Category Archives: Airline Passenger Experience

Industry Leaders Share Passenger Experience Trends for 2015

By Benét J. Wilson / Published January 28, 2015

The passenger experience was a hot topic in 2014 as airlines and airports worked to make the travel process better. But despite these efforts, industry observers interviewed by AirwaysNews feel there is still more work to be done and offered up trends they expect to see in 2015 and beyond.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Luke Hawes of Priestmangoode

Craig Stark is AirGate Solutions’ managing partner and Robert Cook is a co-founder and member of the advisory board of AirGate Solutions. Stark said he and Cook got together to look at strategies in vertical industries like travel. “We saw a need for data analytics and data in support of the passenger experience,” he said.

The main cabin of American Airlines' Airbus A321. Photo: Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

The main cabin of American Airlines’ Airbus A321. Photo: Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

One trend is passengers are still being herded despite initiatives like IATA’s Fast Travel to simplify passenger travel, said Cook. “The primary focus is to get to the gate in the least amount of time, but there’s been no change on how to facilitate the process and make it easier for passengers,” he said. “There’s a disconnect between airlines and airports, because airlines don’t give enough information to airports to help passengers to the gate. I hope they will cooperate eventually.”

EXTRA: Use of Beacons to Improve the Passenger Experience Grows

Another trend noticed by Cook is that airline loyalty program are becoming less valuable and less positive. “You see people having trouble redeeming travel awards, you see points being devalued and airlines moving toward how much you spend rather than how much you travel,” he said. “And there will be an increased focus on the top five percent of travelers, who will continue to get perks like early boarding and free checked bags.”

But the industry can improve the passenger experience by helping those in the back of the aircraft, said Cook. “There’s a huge opportunity for airports, like operating lounges because airlines only focus on the five percent,” he said. “We already see airports starting to do this with products like Priority Pass.”

A Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at BWI Airport. Photo: Benet J. Wilson

A Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at BWI Airport. Photo: Benet J. Wilson

A big pain point for travelers is airport security checkpoints. “I see an expanded trusted traveler program that will speed up checkpoints, which are a major choke point in the travel process,” said Cook. “Programs like PreCheck and Global Entry are a welcome change. If more countries agree to have similar processes, we’d see a much better passenger experience.”

Having healthy food available in airports is another trend. “We did a project in Canada on restaurants attempting to steer people to nutritional labeling so they can be aware of what they’re eating,” said Stark. “We spoke with officials at Toronto-Pearson International Airport as part of that research. They noted that they worked hard to have a balance of 40 to 50 percent of airport restaurants offering healthier food, and we see more airports doing that.”

EXTRA: Alaska Airlines Introduces New Inflight Entertainment System and Other Small Upgrades

Jeff Klee, the CEO of CheapAir.com, feels that the network airlines are looking at the passenger experience because they finally don’t want to be seen as just commodities. “When you look at United, Delta and American, they have been more profitable and are investing that money back into their products,” he said. “The large airlines are trying hard to create a differentiated experience, while low-cost carriers are taking a different approach by not adding bells and whistles.”

The network carriers have really been focusing on premium cabins, said Klee. “In first and business class, they have invested in things like lie-flat beds and upgraded food. It’s much better than its ever been,” he said.  “And even in economy, inflight entertainment has been a big focus. We see things like carriers streaming movies and television to smartphones and tablets, adding personal video monitors with live TV and adding more WiFi access.”

EXTRA: American Airlines to Spend $2 Billion on Passenger Upgrades

The IFE system on JetBlue. Image: Courtesy of JetBlue

The IFE system on JetBlue. Image: Courtesy of JetBlue

With airports, there has been a big focus on improving food options, said Klee. “Options are much better, but there’s no pressure to offer free and better Wi-Fi,” he said. “Everything on the ground is getting better, which is good news, because passengers need it to get better.”

The airline industry will continue to split into two tiers — full-service and ultra-low-cost carriers, said Klee. “It used to be that passengers chose airlines based on who had the lowest fares, and the products and service available were pretty consistent,” he said. “But the rise of LCCs like Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines are giving passengers a lower fare never seen before without offering any extras, but with the ability to pay for an upgraded experience.”

Image: Courtesy Spirit Airlines.

Image: Courtesy Spirit Airlines.

EXTRA: Delta Unveils New Inflight Cabin Family of Products

Jason Rabinowitz, an AirwaysNews contributor, is the data research manager for travel data company Routehappy. “I think we’re finally at the tipping point with airlines, which have been making gradual changes over a number of years,” he said. “Enough passengers have experienced those changes first hand so they can offer an impression of the passenger experience and how it impacts them. They are finally aware of how these changes can help them find a better flight.”

A lot of the changes airlines have made have been on the technology side, said Rabinowitz. “For example, airports are finally offering free Wi-Fi that actually works,” he said. “We’re seeing airlines and airports investing in their terminals like what United is doing at Newark and what Delta has done at LaGuardia, with things like iPads, power outlets and USB chargers. There are even little things like Southwest putting cushy seats in its gate areas.”

EXTRA: JetBlue Touts Benefits of New Airline Seats Despite Less Pitch

With the airlines, passengers are seeing things like streaming Wi-Fi and internet connectivity that wasn’t possible two years ago, said Rabinowitz. “United has announced that its regional jets will be Wi-Fi capable, offering entertainment,” he said.

Jon Glick, director of transportation and logistics for Pricewaterousecooper, said the way to think about this is how travel is becoming increasingly stressful. “So some of the airlines feel if they can improve the passenger experience, it may translate into more loyalty and a willingness for a repeat purchase,” he said. “The idea is that if we can ease travelers’ stress, we’ll be able to gain more market share.”

Virgin America is especially known for its cutting edge innovation in inflight-entertainment systems. While other carriers are just now introducing advanced seat-back IFE’s on domestic U.S. Flights, every Virgin America seat has had this since the airline’s 2007 launch. Their system, known as RED leaped frogged jetBlue’s pioneering LiveTV system which is only now in the midst of its first upgrade since the airline’s 2000 launch. On May 21, 2009, Virgin America became the first U.S. airline to offer Wi-Fi access via Gogo Inflight Internet on every flight. VX’s Panasonic Avionics' IFE’s are already being updated to their 3rd version in 2013. Image courtesy: Virgin America

Virgin America’s RED IFE system. Image: Courtesy of Virgin America

If travel is stressful, airlines can differentiate their product to alleviate that pain, said Glick. “Looking inflight, inflight entertainment is something that can distract from their discomfort onboard. Customers live in an always connected world, and they are tied to their devices,” he said. “Business travelers are willing to pay to deliver that experience, but airlines are challenged to improve the quality of it. They are competing with terrestrial experiences, like streaming a movie.”

EXTRA: United Highlights Changes Coming to Newark Airport’s Terminal C

A restaurant that will open in United Airlines' Newark Airport terminal. Image: Courtesy of United

A restaurant that will open in United Airlines’ Newark Airport terminal. Image: Courtesy of United

From an airport perspective, some people want to minimize their time in terminals, said Glick. “But others don’t want to feel rushed. If airports and airlines work together to help maximize the experience that a passenger has while in the airport, it’s a great opportunity to take the stress of travel away,” he said. “Whether that’s things like traditional airport lounges, separate lounges for families or shopping and food concessions, these amenities help travelers enjoy the airport.”

Looking ahead, Pricecooperwaterhouse’s Glick says he sees more airlines moving toward self-bag tagging and self-boarding. “Putting some of the tasks that have been traditionally done by airline and airport employees now puts it in the hands of customers,” he said. “It will help eliminate long lines and put passengers in control of their time.”

Onboard flights, airlines will continue to experiment with inflight entertainment and Wi-Fi connectivity  products, said Glick. “They will begin to really answer whether these items are enhancers or revenue generators,” he said. “I think airlines will finally get the right balance.”

Looking at the past 20 years, the airlines have been a mess, said Klee. “But after bankruptcies and the basic struggle to survive, they now have a model that works. Fares are higher, capacity is lower and they’re making money,” he said. “Travelers prefer to see this returned in lower fares, but the airlines will continue to invest in their product.”

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Luke Hawes of Priestmangoode

By Benét J. Wilson / Published January 28, 2015

Luke Hawes. Image Curtesy of Fran Monks

Luke Hawes. Image Courtesy of Fran Monks

Luke Hawes is a designer, partner and director at Priestmangoode, a design firm based in London. His firm has become one of the go-to places for airlines and aircraft manufacturers looking for a new design and branding, and he heads up all environment work, including airline cabins, airport terminals, retail projects, and hotels. His clients include Lufthansa, Airbus, TAM, Turkish Airlines, Thai Airways and South African Airways. He spoke with AirwaysNews about how the firm got its start in the aviation industry and why so many in the business seek the company’s designs.

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

AirwaysNews: How did the firm first get into the aircraft interior design business?

Luke Hawes: In the 1990s, we had a few projects that promoted us in the business. Our first project was Virgin Atlantic’s first Upper Class seats. It was the first airline to have a seat to bed mechanism, and it set the tone for aircraft seating design. The seat took it from being lumps of plastic to real furniture design. It was a changing point for us.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Boeing’s Randy Tinseth

We then met the senior management team at Airbus and they asked us to a do mockup of what was then the A3XX, a double-deck concept aircraft. We had three months to design and build it. It was used as sales tool for airlines in an aircraft that became the A380.

Lufthansa first class in the Airbus A380. Images Courtesy of Priestmangoode

Lufthansa first class in the Airbus A380. Images Courtesy of Priestmangoode

But our major breakthrough was in 2000, when we contracted to design the A340-600 for Lufthansa, and since then, we have worked with them for the last 15 years. Those three projects launched us into the airline business guns blazing.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Air India Chairman Rohit Nandan

AN: Your client list reads like a who’s who of the aviation industry, including Qatar Airways, Swiss, Lufthansa, Air France, South African Airways and Embraer. Why do you think your firm is so popular in the industry?

LH: I think ultimately it’s our reputation. The word-of-mouth about us is good. There’s a huge supply base out there, and we have a reputation of treating them with respect, but also challenging them. The list of airlines is exhaustive, and they are all are very different. What we’re able to do is cover everything from branding and product design to implementation. We deliver what we design.  We work with airlines and manufacturers on designs that enhance their brands and reflect their culture.

Business class seat on Turkish Airlines.

Business class seat on Turkish Airlines.

Our designs represent the culture, lifestyle and icons in a nation that we bring to life in an aircraft in a contemporary way. We want them to be appealing to people around the globe. We can take an airline’s identity and come up with a bespoke look.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Embraer’s Luís Carlos Affonso

AN: When an airline comes to your firm for a design, can you walk me through the process?

LH: Each project is very different. Some airlines want standalone projects and some want us to be brand guardians and affect the passenger experience.  Our design is focused on onboard products, but we do extend that to items including uniforms and ticket counters. We start with a  two- to three-week trip to the airline’s home to explore the area. We look at things like local architecture and nature – anything we can get inspired by.

Seat detail on a South African Airways Airbus A320.

Seat detail on a South African Airways Airbus A320.

We work through concepts until we get approval from senior management, then create an implementation schedule, under the directive of Airbus or Boeing, and comply with all milestones. It’s a strict process and we’re there all the way through, so whatever management approves, we deliver. Our promise to our clients is to make sure we deliver everything they want in that first aircraft.

Each project is unique and varies in complexity and scope. It takes about six to nine months to design and 24 months to deliver.

Thai Airways' Royal Silk cabin on the Boeing 777.

Thai Airways’ Royal Silk cabin on the Boeing 777.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Bombardier’s Rob Dewar

AN: What are some of the trends you’re seeing in aircraft interior design?

LH: Most of our clients are the bigger airlines in the world, and they’re always looking for a difference. I see more integrated cabins and vendors who can fit and deliver that. At the moment, we have projects where Airbus or Boeing will give us the architecture of the plane and we fill it with vendors, but sometimes they don’t always fit.

Airlines are also looking at how we use space and weight. Despite fuel prices coming down, airlines are still looking to use space wisely by making seats more lightweight, along with looking and functioning better. We’re always asking suppliers to come up with innovative products to do this.

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Rick Blatstein of OTG

View of the Embraer E2 cabin.

View of the Embraer E2 cabin.

AN: What do hope passengers experience with your cabin designs?

LH: Fundamentally, it has to be a calming and comfortable experience. I hope our design details give passengers a sense of upgrade and enjoyment. Seat design is major part of the passenger experience, but we also look at subtle features, which make a difference. And these features also promote the airline’s brand. Our goal is to have the passenger deboard with a good memory of the airline’s brand.

Click here to see a video of Priestmangoode’s design process.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Flashback: Onboard the Inaugural Airbus A380 Flight

Story and Photos By Chris Sloan / Published January 22, 2015

Editor’s Note: As we mark the 10-year anniversary of the rollout of the first Airbus A380, on January 18, 2005, this week we take a look back at all aspects of the double-decker jumbo jet. Today, we rerun Editor-in-Chief Chris Sloan’s January 2008 story in Airways magazine, his first-person take on flying aboard Singapore Airlines’ inaugural A380 flight. 

On the evening of October 26, 1958, amidst a backdrop of glamor and anticipation, a Pan American Boeing 707 departed from New York’s Idlewild Airport bound for Paris-Le Bourget (Airways, December 2007). Although a BOAC de Havilland Comet 4 had preceded that inaugural ‘Clipper’ flight by a few weeks, it was the 707 that truly ushered in the jet age. My grandparents were on that Pan Am flight. Then a young airline aficionado, I would listen spellbound as my grandfather regaled me with the story of that history-making trip.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-at-singapore-changi-airport-gate-f-31-on-inaugural-morning_7604

EXTRA: Pictures and Story of the Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Inaugural in October, 2007

When I first heard about the eBay auction of seats on the world’s first scheduled flight of the Airbus A380 by Singapore Airlines (SIA), I knew this was my opportunity to participate in my own piece of history. Though it was an incredibly difficult time to take a week off from my business, travel to the other side of the world from my home in Miami Beach, Florida, and, most importantly, leave my seven-month-old son, my supportive wife Carla urged me to realize this dream.

So with not a little trepidation I embarked on the tortuous process of bidding for tickets. Because of the nature of the event and the fact that all money raised would go to charity, this was no ordinary eBay auction. Bidders had to place a $1,000 deposit and provide proof of a valid passport. Seats would be released in arbitrary blocks over a couple of weeks to maintain interest. In order to guarantee a window seat in economy you were required to purchase a pair of tickets, so I had to find a travel companion. Finally, $2,700 later, my friend Oscar Garcia (a former 747 pilot) and I had bought our way into the airline history books.

SIA—a company to which the word ‘superb’ simply doesn’t do justice—then went to great lengths to fly hundreds of people, including Oscar and me, from all over the world to Singapore at massively reduced prices. Ramona Donan in SIA’s Los Angeles office was a heroine to me and many other U.S. travelers. I had a very narrow window in which to travel, and wanted my pre-inaugural flight to be aboard the acknowledged ‘Queen of the Skies’ in its waning days—a Boeing 747-400—which seemed poetic…Yes, I am an airline geek.

EXTRA: Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 Original Sales and Marketing Brochuressingapore-airlines-airbus-a380-at-singapore-changi-airport-gate-f-31-on-inaugural-morning_7596

At 0200 on October 25, I was ‘sleepless in Singapore’, not because of jetlag, but because in six hours’ time I would be taking part in literally the biggest air transport milestone in nearly four decades, one unlikely to be eclipsed for many years. A multitude of emotions and thoughts flashed through my mind. I had a strong connection to the Airbus A380 because when I ran production at TLC (The Learning Channel) cable TV network, I had overseen the creation of a documentary about the aircraft, hosted by John Travolta. I had visited the Toulouse factory as the first airplane was being completed. With all its production problems, commercial viability questions, controversies, fallout, and delays, I always rooted for the A380. Now I was happy that, for one day at least, the headlines would be celebratory, not derogatory.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-first-flight-boarding-pass-october-25-2007-_7562

I had been envious of passengers on other first flights, but especially the one that occurred on January 21, 1970—the inaugural of the Boeing 747, also by Pan Am. For me, that day had arrived. I nurtured high expectations of one of the most thrilling moments of my life, but what made it so special would be completely unexpected, more personally profound, and revealed long after the gigantic Airbus had returned to terra firma on its first scheduled arrival into Sydney, Australia.

EXTRA: Airbus A380 Sales and Marketing Brochuressingapore-airlines-airbus-a380-first-flight-october-25-2007_7567

At 0500 we stepped into a terminal at Singapore’s Changi Airport that was nearly empty save for one streamer-adorned ticketing zone buzzing—and I do mean buzzing—with excitement. SIA had not missed an opportunity to make the event special, even at check-in. There was a paparazzi backdrop and red carpet where your picture was taken for your own custom stamp. Cameras rolled and flashbulbs popped as representatives of the international press added to the feeling that this was as big as a Hollywood premiere.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-first-flight-october-25-2007_7558

Making our way to Gate F31 at 0600, we reached the boarding lounge that had been converted into a standing-room-only party/champagne buffet/press conference, replete with a chamber music quartet. At the boarding gate, two of the famed Singapore Girls standing in front of a yellow ribbon held sway over the crowd. At sunrise, the guests saw the real star of the show—A380‑841 9V‑SKA (MSN 13)—as it emerged from its cloak of darkness, tended to by a veritable army of ground crew.singapore-changi-airport-airbus-a380-inaugural-ceremony-gate-f31_7578

Around 0630, the flight crew showed up. You would have been excused if you thought U2’s Bono or Oprah had arrived. They were mobbed like rock stars, and seemed genuinely surprised by the adulation. Among the crew was a largely unnoticed pilot in a different uniform—Claude Lelaie, Airbus senior vice president flight division and, with Jacques Rosay, vice president and chief test pilot, first to fly the airplane.

Thirty minutes later, a beaming Chew Choon Seng, SIA’s CEO, took the stage to present a check for $1.3 million to three worthy charities: The Singapore Children’s Hospitals; The Singapore Community Chest; and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). With his first new Airbus delivered only 10 days earlier, if Chew was at all concerned he didn’t show it as he cut a yellow ribbon declaring the flight open.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-inaugural-morning-souvenir-shirts_7696

Boarding of Flight SQ380, bound for Sydney, began promptly at 0715, as Julian Hayward, the Briton who had paid $100,300 for two tickets in the ‘Suites’, was invited to be first to board. There was thunderous applause. New business and economy class passengers were next to board through the three-airbridge gate, with two fingers docked to the lower deck and one to the upper. The procedure was amazingly fast and smooth, silencing many critics.

Our bridge led to the upper deck. With people running around snapping pictures (myself included) and touring the airplane, I asked myself how this flight could possibly depart on time, and anticipated agitated crew-members making panicked announcements requesting everyone to take their seats to prevent an embarrassing late departure. My travel companion and I were seated in 77K and 77H in the intimate economy cabin upstairs.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-touching-down-in-sydney-airport-inaugural-morning_7762

Miraculously and calmly, with not a stern word from the crew, everything settled down, and precisely at 0800 we pushed back. We noticed ground crew-members on the ramp stopping to gawk at the new Queen of the Skies. There were also throngs of spectators in the terminal. I reflected that this is what it must have felt like to be a participant on those other great inaugurals: the Pan American Martin 130 China Clipper flying boat (in 1935), Boeing 707 and 747.

Our eerily quiet takeoff roll took all of 40 to 45 seconds. We later learned that the Rolls-Royce Trent 970 turbofans had been operating at only 76 percent thrust. With very little cargo and a modest fuel load, the A380 was primed to leap into the sky. At 0815 and 154kt, the behemoth rotated to wild applause, whoops, and cheers. Chills went down my spine as the reveille lasted over a minute. Climbing gracefully over Singapore, we indeed were kings of the world. The vast wing, designed for an even larger A380, put on a dazzling show with its two sets of triple ailerons vectoring us out over the South China Sea, onward south over Indonesia, to later rejoin land above northwestern Australia.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-take-off-singapore-airport-inaugural-morning_7754

We noticed, during climb, a slight glitch in the pressurization system, which caused some minor ear popping and a lack of air conditioning. But no other faults were apparent to us for the remainder of the flight. Twenty minutes into the climb, the seat belt sign was switched off (it wouldn’t come back on until descent), and to a cacophony of clinking seat belts being unfastened the party began.

As we leveled off at our initial cruise of 35,000ft the Singapore Girls (and Boys) came through the cabin with generous servings of Charles Heidsieck champagne, a finer vintage than that normally reserved for even business class. The convivial atmosphere was evocative of an era that ended in the seventies. With a male-to-female ratio of 7:3, it felt slightly more like a decorous stag party, with the elegance factor high. Friendships were forged, business cards exchanged, and glasses clinked as people of 35 nationalities immersed themselves in this once-in-a-lifetime shared experience. The whisper-quietness of the cruise, thanks to those tranquil Trents, only heightened the ambience.

Onboard were four pilots, 31 flight attendants, and 455 passengers. Of the latter, the youngest was 10 months old, the oldest a 91-year-old man in suites flying with six family members and his male nurse. The passenger manifest revealed that 28 percent were Australians, 14 percent were Singaporeans, 11 percent Britons, and 8 percent from the United States. Surprisingly, there were very few French and Germans. The couple in front of us, 50 percent of the representation from Germany, was the constant focus of two of that country’s TV news crews.my-friend-and-ex-cathay-boeing-747-pilot-oscar-garcia-and-me_7711

As the drinks and canapé service continued, Oscar and I marveled at how the cabin attendants repeatedly performed excellent service with smiles and bonhomie, despite the jammed aisles. They were obviously proud to have been selected to operate the flight and, with a few exceptions, had never previously flown on an A380.

With scant chop in the cruise, and feeling like Jonah of biblical fame, we embarked on our tour of the cavernous airborne whale. Our upper deck perch revealed a cabin cross section which was essentially wider than that of an A340 stacked full-length on a wider cabin than a 747’s. Seat configurations of 2-4-2 upstairs and 3-4-3 on the lower deck yielded the widest economy seat I had ever sat in. The ultra-slim Weber seats had a footrest and nice recline angle, but were a little too firm. With a 34-inch (86cm) seat pitch, we weren’t complaining, however. There were thoughtful touches: a 10.6in (27cm)-wide KrisWorld screen, a vanity mirror in the fold-down tray, a seatback drink holder, coat rack, and even a small storage compartment for my glasses.

In spite of its magnificence, the most neglected feature onboard this flight was the next-generation Panasonic X2 KrisWorld system. It boasts 100 movies, 80 TV shows, 7,000 CDs, seat-to-seat calling, real-time news and travel information, and an outstanding graphics user-interface reminiscent of an Apple Macintosh. With the floorshow garnering the most attention, most screens were tuned to the Airshow.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-new-business-class-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7647

Moving forward into the upper deck business cabin, we were awestruck by the dramatic difference in noise and activity between the fun and frivolity in the back and sedate business class. The seats here, designed by James Park Associates, are very wide and high, almost like private suites themselves, and their occupants enjoyed complete privacy. The 60 sumptuous, tailored, leather seats—in a world-beating 1-2-1 layout in one long cabin on the upper deck—are the widest business seats in the sky. Two people can fit side-by-side in one of these plush airborne lounges. The seats are equipped with a superb 15.4in (39cm)-wide KrisWorld LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screen into which you can plug a computer or iPod. The cabin felt so empty and businesslike that we almost felt sorry for the passengers.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-staircase-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7614

Dubbed ‘New Business Class’ by SIA, the product was supposed to debut on the A380, but because of delivery delays it was introduced on the airline’s 777-300ERs. This class, surprisingly, is the location of the only stand-up bar, which you would miss if you blinked. SIA clearly chose to forego the hype of showers, stores, and bars in favor of more space in all classes.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-singapore-suites-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7625

Descending the elegant staircase at the front of the aircraft while heading for first class, we felt we were in a ship. But when we turned the corner, we revised our impressions to that of a private Pullman railroad car. First class, as such, doesn’t exist on SIA’s A380s; it is called ‘Singapore Suites’. The airline levies a 25 percent surcharge for its premium cabins, and with good reason. These 12 suites are truly private rooms in a 1-2-1 layout. Designed by a French yacht designer and finished in rich red wood, they are almost three feet (91.4cm) wide and feature an entirely separate bed that can fold into a double bed in the middle suites. For those wishing to engage in a tête-à-tête with a visitor, each suite has another seat. An ultra-deluxe touch is the custom-designed duvets, from the House of Givenchy, for the fold-out bed. Indeed, the gilded age is alive and well in Singapore Suites.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-new-economy-class-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7670

After leaving this area of decadence, we made our way back to the party in the three lower deck economy cabins. Heading the ‘A List’ celebs was SIA Chief A380 Captain Robert Ting. He appeared almost shocked when he was mobbed for photographs and autographs. One woman jokingly asked who was flying the airplane, to which he responded while gesturing at his cell phone, “Which way do you want to go?” Ting graciously agreed to sign a copy of an Airways A380 issue (April 2005) and an A380 book. I guarantee that these cherished collectibles will never darken the pages of eBay. Finally, all the hero worship almost became too much for this apparently modest man as he departed economy class and, emulating Arnold Schwarzenegger, promised, “I’ll be back!”singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-landing-in-sydney-flight-deck-inaugural-morning_7739

Other notables  on the flight included Thomas Lee, 55, who had flown on Pan Am’s first 747 service, and whose company, Monogram Systems, designed the lavatory systems of the A380—which is why he was flushed with success! His wife Sally was the first president of the first Southwest Airlines flight attendant class. They turned heads with a plaque of two first commercial flight certificates: for the 747 and A380. Lee’s father had surprised him with the 1970 trip, and now he was doing the same for Sally and their daughter Briana. Sylvain Pascaud of LCL Productions—who had spent five years documenting the building of the A380 for Discovery—and his crew were busily filming their final segments. CNN’s Richard Quest held a simulated auction as he queried the cost passengers had paid for their tickets. Two passengers took orders for their very stylish custom-made ‘A380 First Flight’ T-shirts.

An entire family from Australia travelled together; the two sons had designed custom shirts as well, attracting much envy. An engineer from San Francisco celebrated his anniversary with ‘Happy Birthday’ sung by the crew and dry ice replacing candles. A travel agent from Perth, Australia, dazzled us with her stories of flying SIA’s key inaugurals, such as Singapore to New York-Newark (Airways, October 2004). Australian celebrity chef Matt Moran and his Singapore counterpart Sam Leong, who designed the inflight meals, wore chef’s uniforms and personally ensured the cuisine would be top-notch.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-new-business-class-catering-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7652

Many wondered aloud how SIA could outdo its already extraordinarily high cabin service levels. We would not be disappointed. So what kind of meal befits an occasion such as this? In economy, we were offered business class-quality meals and wine. I dined on a delicious Drunken Chicken starter, the main course of baked filet of Chilean bass with fish noodles, followed by Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Oscar chose the cos salad with Greek feta and seared beef tenderloin. The sommelier’s selection included a Rheingau Riesling Kabinett 2005 from Weinhauss Ress, and an Australian Elderton Barossa Valley Shiraz 2004. Our appetizing meals were served with aplomb by the wonderful cabin staff, who seemed pleased that people were back in their seats, so they could carry out their service.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-take-off-singapore-airport-inaugural-morning_7753

Throughout the flight, the tap on Singapore’s boundless generous was never turned off. We were given framed and laminated certificates, signed by CEO Chew and Capt. Ting, marking the occasion. The gift bags were bulging with a limited edition A380 model, Mont
Blanc pens, and other wonderful mementos.

A little more than six hours into the flight, over central New South Wales, Australia, the spoilers deployed, heralding our initial descent. Capt Ting came over the PA with yet another surprise: we would perform a low pass over Sydney Harbour. The cabin erupted into a cacophony of shouts and applause. Unfortunately, a low cloud cover dictated otherwise, and the fly past was scrubbed. Even Ting was disappointed. Unusually, the cabin crew began the second snack service during the descent. They would not be deterred from pleasing us even as the crowds again blocking the aisles rendered their jobs difficult.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-touching-down-in-sydney-airport-inaugural-morning_7761

At 1715, Ting slowed the airplane to 138kt (less than a 747’s landing speed) and the new Queen of the Skies kissed the runway at Sydney. Once again there was a volley of applause, and emotion hit a crescendo. Had the seatbelt sign not been illuminated, there would have been a standing ovation. During the rollout with thrust reversers deployed (only the two inboard engines are so equipped), we noticed the airport had ground to a halt, with cheering crowds of spectators, and TV news cameras on the ground and aloft in helicopters.singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-model-sign-and-display-at-sydney-airport_7769

We blocked into the gate one minute early at 1724, seven hours and six minutes  after leaving Singapore. But no one really wanted to disembark. This was fortunate, as it took Sydney ground staff a few minutes to position the new A380-compatible airbridges. Oscar and I were last off after a special cockpit visit, courtesy of Capt. Ting. All of us were greeted by a clamoring media contingent , and were handed copies of The Sydney Morning Herald with a front page headline blaring ‘ Jumbo Lands In Sydney!’ We all became instant celebrities, if only for a moment.

The moment of truth arrived for A380 first-flighters when it came time to collect our baggage. I am sure extra staff had been rostered, because everyone had their luggage within 30 minutes, with most receiving it earlier. Heaving our bags of Singapore swag toward the terminal exit, we were serenaded by yet another quartet—this time in baggage claim.3-singapore-airlinesa380-brochure-2_22877

When we reached our hotel, we saw coverage of ‘our A380’s landing and arrival splashed across the world’s TV networks, the extent of which surprised even us. Capping off this remarkable and memorable day, Timothy Spahr, president of Spahr Aviation Advisors, invited everyone to a great A380 after party where he used a hacksaw to decapitate a scale model of the dethroned queen, a 747. We had gone from the sublime to the surreal, that much is certain.

EXTRA: Singapore A380 Brochures and Memorabilia

Sitting on an A340-500 18-hour flight to Newark from Singapore, reminiscing about one magical moment after another, it occurred to me why this was such a beautiful, profound occasion. In an era of a litany of bad news, worries for the future, and turmoil, it was truly uplifting to see what mankind could accomplish. I was too young to watch man walk on the moon for the first time, but I imagine that on a certain level this was what it was like when people came together to celebrate a truly historic occasion, one unlikely to be repeated in my lifetime, if only for a day. ✈

EXTRAPhotos from the inaugural Airbus A380 flight

Our celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the A380 rollout ends on Friday with two stories. Senior Business Analyst Vinay Bhaskara looks at the long-term prospects for the A380 and we’ll end with a Flashback Friday feature from Contributor Luis Linares on the A380.

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Contact the writer at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

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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Delta To Start West Coast 717 Operations In June

By Jack Harty / Published January 16, 2015

717_Fleet_Photo_V31

Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines.

Per Delta Air Lines’ electronic desktop timetable update, Delta will begin Boeing 717 west coast operations this summer.

In June, Delta will operate three daily round-trip flights between Los Angeles and Portland (PDX) and four daily flights between Los Angeles and Las Vegas with the 717.

In other news, Salt Lake City will get its first Boeing 717 flights in June as well. Delta will operate one daily round trip flight between Salt Lake City and Kansas City as well one daily roundtrip flight between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

The new 717 flights should be loaded into the Delta.com flight schedule and reservation system sometime over the weekend.

Delta originally planned to start flying the 717 on the west coast in June 2014 when it launched flights between Austin and Los Angeles on June 5, 2014. However, the airline downgraded the new flight to an E175 due to delivery delays.

Now that AirTran has retired, the rest of its former 717s can now be converted and start flying for Delta this year.

EXTRA: Delta Inaugurates Boeing 717 Flights Between Atlanta and Newark

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

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Airlines Are Giving Customers Exactly What They Want

by Vinay Bhaskara / Published January 15, 2014

Airlines are an easy target for ire and mockery. Between the omnipresent jokes about airline food, and persistent complaints about high fares that wilt in the face of sustained consideration, there is no shortage of anti-airline stories in non-aviation publications. Recently, one of those stories, entitled “Why Airlines Want to Make You Suffer,” written by Tim Wu in the New Yorker has been getting a lot of attention.

A cabin on Spirit Airlines. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

A cabin on Spirit Airlines. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

Unlike some critiques of Wu’s polemic, I am actually willing to entertain the notion that the airline passenger experience is getting worse for coach passengers, that basic economy seats are tighter than those of the 1990s, that boarding is a more painful experience, that the a-la-carte pricing model causes some sort of vague psychological harm and even that JetBlue has been forced to abandon a comfortable product in the face of pressure from Wall Street. These claims are at least partially debatable (for example there’s the fact that basic economy seats are tighter and narrower). But even if those assertions were 100 percent true, Wu’s analysis is still flawed. Airlines do not “want” to make passengers miserable; in fact quite the opposite. Airlines are simply giving customers what they want.

Now your immediate response to that assertion might be shock or outright disbelief. After all, almost everyone would prefer more legroom, better service, a more pleasant boarding experience and free high speed Wi-Fi on every flight. I certainly prefer JetBlue when flying basic economy for both the legroom and seatback DIRECTV. That most passengers would prefer a nicer, more premium travel experience is what most people mean when they discuss what customers “want.”

JetBlue's Core Experience in economy class . Image Courtesy of JetBlue

JetBlue’s Core Experience in economy class . Image Courtesy of JetBlue

But that’s not really what “want” means, at least in the realm of customers purchasing goods and services from a provider. A better definition of “want,” is what consumers are willing to pay a profitable price for. Which is to say that the product that customers want the most is the product for which they are willing to pay a price that guarantees the provider the highest margin.

To cite airline industry examples, first I’ll begin by pointing out that airlines are not monolithic organizations with unilateral business models, as evidenced by a world in which both Singapore Airlines and Spirit Airlines exist simultaneously. And airline products are determined almost entirely by customer preferences. U.S. airline customers (and really passengers all over the world) have shown time and time again that they care about one factor above all else: price. And not just price but base fares (frequently ignoring out of pocket travel costs and even taxes). Non-business travelers, in aggregate, will choose a seat offered at a low base fare almost every time.

Leisure travelers are an absolute majority of passengers for U.S. airlines, even at full-service carriers like United and Delta. And these passengers, voting with their wallets, have demonstrated that they care a lot more about low base fares than any of the service elements that Wu bemoans. Now clearly this doesn’t apply to every airline passenger; there are business travelers who choose flights based on schedules, status, or service, and even leisure passengers willing to pay a bit more for a more comfortable experience. But for about 60 percent of customers at U.S. majors (and about 80 percent overall), price is king.

Virgin America's main cabin. Image Courtesy of Virgin America

Virgin America’s main cabin. Image Courtesy of Virgin America

For evidence, you need look no further than the relative economic success of Virgin America and Spirit Airlines. Plenty of people authoritatively state that Virgin America is America’s “best” airline, while Spirit is the worst. But a lot more people are willing to pay Spirit a higher-margin fare (fare minus cost of provision) than Virgin America. Airlines give customers exactly the product they want, or more precisely, they give customers exactly the product they’re willing to pay for.

For example, in 2008, US Airways decided to follow in the footsteps of Spirit Airlines and charge for drinks onboard instead of offering them for free. Customer reaction, in the form of booking away from US Airways, was swift, and they dropped the policy within seven months.

An American Airlines timetable advertising more room onboard. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

An American Airlines timetable advertising more room onboard. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

 

Conversely, American launched its “More Room Throughout Coach” concept in 2000, taking seats out of its airplane (improving comfort) to try and draw premium yields. The initiative fell apart by 2004 in the face of heavy competition from low-cost carriers (LCCs). At every turn, whether by shifting to an a-la-carte pricing model, or investing resources into improving reliability and on-time performance, U.S. airlines have grown adept at giving customers exactly what they’ll pay for.

In this sense, the computer has been a boon, as it truly allows airlines to offer large numbers of slightly differentiated products (seat from Point A to B, seat from Point A to B with early boarding, seat from Point A to B with early boarding and more legroom, etc.) through the same booking and reservations management tools.

Almost every leisure passenger would enjoy air travel more with increased comfort and better service. As would I. But until we are willing to pay a premium for that, we’re going to continue to get more cramped seating, a-la-carte pricing, and suffer accordingly.

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Contact the author at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Qatar Airways A350 XWB Introduced to the World

By Seth Miller from Doha / Published January 10, 2015

The eyes and ears of the aviation world focused on Doha last week as the Qatar Airways A350XWB-900 was officially introduced to the world. The aircraft will enter service on the Doha-Frankfurt route starting on 15 January 2015. And the company is understandably excited to show off its newest aircraft, so much so that it hosted media from around the world, including AirwaysNews.com, in Doha for the spectacle.

IMG_8849

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

Walk-up bar area in business class on the Qatar Airways A350

Walk-up bar area in business class on the Qatar Airways A350

Business class cabin on the Qatar Airways A350

Business class cabin on the Qatar Airways A350

The press conference and associated walk through of the plane were mostly as expected. The airline, Airbus and Rolls Royce took turns reminding the media about all the improvements the A350 offers, from increased fuel efficiency to reduced noise. The new interior offers the latest in-flight entertainment system with large screens and broad content selections. And, assuming the Inmarsat GX satellite network launches successfully in the coming year, the A350 will soon have a global connectivity suite offering high speed connectivity on board. Combine that with wider seats in economy class (18″ width in a 3-3-3 layout) and a very spacious 1-2-1 layout in business class and passengers should be quite comfortable on board.

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

Economy cabin on the Qatar Airways A350

Economy cabin on the Qatar Airways A350

Taking the IFE system for a spin on the Qatar Airways A350

Taking the IFE system for a spin on the Qatar Airways A350

And, while the event was mostly about the A350 of today, company CEO Akbar Al Baker made waves with announcements about future developments which should have the industry on edge.

Lots of space and nifty window shades in the Qatar Airways A350 business class cabin

Lots of space and nifty window shades in the Qatar Airways A350 business class cabin

IMG_8772

The End of First Class

Qatar Airways will no longer be installing first class seats on its new aircraft. Al Baker indicated that the company is comfortable with a two-cabin configuration and that only the A380s will have a first class cabin going forward. He also suggested that we are a year away from seeing a brand new business class product which will make even today’s reasonably luxurious offering seem below par.

The Super Business Class, from 2016 which is next year, will be obsolete. We are developing a new seat [for] which we will have proprietary rights and this will be a product that will be unrivaled in our industry. And when you introduce that product into the airplane I really don’t think you need a first class in the aircraft. Qatar Airways has decided to have only two classes in our airplanes and the only aircraft that will have first class will be the Airbus A380.

And, as is often his style, Al Baker slipped in one last comment at the end of the statement, almost as an afterthought:

And we will have a double bed with only a business class fare.

This certainly will upset the industry norms. Further details are not yet available on this double bed in business class but one source suggests that we will learn more in the coming weeks and possibly see some details at the ITB Berlin trade show in early March 2015.

EXTRA: What the Airbus A350 means to Qatar Airways’ fleet planning

Aircraft Tracking

The topic of aircraft tracking is a hot button issue to many in the industry and Qatar Airways aims to be on the forefront in this space as well. While regulatory groups make slow progress towards standards and recommendations Qatar Airways is moving forward with a trial program for such efforts.

Qatar Airways is already making an experiment with a supplier – I am not a liberty to tell you who is the supplier or from which country because I cannot advertise them in front of the media – but we are working very closely with them testing a system whereby all the flight data which is received in the black box, in the flight data recorder, is also received continuously during the flight on the ground in our operations center. Once this has been proven and all the bugs have been cleared then Qatar Airways I hope will be the first airline to introduce this in all of our airplanes.

Similar to the new business class seat announcement details are scarce at this point but Al Baker has made it quite clear that he strongly supports aircraft tracking initiatives and in his role this year on the IATA Board of Governors he intends to push the topic forward as aggressively as possible. And he is leading by acting, not just talking.

EXTRA: A Look at Airbus’ A350 XWB Final Assembly Line

Gino Bertuccio, who flew the inaugural of Qatar’s Airbus A380 and was the first customer on the Etihad A380 residence will be onboard and reviewing the inaugural Qatar A350 flight in commercial service January 15.

 

Editor’s note: Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and you’ll get a summary of our best stories, along with exclusive subscribers-only content including our Weekend Reads column and photos from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!

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Contact the author at seth@millerworks.net, follow Seth on Twitter at @WandrMe

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airways.com

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This Month in the Airways: The Twilight of the MD-11

An all-new issue of Airways Magazine is now available on newsstands!

Subscribe or buy yours today! Don’t miss a single issue.

PHOTO: TIM DE GROOT

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PHOTO: TIM DE GROOT

THE TWILIGHT OF THE MD-11

by ENRIQUE PERRELLA

On November 11, 2014, the world witnessed the end of an era in commercial aviation. Twenty-eight years had passed since McDonnell Douglas launched the MD-11 program. Originating in the United States in 1986, the adventure culminated with its last passenger commercial flight in the Netherlands in 2014. This event marked the end of the tri-jet wide-body passenger operation, just nine months after Biman Bangladesh (Airways, November 2014) retired the last passenger DC-10.


PHOTO: JETBLUE

THE DESIGN AIR — TOP 10 INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS CABINS

by JONNY CLARK

In our brand-new monthly section in the larger and improved Airways, we will bring a series of Top 10 lists curated by TheDesignAir. This month, we award the best International First Class Cabins.


PHOTO: QR

QATAR AIRWAYS IS REACHING FOR THE CUTTING EDGE 

by BENET J. WILSON & CHRIS SLOAN

Qatar Airways began flying in 1994 as a small carrier serving a handful of routes in the Gulf region, using Airbus A310s and Boeing 727s. In 1997, the airline re-launched with the mandate to become a leading global carrier with the highest standards of service and excellence.


SEA

PHOTO: SEA

SEATTLE-TACOMA AIRPORT REVIEW

by ALBERT RODRIGUEZ

To say that Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA/KSEA) has grown by leaps and bounds is an understatement. Though it ranks a mere #15 among domestic airports for number of passengers served in 2013, it impressively ranked #40 last year for international travelers, with nearly 3.6 million people coming in from, or going out to, Dubai, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Paris, Seoul, London, Beijing, Reykjavik, Taipei and Shanghai, plus five Canadian cities and three Mexican resort areas.


PHOTO: ANDREAS ROHDE

AIRWAYS TRAVELER: FLYING TO/FROM MOSCOW THE RUSSIAN WAY // AEROFLOT VS. TRANSAERO

by ANDREAS ROHDE

“HAVING RECENTLY CELEBRATED ITS ninetieth birthday, Aeroflot is almost a mystic name in commercial aviation. Once the largest airline on the globe—incorporating everything that had been connected to civilian flying in the former Soviet Union— today’s Aeroflot is only a fraction of its former self.”


PHOTO: AUSTRIAN

AIRLINE REVIEW: AUSTRIAN AIRLINES

by JEFF KRIENDLER

Born 60 years ago in Puebla, Mexico, the grandson of Austrians on his maternal side, Jaan Albrecht would have never dreamed of returning to the “old world” to try to save the once-proud and highly-regarded national carrier, Austrian Airlines, from insolvency.


Mohawk DC-3-1 - Copy

MOHAWK AIRLINES, PART TWO

by DAVID H. STRINGER

“America’s Local Service Airlines were created for the purpose of bringing air transportation to small and medium-sized cities. Mohawk was born from one man’s effort to fill that need for his hometown.”


PHOTO: CX

AIRWAYS INTERVIEW: RUPERT HOGG – CATHAY AIRWAYS COO

by ANDREAS SPAETH

CATHAY’S NUMBER TWO TALKS TO Andreas Spaeth in Hong Kong about his carrier’s rôle in a vibrant market and how global its reach has become.


 

REGULAR AIRWAYS DEPARTMENTS

 


 

Airways Literature: CREW REST

by CLAY TAYLOR Left Seat Chronicles: AIR FORCE ONE AND HALF by JOHN MARSHALL Airways Photo News

Colorfully illustrated highlights of the major news developments from North America and around the world, including fleet changes, new airlines, and new paint schemes.

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AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Rick Blatstein of OTG

By Benét J. Wilson / Published January 6, 2015

Rick BlatsteinRick Blatstein is the founder and CEO of OTG, a travel restaurateur specializing in the airport experience. Since its start at Philadelphia International Airport in 1996, he has grown OTG to more than 200 locations across 10 airports in North America. Blatstein is responsible for some of the largest chef collaborations and design innovations in the airport space and has made significant investments in the integration of technology. He spoke with AirwaysNews about getting into the airport business, starting the trend of targeting local eateries and what it takes meet travelers’ higher food expectations.

AirwaysNews: How did OTG get into the airport concessions business?

Rick Blatstein: We were originally working in restaurants and nightclubs in Philadelphia. We took over Philadelphia International Airport’s concessions temporarily during the blizzard of 1996. At the time, I really didn’t want to, but it changed our company’s life.  Working inside an airport is like a city, with many different emotions. There are people who are happy going on  leisure trips, sad for bereavement, military troops being transported and those taking business trips. Working in that community is wonderful. We have to run our business every day no matter what the weather.

Our first really large project was Terminal 6 at JFK Airport for JetBlue on a transitional basis. We were in T6 for a few years, but JetBlue’s JFK T5 was what transformed OTG became about: customer service and uniqueness.

EXTRA: United Eyes Improvement at Newark Hub

AN: When you sat down with JetBlue, how did they convey the approach they wanted to take with the terminal?

RB: It was a really exciting and interesting experience. When we went into T6, Jetblue was pretty small. But they were on the way up, adding routes and planes in a very dynamic environment. I had the chance to spend a lot of time with JetBlue’s leadership like [founder David] Neeleman and [CEO David] Barger. We learned their culture and all about their customers. We had many conversations on how JetBlue wanted to be unique and create a genuine New York City experience in the new terminal.

It was a nice opportunity to learn about the company and put together the program you see today. In our first year, the terminal had the best revenue per enplanement figure in the airport’s history.

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La Vie restaurant, in JetBlue’s JFK Airport Terminal 5. Image Courtesy of Benet J. Wilson

AN: At the time, reaching out to local chefs was almost unheard of. How did you come up with that idea?

RB: That was really a lot of fun and different in the beginning. Some chefs saw other chefs just put up their names, so they were reluctant at first. But everyone we went to said yes, although some took more convincing than others.  We wanted to create a real restaurant experience at the airport.

It was important to have local chefs and local sourcing for that true New York City experience. Look at Aero Nuovo, which came from Chef Mario Batali’s group. We worked with his partner, Chef Mark Ladner, telling him about the Jetblue traveler and what we wanted to accomplish. He put together a tremendous menu. Mark’s protege is Mario Carbone, who owns Carbone and other restaurants, and is one of the hottest chefs in New York City. Mark said Mario wanted to go out on his own and asked him to open Aero Nuovo; the rest is history.

We looked at different concepts and decided which ones were the most important to have. For example, our Spanish tapas restaurant, Piquillo, is a gem. We have La Vie, a small French restaurant that seats 20 people.

EXTRA: United Highlights Changes Coming to Newark Airport’s Terminal C

AN: The airports concessions business includes long-time established players like HMSHost and Delaware North. How were you able to break into the business?

RB: They’re both great companies, and I admire them both for what they do. But this question cuts to the core of what we’re about. We knew early on that we had to be different. We couldn’t play their game, so we decided to stick to what we do: creating great and interesting concepts. If you look at T5, the food hall is a success. We took inspiration from Whole Foods’ prepared food area. We continue to evolve and continue to be unique and do something different. The restaurants we put in airports are created specifically for the airlines and airports.

Restaurant Crust at Delta's Terminal D at LaGuardia. Image Courtesy of Delta

Restaurant Crust at Delta’s Terminal D at LaGuardia. Image Courtesy of Delta

AN: You also have deals with Delta in LaGuardia and United in Newark. How do you think your deal with JetBlue helped get those contracts?

RB: I think T5 is a major part of what OTG is today. It was our first chance to build new restaurants and food halls, which had not been done before. For airlines and airports to see that and see the financial success of JetBlue with it has really helped us with our business now and in the future.

EXTRA: Building A Better LaGuardia

Saison, an OTG concept coming to Newark Airport. Image Courtesy of OTG

Saison, an OTG concept coming to Newark Airport. Image Courtesy of OTG

AN: What are some of your personal favorite airport food concepts?

RB: I tipped my hand a little earlier. I love our Spanish tapas restaurant Piquillo. I also love Sky Asian Bistro at Philadelphia. The Indian food we have in Toronto is just great, with a cool  atmosphere. At Minneapolis-St. Paul, we have Twin Burger with the Juicy Lucy. We also have Shoyu there, which makes ramen bowls with fresh noodles.

I’m a creature of habit when I go to airports. Our objective is to create a desire to come to the airport early so they can get a glass of wine or sit at a favorite restaurant. That’s our whole objective. We are elevating our restaurants and as we infuse them with iPad technology. It’s been pretty amazing. We continue to learn more about our customers, and the more we learn, the better we can serve them.

Other AirwaysNews High Flyer Interviews:

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Air India Chairman Rohit Nandan

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Bombardier’s Rob Dewar

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Boeing’s Randy Tinseth

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Embraer’s Luís Carlos Affonso

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: American Airlines CEO Doug Parker

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Use of Beacons to Improve the Passenger Experience Grows

By Jay Haapala / Published January 8, 2015

wireless-35062_640With ever-evolving traveler demands, has the industry created something to improve the passenger experience by leaps and bounds? For passengers who constantly have a smartphone within an arm’s reach, the answer may be yes, thanks to the addition of beacon technologies at airports around the world.

Beacons transmit a signal with a unique identifier using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to help devices that are BLE-enabled, such as smartphones, to receive a contextually relevant message when within range of a signal.

EXTRA: Miami Airport Installs Beacons to Upgrade the Passenger Experience

Beacon manufacturer SITA explains that “in a real world scenario, the beacon could trigger an app on your smartphone to send notifications or promotional coupons as you enter a specific zone, such as a shop, cafe or airport lounge. It could also direct you to areas of interest and provide additional information on specific items, making museums and art galleries another potential user of the technology.”

From Austin to Miami, to London, beacon technology is starting to pop up. At London’s Heathrow Airport, British Airways is using beacon technology in Terminals 3 and 5 to send push notifications—fed by beacons—to get information, including when their departure gate is opened and when boarding has begun, to customers as quickly as possible. They also receive personalized welcome messages from the carrier.

EXTRANew KLM Beacon Service Helps Travelers Navigate Schiphol Airport

At Austin-Bergstorm International Airport in Texas, beacon technology has been a priority to improve passenger experience since 2000, when it first began offering Wi-Fi. The airport continues to incorporate the newest technology, and thanks to Wi-Fi-fed beacons, passengers can check security line wait times right from their smartphone or other electronic devices. Plus, the airport’s Wi-Fi network doesn’t use a username and password, so passengers can roam the terminal without having to reconnect.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Terminal D. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Terminal D. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

American Airlines worked with SITA to launch a trial program for beacons at Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport last summer. The carrier hopes beacons will help eliminate some of the stresses felt by travels.

SITA systems are used at more than 525 airports globally, ideally positioning the company to work with its airline and airport customers to more effectively roll out this new technology. The pilot program at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is the world’s biggest airport deployment of beacons to date. Over the summer, American Airlines plans to roll the program out to beta users on select routes and airports in North America. 

“Beacons provide a fantastic opportunity to improve the passenger experience, but to do so they must be consistently deployed at all airports,” said Phil Easter, director of mobile apps at the airline in a statement. “At American Airlines we are working with SITA to use beacon location detection to enhance our mobile app and give our passengers traveling through the airports accurate way-finding information. Using SITA’s Registry will enable us to provide the same great user experience to our passengers us”

Just as Wi-Fi altered the passenger experience for the better, beacons are starting to make their mark. Whether they will last or dissipate will depend on their utilization at other airports and with other airlines, along with how passengers respond to them.

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Contact the editor at 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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Employees Say Farewell to AirTran

By Jack Harty / Published December 28, 2014

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Photo by Tom Sheehan

In just a few short hours, the AirTran Airways will fly its final flight.

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Thomas Bissland / Copyright 2010

While en-route to Atlanta, I started pondering how many people AirTran/ValuJet have flown since 1993. Without a doubt, they played a role in bringing millions together for a lot of weddings, business meetings, family vacations, birthdays, and many other occasions.

Although, thousands made a lot of memories with AirTran who were not passengers.

For many, AirTran is where they spent many years of their lives as they worked for the airline which makes tonight’s flight even more bittersweet.

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Photo by Jeffrey Magnet

Below is a short story from a AirTran flight attendant who was on the “first flight” and will be working the final flight tonight.

  • My name is Tana Thomas and I joined AirTran Airways as a Flight Attendant in September of 1998. After having worked for Eastern Airlines for 18 years until they shut down in 1991, I thought my airline career was over. Until fate stepped in one August day in ’98 when I attended an AirTran job open house.  When I met the recruiter I realized I knew her.  Susan Manning was also a former Eastern Flight Attendant ,and when she said,  “Tana, you know we are looking for experienced, professional people like y’all here”,  sweeter words could not have been spoken. For the past seven years I had worked a very stressful job as a Traffic Manager for a TV station, and the idea of getting back to flying was thrilling.  Susan made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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    Photo by Mariano Buitrago / Leesburg, VA

  • The following year in 1999 AirTran was the launch customer for the new B717. They held an employee contest to name the first airplane. Out of hundreds of submissions my entry, “Esprit de corps”, was chose, and I was invited to join a group of fellow employees to fly out to the Boeing Plant in Long Beach for the delivery of the first aircraft.  I had gone to high school in Long Beach and at the ceremony it was my Millikan High School marching band playing as the airplane was being rolled out of the hanger.  I got chills up and down my spine. Believe me, it was surreal. After all the hoopla, we boarded the plane for its “FIRST FLIGHT” back to Atlanta.  airtran-boeing-737-700-at-lax-2009_13254

  • Now, let’s fast forward to 2010 when Southwest Airlines announced that it would purchase AirTran.  In the summer of 2012 they started offering our employees the opportunity to transition over to their operations.  However,  after much soul searching I decided to stay at AirTran to the very end. They had given me a second chance to do what I loved, and I felt it only fitting.  Since my seniority was now so high I was able to hold one of the the 4 crew positions on the “FINAL FLIGHT”, and see my AirTran career come FULL CIRCLE, from first to last. It will be a bittersweet occasion, but  you know what they say, when one door closes another one opens and, thankfully, Southwest Airlines will be waiting in the wings to expand my horizons once again. atlanta-hartsfield-jackson-international-airport-aerials-of-concourses-c-d-2009_12073

On Southwest’s internal blog, they posted a series called “12 Days of AirTran” in which they featured 12 AirTran employees from different work groups memories.

Jim Davis – a AirTran employee who worked in Tech-Ops – shared some of his memories while at AirTrn at the airline.

Flight attendant Tana on-board the final AirTran flight. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

Flight attendant Tana on-board the final AirTran flight. Photo by Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews

  • How many years were you with AirTran?

I was with ValuJet at the startup of the airline. In August, 2000 I returned to AirTran after being gone for a few months. I thought the grass was greener somewhere else and soon discovered it didn’t even exist. My first day back at AirTran was definitely one of my best days here.bwi-airport-jdl-3-2_32073

  • Describe your best day on the job.

As a general rule, all days are good, some are just better than others! I Iike what I do. A huge part of that is the people I work with. We have a good time and it’s amazing what they accomplish.

  • Describe your most challenging day on the job.
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Photo by Jack Boulton

Every day has a challenge! I’ll never forget working the de-ice pad for a couple of shifts with Robert McKeown a few years ago. We were not dressed for it and we were miserable! Icy water running down your neck and into your shoes is not covered in A&P classes.

 

  • What are you most excited about as we move toward completing the journey to One LUV: One Family on Dec. 28?airtran-boeing-737-700-at-atl-_1793

It’s easy to be excited about working for an airline that consistently makes a profit—and shares it with the employees. I remember someone at SWA saying ‘we would rather pay a few people a lot of money instead of paying a lot of people a little amount.’ To make that work, we have to ask a lot from the few. That’s a neat idea. I think to win in this marketplace, you have to be first, unique, or the best at what you do. We may not be the first airline out there, but we are ahead in the other two areas.

  • Is there anything else to share?

I signed the Airworthiness Release for the first ValuJet flight, and I will sign the Airworthiness Release on AirTran final 717 flight.airtran-boeing-737-700-at-cun-2011_17535

Do you have a favorite AirTran memory? Comment it below.

Extra: A History of Air Tran

Extra: Final AirTran 717 Ferry Flights

Extra: Onboard the final flights of AirTran

Extra: AirTran and ValuJet Timetables and Schedules

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You can contact the author at Jack.Harty@AirwaysNews.com

Slider photo by Jack Boulton

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TGIF: Thank Goodness It’s Flyday Weekend Wrap Up, December 26, 2014

By Jack Harty and Benjamin Bearup / Published December 26, 2014

I cannot believe I am already writing our final TGIF Weekend Wrap Up for 2014, but like most weeks, it was another busy week in the airline industry. We covered the first delivery of the Airbus A350 XWB to Qatar Airways on Monday, and on Tuesday, we covered Qatar’s delivery flight to Doha. Additionally, we took a look back at the history of AirTran Airways as the AirTran brand readies to fly into the sunset on Sunday.

We did miss a few stories this week which are covered below, including a new Virgin Atlantic 787 route, United filing for new routes, Etihad acquiring a 49% stake in Alitalia, and a few more.

New Virgin Atlantic 787 Route: Earlier this week, Virgin Atlantic announced that it will begin flying its new 787-9 between London Heathrow and Los Angeles on April 30, 2015. The carrier will use the 787 to replace the 747 it currently flies between the two cities. Switching to the 787 will allow Virgin Atlantic to increase frequency between Los Angeles and London in partnership with Delta Air Lines.

Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 787-9 in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Brian Gore

Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787-9 in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Brian Gore

 

Los Angeles will become Virgin’s sixth city to receive 787-9 service, following Boston, Delhi, Newark, New York-JFK, and Washington-Dulles, and by next October, Virgin plans to operate the 787-9 to Dubai, Johannesburg, and Shanghai.

United to Add Chicago/Rome Flights: Subject to government approval, United Airlines will commence seasonal service between Chicago and Rome, Italy this summer. The carrier will operate daily flights with a Boeing 777-200ER from June 4th through September 23rd.

United currently operates seasonal flights to Rome from Newark and Washington-Dulles.

Etihad Acquires Stake in Alitalia: Etihad officially acquired a 49% stake in Alitalia this week as the two airlines completed the transaction.IMG_4425-0.JPG

According to a press release, “Etihad Airways has subscribed and paid for the capital increase of euro 387.5 million for the acquisition of a 49 per cent share in Alitalia SAI. The remaining 51 per cent shareholding is held by Alitalia CAI through MidCo, which has contributed the agreed assets and liabilities for the continuation of the airline.”

The transaction will become effective on December 31, 2014 and Alitalia SAI – Società Aerea Italiana will commence operations on January 1, 2015.

Final Qantas 767 Flight: On Saturday, December 27, Qantas will fly its final Boeing 767-300ER flight from Melbourne to Sydney. To commemorate the final flight, Qantas changed the flight number to 767, earlier this week. Qantas has been flying the 767 since for almost 30 years; in 1985, Qantas introduced the Boeing 767-200 into its fleet for Asia, New Zealand, and Pacific routes.

Volaris to Start Houston Flights: On March 23, 2015, Volaris will begin flying three times weekly flights between Guadalajara and Houston.

The new flight will depart Guadalajara at 8:28 am and arrive in Houston at 10:35. The return flight will depart at 11:55 am, arricing in Guadalajara at 2:18 PM. The new flights will be operated with a Airbus A320.

United Files to Operate New Orleans/Cancun Flights: United Airlines applied with the U.S. DOT to operate weekly seasonal flights between New Orleans and Cancun. The once weekly flight would begin on May 9th of 2015, subject to government approval. This would make United the third carrier to operate this route following Delta – which currently operates one flight a week – and AeroMexico – which operates two flights a week on behalf of Vacation Express. 

A United Airlines Boeing 787-9 parked at George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport. Photo courtesy of Seth Miller

A United Airlines Boeing 787-9 parked at George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport. Photo courtesy of Seth Miller

 

Here’s the complete list of AirwaysNews.com stories this week:

LAN, TAM Airlines Announce Passenger Experience Upgrades

Top Five Airline Holiday Videos

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

Meet Etihad’s First Residence Passenger

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

Program Analysis: Airbus Likely to Launch A350-1100

A Look at Airbus’ A350 XWB Final Assembly Line

On-Board Qatar’s A350 XWB Media Flight

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

Qatar Airways to Take Delivery of First A350 Tomorrow

Miami: We Have 100 Air Carriers

 Eastern Air Lines Returns Home to Miami

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Contact the editor at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

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LAN, TAM Airlines Announce Passenger Experience Upgrades

By Benét J. Wilson / Published December 26, 2014

The new unified first class cabin for LAN and TAM, as shown on a Boeing 787. Image Courtesy of LATAM Group

The new unified first class cabin for LAN and TAM, as shown on a Boeing 787. Image Courtesy of LATAM Group

LATAM Airlines Group says it will spend $100 million on technology projects designed to help improve the passenger experience on LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines.

The group has unveiled a new smartphone app that will allow travelers to manage all parts of their trip, including getting an electronic boarding pass. The company’s flight status system has also been improved, giving passengers better access and more information about their flights and available options in the event of any changes, in real time.

LAN and TAM have signed a deal with YouTube where passengers will have access to the best content selected from the search engine’s most popular channels into their i-flight entertainment offering. And finally, the airlines also announced the launch of LAN and TAM Entertainment, a wireless inflight entertainment system for personal devices allowing passengers to watch movies, TV shows and videos via their own mobile devices including smartphones, tablets and laptops.

LATAM worked with Mobile Travel Technologies Ltd., a leading mobile apps, mobile web and mobile technology products provider for airlines to create the app, said Jerome Cadier, vice president of marketing for the group. “The task was focused on meeting the needs of passengers, prioritizing speed, great design and ease of use,” he said. “The process for creating this app for LAN and TAM initially took six months, but we are continuously updating and adding new features to optimize performance.”

LATAM Group wanted to create a mobile application that was focused on passenger needs, said Cadier. “Through this technology our passengers will find relevant solutions and have the ability to manage all stages of their trip,” he said. “Considering that LAN and TAM transport more than 60 million passengers a year, to more than 135 destinations in 24 countries, this mobile application is a fundamental tool for optimizing our passengers’ travel experience.”

The group has a dedicated team within the company that is exclusively focused on working on these applications, with the objective of continuously offering more and better solutions through the apps while also keeping them updated, said Cadier. “Currently, LAM and TAM do not offer Wi-Fi onboard. Connectivity onboard is something we have been looking into for over six years, since our goal is to eventually offer Wi-Fi service,” he said.

The wireless inflight entertainment for mobile devices will be free for passengers, said Cadier. “The first aircraft with this service will begin December 2014 on regional routes on LAN, and in the next 18 months it will be implemented in more than 300 LAN and TAM aircraft that operate domestic and regional routes,” he said.

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@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

IMG_4425-0.JPG

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

singapore-airlines-airbus-a380-singapore-suites-inaugural-morning-october-25-2007_7622

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.”

webmaster-and-gino-bertuccio-onboard-ana-787-dreamliner-inaugural-flight_18857

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.

PSU

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

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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

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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

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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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