Category Archives: Airline Passenger Experience

Ryanair Gets a Little Friendlier

by Vinay Bhaskara / Published April 15th, 2014

A series of Ryanair 737-800s on the ramp at one of the carrier's European focus cities. Ryanair is Europe's largest airline by passengers carried, and consistently one of the world's most profitable airlines - Image Credit: Ryanair

A series of Ryanair 737-800s on the ramp at Boeing Field in Seattle. Ryanair is Europe’s largest airline by passengers carried, and consistently one of the world’s most profitable airlines – Image Credit: Ryanair

Polarizing European ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) Ryanair is taking some steps to make itself more customer friendly.

In 2014, Ryanair plans to roll out several different technology and customer-facing changes, including a new website, mobile boarding passes and much more. The moves are aimed at softening negative customer perception in an increasingly competitive European market.

Earlier this month, Ryanair rolled out a “brilliant” (according to CEO Michael O’Leary) new website, which we have displayed via screenshot below.

RyanAir's New Website

RyanAir’s New Website

The new website is certainly sleek, and extremely easy to use based on limited testing on our part. By comparison, here is the most recent iteration of the website. It certainly was not awful, but the new setup is a lot more intuitive and somewhat less cluttered.

Ryanair's Old Website

Ryanair’s Old Website

Certainly one of the triggers that pushed Ryanair to redesign its website was the redesigned website of rival EasyJet. EasyJet’s new website is also sleek, though it is more cluttered than that of Ryanair.

EasyJet's new website

EasyJet’s new website

Ryanair’s technological investment also extends to allow mobile boarding passes beginning in June, which could improve operational performance for Ryanair as mobile boarding passes can be more efficient than paper ones after an initial period of adjustment. In Ryanair’s case, the shift to allow mobile boarding passes is extremely passenger friendly, especially since it could cost them some ancillary revenue (Ryanair charges a fee for boarding passes printed at the airport). The carrier already has ios and android cell phone apps which are free for passengers since October 2013, though it is unclear how these will integrate with mobile boarding passes if at all.

But the new policies extend beyond mere technologoical investments. Since February 1st, Ryanair has allowed fully allocated seating under the following guidelines:

Passengers will still be able to choose our popular reserved seating service (select front row or over-wing seats), or alternatively select seats elsewhere on the aircraft, as long as they check-in more than 24 hours prior to the date of departure. All passengers who don’t wish to pay a small fee (€5) to select their preferred seats will be allocated seats during the 24 hours prior to the date of scheduled departure.

The fee for choice over-wing and bulkhead seats remains €10, and Ryanair still will not guarantee co-located seats for families traveling together.

Ryanair also has rolled out a second free carry on bag, alongside a reduction in the boarding pass reprinting fee from €70 to €15 and other fee reductions and generally customer friendly policy changes. The maximum dimensions of this second carry on bag will be 13.78 in. by 7.87 in by 7.87 in.

Here is a video featuring Mr. O’Leary outlining these moves. Given his outspoken and sometimes belligerent public persona, his demeanor in this video seems almost cuddly in comparison.

The most interesting part of that video came when Mr. O’Leary mentioned, “new products for families and business passengers.” A major driver behind Ryanair’s charm offensive is in fact Ryanair’s desire to make itself more attractive to business customers. Contrary to popular opinion, business travelers, especially independent ones flying short haul in Europe, are heavy users of low cost carriers (LCCs) as a way to keep travel costs low. That being said, business travelers also do prefer productivity  and ease of the travel experience, which is why ULCCs with completely a-la-carte business models such as Spirit Airlines and Ryanair have lagged behind low cost peers with more integrated travel experiences such as JetBlue and easyJet. Even still, nearly 22% of Ryanair’s existing traffic base is business passengers according to Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer

At a time when its profits are sagging thanks to weakening leisure travel demand as a result of the poor European economy, it makes sense for Ryanair to turn to more resilient business traffic to shore up margins. Part of that is improving customer perception, though another major portion is simply allowing passengers to book Ryanair flights via a global distribution system, through which the majority of business travel is booked. For the first time in more than a decade, Ryanair is selling tickets through a GDS thanks to a deal it inked with Travelport. The first stages of that deal rolled out on March 19th, and further enhancements will continue into the summer.

The interesting question is whether the “charm offensive” has been successful. The answer is most likely yes, though there is still a long way to go. According to media consulting firm Brand Index’s social media analysis tool:

In Britain, Denmark, Finland and Sweden the [Ryanair] brand continues to improve in the eyes of consumers. But in France, Germany and Norway people are still not convinced it has truly changed. Furthermore, arch-rival EasyJet enjoys a brand advantage over Ryanair that ranges from considerable to massive in every market where we track the pair. While Ryanair is still light-years away from being one of Britain’s best loved – or indeed, even liked – brands, the relatively modest steps it has taken since the end of September have led to a 17 per cent increase in its overall perception score in the UK.

The full article includes a good accompanying chart. So it appears that Ryanair’s actions are paying dividends for now. Only time will tell whether Ryanair has truly turned over a new leaf, or if this newer, friendlier version of Ryanair is simply a mirage.

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Contact the author at vinay.bhaskara@airchive.com

 

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Canadian North and First Air Propose a ‘Merger of Equals’

By Jack Harty / Published April 12, 2014

Canadian North and First Air have proposed a ‘merger of equals.’ On Friday, the two parent companies of the airlines sent out a joint news release saying they are in talks about a “merger of equals, subject to the successful conclusion of negotiations and regulatory review.”

According to the parent companies, a merger would ensure and improve the “sustainability” of their operations. The airline is also quick to point out that flights and services of both airlines will not be affected while they work out a possible deal.

Both airlines fly to smaller communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Canadian North has served Canada for more than 80 years. The airline currently offers scheduled flights to 19 destinations in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, via the southern gateways of Edmonton and Ottawa. Additionally, it offers chatter service. The carriers roots incorporate Canadian Airlines, Pacific Western Airlines, Transair, and Nordair. The airline is a subsidiary of NorTerra Inc., which is owned by the Inuvialuit Development Corporation.

First Air offers scheduled, cargo and charter services in Canada. In a biography, the airline says it offers services “to more northern destinations than any other airline.” The airline has been flying passengers in the north for more than 65 years. The airline has a fleet of 23 aircraft, including the only two civilian owned and operated Hercules cargo aircraft in Canada. First Air is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Makivik Corporation.

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**Cover photo available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike. Image taken by Jean-Philippe Richard.

Jack Harty reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

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US Airways Joins oneworld Alliance

By Jack Harty / Published March 31, 2014

6800187405_33fe8e7a4c_bUS Airways officially became a member of the oneworld alliance today, March 31. It is the latest milestone in the ongoing American / US Airways merger, and the latest feather in oneworld’s increasingly expansive cap.

American Airlines’ CEO Doug Parker remarked on the occasion in a statement: “As we work toward creating the new American, network strength and breadth are essential components in building what will be world’s greatest airline. We look forward to providing our customers with access to key points all around the world via oneworld. Adding US Airways to the roster of oneworld member airlines is a significant step we will take as we combine the two carriers to create the new American.”

Dividend Miles Chairman cardholders will have the top Emerald status in the oneworld program.  As for Dividend Miles Platinum and Gold customers, they will be equivalent to oneworld Sapphire, and Dividend Miles Silver customers will be oneworld Ruby.

Dividend Miles Chairman, Platinum and Gold members will have access to approximately 600 oneworld airport lounges starting today, and Dividend Miles Chairman cardholders will be able to use First Class lounges. Additionally, eligible members will receive additional baggage allowances and access fast tracks through departure security at select airports.

All Dividend Miles members will be able to earn mileage and status points on oneworld member airlines starting today, but US Airways says that “the ability to redeem mileage rewards for flights on other oneworld airlines may be phased in shortly afterwards.”

US Airways file photo. Photo by Chris Sloan / Airchive

US Airways file photo. Photo by Chris Sloan / Airchive

Oneworld Chairman Tom Horton, otherwise known as the former CEO of American, added that with the addition of US Airways, “the oneworld network will expand to almost a thousand destinations in more than 150 countries, served by 14,250 daily departures – equivalent to a oneworld flight taking off or landing every three seconds around the clock – carrying 475 million passengers last year and generating annual revenues of US$ 140 billion.” The carrier is adding 60 new destinations to the oneworld map. Additionally, it is strengthening the oneworld presence at its keys hubs in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington DC’s Reagan National.

US Airways quietly exited its previous affiliation, Star Alliance, late Sunday night. Both alliances and airlines have worked around the clock to make the transition as seamless as possible. Although the switch has been many months in the making, there is still a transition period before all of the benefits and services will extend to US Airways passengers.

However, US Airways said in a statement that “American and their oneworld partners are working to provide the most popular benefits and services on an accelerated timeline.” Customers should be receiving information about the benefits and privileges they are now due as, with further notifications as benefits come online down the road.

The addition of US Airways is the latest change in oneworld’s biggest membership expansion yet, but not the only carrier to join up today. Brazilian carrier TAM joins the alliance on Monday as well. Further back, Malaysia Airlines, a top tier carrier known for its frequent award winners joined the alliance on February 1st, while LAN Columbia and Qatar Airways joined in October 2013. SriLankan Airlines is due to join early next year.

RELATED:

Qatar Airways Officially Joins oneworld

Qatar Airways Open to Closer Ties with oneworld partners

LAN Colombia and TAM joining oneworld alliance: Analysis

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Contact the author at Jack.Harty@Airchive.com
Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren contributed to this report.
Cover photo courtesy jplphoto.

 

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United Launches Second Daily Houston-Tokyo Flight

By Jack Harty / Published March 30, 2014

United Airlines launched its second daily flight between Houston and Tokyo??????????????????????????????? Naritia early Sunday morning. Fifteen years ago, United/Continental Airlines started flying between Houston and Tokyo.

One cannot forget the hard work of making this route a reality.

How the Route Became a Reality

In the late 1990s, there was a large competition over who would receive rights to fly from the United States mainland to Japan. Not only was it a growing market, U.S. airlines had been mostly shut out of the lucrative and restricted Japanese market. However, 69 U.S.-Japan weekly flights became available for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to dole out, and several airlines expressed their interest, including Continental.

Houston’s business and aviation community wanted a direct flight to Japan, and naturally saw this as their chance to turn a dream into a reality. When the DOT requested carriers to name the routes they most preferred to fly, Continental Airlines would only say it needed authority to fly daily flights from Newark and Houston.

On January 30, 1998, the United States and Japanese governments signed an agreement that would allow U.S. airlines to operate 90 new flights a week. However, the DOT would only allow 21 weekly flights to operate between the United States mainland and Japan on a 12-month temporary basis.

American, Continental and Delta all won seven weekly flights. American launched flights between Chicago and Tokyo on May 1, 1998, followed by Delta, operating Atlanta-Tokyo, on June 3, 1998.

Continental, however, had to make a decision. Would it fly to Tokyo daily from Houston or from Newark. Or would it alternate flights between the two cities?

Two weeks later, Continental selected its Newark hub to operate its initial U.S. mainland flights to Tokyo in order to stay competitive in the New York City market. Although this was a major let down for Houston, Continental spokeswoman Karla Taylor Villalon told the AP at the time that “We have every belief that Continental and Houston will be awarded more (weekly flights),” and she went on to say that Continental planned to launch flights to Tokyo from Houston the following December, despite not knowing if the city would receive approval to do so.

Thankfully Villalon proved right, and later the same year Continental was awarded service to launch daily flights to Houston. This would be Houston’s first and only non-stop flight to Asia.

Continental launched flights between Newark and Tokyo on November 30, 1998 with its brand new Boeing 777-200.

Two months later, Continental Airlines flew its first flight from Houston to Tokyo on January 31, 1999. A large event was held at George Bush Intercontinental Airport to celebrate the new route. Several dozen company executives, federal, state and local dignitaries and business leaders attended the launch party. Speeches were given, a Shinto priest blessed the aircraft, a ribbon was cut, and Continental flight 7 was sent off to Tokyo.

For fifteen years, the lone flight from Houston to Tokyo has departed each morning as Continental/United flight 7 through rain, snow, sleet, and shine. And sure enough, every day the Boeing 777-200 returned to Houston in the early afternoon.

The New Flight

In November 2013, United begin a second daily flight between Houston and Tokyo in spring 2014 when it announced plans to launch flights to Munich from Houston on April 24, 2014.

“The new flights from Houston further expand United’s unmatched route network and offer additional travel opportunities with our joint venture partners ANA and Lufthansa,” said Cheryl Reed, United’s Houston regional sales director. “In addition to adding more nonstop service from Houston, the flights are conveniently timed to provide one-stop connections at the hub from destinations across the Americas.”

“United is pleased to offer Houston-area travelers more flights to more of the world than any other airline,” said Stephanie Buchanan, United’s vice president of the Houston hub. “Besides adding additional nonstop flights from Houston, both the Tokyo and the Atlantic City services are conveniently timed to provide one-stop connections at the hub to and from destinations across the Americas.”

United flight 1 will depart Bush Intercontinental at 9 AM and arrive at Tokyo’s Naritia International Airport at 12:35 PM the next day. The return flight, United 2, will depart Tokyo at 6:55 PM and arrive in Houston at 4:55 PM the same day.

The existing flight to Tokyo, United flight 7, departs Bush Intercontinental at 10:55 AM and arrives at Tokyo’s Naritia International Airport at 2:30 PM the next day. The return flight, United 6, departs Tokyo at 3:45 PM and arrives in Houston at 1:40 PM the same day.

​The flight times are set up to offer “convenient round-trip connections at Narita to the airline’s flights to Guam, Seoul and Singapore, as well as to flights operated by United’s joint-venture partner ANA to 19 destinations in Asia, including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Taipei,” according to a press release.

Both flights are operated by a Boeing 777-200. The aircraft has 267 seats with 50 in United BusinessFirst and 217 (including 72 Economy Plus seats) in United Economy.

Related: United launches new service between San Francisco and Taipei, Taiwan this weekend.

Jack Harty reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com

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Asiana to Fly First A380 Flight on June 13

By Jack Harty / Published March 22, 2014

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Courtesy of Asian Airlines

Asiana Airlines has outlined its initial Airbus A380 operations. As of now, it appears that Asiana’s inaugural A380 flight will fly from Seoul to Tokyo Narita on Friday, June 13. When it takes delivery of its first A380 early this summer, Asiana will become the 11th airline to operate the A380 and the second airline based in South Korea to take delivery of the A380.

Initial Asiana A380 Operations

Asiana Airlines has released information about its initial A380 operations. However, this is subject to change.

June 13-July 23, 2014

Asiana will fly the A380 daily between Seoul and Tokyo Narita from June 13 until July 23. The flight will depart Seoul at 0900 and arrive into Narita at 1110. The return flight will depart Narita at 1310, and it will arrive into Seoul at 1540.

Additionally, Asiana will begin flying the A380 six times a week (Mon, Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun) between Seoul and Hong Kong from June 13 until July 24. The flights will depart Seoul at 1950 and arrive into Hong Kong at 2240. The return flight will depart at 0040, and it will arrive into Seoul at 0510.

July 24-August 14, 2014

Asiana will fly the A380 daily between Seoul and Tokyo Narita from July 24 until August 14. The flight will depart Seoul at 0900 and arrive into Narita at 1110. The return flight will depart Narita at 1310, and it will arrive into Seoul at 1540.

Additionally, Asiana will fly the A380 daily between Seoul and Hong Kong from July 24 until August 14. The flights will depart Seoul at 1950 and arrive into Hong Kong at 2240. The return flight will depart at 0040, and it will arrive into Seoul at 0510.

Asiana will also fly the A380 daily between Seoul and Osaka Kansai from July 24 until August 14. The flights will depart Seoul at 1045 and arrive into Osaka Kansai at 1225. After two hours on the ground, the A380 will arrive back in Seoul at 1615.

Lastly, Asiana will offer A380 service five times a week (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun) between Seoul and Bangkok. These flights will be operated from July 25 until August 13 the flight will depart Seoul at 1830 and arrive in Bangkok at 2205. The return flight will depart for Seoul at 0110, and it will arrive at 0845.

August 15, 2014

Asiana will fly the A380 five times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun) between Seoul and Hong Kong. The flights will depart Seoul at 1950 and arrive into Hong Kong at 2240. The return flight will depart at 0040, and it will arrive into Seoul at 0510.

In February, Asiana announced plans to fly the A380 daily between Los Angeles and Seoul, starting July 30, 2014. However, Asiana has quietly pushed back the start date, and it will not start flying the A380 to Los Angeles on August 15. The flight will depart Seoul at 1450, and it will arrive in Los Angeles at 0950. The return flight will depart at 1220, and it will arrive in Seoul the following day at 1720.

Meet Asiana’s A380

Asiana has ordered six A380s, and the carrier plans to use it for long-haul routes to cities such as Los Angeles and New York, and it also plans to deploy the A380 on dense routes in north Asia to cities such as Hong Kong and Tokyo Narita.

It will take delivery of two A380s in June, two next year, and two in 2017.

Asiana’s A380s will have 495 seats. There will be 12 first class seats on the lower deck, 66 business class seats on the upper deck, and 417 economy seats (106 on the upper deck and 311 on the lower deck).

Asiana-A380-Seatmap

Asiana’s A380 Seat Map
Courtesy of Asian Airlines

Asiana’s Premium Class Product

The A380 will boast Asiana’s First Suite Class product. According to the airline’s website, “We maximize your in-flight privacy by providing seats with two sliding doors, the first suite of its kind to be offered by a Korean airline. The full flat bed stretching 210cm in length is equipped with the world’s largest 32in HD personal monitor, guaranteeing a unrivaled viewing experience.”

img_first_suite_class01

Asiana’s First Suite Class product
Courtesy of Asian Airlines

The A380 will boast Asiana’s Business Smartium Class product. According to the airline’s website, “Business Smartium provides a premium business class in-flight experience with its staggered seat layout that offers direct aisle access from every seat allowing unobstructed movement by passengers around the cabin, the 180-degree reclining bed-type seat.”

img_smartium_class01

Asiana’s Business Smartium Class
Courtesy of Asian Airlines

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Jack Harty in Houston reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

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CONFIRMED: American Airlines’ New 777-200 Configuration

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published March 20, 2014

AA 777-200 JDLAmerican Airlines released the new seating configuration for its renovated Boeing 777-200 fleet on Thursday. It is the latest in a recent push from the carrier to overhaul interiors and improve the passenger experience.

Word surfaced on popular blogging site One Mile At a Time about the change earlier today. A quick check on AA.com showed that in fact the new configuration has, or at least had, been loaded in. It was bookable for travel from Dallas to Santiago on June 12th, though presently does not appear in a conventional search.

A spokesperson for American confirmed that the seat map is correct, but added that it was “loaded in error.” The spokesperson said the airline cannot “confirm the start date or schedule.” Questions about the first destination, a long time Boeing 767-300 city, had arisen early on.

AA new 777-200The new cabin will feature forty-five business class seats in two mini cabins. Like the carrier’s new Boeing 777-300 and soon in coming Boeing 767-300 renovations, the 777-200 will now feature a 1-2-1 layout.

Which seat will wind up being used is not yet clear, and a request to American for more information on the product has gone un-returned.

What is clear is that the airline stayed true to its word and axed first class. The current generation of 777-200s features sixteen first class seats. Once the retrofits are complete, only the -300 and A321T aircraft will have a true first class product for the airline.

Moving back through the cabin, it is clear that the airplane will be fitted with Main Cabin Extra (+$89-$118)*. By our count there will be 54 seats dedicated to the airline’s premium economy offering, split between two cabins. The carrier also tucked in sixty “preferred seats” (+$59-$65)*. What exactly preferred seats are is not clear.

AA 777-200 YMost interestingly, the majority of both the preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats are in the forward economy cabin, which is configured in a 3-3-3 setup. The rear cabin packs passengers in tight, up to ten abreast, before tapering down in the very rear of the airplane to 2-4-2.

Based on the maps, 100 seats will remain regular economy, while 114 will command some degree of premium. The current 777-200s seat 194 economy passengers, twenty less than the new configuration.

Details on the product for either cabin remain elusive. The carrier did share the airplanes will have inflight WiFi and seat-back audio visual on demand entertainment. The seats in business are expected to be larger than the existing, and popular, product on the new 777-300s.

It is the latest move in an ongoing fleet renewal and renovation project. The latest news, prior to today’s, was on the carrier’s Boeing 767-300s. The airline shared photos and details on the renovation two weeks back. It also unveiled its first Airbus A321T, meant to reset the benchmark on premium transcontinental US service, in January. And of course early in 2013 the carrier the carrier welcomed the first Boeing 777-300 to its fleet while simultaneously launching an entire rebrand and refocus.

*Prices specific to this flight, do not necessarily represent prices found on other flights.
Seat maps screenshot from AA.com

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Contact the author at Jeremy.Lindgren@Airchive.com

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United’s 200th Aircraft Receives Wi-Fi

By Jack Harty / Published March 19, 2014

UA 737 JDL

Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

United completed Wi-Fi installation on its 200th aircraft earlier this month. It is a substantial milestone for United, as it was one of the last carriers to introduce the service.

All but one of its 54-strong Airbus A319 fleet has received the upgrade, and the last one (N846UA) is expected to be complete by June. The carrier’s fleet of A320 aircraft is similarly close to being finished, with 96 out of the 97 Airbus A320s complete. The 97th aircraft (N480UA) is currently undergoing installation.

As for the airline’s Boeing fleet, one 737-800 (N24224) is equipped with Wi-Fi, according to popular tracking site United Airlines Fleet Website. Additionally, the site reports that 23 Boeing 737-900/900ER aircraft have been upgraded. Fifteen of United’s 132 Boeing 757-200s now have Wi-Fi on board, all of which are in the PS configuration.

According to a company statement, more than 50 Boeing 737 aircraft will have Wi-Fi installed. There are currently 33 Boeing 737-900ER aircraft that do not have any type of in-flight entertainment, but they will be receiving Wi-Fi soon,

EXTRA: Track the Boeing 737-900/900ER Wi-Fi Progress here

As for widebody aircraft, 23 of United’s 24 Boeing 747-400 aircraft are now online, with the sole (N128UA) airframe expected to come online by May of 2014.

None of United’s Boeing 767 aircraft have received the upgrade, but seven of United’s 74 Boeing 777s are equipped with Wi-Fi (six of the aircraft fly primarily to Hawaii and Guam). The 787 fleet does not have the service installed, but is expected to receive it sometime later this or next year.

Check out the video below to watch how the magic happens:

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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.

new-crew-member-slides-orientation-at-jetblue-university-2013-11-jetitude_31077

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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United Unveils its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner Seat Map

By Jack Harty / Published March 16, 2014

United Airlines’ uploaded its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner seat map on its reservation system over the weekend.

Last month, United Airlines announced that it would use the new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to fly passengers between Los Angeles and Melbourne starting in October, and it also announced the configuration. However, an unofficial seat map was placed in its reservation system.

Extra: United Hits One Year of 787 Operations

Matt Miller, United’s Managing Director for Japan and Pacific Sales, told Australian Business Traveller that the airline will fly the first 787-9 flight in August.

Extra: Photos of United’s Inaugural 787-8 Dreamliner Flight

United’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner will have 252 seats. There will be 48 seats in BusinessFirst (in a 2-2-2 configuration), 88 Economy Plus Seats (United’s extra legroom economy seats), and 116 United Economy Seats (in a 3-3-3 configuration).

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The seat map of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Image courtesy of United Airlines from its reservation system

United’s 787-9′s interior will be the same, if not very similar, to its Boeing 787-8 interior.

United’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner Configuration

Currently, United’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner seats 219 passengers.

There are 36 seats in United BusinessFirst in a 2-2-2 seat configuration. The seats have a standard seat pitch of 6’6″ sleeping space, a standard seat recline of 180°, and a standard seat width of 22 inches. Each seat is equipped with its own personal Audio Video on Demand (AVOD)  Inflight Entertainment System and power outlets. Additionally, there are USB ports at every seat, and customers have the ability to connect their iPods.

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United’s Boeing 787-8 BusinessFirst Cabin
Image courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airchive.com

There are 70 seats in United Economy Plus in a 3-3-3 configuration. The seats have a standard seat pitch of 35 inches, a standard seat recline of 6 inches, and a standard seat width of 17.3 inches. Each seat is equipped with its own personal Audio Video on Demand (AVOD)  Inflight Entertainment System, and there are two power outlets for every two seats. Additionally, there are USB ports at every seat.

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United’s Boeing 787-8 Economy Plus Cabin
Image courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airchive.com

There are 113 seats in United Economy in a 3-3-3 configuration. The seats have a standard seat pitch of 32 inches, a standard seat recline of 5 inches, and a standard seat width of 17.3 inches. Each seat is equipped with its own personal Audio Video on Demand (AVOD)  Inflight Entertainment System, and there are two power outlets for every two seats. Additionally, there are USB ports at every seat.

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United’s Boeing 787-8 Economy Cabin
Image courtesy of Chris Sloan / Airchive.com

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Jack Harty in Houston reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

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United Plans Domestic 787-9 Flights

By Jack Harty / Published March 12, 2014

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The Boeing 787-9. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Airchive

More details about United Airlines’ first 787-9 flights are starting to emerge.

Matt Miller, United’s Managing Director for Japan and Pacific Sales, told Australian Business Traveller that the airline will take delivery of its first 787-9 in July, with another to follow later in the summer.

“We will take delivery of both 787-9s in summer [2014], we actually get the first one in July, and we’ll be flying them domestically before we launch (Melbourne-Los Angeles) at the end of October” explains Miller, UA’s Managing Director for Japan and Pacific Sales. The initial destinations will include Denver, Houston, and Los Angeles. You can read more of what Mr. Miller had to say about the first domestic Dreamliner flights as well as additional details on where to find the jets on Australian Business Traveller.

Last month, United Airlines announced that it would fly the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on a new direct flight between Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia starting October 26, 2014.

United’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner will be have 252 seats. There will be 48 seats in BusinessFirst (in a 2-2-2 configuration), 63 Economy Plus Seats, and 141 United Economy Seats (in a 3-3-3 configuration).

In 2012, United Airlines took delivery of North America’s first Boeing 787. The aircraft was delivered in mid-September, and it went through a certification process with the FAA before it made it flew its inaugural flight on November 4, 2012 from Houston to Chicago.

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Jack Harty in Houston reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

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Another Start Up Airline: Avatar/Family Airlines (Again)

By Jack Harty / Published March 12, 2014

Family Airlines is back, again. This time, it’s been renamed Avatar. Take a look at the long-suffering trail of the start-up that just hasn’t been able to, well, start up. And of course we review its latest plan…

Meet Family Airlines (1990s)

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Photo from WikiCommons taken by Torsten Maiwald

Back in the 1990s, a new American low-cost-carrier with an out-of-the-box idea was proposed. Plans for Family Airlines were announced in 1992. The goal was to offer cheap fares. However, the airline experience went beyond just cheap fares: It was trying to sell a family focused travel experience.

It was planning a fleet of all Boeing 747s seating 581 in a two class configuration.

The airline intended to launch flights initially from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, Miami, and Newark in 1992. Shortly after, the airline was to launch flights to Boston, Honolulu, Phoenix, and San Francisco. But, the airline was missing one key component:  the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) blessing.

In March 1993, the FAA said that it would no longer process the airlines’ application. Plans for the start-up were scrapped, but it refused to go down without a fight.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) reviewed the subsequent lawsuits in April, and the founder of Family Airlines, Barry Michaels, was asked to relinquish control of the proposed airline. He complied.

Not so Family Friendly

Three years later, Family Airlines was back in the news, and it was not good publicity.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a suit against Mr. Michaels and his wife, Mrs. Michaels, for fraudulently offering unregistered stock for the airline. They were required to return $363,306 to the investors, and they had to pay $181,000 per person in civil penalties.

We’re Back (2008)

In 2008, Family Airlines filed another application with the DOT. This time, the airline’s plan looked like it had a greater chance of failing as the market was in far worse shape than the original Family Airlines in the early 1990s.

There were no real big changes to the 2008 business plan when compared to the original plan from the 1990s.

Cranky Flier (Brett Snyder) posted some of the Q&As from its 2008 website. One of the Q&As asked “why start an airline today?” Family Airlines’ answer: “The timing could not be better! With the traditional ‘pre-deregulation’ airlines about to go bankrupt and the newer ones unable to fill their vacancy (mainly due to higher operating cost and lack of capacity), the Family Airlines way is a sure success. No airline today can compete on a fare basis, in the markets proposed to be serviced by Family Airlines.”

Snyder also listed a few fun tidbits from the 355 page application Family Airlines had to fill out with the DOT. All statements in quotations are directly from the DOT report Family Airlines filled out.

Family Airlines was planning on a 100% load factor on every flight

The airline was planning to be profitable by the fourth month

It was planning a 5.5 cent cost per seat which would be quite the challenge on a Boeing 747 between Las Vegas and Phoenix

Your flight attendants would be your entertainment: “While on board, passengers will enjoy an innovative entertainment experience brought forth by many of Family’s flight attendants who are would-be “headliners” that love the thought of entertaining others and intent on creating a pleasant flying experience for our passengers.”

They were going to take a similar approach to Spirit, but you would get free gifts: “Nearly all areas of the aircraft are available for advertising including the exterior hull, wing, tail, overhead bins, seat backs, tray tables, video screens etc., and would be available for purchase on a yearly contract. Upon de-boarding, passengers on most flights will receive an assortment of all types of promotional items as a free gift from our sponsors just for flying Family Airlines“

Family Airlines even joined the Airliners.net forums to keep everybody posted on the start-up. Some Airliners.net members will even tell you that the airline was defending itself and its business plan on the forums.

Plus, the airline went as far as painting a Boeing 747 in the Family Airlines Livery.

A year after filing its application with the DOT, Family Airlines heard back from the DOT about its application.

Denied.

Surprised? Most people were not. The DOT ruled that Family Airlines would need to make many changes in order to get off the ground. First, it did not like that Barry Michaels would continue to be involved after committing fraud with the original Family Airlines back in the 1990s. Additionally, the airline never seemed to get its official address right, and the DOT did not believe that it would have enough money to start up.

The year 2009 would be (should have been) the last we would hear of Family Airlines. Well, sort of.

A Third Time is a Charm (2010)

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Screenshot of Avatar Vacations from its website www.avatarairlines.com

Did you think they were going to give up? In 2010, Family Airlines was back in the news again, but this time, it changed its identity. Meet the new Family Airlines, Avatar Airlines.

Avatar Airlines was functionally Family Airlines but with a different name. Barry Michaels was still going to be the CEO, and the airline was still planning a fleet of all Boeing 747s.

At the end of 2010, the DOT asked Mr. Michaels for an update about Avatar.

In January 2011, Mr. Michaels sent an eight page letter to the DOT. In the letter, he discussed Avatar’s all Boeing 747 fleet (42 business class seats and 539 economy seats), how the airline would also sell vacation packages, airline catering (they “had preliminary meetings with The Cheesecake Factory, ‘Coca Cola Company, Monster Energy Drink and Starbucks”), shareholders, information about funding the start-up, and he included the biographies of the top executives.

Avatar Airlines never received approval from the DOT to begin operations, and Barry Michaels stepped down as CEO in 2012. Once again, we thought the saga was over.

No, Really the Fourth Time is a Charm

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Screenshot of AvatarAirlines.com

We were wrong.

Yes, Avatar is back – again. Earlier this year, it started corresponding with the DOT, filing another application to commence operations.

According to its 2014 media kit, “Avatar’s business plan is unique, incorporating six individual profit centers on conjunction with the exclusive use of the Boeing 747 aircraft equipped with 539 economy seats and 42 business class seats, resulting in the industry’s lowest cost per seat mile. this allows Avatar to offer everyday fares between $19 to $99, depending on the destination and time of purchase.”

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One of the ways Avatar Airlines plans to brand.
Screenshot from the 2014 Avatar Airlines Media Kit located on its website

The airline also states in the media kit: “It’s simple: Big airplanes carrying maximum number of seats combined with fares which are low enough and markets which are large enough to guarantee 100% load factors.”

The airline plans to make money through passenger ticketing, cargo, catering, in-flight entertainment, advertising and promotions (branding), and Avatar Vacations.

A few facts from the about page with Avatar Airlines’ ideas on passenger experience:

Avatar plans to equip its fleet with on-board satellite Wi-Fi capability as part of its in-flight entertainment profit center

“A typical flight from New York to Los Angeles on a 747 would save about 30 minutes of air time, compared to that same flight on a 737″

“Passengers are encouraged to use their own devices, or for a nominal fee, rent a portable hi-tech device from Avatar”

“Avatar thinks it’s outrageous that passengers should have to pay to bring a reasonable amount of luggage with them on a flight.  Avatar plans to “roll back the clock” to the good old days when each passenger was permitted to check two normal pieces of luggage into cargo for no fee, in addition to standard carry-on bags.”

“Avatar plans to partner up with some of the most popular restaurants and eateries to give our passengers the luxury of choice, whether it’s 5-star or fast food.  Pre-order your meals at the time of ticket purchase, and look forward to your favorite on-the-ground dining cuisine at 40,000 feet in the air.”

Although the information above is quite similar to its other start-up attempts, there have been several changes.

Avatar Airlines relocated to Boca Raton, Florida. Also, there have been several changes to the airlines management positions. Mr. Michaels was replaced with former TWA Senior VP, Marvin Ruthenberg.

Future

Will Avatar Airlines finally succeed? Has it made the necessary changes to receive the DOT’s and FAA’s blessing to commence operations? We will have to wait and see. Comment your thoughts below.

Jack Harty in Houston reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com

Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren is the editor responsible for this story. Please do not hesitate to contact him for any questions or concerns at Jeremy.Lindgren@airchive.com.

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

By Jack Harty / Published March 5, 2014

EVA-777-300-JDLIn January, EVA Air announced big plans to expand in North America, and yesterday, EVA Air’s Chairman, K. W. Chang, said that the company is seeing steady demand growth on its North American routes according to a story by EToday News.  He went on to say that service will be increased, and next year, he says EVA Air is planning to launch flights to Chicago and Houston.

Many have speculated that EVA Air would launch flights to Houston for quite some time. Recently, Houston has been growing its reach by adding new routes and airlines to Asia. In EVA’s case, launching flights to Houston and Chicago will be good for the airline as it will be able to codeshare with United, a Star Alliance Partner.

Details about its plans to launch flights to Chicago and Houston are not known at this time.

Starting in June, the carrier will launch a two phase expansion plan which comes just as it will celebrate its first anniversary as a member of the Star Alliance Network. Phase one will increase the carrier’s weekly number of flights from 45 to 55, boosting frequency to Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Vancouver. In July, phase two will include adding additional flights to San Francisco and additional flights to Los Angeles.

In a  press release, EVA Air says its average load on North America flights surpassed 80 percent in 2013, and airline executives expect it to continue climbing in 2014.

In order to help with the growth this year, it will take delivery of three new Boeing 777-300ERs in the second quarter of 2014 for long-haul flights between North America and Taiwan.

As for 2015, the carrier says that it plans to take delivery of four Boeing 777-300ERs next year, and it plans to sign a contract for 10 more Boeing 777 aircraft. It is quite possible that it will look at ordering the 777X.

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Photo courtesy jplphoto

Jack Harty in Houston reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

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Virgin America Goes After Dallas Love Gates as Competition Heats Up

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published March 5, 2014

VX A320Virgin America announced intentions to turn Dallas Love Field into a focus city on Wednesday. The carrier says it will add eighteen departures from the city daily starting in October 2014. There is one minor problem, however: It doesn’t own any gates at the airport.

At least not yet. The carrier is seeking to win control of two gates at the coveted downtown Dallas airport. The gates are currently owned by American, but thanks to the DOJ merger settlement, the carrier is being forced to give them up.

Should Virgin be successful four cities would see service in 2014 following the expiration of the Wright Amendment’s travel restrictions. Unsurprisingly, the first two destinations will be the carrier’s current hubs of Los Angeles LAX and San Francisco. Each would receive three flights per day at first, going to four in 2015. The other two are recently acquired New York LaGuardia, and Washington Reagan (DCA), both of which would see four roundtrips per day. Chicago O’Hare will be added in “early 2015″, with two flights per day.

Virgin only recently acquired the gates and slots in New York LaGuardia and DCA. Both were a product of the AA/US merger settlement with the DOJ that the airline is trying to capitalize on in Dallas.

The new flights to Chicago, New York, and Washington DC represent a shift away from west coast-centric hub and spoke service. Almost every existing flight for the carrier operates either into or out of its two California hubs, the lone exception being a flight from New York JFK to Las Vegas.

The niche carrier already maintains a presence in the Big D via Dallas DFW Airport, fifteen miles away. It began serving LAX and San Francisco from the city in 2010. If it is awarded the Love Field gates it would abandon its operations at DFW. Its posh and polished product and vibe would present a unique contrast to the existing carriers at Love, including populist Southwest and legacy carriers such as Delta.

Not the only hat in the ring…

DAL-SIGN-1Virgin is not the only carrier pre-emptively claiming the two gates. Delta announced a planned “expansion” of services at the airport in November, 2013. Like Virgin, it would add eighteen nonstop flights to five destinations including Detroit (x3), New York LaGuardia (x5), Los Angeles (x5), and Minneapolis-St. Paul (x3). All would be operated by regional carriers.

Delta would also add additional service to Atlanta up to six flights, all operated by mainline Boeing 717 aircraft. In a move it may later regret, it began selling tickets for the flights in December. The carrier has not yet responded to a request for comment.

EXTRA: Dallas Love Field, the Comeback Kid

Southwest Airlines, which has been holed up at Love Field since the late 1980s thanks to Wright Amendment restrictions, owns the lion’s share of the gates presently available at Love Field: sixteen out of twenty. That is not stopping it from trying to make it eighteen, however. The carrier has been actively pursuing the space from day one. Utilization details remain vague, but a Southwest spokesperson said that the “additional two gates  will allow [for]…approximately twenty additional flights and serve numerous new nonstop destinations.”

While the airline says it will “actively participate in the process of re-allocating American’s gates at Love Field” it no doubt has more to lose by being passed up. Unlike both Delta and Virgin, both of which already operate out of DFW, Southwest is stuck in Love Field. It can move to DFW in theory, but not without giving up gates at Love Field – a move it clearly doesn’t wish to make. “We don’t have the option of serving DFW without a penalty…Southwest should [receive] the gates and the airlines who are currently serving DFW could do so there.”

The carrier announced its first post-Wright Amendment flight restriction destinations last month, on February 3rd.

The DOJ has not set a timeline on making a decision.

EXTRA: Dallas DFW may get even bigger

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Qatar Reveals A380 First Class Product

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren / Published March 5, 2014

Qatar Airways revealed its highly anticipated first class product for its upcoming Airbus A380 on Wednesday at the ITB Berlin trade show.

Billed as the largest suite in the sky, the lie-flat seat will boast an enormous 90 inch pitch and 26″ in flight entertainment screen. It is so large that it can comfortably accommodate two passengers who wish to dine. Each superjumbo will have eight of the suites on board.

QR A380F QR A380F 2
QR A380F 3 Cap3

Qatar has thirteen A380s on order, the first of which is due in June of 2014. It will be placed on Doha-London Heathrow.

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Asiana to Offer LAX-SAN Bus Service

By Jack Harty / Published March 4, 2014

asiana-boeing-777-200_5309Asiana Airlines will offer a free bus shuttle service between Los Angeles and San Diego beginning on April 1st. The carrier will offer the service free of charge to passengers on its flight to/from Seoul: OZ201/202.

The bus will depart San Diego from a shopping center near the airport at 7:20AM, and it will arrive at LAX at 10:20AM. The return bus service will depart LAX at 1:20PM, arriving San Diego at 3:50PM. Advanced reservations are required.

United passengers code-sharing via the Star Alliance connection will also have the service available to them. Additionally, passengers will have the option to book a flight on United between SAN and LAX as they codeshare on these flights.

While this may seem a little odd, such services are not unheard of. Currently, Asiana and EVA Air bus passengers between New Jersey and JFK, and Asiana itself provides a shuttle service from St, Urbana, IL to Chicago O’hare.

Perhaps related, Japan Airlines began service direct to San Diego not long ago.

News on how the bus would be outfitted was not provided, though we are assuming there will not be any lie-flat beds for the three hour drive.

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Jack Harty in Houston reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.

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A Look at Delta’s Cleveland Operations as it Grows in the Rock and Roll City

By Jack Harty / Published March 2, 2014

Delta Air Lines is continuing to grow in Cleveland. In June, the Atlanta based mega carrier will launch flights from Cleveland to Hartford, Indianapolis, and Raleigh/Durham. Additionally, the airline will be making some operational changes.

The changes are thought to be in response to United Airlines’ decision to de-hub the airport last year. In particular, Delta announced plans to enter Cleveland to Hartford, Indianapolis, and Raleigh-Durham. All three were cities that faced the ax with United.

Hartford

Delta will begin operating Cleveland to Hartford on June 5th. It will operate one flight per day between these cities, and a CRJ-700 outfitted with 9 seats in first class, 8 Economy Comfort seats, and 48 seats in economy will be utilized to operate this route. These flights will be operated by ExpressJet.

The flight will depart Hartford at 7:00AM lt, and it will arrive in Cleveland at 8:50AM lt. The return flight will depart Cleavland at 6:50PM lt, and it will arrive in Hartford at 8:45PM lt.

Currently, United Airlines operates four ERJ-145 flights a day between Cleveland and Hartford. United will discontinue this route on March 31.

Indianapolis

Starting June 5, Delta will enter this market. It will operate one flight per day between these cities, and a CRJ-200 with 50 seats in economy will be utilized to operate this route. These flights will be operated by Endeavor Air.

The flight will depart Indianapolis at 7:00AM lt, and it will arrive in Cleveland at 8:10AM lt. The return flight will depart Cleavland at 8:35AM lt, and it will arrive in Indianapolis at 9:45AM lt.

United Airlines currently operates six flights a day between Cleavland and Indianapolis with a mix of Q200s, Q300s, ERJ-145s, and an E170. It faces the ax on June 4th.

Raleigh/Durham

It will operate one flight per day between these cities, and a CRJ-700 outfitted with 9 seats in first class, 8 Economy Comfort seats, and 48 seats in economy will be utilized to operate this route. These flights will be operated by ExpressJet.

The flight will depart Cleveland at 6:50AM lt, and it will arrive in Raleigh/Durham at 9:20AM lt. The return flight will depart Raleigh/Durham at 7:55PM, and it will arrive in Cleveland at 9:35PM lt.

United Airlines currently operates three ERJ-145 flights a day between Cleavland and Raleigh/Durham, at least until March 31st.

Atlanta Flight Changes

On June 4, United Airlines will discontinue flights between Cleveland and Atlanta.

Although Delta already operates flights between these cities, the company operates a mix of MD-80/90s, Airbus aircraft, the 717, and CRJ-900 aircraft. Starting June 5, all of Delta’s flights between Cleveland and Atlanta will be operated by mainline aircraft. A 717-200 will be utilized to operate seven flights per day between these cities on weekdays.

New York Flight Changes

Currently, Delta operates two to three flights a day to LGA on weekdays. These flights are operated by ExpressJet and Gojet.

Starting June 5, all flights between Cleveland and New York LaGuardia will be operated by ExpressJet Airlines. Delta will operate five flights a day on weekdays between the two cities. There will be one flight operated by a CRJ-700 flight, and four flights operated by CRJ-200s.

United will operate eights flights a day on weekdays between Cleveland and New York LaGuardia.

Delta’s Cleveland Schedule

For the most part, Delta’s weekday schedule remains consistent throughout the year. On June 6, Delta will operate 27 departures from Cleveland to eight cities. There will be 1,815 seats available on Delta’s 27 departures.

June 6, 2014 Departures from Cleveland
Destination Number of Flights Total Seats
Atlanta 7 770
Detroit 4 200
Hartford 1 65
Indianapolis 1 50
Minneapolis/St. Paul 5 250
New York JFK 3 150
New York LGA 5 265
Raleigh/Durham 1 65

*This information is subject to change.

Jack Harty in Houston reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com

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New Start Up: American West Jets

By Jack Harty / Published February 26, 2014

Picture2

Logo from the company on a presentation
Courtesy of American West Jets

Another start-up airline is in the works. American West Jets has filed with the DOT to acquire Ryan International Airlines’ operating certificate and remaining assets.

The airline would be a subsidiary of American West Aircraft which is an aircraft sales and leasing company. It dates back to the 1980s.

The new company plans to be based in Las Vegas, Nevada, near McCarran International Airport.

The company aims to serve “exclusively currently un-served (or under-served) routes with a highly efficient operation.”

Ryan International Airlines Roots

American Western Aircraft purchased Ryan International Airlines’ assets and brand for $800,000, according to official documents that were obtained by Airchive.

Ryan International Airlines was based in Rockford, Illinois. It flew non-scheduled charter passenger services, including for the United States Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and others. The airline ceased operations on January 11, 2013.

American West Jets is petitioning the DOT to obtain Ryan International Airlines’ operating certificate without having to pay the fee, as the certificate had been dormant for over one year.

Should it obtain the operating certificate, it says it will be the “re-branding of the 33 year old Ryan International Airlines, and it is designed around this well-defined business model: one that uses a minimum of aircraft types, point-to-point flights ensuring low operating and marketing costs, efficiency and high level of customer service and safety.”

Markets

Initially, the carrier wants to focus on making flying to Central America easier for travelers in the South Western U.S.

Shortly after, it wants to enter the West Africa and South Pacific markets. The airline believes there is a strong demand for additional service from the southwest U.S. However, flights to West Africa will need to be initially operated from Sanford International Airport in the Orlando Florida area.

Operation Hubs

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American West Jets planned routes
Image courtesy of American West Jets Airlines

The company’s” west coast fuel farm” is the newly renovated 2,000,000-gallon fuel farm at San Bernardino International Airport. It expects not only to provide fuel for itself, but also to generate revenue by selling fuel to its competitors. With the fuel farm all but complete, the airline plans to open new operations offices, a heavy maintenance facility, shops, and offices at the airport.

The airline also plans to operate out of the new International Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport.

Orlando’s Sanford International Airport will be used as its gateway to Africa.

Fleet

The airline plans to initially operate a fleet of Boeing 747s, L-1011s, and MD-83s.

Orlando will be the North American 747 operational hub. Each 747 will have approximately 350-400 seats.

The airline already owns two L-1011 aircraft which are operated by Sands Corporation. There will be 250 seats with Rolls Royce powered engines and the latest electronic upgrades. Initially, four L-1011s will join the fleet.

A pair of MD-83 aircraft are planned to be obtained to operate domestic flights. Each aircraft will have 144 seats.

It plans to earn enough money to eventually purchase the next generation aircraft Boeing Wide Body 777’s within a year or two to replace its older fleet.

Routes

The airline plans to operate the following:

Domestic flights:

  • 3 flights per week between Las Vegas and Sanford
  • 3 flights per week between San Bernardino and Sanford
  • 2 daily flights between San Bernardino and Las Vegas

Central America flights:

  • 3 flights per week between Las Vegas and San Jose, Costa Rica
  • 3 flights per week between Las Vegas and Los Cabos
  • 3 flights per week between San Bernardino and Belize
  • 3 flights per week between San Bernardino and Los Cabos

Caribbean Flights:

  • 3 flights per week between San Bernardino and Kingston, Jamaica
  • 3 flights per week between San Bernardino and Oranjestad, Aruba

South Pacific flights:

  • 1 flight per week between Las Vegas to Pago Pago, American Samoa
  • 1 flight per week between Las Vegas to Brisbane, Australia
  • 1 flight per week between San Bernardino to Chrischurch, New Zealand
  • 1 flight per week between San Bernardino to Pago Pago, American Samoa

West African Flights:

  • 1 flight per week between Sanford and Conakry, Guinea
  • 1 flight per week between Sanford and Accra, Ghana
  • 1 flight per week between Sanford and Lagos, Nigeria
  • 1 flight per week between Sanford and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Operations Commencing

The airline plans to commence operations in May 2014. It will launch small domestic routes with an MD83, and shortly after, it will add the L-1011s for new routes to Central America. In June, it plans to receive its first Boeing 747-400 to operate flights to American Samoa and Brisbane, Australia.

One Question Remains

The news of the new start-up comes after Florida Express Jet announced that it is grounding plans to start the start-up intrastate airline. After reviewing American West Jets’ plan, it appears it has a much more aggressive plan than other start up airlines.

Did April Fool’s come early?

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Jack Harty in Houston reported this story. You can contact him at Jack.Harty@airchive.com.
Contact the editor at jeremy.lindgren@airchive.com

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