Category Archives: Airline Passenger Experience

ANALYSIS: DOJ Overreaches with Investigation Into Airline “Collusion”

By: Vinay Bhaskara / Published July 6. 2015

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

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

According to the DOJ website:

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

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

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

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

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

Contextualizing the Problem

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

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

Capacity moves have been driven by Wall Street

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

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

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

A situation of the DOJ’s own creation

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

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

The most important philosophical question is which stakeholders matter 

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

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

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

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

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Editor‘s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly Newsletter. Every Saturday morning, 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!

Contact the author at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

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

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Vietnam Airlines Takes Delivery of its First Airbus A350 XWB

Following a special ceremony held in Airbus premises in Toulouse today, Vietnam Airlines has taken delivery of the first A350-900 aircraft on a lease from AerCap. Altogether, the airline is set to acquire 14 A350 XWB, including 10 ordered directly to Airbus and four from lessors.

The aircraft, scheduled to arrive to Hanoi tomorrow, will inaugurate commercial service later this week, initially on the Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh domestic sector and then on non-stop flights from Hanoi to Paris, and it will be progressively deployed for its operation on long haul routes, thus expanding the airline fleet comprised by Airbus A321, A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft.

RELATED: The Airbus A350 XWB: A Timeline

“The arrival of the A350 XWB marks the start of a major upgrade of our long haul fleet,” said Trinh Ngoc Thanh, Executive Vice President, Commercial, Vietnam Airlines. “Combining the latest technologies, a wider cabin and the highest levels of comfort, the A350 XWB will enable us to fly our passengers in style whichever class of travel they choose. We are proud to be the second airline in the world to receive the A350 XWB aircraft which is a step forward that helps us to fulfill our commitment to “reach further.”

Vietnam Airlines opted to configure its A350 fleet with a premium three-class layout, 29 Business Class seats, 45 Premium Economy and 231 in Economy Class, complemented with a state-of-the-art in flight entertainment and connectivity, intended to bring a new level of service to passengers while also benefiting from enhanced profitability and increased competitiveness in the long-haul premium sector.

A350_XWB_Vietnam_Airlines_in_flight_6_close_up_

Vietnam is a key growth market in Asia and is expected to continue to record much higher-than-average growth in traffic – estimated at approximately 8.4 per cent annually over the next 20 years, according to Airbus’ latest Global Market Forecast.

“We are proud to see Vietnam Airlines become the second airline in the world to operate the A350 XWB,” said Fabrice Brégier, President and CEO, Airbus. “We are confident that the all-new A350 XWB will enable Vietnam Airlines to consolidate its position as one of Asia’s leading international carriers, bringing its passengers the best the industry has to offer.”

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

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

To date, Airbus has recorded a total of 781 firm orders for the A350 XWB from 40 customers worldwide, already making it one of the most successful wide-body aircraft ever. The aircraft handed over today is the fifth A350 XWB to be delivered, following the type’s entry into commercial service with Qatar Airways—its first operator—earlier this year.

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

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

Editor‘s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Saturday morning, 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!

Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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New SITA Product Will Help Airlines Improve the Passenger Experience

By Benét J. Wilson / Published June 30, 2015

United Business First flatbed seat. Image Courtesy of United Airlines

United Business First flatbed seat. Image Courtesy of United Airlines

Global IT travel provider SITA says it had the solution for airlines to take their passenger experience to the next level with Horizon, its next-generation passenger system. Horizon allows airlines to track passengers’ preferences and determine each customer’s overall value so that they can personalize their service and make relevant offerings.

The Horizon passenger ancillary sales portal allows relevant ancillary services to be offered consistently across any sales channel – mobile, online, agency or call center. Horizon is a Passenger Services System – the technology that manages reservations, inventory, ticketing, and departure control for an airline, said Allison O’Neill, SITA’s vice president of passenger services.

“So, any passenger of airlines, ground handlers and other air transport industry organizations that use Horizon benefit from its advanced capabilities.  Last year Horizon helped 137 million passengers make an airline booking and 167 million passengers check-in for flights,” said O’Neill. “In addition to reservations, inventory, ticketing, and departure control, Horizon also manages merchandising, fares management, pricing and shopping capabilities. Self-service booking via web, kiosk and mobile are provided directly to passengers along with distribution via third-parties. Related functions include revenue management tools, loyalty and business intelligence solutions.”

Horizon Customer Profile is a module within the Horizon Portfolio that enriches the experience for all passengers of an airline, said O’Neill. “It is used to create bookings, to record interactions with passengers across touch points, and to equip staff to consistently recognize and acknowledge valuable passengers at any stage in their journey, she said.

Each airline with a Horizon account has access to SITA’s Customer Profile database, a key component of the system, said O’Neill. “This is a  rich repository of data about each individual customer that is shared across the portfolio and users,” she said.

Typical customer data includes:

  • Contact details, passports and preferences as well as payment;
  • Loyalty membership data with entitlements and customer service indicators, driving consistent recognition of loyalty status and ensuring associated benefits are delivered accurately and consistently;
  • Attributes, such as VIP status and relationship data – family, online social, corporate and travel agency relationships, for instance; and
  • Other interests pertinent to destinations and activities and potentially of value to customer service and marketing teams.

Horizon is also able to assess a passenger’s value to the airline based on: loyalty membership tier – taking into account past booking value stored in the loyalty system and linked to the customer profile; booking history, if for example you are not registered in the airline’s loyalty program, based on  past records linked from the customer profile; and other attributes, such as VIP status and relationships to VIPs, social influence and more.

SITA chart jpg

The customer profile paints a complete picture of the airline passenger – it maintains the data in one area to be used consistently at every interaction with the client, said O’Neill. “So that no matter who from [an airline] is dealing with [a passenger], they have all the current information to serve you best,” she said. “It affects what is offered to you at any point of service. If something happens and a front-line employee needs guidance on how to serve you, we can provide service prompts that guide the employee (airline system users) to appropriate courses of action. So in the event of a disservice, the airline can offer appropriate compensation and retain your loyalty.”

On a basic level this is about ensuring that a loyal, top-tier frequent flyer receives the extra perks — extra checked bag, no charge for extra legroom, lounge access — they are entitled to no matter how or where they choose to book and customize their travel with an airline, said O’Neill. “In a more sophisticated sense it’s about giving an airline the ability to recognize and differentiate its offer based on the specific context of a passenger’s journey.

O’Neill cited the example of being able to differentiate a weekend trip with family from a routine business commute and using that knowledge to predict the likelihood to need and want additional services such as meal upgrades based on past purchase behaviors for a similar type of journey. “For this example, after collating the data stored and available in customer profile you, the passenger, could be offered discounted meal upgrades for your entire family and promotional offers specifically curated to include a discounted bundle incorporating your preferred hotel and car rental brands,” she said.

The data is collected from entries made as a passenger books with the airline, either directly or indirectly through an agent, membership of the loyalty system, and information provided at check-in or through interactions with airline staff, said O’Neill. “Notes of interactions can include references to incidents and customer communications as well as a log of automated processes. Airlines using SITA’s Crew Tablet can  relay customer experience data to and from onboard the aircraft,” she said.

It is all about knowing the passenger so that the airline can give them what they want – across the journey and using any device — mobile, web, agent and more, said O’Neill. “Customer profile data can tell the airline about its customer demographics and service preferences. They can learn about which customers are delivering the most business , where, when and why they fly, what additional services they purchase, how they purchase, their  loyalty status, who travels with them and so on,” she said. “That enables the airline to tailor services, including flight network, pricing and services options to meet the needs of its market. They can also learn where their service falls down and take action to rectify it.”

The airline has a lot more data that can be used to understand passenger needs, said O’Neill. “At the IT Summit [recently] held in Brussels, we demonstrated our Horizon Business Intelligence tool that enable airlines to evaluate their business, identify issues, see trends, uncover opportunities and make intelligent decisions on strategic or operational improvements,” she said. “We currently offer five dashboards that enable an airline to understand its business and make informed decisions for improved operations and revenue performance.”

A Horizon customer profile ensures an airline can recognize and recover from a disservice event – in other words to try to make an unhappy customer happy again, said O’Neill. “If a passenger’s flight has been delayed or they have experienced multiple flight cancellation events, then this information can be configured to trigger a recommendation presented to the gate agent or cabin crew indicating that passenger is eligible for a free upgrade or drink voucher along with a heartfelt apology,” she said.

The number of employees will depend on the airline size and the Horizon modules used, said O’Neill. “Horizon serves large and small airlines. Some of our customers have only a handful of airplanes; yet the same system supports major carriers including Air India and Malaysia Airlines. Customers may choose the modules they need,” she said.

Airlines are beginning to see loyalty as central to their mission, as a core philosophy woven into each and every facet of airline operations, said O’Neill. “Loyalty comes from creating customer satisfaction – building an enduring relationship beyond a single sale. To earn it, airlines need to know their customers,” she said. “And based on this knowledge, they need to recognize customers as individuals.”

There’s compelling cost logic to a focus on loyalty as well, said O’Neill. “Acquiring a customer costs: estimates put it between four and ten times the cost of retaining a customer. So it makes sense to recognize that happy customers provide the greatest potential for airline revenue generation initiatives,” she said.

Earning trust and loyalty requires more than simply selling more stuff to each passenger, said O’Neill. “Airlines need to better understand each passenger and use that knowledge to offer them the right product or service in the right channel at the right time,” she said. “SITA is committed to support airlines as they evolve from simply selling more stuff to passengers to implementing more sophisticated retailing practices built on top of enhanced understanding of their passenger’s wants and needs.”

Understanding each passenger and being able to tailor and personalize the products or services offered is essential for airlines to achieve sustained profitability, she added.

SITA’s Customer Profile and the ability to sell ancillary services in direct channels are already available, said O’Neill. “Later this year we will launch an upgraded Customer Profile and Value algorithm that is the cornerstone of enhanced personalized service,” she said. “We are in the processing of rolling this out with a major European airline and expect approximately five more to be using it by the end of the year.”

Cover Image: Courtesy of JDL Multimedia

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Virgin Atlantic Goes For Gold In Economy and With Dreamliners

By Ramsey Qubein / Published June 30, 2015

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

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

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

RELATED: Virgin Atlantic Welcomes the 787-9 in Atlanta

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

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

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

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

Back-of-the-bus catering gets an upgrade

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring your selfie stick

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

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

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

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

 

Surprise and delight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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ANALYSIS: JetBlue Crescendoes In Boston With New Mint Offering

By: Vinay Bhaskara / Published June 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston is now a powerhouse

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

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

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

——

All fare data courtesy of masflight.

Contact the author at vinay.bhaskara@airwaysnews.com

 

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Qatar Airways Fleet Display Dominates Paris Air Show

By John Walton / Published June 24, 2015

Qatar Airways is returning home to Doha with many of the stories of the Paris Air Show under its belt. After enjoying being one of Boeing’s showpiece orders for the 777F and the 777-8, Qatar’s whopping five aircraft on static display — more than all other airlines combined — made a key political point to the aviation industry and Western governments.

Qatar is here to stay, it has an enviable onboard product, and it isn’t afraid to ground a veritable fleet of aircraft for a week to make its point, say the Airbus A380, Boeing 787, Airbus A350, all-business class Airbus A319, and mid-haul Airbus A320 aircraft at Le Bourget.

These weren’t pre-delivery aircraft that were still the responsibility of the airframer, in the way that Boeing brought a China Airlines 777-300ER so new that anyone going on board had to don protective booties, parts of all three cabins were roped off, and nobody was allowed to sit on the seats.

Panorama

No, these were actual flying Qatar Airways aircraft that had been taken out of service for the best part of a week to allow industry execs, partners, professionals and of course the world’s assembled media to crawl all over them from nose (flight deck doors were open) to tail (so were the crew rests, and so busy that a decent picture was impossible).

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Photographs galore and welcomed by smiling helpful flight attendants arranging immaculately plumped pillows and luxury washbags on the very latest seats — it was like dying and going to air show heaven.

Qatar Airways’ A380 shows remarkable interior restraint

The pride of the fleet is Qatar Airways’ Airbus A380, with its remarkably understated and elegant first class cabin.

Qatar Airways Airbus A380 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8789

The signature Qatar rose gold blends relatively unobtrusively with the deep burgundies and warm woods, and the decision to go for an open first class cabin rather than a closed suites-based environment is a refreshing change.

Qatar Airways Airbus A380 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8786

Business class is Qatar’s widebody standard, a very respectable implementation of the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond outward-facing herringbone, where centre seats point together and window seats point towards the window.

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If anything, business feels more private than first class, given that you’re pointing away from the aisle.

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Qatar’s A380 economy, too, is impressive — just 31 inches of pitch, but in a spacious 2-4-2 minicabin upstairs and the standard 3-4-3 throughout the lower deck.

Qatar Airways Airbus A380 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8801

The all-new A350 is spectacular

On the A350, business class is the front cabin, and you’re welcomed with an eyecatching rose gold dome at the doors.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8959

The seat is the same as the A380, although the significantly wider A350 cabin and a large break in the middle of the business class section for the door and open entryway gives it an even more spacious feeling.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8958

However, the unbroken length of the cabin also has a downside: with the increasingly quiet cabin of the A350, will there be too little noise to mask a couple of chatty passengers and a few snorers?

Qatar Airways Airbus A350 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8945

Oddly enough, the most impressive part of the A350’s construction for this journalist is the overhead bin structure, which is the same in business and economy.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350 - Paris Air Show - IMG_9520

The sharp sweep of the bins’ curve hides roomy storage areas while making the cabin immensely more open and airy.

Speaking of airy: a newly built widebody aircraft with individual air nozzles is remarkable enough to mention. More airlines need to choose this option when outfitting their newest aircraft.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350 - Paris Air Show - IMG_9513

The A350’s economy seats are pleasantly wide, with an articulating seat pan that tilts passengers into a more relaxed position.

Qatar Airways Airbus A350 - Paris Air Show - IMG_9523

The generous recline, however, means that when the passenger in front pushes back, they are so close that you feel like you should be giving them a neck rub. (Please don’t unless they are in your travelling group.)

One final niggle: the adjustable headrests on the A350 don’t go high enough to clear this 6’3” journalist’s shoulders.

Qatar’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner is tight in economy

Qatar’s 787-8 feels, appropriately enough, a little smaller than the A350. Business is the top offering here too, and the seats are the same B/E Super Diamond outward-facing herringbones.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8895

Economy, though, is not a great experience. Qatar opted for a nine-abreast 3-3-3 seating, but chose standard width aisles rather than the cut-down version other airlines use in this configuration. The aisle is noticeably wider than on other similarly laid out 787s.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8878

The tradeoff with choosing the wider aisle — like the problem with the old Northwest A320 family aircraft — is that seat width has to be reduced to accommodate it. Qatar’s 787 seats are the narrowest this journalist has ever experienced, and it’s really quite noticeable for a frequent traveller.

Qatar Airways Boeing 787 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8884

Swish all-business A319 is a great ride

No such problems on the all-business class Airbus A319 narrowbody, which holds forty passengers in leather-clad exclusivity on premium routes or charters.

Qatar Airways Airbus all-business A319 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8938

Interestingly, the seats are less spacious in the all-biz A319 than in regular business class on larger aircraft, with a 2-2 layout of B/E Diamond fully flat beds that lack the direct aisle access for all passengers of the Super Diamond seen on the widebodies.

Qatar Airways Airbus all-business A319 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8942

The kicker, though, is travelling with just thirty-nine other people. Time the arrivals right and you just breeze through the airport without a full aircraft of people behind you.

Even Qatar’s A320s are pleasant inside

Qatar also brought one of its mid-haul A320 aircraft to Le Bourget, which is outfitted with the same seats as the A319, but just twelve of them, and in a cloth moquette rather than leather.

Qatar Airways Airbus all-business A320 - Paris Air Show - IMG_8925

Economy is a very standard 31” in pitch, but that’s towards the higher end of standard these days, and these birds do have full inflight entertainment.

Interestingly, Qatar refitted this mid-haul aircraft with sharklet wingtips after it was delivered. The benefits of sharklets are greatest for longer flights, where the aerodynamic improvements offset the extra weight more efficiently.

Qatar Airways Airbus A320 - Paris Air Show - IMG_9247

 

Paris Air Show Stories:

A “Quiet” Paris Air Show: Great for Attendees and Observers

Paris Air Show 2015 (Day 0): Bombardier CSeries Aircraft Debuts at Le Bourget

Paris Air Show 2015: Qatar Orders 14 Boeing 777s, Ups Threat to Leave Oneworld

Paris Air Show 2015: SWISS Confirms CS-300 Order

Paris Air Show 2015: Honeywell Radar Improves Airport, Aircraft Efficiency

Paris Air Show: ATR Pushes High-density, High-efficiency Turboprops

Paris Air Show: Indonesia Takes Action on Aviation Safety Concerns

Paris Air Show: Boeing’s Little Orders Are Big Wins

Paris Air Show: Ethiopian Takes `Terrible Teens’ 787s from Boeing

Paris Air Show: Volga-Dnepr Places Major Boeing 747-8F Order

Paris Air Show: Leasing Companies Order Big at Airbus

Paris Air Show: Airlines Go Shopping in the Airbus Catalog

Paris Air Show: 2015 a Slow Year for Orders

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

—–

Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

 

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American Airlines Unveils New Premium Food/Beverage Program

By Benét J. Wilson / Photos by Benét J. Wilson / Published June 23, 2014

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – American Airlines first and business class travelers can expect to see major changes in the carrier’s food and beverage programs on the ground and in the air beginning on July 1.

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The airline held an exclusive event near its headquarters where select media and top-tier customers were given details on the new program, and allowed to sample new food and wine offerings. The program is part of American Airlines’ $2 billion investment in the passenger experience announced in December 2014.

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

Sheri Whitley, American Airlines’ manager of retail programs, discussed what premium customers could expect on the airline’s short- and medium-haul flights. “A full meal is not what you want. You want light bites, and tapas-style dishes,” she said.

On the domestic first class menu, travelers will see: warmed nuts as a starter; appetizers including antipasto skewers, tomato tart, wedge salad, kale and romaine salad; entrées include beef filet with lobster mac and cheese; shrimp and grits; lasagna; lentil chili for vegetarians and an Asian salad that can be served with or without chicken; and a salted chocolate caramel sundae for dessert.

Food collage 2

“We have a survey we do randomly every week with our passengers and we work with our flight attendants,” said Whitley. “We design these dishes on the ground, but they might not work inflight, so we work with our flight attendants on making sure they work.”

Russ Brown, director of dining and retail, said the focus is on seasonally inspired modern cuisine. “When travelers see a sample of our larger menu, they’ll see bright, simple and fresh food with no heavy sauces,” he said. “It raises the bar on food.”

Celebrity Chef Sam Hoy, known for his Pacific Rim cuisine was brought in to consult on some menu items, including Wagyu Meatloaf with Sriracha Ketchup and Steamed Sea Bass with Ginger Cilantro Pesto Rice. “This has been fun to do. We took simple, recognizable items like meatloaf and upgraded it with Wagyu beef and the ketchup,” he said.

Food collate 1

On the domestic first class menu, travelers will see: Spicy Crab with sushi rice, Burrata Cheese and Edamame Hummus as appetizers; Beef Oscar, the sea bass, Lobster Risotto, the meatloaf, Pan Roasted Coconut Lime Chicken and Tumeric Paneer.

And the food on the ground in the carrier’s Flagship Clubs are also getting an upgrade. Nick Richards, director of premium services and customer experience strategy, said the airline is taking a global approach with the food.

“Not only will customers see items including crudités, soups and yogurt, but hummus and cereals are being introduced. We’ll also have things like composed cold salads and brownie bites,” said Richards. “We’ve already started introducing some items, and more will come out in the fall.”

Regional snacks in the Flagship club include Peruvian Causa Yellow Potato with Dungeness Crab Ají for South America, Ricotta whipped with lemon and extra virgin olive oil on a crostini for Europe, Cool Sesame Soba Noodles and Chicken Satay for Asia and An All-American Macaroni and Cheese Fritter for North America.

Food collage 3

Ken Chase is American Airlines’ wine consultant. He has a team that whittles down from more than 1,000, representing wines from around the world. “The white burgundy that will be aboard international first class flights was among 60 my team tasted,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we get what the customers want.”

Wines will be swapped quarterly, said Chase. Vintages being served in International first class are: Aaldering Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Stellenbosch from South Africa; Domaine Rene Lequin-Colin Clos Devant Chassagne-Montrachet; and the champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Vintage. International business class and trans-continental first class offerings are G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba and Chateau St. Jean Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay Alexander Valley.

The general reaction to the food by the premier travelers who attended the event was good. They commended the airline for offering vegetarian options that weren’t heavily sauced pasta, the new fresh salad options and one commented that the food was going back to what they were pre-9/11.

Cover Image: Courtesy of Benét J. Wilson

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

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Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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Paris Air Show: ATR Climbs to 1,500 Orders, Launches New Cabin Options

By Roberto Leiro / Published June 23, 2015.

Despite of being a +30 year-old program, ATR is reaping benefits from its -600 series family aircraft. The maturity and popularity of the 42 and 72 variants is well known among operators, as evidenced by a preceding record year of 160 orders –a major commercial success for the Toulouse-based manufacturer.

Propelling New Horizons

Patrick de Castelbajac, ATR CEO, presents the latest news on the ATR -600 series program during a press conference at Paris Air Show.

Patrick de Castelbajac, ATR CEO, announcing the updates to the ATR family aircraft program at the 2015 Paris Air Show.

Patrick de Castelbajac, ATR CEO declared during a press conference held during the 2015 Paris Air Show that ATR family aircraft is firmly established as the favorite among regional operators worldwide. Since last January, the manufacturer registered 46 orders, and even if this is far from the record number of last year, Castelbajac attributes this to “the rise in the value of the dollar and the economic slowdown in countries that are very important for our business, such as Brazil and Indonesia.” Nevertheless, the ATR CEO assured that “we have managed to preserve our position as the number one choice.”

This last statement is not a mere euphemism: Castelbajac noted during the press conference that the manufacturer has a 77% market share in the turboprop market since 2010, leaving its direct competitor—the Bombardier Q400—in a far second place with a 23% market share.

The European manufacturer has gained important regional markets during the last years. An example has been the Caribbean region, wherein traditional Dash 8 operators such as Caribbean Airlines, LIAT—and now Bahamasair with a disclosed order of five aircraft, have opted to modernize their fleets relying on the ATR family aircraft. Other relevant market for the manufacturer has been Latin America, in which ATR has also found two important customers: Avianca and Azul Linhas Aéreas in Colombia and Brazil, respectively.

Slow but constant sales leading to success

Since the launch of the program in 1981 and the entry in service of the first ATR aircraft (the 42- series in 1984 and the 72- series in 1989), regional aircraft sales were slow, partly due to world economic woes and the stiff competition amid different aircraft manufacturers such as Embraer, Bombardier, Saab, Dornier and Fokker.

Arata Yasujima, Japan Air Commuter CEO (left) and Patrick de Castelbajac, ATR CEO (right), sign the purchase order for 8 ATR42-600, plus 14 purchase rights and 1 option during a press conference at Paris Air Show. Image: Courtesy of Roberto Leiro

Arata Yasujima, Japan Air Commuter CEO (left) and Patrick de Castelbajac, ATR CEO (right), sign the purchase order for 8 ATR42-600, taking the manufacturer’s logbook to 1,500 aircraft sold.

Even so, ATR managed to score a major win—and milestone—announced in the Paris Air Show: the 1500th aircraft sold since the beginning of the program to Japan Air Commuter (JAC) for eight firm ATR 42-600s, plus one option and 14 purchase rights. The deal also happens to be the first between the manufacturer and a Japanese carrier.

“We are proud to be able to introduce the ATR aircraft to the skies of Japan. The ATR 42-600 is a perfect match for the regional routes of JAL Group by its economical, environmental and operational specifications” declared Arata Yasujima, President of Japan Air Commuter.

New Cabin Developments – Combi and High-Density versions

Among the announcements made during the Paris Air Show, it was a Combi version—a response to Bombardier’s Q400 combi option launched last year—offering doubled storage capacity compared to standard ATR configurations, plus a passenger cabin for 44 seats. This option, also available as a retrofit for existing ATR 72 aircraft, will be launched by the Papua New Guinea-based operator PNG Airlines.

ATR72-600 SeatingOther of the orders reported during the event was 16 ATR 72-600s plus 10 options as part of Cebu Pacific fleet renewal program. These aircraft will be equipped for the first time with a high-density Armonia cabin, taking the ATR seating capacity to 78 at a seat pitch of 28 inches (and also by eliminating the galleys and reducing the forward cargo hold area), and adding enhanced overhead bins for extra capacity. The manufacturer expects to certify this cabin configuration by the end of this year.

A bright yet challenging future

ATR’s market outlook is positive: the manufacturer has estimated the demand for about 2,500 turboprops in the coming 20 years. However, the challenge might be ahead and some questions remain unanswered whether the manufacturer, with its growing logbook, will be able to cope with a constant production rate able to fulfill its deliveries on time.

Our Paris Air Show Stories:

A “Quiet” Paris Air Show: Great for Attendees and Observers

Paris Air Show 2015 (Day 0): Bombardier CSeries Aircraft Debuts at Le Bourget

Paris Air Show 2015: Qatar Orders 14 Boeing 777s, Ups Threat to Leave Oneworld

Paris Air Show 2015: SWISS Confirms CS-300 Order

Paris Air Show 2015: Honeywell Radar Improves Airport, Aircraft Efficiency

Paris Air Show: ATR Pushes High-density, High-efficiency Turboprops

Paris Air Show: Indonesia Takes Action on Aviation Safety Concerns

Paris Air Show: Boeing’s Little Orders Are Big Wins

Paris Air Show: Ethiopian Takes `Terrible Teens’ 787s from Boeing

Paris Air Show: Volga-Dnepr Places Major Boeing 747-8F Order

Paris Air Show: Leasing Companies Order Big at Airbus

Paris Air Show: Airlines Go Shopping in the Airbus Catalog

Paris Air Show: 2015 a Slow Year for Orders

Editor‘s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Saturday morning, 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!

Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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JetBlue Mint Arrives at Boston, Adds Nashville

By Roberto Leiro / Published June 23, 2015

After several months of speculation in the industry,  JetBlue has announced today the launch of its praised Mint premium service to Boston, intended to enhance coast-to-coast service, as part of its long-term commitment to serve both business and leisure travelers to Logan International Airport where it is the dominant carrier.

Mint service will take off between Boston and San Francisco beginning in March 2016, with up to three daily round trips. Bookings will be available as of July 8. Mint service to Los Angeles will follow suit in fall 2016, with up to three daily round trips as well. The delays in introducing service are largely attributed to last week’s announcement of upping Mint frequencies from JFK to LAX and SFO as well as the arrival of further Mint configured A321 aircraft to its fleet.

RELATED: JetBlue Mint Preview

jb-a321-highres-200-fc-cabin-seating-render-0199“Customers traveling between New York and the West Coast can’t get enough of Mint, and we can’t wait for Boston customers to experience it,” said Robin Hayes, president and CEO, JetBlue. “We saw the opportunity to bring humanity back to premium coast-to-coast travel, traditionally offered at high prices and with mediocre service.”

ANALYSIS: The Economics of JetBlue Mint

Boston has been a destination which has undergone massive reductions in service, as legacy carriers dwindled their presence in Logan during the last years. This service upgrade of JetBlue in both product and frequencies not only seizes a opportunity to catch a market where JetBlue has a 50/50 mix of business and leisure travelers, but also fills the gap at a substantially lower price than its competitors.

jb-photo-inflight-mint-11Since its launch one year ago, JetBlue raised the bar in air travel with Mint, which offers private suits, tapas-style dining, custom amenity kits, a comprehensive in-flight entertainment system including satellite TV, radio and Fly-Fi broadband Internet.

A Mint with a Caribbean Twist

Besides the Mint coast-to-coast service to Boston announced today, JetBlue will also offer Mint seasonal service to the Caribbean  in March 2016 with a weekly Saturday round trip between Boston and Barbados—a premium holiday destination.

Additionally, JetBlue will offer Mint seasonal service to the Caribbean beginning in March 2016 with a weekly Saturday roundtrip between Boston and Barbados, one of the airline’s most luxurious leisure destinations. – See more at: http://otp.investis.com/clients/us/jetblue_airways/usn/usnews-story.aspx?cid=981&newsid=29753#sthash.0UglUoxy.dpuf
Additionally, JetBlue will offer Mint seasonal service to the Caribbean beginning in March 2016 with a weekly Saturday roundtrip between Boston and Barbados, one of the airline’s most luxurious leisure destinations. – See more at: http://otp.investis.com/clients/us/jetblue_airways/usn/usnews-story.aspx?cid=981&newsid=29753#sthash.0UglUoxy.dpuf

RELATED: JetBlue to Bring Mint to the Islands for Winter 2015-2016

Nashville to become the 60th destination from Logan

JetBlue also announced its intention to serve Nashville International Airport from Boston, thus becoming the 60th non-stop destination of the airline from Logan. Two daily frequencies operated by Airbus A320 aircraft as of spring 2016. The airline also announced that ticket sales will begin during this summer.

FLIGHT REVIEW: JetBlue Mint “Suite” Inaugural

RELATED: JetBlue Reveals New Fare Structure, Offers Mint Update

“We came to town in 2004 with the renegade idea that we could bring humanity back to air travel for customers under-served and overcharged by other carriers,” commented Hayes. “Boston welcomed our unique approach with open arms, and we quickly grew together. We may be the top airline in Boston today, but we aren’t even close to finishing our growth” he said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Mint Inaugural Service

Editor‘s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Saturday morning, 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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Contact the editor at roberto.leiro@airwaysnews.com

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Qatar Airways Honored With SkyTrax “Airline of the Year” Award

By Benjamin Bearup / Published June 19, 2015

Photo Courtesy: Qatar Airways

Photo Courtesy: Qatar Airways

World airline rating service SkyTrax named Qatar Airways as its 2015  Airline of the Year this week at the Le Bourget Paris Air Show. Qatar Airways won the award for the third time in its history.

The award is given annually to the airline that shows the most five-star attributes in a given year, as chosen by millions of passengers in more than 160 countries around the world through a year-long poll.

Qatar calls winning the award “a testament to the commitment and dedication to service excellence and a high-quality travel experience for all passengers that fly with Qatar Airways. It is a reflection of the five-star calibre service that the Qatar Airways is renowned for.”

Speaking to the media, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said “I am honored to lead an airline that has paved such an accomplished path to excellence and innovation, demonstrating the team’s unwavering pride in their work and the experience provided to each of our passengers.”

Al Baker stressed passengers being “at the heart of everything we do at Qatar Airways and we are very proud to be recognised by them and to receive these three SkyTrax awards.

Photo Courtesy: Qatar Airways

Photo Courtesy: Qatar Airways

“Qatar Airways strives to offer the best travel experience for its guests across our entire global network of 147 destinations, with a commitment to providing quality services to each and every one of our passengers,” he said.

The heavily influential and often controversial Al Baker made quite a name for himself in recent days through several critical remarks toward the airlines in the United States regarding Open Skies.  Al Baker went as far as threatening to leave the oneworld alliance Qatar recently joined if fellow member American Airlines continues to participate in the Open Skies dispute.

RELATED: Paris Air Show 2015: Qatar Orders 14 Boeing 777s, Ups Threat to Leave Oneworld

Even with this controversy, it is hard to deny that Qatar Airways isn’t doing something special. As the global launch customer for the Airbus A350, and with the introduction of the Airbus A380 to its fleet, Qatar Airways is building a clean and modern airline that reflects what a five-star airline should be.

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

Qatar would not leave the annual SkyTrax World Airline Awards with just the Airline of the Year award. Qatar Airways also won the “Best Airlines Business Class Seat” and “Best Airlines in the Middle East” award for a record eighth time.

In addition to these prestigious awards, Qatar Airways announced an order for ten next generation 777-8 aircraft, four 777F aircraft, and displayed an astonishing five aircraft at the Paris Air Show including Airbus A380, A350 XWB, A320 and A319 and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Cover Image: Courtesy of Qatar Airways

Paris Air Show Stories:

A “Quiet” Paris Air Show: Great for Attendees and Observers

Paris Air Show 2015 (Day 0): Bombardier CSeries Aircraft Debuts at Le Bourget

Paris Air Show 2015: Qatar Orders 14 Boeing 777s, Ups Threat to Leave Oneworld

Paris Air Show 2015: SWISS Confirms CS-300 Order

Paris Air Show 2015: Honeywell Radar Improves Airport, Aircraft Efficiency

Paris Air Show: ATR Pushes High-density, High-efficiency Turboprops

Paris Air Show: Indonesia Takes Action on Aviation Safety Concerns

Paris Air Show: Boeing’s Little Orders Are Big Wins

Paris Air Show: Ethiopian Takes `Terrible Teens’ 787s from Boeing

Paris Air Show: Volga-Dnepr Places Major Boeing 747-8F Order

Paris Air Show: Leasing Companies Order Big at Airbus

Paris Air Show: Airlines Go Shopping in the Airbus Catalog

Paris Air Show: 2015 a Slow Year for Orders

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 Saturday morning. Click here to subscribe today!

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Contact the editor at benet.wilson@airwaysnews.com

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

By Seth Miller / Published June 17, 2015

Brazilian carrier Gol is betting big on in-flight connectivity, signing a deal this week with Gogo to fit its entire fleet – more than 130 aircraft – with the 2Ku satellite-based solution. The initial Gol aircraft are expected to be fitted starting in mid-2016.

A GOL 737-800 departing from Brazil's Rio de Janeiro Santos Dumont Airport. Image: Courtesy of AirwaysNews

A GOL 737-800 departing from Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro Santos Dumont Airport. Image: Courtesy of AirwaysNews

In addition to internet connectivity, the deal calls for the Gogo Vision onboard video solution and Gogo TV, a new, streaming live TV solution Gogo has developed, to be deployed on the planes.

The Gogo TV offering will convert live television into streaming content, allowing it to be delivered over the data network along with other customer internet traffic. Because of the high-capacity service available on the 2Ku system Gogo believes that this is the ideal way to deliver the TV solution for passengers and airlines alike.

The benefits of the 2Ku solution, using the electromechanical antennae from Thinkom, will further benefit Gol, which operates primarily in the equatorial region where traditional satellite systems are prone to interference issues due to skew angle. Michael Small, Gogo’s president and CEO, furthered that point:

We believe that 2Ku will be the best performing technology in the global aero market.  This performance is expected to be even better near the equator, where a large percentage of GOL’s aircraft operate.

As the largest customer commitment outside of North America, this order represents a significant win for Gogo and the satellite-based connectivity market in general. It also presses the in-flight entertainment and connectivity market forward in Brazil where Azul, started by JetBlue founder David Neeleman, has offered live TV in-flight since its launch. This deal with Gogo helps Gol to compete on that front.

Cover Image: Courtesy of AirwaysNews

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Delta’s Upgraded Terminal 5 at LAX Includes Premium Dedicated Check-in Option

By Benét J. Wilson / Published June 11, 2015

Man in car outside of Delta One at LAX. IMage: Courtesy of Delta AIr Lines

Man in car outside of Delta One at LAX. IMage: Courtesy of Delta AIr Lines

Delta Air Lines’ three-year, $229 million upgrade at Los Angeles International Airport’s Terminal 5 includes a new premium check-in experience,  new concessions, a renovated Sky Club, an expanded ticketing lobby and four more security screening checkpoints.

Passengers using Terminal 5’s Delta ONE can enter using a dedicated curbside entrance, leading to a private check-in lounge that offers personalized luggage check, a high-design atmosphere, and a refreshment bar and a dedicated security checkpoint.

RELATED: United To Upgrade Los Angeles LAX Customer Experience

“Delta chose LAX as the first airport to open its first private check-in lounge because this upgrade is reflective of the style of the city and its travelers and the large size of LA’s premium market,” said Ranjan Goswami, the carrier’s vice president, global sales for the west region. “The investments at T5 now offer a more premium airport experience, from curb through security.”

The terminal has new restaurants and shops in Terminal 5 that feature celebrity chefs and retail brand names that reflect the cuisine, culture and lifestyle of Los Angeles, said Goswami. “The L.A.-centric dining options includes Ford’s Filling Station, the comfort-food joint from Harrison Ford’s restaurateur son, Ben,” he said. “There’s also a farmers market, where you can chow on a charcuterie plate from French grocery store Monsieur Marcel, as well as Lemonade, serving healthy meals which customers love.”

The lounge area of Delta One at LAX. Image: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

The lounge area of Delta One at LAX. Image: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Other features in the upgraded terminal include a renovated Sky Priority lobby and a new baggage claim, said Goswami. “Delta also offers a Porsche transfer service that greets clientele on the tarmac and escorts them gate-to-gate for connecting flights or assists them in exiting LAX if Los Angeles is their final destination,” he said.

RELATED: LAWA Unveils Major Concessions Upgrade at LAX Terminal 6

Sitting area in lounge at Delta One at LAX. Image: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Sitting area in lounge at Delta One at LAX. Image: Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

The renovated Sky Club offers more space and an improved customer experience, including 100 additional seats; new shower suites and renovated bathrooms; an updated food area with café seating; and new furnishings and fixtures.

Delta is getting the word out about all the changes through its new LAX to LUX campaign. “[This] new integrated marketing campaign customized to Los Angeles will attract [local] travelers who appreciate touches of luxury and attention to detail,” said Goswami. “The centerpiece of the campaign is LAXtoLUX.com, a digital hub where customers can learn more about Delta’s premium offerings in LAX from curb to claim.  Delta hopes to set a new standard for customers traveling in and out of LAX.”

Since 2009, Delta has been the fastest-growing carrier at LAX* and today offers flights to the most important cities for L.A.’s entertainment, technology, healthcare, and automotive industries. The facility enhancements at Terminal 5 are part of the airline’s investment at LAX as Delta continues to grow its network in this global gateway.

RELATED: LAX Terminal 2 Is Getting an Upgrade

This investment by Delta is the latest in the number of enhancements to LAX, said Goswami. “We hope to improve visitors’ first and last impressions of Los Angeles by making LAX a world-class airport befitting a city that is the global capital of creativity, innovation and possibility,” he said.

Cover Image: Courtesy of Delta

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Analysis: Why is the US proposing ten new CBP pre-clearance airports?

By John Walton / Published June 1, 2015.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to expand international immigration, customs and agriculture inspection pre-clearance by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers to ten airports in nine countries. In the words of Homeland Security, “CBP Officers stationed abroad screen and make admissibility decisions about passengers and their accompanying goods or baggage heading to the United States before they leave a foreign port.”

Many US airports have invested in CBP automated kiosks already, dramatically reducing wait times.

The checks are done overseas so arrivals onto US soil feel very similar to landing off a domestic flight. The problem is that you end up waiting — a lot — after screening and before boarding, in a pre-clearance pen that often provides few facilities.

If you haven’t experienced pre-clearance, it goes like this. You leave the post-security airside departures area (where the shops and restaurants are) and enter the US CBP area. At Dublin, CBP states that you must leave the departures area (including the lounges) and arrive at the pre-clearance area no later than 45 minutes before your flight, and most airlines recommend arriving earlier.

After having your passport and customs form checked, you then sit in a secure pen (in the Abu Dhabi example tucked away into the corner of an airport with no amenities or facilities, though things are slightly better in Dublin and a fair bit better in Canada) until you board your flight. Ireland, for example, has had US pre-clearance for nearly thirty years, yet still has no business class lounge after security in Dublin, Aer Lingus’ hub.

After the flight, you arrive in your US airport as if you were on a US domestic flight and proceed to baggage claim to wait for your luggage.

The security arguments aren’t convincing

The DHS is painting preclearance as a security enhancement — “to push our homeland security out beyond our borders so that we are not defending the homeland from the one-yard line” says Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson — but the proposal is to add pre-clearance at relatively low-risk airports in eight western European countries, Japan, the Dominican Republic and Turkey, many of whom are intelligence allies of the US, with aviation security that is just as strict.

The airports where the US government wants CBP stations are Brussels Airport (BRU) in Belgium, Punta Cana Airport (PUJ) in the Dominican Republic, Narita International Airport (NRT) in Japan, Amsterdam Airport Schipol (AMS) in the Netherlands, Oslo Airport (OSL) in Norway, Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) in Spain, Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) in Sweden, Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) in Turkey, plus London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and Manchester Airport (MAN) in the United Kingdom.

All these countries, apart from Turkey and the Dominican Republic, are part of the US Visa Waiver Program, which requires online ESTA approval in advance of travel regardless. All (or at least nearly all) share information with US intelligence, including about connecting passengers well in advance of departure. All screen passengers thoroughly. What extra protection is actually provided by stopping a passenger in London rather than Newark? Do we really think the CIA and FBI are going to catch people that MI5 and MI6 missed?

And even if CBP pre-clearance is somehow more secure, won’t any actual threats be smart enough just to fly to the US from airports without it?

In terms of passenger experience, very few people benefit from pre-clearance

Pre-clearance “reduces wait times upon arrival at the busiest US airports,” states DHS Secretary Johnson, but that’s very much not the case for everyone.

For Global Entry passengers (who let’s not forget, have paid their government for fast-track access through the CBP bureaucracy) it’s even more frustrating: the line to get into the pen is shorter, but that just means more time to twiddle your thumbs with nothing to do. The whole point of Global Entry, to speed through customs on arrival, is negated.

US and Canadian passport holders, together with nearly 40 nations’ citizens (including all of the western European countries where pre-clearance is planned) can already use the CBP Automated Passenger Control kiosks at dozens of US airports and terminals, which is basically Global Entry Lite. These people save maybe thirty seconds on arrival in the US, but are stuck in the pre-clearance pen for anywhere from half an hour to ninety minutes before taking off.

iuUJuM_MgBJKAGfc8giS3Y-jebUJbmRV2vv51t5zrlUFor premium class passengers, too, pre-clearance is a terrible idea. Rather than going straight from lounge to aircraft, they will need to leave the lounge early and go to the pre-clearance pen, there to wait until boarding. For airlines’ most valuable customers — customers whose higher fares (quoted this week in Toulouse by Airbus as generally four times those in economy) make routes viable that might otherwise not be — pre-clearance means extra time, more lines, more waiting around, and ending up hunting for a chair in the always-underprovisioned pre-clearance pens.

Even economy class passengers don’t benefit much. Instead of having a bite to eat, browsing the stores and picking up a few last minute items, you are funneled through to the pre-clearance area as early as possible and then sit there with very little to do, buy, eat or drink. (Since you have to pass US customs, there are restrictions on what food you can bring with you onto the aircraft.)

And all of these people still have to wait for checked luggage at the other end — which usually takes almost as long as getting through anything but the most intensive questioning for non-US, non-Canadian and non-Visa Waiver Program nationals anyway.

Funding little-used and ad hoc pre-clearance facilities is expensive and arguably unnecessary

Some of the airports where the DHS is proposing pre-clearance barely have separated arrivals and departures areas, which has been required by the US for over a decade now. In London Heathrow’s Terminal 3, for example, home to American, Virgin Atlantic and some Delta flights, arriving and departing streams have to cross, so glass doors open and close to stop passengers so others can cross. It’s unclear also where in British Airways’ Terminal 5 a large pen for A380-loads of passengers could be found — likely by giving over one or more ends of the two satellite stands, which means US flights will always have the trek out to the B or C gates. With Terminal 2 just completed, it’s too late to design a CBP pre-clearance area.

Only airports with significant US-bound operations throughout the day (right now, oxRW9pk_LLPJZ3FIulkT0oYZ3TJpE2rx2KuWQ7e9zIgthat’s Canada and to a lesser extent Dublin) have found it worthwhile to invest in facilities in the pre-clearance areas. For many airports, pre-clearance areas are wasted space for much of the day. Unlike Canada, US-bound flights don’t leave most of these airports throughout the day.

Abu Dhabi has had pre-clearance for some time now, while larger Dubai — an airport not on the proposed list — has not. The political logic has been that funding CBP pre-clearance for other nations’ airlines (i.e., Emirates) is not acceptable. Yet this is inconsistent and seemingly foolish. Stockholm Arlanda has only two US airline flights, Oslo only has one, and those are all seasonal. The rest are SAS and Norwegian. It’s the same with Istanbul and Turkish Airlines. Arguably, Dubai, with its many Emirates flights and significant connecting traffic, would be a much better option for pre-clearance.

Despite there being several airports on the list it doesn’t serve, United Airlines said in a statement: “We have worked closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and support developments that provide more convenience for our customers. We thank Secretary Johnson and his team at the Department of Homeland Security and CBP for their engagement with United and the airline industry, and we look forward to partnering with them on this initiative to facilitate travel and reduce wait times.” JetBlue issued a similar statement, and American has said much the same. Yet both those airlines are unlikely to be happy when the costs of pre-clearance are passed on to them.

Airports use the money they make from the ever-increasing numbers of retail outlets as a revenue stream so they don’t have to hike their fees to the airlines, who pass them on to passengers. If passengers are stuck in pens with little or no retail sales, or if the airport has to spend significant sums of money either modifying existing terminals to CBP standards or building new facilities, that money has to come from somewhere — probably the airlines, and probably therefore passengers.

Someone also has to pay for huge numbers of agents at expatriate rates in overseas airports, many of which do not have flights all day, is quite frankly a waste of money. Abu Dhabi reportedly pays 85 percent of the cost of its pre-clearance facility (no muttering about airline subsidies, now). It’s hard to imagine European governments and citizens stumping up the cash because the US doesn’t think European security is good enough to keep threats out of America — especially since if CBP says no then Europe has to deal with them. So will airports (and thus airlines, and thus you) pay to keep a full set of CBP staff in some of the most expensive cities in the world for just a few daily flights?

Pre-clearance security doesn’t add up, the passenger experience problems certainly don’t add up, and the costs really don’t add up. Expanding pre-clearance is a bad idea, and passengers need to hope that the airports and governments where these facilities are proposed see that they never come to pass.

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Faster inflight Internet Delayed Due to Russia Launch Failure

By John Walton / Published May 20, 2015

Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellite system — the best hope for faster international inflight wifi Internet — is delayed indefinitely after a failure of the Khrunichev-International Launch Services (ILS) Russian Proton rocket system while launching a Mexican communications satellite in May. Inmarsat had expected to launch the third satellite, Inmarsat-5 F3, early in June. The latest failure marks the third time that Global Xpress has been delayed as a result of Proton launch issues. Inmarsat had expected Global Xpress to be globally operational by the end of 2015.

The launch system used for the Boeing-made Mexican Centenario satellite is the same Inmarsat uses from the old Soviet cosmodrome at Baikonur in Kazakhstan, most recently to loft its second Global Xpress satellite into orbit in February. According to information from Inmarsat, “the Proton Breeze M rocket carrying the Centenario satellite suffered a disabling anomaly during the operation of the third stage, approximately eight minutes after lift-off, resulting in the loss of the satellite and rocket.”

ILS' Proton system is relatively mature technology, but has suffered launch failures before. Image - ILS

In a statement, ILS elaborated:

“A Russian State Commission has begun the process of determining the reasons for the anomaly. ILS will release details when data becomes available. In parallel with the State Commission, ILS will form its own Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB). The FROB will review the commission’s final report and corrective action plan, in accord with U.S. and Russian government export control regulations. ILS remains committed to providing reliable, timely launch services for all its customers. To this end, ILS will work diligently with its partner Khrunichev to return Proton to flight as soon as possible.”

“This incident involving a failed Proton launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome is extremely unfortunate and will inevitably delay our launch plans for our third Global Xpress satellite. This is the third time our Global Xpress programme has suffered launch delays because of Proton launch failures. Although in the past, Proton has returned to flight within a few months of a launch failure, it will not be possible to determine the length of the delay in the launch of I-5 F3 until the cause of the Centenario launch failure is established,” Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said.

Inmarsat expects to update its customers, which include numerous international airlines, once it has a revised launch date. That isn’t expected until a Russian State Commission has investigated the failed launch, determined the reasons for failure, and remedied any issues.

Global Xpress uses the same Ka-band spectrum as the ViaSat Exede technology behind JetBlue’s FlyFi Ka-band system, although it must be emphasised that the speeds reached by Global Xpress may not be the same as Exede for a variety of factors: location, skew angle, weather, capacity, other users (including military, government and maritime) and spot beam availability.

Inmarsat’s previous plans, laid out at various aviation industry events over recent years, were to activate Global Xpress only after fully worldwide coverage was achieved with the launch of the satellite constellation. Will Inmarsat change its tune and put in place a regional solution for its aviation customers?

Inmarsat expects global coverage once its satellite constellation is complete. Image - Inmarsat

“Customers are understandably anxious to see the delivery of GX services on a global basis, and as soon as we have sufficient information to ascertain the new launch date for I-5 F3, we will make the information public, as well as comment further on the impact of the delayed launch of I-5 F3,” Inmarsat CEO Pearce noted.

Honeywell's test 757 is expected to receive its antenna and radome soon. Image - Honeywell

Inmarsat is already planning to use Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch system for its next satellite. “We are also reassured that I-5 F4 is currently under construction by Boeing in California, and remains on schedule for completion in mid-2016, with a potential SpaceX launch in the second half of 2016, providing us with significant mission assurance in the case of any protracted delays in Proton’s return to flight, or a failed launch of I-5 F3,” Pearce stated.

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On-Board Cathay Pacific’s 50th 777-300ER Delivery Flight

By Ramsey Qubein / Photos by Author / Published May 19, 2015IMG_2932

Cathay Pacific Airways took delivery of its 50th 777-300ER last month, and the new aircraft keeps a sharp focus on customer experience initiatives. In strong testament to the Boeing 777 program, Cathay Pacific Airways took delivery of its 50th 777-300ER on April 30. The milestone is important for both Boeing and Cathay Pacific: Cathay is the second largest operator of the type, after Emirates. Overall, the airline operates 67 of the twin-engine widebody aircraft.

The Significance of the 777 in Cathay’s Fleet

Cathay will also be one of the first airlines to take delivery of the new 777X aircraft when it receives its 777-9X planes in 2021.

During a delivery ceremony with Boeing at Paine Field, Cathay executives noted the strong partnership between the two companies and the long history shared.

Cathay Pacific was the first airline to launch the Polar route flying its Boeing aircraft to New York from Hong Kong. It was also the first airline to launch ultra-long haul flying using its Boeing aircraft.

“We are honored that the 777-300ER continues to play a prominent role in the success of Cathay Pacific’s business expansion and we look forward to expanding our partnership with the new 777X in the years to come,” says Ihssane Mounir, Boeing’s senior vice president of sales for Northeast Asia. Daily, Cathay flies 37,000 seats between North America and Hong Kong.IMG_2938

The airline notes that Toronto and New York are two of its most profitable North American routes, and the 777 plays a strong role in sustaining the carrier’s network allowing it to boost frequency and capacity on its most important routes. When it comes to number of North American customers paying the premium for first class, JFK and LAX take the top two spots with San Francisco being the third highest in demand.

The latest 777-300ER to be delivered does not have a first class cabin, but highlights the growing number of passengers booking into the airline’s premium economy class. Executives say that North American routes see a 60 to 70 percent load factor in the cabin. There is also a notable difference between the east and west coasts of North America with more premium cabin traffic originating from California and a stronger demand for the premium economy product from the east coast.

Just two days after the airline took delivery of its 50th 777-300ER, it started new service from Hong Kong to Boston with the type.

As the airline phases out its 747 fleet in its effort to boost unit passenger revenues, the 777 will grow to play an even more important role in balancing frequency and capacity across the network. Its ability to carry a significant amount of cargo makes it especially popular with airlines, and since 24 percent of Cathay’s business is tied to cargo, this will help to keep that component strong.

On-Board the Delivery Flight

All airlines handle their delivery flights differently, and Boeing hosts delivery flight handoffs to airlines almost on a daily basis which is why Boeing built a special Boeing Delivery Center building that boasts two jet bridges, numerous meeting and banquet spaces, and a Boeing collectibles shop. IMG_2933

Before boarding, Boeing’s Senior Vice President of Sales for Northeast Asia, Ihssane Mounir, thanked Cathay Pacific for a strong partnership over the years and spoke briefly to the gathered crowd of travel agents, media, and invited Cathay Pacific customers. With the giant Boeing 777-300ER in the background, Boeing passed over the ceremonial key to Cathay executives, and it was almost time to go.

Once on the tarmac,there was a ribbon cutting ceremony, and those on the flight were given boarding passes with the city name Boeing Paine Field to Hong Kong.

With only about 50 passengers on board a plane designed for 330 people, the delivery flight was like having your own personal plane. Following a tarmac tour of the plane and plenty of photo opportunities, passengers went through a security check, and we were ready to start our journey to Hong Kong.

Everyone was seated in the herringbone-style business class cabin, which features enormous entertainment screens and flat-bed seating. The economy class cabin was empty, but everyone was allowed free access to wander the aircraft at any time.IMG_2949

The cabin crew, specially selected to work this important flight, were as gracious and hospitable as can be. And that is not easy on a flight like this one where passengers spend hours wandering up and down the aisles, enjoying cocktails and wine while chatting with other passengers, and poking and prodding all parts of the plane in exploration.

Many passengers donned the first class pajamas distributed prior to take off, which was a special treat since they are typically reserved only for first class passengers.

Cathay begins the first meal service with cocktails delivered from a two-tier cart and warm cashews. This is followed with an appetizer and salad tray. The main course is served on the same two-tier cart with all of the options on display which is a really nice way to allow passengers to choose their meal since they can see what everything looks like before ordering. A cheese and fruit course follows with cordials and chocolates.

Throughout the flight, snacks were available from the menu, and two hours before landing another hot meal was served. Many passengers enjoyed the flight so much that the 13-hour flight passed too quickly.

Product Investments Continue

Following the ceremony and a delivery flight, the airline shared details on numerous other product investments on the horizon.

When the airline takes delivery of its new Airbus A350 aircraft in 2016, the 12 planes scheduled for next year will come equipped with inflight wifi capability. Details of the cost to passengers have not been finalized, but it is expected that premium cabin customers may have a free trial period to use it inflight.

Studies are in place to roll out inflight wifi across the rest of the fleet, but the airline confirms that there will be no inflight telephone capability permitted. The cost affixed to the wifi is an important consideration. When there is a charge, only eight percent of passengers on average use the service, but when it is free the usage rises to as much as 20 percent, according to the airline’s research.

The A350 will allow Cathay to open up long, thin routes to destinations like Madrid and Dusseldorf (the latter, which launches this year, will transition to the Airbus next year).

On the lounge front, Cathay has invested heavily in new lounges in Manila and Tokyo Haneda. When deciding where to open a new lounge, the airport development team takes into account the number of loyalty program members in a given destination in addition to the amount of premium traffic that uses the airport.

Beginning in March, Cathay partnered with illy brand coffee to upgrade the offering on board for first and business class passengers. It includes cappuccino, espresso, and café latte prepared fresh to order. The airline’s catering team collaborated with illy to develop unique coffee filter “pillows” specifically for inflight use. The size and material of the filter bags insures they work well with onboard coffee machines and allow for optimal water penetration during the brewing process.

Also being studied is the option for premium cabin customers to be able to pre-order their desired inflight meal. Like other airlines, the logistics need to be ironed out, but passengers appreciate having the advance flexibility to guarantee their preferred choice.

The airline is no stranger to charitable causes either with a current effort to raise money from passengers for victims of the Nepal earthquake. During a visit to Cathay City–the airline’s regional headquarters located by the airport–details were also shared about how cleaners remove partially used amenity kits and first class pajamas for further cleaning. These are then donated to local homeless shelters rather than being discarded.

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United To Upgrade Los Angeles LAX Customer Experience

By Jack Harty / Published May 13, 2015 / Photos Courtesy of United

United Airlines offered a sneak preview on how it will bring its customers traveling through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) convenience, comfort, and class.LAX+ticketing

The airline held a small event at LAX on Wednesday with employees from each of the airline’s work groups, United executives, Eric Garcetti the mayor of Los Angeles, Tom LaBonge a Los Angeles city councilmember, Sean Burton the president of the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) Board of Commissioners, and Gina Marie Lindsey the executive director of LAWA.

LAX+securityUnited executives outline the current plan to upgrade the passenger experience in which the airline will spend more than half a billion dollars to refresh almost every inch of its LAX facilities. Some of the upgrades include an updated ticket lobby with self-tagging machines and more kiosks; plus, there will be updates to the security screening technology to help expedite the curb to gate time, and there will be renovations to the gate area.

As far as the United Club is concerned, it will be renovated, and there will be an outdoor terrace quite similar to Delta’s Sky Decks at select SkyClub locations.LAX+United+Club+terrace

“From a state-of-the-art ticketing lobby to a sleek and spacious United Club lounge, we are enhancing the airport experience at LAX and giving our customers more of what they want when traveling – greater choice and control, consistency and comfort,” said Sandra Pineau-Boddison, senior vice president for Customers at United. “We are grateful to the City of Los Angeles for its partnership on this project, which helps ensure this key United hub remains one of the country’s premier global gateways.”

“Today’s investment by United is the latest in our more than $7 billion overhaul of LAX,” said Garcetti. “Whether by upgrading nearly every terminal or bringing in ridesharing services to pick you up, we’re making LAX a world-class airport befitting of our global city.”LAX+baggage+claim

“The partnership we have with United will create the world-class experience we want for all LAX passengers,” said Burton. “As our passenger base continues to grow, we are working hard to improve the guest experience, making their journey through LAX more efficient and comfortable today and in the future.”

LAX+baggage+claimThe airline has been investing quite a bit in its hubs lately. On Monday, the airline held a ground breaking ceremony in Houston for its new Terminal C North Concourse that will open in early 2017. Plus, executives explained at the Phoenix Aviation Symposium last week that the airline is testing some new concepts to upgrade its gate areas at a handful of gates at Chicago O’Hare.

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New Gatwick Airport Program Ties Data to Rewards

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published May 8, 2015

SCOTTSDALE, AZ: Data collection is hardly a new thing in the aviation industry. Every time a passenger flies, the airline collect reams of information ranging from gender to birth dates, place of residence to phone numbers and even relatives. Much of that data, particularly for those in frequent flier programs, is leveraged to offer a more customized experience on the ground and especially in the air.

But what if airports started to do the same thing?

Enter MyGatwick, a recently rolled out program at London’s Gatwick airport that provides passengers with small rewards in exchange for providing personal data.

Passengers must sign up for the program online (try it out for yourself here), and provide answers to a handful of questions including “what is your destination?’” and “why are you traveling?” among others. Once completed, passengers can choose between a handful of rewards, ranging from discounts on parking to a free cup of joe or free double WiFi to a discount on a local hotel.

The intent is, much like with an airline, to build data on the individual and collective level, allowing the airport to track behaviors and travel patterns.

But Gatwick Chief Commercial Officer Guy Stephenson says it is about much more. “This is about engaging with more people than we ever have before on a personal level,” he said Thursday at the 24th annual Phoenix International Aviation Symposium.

He envisions expanding the service down the line to be able to custom tailor packages to individuals, exposing different types of flyers to different types of services. Fly regularly for business? Stephenson says that parting with a little more data could earn you an “individualized bundle” of say, close-in parking and fast pass security access.

What exactly a ‘little more data’ entails wasn’t clear, and Stephenson didn’t volunteer much beyond “it won’t be intrusive.” But whatever it is, he remained confident that the cheese would attract the mice: “The value transfer is you tell us about you and we’ll give you something right away. Passengers will be willing to impart more about themselves the more they get stuff from us,” he said.

At least so far, that appears to be the case: over 115,000 people signed up in the first month.

Stephenson is quick to clarify that this is not a ground-based equivalent of an airline loyalty program. “[This has] nothing to do with redemption for loyalty,” he said. “This is all about instant gratification.”

Yet at the same time, the program is being rolled out as Gatwick works to build and keep market share in one of the world’s most competitive air markets: Greater London. While the airport handles a respectable 20 million travelers per year, it fights for Londoners and beyond against five major regional airports – including the biggest player of them all, London Heathrow.

The challenge, says Stephenson, is learning how to create preference. He argued that a three-fold approach–the physical journey, emotional journey, and the digital experience–can combine to make a memorable experience that turns customers into advocates for the airport.

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American’s 787 Dream Takes Flight With Passengers

By Chris Sloan / Photos by author unless otherwise stated  / Published May 7, 2015IMG_1996

CHICAGO, IL - At 9:23 AM local, American’s inaugural Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner flight, AA 2320 operated by the second of five 787s delivered so far to AA, gracefully touched down at Chicago O’Hare to a large round of applause. Although short, the 1 hour and 52 minute  flight aboard N801AN was filled with lots of fun with many enthusiasts and frequent American Airlines fliers on-board. With that, American became the sixth carrier in the Americas to operate the 787. To say the absolute least, AA2320 was nowhere near a normal flight, but who would expect a normal flight with so many enthusiasts on-board American’s newest family member?

The Order and First Delivery

American Airlines placed an order for 42 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners and options for 58 in October 2008. At the time, it became the second U.S. airline to place an order for the Dreamliner, following Continental (now United). The first airplane was expected to join the fleet in about four years, but unfortunately, the delivery would be pushed back several years as the Dreamliner suffered major design and production delays.

After American placed its order, Boeing made some changes; the airline originally only ordered the 787-9 variant, but for unknown reasons, Boeing opted to make some of American’s initial deliveries be the 787-8 Dreamliner which is the smallest 787 variant. Once this was firmed up, American would have 21 787-8s and 21 787-9s on order, but the All Things 787 Blog reports that American has 16 787-8s and 26 787-9s on order. AA is not replacing the 767 with the 787s on a 1:1 basis, but will retire thirteen 767s this year.

Photo by JDL Multimedia

Photo by JDL Multimedia

American’s first Boeing 787 made its first appearance when it rolled out of the paint shop in late October, and it was supposed to be delivered in mid to late November. However, the delivery date would be pushed back again and again until the first quarter of 2015. The delivery delays were due to a delay with delivery of the airline’s all-new business class seats designed by Zodiac Aerospace.

EXTRA: American’s 787 Makes First Appearance

EXTRA: Boeing, Airbus Show the Whip to Laggardly Seatmaker Zodiac

The first American 787 took to the skies on January 6, 2015, and it conducted several flight tests, before being delivered to American.

Photo by Brandon Farris

Photo by Brandon Farris

EXTRA: American’s First 787 Takes Flght

On January 23, 2015, Boeing handed over the keys to American’s first 787, and it was flown down to its main maintenance base and hub, Dallas/Ft. Worth. Once it arrived, American quickly began work on getting the aircraft ready for its first flight which would occur in May. Since the Dreamliner was a brand new aircraft to the fleet, the airline wanted to ensure that it could catch any issues and familiarize many employees with the new type to hopefully prevent any issues once it enters into service.

So far, American has taken delivery of five 787s with a total of 13 planned for this year, and it plans for eight to be delivered in 2016. Five were deferred to 2017-18 as American seeks to control capacity in international long-haul markets due to macro-economic conditions. 

Proving Flights

An American Airlines rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

An American Airlines rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

Since taking delivery of its first Dreamliner on January 23, 2015, American has been flying its new Dreamliners on proving and training flights to help familiarize flight crews and airport ground staff with the new type before entering into revenue service.

The proving and training activities have occurred as close as Dallas/Ft. Worth and Waco, Texas to as far as London Heathrow and Tokyo Narita. Whenever an airline introduces a brand new aircraft, there is always a lot of work to be done, and American wanted to ensure that it did a thorough job, especially when other airlines such as United had issues when it started flying their brand new 787s.

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

About the time that tickets for the first 787 flights went on sale, American started flying the Dreamliner around south and west Texas for a few weeks. Many local media outlets in Texas reported on the training flights as large aircraft are usually a rare sight in these parts of Texas. Although these training flights were primarily for pilot training, American flew its 787 to other cities around Texas such as Houston to help prepare staff incase the aircraft ever needs to divert. Case in point, Waco received nearly 50 touch and go’s in one single morning.

Later on into the proving program, American deployed its 787s to Chicago and London to simulate real flights to help both the flight crews and airport ground staff. The airline also completed a proving run to Narita for polar validation. The fleet also completed 50 hours of validation flights for the FAA proving compliant operation to the FAA such as ETOPS.IMG_1993

Since January 23, American pilots have flown over 2,000 hours of training flights and completed over 1,000 landings. Now, the pilots do not just jump into the cockpit; a typical 777 pilot went through 15 hours of distance training, four days of ground school, six days of sim time, and 15-25 hours in the airplane. Many of the 200 qualified 787 pilots have had the added benefit of flying the training flights with real metal but no passengers before the type entered service. Once AA pilots transfer their type ratings over to the 787, they only fly on that particular type.

The First Flights

An American 787-8 rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

An American 787-8 rests on the Boeing ramp at its Everett, WA factory. Photo Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Special to Airways News

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, American announced that it would fly its 787s out of its Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport hub to Chicago O’Hare, along with Beijing and Buenos Aires. American would only fly domestic flights from May 7, until it started flying the aircraft to Beijing on June 2, which launched the same day of the 787 using a 777-200, and Buenos Aires on June 4.

At the time of the route announcements, American revealed what the 787 cabin would look like, but it only released a handful of images and kept the doors to its 787s shut tight.

In late-April, American announced that it would also fly the 787 internationally out of Chicago to Tokyo Narita beginning in August, setting the stage for a possible 787 crew base at ORD.

Official Unveiling and The Interior

IMG_0252

Photo by Mike Slattery

About a week before the inaugural flight, American held a small launch event where it invited a handful of people from the media and its employees out to one of its hangars at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport to officially unveiled its brand new aircraft.

At the launch event, American explained that its 787 will bring customers a “state-of-the-art international travel” experience in both Business Class and the Main Cabin. From international Wi-Fi to American’s signature Business Suites, there is definitely something that will impress everyone who boards the newest addition to the fleet. Unlike many carriers, American chose to do something special in introducing a new Business cabin product to their 787 which differs somewhat from that on the 777-300s and newly configured 777-200s and 767-300s.

American’s 787s have 28 Zodiac manufactured seats in 2 business class cabins; the seats are in a 1-2-1 seat configuration to allow every seat to have aisle access. Each of the 28 seats transform into a fully lie-flat 77-inch bed that provides customers with infinite adjustability, and the seat also offers what American says is “a unique ‘z-shaped’ lounge position for increased comfort.”  The J cabin seats are arranged in a front and rear facing configuration, not unlike British Airways Club World cabin. Every seat boasts a 16-inch touchscreen monitor with up to 250 movies, more than 180 TV programs, and more than 350 audio selections. The IFE is the Panasonic eX2 platform while connectivity is powered by the Panasonic eX2 Connect Ku-band system. Plus, every seat will have dual universal power outlets and USB ports. Customers will be able to enjoy the entertainment with Bose noise canceling headsets. If passengers get hungry during the flight, there is a walk-up bar that will be stocked with a selection of snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. American introduced a walk-up bar originally when it took delivery of the American 777-300ER in January 2013.

The 787 boasts 198 seats in the Main Cabin in a very tight 3-3-3 configuration, as has become commonplace in the 787. 56 of the seats in the Main Cabin are Main Cabin Extra seats which offer up to five more inches of legroom when compared to the regular Main Cabin seats. Although, the economy seats are a bit tight as in nine abreast configured 787s; the standard seats have a seat pitch of approximately 31 inches, and all Main Cabin seats are approximately 17-18 inches in width. Main Cabin Extra adds another 4 inches of pitch. Each seat in the Main Cabin is equipped with a power outlet, USB port, and personal in-seat entertainment system which boasts up to 250 movies, more than 180 TV programs, and more than 350 audio selections.

EXTRA: Photos from American’s 787 Launch Event

On-Board the Inaugural Flight

Boarding started just before 7AM local, and it was a big congested as the gate area was filled with inaugural passengers and employees who came out to send off the 787 on its maiden passenger voyage. Fern Fernandez, EVP of AA’s worldwide marketing said “We are excited to be the first airline to bring the 787 to DFW….Later today we will launch the first route this aircraft is optimized for, DFW-Beijing.”IMG_1989

At 7:30 AM local, the Dreamliner lined up with runway 17 and began a whisper quiet, 40 second take off roll. However, the quietness was quickly broken up by cheers and applause as AA2320 soared into the sky. The flight took off with a weight of 356,000 pounds–46,000 pounds of those pounds was the fuel on-board, and we reached V1 at a quick 146 miles per hour.

The aircraft quickly climbed to 39,000 feet, and the pilots, Captain Charlie Savage (the Lead Air Check Airman with 150 type rates), Captain Bill Elder (the manager for American’s 787 Flight Training Program) had their work cut out for them as they had to deviate around quite a bit of weather.

However, the flight deck crew did an exceptional job keeping the ride smooth which allowed them to keep the seatbelt sign off for most of the flight so the passengers in the back were able to explore the aircraft. The crew were miraculously able to pull off a full service with the aisles in virtual party gridlock.

Captains Savage and Elder, greeting the assembled passengers, explained how ecstatic they were to be crew members to fly the inaugural flight, and throughout the flight. It was obvious that all of the flight crew members were excited to be part of the historic flight. In fact, the crew came together and pitched in to give every passenger a special commemorative coin.

Once we reached our cruising altitude, I started checking out my Business Class seat. I was in one of the forward facing seats which has a unique three point seat belt. The mini suite was nice and intimate with the seat being very firm. There is a visor that separated me from my seatmate, but it was locked into position.

The USB and power outlets are quite helpful and nice, and they are located right at shoulder level which is helpful as it does not require reaching around like on United’s 787 BusinessFirst seats.

The seat controls are on a small digital display which is conveniently located at eye level as well. An ergonomic feature of the seat controls is that you can adjust lighting and privacy indicators. The only obvious glitches in the flight were the connectivity and business class seats. The maddeningly slow T-Mobile KU satellite based system made modem dial up seem sprightly. The visors separating business class passengers were locked and able to retract. All in all, small minor issues on a very short flight designed precisely for working out the bugs.


IMG_1987The standup bar was not stocked on a short flight, but it will sure be a welcome when the airline puts the 787 on the DFW-Asia routes next month. The bar is not the showstopper that exists on AA’s 773 and reconfigured 772 fleets but is functional nevertheless.

All to quick, we began a quick descent into Chicago and gracefully touched down at 9:23 AM local to the mandatory applause.

After we landed, we did a quick victory lap around O’Hare so the media could take a few photos of the aircraft before we arrived into the gate.

Many employees greeted us when as we disembarked, and ground employees sprung into action to get the aircraft ready to head back to Dallas/Ft. Worth.

AA’s 787 launch was an upbeat experience that gives further credence to the carrier’s “NewAmerican” claim of service upgrades and fleet renewal. Beyond the obvious well known benefits of the 787, this inaugural flight stood out for the unbridled enthusiasm of the passengers and crew.

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American Airlines provided roundtrip accommodations on-board the inaugural 787 flight. However, our opinions remain our own.

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