Category Archives: Airline Passenger Experience

First in Europe and First to Fly to North America: Finnair Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A350

By Cody Diamond in Toulouse / Published October 7, 2015

Today, Finnair took delivery of its first Airbus A350-900 XWB, making it the first European ,and the world’s third operator ,of the type. In a ceremony at Toulouse, the aircraft was handed over at the Airbus Delivery Center.



IMG_5815The first airplane, registered OH-LWA, is the first of nineteen A350-941’s that Finnair is to receive through 2019, and it is the 18th A350 built. Finnair will receive the second aircraft in November and five additional A350s in 2016, four in 2017, four in 2018, and the final four in 2019, all of them powered by Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-84 engines. OH-LWA rolled out of the Airbus assembly line in Toulouse in June of this year, with test registration F-WZFM applied. The airliner made its first flight on September 16, 2015, and has undergone flight testing and pre-delivery checks since that date.

The Airbus A350 fleet will replace the existing seven fuel thirsty A340-300s, which are due to be retired between 2016 and 2017. The A350s will serve alongside eight A330-300s, all delivered to Finnair in the last few years.

As the A340s retire, the A350 will be considered for the leisure market Finnair serves. Pukka Vauamo, CEO of Finnair stated that “it will be our main airplane”.

IMG_5618“The A350 is a new and exciting chapter in Finnair’s 92 year history and will give our passengers a new and modern experience. It is truly a proud moment for all Finnair employees who have worked on this airplane. We are extremely proud to be the first European carrier to receive the Airbus A350.” Vauamo added “This aircraft takes customer service to a new level. Finnair’s A350 has already won awards for its design. We are a service company and this is what we do. The A350 will provide every passenger with a unique Nordic experience and wireless connectivity should they desire,”

Finnair relies on the A350 to expand into Asia, and intends to twofold its Asian traffic by 2020. launching service to Guangzhou and Fukuoka next year. Its European destinations are optimally timed for connections to the Far East.

The Chief Pilot of the A350 at Finnair is Captain Marko Valtonen. Captain Valtonen has flown the McDonnell Douglas DC-9, DC-10, and Airbus A320 and A330. “The airplane is a joy to hand fly, it is even more precise than the A330, which already has excellent flying characteristics,” he remarked.

The A330 and A350 share a common EASA type rating, and will be one pilot group at Finnair. Every A350 at Finnair will be delivered with 180 minute ETOPS certification, and the type itself is capable of 370 minute ETOPS.

Beginning on October 9 through October 18th, Finnair will fly the A350 to Amsterdam, Oslo, Barcelona, Malaga, Hamburg, Brussels, Berlin, Gothenburg, Dusseldorf, Vienna, Munich, London-Heathrow, and Copenhagen. Not all destinations will be served daily by the A350. Long haul flights to Shanghai will begin on November 21. The A350 will eventually be used for flights to Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Singapore in the near future.

“We intend to be the first to fly the A350 to North America by December. JFK is a premium destination for us, and we certainly want to fly the A350 there, seasonally at first,” Juha Järvinen Finnair’s Chief Commercial Office explained. He went on to say that the future at Finnair is one with Airbus aircraft. Finnair is also the launch customer of the Airbus A321 sharklet variation.

At the Airbus Delivery Center, Airbus Chief Executive Officer Fabrice Brégier recalled that Finnair’s history with Airbus goes back to the Caravelle and the A300. “The A350 is an exchange of culture between Airbus and Finnair, and we are so grateful for Finnair’s input I’m developing the airplane for all of our customers. We are proud that Finnair is the first European operator and the third A350 operator in the world,” he added.

Finnair is a first-time operator of this new generation of Rolls-Royce engines (the airline’s Caravelle were equipped with Avon engines). Rolls-Royce President Eric Schulz is proud that the operator has chosen the XWB and will provide a total care package to Finnair.

The first passenger flight will be to Amsterdam-Schiphol on October 9, and will be under the command of A350 Chief Pilot Captain Marko Valtonen.


Finnair’s A350s boast a 1-2-1 business class cabin, featuring 46 Zodiac Cirrus fully lie-flat seats with touchscreen In Flight Entertainment (IFE) and power outlets. The airplane is also equipped with 43 economy comfort class seats (35 inch pitch), and 208 economy class seats (31 inch pitch), for a total of 297 passengers, making it the highest capacity airplane in Finnair’s fleet.

Following delivery, Finnair will use the airplane on its European network, flying to several destinations for special one-time flights, serving a dual role of sharing the passenger experience and crew familiarization.

For crew familiarization, each flight must be a minimum of one hour of block time. Juha Jarvinen explained that the flights within Europe are a great opportunity to share the uniquely Nordic experience and accomplish landing requirements for the crews. Finnair has three qualified A350 captains presently and all initial flights will be flown with two Captains.

While the first eight A350s will have the same initial configuration, the last eleven may have variations. The A350 will be the first airplane in the Finnair fleet to have a purser instead of an in flight leader, which will enable the airline to deliver a more personalized service. Finnair’s A350s will also have a dedicated ladies’ restroom,


IMG_5590Today’s delivery flight, symbolically Finnair Flight 1350, featured approximately 200 invited guests to celebrate the arrival to Finland of the new flagship aircraft. Boarding was complete at approximately 1:35 pm and just before pushback from Spot Z130 at the Airbus Delivery Center, Captain Jari Paajanen announced “let’s go home”.


A flight time of just over three hours was announced, and at exactly 2 pm local time, Finnair 1350 departed Toulouse-Blagnac’s Runway 32R into partly cloudy afternoon skies. Right after takeoff, in accordance with Airbus delivery tradition, Captain Paajanen rocked the wings, saying goodbye to Toulouse. After a brisk climb, OH-LWA leveled off at FL430 (43,000 feet). Once leveled off, lunch and champagne were served. The airplane was amazingly quiet, and there was no turbulence throughout the entire flight. We cruised high above the overcast covering much of Central Europe. Inside the cabin, the mood lighting simulated both blue sky and sunset, as our flight encountered both.

Finnair-A350Shortly before 5:45 pm, we commenced our descent for Helsinki-Vantaa, and we landed on Runway 04R at 6:08 pm. A water cannon salute was received and we blocked into the gate at 6:16 pm after being towed in, as Gate 31 was not fit for powered on A350 arrival..yet.

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CityJet to Become a CRJ-900 Operator

By: Staff / Published October 2, 2015

Irish carrier Cityjet has confirmed that will become a Bombardier CRJ-900 operator, in the network of Sweden’s Scandinavian Airlines (SAS).

originalThe carrier will acquire the aircraft from a long-standing Bombardier customer that signed a firm purchase agreement for eight CRJ900 aircraft and took options on an additional six. The customer has requested to remain unidentified at this time. The value of the agreement is approximately $369 million USD at list prices, and if all options are exercised, it could increase to $651 million USD.

“As a long-time regional operator for some of Europe’s finest airlines, we are pleased to add SAS to our list of distinguished customers” said Pat Byrne, Executive Chairman, CityJet. The carrier currently has a fleet of 18 RJ85 aircraft operating under its own WX code as well as an historic ACMI contract for Air France, and serves more than 680 weekly flights all over Europe throughout its entire network, and employs almost 500 staff, with over 300 based at its headquarters in Swords, County Dublin, and additional crew bases in London and Paris.

“The SAS contract has immense strategic significance for CityJet’s growth and development, strengthening its market position across Europe and facilitating ongoing investment and growth.  Securing this contract with SAS is a major vote of confidence in our team and in our expertise, and will help support future business expansion” Byrne stated.

The CRjs will not be able to replace the RJ-85, as the type cannot operate into the short runway at London City Airport, a major Cityjet hub. However, Byrne announced that an announcement on the Avro replacement was “very imminent” leaving the doors open to aircraft such as the Embraer E170 and E190 jets (already operating with British Airways CityFlyer at London City), and the Bombardier CSeries, to be operated to London City by Swiss International Air Lines.

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American Unveils Three New Legacy-Themed Amenity Kits

By: Staff / Published October 2, 2015

American Airlines has launched three additional legacy-themed amenity kits, completing the set of nine unveiled early this year to honor the different carriers that are now part of the history of American Airlines.

RELATED: American Unveils New Legacy Airline-Themed Amenity Kits

Sin título-1The new kits honor Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA), US Airways and American Airlines, depicting its 1962 logo. These join the already- released Air Cal, Allegheny, Reno Air, Trans World Airlines (TWA), America West and Piedmont. The USAirways kits are poignant in particular as that carrier’s brand is due to disappear this coming October 17th.

The heritage kits serve as a reminder of American’s beginnings and the many men and women who forged together to form the world’s largest airline. Each individual carrier brought with it thousands of employees and a proud history.

Available for a limited time to customers in transcontinental First Class and international  Business Class, the kits are packaged in retro-branded, grey felt cases, and contain travel socks, eye mask and Red Flower personal care products.

The airline isn’t confining its nostalgic branding efforts to the amenity kits. Last month, AA revealed additional Retro LogoJets to celebrate its legacy.

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

RELATED: American Airlines Reveals New Boeing 777-200 Cabin Product

RELATED: American Airlines Unveils New 767-300 Cabin Product

RELATED: American Airlines to Add WiFi To Regional Jets

“We have more than 100,000 employees, each with their own unique story, and these retro amenity kits are a small tribute to the heritage of their careers and their legacy carriers,” said Fernand Fernandez, American’s vice president – Global Marketing. “Customers will also identify with the historic logos and colors of the companies that now form the fabric of the modern-day American Airlines.”

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British Airways Allows Google Street View Into an Airbus A318 Cabin

By: Staff / Published September 29, 2015

British Airways and London City Airport (LCY) have teamed up to create the first airport airside tour on Google Street View. Google users may now take a virtual tour on one of the airline’s Airbus A318, specially configured in all Business Class to operate long-haul routes out of LCY.


Click on the image to access to the virtual tour of this British Airways Airbus A318.

Alison Fitzgerald, chief information officer of London City Airport, said: “London City Airport is
leading the way in using new technology to enhance the customer experience. That experience starts at home when you book or check-in, and the Street View trusted tour is an exciting addition. It will help passengers to plan their journey and for those who have never visited LCY, they can see what they’ve been missing out on.”

The new mapping also means customers traveling through London City airport can now also use it to navigate their way around the airport, allowing them to explore and ‘visit’ check-in, duty-free and even check-out the best places to eat and catch up on last-minute work before their flight.

Customers on the prestigious flight – which carries Concorde’s former flight numbers – can enjoy a ‘private jet’ experience, with three cabin crew to serve a specially prepared in-flight menu, fine wines and snacks as they wing their way in privacy across the Atlantic.

RELATED: Long Haul on a Short Plane: An Analysis and Trip Report of British Airways JFK-LCY Service [Part One] / [Part Two] / [Part Three] / [Part Four]

Stephen Humphreys, British Airways’ head of global sales, said: “From the comfort of their own home, customers can now take their own private virtual tour of one of our specially configured  Airbus A318s and peek inside British Airways’ private lounge, so they can see for themselves just how exclusive the Club World London City service is.

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Blaming the Airlines for Flight Delays – And An Idea to Fix Them

By: Seth Miller / Published September 29, 2015

Who is to blame for flight delays? Airlines are happy to suggest that weather and the Air Traffic Control system are the primary culprits. There is another view on the topic voiced at the recent International Aviation Forecast Summit and the airlines are squarely in the crosshairs.

LGB APRON VIEW ATC-2For Captain Michael R. Baiada, CEO of ATH Group and a retired pilot, this fight has become something of a quixotic quest. He believes that the airlines have ceded too much control of their operations to the FAA and that the tide must roll back. Airlines should be the ones determining sequencing of planes, not the FAA. Airlines should be choosing flight speeds and paths, not the FAA. And airlines should ultimately take responsibility for the delays their aircraft incur. This is not necessarily a popular position and it is one which is a very, very hard sell in the current political and business environment. But there are also some shards of truth which cut through.

Among the considerations:

  • Why is a flight considered “on time” when it is 14 minutes late? The counter to that argument, of course, is that the schedules will simply become more padded. But Baiada believes that the padding is exacerbating the problems, not solving them. Hiding the delays with schedule padding costs the carriers money and fixing the underlying problems would save those costs.
  • Integration of processes within airlines is still lacking. Aircraft fleet connectivity is improving. Planes can “phone home” with maintenance issues hours out from landing at a hub. It could even be done in the past using ACARS. And yet more often than not those repair requests are not being processed in real time. That results in additional delays which affect not only the broken aircraft but the rest of the fleet as well. That plane likely blocks a gate longer than it should have. Or causes delays in other aircraft because of missed take-off slots.

In Baiada’s world the FAA still operates to monitor and control aircraft spacing in the sky. It still handles safety-related issues. But it does not directly manage the “production line” of the airlines, which is the planes actually moving through the skies. NextGen is an incremental improvement, expected to cure only 20% of the current ATC limitations according to Baiada. It is insufficient to truly solve the problems.

A JetBlue Airbus A320 and a Silver Airways Saab 340B, taxiing in sequence for departure from runway 28L at Fort Lauderdale - Hollywood International Airport.

Then again, Baiada also believes that ATC isn’t really the problem anyways. Airlines can shave minutes off trip block times by flying a bit faster or getting more direct routings from ATC today. They can also shave those minutes by increasing turn time performance at the gate. Small things, like having ramp agents at the gate when the plane gets there 100% of the time, with the boarding bridge in position, catering at the ready and maintenance prepared with replacement parts based on advanced notification of troubles could very well save more time than more efficient ATC routings. As for the supposition that doing so may take more employees on the ground, Baiada isn’t buying it, “We have enough people. We need the systems to be married together in real-time. Isn’t that what “Big Data” is all about??”

Ultimately all of this comes into play. Arguing that a flight which arrives 14 minutes late is actually on time makes very little sense. Then again, most 14 minute delays don’t lead to missed connections or missed meetings. And there it no doubt that airlines need to better integrate data and operations. Most are working towards that goal, though it is unclear if the purpose is a better A:00 score – reducing soft costs from delayed and misconnecting passengers or delayed aircraft – or reducing hard costs of employee head count. And, at the end of the day, it is hard to convince airlines to invest a significant chunk of cash up front to meet some of these goals when it is not clear that all the other parties are going to play along.

Not everyone agrees with Baiada’s view on this. Airlines in particular appear keen to have a scapegoat in the form of ATC to pin delays on. In that sense he is very much tilting at windmills, trying to convince the companies to invest in solving a problem that they do not wish to own. From that perspective it seems likely that this will be a story we continue to hear in the margins for some time to come.

IMGP2946Seth Miller is an contributor specialized in Loyalty Marketing, Connectivity and Passenger Experience and will drop everything if he gets an opportunity to go flying. Bit by the travel bug 30 years ago, Seth flies ~200,000 miles annually. Follow him on twitter at @WandrMe, or his site at The Wandering Aramean blog.

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AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Ranjan Goswami, Delta Air Lines

By Benét J. Wilson in Chicago / Published September 28, 2015

Delta's Ranjan Goswami. Image: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Delta’s Ranjan Goswami. Image: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Ranjan Goswami was promoted to vice president, sales – west at Delta Air Lines in December 2014. In that position, he is responsible for Delta’s West Region, including Los Angeles, along with other strategic markets: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix. He also manages Delta’s marketing efforts and coordinates relationships with Delta’s alliance partners in the region.

Before joining global sales, Goswami led Delta’s eCommerce efforts in third-party merchandising, personalization and content management as Director, eCommerce Commercial. He also led Delta’s product development team as Director – Customer Experience Planning & Development, where he was responsible for the merger integration product alignment between Delta and Northwest and long-term customer experience strategy, including the Sky Priority ground product for high-value customers, Sky Club airport lounges, Delta’s flat-bed business class seat product design, in-flight Wi-Fi and entertainment, and Sky Magazine.

Goswami spoke to about Delta’s growth in Los Angeles, his expanded role on the West Coast, the upgrade of LAX’s Terminal 5 and how the airline has improved the passenger experience at the facility.

The welcome desk at Delta One at Los Angeles International Airport. Image: Courtesy of Delta

The welcome desk at Delta One at Los Angeles International Airport. Image: Courtesy of Delta (AN): You were promoted from managing director of sales-west to VP-Sales -west in December. Why did Delta upgrade your job?

Ranjan Goswami (RG): I think for a couple of reasons. We’ve been growing our western footprint significantly. Back when Delta did the Western Airlines merger, it had a significant western presence, including in Los Angeles. But we didn’t maintain it, instead focusing on Salt Lake City. But after the Northwest merger, we saw we needed a larger West Coast presence, and Los Angeles and Seattle became critical to that strategy. We’re growing our capacity and LAX is important to our network.

My role here is to oversee all B2B sales for the west. I also focus on Los Angeles and how to grow faster and be competitive in the largest O&D market in the United States. I also maintain Delta’s long-term relationship with the city and local businesses in Los Angeles.

AN: What duties and responsibilities were added under your new title?

RG: I’ve really become Delta’s main person in California representing the company.  As we discuss our future in LA with Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), I also develop ties with city hall and handle the B2B sales role from Colorado west. I spend time with city businesses and leaders to discuss aviation in general and Delta in particular.

AN: LAX doesn’t quite have hub status, so how would you categorize it in comparison to all the cities Delta serves?

RG: LAX is the largest O&D market in aviation.  LAX right now is the fifth-largest market for Delta, so there’s a lot of room to grow. We’re at 165 to 168 daily departures, which is a large operation.  LAX is a very competitive market and fragmented in an even way with United Airlines and American Airlines in a capacity aspect.  We want to grow LA, but it’s not a hub like New York, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Detroit. We’re going in the right direction, but we’re not there yet. But it is a major market for us and our goal is to grow in a competitive market.

AN: Delta has spent nearly $230 million on passenger experience upgrades at LAX, including the Delta One private lounge, new concessions, a renovated Sky Club, an expanded ticketing lobby and four more security screening checkpoints. Why was it so important to make these improvements?

RG: First and foremost, we learned that the passenger experience is important digitally, on the ground and in the air.  Since the merger, we’ve invested in all three areas.  Passengers spend a lot of time on the ground. They can have an experience like they have at a normal airport or they can have one that’s fun and engaging, where they can get work done and have a bite to eat.

The lounge area of Delta One at Los Angeles International Airport Terminal 5. Image: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

The lounge area of Delta One at Los Angeles International Airport Terminal 5. Image: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

The second thing is that we worked with the city and LAWA in a public-private partnership that allowed us to touch every aspect of the Terminal 5 experience, since work hadn’t been done in decades.  The first thing we did was redo the baggage claim area. We also replaced every jet bridge.

But we also had to make sure our operations were safeguarded. If you look at our operation, we have 16 gates with 160+ daily departures, which come to 10 + turns per gate.

Another priority was a complete revamp of the concessions program to make it more like LaGuardia. We wanted to go local, so we work with airport concessions company Westfield to get food concepts like Ford’s Filling Station, Lemonade and Farmers Market.  Visitors get to taste local LA foods and residents can enjoy brands that they already know.

We redid all the restrooms. And like Atlanta, we created islands for check-in because the head house at T5 is shallow. We’ve been moving away from wall check-ins and went to four islands – three for economy and one for business class.

A check-in island at Los Angeles International Airport's Terminal 5. Image: Courtesy of Delta

A check-in island at Los Angeles International Airport’s Terminal 5. Image: Courtesy of Delta

We created a separate entrance for Delta One and Delta 360 passengers [those above the airline’s Diamond Medallion status], along with those in Los Angeles who use our [paid] meet-and-greet service. We’re trying to cater to our high-value customers who have a need for privacy, extra service and speed in the check-in and security process.

AN: How did you work with Westfield to bring a balance of food and retail concessions in Terminal 5?

RG: The majority of the concepts are local food companies, but we do have Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. We wanted a combination of grab-and-go places like Farmers Market or Lemonade. We also offer eateries for when you have more time to sit and have a meal or a drink at places like Rock & Brews Concert Bar & Grill. Picking the right restaurants was a great discussion we had with our concessions provider. What you see as a result is a lot of variety.

AN: Who is your target passenger flying into/out of LAX?

RG: It’s actually a combination of people. First, it’s local Angelinos, because we’ve built a network and franchise to fill their needs. For example, business people in LA go to New York City or places with movie tax incentives like North Carolina, Louisiana or Michigan. New York will reach 10 trips a day in October. We have the most transcon seats, which is incredible, because we weren’t even in the market six years ago.

We also have business people coming to Los Angeles, which is the fourth-largest corporate market in the country. And tourists come to LA from all over the world. We launched LAX-Shanghai [in July] and it has gone like gangbusters. LA is one of the biggest ports of entry from Asia and Mexico. Overall we support diverse travel needs for business and leisure.

Los Angeles International Airport's Terminal 5 baggage claim. Image: Courtesy of Corgan Architecture.

Los Angeles International Airport’s Terminal 5 baggage claim. Image: Courtesy of Corgan Architecture.

AN: You created the website as part of your marketing campaign for the city. Why did you feel it was necessary to do this?

RG: One reason is that we’ve invested so much for our high-net-worth customers. There’s a lot of demand for our high-end products and services, including the most lie-flat seats, our Porsche car program, our Delta One service and our renovated Sky Club with expanded food and beverage offerings. With all these changes that focus on luxury, we wanted a marketing campaign to bring it all into focus. The exposure has been great. We wanted to show how Delta has been investing on luxury and quality. We wanted to talk about it in a comprehensive way and tell our story.

AN: What do you hope Delta looks like in Los Angeles 10 years from now?

RG: I want Delta to have a disproportionate share of premium business travelers. I want to be the preferred carrier for Angelinos. They have a lot of choice and always will because of the way LAX is set up. We want to be the first impression travelers have of LA.

BW}Benét J. Wilson is an experienced freelance aviation / travel writer. She has been in the business for more than 20 years, having her works published in several printed and digital publications including USA Today,  Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and AIN. Wilson is the Air Travel Expert for and is working on her private pilot’s certificate.

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United Reveals New Domestic First Product

By Benét J. Wilson in Chicago / Published September 10, 2015

CHICAGO – In an interesting bit of timing, United Airlines yesterday gave a small group of media and some of its best customers a sneak peek at its new domestic first class seats. The event also outlined what the complete product will look like as it’s rolled out in the next 18 months.

RELATED: High Flyer Interview: Luke Hawes of Priestmangoode

The new domestic first class seat on United Airlines, featuring the in-tray mobile device holder. Image courtesy of Benet J. Wilson

The new domestic first class seat on United Airlines, featuring the in-tray mobile device holder. Image courtesy of Benet J. Wilson

United worked with London-based design firm Priestmangoode for two years on the seat and the accompanying products. The process started by inviting the carrier’s best customers to Chicago to give feedback on the existing seats, test out different seat options and offer their opinions on the features they wanted most.  Some of the features of the new seat include:

  • A soft navy leather
  • A seat that’s 1.8 inches wider, at 21.1 inches
  • An articulated design that features a six-way adjustable headrest and a recline that cradles passengers
  • A new tray designed by Smart Tray, featuring a flip-up ledge that can accommodate mobile devices
  • A universal AC power outlet
  • An extendable granite-topped cocktail console between seats
  • In-arm storage for laptops and tables
  • A water bottle holder
  • Double seat-back pockets
another view of the tray that accommodates mobile devices.

another view of the tray that accommodates mobile devices.

Maria Walter is United’s managing director for product and brand strategy. “We took a hard look at the fleet. Some have the United product and some have the Continental product. We needed to have a common design language in the fleet,” she said. “With this change all the seats and the product will have the same look and feel. Customers will no longer be able to tell if an aircraft was United or Continental.”

PriestmanGoode worked with United to make its design more consistent, said Walter. “We’re rolling out the first aircraft with new seats, an Airbus A319 next week,” she said. “It will take about 18 months to do the entire fleet, starting with the Airbuses.”

The extendable granite-topped cocktail console between seats in United's domestic first class cabin.

The extendable granite-topped cocktail console between seats in United’s domestic first class cabin.

Nigel Goode is one of the co-founders of Priestmangoode. “We’ve worked on this for a few years, and the timing was great because United had been looking to influence the whole fleet, along with ground services for an overall consistent product,” he said.

That first aircraft will have the complete new product, said Goode. “We worked hard to develop signature finishes based on the hemisphere logo,” he said. “If you look at the seat covers, you see graduated lines that pick up the lines in the globe. And as you enter the plane, you see a 3D version of the hemisphere. It’s all about having quality items and an attention to detail.”

United listened to what passengers wanted on the seat, said Goode. “We then worked with seat manufacturer Zodiac to make it better,” he said.

As for what he expects passengers to see, Goode said “In a way, I hope they don’t notice anything, but just have a more pleasant experience.”

The most important airline asset is the flight crew and how they serve, said Goode. “These changes should help the crews offer passengers better service,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about a promise. If you do all this and let people down, it will be hard to get their trust back.”

There has been much speculation that United would be introducing a new Premium hard product to replace its aging and mixed legacy United / Continental cabins, especially with the looming 2016 introduction of the Boeing 777-300 into the fleet and then the Airbus A350 XWB. Time will tell whether the carrier will announce an update for long-haul.

From top left, clockwise:  a double seat back pocket; storage for laptops and tablets; storage for water and the AC power outlet; and more storage for tablets.

From top left, clockwise: a double seat back pocket; storage for laptops and tablets; storage for water and the AC power outlet; and more storage for tablets.

BW}Benét J. Wilson is an experienced freelance aviation / travel writer. She has been in the business for more than 20 years, having her works published in several printed and digital publications including USA Today,  Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and AIN. Wilson is the Air Travel Expert for and is working on her private pilot’s certificate.

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Korean Air Takes Delivery of First Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental

By: Staff / Published August 25, 2015

Korean Air has become the third operator of the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, in a ceremony held today at Boeing Everett Flight Test & Delivery Center. The airline follows Lufthansa, the launch customer, and Air China, which took delivery of its first aircraft last fall.


RELATED: Best of Airways Magazine: First 747-8 Intercontinental Airline Delivery

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Back in December 2009, Korean Air placed an initial order for five Intercontinentals, which was lately completed by an order for additional five in June 2013. With these ten units, the carrier becomes not only in the first carrier to operate both -8 variants (passenger and freighter version) but also will become the most extensive 747 operator, with all but one variant: the early production -100 series.

DJ8A4588“As one of the few airlines that have operated almost all models of the 747 family, we are excited that Korean Air is extending the tradition with our newest 747-8 Intercontinental. I am confident that the 747-8 will continue to play an important role in Korean Air’s long-term success” said Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Boeing and Korean Air have a close cooperation not only in terms of aircraft fleet, but also in both 747-8 and 787 programs. Korean Air’s aerospace division is a key supplier of the distinctive raked wingtips for each model, and is also one of the two suppliers in charge of producing the new 737 MAX Advanced Technology (AT) winglet.

A State-of-the-art Cabin


747-8I KAL #1506-RC051MR6A6993Korean Air’s newest airliner is configured with six First-Class Kosmo Suite 2.0 suites, which include a sliding door and higher partitions to provide added privacy for passengers. These suites are also equipped with updated in-flight entertainment systems, with large 24-inch high-definition monitors and new handheld touch remotes.

This new generation of suites will be installed on the airline’s Boeing 777-300ER airliners, which will feature eight of them, to be followed by 787-9 Dreamliners, Boeing 747-8i and the Airbus A330-300. However, the suites won’t be fitted to Korean Air’s Airbus A380, which feature the first generation of the product.


747-8I KAL #1506-RC051Surprisingly, the upper deck will be occupied with 22 out of 48 Business Class Prestige Suites, leaving 26 seats to separate First Class from Economy. These suits feature staggered seating and privacy panels, along with 18-inch high definition touch screens. The Seating arrangement in the upper deck is 2+2 while down below they will sit 2 + 2 + 2, sneaking in a fifth middle row of two.

MR6A7085At the lower deck there are 314 economy seats in a three-cabin 3  + 4 + 3 layout, dominating nearly three fourths of the aft section.

Frankfurt has been selected as the Initial Destination

Korean Air plans to initially operate the aircraft on its Seoul to Frankfurt route three times a week beginning on September 2nd before moving it to a daily flight on October 1st after the carrier picks up its second Intercontinental.

Service will be operated under flight number KE 905, departing Seoul at 12:45 arriving at Frankfurt at 17:40 local times. The aircraft will spend two hours on the ground before its scheduled flight KE906 departs at 19:40 and lands back in Seoul at 13:05 local times.

Folowing the launch to Frankfurt, on September 7th the airline will upgrade its 777-300ER flight between Seoul and Singapore with the new flagship.

Interesting to note Lufthansa must feel a threat from Korean as the carrier plans to also use its 747-8Is between Frankfurt and Seoul for the winter service. Frankfurt for at least five days will see service from all three carriers who operate the Intercontinental but Air China is expected to back out of Frankfurt and replace its 747’s with another type on September 7th.

Speaking of Lufthansa, Korean will be just the second carrier along with the German carrier to have both the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8I in its fleet.

A Look At The Remaining 747-8 Orders

The 747-8 Intercontinental currently has 18 unfilled orders to five carriers. Korean Air currently holds the largest unfilled order of any carrie, with a planned fleet of 17 aircraft in total.

Other airlines have a small number of 747-8 Intercontinental aircraft remaining on order. Russian carrier Transaero has four on order, two of them have been built but the airline opted to defer the delivery until 2016 given the economic situation in Russia. Meanwhile Air China, the second operator of the 747-8I, has two aircraft remaining on order which should be delivered later this year.

One oddball unfilled order for the 747-8I belongs to Arik Air of Nigeria; the carrier placed an order for two 747-8I aircraft in June 2011 and little has been heard about this. It is unlikely that this order will ever come to fruition.

PHOTOS: A Boeing 747 Factory Tour & Program Update

Special Thanks to Future of Flight for the hospitality and wifi to work on the story at the conclusion of the event.

Editor’s note: Our readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

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Inflight Review: Economy Class on American’s Refurbished Boeing 767

By Luis Linares / Published August 14, 2015 / Photos by author

American Airlines is in the process of upgrading the cabins on their youngest Boeing 767-300ERs, which fly to destinations in South American and Europe.  The main attraction is a new business class cabin.  But what is the new interior like for economy passengers?  Join me for a three-hour hop on economy class aboard one of these upgraded 767s from Miami International Airport (MIA) to El Dorado International Airport (BOG) in Bogota, Colombia.

RELATED: American Airlines Unveils New 767-300 Cabin

AA 763 MIA American Airlines Boeing 767-300ER at Miami International Airport

I’ve been flying the MIA-BOG route on American for more than 20 years on American Airlines. American has operated this service using the Airbus A300, Boeing 757 and Boeing 767.  Since the retirement of the A300 in 2009, the 757 and 767 have been flying between both cities.  When I booked a vacation to Bogota with my family, I opted for the flights aboard the redesigned 767 cabin.


I currently have Platinum status (the middle of the two elite tiers) in the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier program, which means I can check in at the business class counter.  The process was quickly handled by a very friendly agent, who joked with my children.  I also applied for a TSA PreCheck status to avoid long security lines, which meant we were quickly inside the secure area.

Before boarding

Elite status also allows me to use the Admirals Club before my flight.  American has two clubs at MIA, one near gate D30 and the other by D15.  Despite having Gate 25 as a departure gate, I opted fo the one by D15 since it has a playroom that offers TV, video games, lemonade, apples and cookies for the little ones.  This was a hit last year with mine, and it did the job again this year.


We proceeded to the gate 45 minutes before departure and boarded immediately after the business class passengers since this is another privilege of elite status.  We had row 13, which is the second row of the economy section.  Platinum status allows travelers to choose American’s Main Cabin Extra seats free of charge at the time of booking, and these offer 35 inches of legroom, compared to the standard 31.  In addition, rows 12 and 13 are located between two partitions, which create a very cozy feel.

Economy rows 12 - 13 No seatback IFE

The first two rows of economy seem like their own section, but where is the integrated IFE?

This flight was probably half full.  I asked the boarding agents to see if my family and I could get upgraded with miles since I was particularly interested in the new business class product, but she replied that they needed more lead time for such a request on an international flight for security reasons.  I did take an opportunity to explore the upgraded business class cabin for a few minutes.  Having flown on the older version, this new arrangement is definitely a step up.  Seats now recline to a full 180 degrees, and every business customer has direct isle access.

EXTRA:  In-flight Review: American Airlines Business Class to and from Bogota

AA 767 J window seat AA 767 J seats

The upgraded business class section

The business class seats are 30 inches wide with 60 inches of pitch, and they are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuation.  It is a tight space compared to other international premium cabins, but it is still a major improvement.  Despite the fact that American received some brand-new 767-300ERs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the refurbished cabin does not include integrated inflight entertainment (IFE) screens.  Passengers in business get complimentary use of Samsung tablets and Bose headsets for IFE.  Furthermore, these 767s do not have the international Wi-Fi option American introduced with the 777-300ER in 2013 and which also comes with the new 787s and is being installed on the 777-200ER fleet.

In the economy section, the seats were reupholstered, but there were no seatback IFE screens, just older overhead screens offering single programming and a moving map display before and after the block of programs.  The armrests also had remote controls designed for older IFE screens, but their only function was to control the volume of what was playing on the overhead screens, as well as a few audio channels.

Old socket

Bring an adapter if you want to enjoy your PED, especially on longer flights

I saw the lack of IFE as a minor inconvenience, since I usually have my tablet and phone with me.  However, the power ports are the old round socket, which is common in many cars.  This means people wishing to charge their personal electronic devices (PEDs) will need an adapter.

A very nice flight attendant told me he had a few USB adapters, available on a first-come-first-served basis, which I could use for the duration of the flight.  Typical flight time from MIA to BOG is just over three hours, which should be no problem for someone using a fully charged PED.  Since many of these 767s fly across the Atlantic or to the South America’s “southern cone,” any passenger wishing for an IFE experience on these six- to eight-hour flights will definitely want to bring an adapter.

The Flight

We pushed back at our 9:50 a.m. scheduled departure time.  With many simultaneous departures, we waited 20 minutes behind other aircraft and were eventually airborne.  Our flight path took us over Cuba, Jamaica, and two hours later, we crossed the Colombian coast over the city of Cartagena.

One of the services I had not seen in a while on a medium-haul flight was a complementary meal.  Lunch options were either macaroni or chicken, both accompanied by salad, bread, and dessert, along with a beverage of our choice.  In the main cabin, alcoholic beverages are not complimentary.  The food was actually good, which was a pleasant surprise.  We also came prepared with games and coloring books for my children to enjoy, so the lack of IFE was not noticeable to them.

Loaner adapter and lunch Crafts

A loaner adapter plus lunch, and my girls came up with their own IFE by making bracelets

With 20 minutes to go, initial descent started.  BOG is located at 8,360 ft (2,550 m) above sea level, which means some passengers will feel some symptoms, such as headache, increased heartbeat or upset stomach.  Based on my frequent travel there, I recommend plenty of hydration every day and rest the first full day there.  The pilots made up for lost time at MIA, and we touched down on time.


We deplaned and proceeded to immigration.  One of the nice courtesies in every passport control line I have experienced in Colombia when traveling with my family is that agents always open up a separate lane for people with small children.  This meant we were quickly at baggage claim, where our bags were already waiting since they had “priority” tags, another perk from elite status.  The customs line was quick, and soon we met our driver and were ready to enjoy our vacation.

Bottom line

American’s MIA-BOG service is usually staffed by very friendly and attentive bilingual BOG-based crews.  This flight was no exception.  They go out of their way especially for kids to make sure they are enjoying the flight.  Moreover, it is refreshing to get a full meal on a relatively short fight.  Given what the competition has to offer from the U.S. to Europe and Latin America on similar aircraft, American’s product is behind other mainline carriers, despite the recent cabin retrofit.

AA 767 at BOG

Leaving our ride in Bogota

American is refurbishing 29 of its 58 767-300ERs into the new cabin configuration, while the rest will retire this year. Many of the remaining 767s were delivered in the late 1990s to the early 2000s, yet American chose not to bring the IFE standard up to the level of its newer Airbus A319s and A321s, and Boeing 737s and 777s.

EXTRA: In-flight Review: Economy Class on American Airlines Airbus A319

For travelers, who enjoy integrated IFE, this could be a disappointment.  Even passengers who bring their own PEDs will have to remember to bring an adapter for the old-fashioned sockets beneath the seats.  Finally, having extra perks like elite status, TSA PreCheck, or Global Entry will make the time at the airport of a hassle, especially for economy passengers.

DISCLAIMER:  We paid for our tickets, and opinions are our own.

t_6_dsc249036125Luis Linares is an correspondent. Born in New York City and raised in Colombia, Luis was exposed to commercial aviation from a very early age and served in the U.S. Air Force for twenty years. He is fluent in Spanish and Brazilian-Portuguese and has almost two million miles of domestic and international travel under his belt.  Follow him on Twitter @LUISFERLINARES, or e-mail him at

Editor’s note: Our readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Friday night. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

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Virgin America Celebrates Eight Years

By: Alex McIntyre / Published August 10, 2015

VirginAmericaInFlight2-HIRESVirgin America just turned eight years old, and on Saturday it decided to celebrate the occasion back in its hometown. Alongside San Francisco mayor Edwin M. Lee, Virgin America dubbed Saturday, August 8 as “Virgin America Day,” commemorating another year in the industry with a fare sale. Additionally, it plans to extend the party by handing a two-for-one voucher to the first 40,000 fans in attendance at AT&T Park on Saturday, August 15, “Virgin America Night.”

BEST OF AIRWAYS: Virgin America – Doing Things Differently

As it adds another year under its belt, Virgin America boasts quite a few achievements. In the past year alone, it added or announced plans for new service to a handful of new destinations. The airline began operating from Dallas Love Field (DAL) and New York LaGuardia (LGA) last October, while it will commence operations in Honolulu (HNL) and Maui (OGG) later this year. Additionally, Virgin America reeled in a few notable awards, taking home the designations of “Best U.S. Airline” courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler last October, recognized with three awards -best airline in North America, best staff in North America and best low-cost airline in the U.S. by Skytrax World AIrline Rewards, and “Top Domestic Airline” from Travel + Leisure more recently this July.

RELATED: Virgin America Makes Move to Dallas Love Field

RELATED: Virgin America says “Aloha” to Hawaii

ANALYSIS: Virgin America Enters the Hawaiian Vortex – Part 1 / Part 2

Virgin also commemorates a highly successful IPO the previous November, finally becoming available to the public after years of holding off while fighting for profitability. The airline struggled to escape the red in prior years, but finally reeled in a profit for the first full year in 2013 and has enjoyed largely successful skies since then financially.

ANALYSIS: Behind the Numbers in Virgin America’s IPO

Flying past SanFranciscoWith its primary hub at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Virgin wants to engage with its local community by partnering with hometown identities, such as Mayor Lee and the San Francisco Giants. CEO David Cush echoed this sentiment, offering his thanks to “local fliers as well as our 3,000 Virgin America teammates.” He lauded the airline’s “[continually evolved] flight experience” and noted that Virgin has “earned some of the travel industry’s most distinguished awards in the process.”

2014WC-HiresIn turn, Mayor Lee thanked the airline for its contributions and economic impact in San Francisco: “For the past eight years, Virgin America has exemplified the innovative spirit and diverse culture of our City while continuing to grow its home base at SFO, creating local jobs, moving our residents across our U.S. cities and supporting vital Bay Area charitable programs.” Giants president and CEO Larry Baer also called Virgin the “ultimate partner” and expressed his pride for the airline as the official carrier of the San Francisco Giants.

While lacking the footprint nationally, Virgin America competes fiercely in the Bay Area with United Airlines, which also maintains a stronghold in San Francisco. United controls a dominating 46% of the SFO traffic according to the airport, and while Virgin counters with only 9% its unique product offers a striking contrast to United, intensifying the impact. The presence of viable competitors has served as a neat check on the remaining three legacy airlines, one of the fares continue to remain low historically.


Despite the increasingly blurry distinctions between carriers, Virgin America tries to make a name for itself by offering an exceptional in-flight product while still offering aggressively competitive fares, even if not always the most deeply discounted. To that note, Virgin also enhanced the passenger experience last year with an update of its fleet-wide entertainment system, “Red,” increasing its connectivity speed and content availability, as well as a better listening experience and screen resolution. The airline hopes that a flying experience not worth dreading will lure in some passengers despite its limited route network.

RELATED: Virgin America Picks Streaming-Capable ViaSat Ka-Band Wifi

As Virgin blows out the candles on its birthday cake, it certainly hopes to enjoy many more rounds as it continues expanding. For the time being, it enjoys its niche role within the airline industry. The airline faces some headwinds – namely, unit pressures in the Dallas market as well as more generally keeping a lid on costs while still offering a premium product – but seems to be sticking well. We can probably expect a similarly loud celebration next year in San Francisco from the airline, when it hopes to have another round of accomplishments of which to boast.

Photo May 25, 0 53 04Alex McIntyre joined to more heavily pursue his relentless passion for the airline industry. He lives in Dallas, Texas, growing up in the shadows of two major airlines’ headquarters and in a vibrant aviation-minded city. Alex attends Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, double-majoring in business and political science.

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American Offers Integrated Purser Training Program Under “Going For Great” Campaign

By Benét J. Wilson / Published July 30, 2015

American Airlines' Stephen Howell. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines.

American Airlines’ Stephen Howell. Image: Courtesy of American Airlines.

American Airlines has created an integrated purser program to give the carrier’s 2700 leaders professional development training for the combined company.

The effort is part of the carrier’s $2 billion “Going For Great” campaign, which covers new aircraft, fleet upgrades, renovated Admirals Clubs and more check-in kiosks.

Stephen Howell is American’s managing director of flight service standards and training. He handles everything that encompasses policies, procedures, regulatory processes, flight attendant and purser recruitment and hiring, along with training.

RELATEDAmerican Airlines to Spend $2 Billion on Passenger Upgrades

The purser training program was launched in May; it has been paused for the summer and classes will resume in September. “We’re looking to offer world-class customer service,” he said. “And we’re doing the training offsite at the Gaylord in Grapevine, not at our flight training center.”

American Airlines is making a significant investment in its hard product, said Howell. “So the timing was perfect for us to also take time to focus on the soft skills,” he said. “We brought the legacy American and US Airways pursers and brought them into one group.”

American will have pursers onboard its domestic three-class transcon flights between JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco, said Howell. “We felt we needed an onboard leader on those planes,” he said. “We also have pursuers onboard our long-haul international flights, including our two- and three-class service to Europe, Latin America and Asia. We will also have them on our new Sydney service.”

From a logistics perspective, there’s a lot of magic going on behind the scenes, said Howell. “We started offering 24 two-day sessions in May. They self-enroll, and by November, all 2700 will have attended the sessions,” he said.

Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

This is not training in the traditional sense, said Howell. “These are professional development leadership courses. We hold all sessions at the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center, so we have enough real estate available to run the two-day program and they stay on site,” he said.  “We wanted to pick the Gaylord, a high-end Marriott, because we wanted them to experience fine service at its best.”

The theme of the seminar is meant to build on the tagline Going for Great, said Howell. “We felt it was important to back that up to deliver the soft  skills that will offer customers a transformational rather than a transactional service,” he said. “In the past, the service was very transactional. You do the safety demonstration, deliver a beverage, deliver a tray and move to next service.”

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

Transactional service is needed, but we also need to deliver transformational service that is personalized for each customer, said Howell. “We use benchmarks from companies like Nordstrom and the Ritz Carleton and share case studies on how they do transformational service,” he explained. “We want to be unique in what we offer. Those companies offer personal attention and make a connection and that’s what we want to do.”

The legacy US Airways always had onboard leadership, but they didn’t have a formal purser program until this year, said Howell. “The legacy American flight attendants went through initial training in the past two years, but hadn’t had a refresher program or ongoing training, so this is a new program,” he said.

RELATEDAirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: American Airlines CEO Doug Parker

The program isn’t about service skills, procedures and filling out forms, said Howell. “But the soft skills are needed for leadership to help them get the best from their teams,” he said. “Everyone knows how to put down a cocktail napkin. This is more about engaging with a customer when putting that napkin down and created a memorable experience.”

When it comes down to service, in years past, it’s been about the functionality of the service, said Howell. “Now it’s about creating pleasure, delight and emotion, along with and connecting with our passengers. Our new hard product alone won’t help, so we have this training so we can focus on this moving forward.”

RELATEDThe Transcon Wars: The Ultimate Airline Battleground

Today’s customer has had a full day before getting on the flight, said Howell. “All they want to to do is get in their seat, put on headphones, watch inflight entertainment and get a personal experience. Our customers have changed and so must we,” he said.  “We all grew up with the Golden Rule — treat people how you want to be treated. We are now adapting the platinum rule — treat others the way they want to be treated.”

As the new American Airlines works toward greatness, it wants customers to realize that things are different, said Howell. “We want them to recognize the fact that our onboard leaders will work with their team to make emotional connections with them and instill in them a strong brand loyalty,” he said. “American is making the investment in the hard product, but you have to have the soft product that goes with it.”

BW}Benét J. Wilson is an experienced freelance aviation / travel writer. She has been in the business for more than 20 years, having her works published in several printed and digital publications including USA Today,  Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and AIN. Wilson is the Air Travel Expert for and is working on her private pilot’s certificate.

Editor’s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Friday afternoon. Click here to subscribe today!

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Meeting New LAN Airlines’ 787-9 Dreamliner

By: Enrique Perrella / Published 28 July, 2015

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

With their home base on a sliver of geographically inhospitable land (only a scant 2.6% of which is arable) sandwiched between 2,700 miles of southwestern Pacific Ocean coastline and the Andes mountain range, Chile’s Cueto family (led by brothers Enrique and Ignacio) created the LATAM Airlines Group, which in the year to date ended in June, transported 53.8 million passengers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inaugural Flight: JFK

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

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


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

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

The Cabin Interior

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Main Service

SQ_ - 22

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

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

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

SQ_ - 26

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

SQ_ - 27

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

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

Overnight on the Dreamliner

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

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

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

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

A conclusion to a great flight

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

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

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

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

Editor‘s noteOur readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

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Alaska Airlines to Partner with Hainan Airlines

By: Roberto Leiro / Published July 28, 2015

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members will soon have new international destinations to fly to on miles. Last week, the Seattle-based operator has inked a frequent-flyer partnership with Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines.

Under the terms of the deal, the members of Mileage Plan program will earn miles when flying with Hainan. The airline, rated as a 5-star by Skytrax, operates nonstop flights from Seattle to Beijing and Shanghai, and opens to Alaska Airlines new travel choices for Pacific Northwest business travelers to China.

Image Courtesy of Alaska Airlines

Photo Credits: Alaska Airlines.

“Alaska Airlines is expanding its international partner portfolio with the addition of Hainan, giving our Mileage Plan members more ways to earn miles for their travel from the West Coast to Shanghai and Beijing and on connecting flights within China,” assured Andrew Harrison, Alaska Airlines executive vice president and chief revenue officer.

Harrison added that the new alliance will enter in full force at the end of the year, and that Alaska and Hainan will continue to enhance their partnership by recognizing and extending elite reciprocal benefits to members of Mileage Plan and Fortune Wings Club by fall. Earned flight miles on Hainan currently qualify toward elite status in Alaska’s FFP.

An Upscaling Battle for Seattle

DL737As previously published in a trilogy by our Senior Analyst Vinay Bashkara titled “The Battle for Seattle: Alaska vs. Delta” (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) both carriers are fiercely entangled for the control of Seattle, a highly competitive market. The decision of teaming up with Hainan will provide Alaska Airlines travelers a 5-star airline experience in two international key routes for Delta Air Lines out of Seattle. “Seattle was Hainan’s first North American gateway, opened in 2008, and since then we have carried hundreds of thousands of people between the U.S. and China,” said Hou Wei, Hainan Airlines vice president.

“This reduces Alaska’s dependence on Delta as a mileage partner,” travel consultant Steve Danishek told the Puget Sound Business Journal. “We assume that the Alaska-Delta mileage tie-up will eventually fail, perhaps pushed along by this.”

5k7s85PpRoberto Leiro is the Executive Editor at An aviation passionate since early childhood, Roberto started with other fellow enthusiasts Venezuela’s first aviation photography / news organization Follow him on twitter @rleiro and reach him via e-mail at

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Dinner on the Tarmac with Qatar Airways

 By: Roger Hyde / Published July 18, 2015

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive 2014

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

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


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


Onboard plating instructions

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


Pre-plated Heritage Tomato salad

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

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


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


Pea Mint Soup

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


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


Heritage Tomato, feta and Kalamata Olive Salad

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


Broccoli, Potato and Cheese tart

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

Braised Lamb Shank

Braised Lamb Shank

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


Cardamom Panna Cotta

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

Bon voyage! Bon appetite!

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

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Brazil’s GOL to Launch New Livery

By: Roberto Leiro / Published July 16, 2015

Brazilian carrier GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes has unveiled a new livery during a event that also marked the arrival of its hundredth Boeing 737 arrival to the airline directly from the manufacturer.

GOL LogoThe new color scheme developed by Brazilian firm AlmapBBDO is the first change to the logotype of the airline in 14 years, and is a variation from its previous livery – it retains the oversized orange “GOL” title on the fuselage, now bolder, and adds an additional “O” in grey, forming a lemniscate to represent the essence of GOL, which remains the same since its foundation: bringing people, stories and destinations.


The most prominent change has been the tail logo – an enlarged lemniscate in two tones, orange and gray over a white background. The internal face of the winglets will also wear the tail logo but in an orange background over a white and grey lemniscate as well.

“The new logo GOL now has now a symbol in addition to the name, which will be easily understood by customers and associated with all the company’s values ​​and attributes” says Marcus Sulzbacher, design creative director of AlmapBBDO and responsible for the project of brand. “This link also represents the union, after all, GOL brings people to your dreams and destinations.”

Paul Kakinoff, president of GOL told the audience in the event held at Belo Horizonte, “The new visual identity was inspired by our mission, which is to bring people with security and intelligence. He also assured “We are the same GOL, with the low-cost DNA, only now with more services, and superior avant-garde products in the industry.”

The aircraft received the company’s new logo is a Boeing 737-800 (registration PR-GXZ, MSN 40739), and is the hundreth unit the airline took delivery directly from the manufacturer, and has been immediately put into service as one of the cornerstones of a marketing campaign to introduce the new colors in Brazil.

“We are honored that the Next-Generation 737 is the backbone of its fleet as well as the fact that the company has chosen the 737 MAX for its future. With each generation, the 737 family has been providing the most efficient and reliable aircraft for GOL and its customers.” said Van Rex Gallard, sales vice president for Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Last month, GOL signed with Internet provider Gogo a deal to provide in-flight connectivity, multimedia content and live TV on board. The service will allow the low-cost carrier to provide the most complete in-flight entertainment in Latin America. The first aircraft fitted with this new technology is scheduled for mid-2016.

RELATED: Gol Adds Gogo 2Ku for In-flight Connectivity, Live TV

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Swiss Aims to Impress with New 777 Seats and Cabins

By: John Walton / Published July 9, 2015

Swiss International Air Lines is going all out with its cabins on the Boeing 777-300ER, which it calls “the new Swiss flagship”. Brand new first class suites and a new implementation of the popular Thompson Vantage business class seat are both positives, and although a ten-abreast economy class is a downside, there is at least a state-of-the-art entertainment system and inflight wifi.

First class passengers will experience a suite for the first time on Swiss, and the product looks excellent.

First class, Swiss Boeing 777-300ER - SWI012609I

The suite itself is reminiscent of ANA’s new first class suites, though with a paler and more European sensibility, and speaking the same design language as Swiss’ current offerings.


Compared with the narrower Airbus A340-300 aircraft the 777-300ER will be replacing, the big Boeing is wider, which means more space for each of the passengers in the first class layout, since it remains at 1-2-1.


It’s notable that Swiss has retained its first class product, the only one of the three Lufthansa Group boutique carriers (Austrian, Swiss and Brussels Airlines) to do so alongside the Lufthansa brand.

First class, Swiss Boeing 777-300ER - SWI012613I

Swiss promises “a personal at-seat wardrobe, which can be used as an additional privacy divider during rest, electro-mechanical window shades (servicing all three windows of the seat area at the same time),“ and passengers can enjoy a massive 32-inch entertainment screen that Swiss says is the largest in the industry.

Business class consists of 64 Thompson Vantage staggered fully flat beds, which are what Swiss already has on its A330 and A340 fleet, and which are also common to the Lufthansa Group’s three boutique airlines.

Thompson Vantage Business class, Swiss Boeing 777-300ER - SWI012615I

Consistency of product and the clear expectations that consistency can generate help to create a positive passenger experience, and Swiss is very good at consistency.

The newer Vantage seats are more squared and seem taller, featuring a privacy divider on top of each of the footwell / console units.

Thompson Vantage Business class, Swiss Boeing 777-300ER - SWI012614I

Every center section passenger has direct aisle access, though, and the popular “throne” solo seats remain, with the addition of an extra storage unit on the window side console. This is a smart use of previously wasted space.


Cleverly, the table has been moved from its previous position popping out from the side of the side console to the divider between seats (or between the “throne” seat and the aisle).


Swiss already operates a high-density version of these seats (1-2-1 and 2-2-1 on alternating rows in its Airbus widebodies). It has maintained this density on the 777-300ER, which will add a seat in every other row for an 1-2-1 and 2-2-2 configuration.

And that’s the downside to the larger cabin width of the 777-300ER in business class: more window passengers will have to climb over an aisle neighbor in order to reach the aisle.

Economy class, in common with sister airline Austrian’s 777 aircraft, is the 3-4-3 high-density layout that is as unpopular with passengers as it is popular with airlines.

Swiss economy class 777-300ER

It is admittedly difficult for an airline’s management to turn down adding 11 percent more seats to the 777’s original nine-abreast seating configuration, but it moves Swiss from an airline of choice in economy to an airline to avoid.


The rumored Swiss premium economy has not materialized, however, which is a disappointment for passengers who don’t have the means to pay four times the economy fare for a business class seat, but who might well be able to pay the 1.5-2x multiplier for premium economy.

Wifi will be available throughout the aircraft, although Swiss’ CGI mockups don’t include a radome so give no clues as to provider or system.

In terms of timing, Swiss will replace its aging Airbus A340-300 aircraft with the 777-300ER, with the airline stating “from the 2016 summer schedules onwards, the new aircraft will be deployed primarily on services to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Los Angeles. And San Francisco, São Paulo and Tel Aviv will also receive Boeing 777 service several times a week. The first six SWISS Airbus A340s to be withdrawn with the arrival of the new Boeing 777-300ERs will be returned to their lessors. Three further A340s will be replaced by new Boeing 777-300ERs between 2017 and 2018. These aircraft will be transferred to SWISS’s sister carrier Edelweiss.”

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Virgin America Picks Streaming-Capable ViaSat Ka-Band Wifi

By: John Walton / Published July 8, 2015

Want the fastest available inflight Internet? Virgin America thinks you do, and it’s installing ViaSat’s Ka-band satellite connectivity on its next ten Airbus A320 aircraft, which start arriving in just two months. Apart from the streaming video-capable connection over the continental US, which passengers on jetBlue’s A320 family and United’s Boeing 737 family aircraft already rate highly, the move is important because Virgin will deploying the world’s first hybrid Ka-Ku antenna, also provided by ViaSat.

The first Ka-band-equipped Airbus A320 aircraft will arrive this September, and since ViaSat’s Ka-band coverage is currently limited to the continental US it would seem logical that this aircraft would be generally limited to those flights. A Virgin America spokesperson confirmed to AirwaysNews that “we will upgrade these 10 aircraft to ViaSat’s new hybrid Ku/Ka-band antenna starting in early 2016,” when the aircraft intended for Hawaii flights start arriving outfitted with the hybrid system.

Much like JetBlue, the Ka-band service will be free for the initial beta period, with Virgin America noting that it intends to announce pricing for the service next year. Last month the airline unveiled its updated Android-based Red Beta inflight entertainment system, and an upgraded connectivity system — particularly given the rise of on-demand video like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video — adds to Virgin America’s arsenal on the increasingly competitive transcontinental market.

Virgin America Red Beta new inflight entertainment system Aircraft_Interior_Red_Beta “Bringing ViaSat’s satellite-based wifi product to our new delivery aircraft will again allow us to make an industry-leading investment in our product. We are excited about this new technology and the possibility it opens up for wifi coverage on our new Hawaii flights and for travelers who wish to stream video inflight,” Virgin America’s director of product design and innovation Ken Bieler explains.

Virgin’s decision would seem to throw doubt on its commitment to ViaSat competitor Gogo, whose share price dropped over 5 percent today. It was only six months ago that Virgin America was celebrating being the first airline to offer Gogo’s ATG-4 connectivity fleetwide. ATG-4 maxes out at around 10 Mbps per aircraft, the speed of a reasonable home ADSL connection — but shared between nearly 200 of your closest friends on board an A320, ATG-4 slows significantly. Gogo’s dynamic pricing has risen significantly in an attempt to control demand enough to provide a usable experience.

In 2013 Virgin and Gogo announced plans to move to a hybrid Ku-ATG-4 system called GTO (which essentially combines the connectivity of both systems to max out at around 60 Mbps per aircraft), but last year the airline began studying Gogo’s 2Ku system (which combines two Ku-band antennas to likely max out around 70 Mbps per aircraft).

Compare those with the test speeds on the ViaSat-JetBlue media proving flight (while a planeful of aviation and tech media were streaming, webcasting and downloading to try to make the system fall over):

Flyfi free version on initial testing flight

Virgin America is playing coy about its intentions with 2Ku, particularly around whether the airline intends to refit it to the existing fleet. “We have not yet made a technology decision with respect to an upgrade for the rest of the fleet,” a spokesperson tells AirwaysNews, but it would be very surprising if such a small airline were to operate systems from two entirely separate inflight connectivity providers.

ViaSat’s inflight wifi head Don Buchman, whose official title is VP and general manager of the company’s commercial mobility business, emphasises the USPs of ViaSat’s system: “Our competitive advantage is rooted in the unique bandwidth economics of ViaSat-1 and the forthcoming ViaSat-2 satellite networks. We can empower airlines to engage all of their guests in an in-flight, online experience just like they’d get on the ground – including streaming high quality video.”


ViaSat-2, of course, is due to be launched by the SpaceX Falcon Heavy system, which last month suffered a catastrophic launch failure during a resupply mission to the International Space Station. Its coverage will be needed for Mexico and Caribbean flights, and it will also provide redundancy and extra capacity over the US.

Editor‘s noteOur readers now have access to our weekly eNewsletter, which includes a recap of our top stories of the week, along with the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column and Photo of the Week from our extensive archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Stay in the know; click here to subscribe today!

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ANALYSIS: DOJ Overreaches with Investigation Into Airline “Collusion”

By: Vinay Bhaskara / Published July 6. 2015

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it was investigating US airlines for collusion Wednesday afternoon, building a striking parallel to current efforts by major US carriers to restrict access to the U.S. market for Middle Eastern airlines and European low-cost carrier (LCC) Norwegian Air Shuttle. The DOJ has subpoenaed several major U.S. airlines as part of its investigation into “possible unlawful coordination” to limit capacity and boost airfares. News of the DOJ investigation comes roughly two weeks after Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter to the DOJ asking them to probe possible collusion amongst US airlines.

RELATED: DOJ Subpoenas Airlines over Alleged Collusion The DOJ has broad latitude in proving collusion.

According to the DOJ website:

Most criminal antitrust prosecutions involve price fixing, bid rigging, or market division or allocation schemes. Each of these forms of collusion may be prosecuted criminally if they occurred, at least in part, within the past five years. Proving such a crime does not require us to show that the conspirators entered into a formal written or express agreement. Price fixing, bid rigging, and other collusive agreements can be established either by direct evidence, such as the testimony of a participant, or by circumstantial evidence, such as suspicious bid patterns, travel and expense reports, telephone records, and business diary entries.

The DOJ’s investigation is the most far-reaching probe by the U.S. government into the behavior of U.S. airlines in a long while, perhaps ever. Still, the investigation has a high burden of proof. In order to prove that U.S. airlines actually colluded, the DOJ must not only prove that the actions of the U.S. airlines reduced competition, but also that these illegally communicated with each other in order to achieve this state of reduced competition.

This second requirement would appear to be the biggest weakness in the DOJ’s case. It appears that the DOJ is (at least partly) relying on public statements made by airline executives at various conferences, as well as the more common practice of providing capacity guidance to investors and the media to prove its case. This seems like weak evidence at best. There’s always the possibility that the DOJ has some sort of whistleblower at one of the U.S. majors, but it seems unlikely given how many resources and employees U.S. carriers devote to regulatory compliance that they’d slip up.

Airlines are certainly a convenient political target given the broadly unfavorable consumer views of U.S. carriers (excluding Southwest and JetBlue?), and the veritable smorgasbord of negative stories from a media primed to view everything involving businesses almost exclusively through the lens of the consumer, without considering the other stakeholders involved (more on this later). Given that context, one almost wonders if the DOJ is looking to score cheap political points by extorting a few million dollars per airline to make this issue go away quickly. Airline stocks are certainly being punished enough such that executives have a pretty strong incentive to do exactly that.

The other plausible outcome from this case is a consent decree (basically a diktat from a federal agency saying “stop this practice or else…”) that would require airlines to stop issuing specific numbers for capacity guidance, or even to stop making public statements about capacity altogether. But airlines primarily issue those statements for the benefit of their owners (i.e. shareholders). They’re not required by SEC regulations, but they are pretty standard practice worldwide because they allow an airline’s owners the ability to react in real time to an airline’s plans and force adjustments that they deem necessary, which is a pretty fundamental shareholder’s right. Moreover, even if the DOJ bans capacity guidance, airlines will just shift to providing PRASM guidance, which will send enough of a message regarding capacity that shareholders will be able to pressure airlines into doing what they want anyway. The DOJ also technically has the ability to break up the US majors, but that’s not a realistic outcome.

Contextualizing the Problem

The argument for the anti-competitive market situation largely rests on two data points: capacity discipline by U.S. airlines and sharply rising airfares. To start with the latter, the rise in airfares is a common talking point. For example, in a CNN report on the probe yesterday, a pundit noted that “Fares have skyrocketed…. according to government data, airfares have increased 16.4% since 2010.” But this data is misleading if not outright disingenuous. First and foremost, using 2010 as a base doesn’t make sense given that 2010 was still in the midst of recovery from the global financial crisis in late 2008-2009. A better design would begin in 2008, which has the added benefit of preceding enough of the mergers such that you start with a fundamentally more competitive industry than today. Then you have to talk about the use of base fares, which are affected by a variety of factors, most importantly stage length. You would expect airfares to rise as stage length rises, and given the 6.6% rise in stage length for U.S. airlines from 2008-2015, that immediately wipes away part of the rise. Luckily, airlines have metrics that account for length of flight, namely PRASM and yield.

While PRASM is the more widely reported metric, PRASM is also affected by load factors and the balance between capacity and demand, so a better metric is adjusted yields, which reflect the average price a passenger is paying for a seat-mile on an aircraft. So just how monstrous is the rise in airfares per this metric? Between 2008-2015, they went up 6.6%, a whopping 1.08% per year. Meanwhile, stage-length adjusted cost per available seat mile (CASM) rose 5.4%. 1.2 percentage points more than costs is what fares have risen since 2008. The inclusion of ancillary revenue like checked baggage fees and change fees complicates the picture, but even so, out of pocket travel costs don’t end up coming out much higher than CPI inflation over the period, at 9.9%.

Capacity moves have been driven by Wall Street

On the capacity side, the DOJ can at least point to plenty of evidence of US carriers making statements about capacity discipline and de-hubbing airports like Memphis or Cincinnati that weren’t a fit post-merger. And on an aggregate, level, the US airlines, particularly the legacies, but also Southwest and the rest have embraced capacity discipline, with post-recession capacity growth under the rate of growth of GDP (the economy) whereas in the past, capacity usually grew at 1.5 – 2x the rate of GDP. But is the cause of this really coordinated action derived from illegal communication? Or should we apply Occam’s Razor and look for the simplest answer?

Like most publicly traded companies, U.S. airlines are in many respects beholden to their shareholders (i.e. their owners). And while Wall Street is oft maligned in industry circles for driving too much short term thinking (occasionally in this space), by and large Wall Street analysts and ratings agencies are a pretty good proxy for most shareholders, who tend to lack a sophisticated understanding of the industry and its vagaries. And Wall Street, for very food reasons, has decided that it likes capacity discipline; and that by extension it will reward it, and punish a lack of discipline. One need look no further than the recent response to Southwest’s share price when the Dallas-based carrier announced that its capacity growth for 2015 would come in around 8% instead of 7% as it had previously guided. Southwest’s share price was hammered (along with that of much of the industry) and it was forced to walk back those plans.

While this might seem to be an overreaction, airline investors have a very good reason to value capacity discipline. It is only in the last five to six years, as investors have pushed airlines to engage in capacity discipline, that they have finally got something resembling a reasonable return for the first time in more than a decade. And unlike the late 1990s, these returns are not contingent on an incredibly positive macro environment in the U.S. and the world. And when a firm’s owners want something, it usually happens (look no further than the ousting of Dave Barger in favor of Robin Hayes at JetBlue). Has this changed the behavior of U.S. airlines in aggregate? Yes. Is it collusion? No.

A situation of the DOJ’s own creation

The real dramatic irony is that the present state of competition in the US airline industry is pretty much the fault of the DOJ itself. If fares are rising and capacity is being constrained, the DOJ has no one to blame but itself. Through a mix of antitrust immunity/joint ventures, mergers, and slot swaps, the DOJ has allowed many of the more anti-competitive situations in the U.S. to develop. There are only three major airline groups across the Atlantic? The DOJ signed off on that. Six legacies merged into three? The DOJ signed off on that too. Delta and American now have fortress hubs at New York La Guardia and Washington Reagan respectively? The DOJ okayed that one as well. We are unquestionably living in an air travel oligopoly. But it’s a bit rich for the DOJ to bluster about the resultant situation today when it signed off on every one of the steps that created it.

And the federal government’s various agencies have the ability to rectify this situation pretty quickly. The US3 campaigns against Norwegian and the Middle East Big 3 can be overruled pretty quickly. Why not go further and sign Open Skies agreements with any country that’s willing? And to solve the issue of domestic competition, why not ease rules on foreign ownership and offer unlimited cabotage? The federal government has plenty of tools to increase competition in the US airline market. None of them involve a politically convenient “investigation” based on exaggerated charges.

The most important philosophical question is which stakeholders matter 

The current U.S. airline market is not the best it has ever been for consumers. It’s still better than everything before deregulation and most of the 80s and 90s, but except for high yield and business travelers, the early 2000s were probably the golden age for purchasers of air travel in terms of convenience and low fares. And the reduction in competition through consolidation and capacity discipline absolutely plays a role on that. But is the consumer’s interest the only thing to consider?

Airlines have three primary stakeholders: consumers, employees (including executives), and shareholders, as well as several other minor ones (like airports, airframers, suppliers, etc.). But when the media and broader public think about airline issues, they solely focus on the consumer’s needs and perspective. But shareholders can’t be ignored, if only because they own the airline. Ultimately, an airline, like any for-profit business, is beholden to its shareholders, and largely required to comply with their wishes and act for their benefit. There are very good reasons for this. The original rationale for the shareholder system was to allow the pooling of capital to create large companies while spreading risk. There is no way that the massive, complex, and risky airline networks that exist today would be able to function without the money of the shareholders.

But there’s a funny thing about shareholders: they like getting a return on their money. And by 2007/2008, airlines had burned investors one too many times (Southwest notwithstanding). There was no way that airlines could continue to act in the irrational and aggressive manner they adopted between 2000-2008, if they wanted to continue to access the myriad benefits (such as capital) provided by shareholders. So they decided to buckle down and get serious about delivering returns. In the process, fares went up and planes got fuller. But we have a very good reason to want shareholders, not in the least because they provide the capital for new entrants/growth agents (like Spirit Airlines) who are ultimately the most effective form of competition. Especially given the higher barriers to entry created by additional FAA and DOT rules and regulations, investors who can pool large sums of capital are critical for the US airline industry to develop new entrant activity moving forward. Investors have just begun to trust airlines again. Do we really want to take action against the capacity discipline that has allowed that trust to regrow?

Employees haven’t done anywhere near as well as investors have, but they are also better off than they were in the dregs of the 2000s. Pilot groups have probably gotten the best deals (helped by the pilot shortage), but across the board, employees have begun to share in the profitability of their employers through increased wages, profit sharing, or both. And so amongst the three stakeholders, consumers might be slightly worse off, but investors and employees are way better off. Arguably consumers have gotten the best deal from commercial aviation over the past 30 years, enjoying lower than realistic fares while being cross subsidized by employees and investors taking a hammering. The tables have turned, and we’ve hit a more stable equilibrium. But is that something that the broader populace can accept?


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DISCLAIMER – The Author is long/short on several US airlines, including AAL, DAL, SAVE, ALK, JBLU, and ALGT, as well as several global airlines. 

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