate area was all decorated at Aruba Airport.

Many passengers were expecting 2207 to be an ordinary Southwest flight, but upon arriving at the gate, they would soon find out that they were about to join Southwest on a special occasion.

Several members of the media and Southwest employees arrived at the airport several hours early in order to attend a small ceremony with airline, airport, and city officials before the inaugural flight to Houston. Airport employees started decorating the gate area with hundreds of balloons the night before, and a catering company set up a table offering complimentary drinks and snacks. Near the podium, there was a cake in the shape of the island and had a Southwest plane (in cake form) on top of it.

IMG_6386As passengers started arriving at the gate, many were curious to know why there were reporters and balloons at their gate. They soon learned that they would be on the first international flight into Houston Hobby.

About two hours before departure, a small ceremony was held at the departure gate. Both Southwest, the Aruba Tourism group, and the airport exchanged gifts. The CEO of Aruba Tourism explained that she was very happy that Aruba has played an important role in Southwest’s international expansion (it was the first first international city a Southwest plane departed to on July 1 as well as the first international destinations for Houston). All parities made it clear that this new link with Houston (even though it is seasonal), will help reach deeper into the United States.

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Original Houston-based flight attendants who have more than 90 years combined of flying for Southwest Airlines.

About 40 minutes before departure, boarding began, and within 20 minutes, everybody was seated and ready to go. Before the door was closed, the Houston-based flight attendants—who have more than 90 years of experience combined —posed in the jetway with Aruba’s flag right before departure, and we were off.

At 1:30 p.m. local, we began a quick take off roll and started our trek to Houston. The flight was pretty uneventful. There were some special announcements—including free drinks—throughout the flight, but most were enjoying their last nap while still being on vacation.

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Off in the distance, downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center can be seen.

Prior to initial descent, Dan Landson, a senior communications specialist at Southwest, asked a few trivia questions about Southwest Airlines and handed out a few prizes to the inaugural passengers.

After a quick descent, Southwest Flight 2207 became the first commercial international flight to land at Houston Hobby in 41 years and Southwest’s first international flight. As the aircraft approached the gate, a traditional water cannon salute was provided by the Houston Hobby fire department.

Dozens of Southwest employees greeted and cheered as passengers disembarked from the flight, and there was even another cake waiting. Minutes later, Southwest employees were back hard at work turning the aircraft from Aruba around to head to north Texas.IMG_6528

Related: Southwest Has Left The Country

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Contact the author at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

Disclosure: Southwest Airlines and the Aruba Tourism Group provided round trip tickets and hotel accommodations to AirwaysNews to cover this story.  Our opinions remain our own.

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American Airlines Reveals Initial 787 Flights, Configuration, and Cabin Photos

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 11, 2015

UPDATED: February 14, 2015 at 2:20 AM ET

An American Airlines 787  exterior. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

An American Airlines 787 exterior. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

American Airlines’ three initial routes for its new Boeing 787 fleet will be out of its Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hub to Chicago O’Hare, along with Beijing and Buenos Aires.

The 787 will launch between DFW and O’Hare on May 7. It will then start international flights from DFW to Beijing on June 2 and Buenos Aires on June 4. The 787-8 launch happens to coincide with the one-year anniversary of American retiring the Boeing 767-200 from its fleet.

EXTRA: American Airlines To Retire 767-200s on May 7, 2014

First Flights

The inaugural American Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight will be AA2320. The flight will depart Dallas/Ft. Worth at 7:10 AM CT on Thursday, May 7. The flight is currently scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 9:36 AM CT. The aircraft will then return back to DFW as AA2320; it will depart ORD at 12:10 PM CT, and it will arrive at DFW at 2:57 PM CT. American will also operate one round trip evening flight with the 787 between the two cities.

More Details

Howard Mann is a new vice president at Alexandria, Virginia-based Campbell-Hill Aviation Group. “It’s not a surprise that the first route is a hub to hub one, mainly for crew training. This is pretty standard,” he said.

It hasn’t been announced, but it’s a guess that the 787 pilot base will be at  DFW, said Mann. “In terms of routes, American has done a lot of expansion from DFW to Asia, including Beijing starting in May with a Boeing 777-200ER,” he said. “If bookings on that route should slow down, the 787 is a good option for American. The 787 also allows American to show off its newest aircraft for business travelers and corporate accounts.”

Looking at Buenos Aires, that route potentially has a lot of passengers, but not quite at the capacity of a 777-200, said Mann. “While Argentina’s economy isn’t doing well, but it’s still important to serve the country from the DFW hub.”

EXTRA: The Eagle Rises Again: Onboard American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Inaugural Flight

American Airlines has also revealed what 787 cabin will look like, calling it a state-of-the-art onboard travel experience. The 787, in a two-class configuration, will feature 28 fully lie-flat business class seats in the popular 1-2-1 configuration, which the carrier calls “a huge selling point.” The seat, custom designed by American’s Onboard Products team and manufactured by Zodiac, features forward and rear-facing direct-aisle access for every customer. It also includes satellite Wi-Fi capability provided by Panasonic.

The business class cabin onboard American Airlines' 787. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

The business class cabin onboard American Airlines’ 787. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

In the passenger experience area, business class  also features inflight entertainment selections on a 15.4-inch HD Panasonic touchscreen monitor, with Bose QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones and ear buds. Each seat has universal AC power outlets and a USB jack. The carrier’s 787-8s will also feature a walk-up bar stocked with snacks and refreshments.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: American Airlines CEO Doug Parker

Economy class will have 48 Main Cabin Extra seats in a 3-3-3 configuration with up to six inches of extra legroom, along with 150 main cabin seats in the same 3-3-3 configuration. Seat will have a 9-inch HD Panasonic touchscreen monitor with assorted movies, TV programs, games and audio selections. Each seat is also equipped with universal AC power outlets and a USB jack.

The Main Cabin onboard American Airlines' 787. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

The Main Cabin onboard American Airlines’ 787. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

Jason Rabinowitz is the data research manager for Routehappy and an industry observer on the airline passenger experience. He noted that business class on American’s 787s is very similar to what was done on its refurbished 777s.

“It has the 1-2-1 configuration with the forward and backward seats. It’s interesting, because not a lot of airlines are doing this configuration,” said Rabinowitz. “I’m not saying that this is a bad approach, because people seem to like it. American’s business class looks fantastic and is pretty standard for its new fleet.”

Economy on the 787 will have the 3-3-3 configuration, which isn’t a surprise, said Rabinowitz. “It’s cramped, with the standard international pitch, and there will be people who recommend not flying on aircraft with the 3-3-3 configuration,” he said. “While all the other amenities are nice, the seat width will be problematic for some, which has become the industry norm for the 787.”

EXTRA: American Airlines’ 2015 Fleet Plan

The 787 will be a flagship aircraft for American, similar to its role in the United Airlines fleet, said Mann. “Looking at United, it used the 787 to open routes like San Francisco-Chengdu and Denver-Tokyo. It also used the 787 to right-size routes like Houston-Lagos, and also on flagship routes like Houston-London Heathrow,” he said.

EXTRA: Airbus A350 Visits American at Dallas/Ft Worth Airport

American Airlines has placed firm orders for 42 Boeing 787s, with rights to acquire an additional 58. Although there is no definitive delivery schedule at this point, a spokesman said it expects to take delivery of 12 787-8s this year, three in each quarter. It doesn’t have a set date on other route announcements, he added. The carrier will also receive its first of 22 Airbus A350s in 2017, as part of an order it inherited from US Airways.

Cover Image: Courtesy of JDL Multimedia

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Q&A with Thomas Lee, a Passenger Aboard the First Commercial Boeing 747 Flight

By Jay Haapala / Published January 27, 2015

Thomas Lee in his office at Zodiac Aerospace. Image Courtesy of Dan Krauss

Thomas Lee in his office at Zodiac Aerospace. Image Courtesy of Dan Krauss

Thomas Lee has been involved in the aviation industry for more than 30 years. He was a founder of Aero-design Technology, Inc., which introduced inflight trash compactor technology to commercial airlines. He currently serves as director of marketing and innovation for Zodiac Aerospace, a global aerospace cabin interior company based in Paris, France.

As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the first-ever commercial flight of the Boeing 747 on January 22, 1970; AirwaysNews spoke with Lee, who at the age of 17, was onboard the Pan Am World Airways flight, New York to London. Lee’s father was the equivalent of a frequent flyer, even though the mileage programs had not been invented yet. As a frequent flyer globally on Pan Am, the entire Lee family was invited to be aboard this historic flight. Lee has flown the inaugural flights of the 747-8, 787, and A380. At the time of the interview, he was flying on Qatar Airways’ first Airbus A350 flight.

Pan Am inaugurated the world's first Boeing 747 service in January, 1970 at the Pan Am WorldPort.

Pan Am inaugurated the world’s first Boeing 747 service in January, 1970 at the Pan Am WorldPort. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

Thomas Lee's flight certificate for the inaugural Boeing 747 flight aboard Pan Am. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Clipper Victor’s flight certificate. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AirwaysNews: Did you have any personal fears that the flight would be unsuccessful?

Thomas Lee: No, as a 17 year old, one is typically fearless. This is why most military personnel are age 17 to 22.

AN: Did any problems occur on the first commercial flight?

TL: Yes, during the take-off, we experienced a flameout in engine number four and had an aborted takeoff. This created a significant problem. This aircraft would need an engine replacement and could not fly. Fortunately, for Pan Am, a second 747 had been delivered by Boeing the day before and was in the hangar. However, this second aircraft had not undergone any preparation for flight. Pan Am had to waste a lot of time while preparing the second aircraft, known as “Clipper Victor,” for the inaugural flight to London.

They arranged five huge buses to take all the passengers from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK), to an Italian restaurant in New Jersey. We were there for over five hours having a party while the second plane was being readied. When we were driven back to JFK Airport, 30 people decided it was too dangerous to fly this first commercial 747 flight and did not board the aircraft and make the flight.

The Clipper Victor in London. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Clipper Victor in London. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AN: Describe your experience on the first commercial 747 flight. Where you invited to be on it?

TL:  I was only 17 years old at the time of my flight on the Pan American Clipper Victor, [so] I obviously viewed the experience through a different set of perspectives. This was a transcendent moment, full of anticipation and excitement. As a teenager, climbing the winding stairs of the 747 to the upstairs piano bar and lounge, provided a sense of adventure that was almost surreal for an airplane experience. Even in what were relatively confined spaces, the uniformed attendants, the cordial bartender and the musician tinkling the piano keys created a bigger than life experience.

The Piano Bar aboard the Clipper Victor. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The Piano Bar aboard the Clipper Victor. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AN: What was the most memorable part of the flight for you?

TL: Clipper Victor flight was filled with passenger ,including families and businesspeople in newly tailored suits, dapper hats, dresses and fine jewelry. During the 747 inaugural flight, passengers could walk freely into the cockpit and chat with the flight crew. In this current age of increasing volatility and tightened security, those particular areas are [now] understandably off limits.

AN: What was the atmosphere like onboard the aircraft?

TL: In 1970, I was a curious youth with an exhilarating sense of one eavesdropping on a uniquely breathtaking formal event. Rather than studying the textures of the padded cloth seats or analyzing the patterns on the glistening silverware, my observations were of a more general nature. The most vivid memories were of an extraordinarily large craft with an enchanting stairway ascending upward to a virtual Land of Oz. That, and a one-of-a-kind galley buffet necessitated when some of the catering equipment could not be transferred to the replacement aircraft after the original take-off malfunction.

The buffet on Lee's Boeing 747 flight. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

The buffet on Lee’s Boeing 747 flight. Image Courtesy of Thomas Lee

AN: Tell us about the flight.

TL: The sensation upon entering the B747 was similar to the awe one might feel when first viewing the Grand Canyon. Keep in mind that this was the first wide-body, twin-aisle aircraft. So the step change from the much smaller, single-aisle aircraft was enormous. When we finally took off, the aircraft was lumbering along straining to slowly lift off and climb up to altitude.

As they could not transfer all the catering equipment when the second aircraft had to be prepared, they created a once-in-a-lifetime catering event. The passengers lined up in the aisles. A buffet was set up in the galley and we each filled our own plates and then went back to our seats to eat.

AN: Is there anything that you wish to say about the first flight?

TL: Clipper Victor was not only the inaugural 747 (first commercial flight) in history. Seven years later, it was the same exact 747 aircraft that was struck by the KLM 747 at Tenerife Airport, resulting in the worst aviation accident in history.

Thomas Lee carries a plaque with his first flight certificates on any inaugural. He is pictured on the inaugural of the 787 back in October 2011. Image by: Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Thomas Lee carries a plaque with his first flight certificates on any inaugural. He is pictured on the inaugural of the 787 back in October 2011. Jon Ostrower, then with FlightGlobal (to the right) photo bombs the picture.
Image by: Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Cover image courtesy of AirwaysNews.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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On-Board the Inaugural Qatar Airways A350 Flight

By Guest Contributor / Published January 17, 2015

Editor’s note: Below is a trip report submitted by Gino Bertuccio. Bertuccio, a Miami businessman, has traveled the world on major airline inaugurals for the Airbus A380, the Boeing 787, the 747-8, and was the first passenger to fly “The Residence” on Etihad’s first A380.IMG_0431

Below is a trip report and photos from the inaugural Qatar Airways passenger A350 flight from Doha to Frankfurt by Mr. Bertuccio.

I must say that I didn’t expect Qatar Airways to have any celebrations for their inaugural Airbus A350 XWB flight, based on previous experiences. However, I must admit that they have left me very impressed after the inaugural A350 flight.IMG_0429

I arrived at the Hamad International Airport First and Business Class Terminal around 5:35 AM on January 15 for the inaugural flight which was headed to Frankfurt, Germany.

As soon as I entered the terminal, a gracious lady approached me saying: “Good morning, Mr. Bertuccio and Welcome. This way please.” She quickly escorted me to the first class check-in area, but I was shocked that she knew who I was. So, I asked her how she knew who I was, and she explained that she saw my video and interview from the inaugural Etihad A380 flight.IMG_0435

The check-in and passport control process was very quick, and within ten minutes of checking-in, I arrived in the business class lounge where I met up with several “First to Fly” club members. Also in the lounge, I was contacted by a Qatar Airways Media Staff to do an interview for their social media channels.

Around 6:40 AM, a Qatar Special Services staff member escorted my to gate A3 which was the same gate as Qatar’s inaugural A380 flight.

EXTRA: Mr. Bertuccio’s Trip Report From Qatar’s Inaugural A380 Flight

Upon arriving at the gate, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Qatar had a huge gate celebration set up with soft live Arabic music, and all of the passengers were offered drinks, sweets, and a bag that contained a certificate commemorating the first flight as well as an Airbus A350 model. Meanwhile, all of the passengers seemed very happy as they enjoyed their drinks, took many photos, and checked out their gift bag.IMG_0447

At 7:15 AM, boarding started me. Along with myself and several others “First to Fly Club” flyers were invited to board, after we took a big group photo in front of a big Qatar sign.

Meanwhile CNN’s Richard Quest was boarding the aircraft, and when saw us, he pulled out his microphone, and we all got interviewed.

As we entered the aircraft, we were greeted by several flight attendants who welcomed us and showed us where our seats were. I quickly noticed the really wide cabin and the flat ceilings which gave me a sensation of a lot of space that I had never experienced on an aircraft before. Plus, the overhead bins were spacious as they could accommodate all carry-on luggage passengers brought on-board. Even though there are no center overhead bins in the business class cabin, it was not an issue for anybody.

EXTRA: First Passenger of Etihad’s A380 “The Residences” Gino Bertuccio’s Trip Report 

The new Qatar Airways business class seat, also already installed onboard the 787, was very comfortable in the 1-2-1 configuration. The new seats offered a generous storage area, easy to operate seat controls, and an IFE console that was easy to reach and operate. The 17” screen offers excellent resolution. A pillow, blanket, duvet, pajamas, and a very nice leather amenity bag with some Armani products inside where at every seat.

The flight attendants served welcome drinks, dates, and Arabic Coffee, IMG_0463and at 7:40 AM, Mr. Al Baker, Qatar’s CEO, came aboard with his staff along with Mr. Fabrice Bregier, Airbus’ CEO, and at 7:50 AM the doors were closed; at 8:12 AM we took off.

As soon as seat belt sign was turned off, flight attendants started coming through the cabin distributing menus , a wine list , a letter from the captain, and a beautiful pen made with the same composite materials that make up a large part of the A350. The flight attendants also asked us what we would like to drink as well as what we would like for breakfast. I decided to partake in the fruit, cereal, and Arabic Breakfast.

It was not easy for the flight attendant to conduct the cabin service because everybody was up socializing and exploring the aircraft so the service was a bit slow. IMG_0470

The atmosphere of the cabin was very friendly and cheerful. At the bar, a few of us conversed with Al Baker about aspects of the airline: HIA expansion, A350 pilot training, and Qatar’s in-flight product versus its competitors. In person, Baker is famously very clear, direct, and determined in what he wants and how he want it for the best interests of the airline.

Due to turbulence in route the seat belt sign was temporarily illuminated and unfortunately, we had to return to our seats for probably 20 minutes.

EXTRA: Gino Bertuccio on the Final Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500 Flight

IMG_0504When it was turned off again, I was surprised when  a flight attendant came to my seat with a glass of champagne and a chocolate cake that said: “Welcome On Board our A350 Mr. Gino Bertuccio.”  The cake was especially prepared for me , and I couldn’t believe it. I don’t know whom I have to thank for this amazing gesture , but to whomever was  responsible they have my gratitude.

At 11:25 AM, we started our descent into Frankfurt, and we touched down on runway 07L (the newest runway) at 12: 05 PM and arrived at the gate approximately 15 minutes later.IMG_0510

My Take: I have taken a number of Qatar inaugurals and while the service is always excellent, they didn’t commemorate even launches like the A380 with any especially noteworthy gate events or details onboard even at the A380 launch. In the launch of the world’s first Airbus A350, Qatar went all out. They really put on a show down to every last detail. Sometimes the service was a bit slow, but since it was the first flight, not everybody was familiar with the galley, so chalk that up to familiarization.

The new business class seats are very comfortable and offer generous space and better than many other business class seats (especially in comparison to their own A330 old business class seats).  In my opinion, saying that it tops other airline’s first class seat may be a bit too much of a boast. In comparison with any US airline or other smaller airlines, Qatar’s business class seat wins, but is is not comparable with other major European or Asian carriers first class seats.IMG_0505

Overall, it was a fantastic flight and a great experience! Unfortunately, it was the last inaugural flight for an all-new wide-body passenger aircraft (not a derivative)  for the next decade.

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

EXTRA: On-Board Qatar’s A350 XWB Media Flight

EXTRA: On-Board Qatar’s A350 Delivery Flight

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Contact: benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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AirTran Flies Final Flight: Onboard the Last Flights

By Benjamin Bearup, Chris Sloan, and Jack Harty  / Published December 29, 2014

ATLANTA, GA – After retracing the same route that ValuJet inaugurated service on in 1993, the final AirTran Airways flight blocked in at Tampa International Airport at 11:39 PM ET Sunday night. The completion of AirTran flight 1 signified the successful completion of integrating AirTran into Southwest as well as the end of the iconic AirTran brand.

The Origins of AirTran

AirTran dates back to 1993 when ValuJet commenced operations. It’s inaugural flight took place on October 26, 1993 between Atlanta and Tampa via Jacksonville. To commemorate the final AirTran flight, Southwest planned to retrace the inaugural route, but AirTran opted to fly directly to Tampa.valujet9409cover_23614

Initially, very few took ValuJet seriously; it had a cartoon character “Critter” painted on the fuselage of the old DC-9s it acquired from Delta, and its orange and yellow all coach seats were not really appealing. Plus, ValuJet decided to compete with Delta – who had dominated the Atlanta market since 1941 – in Atlanta.

EXTRA: A History of Air Tran

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A AirTran 717 pushes back from the gate in Atlanta on December 28, 2014. Photo by Jack Harty / AirwaysNews

ValuJet would win over the hearts of many, but it hit a major bump in 1996 when ValuJet flight 592 caught fire while departing Miami and crashed into the Everglades. Unfortunately, the crash killed all 110 people on-board. Weeks before the crash, the FAA launched an investigation to look into why ValuJet had more than 114 emergency landings in 17 months; after the crash, the FAA grounded the airline for four months, citing safety concerns.

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A AirTran 717 taxing to the gate in Baltimore. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

ValuJet was in the middle of a PR crisis, even after it made sure to promote that safety was its number one priority. About a year later, ValuJet announced that it would acquire AirTran Corporation which was the holding company of Mesaba (one of the former Northwest Airlink operators) and new owner of Conquest Sun Airlines. ValuJet also announced that it would change its name to AirTran Airways, and it would go through a restructuring to turn the airline around. The inaugural AirTran flight was once again Atlanta to Tampa.

EXTRA: Vintage AirTran and ValuJet Timetables and Schedules

EXTRA: AirTran Douglas DC-9-30 Cabin, Cockpit, and Flight Decks during Scrapping

Over the next few years, AirTran won the hearts of many, particularly in Atlanta. It introduced the first 717 as well as a Business Class product to for business travelers. It also became the first U.S. airline to have an entire fleet of aircraft equipped with GoGo in-flight WiFi and XM Radio.

EXTRA: Inside AirTran’s 717s

Meanwhile, the airline continued to grow; it ordered more than 100 737-700s to reach new destinations further west and built hubs in Baltimore and Milwaukee.

The Southwest Merger

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Photo by JDL Multimedia

About four years ago, Southwest Airlines announced plans to buy AirTran Airways. One year later, it became official. AirTran would be merged into Southwest. About eight months after the marriage became official, Southwest received its single operating certificate in record time.

When the merger plans were announced in 2010, nobody was really sure this would work. AirTran and Southwest were different in many ways; AirTran offered two class service, operated with a hub/spoke system, and operated two aircraft types, but Southwest offered one class service, operated more point to point, and had a single aircraft type.

During the farewell ceremony in Atlanta, Gary Kelly, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, recapped what the AirTran merger did for Southwest. He remarked that “Everybody knows that it helped us finish out our domestic route network expansion and gave us access to key cities and airports such as Atlanta and Washington Reagan. It also helped us boost our position in key markets like Milwaukee, Orlando, and Baltimore. But, without a doubt, the most important thing that the AirTran merger has done for Southwest Airlines is the addition of you – the AirTran people.”atlanta-hartsfield-jackson-international-airport-aerials-of-concourses-c-d-2009_12073

In May, Southwest Airlines announced that it would phase out all AirTran flying by the end of the year (which was the goal since day one of the merger process). December 28 would be the final day of AirTran operations.

The Final Day of Operations

AirTran Airways operated close to 90 flights on December 28 to more than a dozen destinations. Although 90 is far from its peak of 750 daily flights, many tried to catch one final AirTran flight to say goodbye one more time.B59wgTJIIAAIIyq

Senior correspondent, Jack Harty, spent a few hours sitting at some of the AirTran gates on Sunday. Overall, there was not a lot of fanfare until the last AirTran flight; although, some stopped to take pictures when an AirTran aircraft taxied by, and many employees also took photos as they finished working their final AirTran flights which caused several passengers to question what was going on.

The Farewell Begins in Milwaukee

Early Sunday morning, we flew up to Milwaukee to start the AirTran farewell tour. This part of the celebration provided an up close look at Southwest’s growth in Milwaukee since integrating AirTran’s operations.

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AirTran and Southwest employees in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

When entering the C concourse in MKE that morning, it became obvious that Southwest and former AirTran employees truly love the company they work for and the history it has with the city. The love and passion for the company could be felt when they described what it meant to see the four years of hard work that went into merging the two carriers be finally completed. Although some were sad, most saw this day as the next step in Southwest’s history, and one that would make the carrier more “simple” and “easier to manage”.

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AirTran 717 Sign in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

AirTran named Milwaukee a hub in April 2010. At the time, Milwaukee would be AirTran’s third hub city, after Atlanta and Orlando. AirTran quickly grew to serve over twenty destinations with over 60 daily flights. When the airline was purchased by Southwest in 2010, it became clear that big changes were coming to Milwaukee.

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AirTran farewell party in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

Over the course of four years, Southwest took over and preserved most of the routes formerly served by AirTran. “AirTran Airways laid a really solid foundation for Southwest to grow upon in Milwaukee,” said Dan Landson, a Southwest Airlines Spokesperson. “The brand was iconic in the city and region and we’re really looking forward to moving forward as one brand with one Customer Experience, and most importantly to be the airline of choice for Milwaukee travelers.”

As the final flight out of Milwaukee approached, the gate the flight would leave from began to receive a special makeover featuring that featured a banner and dozens of balloons. Employees were also sporting their best AirTran attire from the late 90s to the mid 2000s.

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An empty 717 cabin during the AirTran farewell party in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

Around the same time, a special aircraft arrived; it was a former AirTran 737-700 that had recently been reconfigured and repainted in the new Southwest Heart Livery. It seemed like a symbolic “changing of the guard” in the former AirTran hub.

Several minutes later, N717JL-an AirTran 717-arrived from Atlanta. This would be our ride to Atlanta to continue the farewell celebration, but before we departed, a pre-depature party was held with two large cakes, pizza, drinks, and historic AirTran memorabilia. After a fun but short 20 minute celebration, the aircraft was ready for boarding. Several longtime and devoted AirTran employees and several members of the media were onboard the flight to Atlanta.

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AirTran farewell cake in Milwaukee on December 28, 2014. Photo by Benjamin Bearup / AirwaysNews

As the flight prepared for departure, dozens of Southwest and AirTran employees waved farewell from the ramp as the plane pushed back. After a short taxi, Airtran flight 351 was off to Atlanta, and a piece of Milwaukee and AirTran’s aviation history came to a close.

After completing most of the uneventful two hour flight, the flight attendants acknowledged the significance of the flight and asked for all passengers to participate in a group photo that eventually became a large selfie at 34,000 feet. AirTran souvenirs were passed out and before we knew it, we were on final into Atlanta. Shortly before landing the captain of N717JL thanked the passengers for their loyalty after all these years. Upon landing and arriving at our gate we were given forewarning that we would be welcomed by a large party to celebrate the final flight for AirTran Airways.

 

The Final Flight: AirTran 1 ATL-TPA

Pre-Departure Party

About an hour before flight 351 was set to arrive from Milwaukee, the party started at gate C3 in Atlanta. There were balloons, a DJ, and a lot of dancing at the gate. Just off the boarding area, a cake in the shape of a AirTran aircraft took center stage. 500-600 AirTran and Southwest employees sharing memories and a lot of laughs in what turned into a very lively party, the kind of which Southwest was famous for. The theme for the event was “One Family. One Love” commemorating the intergration finally coming to fruition.

A little more than an hour before boarding, a few executives made some remarks.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly mostly spoke on what it meant to see the integration be finally complete and that he was happy to have the AirTran folks part of Southwest. Comparing this event to a commencement, Kelly remarked “It’s the end of something that was great, but now, it’s the start of something even better. This is a testimony to the soul of the people of AirTran.”

Bob Jordan, Southwest’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, was also present at the event and on the final flight. As President, AirTran Airways since the merger began he played a significant roll in the integration. Jordan took over when Bob Fornaro stepped down as CEO of AirTran, when Southwest officially purchased AirTran in 2011. During his speech, he went over some key dates of the merger and expressed how happy he was to see the two airlines come together. His remarks were warmly received by the crowds “we didn’t want this to be like any other airline merger. We wanted this to be special and just like Southwest treats its employees.” He emphasized that “this was a party”. Any outstanding differences between the Southwest and AirTran teams, weren’t on show tonight. 

Then, he announced that he was going to stray away from his script. Jordan took a moment to recognize Fornaro for his leadership and passing on the torch. Fornaro, who was present at the event and on the final flight, received a big round of applause and several cheers. Many AirTran employees were very happy to see him again, mobbing him with requests for selfies. Next, Jordan expressed that “Tonight is bittersweet for AirTran employees, but many new things will come as a result of this merger. We know that you all truly loved your company and built something special. Now we are one family.”

To conclude the gate events in Atlanta, Kelly and Jordan signed a commemorative certificate signifying the final AirTran flight.

Boarding

Boarding was a bit chaotic. Boarding began as soon as the remarks were over, and since there were more than 800 listed on standby for the flight, the gate area was absolutely mobbed which caused some confusion on where boarding was taking place. The 1980s it song “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds accompanied the boarding.

Kelly took the tickets for the final flight, and champagne was served to celebrate the end of an era, but the beginning of a new one. A 717 model was passed around to have the final AirTran passengers sign it, and at each seat, there was some fun AirTran memorabilia for every passenger.

The captain of the final flight was AirTran’s Director of flight operations – Floy Ponder – who has 19 years of experience. One of his favorite memories was the 2010 ice storm in Atlanta that shut down the airport. The first officer would be Janin Hutcheson who has been with the company since ValuJet and helped recruit many captains at AirTran. Like the remaining 717 flight crews, they are going on to training on the Southwest 737 fleet.

After our initial article ran, Helen Souders emailed us a fun fact about a special jumpseater in the cockpit on AirTran flight 1:

One man was there for it all, my father, Captain John E. Souders. He was in the cockpit last night. He is a decorated Marine aviator, Vietnam veteran (fighter pilot), retired Eastern Airlines Captain, and the first pilot ValuJet hired. He flew the inaugural flight in 1993. He served as their Chief Pilot and VP of Flight Operations. He stayed on after age 65 as a Check Airman with AirTran. He turned 71 two weeks ago. It is fitting that he ends his career as the Captain they chose to be on their first flight and their last! We are so proud of him and I believe this t human story ties it all together as AirTran says goodbye and a great man retires from the skies.

EXTRA: Five memorable AirTran commercials

Pushback

After boarding was complete, a large gathering of employees and a few members of the media took place on the ramp. Many employees posed for pictures one final time before the aircraft departed for Tampa.

While standing on the ramp, emotions were high as more than a hundred Southwest and AirTran employees posed for pictures and waved farewell to the AirTran 717 that once ruled concourses C and D in Atlanta.

As large groups employees took pictures with N717JL, firetrucks lined up to give Citrus one final wash before heading off to Tampa, and as the aircraft pushed back, everybody quickly followed N717JL toward the end of the gate to watch the salute it rightly deserved. AirTran 1 made an on-time departure.

Extra: Employees say farewell to AirTran

The Final Flight 1 to Tampa

At 10:30 PM EST, AirTran flight 1 began its quick 35 second took off roll to thunderous applause.

Once in-flight, the party continued with a lot of socializing and enjoying the AirTran service one last time. With 117 passengers on board consisting of current and former staff, it was a full house. With many having flown in from around the system to be on the last flight. Owing to the demand, a number of staffers actually purchased their seats just as they went on sale months ago. The three Flight attendants, cloaked in AirTran sashes, managed to pull off two services inflight even as the partying passengers crowded the aisle. They had a little help from others fellow employees to complete the service on this very short flight. Cocktails were on the house and there was even a champagne service onboard, not something normally seen on a AirTran or Southwest flight. During approach into Tampa, there was a quick toast to AirTran.

During final descent, the captain said “I can’t say see you on another AirTran flight but hopefully on another Southwest flight.” When the fasten seatbelt sign came on, passengers chanted for a go around, but unfortunately, they did not get their wish. It being near midnight, few would have seen it.

Extra: Final AirTran 717 Ferry Flights

Arrival

At 11:36 PM EST, AirTran flight 1 touched down in Tampa to a roar of applause. Three minutes later, it blocked into the gate. Unlike most flights, no one wanted to deplane.

Upon exiting the aircraft, there was a large party going on in the terminal – with “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen” playing in the background. If anything this party, sponsored by the Tampa Airport Authority was even more lively then Atlanta with even more dancing and a DJ. Many AirTran employees drove to Tampa to celebrate and say farewell to AirTran. It was very emotional as there were lots of hugs and some tears, but many are excited for the bright future ahead. Citrus and the Critter may be gone, but they are anything but forgotten.

Extra: AirTran & ValueJet Timetables and Route Maps

Extra: A History of Air Tran

Extra: Employees say farewell to AirTran

Extra: Final AirTran 717 Ferry Flights

Extra: Vintage AirTran and ValuJet Timetables and Schedules

Listen to AirTran final flight 1 ATC departure from ATL and final arrival in TPA

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Disclosure: Southwest Airlines provided round trip tickets and hotel accommodations to AirwaysNews to cover the final AirTran flights.  Our opinions remain our own.

Benjamin Bearup contributed to this story from the final Milwaukee/Atlanta flight. Chris Sloan contributed to this story from the final AirTran Airways flight, and Jack Harty contributed to this story from Atlanta as well as the introduction and history.

You can contact jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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AirlineReporter.com: Taking the Inaugural Bangkok A380 Flight on Qatar

This story was originally published by David Parker Brown on AirlineReporter.com.

The more that I fly the Airbus A380, the more I like the aircraft — as a passenger, but I am not so sure as an AvGeek. It is so smooth during take-off and landing, one might not even realize that they happened. Turbulence is mostly absorbed by the jumbo jet, making the flight smooth. The windows and walls are so thick, the aircraft stays quiet and passengers are removed from the flying experience.DPB 1

As an AvGeek, these are some of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of the A380. I want to feel the take-off, I enjoy a little turbulence, and I want to stay connected to the entire flight experience. But this doesn’t mean I cannot enjoy an A380 flight, especially when it is on a Qatar Airways aircraft with an impressive on-board product.

One of the biggest disappointments I had regarding the flight was not being able to get an exterior shot of the A380. And believe it or not, that was partially due to both Bangkok and Doha airports being designed where photos are hard to get, and also because of the King of Thailand.DPB 2

Now, I want to be respectful of the King, even while being in America. In Thailand they have something called lèse majesté, where one cannot talk bad about the King. If you do, you get to go to jail. It sort of puts a damper on your travel experience.

You see, the day of the inaugural, December 5th, also happened to be the King’s birthday. It was cool to see all the decorations around Thailand, but one of the rules is that no one can try and upstage the King’s celebration. Included in this was not being able to celebrate an inaugural flight. This meant no balloons, no cupcakes, nothing more than a few signs around the airport that let anyone know that this was a special flight.DPB 4

Originally, I was set to get tarmac access to get photos of the A380, but that also was considered too much “celebrating” and was cancelled. So, indirectly because of the King of Thailand, I have no exterior photos of the A380 I flew on. At least there was enough eye-candy on the inside to keep me entertained.

Did the King interrupt anymore of David’s trip in the inaugural Bangkok Qatar A380 flight, and how was the flight on-board the Qatar A380? Continue reading “Taking the Inaugural Bangkok A380 Flight on Qatar” on AirlineReporter.com to find out.

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Meet Etihad’s First Residence Passenger

By Jack Harty / Published December 24, 2014

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Photo courtesy of Airbus

In three days, Etihad Airways will fly its inaugural Airbus A380 flight between Abu Dhabi and London Heathrow. It’s a flight for Etihad’s history books as it signifies the introduction of many brand new products that are all focused on improving the travel experience.

When announcing its seating plans for the A380, Etihad created a lot of buzz around the travel industry as the A380 would offer a very unique and exclusive product. Meet The Residence by Etihad™; it is a three-room private cabin that has a Living Room, a Double Bedroom, an Ensuite Shower Room, and its own on-call butler.

EXTRA: Etihad Airways Unveils New Uniforms, First 787, and First A380

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Mr. Bertuccio on-board the inaugural A380 flight.

Earlier this week, Etihad revealed the identity of the person who purchased the very first Residence ticket on the inaugural flight to London this Saturday.

Meet Miami-based businessman and aviation enthusiast Mr. Gino Bertuccio. He will be the first person ever to experience the world’s only private multi-room cabin on a commercial passenger aircraft.

Mr. Bertuccio who runs Ligi Import Corp said: “I have followed Etihad Airways and I have always admired the products the airline has launched. There are going to be many firsts on this inaugural flight – new amenities, services and other innovations to try. I am excited to experience them all, though I am particularly fascinated by the butler concept.”

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Sloan and Bertuccio on-board ANA’s Inaugural 787 flight

It’s clear that Mr. Bertuccio is truly passionate about aviation and is a connoisseur with a strong expertise in air travel; he has traveled on 22 inaugural and final flights, since his first inaugural flight 25 years ago, and he is an avid collector of airline memorabilia and model airplanes (with nearly 2000 in his collection). He also has albums filled with boarding passes, certificates and photos from past flights.

On the inaugural Airbus A380 flight in October 2007, AirwaysNews’ Editor and Chief, Chris Sloan, had the opportunity to meet Mr. Bertuccio where he learned about the “First to Fly Club.” It’s a small group of people who have made it their goal to fly on the first scheduled flight of significant airline services. Sloan and Bertuccio also had the opportunity to meet during the ANA 787 inaugural flight.

EXTRA: Mr. Bertuccio’s Trip Report From Qatar’s Inaugural A380 Flight

For Mr. Bertuccio, he likes to chase all of the A380 inaugurals as a member of the “First to Fly Club.” In a video interview that Etihad put together, Mr. Bertuccio explained that “being on inaugurals for an aviation enthusiast is about being part of the aviation history; it’s like a new adventure.

Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways’ Chief Commercial Officer, said: “We are delighted to welcome Mr. Bertuccio on board The Residence by Etihad. On December 27, he will become part of aviation history as the first member of an elite group of Etihad Airways guests to enjoy the world’s most luxurious and exclusive hospitality and service experience in the air.”

“For the first time in my flying experience, I really don’t know what to expect but I do know that flying in the Residence by Etihad will be a truly unique adventure, the top of luxury. I have huge expectations. My only wish is that the flight was longer,” said Mr. Bertuccio.

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

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In-Flight Review: Qatar’s A350 Delivery Flight to Doha

By Chris Sloan from Doha, Qatar  / Published December 23, 2014

DOHA, QATAR - At 9:28 PM LT on Tuesday, December 23, Qatar’s first A350 XWB landed in Doha–under the cover of darkness–with approximately 70 Qatar employees, VIP’s and members of the media from Toulouse, France.

Qatar's A350 XWB quietly sits at the gate waiting to head home to Doha. Photo By Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Qatar’s A350 XWB quietly sits at the gate waiting to head home to Doha. Photo By Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

A day earlier, Airbus handed over the first A350 XWB to Qatar Airways, and shortly after taking delivery of the aircraft, the airline flew several executives and more than a hundred members of the media on a short demonstration flight over the Mediterranean.

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

EXTRA: On-Board Qatar’s A350 XWB Media Flight

After the big delivery ceremony Monday, it was time for the delivery flight to Doha which would be operated just like a normal scheduled commercial flight, but there would be fewer people on-board.

Business Class was full while approximately ten passengers–who were all employees of Qatar–would have the two economy cabins to themselves. 

As much as I anticipated experiencing the Airbus A350 XWB in a true commercial flight, I was equally curious to put Qatar’s renowned SkyTrax 5 star rated Business Class marketed and self-proclaimed as “World’s Best Business Class” to the test. Some of the burning questions I had included: Would it live up to all the hype and marketing expectations? Is it truly a First Class product at a Business Class price? Is the Airbus A350 XWB cabin truly an “eXtra Wide Body” experience?

Checking-In

Upon arrival, it was business as usual; we went through the standard and typical check-in, customs, and security screenings just like any other flight, but there were not lines.

Once arriving at the gate, the media had an opportunity to walk around the A350 while it was getting ready for its six hour journey to Doha, and there was even an opportunity to do a little shopping at the Airbus store.

Time to Board

Although it was just like a normal flight, there were no lines which made boarding very easy. We boarded through the L2 door which has a bar in the middle of the cabin. It is complete with a signature middle light on the roof with an Arabic frame around the light. As with many 787 operators, this provides an entry like a hotel and enhances the boarding processes.

Champagne, towels, newspapers, and magazines were offered before departure, and I quickly headed to my seat.

At every seat, there was a hardcover commemorative A350 delivery menu which stated “ahead of the curve” which is a homage to the A350′s curved wingtip. There was also a dye cut out matting in the shape of the A350 cockpit window, and inside, it listed the dining menu and the extensive wine list. Additionally, the phrase “You will never forget your first time on a Qatar A350″ emblazoned the wine menu.

Almost immediately upon boarding the A350, one notices the high flat sculptured ceilings and flat vertical side walls which are a signature of the A350 eXtraWideBody.

The panoramic windows are also noticeably larger then any Airbus product before. Although they are not as large as the 787, they allow a great deal of natural light into the cabin. The windows in Business Class utilize a pleasing dual shade electromechanical feature while Economy’s are conventional manual shades. Airbus made a point of going with a simpler system then the 787′s dimming feature.

The LED mood lighting also stands out, but they did not come on until the meal service was concluded.

Once it was time for pushback, Toulouse ground crew and executives turned out in mass to wish us Bon voyage. There were also plane spotters adjacent to the runway waiting to photograph our departure. The captain announced “welcome aboard the first A350 flight” making it one of just a few times that people would be aware they were on a very “special flight.”

Take Off

Qatar also took delivery of its fourth Airbus A380 on Monday, December 22, and it flew the aircraft back to Doha simultaneously with the A350. Below are some pictures of the two aircraft beginning their journey home to Doha from Toulouse.

At 1:22 PM, we began a very quiet 42 second take off roll, and at 1:50 PM we reached FL400 over the Swiss Alps, picking up a little light chop from mountain wave. The A350′s gust suppression system handled the wave with aplomb and we were avoided a breathtaking view in the process.

After take off, the flight attendants wasted no time in starting their service as we were offered a comfort bag complete with pajamas ten minutes.

Qatar’s A350 Business Class Cabin

Qatar’s A350 XWB Business Cabin is in a two-cabin configuration with 36 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, featuring 80” fully flat beds and 17” HD in-flight entertainment screens. These very comfortable seats convert to a lie-flat bed. For privacy, the middle two seats boast a powered divider. Each Business Class cabin is separated by the semi-circular bar unit.

There is a flat screen Thales IFE in front of the seat with the seat controls just to the left. The remote control, electrical power for European and US standards and USB ports are all to the left. There is storage space in cubbies at the right armrest where noise canceling headphones are stored along with a bottle of water and to the left under the table. Another cubby is to the left just under the lacquered wood pull out table. Behind the seat to the right is a storage shelf. This hard product is similar to Qatar’s A380, 777, and 787s.

In Business Class, Qatar opted for power electromechanical window shades which scroll down in two screens to soften light and make opaque.

The windows in Business Class are very large. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

The windows in Business Class are very large. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

In economy, convention manual window shades are used. This is a much simpler system the the 787 electronically dimmer systems Airbus claims.

As on other Qatar aircraft, there is framed art work in this case the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.

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The PSU. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

I was seated in 8A which affords excellent views of the A350′s signature swooping wingtip. I was able to store my bags in the overhead compartments which were very roomy. Plus, the compartments don’t swing down to interfere with service.

The Passenger Service Unit (PSU) has an LCD screen overhead which indicates WiFi, Phone Switch Off, and No Smoking. This was a first for me to see such a screen.

There is a fold out tray table in a lacquered wood finish, and one major benefit of the tray table is that it allows one to enter and exit the seat with the tray table in the down position.

The male amenity kit. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

The male amenity kit. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

An amenity kit by Giorgio Amani was already at the seat. Inside, it had pillows and douvet.

There are separate amenity kits for men and women. The male kit has cologne, moisturizer, tooth brush, and shaving cream, and all of the kits have the Qatar eyeshades.

 

Qatar’s A350 Economy Cabin

Economy Class has 247 seats split between two cabin. Each seat is 18-inches wide, in a 3-3-3 configuration, and has up to a 32-inch pitch. Each individual seat will feature a 10.6” in-flight entertainment screen. The extra width of the A350 cabin and flat sidewalls especially shine through in the rear two Y cabins.

Currently, Qatar does not offer a premium economy product.

The Lavatory

The lavatories are masterpieces in their own right. They are bathed in red colored light with a rose and a backlit mirror. There are touch sensitive controls to adjust water temperature. An elegant textured finish on the sink with an understated dark wood floor which are also in the galleys makes this room a show stopper. Plus, the lavatories have a sweet aromatic orange smell which is very pleasing. I could have stayed in here the whole flight, but I digress.

The In-Flight Meal

FOOD 5

Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Qatar is famed for its wine list. There were 9 vintages of wine and champagne on offer, Graham’s Tawny Port from 1969, and a full complement of spirits. In fact the airline controls alcohol  distribution in the dry country of Qatar. Sauvignon Blanc Craggy Range 2012 was the perfect and rather frequent accompaniment for my palette.

The appetizers included: Classic Arabic mezzo; Smoked mackerel with green bean salad . My delicious choice was a melding of delicious textures and spices. Three types of breads were also in the dish. The dish had an exquisite presentation which almost prevented me from eating it as it was too gorgeous.

FOOD 1

Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

For the main course, there was the choice between: Tandoori paneer with mussalam sauce, Braised lamb shank with dried fruit couscous, and Marinated chicken beast with lentils. I went with the chicken and was not disappointed. The combination of lentils and walnuts – plus the juiciest chicken I have ever had in flight – translated into a dining experience that would be the envy of many at a gourmet restaurant. This airline is indeed a foodie paradise.

FOOD 3

Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

After the main course, there was a cheese plate with cheeses, grapes, and chutney.  For desert, there was the choice between: a selection of seasoned fruits, ice cream, and Lauduree Ispahan which is a rise flavored soft macaron biscuit, rose petals cream, raspberries and lychees. Again, the presentation on this desert compelled me to want to frame it rather then consume it. The Lauduree Ispahan tasted as good as it looked.

FOOD 4

Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

For light options during the flight, there was a selection of hot pastries and a grilled steak sandwich with balsamic onions and mustard mayonnaise on offer.

During the Flight

HE Al Baker, Qatar’s President and CEO, made several passes throughout aircraft personally inspecting the service and asking passengers if everything was OK service wise. Clearly as he walked around the cabin, he was inspecting every detail to make sure it was perfect. Crew and staff refer to him as “Chief”.CEO

The inflight the buffet / bar area became a common gathering point for conversation. It was unmanned, but it was stocked with Krug champagne, snacks, fresh fruit, and Godiva chocolates.  The two-piece unit itself is used for storing galley carts.

The A350 was of course very smooth and quiet. It’s easily possible to have a whisper like conversation on-board, and this trait came in handy as many people were sleeping during the flight. The A350 also has a sense of roominess which is what really gives the aircraft its edge. As mentioned before, the wide fuselage is a particular advantage in economy where Airbus is able to put to good effect the 18″ seat in a 3-3-3 configuration. Even with a 32″ pitch one can tell the difference especially at the window owing to the flat sidewalls. The wide-body cabin falls just short of the 777 diameter which is intentional to deter airlines from offering the dreaded ten abreast seating.

As our flight was a medium haul–six hours and twelve minutes from take off to touchdown–it wasn’t easy to detect the effect of the increased humidity and reduced pressurization levels. But  like is often the case, even with the jet lag I did notice that I felt more refreshed upon arrival. The air smelled very fresh and clean owing to the XWB’s zonal filtration system.

But as unique and special as the A350 XWB is, from a passenger experience, it is almost a secondary player to Qatar’s apex level of service. The plane itself doesn’t wow like an A380 with marketing gimmicks, but it certainly delights. Think of it this way, a Broadway play can have an amazing set and theater venue, but it is the story and actors that keep the audiences raving. In this case, Qatar is the story and the A350 is the set.

The On-Air WiFi was inoperative but that was a good thing as it left us with time to do old fashioned things like take in a movie, hang out at the bar, and convivially chat with other guests on the flight.

During the flight, I played with the IFE–dubbed Oryx  Thales TopSeries– and the remote control– dubbed TPMU Touch Passenger Media Unit — which control everything from IFE to window shades to lighting. Some basic functions on the IFE are controlled on screen, but most features are accessed by the remote control which is very useful when in recline position.

The IFE was one of my few complaints in that its not intuitive as to what is controlled on the screen and what’s controlled on the remote. The exhaustive list of entertainment options are time consuming, and at times, frustrating to scroll through on the remote’s small LCD screen. Qatar’s inflight entertainment catalog is a comprehensive, but fairly typical offering of movies, games, TV shows, and music in multiple languages, and there is of course the tail cam view with moving interactive map. Where the A380 has three cameras, the A350 settles for one camera but I am not complaining.

Following meal service, the cabin crew offered bedding turndown service. This service and pajamas are typically offered on ultra-long haul and night flights but Qatar wanted to demonstrate this to the press. Matters, duvet, and blanket were thoughtfully laid out by cabin crew. Unlike many carriers where the cabin crew then disappear to their bunks or the gallery, Qatar’s well coordinated inflight team continued to attend to us offering snacks, beverages, and conversation. It was evident that they were very proud of their airline.

About 25 minutes before arrival, the mood lighting transitioned to a soft, calming aqua, and just before landing, we were each personally thanked by the very hospitable crew for flying Qatar Airways and that they were looking forward to seeing us soon. Indeed, I hope I will see them all soon again as I did not want this flight to end. Luckily, I had six hours and twelve minutes to enjoy flying on Qatar’s A350.

JDL 6

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia

Upon arrival into Doha Hamad International Airport, we were carried on individual golf carts through the gorgeous – but mammoth – new airport by a concierge to be escorted to retrieve our luggage by a bellman. The concierge and bellman escort you all the way to ground transportation. This is a VIP service available on request. After a long journey into a newly discovered destination late in the evening, this is a very welcome perk.

Conclusion

closing image

Chris Sloan on-board the A350 Delivery Flight

Qatar’s A350 Business product lives up to its billing as a First Class product at a Business Class price. The hard product, soft product, and very attentive, gracious, and multi-cultural service makes this a stand out regardless of competition. Apart from a few announcements and the presence of the airline’s CEO, this felt just like any other Qatar flight, and I think that was the point.

At this level of service in Business, I can only imagine to what levels Qatar’s A380 First Class service ascends to. Certainly the historic and special nature of the A350 delivery flight was a highlight. What I didn’t expect was that Qatar’s everyday level of service would actually eclipse the aircraft as the star of the show. Without a doubt, this was the highest level of service I have ever experienced. When an airline makes such an audacious claim as “World’s Best Business Class”, they had better deliver and Qatar did.

EXTRA: Photos from the Delivery Event

——————————

Qatar Airways provided accommodations and flights to and from Doha. Our opinions remain our own.

Cover photo and latest photos courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / JDL Multimedia.

Contact jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

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On-Board Qatar’s A350 XWB Media Flight

By Chris Sloan in Toulouse and Jack Harty in Houston / Published December 22, 2014

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - This afternoon, Airbus and Qatar Airways took more than a hundred members of the media on-board Qatar’s first A350 XWB for a quick demonstration, after the first delivery earlier today.

Getting ready to depart on a demonstration flight. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Getting ready to depart on a demonstration flight. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

EXTRA: Photos from the Delivery Event

At 1:30 PM members of the media as well as Qatar and Airbus executives all started boarding the A350 for a quick demonstration flight. As expected, it took a while to board as everybody wanted to explore the aircraft.

Qatar’s CEO, Al Baker, boarded the aircraft through the rear and did a walk through of the aircraft.

When stepping on-board for the first time, Chris Sloan writes that he “noticed that the A350 XWB boasts overwhelming high ceilings and that the windows are noticeably larger. Plus, Qatar’s A350 have a beautiful wood floor, and the 18” wide inch seats are noticeably much roomier, even with a seat pitch of 32” inches.”

At 2:03 PM, the aircraft pushed back from the delivery center, and taxied to runway 14R, and shortly after, it began a 26 second take off roll which was very quiet with the Trent XWB engines.  It felt very quick as the aircraft was very light. The aircraft hit V1 at 140 knots at a GTOW of 198,000 kilograms being lightly provisioned with little fuel and no cargo.

As the aircraft approached 22,000 feet, flight attendants began going through the cabin serving champagne and appetizers as they navigated around the media and executives as they explored the aircraft; nobody wanted to sit down during the flight because it was one giant airborne party.

Qatar’s A350 XWB is in a two-class configuration with 36 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, featuring 80” fully flat beds and 17” HD in-flight entertainment screens. Economy Class has 247 seats, each 18-inches wide in a 3-3-3 configuration, with up to a 32-inch pitch. Each individual seat will feature a 10.6” in-flight entertainment screen.

When looking out the window, there was a nice view of the Mediterranean coast as well as the Pyrenees mountain prior to descent.

At 3:08 PM, the A350 XWB landed back in Toulouse, and the pilots executed a grease job of a landing, and seven minutes later, the aircraft blocked in at the delivery center again. Tuesday, we will be on the delivery flight to Doha. Stay with us for continuing coverage.

After the flight, AirwaysNews was able to take a quick peek inside the state-of-the-art cockpit.

The tail camera was active throughout all phases of the flight.

BONUS: Enjoy a few photos of the media demonstration flight from Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/JDL Multimedia:

EXTRA: The Airbus A350 Program Timeline

EXTRA: The Airbus A350 XWB: Being There At The Maiden Flight

EXTRA: Qatar Airways Takes Delivery of World’s First Airbus A350 XWB

———————–

Airbus provided accommodations and flights to Toulouse. Our opinions remain our own.

Chris Sloan contributed to this story from Toulouse, and Jack Harty contributed to this story from Houston.

You can contact the editor at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com.

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Inflight Review: EVA Air LAX-TPE-HKG-LAX in First Class

By Brian Coleman / Published December 3rd, 2014

Editor’s note: Brian Coleman, the associate producer of the Airplane Geeks podcast, recently traveled to Hong Kong on EVA Air and shared this trip report with AirwaysNews.

I recently had the chance to fly on EVA Air out of Los Angeles International Airport to Hong Kong for a family trip. It was a trip of firsts for me, including:

  • Flying on EVA Air;
  • Departing from the newly remodeled Tom Bradley International Airport at LAX;
  • Flying on a Boeing 777-300;
  • Meeting my wife’s family;
  • Fying on a Hello Kitty aircraft; and
  • Flying on an Airbus A330.
LAX's Tom Bradley International Airport. All Images Courtesy of Brian Coleman

LAX’s Tom Bradley International Airport. All Images Courtesy of Brian Coleman

Knowing the flight was going to depart from the Tom Bradley International Terminal, I got to the airport early so I could check out the new facilities and hang out in the new Star Alliance lounge.

I arrived at the airport so early the EVA Airlines check-in counter was not open, but it gave me a chance to walk around the new spacious facility. Aside from check-in counters, there were not many services available in the departure area.

Inside, the counters were large, well-spaced and ready for the onslaught of soon-to-be-departing international passengers waiting to check in. At the EVA Airlines counter, I was greeted by a smiling agent who seemed very happy to be there performing her job. Within a minute, I had my boarding pass, instructions on how to proceed through security and I made my way to the Star Alliance lounge.

On the other side of security, there was the normal compliment of high-end shops, as well as the obligatory duty-free stores. Not needing anything, I went to the Star Alliance Lounge.

The outdoor observation deck in the LAX Star Alliance lounge.

The outdoor observation deck in the LAX Star Alliance lounge.

I was very surprised to see how nice, modern and clean the lounge looked. There is an inside and outside bar, along with an observation deck that offers runway views, complete with a fire pit. It is the perfect place to do some planespotting while enjoying a beverage or your favorite snack. At the bar, in addition to the standards, the bartender was happy to make a Singapore Sling, Mojito or any other specialty drink you wanted. It did not seem like anything was out of his range, which was a very nice surprise compared to every other airport lounge bar I’ve experienced.

We had access to a large selection of buffet-style offerings for breakfast and lunch. There was also a build-your-own pho station, which was one of the best I have ever eaten.

The food buffet in the LAX Star Alliance lounge.

The food buffet in the LAX Star Alliance lounge.

If you forgot your iPad, you can borrow one while you are at the lounge. It also offers fast and free Internet access, and most of the chairs in the lounge come with AC outlets as well as USB power.

With my belly full and having spent an hour or so watching planes take off and land from the north runways, it was time to make my way to the gate for boarding. A short walk away was the gate and a slew of TSA agents performing what appeared to be a random check.

Upon boarding the plane, I was escorted to my seat in business class, given help stowing my bags, offered a blanket, pajamas, amenity kit and asked to choose a welcome aboard beverage. I asked for a glass of champagne and was told, “I’m sorry Mr. Coleman, for boarding we only have sparkling wine. Once we are in the air, I’ll be very pleased to bring you a glass of champagne.”  And as promised, a glass of Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame 2004 was served when we reached a safe altitude.

As for the seat, the first thing I noticed is the angle of the herringbone — which is much more dramatic than other carriers — and the seat width. Not only was I sitting at about a 35-degree angle, I was in a seat that felt like it was only 20 inches wide. Yes, there was more space in the foot well below than on other business class seats I have experienced. However, I found the seat angle uncomfortable.

In addition, due to the configuration of the seat, it is virtually impossible to see your seatmate, which is great on flights where you want to be left alone. However, if you are traveling with someone, you could not make eye contact with your traveling companion unless you lean forward to look around the seat. Other nice amenities include in-seat power and lots of storage. Noise-canceling headphones were provided.

A starter on EVA Airlines.

A starter on EVA Airlines.

When it was time for dinner, I found the seat tray table to be a bit strange. It pulled out from the center section and then unfolded outwards, towards the seat in front of me. The table was very large, but if I were an oversized American, besides finding the seat to be very narrow, I doubt I’d be able to extend the tray for dinner.

It seemed like there were 15 flight attendants in the cabin catering to every wish and desire of the passengers. They scurried up and down the aisles multiple times and because there were so many of them, it seemed a bit disorganized.

However, when it came time for meal services, everything was cooked to perfection and the meal was very tasty and enjoyable. I had a French red wine (2010, Chateau Lilian Ladouys) to accompany my Braised Pork Spare Ribs Wu Shi Style. After dinner, we were served cheese, fruit and Haagen-Dazs ice cream with a choice of port, coffee or tea.

Wanting to get try out the 180-degree lay-flat seat, I pressed the button and my pod converted into my bed for the next six hours or so. I did not realize how comfortable sleeping with a down pillow and comfortable could be on a flight, but having missed the mid-flight snack, I assure you, it was comfortable enough.

An EAV Airlines Hello Kitty-branded jet.

An EVA Airlines Hello Kitty-branded jet.

With breakfast trays cleared, it was not long before we were on the ground, taxing to the gate and headed through immigration. There were no issues with immigration and I was in the arrivals lounge about 15 minutes after touchdown.

Part II: TPE – HKG – LAX

The next part of my journey was a week later when I boarded an EVA Airlines Hello Kitty-branded plane headed for Hong Kong. This experience starts before you get to the airport, where you can select a Hello Kitty flight. At the airport, there are Hello Kitty self-check-in kiosks and a branded kids play area. And there’s a gift shop featuring nothing but Hello Kitty paraphernalia.

On board the aircraft, pretty much everything that can be branded is branded. These items include the seat pillow, the art on the walls, the boarding music, the menu (which I tried to take as a souvenir but wasn’t allowed), the food, the flight attendant aprons, kids coloring books and even the toilet paper.

The service was the same as the crossing from the United States to Taipei. The seat was similar to a domestic first class seat, but the pitch was much larger.

A Hello Kitty-branded seat.

A Hello Kitty-branded seat.

After landing at Hong Kong International, I was able to enjoy the Virgin Atlantic Lounge. I found it to be spacious and well-appointed, but missing some of the luxury features I heard about in other lounges. The décor was modern, and therefore slightly uncomfortable to me. However, I was greeted by a very enthusiastic host who was offering to take care of any requirement I might have. He presented me with a food and beverage menu. Again, no request seemed too small for them.

I placed an order for pork short ribs and beef noodle soup and a glass of sparkling water. Within a few minutes the ribs and water arrived along with an apology that the soup would take another minute.

Having thoroughly enjoyed my ribs and beef noodle soup, it was time to see if I could gain access to the United Club lounge. Much to my surprise, I was granted access. The lounge was full and bustling with travelers.

I grabbed a beer from the self-service cooler and made my way to a seating area that overlooked the boarding gates below. In Hong Kong, all the lounges are a level above the departing gates. I collected my things and made the short journey to my gate.

The boarding process commenced about two minutes after I arrived in a very orderly fashion. I was again escorted to my seat by a flight attendant and asked if I needed help getting settled or if I required a beverage. Sad to see this wasn’t another Hello Kitty flight, I made myself comfortable and immediately feel asleep for the duration of the short flight back to Taipei.

The flight from TPE to LAX was basically the same as the one going over to Taiwan. The service and plane were the same, which is to say, very good.

One thing to note was the maps that were displayed on the IFE. I’ve never seen the views like what were displayed on the EVA flights. It was nice to see something so different with fairly precise GPS.

As for all the firsts I experienced on this trip:

  • I would definitely fly EVA Airlines again, even a Hello Kitty flight;
  • Los Angeles World Airports did a nice job on remodeling the Tom Bradley building;
  • I didn’t notice anything substantially different on the 777-300 versus the -200; and
  • The A330 was larger than what I was expecting and a pleasure to fly on.

—–

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Flying KLM’s MD-11 Farewell Flight

By Ben Wang / Published November 15, 2014

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

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

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

Setting the Stage

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

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

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

Preflight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extra: Onboard the Final KLM MD-11 Commercial Flight 

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

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

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

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

Extra: McDonnell Douglas MD-11 Sales Brochures from 1995

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The Flight

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

Aircraft:  McDonnell Douglas MD-11

Registration:  PH-KCD “Florence Nightingale”

msn/ln:  48558/573

Delivered:  Sept, 1994

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

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

Takeoff Runway 18L:  1:10 pm

Landing Runway 18R:  2:06 pm

Flightaware flight track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the galleys were decked out in party mode.

5D3_5937 copy

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

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

5D3_5964 copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Farewell Flight

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

PH-KCD lining up on Runway 24.

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

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

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

Photos by the author.

Extra: Onboard the Final KLM MD-11 Commercial Flight 

Extra: McDonnell Douglas MD-11 Sales Brochures from 1995

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

 


In every issue

Airways Photo News • Departing Shot • Mailbag • Cover Wars

Left-Seat Chronicles • Airways Literature • Arriving Shot


Airways Feature

Cover 2 ​LAN Airlines – America’s Rising Star

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

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


Airport Review

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

Heathrow Reinvented

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

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


Airline Review

PIX 18 B777-38N

Philippines Airlines

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

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


Airways Special

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Aer Lingus DHC84

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


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


 

The Airchive

Taloa L1049 N1880 (Authors Collection - origin unknown)

Transocean

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

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


Airways Traveler

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Delta’s Worldiner: Atlanta – London-Heathrow.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRAUnited Hits One Year Of 787 Operations

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

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

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

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

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EXTRA: Dreamliner Grounding Timeline

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

EXTRAThe 787, One Year After Grounding

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United’s global business class on the 787.

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

EXTRA: United 787 Re-inaugural on May 20th

EXTRAUnited Re-Inaugurates 787 Flights

EXTRAUnited Unveils its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner Seat Map

United 787 inaugural souvenir.

United 787 inaugural souvenir.

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

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

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

EXTRAOnboard United Airlines’ Inaugural Boeing 787-9 Flight

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

United's first 787 on the Boeing assembly line.

United’s first 787 on the Boeing assembly line.

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

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

United CEO Jeff Smisek.

United CEO Jeff Smisek.

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

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

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

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

 

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