Category Archives: Airline Passenger Experience

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

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Flights

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

More Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: American Airlines’ 2015 Fleet Plan

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

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

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

Cover Image: Courtesy of JDL Multimedia

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Inflight Review: EVA Air Elite Class

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren  / Published February 10, 2015

BR11JDL-1-2

Taiwan-based EVA Air recently invited AirwaysNews.com to try its Elite Class premium economy service. The carrier was one of the first to experiment with premium economy, rolling it out back in the early 1990s. But whether EVA or Virgin was first is the subject of an ongoing heated debate.

The aircraft for the 10.5-hour scheduled flight was one of the carrier’s increasingly rare Boeing 747-400s.

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

Boarding began 15 minutes late due to a late arrival from the prior flight. Business class and rewards members board first, followed by Elite class. Thanks to dual jetways and being the first economy-level passengers to board, there was no backup typical of the boarding process.

The seat is 20A, located immediately behind the mid-section galley. Consequently, it is also a coveted bulkhead row, granting a little extra space than the cabin already has. Bags easily find space overhead in the bins. There may not be pre-flight drinks passed around, but there is a bottle of water.

The aircraft is approaching 20 years old and, while in good condition, still shows its age. The most noticeable is the older onboard product. Unlike the Boeing 777-300 I flew in on earlier that week, the Queen of the Sky has one of the older iterations, now a step or two removed from the latest and greatest.

EXTRA: EVA Air Plans to Launch Flights to Chicago and Houston in 2015

Yet first impressions can be deceiving; despite its age, the product isn’t half bad. Arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, each Elite Class seat has 19.5 inches of width and 38 inches of pitch. The recline is substantially more than economy, though exactly how much I’m not sure. There is a leg rest, too, though I’ve never found them to be terribly useful at the shallow angles most are restricted to (EVA was not an exception). A USB and multi-national power port kept devices powered up. It was a very welcome plus I didn’t expect that is not available in regular economy.

BR11JDL-1 BR11JDL-2

The biggest plus, however, is far more simple: it’s just comfortable. Big, plush-type seat cushions reminded me more of a 1990s domestic business class than the slimline style of today. A nice pillow and heavy blanket helped to make the best of the long flight, and I slept nearly five of the 10-plus hours on board.

BR11JDL-5While the rest was more than welcome, it was also problematic, as I somehow slept through both major meal services. The friendly cabin crew offered me the option to eat each time afterward, but a mildly queasy tummy left me not wanting to partake. Rumbles of hunger did manage to overcome the queasiness long enough to enjoy a heavier snack; a meat and cheese croissant sandwich. It hit the spot nicely and tasted just fine, but wasn’t anything to brag about.

EXTRA: Flight Review: Eva Air Royal Laurel Business Class on a Boeing 777-300ER, via AirlineReporter.com

Beverage choices were predictable; a mix of juices, sodas, and alcohol. I stuck with my usual return flight plan, alternating between juice and water.

BR11JDL-4To help whittle away the time, I watched a handful of movies on the inflight entertainment system, Star Gallery. Run from the eX2 platform, it consisted of the usual suspects: movies, TV, music, map, etc. Western, read American, selections were a bit limited; something I’ve noticed on other non-U.S. carriers (really shouldn’t be surprising, but for some reason we Americans expect it all to revolve around us). I did manage to find a few good movies, knocking off the better part of five hours. A pair of provided headsets was above average in quality.

The flight landed on time, at just past six in the evening in Seattle. The only international arrival at that hour, there was no wait in Seattle’s typically congested immigration hall. With no bags checked, I was on the curb in 15 minutes.

Bottom Line

While it recently upgraded its product on its Boeing 777 fleet, its aging 747s have not received the love. And it probably won’t either: EVA says it has no plans to place new interiors into its three-strong 747 fleet. Then again, the jets won’t be around much longer, most likely another two years at most.

Yet the airline also faces an increasingly strong threat from ever-stronger regional entrants to the market. China Airlines, Singapore Airlines and others have recently added, upgraded or announced new, competitive products and service. In addition, they’ll fall across the exceptionally wide premium economy experience spectrum.

BR11JDL-3As to where on that spectrum EVA falls, its service was closer to economy plus than business class lite. Despite claims that the food is a little better, it tasted on par with what I’d expect from regular economy. Several EVA regulars I spoke with on the flight also said that they hadn’t noticed any discernible difference. Almost everything else, service-wise, is the same as the folks in back.

That leaves Elite Class resting mostly on the value of its hard product. The 747, as noted, certainly wasn’t the newest or shiniest. But I’d be hard pressed to find something more comfortable.

EXTRA: EVA Air To Increase North American Flight Frequencies

If you’re looking to buy, do your homework on the options. If you’re looking more for a business class lite, you won’t find it on EVA. But if an extra comfy economy-plus is your game, Elite Class has your name.

Images: Courtesy of JDL Multimedia

Disclaimer: EVA Air provided one-way Elite Class service from Taipei to Seattle. Our opinions remain independent.

Editor’s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Friday evening, subscribers get a recap of our top stories of the week, the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column wrapping up interesting industry stories and a Photo of the Week from the amazing AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!

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American Unveils New Legacy Airline-Themed Amenity Kits

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 3rd, 2015

American Airlines Heritage Amenity Kits 1 (all 9)

Image: Courtesy of American Airlines

American Airlines today unveiled a new piece of its ongoing $2 billion investment in the passenger experience with a new amenity kit that also serve as a nod to the carrier’s past.

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

Starting this month, American Airlines is offering nine limited-edition amenity kits, given out on most international and transcontinental flights, that honor nine airlines that laid the foundation for the new American: American Airlines, PSA, Air Cal, Reno Air, Allegheny, TWA, America West, US Airways and Piedmont.

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

EXTRA: American Unveils New 767-300 Cabin Product

Inside the new kits are toiletry products from red flower, a New York-based, eco-friendly beauty and lifestyle company. International business class kits include contain fabric lining, a pair of socks and an eye mask styled with the colors of a specific heritage airline, a toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash, covers for Bose QuietComfort Acoustic Noise Cancelling headsets, earplugs, a pen, tissues and hand lotion, lip balm and wipes.

EXTRA: American to Add WiFi To Regional Jets

The transcontinental first class kits contain the same items as business class, but also include a larger kit with three red flower products in addition to face lotion. Customers will also receive upgraded pajamas in a color-block pattern and non-skid, 100-percent cotton terry slippers. Both kits are contained in a felt case inspired by designer bags and can be re-used as a mini-tablet case. The legacy themes will debut in batches of three every four months.

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Cover image: Courtesy of American Airlines

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

By Benét J. Wilson / Published February 2, 2015

A Delta Air Lines Airbus A319 at LAX. Photo: AirwaysNews.com

A Delta Air Lines Airbus A319 at LAX. Photo: AirwaysNews.com

As Delta Air Lines continues to expand its Basic Economy product, an industry analyst expresses mixed feelings on its implementation. Basic Economy offers travelers rock-bottom fares in exchange for no advanced seat selection and no refunds if plans change.

Delta started exploring what a Basic Economy product would look like back in March 2011, said spokesman Paul Skrbec. “We also looked at some of our product strategy we put in place post [Northwest Airlines] merger in January 2010 as we started to announce things like full lie-flat seats and inflight Wi-Fi,” he said.

Even at that point, the plan was to differentiate the Delta experience and products for customers, and with a large and varied fleet, it took time to get things introduced into the marketplace, said Skrbec. “Once we got to critical mass, we knew it was time for the next step, which happen on December 5, with our five different products,” he said. Those products are:

  • Delta One, formerly BusinessElite, on long-haul international routes; also between New York-JFK and Los Angeles or San Francisco;
  • First Class, on short-haul international and domestic routes;
  • Delta Comfort+ Plus, an upgraded experience on all two cabin aircraft;
  • Main Cabin; and
  • Basic Economy offers Main Cabin service with fewer flexibility options available in select markets.
The economy class cabin in a Delta Boeing 767. Image: courtesy of Jason Rabinowitz

The economy class cabin in a Delta Boeing 767. Image: courtesy of Jason Rabinowitz

Henry Harteveldt is the founder and travel industry analyst and advisor for the Atmosphere Research Group and a long-time observer of passenger experience trends. On the one hand, he feels that Delta has responded to the challenge from ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) in a thoughtful and effective way.

“What they have done is create a fare that certainly has the lower price point that the most price-sensitive travelers will focus on. And Basic Economy will give Delta a tool to compete in third-party distribution partners on price basis with ULCCs,” said Harteveldt. “Delta has also done a very good job of removing any of the perfume associated with this fare that would attract corporate travelers or SkyMile Elite travelers.”

Basic Economy offers no seat assignment until check-in and travelers forfeit 100 percent of their fare if they cancel and they can’t get upgrades to premium cabins, said Harteveldt. “All this helps the airline focus Basic Economy fares to the purely price-focused, brand-neutral traveler,” he said.

When thinking about inflight products, there’s a wide spectrum of different customers, said Skrbec. “We recognize that we have consumers who have a price sensitivity where that is the number one driver in travel purchase decisions,” he said. “Elements of a fare may not be the most important to them. Business travelers, for example, need flexibility for same-day confirmed options for earlier or later flights.”

But Harteveldt is also concerned about the Basic Economy product. “Delta has become a company that has evolved into a brand as a premium carrier, so should they offer product like BE,” he asked. “You do not see premium retailers offering bargain basements in their own stores. They have sales and discounts, but Nieman Marcus and Saks don’t try and compete with Walmart.”

Depending on how Basic Economy is implemented, Harteveldt feels it could undermine Delta’s position as a premium airline. “I think Delta has done things that are good with Basic Economy, because it’s not Economy Minus or a cabin-within-a-cabin,” he said. “Once a traveler gets on the plane, they get the same experience that any main cabin Delta passenger gets. From that standpoint, Delta did a good job.”

Right now, it’s all window dressing, said Harteveldt. “What I want to see six months to a year from now is how the changes manifest through Delta’s website and GDSs,” he said. “I’m also concerned with naming and positioning, because it could cause confusion on the part of customers.”

But clearly Delta is going in the right direction, said Harteveldt. “Based on their comments, Delta said that 80 percent of their customers given the choice of a Basic Economy fare choose another one,” he said. “It shows that Delta is keeping a sharp eye on growing ancillary revenue.”

Cover image: courtesy of JDL Multimedia

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Industry Leaders Share Passenger Experience Trends for 2015

By Benét J. Wilson / Published January 28, 2015

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

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Luke Hawes of Priestmangoode

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: Use of Beacons to Improve the Passenger Experience Grows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The IFE system on JetBlue. Image: Courtesy of JetBlue

The IFE system on JetBlue. Image: Courtesy of JetBlue

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

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

Image: Courtesy Spirit Airlines.

Image: Courtesy Spirit Airlines.

EXTRA: Delta Unveils New Inflight Cabin Family of Products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Luke Hawes of Priestmangoode

By Benét J. Wilson / Published January 28, 2015

Luke Hawes. Image Curtesy of Fran Monks

Luke Hawes. Image Courtesy of Fran Monks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business class seat on Turkish Airlines.

Business class seat on Turkish Airlines.

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

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

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

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

Seat detail on a South African Airways Airbus A320.

Seat detail on a South African Airways Airbus A320.

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

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

Thai Airways' Royal Silk cabin on the Boeing 777.

Thai Airways’ Royal Silk cabin on the Boeing 777.

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Rick Blatstein of OTG

View of the Embraer E2 cabin.

View of the Embraer E2 cabin.

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

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

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

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Flashback: Onboard the Inaugural Airbus A380 Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: Singapore A380 Brochures and Memorabilia

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

EXTRAPhotos from the inaugural Airbus A380 flight

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

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Contact the writer at jack.harty@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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On-Board the Inaugural Qatar Airways A350 Flight

By Guest Contributor / Published January 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: On-Board Qatar’s A350 Delivery Flight

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Contact: benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Delta To Start West Coast 717 Operations In June

By Jack Harty / Published January 16, 2015

717_Fleet_Photo_V31

Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: Delta Inaugurates Boeing 717 Flights Between Atlanta and Newark

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

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Airlines Are Giving Customers Exactly What They Want

by Vinay Bhaskara / Published January 15, 2014

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

A cabin on Spirit Airlines. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

A cabin on Spirit Airlines. Image Courtesy of AirwaysNews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Contact the author at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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Qatar Airways A350 XWB Introduced to the World

By Seth Miller from Doha / Published January 10, 2015

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

IMG_8849

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

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

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

Business class cabin on the Qatar Airways A350

Business class cabin on the Qatar Airways A350

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

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

Economy cabin on the Qatar Airways A350

Economy cabin on the Qatar Airways A350

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8772

The End of First Class

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aircraft Tracking

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airways.com

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

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

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

PHOTO: TIM DE GROOT

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PHOTO: TIM DE GROOT

THE TWILIGHT OF THE MD-11

by ENRIQUE PERRELLA

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


PHOTO: JETBLUE

THE DESIGN AIR — TOP 10 INTERNATIONAL FIRST CLASS CABINS

by JONNY CLARK

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


PHOTO: QR

QATAR AIRWAYS IS REACHING FOR THE CUTTING EDGE 

by BENET J. WILSON & CHRIS SLOAN

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


SEA

PHOTO: SEA

SEATTLE-TACOMA AIRPORT REVIEW

by ALBERT RODRIGUEZ

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


PHOTO: ANDREAS ROHDE

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

by ANDREAS ROHDE

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


PHOTO: AUSTRIAN

AIRLINE REVIEW: AUSTRIAN AIRLINES

by JEFF KRIENDLER

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


Mohawk DC-3-1 - Copy

MOHAWK AIRLINES, PART TWO

by DAVID H. STRINGER

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


PHOTO: CX

AIRWAYS INTERVIEW: RUPERT HOGG – CATHAY AIRWAYS COO

by ANDREAS SPAETH

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


 

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AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Rick Blatstein of OTG

By Benét J. Wilson / Published January 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: United Eyes Improvement at Newark Hub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXTRA: Building A Better LaGuardia

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

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

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

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

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

Other AirwaysNews High Flyer Interviews:

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: FlightAware CEO Daniel Baker

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Air India Chairman Rohit Nandan

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Bombardier’s Rob Dewar

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Boeing’s Randy Tinseth

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: Embraer’s Luís Carlos Affonso

AirwaysNews High Flyer Interview: American Airlines CEO Doug Parker

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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