Category Archives: Airline Inflight Reviews

JetBlue: Is Its Jettitude Culture Enough To Carry It Into The Future? (Part Two)

By Chris Sloan / Published March 17, 2014 / Photos by author

The second in our two part series, find out what makes JetBlue’s corporate so unique, but does blue translate into green? Read part one!

JETTITUDE

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A poster hangs in the JetBlue University, with signatures.

The cornerstone of the JetBlue Culture are “The Be’s: Our Jettitude”. These values are constantly instilled in each crew member, right down to appearing on each identification badge. CEO David Barger, who has been with the company since the beginning, and VP/Customer Service Frankie Littleford who worked for David Neeleman back at his original airline Morris Air personally take the Baby Blues through “The Be’s”:

Be thankful to every customer – Acknowledge every airline is getting better so we have to be appreciative of our customers. JetBlue doesn’t carry passengers we have customers.

Be engaging – Just try to be present and be engaged. Littleford says this is as simple as showing someone whose bag has been lost the computer monitor so they can see it is being addressed, or pilots addressing the customers before the flight on the PA system from the front of the plane in person, not behind the cockpit door.

Be in blue always – personal appearance, how the terminal looks, and how the airplanes look all matters. Littleford says Dave Barger “has X-ray vision and sees gum in the corners. If a tray table is broken what does that say about the airplane as a whole?”

Frankie Littleford. Photo courtesy JetBlue

Frankie Littleford. Photo courtesy JetBlue

Be Personal – Be present; know what’s happening on the plane. Littleford tells a story of some recent flights she’s been on. “If you’re flying to Syracuse, it might be a big basketball game and we became Jet Orange. Realize where you’re flying as the flights are all different. Have fun with where you’re going. I was on a flight on the JetBlue Boston Red Sox themed plane flying to Tampa and the gate agent comes on the P/A and says ‘If you’re a Tampa Bay Rays fan you will be boarding last’”.

EXTRA: Onboard the JetBlue A321 Inaugural

Be the answer – If you don’t know, help find someone who knows),

Be _____ – Find your own be. How do you want to be? Fill in the blank. This is the well respected empowerment part of the JetBlue culture.

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The six Be’s

The airline business is an industry known for multi-million dollar pieces of flying aluminum, egos as big as the sky, financial volatility (an understatement to say the least), tense and outright hostile relations between management and labor, not to mention feelings ranging from apathy to downright antipathy by its customers.

Indeed, many passengers would find a trip to the dentist more enjoyable than flying. Do these new-age egalitarian values and platitudes that aim to, as the carrier claims, “bring humanity back to air travel” translate into truly better customer service, personnel morale, and improved financial results?

From a customer experience perspective, Barger says “you can tell if the flight is clicking right off the bat.” Simi seconds that. “Culture is what people do when people aren’t watching. Culture is service. What a difference body language, eye contact and a smile make.” Henry Harteveldt, a senior analyst at Hudson Crossing, believes that the culture does translate to better service. “Because 80% to 90% of what airlines do are the same, corporate culture can have a disproportionate impact on the passenger experience, at all touch-points. JetBlue is a shining example of this.”

“Culture is what people do when people aren’t watching. Culture is service. What a difference body language, eye contact and a smile make.”

EXTRA: InFlight Review: JetBlue Even More Space

The airline also works hard to gauge customer service in the field via several programs. First up, “Culture is Service”, is a program for cabin and ground crews. The program is based on what percentage of customers gave the staff member ‘Wow’ scores in surveys. The results move a meter that motivates all crew members to be on their game and help each other out. Unlike other airlines, though, even the flight deck crew has its own program. Though voluntary, the Leading Edge Program provided customer-driven feedback to participating captains every sixty flights.

Not that the cabin crew need too much motivation, says Layton. “We are the first impressions people get about JetBlue. Customers decide how they feel about the airline after meeting us. They come on with expectation of how we’ll be. I get a charge out of when people are happy. I feel bad when we have a bad flight. I take it personally. If we’re happy, our customers will be happy.”

EXTRA: JetBlue historical timetables and route maps

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A slide underscores the semantic shift in attitude towards employees.

Addressing morale, JetBlue employees recognize each other’s performance in a program called Lift where they receive bonuses and other perks, but according to Simi “most perform intrinsically as they want to serve. A thank you and note of appreciation typically goes the farthest.” The airline also runs a program where employees help each other financially and in a myriad of other ways. This program came heavily into practice when many JetBlue employees lives were disrupted by Hurricane Sandy, including 100 who lost their homes.

Layton adds that morale, and therefore customer service, are high in part thanks to the exceptional freedom given to him to do his job. “I am empowered to do whatever it takes to keep customers happy if I can justify it in one of my five values. Why did I comp all the drinks? The TV’s were not functioning all the flight. Why? We were very delayed whether it was our fault or not. It’s the right thing to do. My supervisor said ‘nice job’”.

Hartveldt agrees that “The airline succeeds because it places such great emphasis on internal communications and creating and sustaining a positive work environment. Its employees are both trained and empowered to make decisions that take care of the airline’s customers. JetBlue is also careful about the people it hires, even if they are not in customer-facing roles. Attitude is as important as aptitude.”

DOES BLUE TRANSLATE INTO GREEN?

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A JetBlue Embraer at the gate in Boston.

While all this is great for the JetBlue’s customer and employees, the effect on the airline’s bottom line is mixed. “Well, so far JetBlue has unperformed the industry in terms of financial performance.  Certainly they created an offering that people were willing to pay for, but they also have a relatively high cost base for what they do.” says Snyder. Indeed, the carrier’s 2013 unit costs, at 11.71 cents, are 15-20% higher than those of ultra-low cost carriers like Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air, or Frontier Airlines. Unfortunately, JetBlue has to compete with these carriers for leisure travelers, which certainly creates a challenge. As fellow network-LCC hybrid Southwest Airlines has found out, maintaining an employee-friendly culture is hard on the financial bottom line.

EXTRA: JetBlue Announces Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2013 Profit

Yet the impact of corporate culture has certainly contributed to revenue growth by attracting new and high-paying customers, even if the effect is not necessarily quantifiable. JetBlue’s financial results are certainly strong on their own, though they lag behind those of Delta, Southwest, and the ULCCs since 2009. JetBlue’s annual net profit has risen steadily from $58 million in 2009 to $168 million in 2013, while its operating margin, at 7.9%, is better than every nationwide network carrier save Delta.

More important, however, is the role that JetBlue’s corporate culture will play in its future finances. As a one-time low cost carrier trying to change over to a full-fledged network airline, JetBlue is undergoing a company-wide restructuring almost as challenging as a merger. Things like tackling business travel in Boston, launching the Even More premium product, launching Mint, and (eventually) launching long haul international service with a business class product represent a remarkable evolution from JetBlue’s founding business model. The United-Continental merger shows what can happen when a company’s corporate culture isn’t set up to handle that kind of change, and so the most significant financial impact of JetBlue’s corporate culture has been to allow the company to survive (thus far) these business model evolutions with the bottom line unscathed.

EXTRA: JetBlue Unveils New Premium Product in NYC

FEELING A LITTLE BLUE?

The airline, accounting for about 5% of the U.S. market, is finding it more challenging to be a disruptor and innovator competing in a land of now profitable, giant legacy carriers and their alliances in a post consolidation environment.

 Image Courtesy: JEtBlue

Inside the a JetBlue cabin: Image Courtesy: JetBlue

First up, ironically an improving economy has added to the airline’s pressures. JetBlue’s rivals, now out from under the thumb of bankruptcy, have caught up and in some cases surpassed the airline on a number of fronts: the hard product of live DirecTV that was once so innovative has been matched by carriers offering the same thing, or going a step further and offering competitive entertainment options with TV and/or WiFi. And of course there’s been the rush by legacy carriers to upgrade premium cabins, something JetBlue doesn’t offer…yet.

JetBlue is challenging this competitive position with its new core economy offering and premium cabin Mint Product. It will feature high-speed satellite based internet dubbed FlyFi along with an upgraded in-flight entertainment system featuring multitudes of high-def channels.

JetBlue’s fleet, once brand new, has aged and are some older planes are showing their age. JetBlue began taking delivery of new, larger Airbus A321s in late 2013 and has ordered the next generation A320 neo family of aircraft. Troublesome, JetBlue’s costs from labor (even though it is non-unionized) to maintenance for the aging fleet have increased while the legacy competitors have re-organized under bankruptcy and reduced costs. Of course the employee ranks have swelled and aged (affecting health costs) as the airline has only grown and never furloughed a single person, ever.

Mother nature again didn’t help matters when the recent weather related operational disruptions in January when JetBlue was forced to cancel much of its schedule have begun to taint its reputation. Many wondered if this was a repeat of 2007 all over again. While the airline is in crises, remains profitable, and generally well regarded, its indisputable that a perfect storm of circumstances have conspired to bring its highly valued JD Powers numbers a bit.

WHAT WILL BLUE DO?

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JetBlue University, located in Orlando, Florida.

Now, more than ever, culture matters as the overall mission the company lives by is the key to the carrier maintaining its edge as the competition improves their game.

Instead of being intimidated, the Baby Blues in the audience seem captivated and ready to take on the challenge as they introduce themselves one by one around the room. “I am so excited. I want to jump out of my seat” says one cabin attendant. “I’m happy to be on team JetBlue and be with my new brothers and sisters” a new pilot passionately remarks while adding that his “new favorite color is blue”. Another says “I’m changing my name for my initials to Lucky Winner” as I got chosen by JetBlue”. From a place of totally honesty, one anxious Baby Blue who used to play for the New York Mets confides “I am a total newbie to the airline thing and I am a nervous wreck but so excited”.

Likewise, the existing Blue Crew seems equally buoyant while acknowledging the challenges ahead. CEO Dave Barger hammers home the crux of the issue: “Anyone can replicate planes. They are like bricks and mortar. No one can replicate the culture. I am really jazzed to do this. Working with us is not for the faint of heart. It’s about interaction as much as transaction. What got us here will get us there from a cultural aspect. You can be a small player and be disruptive in industry landscape. You don’t have to be the biggest. You just have to be disruptive.”

Layton puts things into perspective from his nearly fifteen years with the company “I was here when customers said ‘you all are great, but let’s see how it is in five years.’ Media doubted us. As we’ve grown, it’s been challenging, but my responsibility and all of our responsibility is to keep the culture alive and flourishing.” Littleford echoes “We need to keep the small feeling while we’re growing. We need to continue to inspire humanity. We need to watch our competition, who is stepping up”. Finally, Simi points out that the Blue Crew is in this together “We are family who you can trust. We have your back.”

Next, stay tuned for an inside look at JetBlue University, coming soon!

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Does it Pay Off to Pay for Premium Economy?: InFlight Review

By Michael Slattery  / Published March 6, 2014

Qantas A380 in LAX. Photo courtesy jplphoto

Qantas A380 in LAX. Photo courtesy jplphoto

I fly, on average, 60,000 miles per year. Some of those flights are short-haul routes (many to Costa Rica, which I highly recommend), but most are long-hauls to Africa, Europe, the Middle East and, on the odd occasion, Australia and New Zealand. On pleasure, the flight planning is easy: find dates and airlines that have award mileage inventory in the front of the plane. Champagne and warm nuts, why thank you!

On business, however, the decision becomes far more problematic. You see, I am a college professor by day, and universities and granting agencies do not pay for business class tickets. That makes sense, given that most are in the $6,000 to $8,000 range to either Europe or Southeast Asia. Even corporate travel departments have cut back on shelling out this sort of money to send their employees in a premium cabin, especially in the wake of the most recent global financial crisis.

EXTRA: Lufthansa Launches Premium Economy Cabin

But squeezing my 6’5” frame into a coach seat for between 10 to 16 hours becomes, well how should I put this, a survival course. I am absolutely fine with all my food arriving at once in little compartments, and with my wine choice being simply “white or red” in mini screw top bottles. To be honest, even business class and first class meals can be pretty hit-and-miss at times (I recently had a filet steak in business class that could have doubled as a hockey puck on any given night in the NHL). Rather, it’s the chronic lack of s-p-a-c-e that makes long-haul coach such a miserable experience. It’s the cabin where limbs go to die, where DVT becomes a real, statistical possibility, and where any sort of sleep becomes all but a dream. This is where premium economy comes in as a potential long-haul savior.

The premium economy product, pioneered by British Airways (BA), started becoming popular when long-haul business class cabins started to introduce flatbed seats (again, BA’s Club World set the early pace here). The chance significantly increased the gap between economy class products and business class products. Positioned in price, comfort, and amenities somewhere between economy and business, premium economy has helped to fill this gap with airlines.

EXTRA: In-Flight Review: LOT Polish 787 Premium Club

Be warned, though: unlike business and economy cabins there is no general consensus in premium economy cabins. The product varies significantly among carriers, making it difficult to compare apples-to-apples when planning a long-haul trip. For some, premium economy is limited to just a bit more legroom and nothing more. Others offer a product that is closer to the business class cabins of the 1990s and early 2000s.

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British Airways 787                                                                      LOT Polish 787

In addition to product inconsistencies, pricing can also vary tremendously among carriers, depending on what type of premium economy ticket you actually buy. Just like economy, business, or even first class pricing, the cost of a ticket can increase dramatically as you build flexibility into the fare. With these two aspects in mind, namely amenities and pricing (which equal value-for-money in my books), I thought it would be useful to review two premium economy products that, in many ways, have become industry benchmarks: BA’s World Traveller Plus (WTP) and Qantas’ Premium Economy.

My routing on BA was Dallas/Fort Worth-Abu Dhabi (via London) on a 747/777 combination. On Qantas, I opted to fly to Los Angeles to connect to Sydney on the A380, rather than take the 747 direct on the world’s longest non-stop. In both cases, I paid the difference between economy and premium economy out-of-pocket (as both trips were business related). In fact, my wife accompanied me on the Australia trip and paid for the premium economy ticket herself, so having skin-in-the-game meant we really focused on the issue of value.

The premium economy cabin, as marketed by both companies, is supposed to offer a significant upgrade from the economy experience without breaking the bank. The question then is, have these airlines succeeded in putting the premium into premium economy?

For Qantas, the answer is simply a resounding yes! Its premium economy experience trumped BA’s WTP in every department: dedicated check-in desks; priority boarding; and a meal service much closer to business class than economy (try champagne prior to takeoff, individual tableware, and an anytime snack and refreshment service with excellent choices). The Qantas cabin, situated on the upper deck of the A380 immediately behind business class is intimate and quiet, with just 28 seats in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration (for comparison, there is a small economy section behind premium configured 2 x 4 x 2, whereas downstairs it is a bone-crushing 3 x 4 x 3 layout).

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Photos courtesy Qantas

There are dedicated flight attendants in the premium cabin and, crucially, we could use the lavatories at the back of business class which meant hardly any wait, even in the 45 minute window prior to landing. The Qantas seat is superb: 38” of pitch and 19.5” wide (versus 31” and 17.5” in economy class, respectively). This translated into a comfortable, spacious environment with plenty of room to configure my legs in any number of yoga combinations. The seat also had a well-designed, multi-way adjustable headrest, although the footrest wasn’t of much use for a person my height.  There is also a very handy storage compartment next to the window seat which eradicates the need to visit the overhead bins. The IFE was extensive and intuitive with a 10.6 inch personal touch screen with complimentary noise-cancelling headsets.

All round then, a really outstanding product from The Flying Kangaroo. The BA seat in WTP had similar pitch but was only 17.5” wide, which made the overall experience feel a bit more cramped. To be fair, this was the older WTP product, but even the upgraded WTP seat, according to BA’s website, is only 18.5” wide, which still gives the edge to Qantas. In fact, on BA the WTP experience is really just about being in a smaller cabin with more legroom, with everything else essentially an extension of the economy experience. Most annoyingly, even the lavatories are shared with economy, so queues and wait time were extensive. Certainly, the BA WTP seat is much better than their economy seat, but after four legs in WTP, I left fairly disappointed, wondering whether paying the difference between economy and WTP was really worth it in the end. That question really comes down to how the actual premium economy ticket prices on any given leg.

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British Airway’s World Traveller + on its 787 (L) and 747-400 (R). Photo by BA, JDL/Airchive

For example, I recently priced a two-week return ticket DFW-LHR on BA and LAX-SYD on Qantas over three time periods: a mid-February flight (essentially, booking about two weeks out), a mid-May flight before the U.S. summer break, and a mid-August flight falling within the busy summer travel season. On BA, the lowest WTP ticket priced consistently between 39% and 43% higher than economy (e.g., $1,612 versus $2,241 on the peak summer fare). On Qantas, the premium economy fare was generally 73%-81% higher than economy (e.g., $1,545 versus $2,800, again for the summer peak). But be warned: these premiums can increase significantly depending on availability and, in some cases, start approaching business class fares.

The Bottom Line

The verdict on these two industry benchmarks then? Premium economy on Qantas was definitely worth the higher fare despite being almost double that of regular economy. The experience was, what I would call, Business Lite: significantly more pleasant than regular economy. My wife and I both agreed that any further travel to Australia or nearby countries would definitely be in the premium economy cabin, so if you can afford it, my advice is, do it! BA’s WTP, on the other hand, is more problematic. Yes, the seat is wider with more leg room, but that’s about it. I would still probably pay the $300 one way “upgrade” to WTP on the trans-Atlantic simply for that extra legroom, but any more than that on a more flexible WTP ticket would certainly be a waste of money in my view. In fact, I’d probably opt for the approximately $140 increase from economy to Main Cabin Extra on American’s 777-300 across The Pond, with 36” of pitch, if money alone was the deciding factor. What is disappointing is that it wouldn’t take very much to really put the premium back into premium economy on BA, with simple changes such as dedicated check-in, separate lavatories, and a few upgraded amenities on board.

So while Australia has whitewashed England in the recent Ashes cricket series, I’m afraid they’ve done the same in the air!

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Folded Wings – The Last Douglas DC-10 Passenger Flight Ever

Story and Photos By Chris Sloan / Published Monday February 24, 2014

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - ON RAMP AFTER FLIGHT - FEB 2014 - 2BIRMINGHAM, UK: The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 carried its last passengers Monday, after nearly forty-three years of service, as the final passenger flight landed in Birmingham, UK.

The last flight, dubbed Biman Bangladesh 008, was greeted by a mob of passengers and press at the gate in Birmingham Airport. Cake and champagne were served A total of 200 boarded this last flight, coming from around the world to do so. On board, BBC’s Janice Long, a radio personality and former flight attendant, performed the in flight safety briefing announcement.

STORY: Final DC-10 Long-Haul Scheduled Passenger Flight Arrives into Birmingham, UK 

The airplane’s three General Electric CF6-50C2 engines, each with 52,000 pounds of thrust, lifted the half empty airplane (it only weighed 185 metric tons) at 141 knots into the skies over the UK, despite being de-rated by 15%, in only 43 seconds. The noticeably loud and thrilling cacophony of engine noise ingesting our fifty tons of fuel, along with shaking overhead bins, provided the day’s audio entertainment while we waited to reach our cruising altitude of 24,000 feet over Scotland.

Yet almost immediately everyone left their seats (mine was 31A), walking up and down the aisles, snapping photos, and chatting – feeling more like a reunion of old friends than a memorial service. A mad rush to the cockpit also began, on the hopes that the flight-deck door would be open (it was not).  An employee with Ian Allen Tours, the group that organized the last flights, walked up and down the aisle hawking DC-10 SWAG joking saying “I will lose my job if I don’t sell this stuff. Save my job!” The CEO, flight attendants, and flight crews became celebrities, posing for photos, and stopping for hugs in between offering water and juice to passengers.

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Speaking of crew, a total of fourteen pilots showed up in Birmingham, rotating into and out of the flight deck through the course of the weekend’s nine scenic flights (which had a unique smell combo of lilac and nicotine on board). Each flight was manned by additional eight cabin crew, all of whom were sad to see the airplane go. Flight crew member Aporna said “This was like our home. We love it and we are emotional [it is leaving us]. This is [a] really comfortable [airplane] and wider in leg space and my passengers are happy. More stable than a 777-300 [and a better ride].” All that love, even despite the airplane making crews work hard (it had a five degree upward angle while cruising, meaning flight crews had to push carts up the plane). Aporna had an even more personal connection: her husband proposed to her on the DC-10. Most of the cabin crew will be transitioning to the carrier’s new Boeing 777-300ER airplanes.

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During my short time on board I had an opportunity to chat with many of the people on board. The mood was electric and energetic the entire time, unlike anything I’d flown on before. One family I met, the Wohlfarth’s from Switzerland all had connections to the DC-10. Husband Thomas was a mechanic on DC10 for Swissair, wife Barbara first flight was on DC-10, Julia daughter first and last time on DC-10. It was Barbara’s idea. “It’s the real way to travel back in time.” Mark Headay, from Birmingham, was on the DC-10 for the first time in twenty years. His first flight was with Iberia, to Lima Peru. He said he found out about these scenic flights at the last minute and “wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

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Cody Diamond, of Miami, Florida, was on the final DC-9 and now the last DC-10 flight. He remarked that the festivities for the -10 were much better. Airline Reporter’s Bernie Leighton was on his fourth flight on the DC-10 trip. He said the airplane was to him and Western Canada because it’s what we flew to Hawaii as a kid so the CP Air empress class placards on overhead bins made him nostalgic. Anthony Marcus, from Washington, DC, flew on the last Northwest Airlines DC-10 in 2007. That was a normal scheduled flight but this is much more of a party, he remarked. He said the plane takes him back to the 1970s, a memory he will enjoy.

Captain Ishrat Ahmed, a 27-year veteran of Biman, talked about the DC10 being a “pilot’s aircraft, very stable. Of course, I will miss it but you can’t argue with the comfort and 35% increased fuel efficiency of our new Boeing 777-300ER’s.” Ahmed has logged an impressive 10,000 plus hours on plane himself over twenty years.

After only an hour the airplane began its descent at 4:03PM, forty-three minutes after our departure at 3:20PM. The airplane loudly shook and shuddered when spoilers deployed, and the airplane then turned whisper quite for the rest of the smooth flight. Watching the engines and control surfaces was quite spectacular.

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The final flight landed at 4:17PM local time to huge applause on board, and a water cannon salute was had after a lengthy tour of the Birmingham ramp. It was a nice change to the mood on the earlier flight of the day, when the mood on board turned silent through much of descent, with only the drone of the engines to hear. You could almost hear a pin drop when they throttled back for landing. Once we greased the runway at 136 knots, the thrust reversers kicked in and brought us to a stop, breaking the silence. Only when the thrusters stopped did thunderous applause take over. Unlike a regular commercial flight there was no rush to disembark and everyone stopped for cockpit photos as the engines shut down at 4:30PM local with a following press conference. Nearly forty-five minutes later, when I left, the airplane was still mobbed.

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Biman Bangladesh’s DC-10, S2-ACR, first flew in January 1988 and was delivered to the airline in December 1988 and named “New Era”.  As line number 445 out of 446 DC-10s built, the airplane was one of the last delivered to any airline, with Nigerian received the last one in 1989. It spent a few decades plying the skies over Southeast Asia, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf region. The aircraft arrived into Birmingham on Thursday from Dhaka, Bangladesh via Kuwait City for three days of one hour special enthusiast flights.

Extra: Final DC-10 Delivery in 1989

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - LANDS AT BIRMINGHAM - FEB 2014 - 1Tomorrow, the airplane will be ferried back to Dhaka to be scrapped in a last minute twist of fate. Originally destined for the Museum of Flight in Seattle, the plan was mothballed when the museum did not have the space to house the airplane for six months. Unfortunately the airplane was due for service in only two months and Biman’s license to fly it expires at the end of the month, making it financially unsustainable to wait. A UK museum had offered to take it, but the airline wound up receiving a substantial offer for the parts, particularly the GE CF-6 engines and understandably caved to finances. In total, the airplane, which first flew on January 9, 1988, completed over 22,000 cycles and over 80,000 hours in flight.

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - IN FLIGHT CABIN - FEB 2014 - 7I have been on a number of inaugural flights of an airplane including the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 and 747-8, but until today I have never been on a retirement flight of an aircraft. These first flights were often full of paying, normal passengers. This is the first all AvGeek flight I have ever been on, and there’s not exactly the normal fanfare. It’s all geeks, some of whom have never flown on the DC-10 before, including many who were born after the DC-10 ended production.

Extra: McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Sales Brochures and Memorabilia from 1970 and 1971.

The last time I flew a DC-10 was LAX-JFK where I sat or slept in the last row (all five seats empty) on American Airlines (AA) in Nov 1996. My first time was LAX-HNL in November 1992. I don’t have a long history with the aircraft flying in it, but as I grew up in Tulsa, OK where AA maintained the DC-10s, I have a very personal connection to it. When American Airlines DC-10 Flight 191 crashed on May 25, 1979, I was ten years old and an AvGeek, many of my friend’s parents worked at American and that and the consequential grounding were the talk of many of my friend’s and their parents. It was a shock to all of us. I remember where I was when I heard the news. Time stood still at the tragedy of it all, and lingered when the type was grounded.

ams-ramp-concourse-e-7-klm-md11-ph-kcd_25401The tri-jets are certainly in their sunset years. Later this year, the handful of remaining passenger MD-11s, now only flown by KLM, will be a thing of the past. Its life-span, entering service in 1991, of 23 years is almost half of the service of its older brother the DC-10. Yet while it is possible that we’ll see a few scenic flights, it seems unlikely that the MD-11, or any other large jets, will see anything but a similar fate.

Unlike prop aircraft like the DC-3, DC-6, Ford Tri-Motor, or Lockheed Constellation, the track record of retired jets (such as the 707, 727, DC-8, etc) is not great for enthusiast flights, often simply by virtue of size – and thus operating costs – alone. After the DC-10 and then the MD-11, What’s the next plane to end its flying life? The IL-62? The A300? A310? Even the A318?

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Launch Brochure from 1971

Airlines are typically very sentimental so I’d like to congratulate Biman, who is in a recovery phase after a steep dive, to actually do something so special for AvGeeks and those who loved the airplane. Many airplanes are quietly pulled from service, and most don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Biman did something that some have said is a public relations stunt, but CEO Kevin Steele, who was involved with Concorde, says he “understands enthusiast’s desire to say goodbye.”

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Still, I find it unfortunate that it was flown all the way here only to be flown all the way back to die. Whether it was the never confirmed Museum of Flight, Future of Flight, or Bruntingthorpe Aviation Museum in England, it is tragic that at this point, no DC-10 passenger airplanes will be on display barring a last minute change. The airplane will continue to live on as a cargo hauler for FedEx for some years to come, but its days are clearly numbered.

FINAL DC-10 FLIGHT BG008 - TAKE OFF FROM OB DECK - FEB 2014 - 3Back in Birmingham, Steele, wearing jeans and a DC-10 last flights T-shirt, said “I’m a little sad with a lump in my throat but this is as much about celebrating Biman’s past as its future.” Let’s raise a toast to the DC-10, and Biman for a job well done, and blue skies ahead. The carrier will be back at the airport soon – they begin service to New York City soon: via Birmingham using a brand new state of the art Boeing 777-300ER.

*Also, congrats to Ian Allen Tours for pulling off a great last day of DC-10 flying!

SLIDESHOW! Click to advance:

Airchive’s Final DC-10 Flight Coverage and Related Items:

STORY: Final DC-10 Long-Haul Scheduled Passenger Flight Arrives into Birmingham, UK 

STORY: The History of the DC-10, Part One: Taking Shape and Taking Off

STORY: The History of the DC-10, Part Two: Problems, Popularity, and Post Production

STORY: Remembering the DC-10: A Pilot’s Perspective

Extra: McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Sales Brochures and Memorabilia from 1970 and 1971.

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Launch Brochure from 1971

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Scrapped at Las Vegas, NV in 1995

Extra: American Airlines DC-10 Being Converted to Trans-Aero Russian Airlines at Marana, AZ in 1996

Other Airchive Firsts and Lasts Photo Galleries!:
Singapore A380 Inaugural   /   Boeing 787 Dreamliner ANA Inaugural
Boeing 747-8 Inaugural     /    CSeries Rollout
Airbus A350 XWB First Flight

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FIRST PHOTOS: Final Passenger DC-10 Flight

As the final McDonnell Douglas DC-10 passenger flight comes to a close, our very own Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren is on board and has sent back some amazing pictures. While we have a full story coming up later, we wanted to pass along these historic pictures as soon as possible. Enjoy!

At the same time, news on the aircraft’s future has surfaced. While it was rumored that the aircraft was to be donated to a museum in Seattle (not clear if Future of Flight) it turns out they have no room for 6 months but Biman’s crews are not licensed to fly the DC-10 after Feb 28. Because of this, the aircraft will return home and be sold for scrap after scheduled scenic flights. Airchive will be on board one of the scenic tours Biman is offering before the aircraft is chopped to pieces.

EXTRA >> Airchive Readers Share Their Stories of the DC10

 

The very last passenger DC-10 rests in the sunlight prior to its final commercial flight on February 20, 2014.

The very last passenger DC-10 rests in the sunlight prior to its final commercial flight on February 20, 2014. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

The air stairs have been pulled back, and the airplane is ready to go. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

The air stairs have been pulled back, and the airplane is ready to go.

Bernie Leighton from Seattle, WA and Maarten Van Den Driessche from Belguim hold a Bangladesh flag in front of the airplane.

Bernie Leighton from Seattle, WA and Maarten Van Den Driessche from Belguim hold a Bangladesh flag in front of the airplane. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Captain Shoaib Chowdhury prepares the aircraft for departure from Dhaka Bangladesh.

Captain Shoaib Chowdhury prepares the aircraft for departure from Dhaka Bangladesh. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Flight engineer Selim Azam makes adjustments to the aircraft while in flight.

Flight engineer Selim Azam makes adjustments to the aircraft while in flight. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

The final DC-10 flight lines up on the runway

The final DC-10 flight lines up on the runway (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Bernie Leighton Aaron Willis Tilburg from the Netherlands share a meal and stories on board the flight.

Bernie Leighton Aaron Willis Tilburg from the Netherlands share a meal and stories on board the flight. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Meals are prepared on the airplane's galley.

Meals are prepared on the airplane’s galley. (Credit: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)

Hafiz with Biman

Hafiz with Biman

Breakfast is served to the thirty some-odd passengers on board this unique flight.

Breakfast is served to the thirty some-odd passengers on board this unique flight.

Each passenger received a special final flight certificate from the airline. Passengers travelled from around the globe to catch the flight, such as Guy Van Herbruggen from Belgium.

Each passenger received a special final flight certificate from the airline. Passengers travelled from around the globe to catch the flight, such as Guy Van Herbruggen from Belgium.

 

Extra: The History of the DC-10, Part One: Taking Shape and Taking Off

Extra: Remembering the DC-10: A Pilot’s Perspective

Extra: The History of the DC-10, Part Two: Problems, Popularity, and Post Production

Extra: McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Sales Brochures and Memorabilia from 1970 and 1971.

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Launch Brochure from 1971

Extra: United Airlines DC-10 Scrapped at Las Vegas, NV in 1995

Extra: American Airlines DC-10 Being Converted to Trans-Aero Russian Airlines at Marana, AZ in 1996

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Planes Vs Trains: The Race from DC to NYC, Part Four

By Vinay Bhaskara & Jason Rabinowitz / Published February 4, 2014

*Editors note: The fourth installment in this four part series, we take a in-depth, deep-dive look at one of the most interesting transportation markets on the planet: New York to Washington DC. Long enough to fly, short enough to drive, the market is one of the more unique in the US if not the world. Today the race end as the Acela train is pitted against the air shuttle from DC back to NYC (note that the race was run back in September, 2013, and read part three, NYC to DC, here!). Read part one, on history, here!  Dive into the numbers behind the route and read part two here! 

The next morning I woke up at 5:30 am to try and get to the Capitol Building in time for our 8:15 am start. The Washington D.C. metro system is fantastic, or at least much cleaner and more comfortable than the New York City subway or the CTA trains in my new hometown of Chicago. Jason jumped onto his ten minute walk to Union Station, while I pulled out my phone and pinged the Uber app for a car. I suppose calling a car on Uber is the modern day facsimile of getting out on the street corner and hailing a taxi, but it’s much more convenient and guaranteed to accept credit cards, unlike most taxis in DC. Regardless, it only took me about 21 minutes to make it to the airport from downtown, though at that time of the day DC traffic is coming into the city from Virginia.

Jason’s Review – Acela Express WAS-NYC

On the way back from Washington to New York, we switched roles and I rode Amtrak’s Acela Express service. While Regan Airport may be close to the city center, Union Station is pretty much is the city center. The station is pretty much within walking distance of anything downtown, so catching a train right after a meeting is no problem.

Inside Union Station, a remarkable transit hub. (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

Inside Union Station, a remarkable transit hub. (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

Union Station is a beautiful transit hub, a truly classic rail terminal. High decorative ceilings, shops, and eateries make it an ideal place to spend some time before your train. Once at the gate for the 9am Acela, all the great points about the place are lost: Travelers are packed into a tiny waiting area with minimal seating, non-functional (but free) WiFi, and a looping security video. The boarding process did not begin until just a few minutes before the scheduled departure; however, we did depart on time.

Amtrak does not allow passengers on a later train to travel standby on an earlier train, even if there is room onboard. Several announcements were made that only passengers with a ticket for the 9am train would be allowed on board, with no mercy for those who arrived early. This is in stark contrast to the Delta Shuttle, where passengers on any later flight may fly standby for free if there are empty seats. This alone may be enough to convince passengers to fly.

Just like the Delta Shuttle, Amtrak uses an open seating policy. I decided to try out the quiet car towards the rear of the train, and settled into a window seat. The quiet car, marked with hanging signs from the ceiling, discourages any cell phone conversations, loud music, and dims the lights so passengers can get some sleep. This is a great amenity for those who want to rest, or focus on getting some work done on the journey.

With several different seating configurations, there is something for everyone on Acela. (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

With several different seating configurations, there is something for everyone on Acela. (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

My seat had plenty of legroom, a foot rest, massive tray (and stable) table, two 120V power outlets, and an overhead reading light. I could not possibly expect this level of comfort out of an economy class cabin on any airline running between New York and Washington, which gives the Acela a nice advantage. I was also able to set up my laptop and start working immediately after sitting down, all the way through arrival in New York. No wasting time waiting for 10,000 feet, and that provides Amtrak with a leg up in productivity. Because the shuttle flights are so quick, you are unlikely to get any work done.

Acela WiFi Speeds (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

Acela WiFi Speeds (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

Speaking of getting work done, passengers expect WiFi on this route, and Amtrak did not disappoint. While GoGo WiFi on the Delta Shuttle was available, it was quite slow and not free. Amtrak provides a free WiFi service, and the Acela was recently upgraded to a 4G connection that should theoretically be faster than GoGo. Amtrak WiFi relies on cellular carriers like AT&T and Verizon, so its coverage will only be as good as those services. I found the speeds to be pretty good, but that may be because they block all video and most streaming audio services. That is annoying, but for the greater good to ensure everyone gets decent speeds.

Amtrak arrives at Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, which is pretty much the opposite experience of Union Station. Dark, dingy, and generally overcrowded, Penn Station’s best quality is that it usually gets the job done. What Penn Station does provide, however, is direct access to the core of New York City, and you just can’t beat that. Taking a cab into midtown from LaGuardia could be quite a process in rush hour.

Vinay’s Review – US Airways Shuttle DCA-LGA

After disembarking at the far end of Terminal C (in front of gates 23-34), I walked down to the security checkpoint for gates 35-45. Regardless, I made it through security painlessly though not without waiting in a line for about fifteen minutes only subject myself to the trained monkey routine that is called “security” by the TSA. For someone who’s offended or annoyed by the process, I suppose that’s a point in favor of the train, but I don’t really mind the whole charade so it wasn’t awful. Still, the relative convenience of the Acela purely from a time perspective (given the variability in security waits), does merit mentioning as an attractive factor for those who travel the route frequently.

Inside Terminal C at Washington Reagan

Inside Terminal C at Washington Reagan

Once I cleared security, I had about an hour and a half left before my flight, so I made a beeline straight to the US Airways Club in Terminal C, which is nothing special, though certainly above average by US standards. At that time of the morning, after the early morning rush subsided, the club was relatively emptied, though it had begun to fill up rapidly by the time I left 45 minutes later. As far as the productivity factor for Acela over the Shuttle, the potential to get some work done in the lounge can offset that to some degree. Then again, as an international Star Alliance Gold member, I get free access to US Airways Clubs (a privilege I’ll be losing soon), so for those who have to pay the annual fee, it might not be that attractive of a perk. Regardless, with comfortable seating and plenty of outlets, I would have been able to get lots of work done. Since I had nothing urgent to work on that day in advance of several client calls that night, I instead settled down with a copy of The Economist and grabbed a bagel and some cereal for breakfast.

The US Airways Club at Reagan Terminal C

The US Airways Club at Reagan Terminal C

*Unrelated Tangent: My routine for flights has traditionally been to read the latest weekly edition of The Economist, while underneath the electronic device ceiling, and switch to other forms of passing the time once in the air. Looks like that will effectively end (at least the mandated part of it) thanks to the FAA.

They had one of those rolling bagel toasters (like the ovens you see at a Quiznos), and it was set too high, so the bagel came out almost burnt, but otherwise the food spread was decent. Certainly better than most domestic United Clubs (including the one that I frequent in Terminal 1 on Concourse B at O’Hare, where all you get are snacks. I think there’s a club in San Francisco where I saw a couple of pastries once, but much like United’s profits, they were marginal at best (rimshot?…. I kid… I Kid…). But regardless, the food spread was decent and I managed to get through around 70% of the magazine and a good chunk of The Wall Street Journal.

Snacks at the US Airways Club

Snacks at the US Airways Club

At t-minus 45, I left the lounge and went out to Gate 42, stopping to pick up brunch at California Tortilla. While in line, who happens to walk up but Scott Kirby, then president of US Airways and now president of American Airlines? For most people, seeing an airline executive up close in an airport is nothing special, but for avgeeks like me, it’s the equivalent of seeing Jack Nicholson at a Lakers game or Justin Bieber at a Heat game.

Boarding was relatively orderly, thanks to my Star Alliance Gold status (and thus early group access), and I settled into the aisle seat of the bulkhead on a full flight. Lacking my preferred window seat, I once again jumped into The Economist as we pulled back from the gate on time and waited in the customary fifteen minute line. Once we got in the air, the beverage service immediately began. Unlike the Delta Shuttle, the US Airways Shuttle does not feature free newspapers, though snacks, beer, and wine are all complimentary. Since it was the morning (and I don’t drink on flights anyway), I stuck to the snacks and my customary can of ginger ale as I thumbed through US Airways’ inflight magazine.

Once I finished the beverage service, I pulled out my phone and attempted to connect to GoGo’s inflight internet so that we could continue with the live tweeting of the race. No dice. So I tried again…. And again…. And again. After my fourth attempt, I gave it up settled down to try and take a nap after a late night with friends the previous evening and an early (at least contextually) morning in DC. Naturally, there was a baby with her mother seated to my left, and while there was no crying, the silence was overshadowed by the incessant kicking. Feeling magnanimous, I let it go and managed 25 minutes worth of fretful shut-eye before waking up when we touched down at La Guardia.

And then there was La Guardia. Unlike Jason, I was not flying out of the serene, Sky Club-esque Marine Air Terminal but rather Terminal C. Of course La Guardia as a whole is a dump, and that goes for every terminal there (though Delta is trying hard to change that), but I guess you could say that Terminal C is the common landfill to the Superfund site that is the Central Terminal Building. Being seated in the bulkhead, I was out the door within 15 minutes.

On the Ground in New York City

If the traffic gods smiled on Jason the day before, what I had to deal with would probably be described as mild frowning. The traffic was not awful but it was slow moving enough that I could see Jason steadily gaining on me on the Google Plus map. Because there were no delays for the Acela this time (and of course because Manhattan was unseasonably devoid of cars in mid-afternoon), the race came down to the wire, though I eventually made it to the NYSE around 8 minutes ahead of Jason.

Social Media Interaction

A key part of the race was the social media involvement. Airchive’s followers and other Social Media friends were invited to follow on Twitter (up against the 787-9’s first flight on the same day) using the hashtag #PlaneVsTrain, and the response was amazing. In addition to responses from Delta (through spokesperson) and Amtrak themselves, the #Avgeek community on Twitter became really invested in the train (rooting heavily for the plane of course), with over 1,000 tweets being sent using that hashtag over the course of the two day race. Though everyone followed along breathlessly to the finish, we didn’t reveal the winner, until now.

Race Conclusion/Implications and Future Predictions

While the plane won the race we were able to see why the Acela has become an extremely attractive option. In particular, the free WiFi and enhanced productivity (time isn’t tied up in boarding and deplaning or in flying under the 10,000 feet ceiling for) of the Acela, along with the option to avoid the TSA made the Acela a really attractive value proposition. Under normal conditions, of course the plane is still likely to win given its heavy speed advantage, but given the extreme variability of New York City traffic, the train can actually get there faster (as our second race showed). On the flip side, Jason made it to the airport so quickly before the Delta Shuttle that he could have stood by on the earlier flight, which would have torpedoed the race before it even started. So even today, there’s probably a clear advantage to the Shuttle.

But more importantly, the success of the Acela and its relative competitiveness bodes well for the future prospects of high speed rail in this country. Keep in mind of course that the Acela is nothing close to high speed rail with a maximum speed of 150 miles per hour, which is only achieved at select locations along the route due to rail gauge limitations. But if the Acela has been able to achieve success at this level despite only limited speeds, imagine what it could do if the proposed 220 miles per hour speed (targeted by 2040) was achieved? Therein lies the attractive potential of the Acela and thus the train

Moving forward, we believe that the balance of power will continue to shift towards the Acela Express, which is critical given that is the only profitable segment of Amtrak’s entire portfolio of services. US Airways will likely eventually reduce its services to 70 seat regional jets like Delta, and the two carriers will persist with the route at those levels. Given the corporate contracts tied to a presence on the route, neither Delta nor US Airways will be able to leave entirely. Still in the battle of Plane Vs. Train, it is the Train who appears to be the long term winner.

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InFlight Review: JetBlue Even More Space

By Taylor Michie / Published January 30, 2014 / Photos by author

Photo courtesy jplphoto.

Photo courtesy jplphoto.

JetBlue has found itself in the limelight several times in the past few months. It will introduce Mint premium service on transcontinental routes in June, just premiered A321 service on JFK-SJU, and recently launched superfast Fly-Fi service on A320 aircraft. Despite all of the fanfare surrounding its most recent accomplishments, it’s not as if these are its first forays into the world of passenger experience.

In fact, JetBlue prides itself on having one of the best complimentary passenger experiences in the industry — one checked bag free, unlimited snacks and soft drinks onboard every flight, and free AVOD with DirecTV at every seat. Aside from its occasional winter weather meltdown, the carrier has developed a solid reputation and nearly fanatical following. I recently flew JetBlue between New York and Washington, and had a chance to experience the carrier’s most basic level of service. The question is, did it live up to the hype?

LANDSIDE / CHECK-IN / SECURITY

I was scheduled to fly the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which was looking iffy thanks to a storm that was causing delays at Northeast airports, primarily because of wind. My evening departure pitted me right on the cusp of predicted delays. While this wasn’t the news I wanted to hear, it would be the first test of JetBlue customer service.

I headed to the airport via the LIRR and AirTrain, arriving around 3:00pm for my 5:40pm departure. I had already checked in online, but needed to drop off my checked bag. JetBlue does have an iPhone app with Passbook integration, so you can skip checking in with an agent or at a kiosk if you’re doing carry-on only. The check-in area is large space-wise, but there are only about eight or so manned desks. It didn’t seem to be a problem on this occasion, as I had to wait less than five minutes to send my bag on its way, but during peak periods it may be crazy.

Security was perhaps the biggest shortcoming of the entire operation. I had upgraded to an Even More Space seat, which comes with Even More Speed priority boarding and security for a limited time. There were two TSA officers checking IDs at security: one was solely devoted to the non-expedited line, and one was alternating between another non-expedited line and the Even More Speed line. This setup is common at many airports across the board, and typically when passengers with expedited security screening turn up, their IDs are checked before others in the non-expedited lane. In this case, the agent was alternating back and forth between Even More Space passengers and the passengers in the non-expedited lane. While this is perhaps a more fair approach, it sort of defeats the purpose of expedited security. It took about ten minutes to get past the ID check.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get better during screening. Employees, who neither work for Jetblue or the TSA but are contracted through a third party, were directing passengers to security lines seemingly in a random fashion. They directed me to one line, but I quickly scanned the open lanes and saw one that was moving more quickly and looked mostly to be comprised of business-type travelers, so I stepped out of the line I was in and began to walk over to the shorter one. I was immediately stopped by one of the stewards who ordered me back into the original line, saying that switching was not an option, and I needed to stay where I was directed. All in all, security took about 45 minutes, much longer than it needed to.

TERMINAL

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetAfter clearing security, it was time to explore JetBlue’s Terminal 5. The terminal is laid out in a semi-triangular shape. Security lets out into a central area with the majority of restaurants and shops, and there are a handful of gates to your left or right, and then a long hallway with gates directly in front of you. The concourse is bright and modern, with high ceilings and plentiful seating, somewhat reminiscent of SFO’s T2. As far as dining goes, there were plenty of options to go around (full list here: http://www.jetblue.com/travel/jfk/), but it was a pleasant surprise to see some more playful options in the terminal: Popular cupcakery Baked by Melissa, Cheeburger Cheeburger, Ben and Jerry’s, and Illy Coffee. Of course, there were the requisite grab-and-go staples, as well as a variety of more formal dining experiences covering everything from sushi to barbecue.

photo 1(1)After placing my order and swiping my credit card, I was given an estimated delivery of 2:30am (?) and an order number. I figured this was just a glitch and had work to do any way, so with plenty of time before my flight, I just waited. And waited. And waited. After about a half-hour of waiting for my hummus and pita bowl, I pressed the “Assistance” button on the screen, which assured me that someone would be over immediately. Well, an hour came and went, with no food in sight. With fifteen minutes before scheduled boarding, I needed to find food, and ended up with so-so sandwich, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. While JetBlue isn’t responsible for the food ordering system (it’s implemented and managed by OTG, a contractor), it is part of the experience, and reflects badly on the airline when things don’t go as planned. The same goes for security — while they can’t necessarily control the TSA and their actions, they can control lane management post-ID check, and it would serve the airline well to create a more orderly and expeditious process.

THE FLIGHT – JETBLUE 1407, JFK-IAD

As I mentioned earlier, weather conditions were iffy in the Northeast. At JFK, things were running smoothly, but my aircraft was arriving from Syracuse, NY, where things were not going so smoothly. The aircraft left Syracuse late, meaning an hour’s departure delay here at JFK. The gate crew were extremely communicative and gave us updates every ten minutes or so, which was appreciated.

Our E190 pulled up to the gate around 5:45, and the passengers were quickly offloaded, service trucks pulled up, and by 6:00, we were boarding. Even More Space and Mosaic customers board first, and, after that, JetBlue boards by rows, back to front. I was nearly first onboard, and took my bulkhead seat, 1A (note that photos are from return trip, hence the extra legroom).

photo 2 photo 5 Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I picked a bulkhead on this flight as making a quick exit at Dulles was essential. Despite this being an Even More Space seat, legroom seemed scarcely larger than the JetBlue standard 34″ — still generous in this day and age, but perhaps this bulkhead seat was not worth the additional fee. We pushed back at 6:43, and the crew specifically mentioned that our electronic devices didn’t need to be switched off, save for “full-size laptop computers.” We had a relatively quick taxi to the active runway, and were off into the night sky.

Flight time is around 50 minutes, so an expedited snack service was conducted. Passenger were given the choice of water, Coke, Diet Coke, or Sprite, and either Linden’s Butter Crunch Cookies or a nut mix — I was disappointed that the Terra Blue chips didn’t make an appearance, but such is life. By the time the flight attendants had completed service and were on their way back through to pick up trash, we were descending into Washington. The flight attendants were cheery and pleasant on this flight, and the captain made active use of the intercom, keeping us informed every step of the way.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetWith such a short flight, there was little time to fully explore JetBlue’s AVOD system. However, I did get to scroll through the 36 channels of DirecTV, which came through loud and clear, and glanced at the moving map every so often. If I were to fault the system, I would say that the small screen size is its largest downside, but it was perfectly adequate for such a short flight.

Bottom Line

Presently, I think JetBlue’s biggest asset is its people. Every JetBlue employee I encountered was extremely helpful, warm, and kind. It is clear that the “customer first” ideology is clearly ingrained into the JetBlue culture, and I think JetBlue is doing a great job providing excellent customer service.

With that said, I think I was expecting to be blown away, and, to be honest, I wasn’t.  The security checkpoint situation is an absolute mess. It seems that a better system of lane management could be implemented so that everyone gets through faster — business travelers don’t need to be stuck behind families or inexperienced travelers. Plus, expedited security (“Even More Speed”) doesn’t seem so expedited. As I mentioned, it’s currently included with Even More Space purchases, but I wouldn’t spend the money outright for it, at least not at JFK. Secondly, the touchscreen meal ordering system at T5 is an absolute failure. If the system is going to be in place, it needs to work. In fairness, after I tweeted my displeasure to OTG, someone followed up with me, refunded the charge, and promised me a better experience next time. Are these in JetBlue’s control? Probably not on either, but both reflected poorly on the overall experience.

As far as Even More Space seating goes, I think it’s absolutely worth $20 each way. Priority boarding means your bag is more likely to ride overhead (especially on JetBlue’s smaller E-190s – there was a lot of gate-checking amongst the passengers who boarded towards the end of the process), and the legroom is adequate. On the return, I chose row 14, the E-190 exit row, and there was miles of legroom, owing to the already-generous configuration and the presence of the exit (see photos above).

I think it’s an interesting time of transition for JetBlue. Its soft product is its biggest asset, and customer service is definitely better than many of its legacy counterparts. However, the hard product isn’t as revolutionary as it once was. Legroom is plentiful and highly appreciated, but small-ish seatback TVs and no onboard power means that JetBlue needs to play catch-up in order to stay competitive. The launch of its Mint service this year will be a huge upgrade for passengers flying transcontinental routes, but it looks like the rest of us will just have to wait.

Cover photo courtesy jplphoto.

 

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The Frozen Triangle: LGA-MSP-ATL-LGA In One Cold Day

By Jason Rabinowitz / Published January 22, 2014

A very, very cold looking Great Lake (Photo: Jason Rabinowitz)

A very, very cold looking Great Lake (Photo: Jason Rabinowitz)

While I’m still not totally sure what the heck a polar vortex is, one thing is certain – extreme cold and the aviation industry do not mix. Two weeks ago, I planned to venture around the eastern half of the United States in order to cover the final scheduled Delta DC-9 flight. While I made the flight, what I also got was a first hand lesson on how ill-prepared this industry is for climate change and extreme weather.

My itinerary, while ambitious, would have been a piece of cake on an ordinary day. I was booked on the 10:10am flight out of LGA to MSP, 4:20pm flight out of MSP to ATL, and 9:45pm flight out of ATL back to LGA. Both connections had multiple hours between flights, as I wouldn’t be tempting fate with a 39 minute connection on this day.

The weekend leading up to my flights was treacherous for the New York area airports. JFK had been closed for several hours on Friday due to extremely low visibility and drifting snow, and again on Sunday due to equipment failure, severe icing, and other dangerous conditions. This had a cascading effect throughout the entire aviation industry, canceling thousands of flights across the country and generally causing chaos. In fact, the same thing is happening right now as the northeast goes through another cold spell and snow storm.

Just to be safe, I attempted to change to an earlier flight out of LaGuardia the night before. Unfortunately, the type of ticket I had could not be modified online, which is a huge problem during irregular operations. I called up Delta and the menus prompted me that the hold time would be greater than three hours. Yikes. Alternatively, I could have the system call me back when it was my turn. I had heard others talk about this, and decided to give it a try. I waited, waited some more, and eventually forgot about it.

On the morning of my flight, I arrived at what I assumed would be a hellscape. Oddly, LaGuardia seemed calmer than most normal days. I breezed through security in seconds with TSA PreCheck. I was chatting with with a TSA agent about my travel plans for the day, and he responded with a playful “that’s what you think.” A nice vote of confidence to start the day.

I picked out at spot at a restaurant in terminal C to wait for my flight. Unbelievably, it was still listed as on time just two hours before departure. As any true aviation geek would, however, I checked where my aircraft was coming from, and the news wasn’t good. The aircraft was coming in from Detroit, one of the coldest cities in the country that day.

An hour went by as the inbound aircraft was listed as “awaiting takeoff” by Delta. I’m sure the wait for deicing at DTW was long, but they got the job done, and my aircraft arrived about an hour and a half late. I wasn’t worried, as I baked in a four hour layover at MSP for just this reason. Well, the news got worse. Our aircraft and cabin crew had arrived, but the pilots were on the following flight from DTW. Oops. Another 45 minutes on the clock, our pilots arrived and we were on our way. Later on, I would learn that this aircraft, an MD88, was involved in a deadly accident in 1996. Not a good omen.

While in the air, I learned that JetBlue made the shocking decision to cancel nearly all their operations in the New York Metro and Boston areas. This, I thought to myself, can only be bad news. What if Delta did the same? How long would I be stranded at MSP or ATL?

BdUdzjUCMAEqGBJMy flight arrived to MSP a few hours late, but I was shocked that I had even gotten out of NYC, considering that two out of the three earlier flights had been cancelled. Minneapolis was cold, the coldest in decades actually. My phone said it was -11F, but the people of MSP didn’t seem to care. Meanwhile, at Chicago, O’Hare airport practically shut down as its fuel supply had frozen. MSP was ready, however, while other airports caved under the ice.

Despite the bitter cold, the final DC9 flight pushed back early, without deicing, and we were off to ATL. Two out of three flights for the day down, one to go. This is where things started to get interesting.

The southern United States is not ready for cold weather, even if northern states laugh at their concept of cold. Miraculously, my flight back to LGA was listed as on time. Just before boarding, a delay was posted because one of the flight attendants was stranded elsewhere.

A Delta employee sits on the frozen MSP ramp. I bet he has a few tips for ATL in cold weather.

A Delta employee sits on the frozen MSP ramp. I bet he has a few tips for ATL in cold weather.

As we sat on the Boeing 737-800 waiting to push back, the pilot came on the PA with three pieces of bad news. First, the fuel supply at ATL had potentially been contaminated with ice crystals, which is a very bad thing. Fuel would have to be trucked in from an alternate location, and that was taking a while. Second, the potable water distribution had frozen, so the lavatory sinks would not work, nor would the flight crew be able to offer coffee or tea. Third, our late flight attendant had finally been located, but was not yet with the aircraft.

After about 30 minutes, our pilot came back on the PA with some more news. All three of our prior problems had been solved, which  is great! We got our fuel, hand sanitizer for the lavatory sinks, and a new flight attendant. However, a new problem cropped up- the push bar to push us away from the gate had frozen. It wasn’t that cold at ATL, with temperatures of about 28 degrees. At this point, I wondered if my luck had run out, and if our crew was about to time out for the day, stranding us at ATL.

Another 20 minutes and one new push bar later, we finally started rolling in the right direction. I asked a flight attendant how close the crew came to timing out, and I was told a mere 13 minutes. Once in the air, we were told to expect a very bumpy flight, and they weren’t kidding. We were being thrown all over the place with a monster tailwind. The tailwind was so strong, in fact, that the pilot came on the PA once more to say “this is about as fast as I’ve ever gone in an aircraft, nearly 750 MPH.”

I was so close to completing this improbably triangle of flights on one of the worst travel days in recent history. “What if we have to divert to another airport because of the weather” I thought to myself. Thankfully, the pilots set us down on LGA’s runway 31 with the wind putting up its best fight, and the day was done.

Map via http://www.gcmap.com/

Map via http://www.gcmap.com/

I checked into LGA on Foursquare, and friends responded in awe on Twitter. “OMG, you made it. #stunned” said my friend John Walton. I really couldn’t believe it myself, either. I’m pretty sure I used all my “flight Karma” for 2014 in one day, but what a day it was! Oh, and remember that callback from Delta? That never really worked. They tried calling me three times, but only after 24 hours, and each call failed on their end.

Whether you want to believe this or not, climate change is here. Winters will be colder and summer storms will be harsher. While Atlanta may not see freezing temperatures every day, they may want to take a lessons from their cousins in Detroit and Minneapolis, unless they really like fuel popsicles. The aviation industry needs to take a hard look at itself and better prepare for this severe weather, it won’t be going away any time soon.

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InFlight Review: KLM IntraEuropean Business

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published January 10, 2014 / Photos by author

After an exciting, but very cold, visit to Amsterdam Schiphol’s famous observation deck, it was time to head back into the far warmer terminal to thaw out. Holding a business class ticket, I learned I was entitled to expedited security. With no one ahead of me I blazed through in a grand total of five minutes. By virtue of traveling within the Schengen Area, I did not have to clear immigration, saving even more time.

With two hours left to spend before my flight, I paid a visit to the KLM Crown Lounge nearest Pier B. The lounge was well appointed, as far as lounges go. A number of seat styles and arrangements dotted the space, though partitions between them were hard to come by. I sampled a few Dutch-style cookies and had a few drinks (water), before catching a badly needed 45 minute nap in a corner.

The Flight

No, it wasn't this lucky. But it was a similar 737.

No, I wasn’t this lucky. But it was a similar 737.

Twenty minutes prior to final call I headed for the gate, and quickly boarded the Boeing 737. Expecting a comfy first class seat I was surprised to see instead a cabin outfitted in all coach seats. I settled into seat 2A, and noticed that the middle seat had a head rest with the words “Reserved for your personal space” imprinted above the KLM logo. I was not entirely sure whom the ‘your’ was addressing, but recalling the European trend toward blocking the middle seat in an economy row then calling it business class, I assumed it meant me: Excellent.

As we prepared for take-off it became clear that I had the entire row to myself. Not long after we were airborne I stretched out for another nap, further assuming that 2C was also reserved for my personal space. A flight attendant woke me up twenty minutes into the fifty minute flight, offering drinks and a meal box. I had passed eating anything substantial at the lounge, knowing a meal was coming on board, and thus was quite hungry. Consequently, I was disappointed when the box consisted of chicken on a bed of sauerkraut and two deserts arrived. The chicken tasted great, but 50% of the meal was the sauerkraut bed, and I don’t like sauerkraut. The two deserts, though small, were also enjoyable.

KLM 737-3KLM 737-4

By the time I finished the meal the flight was well past half over. I enjoyed the remaining the twenty-five minutes with my 33 inches of pitch and 17 inches of seat width before touching down in Paris. Taxi time lasted about fifteen minutes before pulling up to our gate in the E pier. The wait for my luggage took the better part of forty minutes, after which I was on my way to the hotel for the evening.

Bottom Line

The flight was the first time I’d seen the new ‘European style’ of business class. KLM launched its version in 2011. The difference between this evolved business and economy is somewhat difficult to ascertain, but the experience was significantly underwhelming compared to domestic first class in the US. Still, there are a few factors to consider.

KLM 737-2First, the flight was only 50 minutes long. If I were flying in the US there’s a good chance I’d be on a CRJ700 or similar, which is not exactly a bastion of comfort in first class (or any class, for that matter). Was I thrilled about having a regular economy seat that tried to pass itself off as a business class seat? No, not really. But for 50 minutes did it really matter? Can’t really say it did.

Second, I did get a meal. A little trolling around frequent flyer sites yielded a generally negative perception of intra-European meals on most full service carriers, but we did get one (and I found it rather good). You’d be hard pressed to find a carrier in the US that offers something similar on a route as short as ours.

Third, lounge access. Lounge access comes through as the unlikely big winner of the experience.  The Crown Room nearest Pier B did not have the best view (I like lounges with a view), but was well stocked, well laid out, and quite comfortable. It was a great way to whittle away a four hour layover. While many US carriers offer lounge access for those travelling domestically in first, some, like American, do not.

Fourth, business does have more legroom; even if it is only by two inches. The seat-width is the same cabin-wide, at 17 inches. Most US domestic first products will be at least four to five inches above coach, by comparison.

Fifth, prices are not that much higher than KLM coach. A unscientific sample of fares on the same route yielded an average increase of roughly $125US for business class over coach (average coach fare was $600). The amount is low enough to entice those looking for an inexpensive upgrade. On the other side, if you price out the amenities you’re receiving, you can easily quantify the total value. Let’s assume that the economy ticket is $600, and business is $725. If an economy ticket plus a $50 lounge pass (meal/snacks appear to be offered free in coach) is $650 and row 20 has an empty middle seat, you’re receiving a nearly equivalent experience for $75 less.

Just to make it crystal clear, this is not avoidable by taking your business to Air France or Lufthansa. Almost every major European carrier offers a variation on the middle-seat-blocked theme. I have not tried the others, so I cannot speak on the experience from a comparative perspective. Compared to US domestic first, the US carriers have a very good chance of coming out ahead.

In sum, KLM intra-European business class boils down to one thing: a guarantee. You’re guaranteed to get priority security, you’re guaranteed to have overhead space, guaranteed to have the middle seat open, and are guaranteed to get a meal. Flights over two or three hours? Might swing for it. Under two? Enjoyable, yes, but it feels like an indulgence, and a small one at that.

Delta paid for our flight, but our opinions are our own.

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

By Chris Sloan / Published January 7, 2013
Photos by author / slideshow at bottom

BdZ3aDHIMAItrRgNEW YORK JFK: American Airlines officially upped the ante in the high stakes, high yield LAX-JFK transcontinental wars Tuesday with the launch of its long-awaited Airbus A321T.

This latest inaugural, just one month after consummating its merger with US Airways, caps off a period of extensive fleet changes for the carrier. The Embraer ERJ-175Airbus A319, and Boeing 777-300ER all joined the fleet as the newly merged carrier continues on its path toward the largest fleet renewal in commercial aviation history.

The process began in January 2011 with the 777-300ER order and the record 460 aircraft order in July 2011 for 200 Boeing 737-800s and 260 A319s and A321s.

Ever since, American (AA) has averaged a delivery of one new aircraft per week. The airline received its first A321T in November and  the company unveiled the airplane to the press and high-value customers at LAX and JFK late last month. Familiarization flights between the two cities began shortly thereafter.

With five A321T’s in the fleet at present, AA is initially operating two roundtrips per day between the two cities. The A321Ts, which are replacing the ancient 767-200s, will be joined later in the year by standard new-build A321s that are designed to replace the Boeing 757-200s. Down the road, 93 A321s (as well as 17 outstanding orders) will come over from US Airways once the merger is completed. This review covers the inaugural flight 118, scheduled for a 7AM departure.

Extra: Apollo 11 – Inside American Airlines Landmark Airbus Order

Extra: American Airlines Massive Fleet Renewal and Delivery of First Airbus A319

AA-Mercury-NonStop-November-1-1953Historically, American has been a market leader and pioneer in the transcontinental market. It has operated between the two cities, LA and NYC, almost since its founding. It launched the first non-stop transcontinental flights in 1953, and in January of 1959 upgraded the routes to Boeing 707s, the first carrier to use jets domestically in  continuous service.

At one time, big jets such as Boeing 747s and Douglas DC-10s were mainstays on AA’s JFK-LAX/SFO transcon flights, but by the late 1990s, these flights were dominated and eventually operated solely by the Boeing 767-200.

Lacking personal seat-back in-flight entertainment even in premium cabins, and lie-flat sleeper seats the product has remained unchanged from the 1990s. The only real innovations in recent years have been the Samsung Galaxy tablets handed out to premium cabin customers and GoGo wi-fi (AA was first, in 2008)

American launched the first regularly scheduled jet service, 55 years ago in January 1959. The New York IDL-LAX route was chosen.

American launched the first regularly scheduled continuous domestic jet service, 55 years ago in January 1959. The New York IDL-LAX route was chosen.
Image from: Airchive collection

The air travel market between the Los Angeles area and New York City is, by far, the most lucrative in the United States. The bi-directional origin and destination (O&D) market was worth $389.5 million in the second quarter of 2013 alone. Of this, close to two thirds, or $234.4 million flies between the primary two airports: LAX and JFK.

Despite previously operating the oldest equipment with dated passenger experience on the route, AA is still indisputably the market leader on the JFK-LAX route in O&D with 27.2% of the market, followed by Delta with 22.7%. The other three main carriers are all clustered around 15% market share (all figures from Q1 2013).

This is clearly due to two main factors. First, American is the only carrier operating a true three-class cabin with First / Business / Economy service in the market. And they also offer the most frequency in the market with Delta, United, jetBlue and Virgin America (tied) trailing in that order. With the decreased capacity of the narrow-bodied A321 fleet’s 102 seats versus the 767′s 168 seats it’s replacing, American’s frequency will further increase by four flights per day (from the current summer peak of nine) to thirteen between the city-pair from June 11, 2014 onwards. Schedule wise, JFK-LAX will be an almost hourly service in the morning and late afternoon/early evening, while LAX-JFK flights will feature a near hourly shuttle from early morning through late afternoon. The late evening flights out of JFK and red-eyes out of LAX will be retained.

Extra: The Transcon Wars – The Ultimate Airline Battleground

A321T flights between JFK and SFO will begin in March, eventually replacing the 767 on all five frequencies. On JFK-SFO, surprisingly the market share leader is  Virgin America, who slots in just ahead of United with a 21.3% O&D market share. United, Delta, and American are all clustered not far behind, with 21.2%, 21.1%, and 20.3% O&D market share respectively. JetBlue again brings up the rear with 12.8% of the market.

AA’s elderly wide-body Boeing 767-200s are configured with 10 First Class seats, 30 Business Class, and 128 in Main Cabin Economy Class. In comparison, the new narrow-body Airbus A321T offers 10 First Class seats, 20 Business Class seats, 36 Main Cabin Extra, and 36 standard Main Cabin Economy Class seats. First Class seat pitch remains the same in both aircraft at 62″, but the new A321 seats are true lie-flat beds at 82.5″ long in a spacious 1-1 configuration that feels more like an executive jet. On the A321T, Business Class pitch increases to 58″ in a 2-2 configuration from 49″/50″ on the 762. The B/E Aersopace designed seats on the A321 fold out to a lie-flat bed as well at 75-78″ instead of the reclining cradle seats on the older Boeing. Main Cabin Extra pitch is 35″-37″ on the A321 for the Recaro designed slimline seats. Main Cabin pitch is the same between both at 31″-32″ with both cabin in a standard narrow-body 3-3 configuration. Seat width is nearly the same between the two aircraft with the A321T holding a slight edge of .5″ to 1″.

First Class Cabin Pre-Board of AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 6Business Class Cabin Pre-Board of AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 1   Business Class Cabin Pre-Board of AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 3Main Cabin Pre-Board of AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 2

Extra: American Airlines Boeing 767-200 Cabin Images

Extra: American Airlines to Retire the Boeing 767-200 on May 7, 2014

Airchive business analyst Vinay Bhaskara reports the shift to the smaller A321 results in a capacity decrease of 186 seats per day, or 12.3%, in each direction. First Class capacity will actually increase a whopping 44.4% to 130 seats per day each way, perhaps accounting for residual demand from United’s elimination of First Class from its P.S. offering on the route. Business Class capacity is essentially flat, dipping 3.7% to 260 passengers per day each way, while Economy Class sees the biggest drop of 18.8%.

The 767-200s were nice, but the A321 makes them look very dated (because they sort of are...) Photo by Chris Sloan.

The 767-200s were nice, but the A321 makes them look very dated (because they sort of are…) Photo by Chris Sloan.

The A321T hard product is a major upgrade over its Jurassic predecessor. Every seat onboard features seat-back entertainment via the Thales TopSeries and its slick Android inspired GUI; very similar to that found in the A319,  777-300ER, and most recent 737-800 deliveries. It boasts up to 200 movies, 180 TV programs, more than 350 audio selections, up to tweny games, and 3-D moving maps. The full swath of entertainment is included in the premium cabins, while there will be a $4 charge for most of the VOD movies and TV series in Main Cabin as is now custom in the new domestic fleet.

First and Business Cabins boast an HD 15.4″ screen while economy’s screens measure 8.9″. Individual AC power outlets and USB jacks are available at every seat throughout the aircraft as well. Wi-Fi has been upgraded to Gogo’s ATG-4 service, though this is not of the same speed or caliber of KA-satellite based solutions.

Extra: American Airlines A319 / A321T Thales TopSeries Screen Captures

Extra: In-Flight Review of American Airlines’ Inaugural Boeing 777-300ER 

Extra: In-Flight Review of American Airlines’ Inaugural Airbus A319

Though it is a mostly symbolic move, American’s introduction of the A321T is just the first step in the coming shift in the balance of power towards the A321 in the US market. Currently, US carriers operate 453 passenger Boeing 757-200s, and 124 Boeing 737-900s (both ER and non-ER – as well as 176 NGs and 117 MAX 9s on order). However, many of these 757s are slated for retirement (close to 300 – basically the non-international 757s that operating trans-Atlantic and South American routes for the legacy carriers & AA will use new regular A321s to replace 757s reportedly beginning with routes from the West Coast to Hawaii). Meanwhile, US Airways operates 93 A321s (with 17 on order), American has five A321s on property (with an additional 190 – 60x ceo, 130x neo on order), Spirit Airlines operates two (with 30 on order), JetBlue operates four (with 79 more on order), and Hawaiian Airlines has sixteen A321neos on order.  When all of the orders are filled for both types, the A321ceo/neo will be the most operated large narrowbody in the US, narrowly edging out the 737-900/MAX 9 with 431 frames versus 417, a massive shift from the current status.

Business Class is the heart of this premium high-yield market so we booked seat 12D in the intimate 20-seat Business Cabin to review the new product ourselves.

The Flight

The morning started off bright and early. I arrived at LAX around 5:00AM local time to American’s elite Flagship Check-in. The folks at the premium cabin only ticket counter (which has its own special entrance) quickly squared away my reservation, handed me a ticket, and personally escorted me to security.

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The walk to Gate 40 in Terminal 4 was short. The terminal was crowded with people going home from yesterday’s BCS bowl game, reminding me more of a zoo than an airport. Unlike many inaugural flights I have attended, there were no special decorations or acknowledgements of this new milestone (I later found out a celebration had been planned, but was scrapped due to concerns that it would look insensitive in light of the weather.

Boarding commenced approximately on time. I boarded through the L1 door (generally it will be L2 to preserve first class exclusivity), and made my way to my seat in the swank new business class cabin. Upon passing through the first class cabin I noticed a special compartment for pets, as the first class product does not have any under seat storage (same as AAs 777-300).

Before taking my seat in 7D I noticed that each seat had a complimentary SWAG bag, filled with a T-Shirt, DVD, and 500 AAdvantage miles. While settling in, the preflight customary champagne and water were offered as the cabin power flickered on and off. Best to get the jitters out of the way early, I suppose.

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Once power was solidly established the airplane’s mood lighting was turned on. Shades of blue and purple swept over the cabin, eliciting ohs and ahs throughout the airplane. Our friendly crew excitedly thanked us for being on board the inaugural flight, and pointed out that for many it was their first time working on board the airplane. We pushed back at 7:03AM, taxied for awhile across the vast LAX landscape, and leapt into the sky 19 minutes later at 7:22AM.

Once aloft the flight generally proceeded like any other. One hour into the flight, Fern Fernandez, AA’s Vice President of Global Marketing, gave a spirited champagne and cupcake toast (Fernandez later gave up his business seat to an employee, taking his seat at the back of economy). After which, our breakfast service began.

Our two flight attendants (there are two in each cabin for six total, instead of the nine on the old 762) busily worked the cabin, delivering our breakfast choices. My choice consisted of tasty a gruyere fontina cheese omelette and chicken apple sausage, red pepper potatoes, and chicken apple sausage. It was superbly delicious. Other options included Belgian waffles along with cereal and yogurt.

While our meal in business might have come with the fare, all passengers on board wound up receiving free food and drinks on board the flight. Typically those in main cabin extra or the main cabin would have the option of buying off the menu.

aa3215 aa321

Once I had finished the delicious breakfast I turned my attention to the seat, and promptly fell asleep. It was exceptionally comfortable. I set one of my electronics to power up, but was dismayed by the awkward location of the AC and USB power ports, both located near my head.

After my much needed and very enjoyable nap, it was time to mess around with the inflight entertainment system (IFE). All entertainment, in all classes of service, is free on the A321T (in contrast to the AA A319 and 737 where it is not in Y). The Thales powered, Android GUI based system had an incredibly quick response time – one of the faster I’ve ever seen.

While most choices mirrored a predictable set of choices ranging from movies to TV to music, two options in particular stuck out to me. The first was a sort of e-reader. It functioned much like a Kindle, offering a selection of reading material, which is certainly unique. The other was the moving maps function. Normally pretty unexciting, I found it to be mind blowing with pinching like a smart phone and multiple views including cockpit and wingman which displays heading, ground speed, and altitude. Who needs anything else on the IFE? Very AvGeek and cool. Regardless of your choice, you could listen to it via the set of spiffy three-pronged Bose headsets passed out to each premium passenger.

Thales IFE Business Class on AA Airbus A321 Inaugural  - 2013 - 13 BdYla0rIQAAiqw8

The system can be controlled via touch screen or by a very nifty universal remote. The remote also controls flight attendant call and overhead seat lights but doesn’t completely control the IFE, which is annoying as you have to reach far forward. #firstworldproblems.

Ultimately, however, I thought the IFE set a new standard (more photos in the slideshow, below).

As the flight neared its final hour cookies were provided, along with a selection of snacks including chips, candy, and fruit. Thanks to the weather, it was a very bumpy approach below 10k feet – not quite as smooth as the larger 767-200 it will replace.

Our pilots greased the landing at 3:05EST to applause. Predictably, there was no water cannon salute, as it would have all frozen to the airplane with the 10 degree temperature. We blocked into the gate at 3:15PM. And thus a wonderful flight came to an end.

SLIDESHOW: Click to advance

Another point of significance not lost on the day was when American Airlines and US Airways  made the significant step of allowing both airline’s customer’s miles to be earned and redeemed in the AAdvantage and Dividends loyalty programs. Billed as “Customer Day One”, the changes involve primarily premium passengers, who besides linked loyalty programs, also can use either lounge, access to preferred seats, and combined ticket counters (for more see our story here).  This is the first major customer-facing change resulting from the merger.

And just a month following the completion of its merger with US Airways to form the world’s largest airline, American is clearly on a quest to become what new CEO Doug Parker says is to become “the world’s best airline” with the new A321T product being a significant factor. The Transcon Wars have only begun, however as jetBlue launches its new premium Mint and updated Core product in June followed by Delta’s new BusinessElite Cabin in July. United completed its conversion to its new P.S. product on the 757-200 platform last month. This leaves the innovative and customer friendly Virgin America left, who is now the only transcon player in the market without lie-flat seats in the market, to respond.

What is clear, however, it that AA’s quest to be the top airline in the US has found a good direction in the A321T. Our vote? It’s the new best-in-class.

Additional Stories and Galleries

AA / US Merger – What Comes Next?

Onboard a SpeciAAl 777-300 Delivery Flight

American Airlines Vintage Sales Brochures and Memorabilia

American Airlines Timetables and Route Maps Over The Years

American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum Gallery

* Cover & top photo by Jason Rabinowitz / Airchive

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End of an Era: Delta’s DC-9 Completes Final Scheduled Flight

By Jack Harty / Published January 6, 2014

dc95

The two pilots for flight 2014 complete final checks on the flightdeck before the last departure of the DC-9.

ATLANTA, GA: Appropriately tagged as Delta flight 2014, the last scheduled U.S. commercial DC-9 flight landed at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at 7:32PM EST. The touchdown of flight 2014 marks the end of the DC-9′s 48 year career of scheduled commercial flight in the United States. Although saying farewell to the airplane is bittersweet for aviation enthusiasts, the final flight is a welcome step for Delta as they continue a trend of replacing older aircraft with newer, more efficient frames.

A small but vibrant ceremony complete with balloons and cake greeted passengers in Minneapolis as they arrived for an otherwise mundane flight to Atlanta. The significance of the final flight number, 2014, along with the penultimate flight number of 1965, did not go unnoticed by many. Any DC-9 fan can tell you the airplane entered service in ’65, leaving today in 2014.

And there were no shortage of ‘Dirty-Niner’ (the plane has several nicknames), fans on hand. Dozens of DC-9 enthusiasts traveled from across the US for one last ride, many trekking through the deep freeze that has gripped the nation over the past few days. They gathered at the gate and on board, swapping stories, taking photos, and otherwise basking in the glory of being one of the last to fly aboard the cozy two-three configured cabin.

The two hour flight passed quickly once aloft, and was decidedly low-key. The high moment came when a bottle, or two, of champagne was passed around the cabin. A toast to the airplane was made, after which it was back to business as usual on board. The flight landed on time in a comparatively warm Atlanta, effectively ending 48 years of scheduled passenger flights in the US.

A nod to the airplane’s days plying the skies over the North Central US, the last two flights made sure to work in former Northwest DC-9 hubs Detroit DTW and Minneapolis/St. Paul MSP. It was perhaps fitting, then, that the airplane made its last visit to both as temperatures plunged well below zero, conditions the venerable aircraft had faced on a daily basis for years.

The airplane has finally been phased out as newer airplanes, such as the Boeing 717, join the ranks of the Delta fleet. The carrier has embarked on an ambitious, albeit unorthodox, fleet renewal plan as of late. Many smaller and older regional jets, such as the DC-9 and CRJ-200s are being replaced by larger and more efficient 717s and CRJ900s. New Boeing 737-900 airplanes will begin replacing older 757-200s. Down the road, orders for fresh airplanes, mostly from Airbus for  A321 & A330 types, will join the fleet as well. The combination of leveraging both used and new airplanes to realize profits has made the airline a unique case as competitors gun for the latest and greatest on the production lines instead.

Despite the final flight today, the airplane will continue to serve Delta for up to two more weeks on an ad hoc basis. Come the end of the month, it will be gone for good.

Slideshow! (click to advance)

EXTRA:Delta DC-9 Photos

The legendary past of the Dirty-Niner

When the DC-9 began service in 1965 the 737 was three years away, Lyndon Johnson was in the White House, the Ford Mustang had just been introduced, the United States was in Vietnam, the price of a Coke was 10-15 cents, the population of America was 194,302,963, there were three networks, the internet was still thirty years into the future, and the 727 only entered service a year before (with Eastern in 1964). Prior to ’65, there was an increasing need for an aircraft for for frequent short-range flights to small airports with short runways. Consequently, Douglas started developing the DC-9 in 1962, and Delta flew the very first passenger flight on December 8, 1965. Without any serious competition, the Dirty Niner quickly became the backbone of Delta’s short-haul fleet.

Everets Air Cargo DC-9, one of only a handful remaining. Photo courtesy jplphoto.

Everets Air Cargo DC-9, one of only a handful remaining. Photo courtesy jplphoto.

From 1965 to 1982, Douglas delivered a total of 972 DC-9s in eleven different variations to dozens of airlines and government organizations around the world. As of August 2013, there were 90 DC-9 aircraft in commercial service worldwide. USA Jet Airlines (a charter company in the United States), Everets Air Cargo, Aeronaves, TSM, Aserca Airlines, LASER Airlines, Fly Sax, African Express Airways, and a few other small operators still fly the DC-9.

Delta flew the DC-9-10 and DC-9-30 Series from 1965 to 1993. They started taking delivery of the Boeing 737-200 in 1983 which eventually allowed Delta to phase out their entire DC-9 fleet. However, the DC-9 re-joined Delta’s fleet when they merged with Northwest Airlines in 2008. Northwest acquired their DC-9s from Republic Airlines in 1986.

Extra: A DC-9 Flight for the History Books and A Look Back

Since it entered service 49 years ago, only the DC-8, 707, and DC-3 have matched this longevity for passenger service. However, the DC-9 has lasted the longest of any commercial airliner ever built in frontline, mainline service. In the time the DC-9 has been plying the skies over the US the country has faced three major wars, nine US Presidents, and population growth to 317 million, all while Delta went from a smallish trunk line to the second largest airline in the world.

Delta did not necessarily start with all of their DC-9s, however. Through the process of acquisition and mergers, the airplanes flew for regional and full services carriers alike, such as North Central, Southern, Hughes AirWest, Republic, and Northwest. During this time, Delta also purchased Western (1986) and Northeast (1973). All told, the carrier has operated 305 DC-9 aircraft since 1965, despite phasing out the airplanes by 1994 until its merger in 2008 with Northwest. Based on a 65% average load factor, Delta estimates they have flown about one billion passengers on the DC-9.

Today’s airplane, N773NC, first flew in 1978, delivering to North Central in 1978, and it flew for Republic in 1979. The plane began flying for Northwest Airlines in 1986, following the purchase of Republic. It later went on to operate for Delta in 2009 after the carrier merged with Northwest.

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren in Seattle contributed to this report

EXTRA: A DC-9 veteran shares his experiences from years on the flightdeck: The Mighty DC-9

EXTRA: DC-9 Sales Brochure from 1970

This evening, we learned that Darren Booth of Frequently Flying passed away over the weekend. I would like to thank him for being a very nice and kind friend. In honor of his memory, I would like to dedicate this story to him. Rest in peace, Darren.

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Onboard the jetBlue A321 Inaugural

By Vinay Bhaskara / Published December 20, 2013

The airplane awaits. Photo by author.

The airplane awaits. Photo by author.

I woke up at 4:15 am at my home in Central New Jersey and immediately rushed out the door to my car (having packed the night before) to meet my flight scheduled for 7AM. Being so early, the drive was relatively painless. The Van Wyck Expressway was remarkably clear for that time of day, and I got to JFK’s long term lot by 5:55 am. That’s when the trouble started.

By the time I parked, I had missed an AirTrain by less than a minute. And the AirTrain at JFK only runs once every seven to twelve minutes, at least headed in the direction of the terminals, though the return trains from the terminal to Howard Beach seemed to show up every two minutes. And my train was on the higher end of that, taking a full twelve minutes after the previous one to show up. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they don’t run these every three to four minutes. Almost every other major airport in the country with an AirTrain-esque system manages a maximum wait time of five minutes. At JFK on the other hand…

By the time I got onto the AirTrain, it was 6:12 am, and I was getting a little antsy. My flight, scheduled to depart in 50 minutes, was on-time. JetBlue closes off the gate at t-minus 15, so I had to make it to Terminal 5, through security, and to my gate in 38 minutes. It took fifteen minutes to get to Terminal 5, with every second felt like an eternity.

T5. Photo by author.

T5. Photo by author.

When I disembarked at 6:27 am, I immediately made a beeline for the security checkpoint, hoping against all hope for a shorter line. Nope. The line was jam packed, with wait times of at least 30-35 minutes. I was doomed, or so it seemed. Then, in the recesses of my sleep-addled brain, I thought back to the check in process and remembered that JetBlue sold expedited security access as part of its Even More Speed offering. A quick glance at the Even More Speed line showed a queue of just fifteen passengers, as opposed to the thousand (this is probably an over-estimate) waiting in the normal security line. I quickly jumped over to a kiosk and added the Even More Speed tag to my purchase, re-printed my boarding pass, and jumped into line at 6:36 am. By the time I made it through the standard TSA “trained monkey” routine, only seven minutes had passed, allowing me to sprint to Gate 19 and reach the gate with four minutes to spare where the brand new Airbus A321 awaited.

My first experience of JetBlue’s Terminal 5 was admittedly rushed, but the atmosphere and décor seemed very aesthetically pleasing, and there appeared to be a nice array of shops and dining options to choose from. After boarding, I settled into my window seat of 7A, a standard economy class seat. For the longest time it seemed like I would have an empty middle seat next to me, but at the last possible moment, another man came and sat down next to me.

The first thing you notice on a JetBlue flight is always the legroom, and there’s loads of it. Nominally the seat pitch is 34 inches, which is about what you get in Economy Plus on United (and the premium economy cabins for Delta and American). But the JetBlue A321 seats felt much more spacious for whatever reason (the wider seats probably help,) and these were just standard economy class seats. I imagine that the Even More Space seats feel like sitting in domestic First Class.

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Current interior, sans LiveTV. Fear not, it will be added.
Photo by author.

Once I had settled down, I began to scan the aircraft and the seats around me. JetBlue is famed for its LiveTV entertainment system, but at the moment, the A321s have not yet been installed with the updated LiveTV system and FlyFi (JetBlue’s new in-flight WiFi). Both form the entertainment portion of the new JetBlue core travel experience. However, as a form of apology for the lack of LiveTV, customers are offered a $15 service credit, which is redeemable for use on a future JetBlue flight. This is a nice touch.

The new fleet of A321s is the launch pad for the new core experience, which includes the aforementioned enhanced entertainment, in-seat power, new drink holders, and new seats. The new seats in particular are innovative, replacing the hard seat cushion with a woven fabric that suspends from both sides of the seat, and are already installed. This core product will be installed onto JetBlue’s new A321s in the middle of Q1 2014 and will be rolled out across the rest of the fleet slowly thereafter.

The flight was completely full and as we dealt with the standard 20-25 minute ground delay at the gate at JFK (we ended up taking off 45 minutes late at 7:51 am), I could sense the passengers around me getting antsy. One wisecracking passenger in particular was seated across the aisle from me in 7F, and was the source of much amusement throughout the flight. At that particular moment he commented, “Looks like this new plane isn’t enough to cover up the mess that is JFK,” and when we were at the gate in San Juan he asked where the celebratory rice and beans were for the inaugural.

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Photo by author.

While I’m certainly as much of a fan of sarcasm as the next guy (cue to everyone who’s ever read one of my pieces nodding in unison), this guy probably took it a little bit over the top, especially with the way he treated the flight attendants. My philosophy on flight attendants has always been to treat them with extreme courtesy and kindness, regardless of how bad they are in return (it just makes flying so much easier). And to their credit, the flight attendants handled this joker with aplomb, trading barbs right back while still maintaining a professional and smiling demeanor.

That was another standout aspect of the flight – JetBlue’s flight attendants. I always say that there are only two airlines in the US that provide consistently good service; JetBlue and Southwest. And that consistency begins and ends with the flight attendants. Part of it certainly goes back to JetBlue’s founding culture, and the way David Neelman managed to achieve complete commitment and integration of labor with the company. But it’s also due to the way the company has pursued labor-management relations. Much like Southwest, JetBlue treats its employees as assets, and its employees respond in kind by becoming assets and providing the fantastic customer service that gives JetBlue its stellar reputation with passengers.

b64There are a million and one things that JetBlue flight attendants do well, but to select just one, when we were deplaning, a few customers were grumbling about the lack of LiveTV on the flight. The flight attendants were quick to jump in and explain that the TVs were only missing temporarily, throwing in a “JetBlue loves you all” at the end for (feel?) good measure.

Turning back to the flight, once we were airborne, I grabbed a cup of coffee and my customary can of ginger ale, as well as some popcorn chips and Linden’s Butter Crunch cookies. JetBlue’s snack basket is another unique selling point, at least on domestic flights. To get food of the same quality from United, Delta, or American, you’re buying a snack basket for $8 or $9, and heck, on my Chicago-Newark flight last week in First Class, the snack basket United trotted out paled in comparison to what you get on JetBlue for free (though it did have Toblerone). The paid snack boxes are not of as high of a quality as those on United, but they are reasonably priced. With no LiveTV to whittle away my time with, I spent most of the remainder of the flight working quietly on my laptop, mixing in an hour-long nap to boot.

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Photo courtesy of jetBlue

As far as inaugural flights go, JetBlue’s first non-premium A321 inaugural was extremely low key. The flight crew made a couple of references to the new aircraft and the first flight over the PA, and when we touched down at 11:59 am local (23 minutes past schedule), the flight crew asked us all to applaud (and we obliged).

While it may have been understated on the flight, it was not lost on the crew: we touched down at gate A2 in San Juan andthere were plenty of JetBlue crew there to welcome the new bird. Overall, it made sense that the inaugural was nondescript given that these aircraft haven’t been fully outfitted with the new travel experience that they will eventually come to represent. We fully expect JetBlue to celebrate the launch of its new A321s with Mint (and maybe even the first A321 installed with the new core experience) with appropriate fanfare, and look forward to reporting it when the exciting day comes.

Photo Dec 20, 1 55 06 PM
Cover and feature photo courtesy jetBlue

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InFlight Review: Flying Spirit Airlines Part Two

By Jack Harty / Published December 19, 2013

Editors note: This is the second in a two part story on flying with Spirit. For the first part, visit our original story here.

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Spirit Airlines A319 at LAX: Photo by Chris Sloan / Airchive

Let’s try this again

Given my previous Spirit experience (and how well it didn’t go), I figured that I should give them another try hoping for an anomaly. Consequently I booked a round-trip ticket from Houston to Orlando.

Since I was already familiar with the booking process, I was able to quickly book my flights. Unlike the first trip I decided to save a few dollars and let Spirit choose where I sat.

  • Base fare: $76.03 (Houston to Orlando) + $102.03 (Orlando to Houston)
  • Luggage fee: $30.00 X 2  (checked luggage fee)
  • Seat fee: $0 (I let Spirit pick where I sat when I checked-in)
  • Grand total: $238.06

I checked-in online for my flight right as the check-in window opened 24 hours prior to departure. I was given the option to assign my seat for a fee again, but I opted not to. My seats were randomly selected, and I was assigned 27D for both of my flights. I was very happy to be assigned an aisle seat and not a middle seat.

This time, I checked a bag, paying when I bought the ticket (and saving $10). Unfortunately, my bag was a bit over their 40 pound limit. Surprisingly, they waived the overweight fee, but were clear that they would not waive it for my return flight. Yet on my return flight they again waived the fee, saying it need to be ten pounds over the limit before they’d bother applying the charge.

Spirit Airlines A319 interior. Photo by Chris Sloan / Airchive

Spirit Airlines A319 interior. Photo by Chris Sloan / Airchive

Boarding for both flights was a bit chaotic thanks to small boarding areas. Yet, the process was still relatively smooth and quick, particular since most passengers did not have to search for overhead space.

This time I was on-board one of their Airbus A320s. My flight to Orlando was operated by one of their newest A320 aircraft. Yet for a new airplane the inside did not look new: The carpets were stained, and the seats were very dirty. The aircraft on my return leg was a bit cleaner, thank goodness.

Overall, both flights were easy, and the crews were friendly. Like my first flight, flight attendants passed out menus for those wishing to have a drink or snack. At the end of the day there is not much to the Spirit on board experience: we got on the airplane, flew for a few hours behind a chair, and landed. That was about it.

EXTRA: Spirit Timetables and Route Maps

Bottom Line

Spirit Airlines in Boston. Photo courtesy jplphoto

Spirit Airlines in Boston. Photo courtesy jplphoto

It is amazing the difference in experience when things go smoothly. No doubt the flights were infinitely better than my first go with Spirit. Now with a normal experience under my belt, how did the carrier fare?

Overall, not bad. Was it the best travel experience? No. Was it the worst? No. Would I fly them again? I can honestly say that I would. It’s hard to have the perfect travel experience because there are so many variables. However, I found my Spirit experiences to be better than many of the reviews I read prior to my first flight.

The flight crews were friendly, and I got exactly what I paid for: safe transportation, one checked bag, a bottled water, and a seat. I found the lavatories to be clean (no, there is no fee to use them while in-flight).

That does not mean there weren’t a few criticisms, however: If you are not one of their $9 Fare Club members, be prepared to be asked to join several times during the booking. $9 Fare Club Members receive special air fare and vacation package deals, and discounted baggage fees. The cost to join is $59.95 per year, and Spirit claims that members save over $75 per booking.

More importantly, I wish the aircraft interiors were cleaner. The seat pitch is very small, and the seats are not extremely comfortable: My knees touched the seat in front of me (I am 5’11) the entire flight. Finally, I wish there was better communication about my delayed flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston, though I am glad that the flight was not cancelled.

Overall, I am pleased with my Spirit experiences, and I would have no problem flying them again despite the issues I experienced.

So, would you fly on Spirit Airlines?

*Cover image by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / feature image by Chris Sloan

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InFlight Review: Flying Spirit Airlines Part One

By Jack Harty / Published December 18, 2013

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Photo by Chris Sloan/Airchive

Would you fly on Spirit Airlines? When asked this question, many will start bashing the no-frills ultra-low-cost-carrier based on their previous experiences or what they have heard about Spirit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found more negative reviews than positive reviews about Spirit.

As for me, yes, I would fly on Spirit. What’s more, I already have: three times.

Trial by fire

I had a lot of spirit to fly Spirit Airlines for the first time. I booked my one-way flight from Dallas DFW to Houston only two weeks prior to departure on their website, Spirit.com. Normally I wouldn’t walk through the ticket purchasing phase, but with this carrier it actually matters.

After selecting the flights I wanted, I was required to sign up for their frequent flyer program, Free Spirit. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid having to sign up, no matter how infrequently you plan to fly with them.

After signing up, I was re-directed back to the flights I selected and continued on. After completing my personal information, I was given the option to purchase space for the baggage I planned to bring on-board. I paid $26 for my carry-on item on-board, opting not to check the bag for the lower price of $21.Picture4    Picture5

Finally, I was taken to a page where I could select my seat. Seats can be reserved for an additional fee. The prices for the seat vary by the location of the seat, as well as the scheduled travel time. You can avoid this fee if you opt to have your seat randomly assigned at check-in.

Finally, I confirmed and paid for the flight, and I began the countdown to my first Spirit experience.

The cost of my ticket with all of the fees is as follows:

  • Base fare: $76.03
  • Luggage fee: $26.00 (carry-on fee)
  • Seat fee (“Big Front” seat): $35.00
  • Beverage (bottled water) in-flight: $2.00
  • Grand total: $139.03

Finally, the day arrived. I checked-in for my flight online from home less than 24 hours prior to departure, saving $10 (Spirit does charge a fee to customers who have their boarding pass printed at the airport).

I arrived at DFW three hours before my flight to spend time with a friend before he departed. Two hours later, I made my way to terminal E’s satellite terminal, which currently houses all of Spirit’s operations at DFW. After a long walk, I arrived to find that my flight was delayed 30 minutes: No big deal. The food options were limited in the satellite terminal so I headed back to the main terminal for a quick dinner.

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Dallas DFW to Houston, eventually.

After returning to the gate, a fellow passenger said the flight was delayed until 11:00 PM (now a four hour delay). Interestingly, there were three other Spirit flights that were delayed until 11PM which left me a bit suspicious. I later I discovered weather problems in Denver were responsible for multiple delays.

In the meantime, there were no agents in my gate area to assist passengers with questions. In fact, there were only two Spirit agents in the entire satellite terminal. Needing to make it home that night, I called the Spirit Airlines call center to see what options I had in case the flight cancelled. Disappointingly, the phone agent was rude and hung up on me.

I headed to the ticket counter in hopes of getting some help, but the agents did not have any information to help us. I felt bad for the poor folks manning the counter because there was not much they could do, and there were a lot of upset customers.

Eventually, an agent arrived at the gate, and he was greeted with a lot of unhappy passengers, mostly thanks to the delay and lack of any information. They did offer food vouchers since the flight was delayed more than two hours, which I found to be a nice gesture.

The delay did provide me with a great opportunity to talk with many of my fellow passengers. There were several first time Spirit passengers. They were frustrated, and, like myself, simply wanted to get to Houston that night.

I also talked to a few passengers who fly Spirit frequently. Overall, most were pretty happy with Spirit. As one passenger said, “you get what you pay for, and I do not expect a lot in return based on the fares I pay.”

At 9:30PM, with the flight currently two and a half hours late, the airline offered passengers a $50 voucher for the delay. However, it came with a catch: You had to purchase a ticket with the voucher within 60 days for travel within the next six months. I did not take it.

Cozy, right?

Cozy, right?

At 10:30PM, my inbound aircraft, an Airbus A319, finally arrived at DFW, and the employees did a good job turning the aircraft around as quickly as they could. For my first flight, I purchased a “Big Front” seat, but I switched with another passenger prior to boarding who need it more than I. Spirit’s A319s are equipped with 135 regular economy seats, none of which recline. The seat pitch is 28 inches, the smallest of all US domestic carriers. The seat width is also on the small side: 17.5 inches. However, the A319s offer ten “Big Front” seats which are larger seats at the front of the cabin. They offer an additional 6-8 inches of extra legroom and wider seats in comparison to the other 135 seats.

Once on-board, the aircraft seemed very open thanks to the one class cabin configuration. As I made my way to seat 21A, I noticed that the aircraft was not thoroughly cleaned after the flight from Denver. Advertisements dotted the back of each seat back tray, but were few and far between on the overhead luggage bin doors.

Spirit Airlines A319 interior. Photo by Chris Sloan / Airchive

Spirit Airlines A319 interior. Photo by Chris Sloan / Airchive

Finally, at 11:00PM, we were on our way. The crew was very friendly, and the pilots made a few jokes which lightened everyone’s mood after the long delay. Once above 10,000 feet, the flight attendants came down the aisles with credit card machines and menus for anybody that wished to purchase a drink or a snack. Do not expect a complimentary beverage!

After a quick 45 minute flight, we finally arrived in Houston.

Overall, not exactly the best experience. Figuring/hoping that this was likely an anomaly, I decided I should give them another shot.  And so after this experience I booked a round trip ticket, this time Houston to Orlando, which I’ll tell you all about…in part two.

*Cover photo by Jason Rabinowitz

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In-flight Review: Flying Korean Air’s Queen of the Skies – Upper Deck

By Enrique Perrella / Published December 10, 2013
Photos by author

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Following the series of articles on Airchive’s adventure in Korea, which covered Flying the world’s most spacious A380 from Atlanta to Seoul, and a fun Low Cost flight from Seoul to Sapporo (JP) on Jin Air, it’s time to unveil a unique review on Korean Air’s Boeing 747-400. This very particular flight, from Sapporo back to Seoul, we sat on the upper deck of this magnificent jetliner in the most private way. Hop on and enjoy another Airchive flight review!

 

Flying the 747-400 for the first time.

Looking back at my traveler logbook, I have almost all types of current and old aircraft checked, leaving just a very few for me to hunt and fly on. One of the airplanes I never managed to get myself on is the mighty Boeing 747-400. Airlines are beginning to phase out the queen of the skies and, as they do, I freak out with every second that life takes away from me.

Thanks to Korean Air, and a large load of pure luck, I was booked on the afternoon return flight from Sapporo, which fluctuates randomly between a 777-300ER and a 747-400. Coincidentally, the latter was scheduled as my ride back to Incheon.

IMG_1755Sapporo’s airport is one magnificent marvel. The domestic terminal is separated from the international by an incredible shopping mall which has more restaurants than any shopping facility in America. All of the Japanese cuisine restaurants offer everything from the most extreme raw dishes to the most elaborated and exquisite courses. In addition, Japanese airline ANA has it’s very own museum situated next to the airport’s viewing terrace, a combo that would make any aviation enthusiast lose control.

Extra: Sapporo’s “New Chitose” International Airport – A Japanese Marvel

After spending some time spotting some Asian action at Sapporo’s tarmac, I went to the international terminal and checked in for my flight to ICN. At the check-in desk, the station manager approached and welcomed me, asking for my passport and for seating preference. Given that the star of the day was the queen of the skies, I didn’t hesitate in asking for a seat in its glorious upper deck. The station manager advised me to sit on the lower deck as service is supposed to be better, but since this would be my first (and who knows if last!) time on the 747-400, I didn’t pay attention to his kind advice and chose seat 16A – the very first seat behind the flightdeck door.

Extra: Korean Air Seat Map, displayed at the airline’s website

Boarding pass in hand, I went ahead and cleared security and passport control. Once through,it was up the stairs inside the terminal with a course set straight to the Royal Lounge, which hosts premium passengers from all carriers at CTS.

Once inside, my thirst took me straight to the traditional Japanese beer draught dispensers. Given our location, the beer that was being offered was the world-famous Sapporo. Being one of my favorites, I ended up enjoying six of these amazingly chilled glasses full of the magnificent Japanese brew, along with some nuts sitting in the outer terrace of the Royal Lounge.

At exactly 13.55, passengers were called to board flight KE766 to Seoul. I bid farewell to one of the best airports I had seen and went straightly to the gate, anxious and excited to finally board the aircraft I had been chasing for so long.

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At gate 65, the agent scanned my boarding pass and I began walking to the jetway. As I reached the dividing point between the front and rear jetways, I happily turned left and reached the L1 door of the prettiest and most respected aircraft in history. A group of four flight attendants, all wearing the most spectacular uniform in the airline industry (personal opinion!), greeted me at the door and one of them escorted me to my private upper deck. Private? Yes. After I climbed the stairs, the responsible FA informed I was the only passenger booked in the top floor, making my first experience in such place the most exclusive one could ever ask.

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When I reached the very first seat, I realized the engines and wing couldn’t be seen from the window. With 24 seats, all available for me, I went back six rows and chose seat 21H, good enough to spot some wing/engine action during takeoff and landing.

KE744_026With some time to spare, I went back to the main deck to photograph the First Class cabin and the main Prestige Class cabin. The ultra spacious 747 is configured to provide maximum comfort to its passengers in medium or long haul flights.

Once the door was closed, our 747-400 pushed back from the gate. With its engines spinning, we began taxiing to Sapporo’s main runway. The Japanese ground crew did the traditional salute to all those looking out the windows (what a nice thing to see!) and we reached the runway less than 5 minutes later.

This particular aircraft (HL7494 – CN 27332 / LN 1067) was delivered to Korean Air in 1995, making it an 18.5 years old 747-400. Currently, the airline has 32 in operation.

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As we taxied to the runway, the purser of the flight came all the way up to my seat to welcome me on board. She offered all her assistance with any questions I may have had, and promised to take really good care of me throughout the flight. What a fantastic touch.

The 747-400 lined up with the runway and began powerfully rolling as its four engines delivered the most unique concert of music. Less than 35 seconds after releasing the brakes, the light loaded airliner took off to the skies with the happiest person alive on board it’s upper deck.

Korean Air Prestige Class Service

After a rocket-like climb out, we leveled off at 36,000 in less than twelve minutes. Immediately, my exclusive butler-like FA began the in-flight meal service. For this trip, she recommended the traditional Korean dish, “Bibimbap,” to which I gladly agreed and expected to eat, given that I had skipped this option on the A380 flight from Atlanta to Seoul (read below).

Extra: Flying the world’s most spacious A380 in Business Class – Korean Air

The tray came pre-arranged with a very nice soup, a sealed white rice container, the Bibimbap dish (quite well decorated), and two side dishes on top. In addition, I was offered some Bordeaux wine or a traditional apricot wine made in Japan. I chose the exotic apricot wine and was not disappointed.

KE744_047KE744_037  KE744_050 KE744_052

The FA was kind enough to provide me with instructions on how to prepare the Bibimbap dish. I followed it diligently and enjoyed Korea’s most symbolic meal on board my dream plane. The quality of the food was astonishing, and I was completely satisfied with the meal service that had just been provided.

Following the main course, the FA brought a plate of fruit consisting in melon, apple and grapes, all very fresh and tasty. Fruit in east Asia is very expensive, with mangos costing up to $60 a piece, and melons $40 each. I see fruit now with different eyes.

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This excellent meal proved that even on regional flights Korean is up the standards of great in-flight cuisine. That, on top the very comfortable Kosmo Sleeper seat (pitching at 60″), made it a memorable experience.

Exploring the 747, in-flight.

As soon as I finished the excellent meal, I went to the main deck to capture in images the different ambiances of this incredible aircraft.

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The economy cabin was almost 100% full, whereas the Prestige Class was hardly occupied. The First Class cabin was off-limits for us, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to see it.

KE744_087A few minutes after I finished touring the 747, we sadly began descending towards ICN. Our route of flight bordered the Japanese coast until it’s southern area, where it took us straight to Seoul.

The pilot announced an on-time arrival and thanked all passengers for choosing Korean Air for their travels to Incheon. Almost as soon as the captain made his announcement, the aircraft began descending elegantly through a thin layer of clouds that covered the eastern region of South Korea. As speed breaks were deployed and our massive airplane began to slow down, the slats and flaps indicated that our pilots were configuring the plane for an imminent arrival into Korea’s most congested airport.

KE744_095After a few turns, the 747 lined up with the runway and performed an incredibly soft and slow landing. It’s very low load, along with a quite strong head wind, allowed our plane to stop in less than 4,000 feet of runway, applying very little thrust reversers and breaking action. This was one of the most impressive landings I have ever been on. What a way to live my first 747-400 experience!

Once cleared out of the runway, taxiing to the gate took about fifteen minutes. My private flight attendant came to my seat to say goodbye and sadly my experience was officially over. Before the doors were opened, the purser came back to my seat to thank me for flying with them and with their ever present smile, said goodbye in wonderful Korean.

Conclusions

Korean Air has proven to deliver a consistent and quality product in both their A380 and 747-400 aircraft. This consistency has the flight attendants signature all over it, as these fantastic ladies are never seen sitting down in the allies, but always looking out to offer the best possible service to their passengers, always with their signature smile and the most eager attitude one could find anywhere in the world.

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The Boeing 747-400 is one of the most spectacular airplanes I have flown. The powerful takeoff out of Sapporo, my private upper deck and it’s amazing flying capabilities, are just some of the facts that will make this an irreplaceable aircraft.

The cabin configuration is exactly the same that KE offers in its other long-haul aircraft, which in my opinion, should be replaced with newer concept premium seats and IFE, all to give its passengers the most up-to-date technology in an airline capable of delivering one of the best services in the aviation industry,

In comparison to the Airbus A380, the most noticeable factor I could come across is the noise level in the cabin of the 747, which is definitely loud enough to have an effect on long-haul flying. Other than this tangible factor, it wouldn’t be fair to compare interiors, as the Airbus is at least twenty years younger than the Queen of the Skies.

Korean Air is among the best airlines in the industry. Consistency and on-time performance are their signature and this is surely enough to place them up the ranks of the industry’s leaders.

Special thanks to Korean Air, who provided the flight at no cost to Airchive, and Ashley Chung for their hospitality and for making this report possible.

————————————————————————————————————————————

About the author:

Enrique Perrella is a Senior Correspondent at Airchive.com, based between Caracas, Venezuela and Miami, Florida. Enrique holds a Bachelors Degree in Airline Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a Masters Degree in Aviation Business Administration (MBA) from LUISS Business School in Rome, Italy. He is also a Commercial Pilot with type ratings in different aircraft, among which his favorite is the Gulfstream Twin Commander 1000, which he flies regularly between Venezuela and the U.S. Enrique is founder and president of Venezuela’s first and only Aviation Photography/News organization, SVZM Aero. He has covered, since 2009, all editions of the Le Bourget, Paris, and Berlin Air Shows, and unique events such as the delivery flight of Turkish Airlines’ first Boeing 777-300ER from Seattle to Istanbul and the re-inaugural ANA Boeing 787 flight from San Jose to Tokyo. His work has been published in worldwide publications, such as Airliner World Magazine, Airliners Magazine, Avion Revue, Aero Magazine and Airchive.com. Enrique’s passion for aviation began a few days after he was born, when his father bought him a VIASA A300 model that was much bigger – and heavier – than him. Follow him on Instagram (enrique77w) and connect via his Facebook page. Reach him via email at eperrella@svzm.aero.

 

 

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InFlight Review: Delta Domestic First

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published December 4, 2013

Delta 757-200 JDLEvery time I visit SeaTac something new appears related to Delta, and this latest visit was no exception. This time it was a brand new ticket counter to start a fresh journey on.

Walking up to the new Sky Priority check-in zone and you’re greeted by a swank looking mini-oasis. The bright red walls contrasted with a clean white were both soft and exciting at the same time, setting the mood nicely for my flight in first class to Atlanta. For the first time in years I checked a bag, which was quickly tagged to my final destination of Dubai and whisked away.

Running behind, I made my way quickly to security only to be dismayed by long lines. A ticket in first class enabled usage of the premium lanes, which helped some, but still moved quite slowly thanks to only one TSA person being assigned. Nearly thirty minutes and one freedom search later I broke free and headed toward the S concourse.

Delta 75X-6The SkyClub, located in the middle of concourse S, was very busy thanks to the international departures rush. A modest selection of food graced a quasi-buffet, while a full service bar beckoned with the usual selections of liquor. A variety of seating arrangements filled the space, catering to a multitude of needs. Having been laid up in security our stay wasn’t long, but the visit accomplished what it needed to: top off the electronics, tie up some loose ends at the desk, have a drink and, most importantly, stock up on Biscoff for the week (they’re addictive).

On board

Boarding began on-time and followed the predictable pattern of first class, loyalty members, etc. I settled into seat 5D on the Boeing 757 (75X configuration, for the super hardcore among us), and was promptly offered a selection of preflight beverages along with a menu for lunch. Bucking this author’s trend to pick up orange juice, I instead went for a cocktail, which was quite enjoyable. The door closed around the same time the remainder of the cocktail had gone down the hatch, and off we went for an on-time departure.

Delta 75X-4In flight service began a short while later. I chose a southwest-style chicken salad, with a side of fruit and oatmeal maple cookie. Admittedly this author was a bit skeptical of the salad choice, but was delightfully surprised: Lettuce was crisp, vegetables fresh, and the chicken moist and well marinated. Later in the flight, not long before landing, a selection of snacks was offered: I raided the supply of Biscoff.

In between I had three hours to get acquainted with the seat. Being domestic first, the seat was comfortable but nothing to write home about. Thirty-eight inches of pitch provided sufficient legroom. A modest recline, combined with a pillow and blanket, were enough to enable a quick power nap. Power plugs were fitted in an inconvenient location under the seat, making it hard to reach. It did not matter anyways, as they were not working in our row.

Delta 75XThe inoperative power plugs left more time, however, to enjoy the in-flight entertainment (IFE). The touch screen, about eight inches wide, was on par for domestic first cabins. Movie, TV, and music selections were standard. We watched the movie “2 Guns” utilizing the free, though less than spectacular, earbuds. Following the movie we took advantage of the liveTV, watching a healthy dose of Comedy Central.

Four hours after leaving a rain soaked Seattle we greased the runway at Atlanta Hartsfield. A gate mix-up led to a longer than usual taxi time, though we still parked at the gate close to on time. While normally we would’ve stuck around for some pictures we had to run, literally, to catch our connection flight five terminals away to Dubai.

Bottom Line

Overall the flight was good. The new check-in area, clearly denoting the increasing importance of Seattle to Delta, looks wonderful and ran smoothly. The SkyClub is bright and roomy, even while busy. Food selections could afford a bit of improvement, though as long as they have Biscoff this author is happy.

On board the experience met expectations. Cabin crew were friendly and attentive. The food was good. IFE had a reasonable selection of choices, and the liveTV was a great addition. The screen size, while a bit small, was appropriate given the pitch.

Bottom line? It was a good flight, and we would gladly fly Delta domestic first again.

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Inside the Airplanes of the Dubai Airshow

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published November 21, 2013

DUBAI, UAE: Mother nature had the final word at the Dubai Airshow Thursday, forcing closure of the entire event due to severe weather. Part or parts of the roof in the main exhibition hall were said to have failed, causing water to dump into parts of the hall “like a waterfall”, according to multiple witnesses, and forcing an evacuation. A number of people who were inside at the time of the incident reported that police requested them to stop filming as water fell. Several hours later organizers officially cancelled the show, though exhibitors were allowed to quickly enter the building to pick up items of value. Press were not allowed into the building. There was no word on any injuries.

Earlier in the week, on Sunday, the flight displays were cancelled due to a sandstorm.

In any case, with today’s show a wash, we bring you instead a gallery of interiors from the handful of airplanes we were able to visit over the week. They range from the spartan National Airlines Boeing 757 to the well decorated Bombardier Challenger 605 business jet, the tiny CRJ-7 to the mammoth Emirates Airbus A380. Enjoy the photos!

Royal Brunei 787: The small carrier, based in Southeast Asia, received their first Boeing 787 Dreamliner only a few week’s back. The airplane is configured in two classes, with economy receiving a generous 32-33″ of pitch. They operate primarily to cities in Asia and the Middle East, along with London and Australia.
Interiors DXB- Royal Brunie 787-5 Interiors DXB- Royal Brunie 787-4Interiors DXB- Royal Brunie 787-6

Flynas A320: Saudi low-cost-carrier Flynas brought one of their Airbus A320 airplanes to the show. As you can see, not much to write home about. The airplane is split into a two class cabin, with eight business class and the rest all economy. Unfortunately for economy the seats appeared to be fixed back. The business model is very similar to regional competitor flydubai.
Interiors DXB- - A320-4 Interiors DXB- - A320-3 Interiors DXB- - A320 Interiors DXB- - A320-2

Bombardier Challenger 605 Business Jet: Moving on to something a bit more cozy, this small business jet may not be the most comfortable in the land (or at the show, but most biz jets were off-limits to journalists), but it’s certainly a nice ride. The airplane, similar in size to a CRJ2, can fly seven to eight hours nonstop with a passenger load of six.
Interiors DXB- Challenger 605 Interiors DXB- Challenger 605-2

Ethiopian Airlines Q400:  Bombardier’s Q400 was one of the winners of the show, albeit a small one, and the company brought in one to showcase in conjunction with Ethiopian Airlines. The east African, Addis-Ababa based carrier operates a number of them already and agreed to purchase eight more on Tuesday. The airline also made the unique choice of offering business class seats on board the commuter turboprop airplane, dubbed Cloud Nine.
Interiors DXB- ETH Q400-3 Interiors DXB- ETH Q400-2

Canadair CRJ-7 Corporate: This airplane was one of the odder displays of the show, especially for a business jet. Most were manned by security agents with ear pieces who made quick work of those angling for a peek. But this one had no one around it at all. The layout, a combo of executive space and regular seating, was also very unusual. No information was available on it.
Interiors DXB- CRJ7 Private-4Interiors DXB- CRJ7 Private-3 Interiors DXB- CRJ7 Private-2

EgyptAir A330-200: Cairo-based EgyptAir operates a fleet of eleven Airbus A330-200 and -300 long haul aircraft. The airplanes are configured in a two class figuration. Business has an older, angled lie flat product. Economy features 2-4-2 seating with IFE in every seat.Interiors DXB- EgyptAir A330-2 Interiors DXB- EgyptAir A330-4 Interiors DXB- EgyptAir A330-6
Interiors DXB- EgyptAir A330-8 Interiors DXB- EgyptAir A330-5
Interiors DXB- EgyptAir A330-11 Interiors DXB- EgyptAir A330-10

National Airlines 757-200: Despite company HQ being based in Orlando, Florida, National Airline’s small fleet of two Boeing 757-200s are based right here in Dubai.  The leased airplanes are used almost exclusively on US Department of Defense contracts shuttling troops and contractors tAir to and from areas of interest in a spartan two class configuration. The passenger operations are new for the carrier, which otherwise is known as a cargo airline.
Interiors DXB- National 757 Interiors DXB- National 757-2

Emirates A380: The undisputed king of the was Emirate’s enormous Airbus A380. The airplanes are known for their ridiculously opulent configuration, especially in the premium classes. Rather than drone on we’ll just let the pictures do the talking on this last one:
Interiors DXB- EK A380-9Interiors DXB- EK A380-2
Interiors DXB- EK A380-3Interiors DXB- EK A380-10 Interiors DXB- EK A380-14 Interiors DXB- EK A380-15Interiors DXB- EK A380-18 Interiors DXB- EK A380-16
Interiors DXB- EK A380-19 Interiors DXB- EK A380-21 Interiors DXB- EK A380-22

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In Flight Review: Flying South Korea’s cool Low Cost Carrier, Jin Air!

By Enrique Perrella / Published November 14, 2013

Jin Air (Jin Air Co. LTD) was launched in 2008, with its first domestic flight from Gimpo to the island of Jeju in South Korea. Since then, the airline has established over twelve international destinations among which Hong Kong, Sapporo, Bangkok, Cebu, Guam and Okinawa are the most popular.

JINAIR_ROUTEMAPFounded as the Low Cost subsidiary of Korean Air (KE), Jin Air focuses on regional travel within Eastern Asia. Korea’s small dimensions allow for quick turnaround times, therefore maximizing aircraft usage and much higher efficiency leveraging the low cost concept in its best possible scenario.

Extra: Flying the world’s most spacious A380 in Business Class – Korean Air

The airline has in its fleet ten Boeing 737-800 aircraft, all configured with 189 seats (same seating number as Ryanair). Our flight to Sapporo (CTS), scheduled to depart at 08.20, was assigned to an ex-KE Boeing 737-800.

The airline’s Butterfly logo represents a very curious concept that is based upon the belief that even the smallest change can unleash a massive chain of events. According to the airline’s website, the butterfly symbolizes travelers who have an irresistible desire to explore the world and gain new experiences – just like a butterfly that is set free and is always on the look out for exotic adventures. Jin Air’s mantra summarizes that “small acts can result in a big impact.”

Jin Air has become a premier short-haul carrier. According to their vision statement, they strive to offer the best experience and image, practically and comfortably.

“Flying better, Flying Jin Air.”

Thankfully we had a chance to find out if their lofty vision statement matched service in real life: Airchive.com was invited to test their unique service between Seoul-Incheon and the Japanese city of Sapporo.

Upon our early arrival at ICN, we went to section three of the check-in area at the international terminal and approached the airline’s counters. There, a very polite young man welcomed and escorted us to an available counter for our check-in. A lady, dressed with a yellow polo shirt, jeans and a rather cool hat, took our passport and welcomed us to Jin Air.

JinAir_03The female agent, with a very nice smile, informed I was pre-booked at an emergency exit and asked whether I was happy with this selection. Obviously, I couldn’t be any happier, as I expected the aircraft to be quite full with very poor leg room.

Immediately I was handed my boarding pass with my seat selection, 42F. As I saw the row number I questioned whether it was a 737 or an A380 as I found quite difficult to fit 41 rows ahead of an emergency exit in Boeing’s narrow body jetliner.

The Jin Air agent advised I proceeded quickly to the gate as it was located in the satellite concourse and I had to walk approximately 30 minutes to reach it. I quickly went through security and passport control and made a quick stop at the very nice Starbucks Coffee shop at the main terminal, where I loaded my coffee tanks for the day’s Sapporo adventure.

JinAir_14

Following instructions, I rushed to the gate after riding a very nice underground train that took me from the main terminal to the “Concourse.”

As I reached the gate, I was the last passenger to board. When I came inside the aircraft, I realized it was practically empty with less than twenty passengers booked. Then I made my way down the aisle and also realized the first row is numbered 24: Now the emergency exit row number makes sense!

When I sat down, two cool-looking FAs, wearing the airline’s symbolic hat and an awesome pair of Converse shoes, welcomed me on board. All of them made sure I was well treated, and quite special. One of them even told me I was ‘handsome’! Wow.

At 08.20, the main door was closed and the airplane pushed back a few seconds later. Our 2000-delivered 737-800 turned on its engines and we taxied to ICN’s main runway, where we took off following a Thai A330 bound for Bangkok.

JinAir_18JinAir_21

About twenty minutes into the flight, the “Low Cost” in-flight service began. I highlight “Low Cost” because I was offered a complete [very nice!] breakfast box with what seemed to be a sushi/rice snack, a cake, and some chocolate – all at NO cost. Drinks like orange juice and Coca Cola were also offered.

JinAir_37  JinAir_39 JinAir_40JinAir_38

After the service ended, one of the sporty-looking girls came back to me with a big surprise. I was offered the airline’s in-flight entertainment: a PlayStation PS Vita with free games. Usually, the system costs 5,000 Wong (about $5), for rental, but for me it was free of charge.

I had never read or seen such a thing on board an LCC, or any airline for that matter. The console was in perfect shape (as in new), and I managed to get through the Korean settings and played some FIFA 13 for the entire flight.

JinAir_33 JinAir_34

As we made our way to northern Japan, the captain announced on the PA (in perfect English) our route of flight and total time of 2h10m at 34,000ft.

Soon later, the FA’s passed again through the aisle with the Duty Free cart. The “Sky Shop” magazine showed a large number of items available for purchase, but since they didn’t have any airline merchandise I didn’t sign up for their shopping experience.

JinAir_43Sitting in the emergency exit with no passengers near me made me feel quite the star. The flight was uneventful and I was mostly entertained with the PS Vita until we began our descent into Sapporo.

The cloudy skies that surrounded northern Japan didn’t allow for some landscape photography. Three minutes before touch down, Japanese land showed up and we arrived into CTS airport with a grease-like landing that ended the best low-cost experience I have ever had.

Conclusions

When I was told I had a booking on a Korean LCC, I couldn’t help but imagine reviving the horrors of Ryanair, but transported to Asia. Regardless of the excitement I felt for flying a new airline and to a new airport, I must admit I feared the presence of the horrible O’Leary concept in the Korean region.

JinAir_50This terror vanished as soon as I reached the check-in counters at Incheon. The smiling check-in agents, impeccable counters and uniforms, easy free-of-charge process, and the hassle free boarding made this so much easier than flying ANY airline in the US, or the world for that matter.

Even though flying an empty plane is always beyond comfortable, I fear the low load factors will harm this airline in the future, as the concept they try to work on is extremely friendly and efficient. Then again, Sapporo is more of a holiday destination in the Summer and Winter due to its cool climate, and we were flying off the peak season.

Jin Air is one excellent carrier that could teach a lesson – or two – to several airlines I can think of back in our Western side of the world. I truly hope they succeed with their business and help change that twisted and unfriendly ultra low cost concept that has invaded the world. Indeed their level of service is better then many so called legacy carriers.

I must say I would definitely fly Jin Air again should the opportunity arise. I would recommend them with my eyes closed and trust my business to their impeccable and friendly service.

 

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In-Flight Review: Qatar Airways New York to Doha and Back

By Jason Rabinowitz / Published November 12, 2013

20131026_225533_LLSQatar Airways is highly regarded as one of the best full-service airlines in the world, so when I was given the invite to fly round trip from New York to Doha to attend the airline’s oneworld joining ceremony, I jumped at the chance. At over 12 hours there and 14 hours home, this would be one of my longest ever flights, and provided me with the opportunity to compare Qatar with one of their biggest competitors, Emirates Airline.

Qatar flies once daily from New York JFK to Doha International Airport in Qatar on a fleet of Boeing 777-300ERs. Qatar uses American Airlines owned Terminal 8 at JFK, which enables Qatar business class passengers to use the American Airlines Flagship Lounge since they do not operate their own lounge. The Flagship Lounge is not the most exclusive experience in aviation, but it gets the job done. There are a few hot food choices and an open bar, as well as functional WiFi and televisions. It gets the job done, but does not do so in a memorable way.

On the New York route, business class has 42 lie-flat bed seats in a 2-2-2 configuration split into two cabins. In economy, Qatar has thankfully stuck with a 9 abreast configuration, while many others are opting to cram in 10. This leaves Qatar with 293 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration.

Because my flight to Doha was quite full, my standby upgrade to business class was denied and I ended up in economy. Qatar does not have any sort of economy plus option, but I ended up in an exit row with basically unlimited legroom. Before departing JFK, flight attendants walked through the cabin, handing out SpongeBob SquarePants backpacks filled with coloring books and crayons to children. I’m sure this small gesture scores some major points with parents about to depart on a 12 hour flight.

Economy class seats in the exit row of a 777-300ER

Economy class seats in the exit row of a 777-300ER

On the way to Doha, economy passengers received two meals, dinner and breakfast, with the choice of a few wines. The meals were pretty standard fare, nothing quite memorable. My meal of chicken, rice, and corn came with a dinner roll, small side dish, piece of cake, and a few candy bars. For breakfast, I opted for a omelet with sausage, which came with a muffin, choice of bread, yogurt, and some fresh fruit. Again, not the most memorable meal, but perfectly acceptable.

My seat in economy was quite comfortable, thanks in part to the infinite legroom in the exit row. The seats, however, may have reclined too much. I did not realize how far back my seat had actually gone until the breakfast meal service, where the passenger behind me asked me to move the seat up so she could eat. Either my seat was broken, or it simply encroached into the the next row to an unreasonable extent. The seat features a massive in-flight entertainment screen, USB charging port, and in most seats (not in exit rows), an AC power port.

The economy experience on Qatar was quite a pleasure compared to some other flights I had been on recently. While the gap between economy and business class passengers has never been wider, Qatar is still looking out for the passengers in back more so than most other airlines.

On the return trip, I was relieved to have my upgrade to business class confirmed. The upgrade is of particular important at Doha, as business and first class customers report to an entirely different terminal building than economy passengers. The differences start immediately. As I approached the check-in counter, I was greeted and asked if I would like to have a seat. I had never checked-in for a flight in such a relaxed manner – there would be no standing at a podium while a man punches the keyboard for five minutes.

Scenes from the Doha Premium Terminal

Scenes from the Doha Premium Terminal

Once clear of passport control and security, passengers end up in a rather small duty free shop, but are quickly whisked away up an escalator to the heart of the premium terminal. The Business Class Lounge is quite a large space, but was also bustling by the time I got there at 6am. The lounge features rest areas, a smoking lounge, video game center for children, full shower facilities, as well as the usual buffet. Unfortunately, I did not realize that there were several “stations,” and passed up on eating a larger breakfast. Service in the lounge was quite attentive, but I found the space to be a bit cramped. Although they were doing the best with the limited space available, the restroom facilities were inadequate for the amount of passengers. The boarding gates are also very cramped, with virtually no seating at all. Not a big deal, and certainly won’t matter once the new airport opens in just a few months (hopefully).

Once on board, the high level of service which Qatar is known for became immediately present. Upon reaching my seat, the last row in the business class section, a very friendly flight attendant greeted me by name and asked it she could get me anything. I asked if she could notify me if any window seats were available once boarding was completed, and after I had forgotten about my request, she gave me the good news that I was free to move. Most often, this request goes by the wayside, but not on Qatar.

Qatar Business Class Seats

Qatar Business Class Seats

The seats on business class are one of the best I have experienced in business class, with the only negative being a lack of privacy. There is a small “privacy screen” that can be extended between the two seats, but that is about it. The seat features a massage function and has many fine controls for seat position, assuring that even the most picky of passengers can get comfortable.

The in-flight entertainment system on Qatar Airways, dubbed Oryx Entertainment, is quite a robust system. The system (Panasonic eX2) holds a massive library of movies, television shows, and audio options. During the month of October, Oryx featured a special selection of every single Star Trek movie ever, something that would please any Shatner fan. Although the system performed well for the most part, my screen rebooted once when I was seated in economy, and I saw another do the same in business class. It is not the end of the world, but the system takes about fifteen minutes to fully boot. The system also featured a digital version of the map and live text news and destination info, but these features did not work on either flight.

On the top, a lamb wrap off the always available menu. Bottom right, the leather bound book containing the menu. Bottom right, the economy class dinner

The meal service in business class shined during the flight. Contained in a leather bound folder at each seat was an extensive meals menu, along with drink menu containing signature cocktail suggestions, and a wine list. The menu features several meal choices from world renowned chefs, ranging from Nobu Matsuhisa to Tom Aikens. The main meal started with salmon rillettes (a Tom Aikens dish), continued with a seafood dish (a Ramzi Choueiri dish), with a main dish of hammour roasted with cumin and coriander. Throughout the 14 hour flight, a separate menu was available on demand which turned out to be quite popular with passengers. Every selection I made turned out to be a delicious choice, and I was not disappointed in any way.

Throughout the flight in business class, the crew was hyper-attentive and lived up the luxury brand that Qatar Airways is known to be. There is little about the flight which I would have had the airline do differently. While the ride in economy was a bit above average, little things like the large entertainment screen and toys for kids made it even more pleasurable.

[Disclaimer: Both flights were paid for in full by Qatar Airways as a part of their oneworld event media invitation.]

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