Category Archives: Airline Passenger Experience

United to Introduce New International Economy Dining Options

By Roberto Leiro / Published April 20, 2015

United Airlines (UA) is introducing a revamped dining service for United Economy travelers on long-haul international flights, decision that complements the changes made by the airline in its meal options on flights in North America during this year.

From back to front: N784UA Boeing 777-222(ER), N127UA Boeing 747-422 in new United Livery, N171UA Boeing 747-422 N209UA and Boeing 777-222(ER) in new United livery. Image: Courtesy of Jun Seita/Flickr

From back to front: N784UA Boeing 777-222(ER), N127UA Boeing 747-422 in new United Livery, N171UA Boeing 747-422 N209UA and Boeing 777-222(ER) in new United livery. Image: Courtesy of Jun Seita/Flickr

The upgrades are set to be introduced as of June 1 on transatlantic flights, as well as on flights between the United States and Argentina, Brazil and Chile, and most of United Airlines’ transpacific services.

United Economy travelers will enjoy a three-course service, including new dishes devised by United Airlines’ team of chefs, plus a premium dessert. United will also offer at no charge beer and wine during the dining service. However, the airline will continue offering spirits for purchase, along with snacks through its Choice Menu Snack Shop. Furthermore, United will continue offering pre-arrival meals, with expanded options, depending on the market served.

“United is committed to improving every aspect of our customers’ experience on the ground, in the air and with every interaction,” said Sandra Pineau-Boddison, United’s senior vice president of customers. “The changes to come on June 1 will deliver an elevated onboard experience on many of our intercontinental flights and will offer travelers the high level of service they expect from a global airline.”

The harmonization of its in flight dining service seems to respond to a trend in the industry, in which airlines are seeking to enhance their customers’ travel experience, as well as to differentiate themselves from competitors. It’s been said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and airlines appear to have adopted the concept to make customers loyal to their brands.

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AIX2015: Boeing’s Bigger Bins Boost Passenger Bliss

By Seth Miller / Published April 16, 2015

With more and more passengers on every flight – load factors are up as is seating density – finding a place to store a carry on bag is more and more challenging. Add to that more bags being brought into the cabin by passengers looking to avoid fees and the fight for bin space is very real. Boeing’s new Space Bin solution aims to solve that problem on the narrow-body fleet, increasing storage space even from the newer SkyInterior option which new aircraft deliveries have adopted in great numbers. Airways News took a look inside the bins at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg this week to get the low down on the new offering.

 Space Bins in 737 Configuration Studio

Get 50% more bags on board with the Boeing Space Bins offering. That’s a lot of happy passengers. // Photo: Boeing

The bins hang about three inches lower than prior generations of Boeing overheads, a small distance which makes a big difference in ease of access and interior sizing. By increasing the vertical dimension that tiny amount Boeing grew the internal dimension sufficiently to allow for bags to be stored on the short edge rather than lying down, similar to the bins on Boeings 787 Dreamliner. The company projects a 50% increase in the number of bags which can be accommodated by this change, with a typical 60″ bin now holding 6 bags rather than 4. Conveniently that same 60″ of space is about the same as two rows of economy seating which means six passengers. The idea of having a bin directly over each passenger’s seat with space for a bag is one which should keep passengers happy; “my bin” now really will be such in most cases.

Brent Walton, one of the Boeing Engineers working on the Space Bins project, was quick to note that the increased space and weight capacity results in “[M]ore flexibility no matter what you bring on board” which is key for helping to keep passengers happy, or at least calming them a bit when faced with the stress of travel. And, while the official spec for bags in the space is the traditional 22x14x9 inches dimensions, Walton demonstrated that the Space Bin accommodates bags at 26x16x9.3 inches while still getting 6 in the space. The bins also carry a higher weight capacity rating than older versions on account of the increased capacity.

The Space Bins are already in the production pipeline, with installs starting on new Alaska Airlines deliveries in Q4 2015. Delta Air Lines will start to see new aircraft delivered with the bins shortly thereafter.

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AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Latam’s Pablo Chiozza

By Benét J. Wilson / Published April 16, 2015

Pablo Chiozza, Vice President USA, Canada & Caribbean for LATAM Airlines Group, photographed in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

Pablo Chiozza, Vice President USA, Canada & Caribbean for Latam Airlines Group, photographed in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux

Pablo Chiozza is the senior vice president for the USA, Canada and the Caribbean for the Latam Airlines Group. He started his career at LAN Airlines Chile in November 2001, where he served as international sales director for regional markets covering Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Australia, New Zealand and French Polynesia. He has served the company in other positions including commercial director for LanArgentina and LanAirlines, along with sales director for LanEquador and Lan Airlines, USA. He spoke to AirwaysNews about progress of the two airlines’ integration, the carrier’s fleet and dominating in South America.

AirwaysNews: LATAM Airlines Group was created in June 2012. What drove the two companies to merge into one large company?

Pablo Chiozza: Both LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines have a strong history in the region and are dedicated to providing the best service and experience for their customers traveling to, from, and within South America. LAN has a robust South American network and TAM has strong connectivity throughout Brazil, so it was a natural fit for the two airlines to join forces. The merger served as part of the ongoing efforts to provide the best connectivity for customers, as well as a genuine South American experience.

A TAM Boeing 777. Image: Courtesy of LATAM Group

A TAM Boeing 777. Image: Courtesy of Latam Airlines Group

AW: LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines continue to fly under their own colors. How long do you think this arrangement will last?

PC: While LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines continue to fly under their own colors on the exterior, a uniform look is already transforming the interiors. In March 2014, LATAM Airlines Group unveiled the new unified design for their cabins on both LAN and TAM Airlines.

The new unified cabin design is one of the most tangible examples of standardization between the two airlines since the merger.  With a focus on a comfortable and welcoming experience, the design was inspired by South America’s colors and textures combining elegant natural tones that reflect the passionate culture and warmth of the region. The first aircraft to showcase the new unified cabin interiors is the recently delivered LAN Airlines Boeing 787-9, which will begin commercial flights in April 2015.

LATAM Airlines Group collaborated on this project with prestigious international design consulting firm Priestmangoode, known for its vast experience in the aviation, railway and hotel industries among others. With the new cabin design, LAN and TAM strengthen their global presence and their leadership in bringing the best of South America to the world.

Premium business class in a LAN Boeing 787-9. Image: Courtesy of LATAM

Premium business class in a LAN Boeing 787-9. Image: Courtesy of Latam Airlines Group

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Luke Hawes of Priestmangoode

AW: One of the driving forces behind the merger was synergies that would be created. What are some of the more successful synergies that are working right now?

PC: During 2013, there were significant advances in areas of synergies, mainly in the international passenger area. We have established a fare combination between LAN and TAM, cross-selling between flights and codeshare agreements on several international routes, specifically the codeshare agreement between TAM and American Airlines, allowing the company to connect more cities in the United States to Brazil.

By December 2013, LATAM Airlines Group achieved synergies of over $300 million. Our cargo operation is on target to achieve expected synergies by delivering greater coverage. Domestic operations in Brazil have increased, thanks to the capacity of passenger aircraft on TAM routes, complemented with the dedicated cargo fleet.

It is anticipated that 60 percent of total projected synergies would result from new profits and the remaining 40 percent from cost savings. In reference to profits, one third would come from new opportunities to connect our network with the region’s main hubs using more efficient airplanes. We remain confident that the announced synergies of between $600 million and $700 million are achievable.

EXTRA: In-Flight Review: LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 Part 1 – Economy Class

AW: LAN was attached to oneworld, while TAM was in the Star Alliance. Why did you choose to put the two carriers into oneworld?

PC: LAN Airlines joined oneworld in 2000 and TAM Airlines followed in March 2014, in order to bring all of the passenger airline affiliates of LATAM Airlines Group into the same global airline alliance. For LATAM Airlines Group, it represents a significant milestone, attracting more business travelers and tourists to South America.

EXTRA: In-Flight Review: LAN Airlines Boeing 787-8 Part 2 – Business Class

AW: How much of a benefit has it been to have LAN and TAM in oneworld, and what are some of those benefits?

PC: For both LAN and TAM Airlines to join oneworld is not only a great benefit to our passengers, it is also a demonstration of the high standards that LATAM Airlines group has established since merging. Membership in oneworld underlines our airline’s commitment to service, quality and safety.

EXTRA: LAN Colombia and TAM Joining oneworld Alliance: Analysis

AW: Your competitors in South America include Avianca, Gol, Copa and Azul. What are some of your strategies for remaining competitive on your home turf, in South America and around the world?

PC: The principle objective for LATAM Airlines Group is to maintain our leadership position in the region and to achieve our goal of being one of the top three airline groups in the world. In order to maintain passenger preference in the region, we intend to continue differentiating ourselves by the inflight experience that we offer onboard.

In addition, one of our prime focus areas over the next couple of years is to develop a faster, expedited travel experience for our passengers with less wait time at airports and shorter connection times.  In 2014 we invested more than $100 million to implement technology solutions so that all of our passengers can expedite their travel experience paper free from their mobile phones, and manage all of the variables of their trip via our online app, offering faster access to real time information and more options for onboard inflight entertainment amongst other solutions.

EXTRA: LAN, TAM Airlines Announce Passenger Experience Upgrades

In order to remain competitive on our home turf, as well as around the world, LAN and TAM continue to offer an authentic South American experience the moment you step on board, combined with unrivaled connectivity within the region and award-winning service. Passengers are able to enjoy wines hand-picked by South America’s only master sommelier, Hector Vergara, while reclining in 180 degree full flat seats in the Premium Business Cabin.  They can also get a taste of South American cuisine and treat themselves to meals inspired by the ingredients of the region while enjoying state-of-the-art, inflight entertainment.

A LAN Boeing 787-9. Image: Courtesy of LATAM

A LAN Boeing 787-9. Image: Courtesy of Latam Airlines Group

AW: Where are you with your fleet integration? How many aircraft and what type do you have for each carrier, and what new aircraft are expected in 2015?

PC: In 2014 LATAM Airlines Group received 19 new aircraft as a part of the fleet restructuring program, ending the year with a fleet of nearly 327 total aircraft, passenger and cargo. As of June 30, 2014, LATAM Airline Group’s restructuring plan was on track, having already phased out five Boeing 737 aircraft and additionally redelivered seven Airbus A330 aircraft, two Bombardier Dash Q400 aircraft, one Airbus A340 aircraft and one Boeing 767 freighter aircraft during the first half of 2014.

EXTRA: TAM, LAN Move into Guarulhos Airport Terminal 3

Aircraft deliveries have been of new, more efficient models, such as Airbus A321, of which LATAM Airlines Group received four aircraft during the second quarter of 2014, and Boeing 787-8 aircraft, of which LATAM received their sixth aircraft in the month of June 2014. The delivered aircraft represent savings of more than 10 percent in unit costs as compared to the current models, underlying the competitive benefits in moving towards these new technologies.

EXTRA: PHOTOS: A Tour of LAN Airlines’ Boeing 787-8

Additionally, LATAM Airlines Group received four Airbus A321s, one Airbus A320 and one Boeing 787. The company also returned four A320s, three 737s, seven A330s, two 767s aircraft and one Q400.

In 2015 so far, we have taken delivery of one 787-9 for the LAN fleet, the first in Latin America and expect to receive at least five more before the end of the year.  TAM will become the first airline in the America’s and the fourth in the world to receive the A350-900, at the end of 2015.

Our principle objective is to maintain our leadership position in the region and to achieve our goal of being one of the top three airline groups in the world by 2018.  In order to accomplish this, we have identified three fundamental success factors for 2015 which will help us achieve this objective. Under network leadership, LATAM Airlines Group is the leader in the region in terms of network and we are working to establish ourselves as the best airline group in Latin America.  We plan to continue improving our network of destinations with better itineraries, flights to more cities and to generate the alliances necessary to offer the best network for passengers flying to, from and within the continent.

Under inflight experience and brand leadership, we plan to maintain ourselves as the preferred airline of choice for passengers in the region, based on the full travel experience that we offer.  Our onboard service is award winning and renowned around the world and we have a fleet of 320 modern, top-of-the-line, world-class aircraft. In addition, we are working on a new mobile flight experience which adapts to the needs of our passengers, who are looking for more information to make the best use of their time and travel experience.

Under financial, our results in the medium and long term will show that we have made the right decisions that will assist us to become one of the most efficient airline groups in the industry.  We have plans to create a cost structure that is more competitive and by doing so, create and organization that is more efficient.

In addition, in 2015 we have many important milestones including the arrival of the first LAN Boeing 787-9, the first in Latin America, which will begin commercial operations in April.  We also have the unveiling and inauguration of the new LATAM Airlines Group VIIP lounge in Santiago, the largest VIP lounge in Latin America and the fourth for LAN and TAM passengers in the region.

LAN and TAM are the official airlines of the Copa America, the principle soccer tournament for Latin American teams which will take place in Chile from June 11-July 4.  Lastly, TAM will be the first airline in the Americas and the fourth in the world to receive and operate the new Airbus A350-900 aircraft, one of the most modern aircraft in the world.

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AIX 2015: Lumexis Makes a Play for the LCC IFE Market

By Seth Miller / Published April 14, 2015

Low cost carriers don’t want IFE systems. They are complicated, expensive and heavy. They create maintenance challenges and support issues. This is the story we’ve all been told and sold for years. Lumexis launched the iPAX IFE solution this week at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg with an eye towards rewriting that story with a rather different ending.

lumexis-ipax (1)

The iPAX system is light and inexpensive – only 8.9 ounces and $1495 per screen. It is a smaller screen at 6.1 inches but that’s probably a good thing given that the target market is carriers with tight 30 inch pitch. It is still a bright 1080p OLED display offering sharp pictures to passengers. And, perhaps most important to the airlines, it was built from the ground up as a “retail, advertising and entertainment platform” as Lumexis VP Jon Norris describes it. The iPAX platform is built to provide revenue for the airlines; it just happens to also have some entertainment functions built in, too. The system also offers an optional integrated credit card reader and reversible USB charging point; one helps the airlines more quickly process transactions while the other offers better customer experience.

lumexis-ipax (2)

iPAX is a wireless solution; no under seat box an minimal wiring to the seats to provide power. But it also leverages 64GB of on-device storage at each seat to pre-load some of the content, including the shopping catalogs and advertising information. Norris explained further that the technology allows iPAX to store the first short bit of each video selection, allowing for instant start when the passenger taps the play button. This approach “helps take the buffering pain off the streaming network.”

At half the price of a legacy or overhead system the iPAX solution has a lot of potential in the LCC/ULCC space. And the company is very optimistic about getting it into an airline soon enough. No confirmed customers yet but an operational kit flying commercially by the end of the year is a very real possibility based on where the company believes it is in the sales process.

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Southwest Unveils New Aircraft Seats for 737-800 and 737 MAX

By Airways News Staff  / Published April 14, 2015

Seat_5

Photo courtesy of Southwest

Southwest Airlines has teamed up with B/E Aerospace and Boeing to roll out a brand new seat on future Boeing 737-800 deliveries and 737 MAX aircraft. The new seats were unveiled Tuesday at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany, and they will take to the skies for the first time on a flight sometime in mid-2016.

Southwest says its new seats will be about an inch wider than its current seats. They will also boast an adjustable headrest and increased legroom, as well as more personal stowage, while decreasing the overall weight of the product.

“The new aircraft seats are the widest economy seats available in the single-aisle 737 market, and offer a unique design that gives our Customers what they asked for: more space,” said Bob Jordan, Southwest’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. “Serving as the launch customer for this seat is just one of several upcoming milestones related to our bold, new look launched in September of last year, and is specifically aimed at enhancing our Customer Experience.”

“The new, lighter seat allows us to continue to improve our fuel efficiency,” said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “This seat selection is just one more reason we are enthusiastic about our fleet modernization plans.”

The new seats will be upholstered with eLeather, a composition leather made of natural leather fibers. eLeather, which made its debut on Southwest aircraft in 2012 when the EVOLVE interior was unveiled, is manufactured using eco-friendly technology including state-of-the-art techniques which closed-loop recycles 95 percent of the processed water.

The EVOLVE interior is not going away; it will still be on older 737 aircraft, until new 737-800 deliveries and the 737 MAX arrive in the fleet. Unfortunately, EVOLVE was received a lot of criticism as there was not a lot of padding, but this worked out well for Southwest as it would be able to add a few extra seats on all of its aircraft.

SWA_Aft

737 MAX cabin with the new seats // Photo courtesy of Southwest

“Working closely with Southwest Airlines, we determined what the customer wanted, and our talented designers and engineers responded to that need,” said Mark Vaughan, B/E Aerospace’s Vice President, Sales & Marketing. “We’re proud to have partnered with Southwest since 1971 to create innovative products that customers will enjoy for years to come.”

So far, no word on the impact the extra seat width will have on the aisle. Plus, the 737′s cabin is about seven inches narrower than the Airbus A320 family which has a greater average cabin seat width.

Monday night, Southwest tweeted out a photo out hinting that a big announcement about seats would be made. Since there was a B/E Aerospace logo on the seat covers, many rumors about possible IFE and PowerPorts started swirling, but as of now, Southwest continues to remain quiet about any potential plans for USB/PowerPorts being added to the seats.

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Aeromexico and Delta To Take Their Partnership To a New Level

By Roberto Leiro / Published April 8, 2015

Aeromexico (AM) and Delta Air Lines (DL) have filed an application with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Economic Competition Commission of Mexico (CFC) to seek antitrust immunity to set the grounds on a new joint venture that would enhance flight options of both carriers between Mexico and the United States._MG_1790

The application, if approved by both entities, will not just reinforce the already existing commercial and marketing links between Aeromexico and Delta; it would also clear the path to create a $1.5 billion USD joint venture that would offer customers an expanded and optimized network through Aeromexico’s hubs—Mexico City (MEX), Guadalajara (GDL), Hermosillo (HMO) and Monterrey (MTY)—as well as Delta’s key hubs in the United States—Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW), Los Angeles (LAX), Minneapolis (MSP), New York (JFK), Salt Lake City (SLC) and Seattle (SEA)—altogether. Plus, co-locating and investing in airport facilities to improve boarding gates and lounges, and renewing cabin products would have a very positive impact on the overall passenger experience.

RELATED: Delta Air Lines Basic Economy: Right Product for Right Time?

“Mexico is the most popular international destination for Delta customers, and our proposed joint venture will offer our customers more schedule and destination choices, whether traveling for business or pleasure,” said Ed Bastian, Delta Air Lines President. “Approval of antitrust immunity will allow travelers to fully benefit from all the aspects of a future Delta-Aeromexico joint venture, including the combination of two complementary networks.”

“We are thrilled at this opportunity to further deepen our relationship with Delta. The potential to align our networks and scheduling means that we will be able to offer greater customer choice than we would have been able to offer individually,” said Andres Conesa, CEO of Grupo Aeromexico.

The interest of Aeromexico in deepening its relationship with Delta demonstrates the need for the Mexican carrier to settle a vantage point against its direct competitor, Interjet (4O), which is currently redefining its business strategies by code-sharing with oneworld alliance members, American Airlines (AA), British Airways (BA) and Iberia (IB).

Meanwhile, Delta would be able to get ahead of the new bilateral aviation agreement, subscribed between Mexico and the United States in November 2014, to enter in full force in January 2016; this grants unlimited intra-national market access for Mexican and U.S. carriers, among other commercial rights.

With a long-standing commercial and strategic partnership started in 1994, and founders of the SkyTeam alliance fifteen years ago, Aeromexico and Delta Air Lines are currently offering more than 4,000 code-shared flights a week, representing more than 80 daily trans-border round-trip flights. Needless to say, the joint venture offers excellent future prospects for growth in both business and traffic in one of the most competed and fast-growing markets in Latin America.

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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!

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

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Boeing, Airbus Show the Whip to Laggardly Seatmaker Zodiac

By John Walton / Published April 3, 2015

When aircraft are delayed going into service because seats aren’t ready in time, airframers and their airline customers start pointing fingers at the manufacturers responsible. This time it’s Zodiac, the French seatmaking conglomerate whose US subsidiary (formerly Weber Aircraft) is causing headaches — not least to the on-time delivery of American’s 787 Dreamliner, delayed by several months from a 2014 target date. But the public irritation that both Airbus and Boeing are showing is remarkable in its lack of precedent.Zodiac Aerospace LOGO

Part of Zodiac’s problem can be traced to a monthlong strike resolved last September-October, after a summer of labor strife. Yet one month of a non-total strike cannot itself be entirely blamed for Zodiac’s delays, and the company will need to address its failings with its customers. Yet delaying aircraft delivery — and airline plans — is by no means a new event. Notably, American’s Boeing 777-300ER introduction was also delayed for similar reasons.virgin-atlantic-upper-class-dream-suite copy

Previously, Virgin Atlantic’s 2012-era Airbus A330 business class seat was created by former subsidiary threesixty design, now part of Zodiac. The seat, marketed as the Upper Class Dream Suite to distinguish it from the 2003 era pod to which Virgin has now returned on its Boeing 787-9 fleet, was so late to market that Virgin ended up wetleasing out two of its first A330s to Taipei-based China Airlines, in a telltale configuration where a supplementary economy cabin sat in zone 1 in place of Upper Class, followed by the premium economy cabin in its standard Virgin Atlantic location, and then economy down the back. Virgin outfitted other A330s as leisure market aircraft for its London Gatwick/Manchester/Glasgow subfleet without Upper Class, leaving premium economy as the top option on these planes.

The wider industry capacity problem that continues today is one of a consolidating seatmaker base giving airframers fewer brand options. Zodiac, for example, acquired Weber and Sicma in addition to Virgin’s threesixty. The capacity issue is compounded by a longstanding shortage of aircraft interior engineers, a demand hump, capacity planning that appears to be on the “lag” not “lead” model, and the “big steps” problem of increasing production. The impact of Japanese seatmaker Koito’s admission in 2010 that it falsified certification data on seats aboard 32 airlines also contributed to a bottleneck of supply that has still not been resolved.

It’s also about the airframers themselves increasing risk by insisting on restrictive pre-selected catalogue options for seats. Very few airlines have the expertise, scale or capacity to do a Lufthansa and say “We could take aircraft bare and not use their seats,” as Runway Girl Network reported in 2013.

Many airlines, too, want custom seats, which they will often customise to their own specifications for branding or intellectual property reasons. As American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and others discovered, this is often not a recipe for on-time delivery. Diversity of suppliers, a tack which Etihad is taking for its new Business Studio seats onboard the 787 and A380, is a way to mitigate risk and not put all an airline’s business class eggs in one fully flat basket.American Airlines Boeing787-dotcom-business-gallery-1--AA

At the end of the day, the four big seatmakers — alphabetically, Airbus’ Stelia (formerly Sogerma) subsidiary, B/E Aerospace, Recaro and Zodiac — are in an oligopolist position with the two widebody airframers Airbus and Boeing, which are themselves oligopsonists for the seatmakers. Despite notable ongoing growth in premium cabin seating at Thompson and ZIM, as well as some advances in LCC style slimlines from Acro, it would seem that there are too few seatmakers to deliver what airlines want, when they want it.

In related news, Boeing has been forced to park a few of the new 787s destined for American in the desert due to a lack of seats.

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

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Today’s Big Airline Announcements…For April 1

By Airways News Staff / Published April 1, 2015

It was a busy day in the airline industry as many airlines posted some big announcements. In case you missed any of the announcements that came out today (Wednesday, April 1), we have a re-cap.

Delta

If your Biscoff cookie on your next Delta flight is green, don’t worry; it’s not moldy. The cookies are now going to be made with locally-sourced kale, according to a Tweet by Delta.CBhM5b0UYAAuH-Z.jpg-large

About two hours after the Tweet was posted, Delta came back and explained that “Actually, our Biscoff cookies aren’t turning green but they are made with non-GMO ingredients.”

Maybe, the Biscoff cookies will go green for next St. Patrick’s Day to go along with a green beer?

Southwest

Southwest Airlines is now implementing checked-bag fees, since everyone else does it. Pay close attention to the video to understand the process…it’s not as straight forward as it would seem.

Spirit

Boarding process are quite complex, but Spirit will start a brand new boarding process to help clear things up soon:CBhM7PaVEAAnnHY.jpg-large

Getting everybody onto the plane can be a long, confusing process. So we’re instituting a new boarding system that we hope clears things up. Customers will now board in the following order:

1. Gluten-free customers
2. Members of the Illuminati
3. Those with O-negative blood type
4. Lauries
5. Steves
6. Squirrels
7. Secessionists
8. Men with Low T
9. Canadian royalty
10. People who eat kale
11. Business-in-the-front-party-in-the-back Class
12. Everyone else

Don’t worry, if you aren’t a fan of the new boarding process, Spirit is offering $24 dollars off on future flight bookings!

Virgin America

Yesterday, Sir Richard Branson, the founder and CEO of Virgin Group, announced that Virgin Group’s US operations would be moving to Branson, Missouri, and Virgin America would begin weekly flights to Branson from Los Angeles, New York LaGuardia, and San Francisco.aaaaaaaaaaa

However, it is still not possible to book one of the new flights to Branson on Virgin America’s website, and neither the city nor the airline will confirm or deny if Virgin America will launch flights to Branson.

Historically, the Virgin Group has been known for being quite creative and elaborate when it comes to April Fools jokes. In 2013, the company announced that it would create the world’s first glass bottom jet on April 1.

Happy April Fools Day!

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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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Vueling Introduces New Cabin With Airbus Space-Flex

By AirwaysNews Staff / Published March 16, 2015

791092b37e

Photo courtesy of Airbus

Vueling–a low cost Spanish carrier part of International Airlines Group (IAG)–has taken delivery of its first Airbus A320 with a new cabin configuration that offers more comfort and space, even with six extra seats on-board.

Yes, you read that right; the airline has increased its A320 capacity from 180 to 186 seats while ensuring more comfort and space all thanks to Airbus Space-Flex.

When the concept debuted in 2011, the manufacturer explained that it could replace a full-width A320 rear galley with a smaller galley together with the two lavatories that were previously located forward of the rear passenger doors. Plus, the two lavatories could easily be converted into a single and much larger lavatory for wheelchair users which was unique to wide body aircraft at the time.

800x600_1426508100_A320_Vueling_interior_cabin_1

Photo courtesy of Airbus

But wait, there is more.

Airbus Space-Flex V2 is coming soon. A spokesperson for the company explains that “for Space-Flex v2, the swinging partition separating the two v1 lavatories is replaced by a fixed partition featuring a tip-up seat. The wheelchair bound passenger transfers from the wheelchair to the tip-up seat and then, unassisted, to the toilet seat.”

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

Editor’s note: there will not be a newsletter published on March 21, 2015. The newsletter will return on Saturday, March 28, 2015.

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Hawaiian Airlines Joins the Slimline Seat Club

By Benét J. Wilson / Published March 12, 2015

Slimline seats on Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717. Image: Courtesy of Hawaiian

Slimline seats on Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717. Image: Courtesy of Hawaiian

As Hawaiian Airlines announced plans to add slimline seats to its fleet of 18 Boeing 717s, an analyst says it’s becoming the norm for economy class. Hawaiian will use lightweight seats built by UK-based Acro Aircraft Seating Ltd. Other manufacturers of the seats include Germany’s Recaro, Naples’ Geven, Wellington, Florida-based B/E Aerospace and Zodiac Seats U.S.

Right now, Hawaiian Airlines has five different cabin configurations of its 717s, said Jason Rabinowitz, data research manager for Routehappy and a commenter on the airline passenger experience. “The airline is aiming for consistency within its fleet so that there’s a consistent experience for its passengers,” he said.

The seats, by Acro, are a slim as a slimline seat can get, said Rabinowitz. “They are exceptionally thin, but that’s not to say they aren’t comfortable for the carrier’s needs,” he said. “Acro has carved out all the non-essential parts of the seats, but passengers are only flying short hops, not long-haul flights. As long as you’re not sitting for hours, it will be fine.”

Slimline seats are the new standard for carriers, said Rabinowitz. “There are very few airlines not using them now. Even JetBlue is moving to them,” he said. “And this isn’t to say that they’re all bad. The ones JetBlue will have will include power outlets. And Lufthansa has special seats that some people love and some people hate.”

Not surprisingly, on some longer transcon flights, some passengers don’t like sitting in these seats after a few hours, said Rabinowitz. “But like it or not, slimline seats are becoming the new industry standard, like 10-abreast seats on the Boeing 777,” he said.

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Airlines Continue Passenger Experience Upgrades

By Benét J. Wilson / Published March 10, 2015

Star Alliance partners Lufthansa and United Airlines recently unveiled a series of upgrades designed to enhance the passenger experience.  An industry experts applauds the efforts for both carriers, but has concern on their executions of it.

Lufthansa said its changes, based on feedback from customers, will include a new modern cabin design across its fleet and new inflight service concepts designed to target business and leisure travelers. Starting in the third quarter, the German flag carrier has announced plans to add what it calls state-of-the-art seats across all cabins in its long-haul aircraft. The carrier is also upgrading its inflight Wi-Fi by adding FlyNet broadband internet service on all long-haul flights.

EXTRA: Lufthansa Creates New Low-cost Airline Brand

A big part of the cabin upgrade is the installation of premium economy class, which Lufthansa launched on its Boeing 747-8i fleet in December 2014. The carrier says it will install nearly 3,600 seats on 106 long-haul aircraft. The product is currently available on 30 aircraft.

Lufthansa's premium economy cabin. Image: Courtesy of Lufthansa

Lufthansa’s premium economy cabin. Image: Courtesy of Lufthansa

Back in December, Carsten Spohr, chairman and CEO of Lufthansa’s executive board said the carrier was making major changes in the front of the aircraft to become the first Western airline with a five-star airline rating by offering a Business Class with more individualized service.  After testing the product, giving passengers the feel of being in a top restaurant, the concept is being rolled out.

Business class on Lufthansa's Boeing 747-8i. Image: Courtesy of Lufthansa

Business class on Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-8i. Image: Courtesy of Lufthansa

Lufthansa’s new Business Class Restaurant Service, which will be featured on long-haul flights starting this summer, will have the feel of being served in a high-class restaurant. Tables will be set individually, and meals and drinks will be brought from the galley to passengers individually, with each flight attendant having a set number of passengers to serve. The carrier is also adding 7,000 full lie-flat seats on its fleet of long-haul aircraft.

Henry Harteveldt is the founder and travel industry analyst and advisor for the Atmosphere Research Group. “I’m always concerned when an airline  says it will have state-of-the-art seats. That means seats that are thinner and less comfortable,” he said. “Lufthansa’s premium economy seat seems to be a nice hard product, and I’m hearing good things about it.”

Improving Wi-Fi is important, said Harteveldt. “It’s so critical now to business travelers who want to remain connected,” he said. “Travelers are increasingly expecting this as an amenity, regardless of cabin class.”

Lufthansa’s restaurant-style service is a great idea if it can deliver it in the right way, said Harteveldt. “United tried an on-demand meal service and the flight attendants didn’t like it,” he said.

EXTRA: How Singapore Airline’s Premium Economy Stacks Up to the Competition

Doing away with trolleys and offering a more personal service is something that passengers will appreciate, providing the meals match the service, said Harteveldt. “Delta and American roll carts down the aisle, and it really does demean the experience because it’s not pleasant or refined,” he said. “The challenge for Lufthansa with this restaurant experience is having the right number of cabin crew available so if a flight attendant gets a request they can do it without forcing passengers to wait an unreasonable amount of time.”

United Clubs Prepare for Upgrade

Meanwhile, United Airlines has launched a major upgrade of its United Clubs, including food changes, extensive renovations and a focus on hospitality. The airline will launch an all-new free food menu in its 49 United Clubs, ranging from a Greek yogurt bar and hot oatmeal station to hummus with pretzel crisps and peppers.

Food from the upgraded offerings at the United Club. Image: Courtesy of United

Food from the upgraded offerings at the United Club. Image: Courtesy of United

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

The changes will start at United’s flagship club at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The new items will be available at United Clubs in Houston, Denver, Newark, Los  Angeles, San Francisco and Washington Dulles by the end of summer, and all clubs will feature the new food by the end of the year.

In 2015, United will renovate all clubs in Chicago O’Hare, Washington Reagan, Hong Kong and Tokyo Narita airports, and will build new clubs in Atlanta and San Francisco, along with major changes in Los Angeles.

The United Club at Chicago O'Hare International Airport. Image: Courtesy of United Airlines

The United Club at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Image: Courtesy of United Airlines

The new and upgraded clubs will feature a modern style with upgraded amenities that are already showcased in the airline’s Chicago O’Hare, Boston, London Heathrow, San Diego and Seattle United Clubs. The new design is a mix of United’s aviation history and modern-day aviation in action, along with more and diverse seating arrangements.

EXTRA: Delta Unveils New Inflight Cabin Family of Products

And to ensure the passenger experience matches the upgraded facilities, the airline will retrain its United Club agents under a new customer service program during the year. Agents will focus on learning the tricks of the trade in the hotel and hospitality industry to better match club members’ expectations.

While Harteveldt applauds United for its efforts, he noted that the airline is playing catch-up. “The club refresh campaign was announced a few years ago, but I’m disappointed that it’s gone so slowly,” he said. “But it’s definitely needed and will be appreciated by both United’s premium passengers and those who buy day passes.”

It’s definitely a step in the right direction, said Harteveldt. “The economy is strong and the airlines are raising fares and limiting discount fares sold in all cabins,” he said. “As profits improve, it’s good to see airlines investing in their product from nose to tail.”

Lufthansa and United are not alone in their efforts, said Harteveldt. “SAS recently upgraded its long-haul meal service, and we’ve seen stories on how British Airways may be investing in its premium long-haul service,” he said. “Asia carriers are not far behind and of course, the Big Three Gulf carriers are always improving.”

“Any U.S. carrier that doesn’t think they need to invest in their product is deluding itself,” said Harteveldt. “None of the U.S. airlines can been seen as industry-leading when compared to foreign carriers on long-haul routes.”

EXTRA: JetBlue Mint Preview

Look at how JetBlue entered with its Mint product and how it may expand, said Harteveldt. “The Big Three network carriers can’t afford to be complacent and greedy.”

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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How Singapore Airline’s Premium Economy Stacks Up to the Competition

By Benjamin Bearup / Published March 9, 2015

Image: Courtesy Singapore Airlines

Image: Courtesy Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines has announced plans to introduce a new premium economy class to much of its Airbus A380, 777-300ER, and future A350 fleet. The new premium economy class is expected to make its grand introduction on August 9 with service from Singapore to Sydney.

The new premium economy, designed by design firm JPA Design, promises excellent passenger comfort at an affordable price. The premium economy seat will have a width varying between 18.5 and 19.5 inches, depending on aircraft flown. Eight inches of recline will be offered to improve passenger comfort. Seats will feature 13.3-inch inflight entertainment HD monitors that Singapore claims to be the largest in its class. Passengers will also receive noise canceling headphones to “enhance the in-flight audio experience.

Living up to Singapore Airline’s excellent reputation in passenger comfort, the premium economy class seats will be made of full leather furnishings. The seat will also include a calf rest and foot bar to improve passenger comfort. Additional amenities include in seat power, two USB ports, a cocktail table and a large amount of personal stowage space.

An extensive range of food and beverage will be offered to passengers flying in premium economy. Passengers will be able to choose from the traditional economy menu as well as a special premium economy, “Book the Cook” menu. Champagne and an assortment of curated wines will also be available aboard the aircraft.

Image: Courtesy Singapore Airlines

Image: Courtesy Singapore Airlines

But how does Singapore Airlines premium economy compare to the likes of world leading airlines such as Air France, British Airways, Delta, KLM and Lufthansa? For starters, the new premium economy product offered by Singapore Airlines is a game changer in the premium economy market. From a design aspect, Singapore Airlines can only be matched by Air France and Lufthansa.

Poor technological upgrades and early 21st century designs have gradually made the products offered by Delta and KLM seem obsolete compared to products offered by Air France, Lufthansa and now Singapore.

From a technological perspective, all carriers provide quality in-flight entertainment options to premium economy passengers. All six carriers, with the exception of Delta, provide passengers with 110v AC power ports in every seat. Most Delta aircraft with premium economy or Economy Comfort currently do have power ports in every seat; however many domestic aircraft have not yet received interior upgrades. At 11.3 inches, the inflight entertainment screen found on Singapore Airlines will be one of the largest premium economy screens in the industry.

Image: Courtesy Singapore Airlines

Image: Courtesy Singapore Airlines

When it comes to long-haul flights, seat width can often be more important than seat pitch. Many airlines and passengers have begun to take notice in recent years. With a total of 18.5-19.5 inches of seat width, Singapore Airlines is set to offer one of the widest premium economy seats in the sky.

Long-haul competitor and fellow Star Alliance member Lufthansa is the only carrier to feature a wider premium economy seat, at 19.7 inches. These ultra-wide premium economy seats can be found on the carrier’s new 747-8i aircraft. Air France and British Airways premium economy class products fall between 18.5 and 19 inches, while SkyTeam partners KLM and Delta lag behind with only 17.2-18 inches of width.

Seat pitch is one of the most critical measurement in any aircraft seat. With 38 inches of seat pitch, the new premium economy offered by Singapore Airlines is very average. Air France, British Airways, and Lufthansa all offer the exact same seat pitch on their premium economy class products. Once again, KLM and Delta fail to meet what appears to be the industry standard of 38 inches, with only 34-35 inches of pitch offered.

At the end of the day, Singapore Airlines has once again raised the bar in its new premium economy class product. Although not mind-blowing, the new product offers passengers exceptional seat space that can only be matched by Lufthansa.

Dining options and pre-flight services are slightly above average, with passengers flying in the new premium economy receiving special menus and priority check in, boarding, and baggage handling. It is yet to be seen how this premium economy product compares in regards to inflight entertainment, functionality and overall comfort. These are all aspects that will be judged when the product is launched in August.

Image: Courtesy Singapore Airlines

Image: Courtesy Singapore Airlines

Singapore is estimated to have spent $80 million to upgrade 19 A380s,19 777-300ERs, and 20 A350-900s with the premium economy class seating. Seat manufacturer ZIM Flugsitz GmbH was chosen for the A380 and 777-300ER fleets, while manufacturer Zodiac Seats US was chosen for the Airbus A350-900 fleet.

Cities expected to receive premium economy service from Singapore include Auckland, Beijing, Delhi, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Manchester, Mumbai, Munich, New Delhi, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, Tokyo and Zurich. Additional routes receiving premium economy service will be announced throughout 2015 and into early 2016.

Cover Image: Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

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Inside Bombardier’s CSeries CS100

By AirwaysNews.com Staff / Published March 5, 2015

All Images: Courtesy of Seth Miller

The interior of the Bombardier CSeries CS100. All Images: Courtesy of Seth Miller

As part of last week’s CSeries CS300 first flight festivities, Bombardier Aerospace gave the media a look inside the interior of CS100 FTV5, including the test rig and some seat photos.

EXTRA: Bombardier CSeries Completes First Flight

Bombardier says it is creating the future with the CSeries family, which is going head to head with Airbus and Boeing in the 100- to 149-seat, single-aisle market. Interior features of the CSeries include:

  • More space for carry-on bags;
  • Capacity to stow oversized carry-on bags measuring 24 x 17 x 11 inches wheels first;
  • Lower bin access; and
  • Extra large windows measuring 11 x 16 inches.

EXTRA: Inside the Bombardier CSeries CS100 Flight Deck

The interior of the Bombardier CSeries CS100. Image: Courtesy of Seth Miller

The interior of the Bombardier CSeries CS100. Image: Courtesy of Seth Miller

 

Seth Miller is the AirwaysNews contributor who attended the CS300 first flight. He is also the founder of the Wandering Aramean blog and writes regularly about the airline passenger experience.

“For a regional jet the design does well in providing overhead bin space; wheels-in stowage for a 22-inch bag is a nice touch,” said Miller. “Compared to the newer Boeing Sky Interior or Airbus bin designs, however, it is still a bit tight.”

From a personal comfort perspective, this is not the configuration to judge on, since it is configured with the maximum capacity seating for evacuation testing, and not a typical customer layout, said Miller. “But the `normal’ height ceiling adds comfort compared to regional jets and the lavs are as close to full size as I’ve seen on a narrow-body airplane in a while,” he said. “It shows plenty of potential for being a comfortable ride.”

See below for a slideshow of the aircraft’s interior.

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Second Airport Offers Travelers Access to Mobile Passport App

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 27, 2015

Image: Courtesy of Airside Mobile

Image: Courtesy of Airside Mobile

A mobile passport app developed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and  Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) is now in operation at Miami International Airport. The app, created by Airside Mobile and in operation at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, allows passengers arriving in the U.S. to enter and submit their passport and customs declaration information, bypassing paper forms.

CBP has been innovative in coming up with efforts to help passengers get through Customs quickly with programs like Global Entry and passport kiosks, said Hans Miller, CEO of Airside Mobile, which created the app. “We wanted to come up with a solution that would address security and privacy issues, and this is a good one,” he said.

CBP and ACI-NA worked together to decide which airports should test the app, said Miller. “But obviously, you have to have a strong field staff at Customs and the airport to start,” he said. “It also has to be an airport where all the stakeholders are ready to take the app on. There were plenty of airports that we could have considered.”

Miller declined to give out traveler use numbers or downloads. “But I will say that among the 20,000-plus travel apps in iTunes, our app got as high as number 31 on the top apps list,” he said. “And the app is consistently in the top 100 travel apps.”

Atlanta has a strong program that lets them process passengers much more quickly, and think Miami can accomplish that goal too, said Miller. “What’s nice about the mobile passport app for airports is there’s not much required in physical infrastructure or space, it’s inexpensive to install and easy to run because most of the equipment is in people’s phones,” he said.

Airside Mobile worked with CBP to develop extremely strong security protocols, said Miller. “The standards we used in the app are standards that have been developed and defined by the U.S. government in the past 10 years,” he said. “CBP keeps track of who enters the country. We do not have access to the information entered into the app because it’s stored in the phone, not our database.”

Earlier this month, the White House, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security announced a plan to modernize and improve the arrivals experience at more airports across the country, including allowing more airports to use the mobile passport app. CBP has committed to expand the program to the 20 airports with the highest volumes of international travelers by the end of 2016. The app will be rolled out at three more airports in the next few months, Miller added.

Cover Photo: AirwaysNews

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The Future of Apple Pay in Commercial Aviation

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 26, 2015

Image: Courtesy of JetBlue

Image: Courtesy of JetBlue

As JetBlue and airport concessions operator SSP America became among the first to use Apple Pay in the airline/airport space, an analyst sees the possibilities for travelers, but notes that other options are already available. Apple Pay allows iPhone users to do things including paying with Touch ID and paying for purchases within existing apps.

JetBlue says it’s the first major domestic carrier in the U.S. to accept Apple Pay in the sky for thing including food, beverages and even a seat upgrade. And SSP American currently accepts Apple Pay at its quick-serve restaurant locations at Sacramento International Airport, JFK Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

David Coher is a principle of reliability and cybersecurity for Southern California Edison, one of the nation’s largest electrical utilities and an attorney. “Apple Pay is a good pay vehicle option for airlines, airports and others. It provides an additional convenience for customers, making it easier for them to buy, and it provides added security, for customer cyber safety,” he said. “In addition, it takes advantage of certain customers’ strong preference to pay in this manner. Allowing payments by Apple Pay can have a benefit for an airport or airline’s image as it presents the business as on the ‘cutting-edge’ of technology.”

Apple Pay digitizes the payment process by storing a user’s credit card information, from a traditional credit card account in the Passbook app.  “Upon payment, Apple Pay requires a secure method of identity verification, either a fingerprint on the iPhone’s or iPad’s Touch ID or a special PIN-like code, in the case of the Apple Watch,” said Coher. “Upon confirmation of a user’s identity, the Apple Pay service generates a dynamic security code. The code is sent, by the user’s iPhone, or iPad, or Apple Watch, to the NFC (Near Field Communications) antenna on the point of sale terminal.”

Airlines, airports, and others who wish to accept Apple Pay will need to work with their bank or credit card processor to ensure that they can accept the payments, said Coher. “In addition, they will need special equipment. While virtually any terminal with an NFC antenna will work, vendors will need one to receive the payments,” he said. Some examples of formats that utilize NFC are Visa’s PayWave, MasterCard’s PayPass and AmEx’s ExpressPay; any of these terminals should be able to receive Apple Pay payments, he added.

“Depending upon the business and its relationship with its bank or credit card processor, this may be an inexpensive proposition, for a few new Point of Sale terminals, a.k.a. credit card machine, at a few store locations,” he said, “or a very expensive proposition for an airline to provide new equipment for every single plane in its fleet.”

Customers will need the latest model of Apple’s products, including  the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3. “When the forthcoming AppleWatch is released, those with an iPhone 5 (or 5c or 5s) will also be able to pay with ApplePay,” said Coher.

Airlines and airports should consider adding Apple Pay for customer preference and convenience, said Coher. “Just as businesses need to adjust to changing customer preferences for products and services, businesses need to adjust to customer preference in form of payment,” he said. “The acceptance of different payment formats is a customer service issue.”

But Apple Pay does not expand the field very much, said Coher, since it allows for payments to be made by customers at businesses that already accept credit cards. “There may be some added convenience as customers are already likely to have their phone in their hands, as they move through a terminal,” he said. “But, the customer still has to ‘do something’ with the phone to use it to make a purchase.”

The next frontier in convenience will be enabling a transaction without requiring a touch or a code, said Coher. “This may be possible with the Apple Watch, but we’ll have to see how this works in practice when the device comes out,” he said.

Currently, Apple Pay can only be used in the United States, said Coher. “I understand that it will be expanded to Canada next month, but that still leaves the rest of the world out of the game for now,” he said. “Finally, remember that Apple Pay is not the only game in town. Google just recently purchased SoftCard, which will likely make its Google Wallet platform very competitive.”

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Is Virgin America Wrong Not to Upgrade to Lie-flat Seats?

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 24, 2015

First class seats on a Virgin America A320.  Image: Courtesy of Virgin America

First class seats on a Virgin America A320. Image: Courtesy of Virgin America

As airlines have made major upgrades to their premium cabins for transcon flights, eyebrows are being raised as Virgin America chooses to add pillows instead of putting lie-flat seats in first class as its competitors have done. The battle is being played out on flights between JFK Airport and Los Angeles International and San Francisco International airports.

EXTRA: The Transcon Wars: The Ultimate Airline Battleground

 

American Airlines uses a three-class Airbus A321T for its transcon service. The aircraft offers fully lie-flat first and business class, with all-aisle access in first.

First class cabin on American Airlines' Airbus A321LT. Photo: AirwaysNews

First class cabin on American Airlines’ Airbus A321T. Photo: AirwaysNews

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

United Airlines uses a Boeing 757 to operate its  p.s. Premium Service flights. The carrier recently reconfigured its fleet, replacing its angled lie-flat and recliner seats with full 180-degree flat-bed seats and complimentary duvet and pillow.

United p.s. Service First Class Seat Info-Graphic Image: Courtesy of  United

United p.s. Service First Class Seat Info-Graphic
Image: Courtesy of United

EXTRA: InFlight Review: New York To Seattle via Los Angeles and Back on Delta

Delta Air Lines is using three Boeing 757s and two international 767-300ERs with lie-flat seats in BusinessElite between New York and Los Angeles. The carrier’s 767 transcontinental product features updated interiors including 26 full flat-bed BusinessElite seats with direct aisle access at every seat in a 1-2-1 configuration. The 757 transcontinental aircraft includes 16 full flat-bed seats arranged in a 2-2 configuration in the BusinessElite cabin.

Delta Air Lines'  transcontinental BusinessElite cabin on a Boeing 757.  Image: Courtesy of Delta

Delta Air Lines’ transcontinental BusinessElite cabin on a Boeing 757.
Image: Courtesy of Delta

EXTRA: JetBlue Unveils New Premium Product in NYC

And JetBlue listened to its customers who wanted an upgraded experience on the carriers flights from New York and Long Beach and San Francisco by offering its Mint product on an Airbus A321. The Mint product features four closed suites and 12 business class seats, all with lie-flat beds.

JetBlue business class "mini-suite" with sliding door. Image: Courtesy of JetBlue

JetBlue business class “mini-suite” with sliding door. Image: Courtesy of JetBlue

Henry Harteveldt, founder and travel industry analyst and advisor for the Atmosphere Research Group, said while he doesn’t disagree with Virgin America CEO David Cush’s decision, he is concerned. “I’m concerned because on transcon flights, a lie-flat seat is now the standard,” he said. “I understand why they’re not investing in lie-flat seats because that costs money, but I’m concerned that Virgin America will become even more of a laggard than it already is.”

Pillows are nice, said Harteveldt. “But when you’re competing against four airlines with compelling premium experiences, including lie-flat seats, it’s not enough,” he said. “Virgin America may not like the fact that lie-flat is now the norm in transcon premium cabins, but it can’t ignore it or hide from it.”

Virgin America already has a limited route network and schedules, said Harteveldt. “I’m concerned that it may be forced into more of a price discounter in order to maintain their market share,” he said. “The market has moved on. They have gone, in seven years, from a leader to a laggard, and it’s not a good position for them to be in.”

One can argue whether lie-fat seats are needed on transcons, even on red eyes, said Harteveldt. “But doesn’t matter, because United, Delta, JetBlue and American all have true lie-flat seats. Anyone can match a pillow and a gourmet meal,” he said. “Virgin America needs to figure out what they want to be as a business, because they are up against strong, ably run competitors.”

Cover Image: Courtesy of Virgin America

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Best of Airways Magazine: Norwegian and the New Viking Invasion

By Jeff Kriendler / This story first appeared in Airways magazine in September 2013.

Kjos and crew celebrate the arrival of the first Norwegian service to New York on May 30. Image: Courtesy of Norwegian

Bjørn Kjos and crew celebrate the arrival of the first Norwegian service to New York on May 30. Image: Courtesy of Norwegian

After eight years’ service in the Royal Norwegian Air Force (Luftforsvaret) guarding the country against Soviet intrusions, in 1975 Bjørn Kjos made a life-changing decision: rather than follow members of his squadron to careers with Scandinavian Airlines System, he chose to complete his law studies,  later arguing cases before Norway’s supreme court.

A love of flying and his legal skills converged to draw him back to aviation when he provided counsel to friends at Busy Bee. Founded in 1966 as a subsidiary of Braathens SAFE, Busy Bee lost a government contract which forced it into bankruptcy in December 1992. Kjos built the skeletal remains of that company—and saved the jobs of many of his friends—into Norwegian Air Shuttle (Airways, September 2003).

A Norwegian Air Shuttle Fokker F50 flying a PSO (Public Service Obligation) route between Tromsø and Lakselv in April 2003. Image: Courtesy of Norwegian

A Norwegian Air Shuttle Fokker F50 flying a PSO (Public Service Obligation) route between Tromsø and
Lakselv in April 2003. Image: Courtesy of Norwegian

From his office in Oslo, built for Braathens and then SAS Norway’s headquarters, Kjos tells Airways, “At my age (67), I should be cleaning out my garage.” Instead, he is overseeing a low-cost carrier that has revolutionized value travel in northern Europe and has begun a global expansion with flights from Oslo and Stockholm to New York and Bangkok, and service to Fort Lauderdale from Copenhagen [København], Oslo, and Stockholm to begin by the end of the year.

Kjos’s mantra at Norwegian —‘Everyone should be able to afford to fly’—is fostered by offering a combination of low fares and high-quality air experiences based on punctuality and friendly service. The airline attracts both business travellers seeking more attractive prices along with reliability, and leisure flyers who crave value.

Scandinavia is among the world’s most expensive regions, with Oslo rated the most costliest city in the world by ECA International (followed by Tokyo and Stavanger). Indeed, both SAS and Norwegian have the dubious distinction of reporting the highest cost per employee in Europe, ahead of Iberia and Air France-KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. SAS’s labor costs are 32% of total revenue, compared with Norwegian’s 16%, reflecting the LCC’s greater productivity.

For decades before Norwegian’s rise, SAS commanded the air transport market both within Scandinavia and from the lands of the Vikings to many commercial and leisure points throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Sun-starved and flush with disposable income, Scandinavians are avid travellers, especially during the short, dark, cold days of winter when air travel is the only way to reach solar warmth for limited holiday breaks.

Now, Norwegian has broken SAS’s stronghold and expanded to 382 routes connecting 121 destinations with more to come, and is currently the third largest LCC in Europe with annual revenue exceeding $2.2 billion.

Flying family

For Kjos, flying has been a family affair. As a child his father owned a Piper Cub and taught Bjørn piloting skills. After training in Mississippi and Arizona, he became a fighter pilot, flying Lockheed F-104 Starfighters for the RNoAF. Kjos’s wife was a former flight attendant at SAS, and one of their daughters is a co-pilot at Norwegian (one of 37 female pilots there), while his son heads the airline’s frequent flyer program. His other daughter works at UNICEF, a charity which Norwegian sponsors.

True to his Norwegian blood, Kjos is an avid sportsman, enjoying sailing, skiing, and mountain hiking. The airline is his passion, however, and even on a rare break he constantly monitors operations with proprietary software that allows him to track performance. He has found time to write a spy thriller and is now working on the history of Norwegian Air Shuttle. The airline business has not only been “fun” for Kjos, but also extremely lucrative with his 23% shareholding in Norwegian being worth NOK1.7 billion ($293.5 million) at today’s valuation. In the past year alone, the company’s stock has tripled in value.

Norwegian has ordered 100 Boeing 737-800s (pictured), plus a similar number of 737 MAX 8s and Airbus A320neos. Image: Courtesy of Stefan Sjogren

Norwegian has ordered 100 Boeing 737-800s (pictured), plus a similar
number of 737 MAX 8s and Airbus A320neos. Image: Courtesy of Stefan Sjogren

Norwegian Air Shuttle had a very modest start, using a nucleus of former Busy Bee staff to continue operations on behalf of Braathens. When that independent airline was acquired by SAS in November 2001 and all sub-contracts were terminated (Airways, March 2002), rather than fold his company Kjos acquired a former Braathens Boeing 737-500, then secondhand 737-300s, and began to compete against the Scandinavian giant on Norwegian domestic routes. He took the company public, listing on the Oslo Stock Exchange in December 2003. Four years later, Norwegian bought 100% of Swedish LCC FlyNordic. As part of the transaction, former owner Finnair acquired 4.69% of Norwegian, that stake being resold to private investors in April 2013.

Always a leader in technology, Norwegian introduced ticketless travel and distribution, greatly reducing administrative costs, and then launched in-flight high-speed broadband service aboard its fleet of 737-800s, a type that was introduced in 2009. Kjos espouses paperless and other forms of ecological practices, with 82% of sales coming from direct Internet transactions. From its principal base at Oslo-Gardemoen (Airways, February 1999), Norwegian has expanded to establish domiciles in Bergen, Trondheim, and Stavanger in Norway, with Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Helsinki covering the other Nordic capitals. To maximize crew efficiencies, bases have also been set up at London Gatwick, and Málaga, Alicante, and Las Palmas in Spain.

Cabin of a Norwegian 737-800 fitted with a Sky Interior. Image: Courtesy of Norwegian/Kristin Lillerud

Cabin of a Norwegian 737-800 fitted with a Sky
Interior. Image: Courtesy of Norwegian/Kristin Lillerud

Europe’s largest mega-order Norwegian burst onto the global aviation landscape when it ordered 222 aircraft in January 2012 and announced its intention to fly to New York, Fort Lauderdale, and Bangkok. Currently the fleet consists of 74 jetliners, of which 65 are 737-800s, with an average fleet age of 4.6 years. As additional 737-800s join the fleet this year, the 737-300s will be phased out.

The 2012 order consisted of 100 737 MAX 8s, 22 737-800s (for a total of 100), and, for the first time, a commitment with Airbus for 100 A320neos. It was Europe’s largest order ever. In addition to the single-aisle fleet, Norwegian is adding eight 787-8s for intercontinental services.

Norwegian purchased the slots for three Dreamliners from Icelandair in 2011. Another five will be leased from International Lease Finance Corporation for 12 years. Delayed by the grounding of the Dreamliner following battery fires, the first two 787s will come online by the end of the European summer, with a third in November and three deliveries set for 2014 and one in 2015.

The 32 seats in the premium economy cabin of the Dreamliner have a pitch of 46in (1.16m); economy ones are spaced at 31in (78cm). Image: Courtesy of Norwegian

The 32 seats in the premium economy cabin of the Dreamliner have a pitch of 46in (1.16m); economy ones are spaced at 31in (78cm). Image: Courtesy of Norwegian

Norwegian and Virgin Atlantic Airways have partnered for 787 pilot training. Says Kjos, “We can draw on their experience in longhaul operations while Virgin gets access to our 787 aircraft.” Virgin’s first 787-9 is due in September 2014. Kjos also hints that Norwegianmay work with JetBlue Airways for connecting flights.

To protect passengers who gobbled up the bargain fares when long-haul schedules were announced, Norwegian wet-leased two A340-300s from HiFly of Portugal. Says lawyer Kjos about the Dreamliner delays, “I have no intention to sue Boeing—I believe in resolving disputes amicably.”

A Nordic LCC model

Norwegian is not a typical LCC. Kjos is keen to appeal to the business traveller by offering a pricing advantage over legacy carriers, while sustaining a hassle-free environment and flying to main airports rather than faraway secondary terminals, as is the standard European LCC model. WiFi, frequent schedule options, and the lack of annoying lines add to the appeal for frequent travellers. For budget-minded passengers, Norwegian aims to make the travel experience “dignified,” in contrast to some other LCCs that treat customers like commodities, the Nordic boss emphasizes.

“At Norwegian, we give the passengers the freedom to choose what they want,” Kjos points out. “We do offer additional legroom and travel flexibility for a premium, but do not charge for carry-on baggage, and of course Wi-Fi is complimentary—a big selling point to both business and leisure markets.”

Wi-Fi is very popular with customers; besides free Internet access to browse the Web, they can rent movies and TV shows directly to their e-reader, smartphone, or laptop for a modest 7 ($9.25). Norwegian was the first airline in Europe to offer this feature, which boasts 40 films and 130 TV programs. The service is streamed on a separate network so it does not affect the Internet speed for other passengers.

Marcus Forss, a Swedish-American musician, says, “For me, Norwegian offers a balance of relatively cheap airfares and high standards. One could say the airline fits somewhere in between SAS and Ryanair, in that ticket prices are more affordable than SAS, and the flight experience is of a higher standard and less gimmicky than Ryanair.”

With the lowest fares, checked bags are charged at a rate depending on sector length; blankets as well as food and drinks are paid per consumption. The airline is particularly proud of its on-time performance—85% departure punctuality.

Anders Magnusson, a Stockholm businessman and frequent Norwegian customer, offers another ringing endorsement: “Last year, I flew by both Norwegian, several of the European flagship airlines, as well some of the other low-cost airlines in Europe. I have ended up selecting Norwegian whenever I can. I like Norwegian’s balance between price and service level in its broad sense. Norwegian’s aircraft are modern and well kept, they offer free Internet onboard, the cabin attendants are nice, and the food and the drinks are quite okay. We Swedes often make jokes about Norwegians, we hate to lose to them in sports but we still like them as people—perhaps we are just a bit jealous of their oil,” Magnusson admits.

Norwegian’s percentage of ancillary revenue to total income is 12%, a low share for comparable European LCCs, and this is an area for growth without the need to offer tray table backs for advertising.

The airline has recently set up a cargo company. Says Bjørn Erik Barman-Jenssen, previously with Braathens and now Norwegian’s director ground operation and in-flight services: “With our continued growth and launch of flights to the USA and Thailand, this is the right time to establish a separate unit to maintain and develop the carriage of goods and mail to ensure optimal utilization of available cargo capacity.”

Previously, Norwegian had carried cargo only within Scandinavia. Carnegie analyst Preben Rasch-Olsen of Oslo notes that traffic trends favor LCCs in Europe that have recorded growth of 12% annually since 2006, while the legacy airlines have achieved only 2% per year. The success of LCCs has prompted full-service carriers to get tough with their unions, cut payroll, and sell money-losing subsidiaries, causing labor unrest leading to work stoppages, especially at Iberia and Lufthansa, says Rasch-Olsen.

Operating efficiencies

The key to Norwegian’s success has been its ability to keep costs low despite operating in Europe’s most expensive home market. Kjos credits this efficiency to the acquisition of modern aircraft, automation, and outsourcing. For example, the company performs IT (information technology) and backroom administrative functions in Kiev, Ukraine, and Riga, Latvia, because of eastern Europe’s good work skills—and low pay.

All ground handling is contracted out as well, and while some engineering functions are conducted at Stavanger, heavy maintenance and engine overhauls are tendered.

“The fuel-efficient ’plane is the tool to control costs and expand profitably,” Kjos explains, with his sights set on further growth to Asia, where Finnair has proved that a strong market exists. The Finnish flag carrier now flies from Helsinki to 13 cities in Asia, including four in China, and many of those passengers originate in Norwegian’s breadbasket.

Kjos believes that the Chinese pose the biggest future competitive threat, and is planning to introduce other services to the Far East as his long-haul fleet grows. He says that the future market between Asia and Europe will originate increasingly in the East. “The new competitors will be Asian-based carriers, not the Europeans as it is today.”

Industrial relations

For its first ten years of operations, Norwegian directly employed all pilots and cabin attendants. To align its costs more closely with those of Asian airlines, Kjos has instituted a policy of hiring crews on short-term contracts, a practice common with LCCs in Europe and considered ‘social dumping’ by organized labor, and—at least in principle—by the majority of Scandinavians.

This allows Norwegian the flexibility of entering new markets without concern for a long-term commitment and lowers operating costs. As expected, this change has not landed smoothly with the Norwegian government and labor unions, especially Parat, a union representing 32,000 workers in private and public sector jobs in Norway, including 2,000 at Norwegian.

Vegard Einan, the union’s vice president, states “For the permanent workforce and the reputation of aviation it is important for Parat that the majority of the personnel is permanently employed to be the supporters of a strong and sound safety culture, and that the contracted crew sees the importance in adapting to this culture, and have an opportunity to be permanently employed when the production and need for crew is permanent.

“We have no wish in obstructing the possibility to hire foreign crews. In fact we have already collective agreements securing that this is possible. However, we want to prevent workers from a low-cost country competing with personnel in a country with higher costs. If you are paid in Spain, you should work and live in Spain, and not do all your work in Norway or other countries with a higher level of living costs.

“Parat and I think Bjørn Kjos is one of the most positive things that have happened to Norwegian and European aviation this last decade. He probably is one of the most successful and most intelligent CEOs aviation brand. EasyJet, and Southwest in the USA, have proven that unions, and collective agreements, are possible and profitable in the LCC market.”

Philip von Schoppenthau, secretary general of the European Cockpit Association, tells Airways, “Social dumping in the aviation sector is a growing phenomenon. It is already a reality for many cabin crews working across Europe and is on the increase for pilots as well. It can take the traditional form of hiring crews from another country where social and labor costs are lower. Or it takes more innovative forms, such as where an airline forces crews to set up bogus companies in a low-tax/low-social security country that then sell their services to a temporary work agency that in turn sells the pilots’ services to the airline.

“All risk and all social and tax contributions that the airline would normally have to bear are thereby shifted to the ‘independent’ service providing pilots, who are on contracts that can be ended at the company’s will and at very short notice. Such inventive set-ups—which we have seen develop in Ireland and which are now swapping over to other countries—offer an unfair competitive advantage to such an airline, while its competitors comply with the rules and employ pilots regularly and as normal employees. This is social dumping—just in a different wrapping.

“The issue is Norwegian Air Shuttle’s controversial plan to hire cabin crews—and possibly pilots in future—from Asia through an office in Bangkok. These cheaplabor crews would replace Norwegian crews not only on flights to Asia, but also on flights within Europe. This destroys well-qualified jobs in Norway and Europe which is hardly desirable,” he adds.

Norwegian is operating intercontinental services under an ACMI (aircraft, crew, maintenance, insurance) wet-lease arrangement with Norwegian Long Haul, an entity formed last September. With a separate operating certificate, Norwegian Long Haul 787s could be registered overseas—such as in Ireland—thus circumventing restrictions against hiring contract employees.

SAS fights back

Because the modern-day Norwegian Viking chose the legal profession over a flying career, Kjos has now evolved into one of SAS’s fiercest competitors. Analysts point out that SAS battles with Norwegian in most of its Nordic markets, and is now also fighting on long-haul routes.

Thor Heyerdahl, the Boeing 737-500 (ex-Braathens LN-BRU) that operated the first Norwegian LCC service from Oslo to Trondheim on September 1, 2002, is ‘cleaned’ upon departure. The same day, Norwegian inaugurated schedules from Oslo to Bergen and Tromsø, followed a week later by Stavanger. Image: Courtesy of Kjell Oskar Granlund

Thor Heyerdahl, the Boeing 737-500 (ex-Braathens LN-BRU) that operated the first Norwegian LCC service from Oslo to Trondheim on September 1, 2002, is ‘cleaned’ upon departure. The same day, Norwegian inaugurated schedules from Oslo to Bergen and Tromsø, followed a week later by Stavanger. Image: Courtesy of Kjell Oskar Granlund

Commenting on the new Norwegian services, Eivind Roald, SAS’s executive VP sales & marketing, notes, “We operate from different business models. SAS relies on a strong network at both ends while Norwegian only has its own network in Scandinavia. We will be able to effectively compete on long-haul routes, reaching many different destinations, and with a commitment to offer the best network, best product, and most attractive prices. In addition, we have a joint venture agreement with Singapore Airlines and code-share with Thai Airways which makes us able to offer a wide range of destinations and flights to our customers.”

Roald also criticized Norwegian’s policy of outsourcing, saying, “SAS is based on a Scandinavian model where employees work and live in Scandinavia, having benefits and agreements based on this. We think this an important part of our company, and we continue with this model. To SAS, it is important that the competition is based on a framework consisting of equal and predictable conditions. Challenging these premises could create a competition where some companies have unfair advantages—and this is, of course, not right. The playing field is not level unless national and international authorities decide upon equal and predictable conditions. We expect everyone to follow existing laws and regulations, and that we will have a fair competition.”

Reacting to Norwegian’s growth, Roald says, “We have interviewed customers who have told us that they want to have flexible and easier products that save time and have attractive prices. This is why we have created two new service classes: one [SAS Go] for passengers who want to have a lot, and one for passengers who want to have even more products.”

Ironically, Norwegian’s success is credited in part for forcing SAS’s unions to accept a rescue plan that saved the conglomerate from oblivion late in 2012. Kjos says that SAS’s survival is good news for Norwegian as he believes the collapse of SAS would have prompted Ryanair to aggressively increase its presence in Scandinavia, much as it did when Malév Hungarian Airlines failed in 2012.

Freddie Laker…or Thor?

“Norwegian is, in my opinion, the best low-cost/budget airline flying today,” says Bergen native Bjørn Knudsen, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland. “Their aircraft are clean and bright, and based on my experiences, always on time. Furthermore, it was the first budget airline to let you book a specific seat, which has forced others to do same. They were also the first to offer Internet inflight and at airports. If Bjørn Kjos was an Englishman, he would today be a lord for his excellent contribution to modern air travel,” Knudsen asserts.

His is not a lonely opinion, but one shared by the thousands of passengers that voted Norwegian as Europe’s best LCC of 2013 in the SkyTrax World Airline Awards. Like his Viking forebears, Kjos is bent on conquering the world, this time by “democratizing international air travel.” Norwegian’s recent traffic gains (+27% in April) and first quarter financial results (revenue +23%) support fans who say Norwegian is for real and the world is their smörgåsbord, or koldtbord.

With a route network that now spans Europe, North Africa, Asia, and North America, the Norsemen sport the broadest geographical expanse of any LCC. But the question of whether he will be hailed as a Freddie Laker clone or a marauding Thor, plundering and pillaging labor on four continents, has yet to be answered.

Norwegian honors the country’s notables by adorning its tails with their likenesses, such as Olympic ice skater and film star Sonje Henie and composer Edvard Grieg. As the fleet expands, famous Norwegians now share the sky podium with fellow Nordic achievers from fields such as literature (Hans Christian Andersen of Denmark), science (Sweden’s Anders Celsius), and activists (Finland’s Minna Canth). Look for Bjørn Kjos to join the pantheon of Norse honorees by taking to the skies on the tail of a 787 as yet another Norwegian explorer out to shrink the globe.

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The Passenger Experience on U.S. Airlines Versus the Big Three Gulf Carriers: Fair Fight?

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 17, 2015

Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Image: Courtesy of Emirates

Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Image: Courtesy of Emirates

Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum threw down the gauntlet in a recent interview with Bloomberg, responding to U.S. carriers’ complaints about Middle Eastern carriers taking away passenger thusly: “improve your offering and they’ll come back.”

But is it really that simple? Emirates, along with its Middle East competitors Etihad and Qatar Airways, have been on an aircraft buying spree and have been rapidly expanding their route networks into the United States.

Emirates currently flies to 142 destinations in 78 countries in Dubai, including eight routes in the U.S. Etihad serves 63 destinations in 42 countries, including six U.S. destinations. And Qatar Airways serves 146 destinations on six continents, with seven U.S. cities.

In a past story, Senior Business Analyst Vinay Bhaskara argueed that U.S. carriers “do not `want’ to make passengers miserable; in fact quite the opposite. Airlines are simply giving customers what they want.” “That most passengers would prefer a nicer, more premium travel experience is what most people mean when they discuss what customers `want,’” he wrote. “A better definition of “want,” is what consumers are willing to pay a profitable price for.”

EXTRA: Airlines Are Giving Customers Exactly What They Want

And U.S. carriers have been rolling out passenger experience initiatives with great fanfare, with several noting they are using record profits, partially driven by lower fuel prices, to pay for the upgrades.  In December, Alaska Airline unveiled its Alaska Beyond concept, which includes a brand-new inflight entertainment system, new Recaro seats and improved food and beverage options.

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

In the same month, American Airlines announced plans to invest $2 billion in passenger experience items including new seats across all cabins, satellite-based Internet access and upgraded Admirals Club lounges with new food and furniture.

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

Delta Air Lines followed suit on the same day, unveiling its Comfort+ cabin, a slight upgrade from the current economy comfort product. The new Comfort+ product features the four extra inches of legroom and priority boarding, along with including new seat covers, free beer, wine and spirits, premium snacks on flights more than 900 miles, premium inflight entertainment and inflight Wi-Fi on domestic flights.

Delta's new Comfort+ product. Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Delta’s new Comfort+ product. Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines

EXTRA: Delta Unveils New Inflight Cabin Family of Products

And United Airlines announced plans in November to spend $120 million to do a major upgrade of Terminal C at its Newark Airport hub, including upgraded food options and more than 6,000 iPads for ordering food and beverages, surfing the web and checking on flight statuses.

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

Daniel Levine is a global trends expert and frequent flyer who believes that airline competition is a great thing. “I know business people complain about unfair competition between American and Gulf carriers. But what we’re actually saying to American carriers is shape up and offer better service,” he said. “American carriers complaining about competition smacks to what we were hearing back in the day when U.S. auto manufacturers cried about competition and asked the federal government to help level the playing field with subsidies and loans.”

Etihad's "The Residence," board the Airbus A380. Image: Courtesy of Etihad

Etihad’s “The Residence,” aboard the Airbus A380. Image: Courtesy of Etihad

But it is tougher challenge for American carriers to compete, Levine admitted. “Unlike the Gulf carriers, American airlines have to answer to Wall Street,” he said. “The Street is looking for higher earnings every quarter and the Gulf carriers don’t have that pressure. They are not constrained by a quarterly earnings report.”

Paul Wilke, CEO Upright Position Communication and a frequent flyer, agreed with Levine. “The Gulf carriers have advantages in a few areas. One, they are government-subsidized airlines,” he said. “They are flying out of a region that’s a central hub that allows travelers to get to places around the world easier.”

U.S. carriers have a different business model, said Wilke. “They are more about having smaller planes, and they can’t sustain luxury in their first class and business class like Emirates can,” he said.

First class seats aboard Qatar Airways' Airbus A380. Image: Courtesy of Qatar Airways

First class seats aboard Qatar Airways’ Airbus A380. Image: Courtesy of Qatar Airways

U.S. carriers are going to have to invest more in their cabins as they face more competition from the Gulf carriers, said Levine. “American carriers are somewhat protected now because the Gulf carriers aren’t flying to may U.S hubs. But Emirates opened a nonstop route from New York to Milan,” he said. “And the Gulf carriers are getting stronger. At the last Dubai Air show, Emirates ordered 100 Boeing 777Xs, long-range aircraft that can fly around the world.  And Etihad and Qatar Airways placed their own large aircraft orders at the show.”

But Wilke said he’s encouraged by what he’s seen from U.S. carriers. “American Airlines is taking big steps to step up its game in its first and business class cabins,” he said. “But U.S. carriers still playing catch-up and have a long way to go against Gulf carriers and operators like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines.”

A business class seat on an Emirates Airbus A380. Image: Courtesy of Emirates

A business class seat on an Emirates Airbus A380. Image: Courtesy of Emirates

Levine notes a big change he’s seen in travel habits because of the Gulf carriers. “Passengers used to fly westward to go to Asia, but people are now flying eastward through the Gulf hubs to get there because of better prices and better service,” he said.

Wilke believes that Gulf and other international carriers have done a good job in marketing themselves as premium carriers. “U.S. carriers are trying to be all things to all people,” he said. “When you do that, it’s harder to market [that product] and get people to pay for a truly luxurious service.”

So this can be a threat to U.S. carriers from a brand perspective, said Wilke. “The big three Gulf carriers and other international airlines can market that premium brand,” he said. “U.S. carriers can’t compete with that and maintain their  business model of being all things to all people,” he said. “That’s the space that the big three Gulf carriers don’t even pretend to operate in.”

Cover Image: Courtesy of Boeing

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