Month: May 2015

Eastern Air Lines is back. Hoping they do better than Pan Am part II

The 'new' Eastern Air Lines' first plane, a Boeing

A current reincarnation of the iconic U.S. airline brand flew its first flight with paying passengers Thursday afternoon, operating a charter flight from Miami to Havana, Cuba, The Miami Herald reports.

That marked the first revenue flight for the “new” Eastern, which is flying Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The company purchased the rights to the old Eastern name and logo earlier this decade. It plans a base in Miami, just as the old Eastern had done.

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But customers hoping to buy tickets for traditional commercial airline service are out of luck – at least for now. Eastern is getting its start by operating Cuba charters in partnership with the HavanaAir charter company.

U.S. airlines can fly on routes between the U.S. and Cuba, but they must do so in conjunction with tour companies that are authorized by the U.S. to sell travel on U.S.-Cuba itineraries. Similarly, since travel must be sold by authorized tour companies, flights by U.S. airlines operate as charter flights sold via the tour-company.

Eastern plans to move into regularly scheduled commercial service that most U.S. passengers are familiar with. Ed Wegel, the CEO heading Eastern’s start-up effort,told the Herald earlier this year he hoped to position Eastern “somewhere in between” the ultra-low-cost carrier niche — which includes airlines like Spirit and Frontier — and the traditional legacy carriers, such as American, United and Delta.

TODAY IN THE SKY: Eastern Air Lines hopes to launch flights in mid-March(January 2015)
TODAY IN THE SKY: Eastern Airlines returns to Miami with first Boeing 737(December 2014)

For now, though, Eastern will focus on charter operations. Wegel tells the Herald that non-charter flights are likely at least a year off.

Starting slowly could help Eastern succeed where many others have failed, saysChris Sloan, editor in chief and publisher of Airways News.

“They’re going to get their operations straight, generate revenue on charters before venturing to scheduled service,” Sloan says to the Herald. “That, to me, is encouraging that they’re not leaping with both feet in. Virtually everyone else who has resurrected a name has failed at it. They’ve all done it completely differently than Eastern is.”

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Is it me, or are people doing dumber things while traveling?

Passenger detained for penning ‘threatening’ suicide note aboard plane

A passenger was removed from an Austin-bound flight about to take off from San Francisco after a quick thinking seatmate alerted flight crew to a potential suicide threat.

Passenger Vicki Riffe noticed a man scribbling furiously into a notebook that he planned to kill himself and take others with him.

“He started writing extremely fast — with anger. I was scared to death,” Riffe told the NY Daily News.

After alerting crew, the plane returned to the gate and the man was removed by police.

Sniffer dogs were also deployed in the cabin before it was given the all-clear to fly.

Virgin America confirmed the incident with a statement: “Just after taxi out, a Virgin America flight carrying 108 guests returned to the gate at SFO due to onboard reports from guests concerned about the behavior of a fellow passenger.”

“Preliminary reports indicate that the guest made no threat to the safety of the aircraft or any other passenger onboard.”

After fellow passengers were fully informed of the nature of the hold-up, about a dozen opted not to travel.

The plane then took off about one hour behind schedule and landed in Austin without incident.

San Francisco police said the man is being medically evaluated.

Had to share this – Idiot calls in airport bomb threat so girlfriend won’t miss her flight

Bordeaux airport

There are countless smartphone apps that can get you to the airport on time and then there’s the old-fashioned analog method of just checking your watch. But quite possibly the worst way to ensure that your departure flight won’t leave without you is to call in a bomb threat to the airport. That’s what a tremendously misguided man in France did, allegedly phoning in a threat to the Bordeaux-Merignac regional airport, all because his girlfriend thought that she was running late.

When he called the airport authorities, the 33-year-old suspect went with the unmistakably direct option, saying only “There is a bomb.” According to AFP, parts of the airport were immediately closed and the armed forces were called to search the terminal. After a swift investigation – which found zero explosives – the caller was identified and arrested about 12 miles from the airport.

It seems like most people – even the dumb ones – would’ve figured out that neither airports nor the authorities take kindly to bomb jokes, but situations like this (and the German woman whopracticed her own bomb-themed comedy routine in a security line) still happen. Here’s a tip: STOP IT.

As for that terrible Bordeaux boyfriend, he has a newly scheduled court date and is facing a fine of up to €30,000 (around $33,000). There’s no word on whether he needs to find a new girlfriend.

Singapore Airlines gives a boost to premium economy

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Like the perks of a business-class seat but not the price tag? International carriers are increasingly rolling out new seats and service that seek to split the difference.

Singapore Airlines on Thursday (May 21) became the latest to announce a separate “Premium Economy” cabin for its flights.

The seats boast about six inches of extra legroom and are up to 1.5 inches wider than standard coach seats. Premium Economy customers are provided with noise-cancelling headphones for the flight, which they can use to enjoy the programming on a 13.3-inch high-definition screen.They also receive amenity kits, bonus miles and other perks typically reserved for first- and business-class passengers.

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“We aim to maintain our position as a leader in inflight service and amenities,” says Singapore Airlines spokesman James Bradbury-Boyd. “In designing the new Premium Economy, we listened to our customers’ feedback and their desire for enhanced comfort and personal space.”

Singapore Airlines’ new Premium Economy seats come at a time when the opulent suites rolled out by the Gulf carriers have captured much of the recent industry news on luxury air travel. But new premium economy cabins have been gaining traction among many of world’s top airlines.

Like others that have rolled out such sections, Singapore Airlines hopes the seats will appeal to fliers who may not have a budget for business class, but may be able to spend a little bit more for Premium Economy.

Singapore Airlines says it will begin “progressively” installing the cabin on the planes it flies on long-haul routes. All told, Singapore Airlines will offer Premium Economy in 19 Airbus A380s, 19 Boeing 777-300ERs and the first 20 Airbus A350s.

The airline’s first flight with Premium Economy will fly Aug. 9 between Singapore and Sydney. The cabin will debut in the U.S. in December on routes from Los Angeles and New York, followed by San Francisco. For the carrier’s U.S. markets, Bradbury-Boyd says Premium Economy seats will be priced as low as 40% to 50% over standard economy seats.

Singapore Airlines’ website show Premium Economy fares of about $2,005 for a mid-December round-trip from Los Angeles to Singapore, compared to the airline’s lowest coach fare of about $1,303 on the same route.

A jump of $700 or more in price is still substantial for most travelers. But Boyd says the airline hopes it will be attractive to those who may be priced out of business class but are otherwise willing to pay more for nice seats and better service. Singapore’s business and first-class fares for the same L.A.-Singapore routes were going for $5,347 and $13,233, respectively.

Expanding options for a ‘fourth class’

Singapore Air is the latest in a rapidly expanding list of international carriers to add an entirely new class of service – one that’s more than a simple coach seat with extra space.

U.S. carriers, of course, have their own versions. United has offered its Economy Plus seating since 1999. Delta rolled out its Economy Comfort seating – since rebranded as Comfort+ — in 2011 while American began adding its version – Main Cabin Extra – in 2012.

But there’s a significant difference between the enhanced economy offerings of the U.S. airlines compared to the international carriers. The U.S. carriers offer only a few extra inches of legroom. Some throw in free drinks and move fliers up in the boarding and check-in queue.

But, on international carriers, “it’s a completely different class of service,” says business-travel writer Joe Brancatelli, who authors the JoeSentMe.com travel website newsletter. He calls it the “the fourth class” of air travel – distinct from the traditional offerings of first-, business and standard economy.

Air France, Lufthansa, British Airways, Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific are among the growing cadre of global carriers that offer enhanced economy sections as a distinct class of service. Even more than extra space, the premium economy cabins on international carriers often feature custom-designed seats that are better – not just more spacious – than standard economy.

On Air France, for example, the premium economy seats are enclosed in their own shell, offering privacy and protecting personal space from the recline of other passengers.

The service is different, too. Customers buying premium economy seats on international carriers typically can check-in via the first- or business-class lines. Meals are typically served on China and feature menus more similar to what’s served in business class. Flight attendants patrol the premium economy more frequently with refills for wine and water glasses.

Staying power

That Singapore Airlines – widely regarded as one of the world’s most luxurious carriers – is rolling out the service hints that premium economy has hit critical mass.

“It’s absolutely here to stay,” Brancatelli says. “I think the two carriers that had to come in were Lufthansa and Singapore. They’re the two bellwether trans-oceanic carriers and they’ve each adopted it (since early 2014).”

Brancatelli says the premium economy products are aimed partially at business travelers who are prohibited from flying on expensive business class fares, but also at leisure travelers who are willing — and able — to spend more for a little extra space and comfort.

And, so far, it appears to be well-received among travelers flying to or from the United States.

Lufthansa debuted its own Premium Economy seats just last March, and the carrier’s executives have repeatedly said that sales are exceeding the company’s expectations on U.S. routes. Other airlines flying premium economy cabins to the United States have echoed those sentiments.

“I think they’ve actually been surprised at how well it’s gone,” Brancatelli says, noting that more customers seem to be “buying up” from coach class rather than people “moving back” from pricier business class seats.

“The airlines do seem to have gotten what they wanted out of these seats,” Brancatelli adds.

He says it’s been a good deal for fliers, too, saying “prices on premium economy fares have been fairly rational” on U.S. routes.

U.S. carriers slow to match

Despite the success of premium economy on international carriers, none of the USA’s three big global carriers – American, Delta and United – have indicated plans beyond the more-modest premium economy seats they already have.

Some industry observers believe they may eventually feel pressure to do so – especially as their premium economy seats appear increasingly inadequate when compared to the cabins offered by their own frequent-flier partners.

Of particular concern for the U.S. carriers is that their own passengers could increasingly choose to fly on partners instead when they’re in the market for premium economy seats, Brancatelli says.

“Once again, the U.S. carriers are behind,” he says. “So far, they’ve chosen not to compete for premium economy passengers.”

One can dream right? After all, that is what Lotto is for…..

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Unless you’re insanely loaded, are a professional travel hacker or have run a successfully run acontroversial Kickstarter campaign, chances are you probably haven’t flown in Singapore Airlines absurdly luxurious suites. Perhaps Singapore’s new premium economy is more your speed — and according to the reviews that have been pouring in this week, the airline’s newest class is something to get excited about.

But according to sources at Singapore, this is just the beginning of what appears to be a complete overhaul of its premium classes.

Singapore revolutionized modern luxury air travel when it launched its suites in 2007, and 10 years later the suite class still makes most of the rest of the airline industry gush in admiration (not only at the service — which includes lobster, lie-flat beds, and apparently rose petals – but also at a price tag that’s upwards of $17,000 on the 14 destinations of its Airbus A380). But in recent years, Emirates, and especially Etihad with its excessive residences (yep, there are showers), have matched and surpassed Singapore’s product.

Singapore has already updated the color scheme to give it a refreshed feel (and to match the color palette of its new First Class cabins on smaller 777 aircraft) but in two years, its most luxurious product could have a completely different look.

A source at Singapore Airlines confirmed to Road Warrior Voices that changes are indeed coming, but the airline is keeping very quiet about the future, even among those working at the company. Regardless, he said Singapore probably will not make any official upgrades until Emirates releases its new premier product. While he said he’s not sure if the airline is specifically waiting for Emirates, Singapore would hate to release the new product only to have Emirates steal its thunder:

“Any airline will tell you that new cabin products take several years to plan and launch. We design our products to stay at the top of our game.”

We can’t imagine Singapore or Emirates getting any more excessive than an on-board shower (even if they wanted to), because what could be next? A sauna? Massages? Flight attendants to feather you and feed you grapes?

Right now, we can only imagine, and until then, we’ll be planning our Kickstarter video.

Great idea the next time the Europeans go on strike….

An airline passenger stripped naked at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport after apparently becoming upset that his US Airways flight was overbooked.

WCNC TV of Charlotte says the man “stripped down to the buff right in front of everyone, including kids.” He remained in the gate area for about 40 minutes until police led him away, the station reports.

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Sherry Ketchie, another passenger traveling through Charlotte at the time, snapped photos of the incident and posted them to Facebook.

Ketchie tells TV station WBTV of Charlotte that the man was at a gate for a US Airways flight departing for Jamaica. She says she only became aware of the situation because of the commotion it caused.

“I seen some people running and I was wondering what they was running from and people were standing there snickering, so I walked over and [an airport employee] told me the man was angry over the Jamaican flight,” Ketchie tells WBTV.

“He had his clothes on, at that point, and then he started standing there with his arms crossed and hollering at the lady at the desk,” she adds to the station. “He stood there for a moment and then started talking off his clothes. I ain’t never seen nothing [like that] in my life.”

US Airways officials referred WBTV to the Charlotte airport for comment. In turn, the airport turned WBTV to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

Police told the station that the man was taken for medical evaluation and treatment and said he will not be charged.

Aruba…. Jamaica….. ooohhhh I wannaa take you to North Korea?

photo by Young Pioneer Tours

If North Korea is indeed stuck in a Cold War mentality, let’s hope it includes the classic 60s beach party, at least for the new Surf ‘n Beach Summer tour launched by Young Pioneer Tours to the “stunning and gorgeous beaches of Wonsan and Hamhung located on the east coast.”

photo by Young Pioneer Tours

Judging by the happy frolicking people in the promotional photos—playing volleyball, waving and smiling, sunning under red umbrellas, fishing in the sunset and scrawling messages in the golden sand— the scene does look ready for Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon to pop in, and the lush green hilltops in the background make it appear nothing short of cinematic.

photo by Young Pioneer Tours

Beyond the coast, the tour includes a hiking and camping trip up the Mt. Kumgang, “a dip” into Pyongyang, plus visits to the Hungnam Fertilizer Factory (the biggest fertilizer factory on the east coast) and DMZ (“with a friendly KPA officer”), lots of Korean BBQ dining  (dog soup is 5 euros extra), and a stay at Koryo Hotel, made “famous” by Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters.

photo by Young Pioneer Tours

The tour promotes itself as ideal for the “veteran” traveler to North Korea, which is strange considering how few are even allowed in, let alone to venture more than an arm’s length away from their guides. Although the country does not publish tourism numbers, estimates say about 6,000 Westerners visit per year, a significant increase from the just 700 or so a decade ago. In fact, this Surf ‘n Beach Summer tour shows further proof that North Korea’s efforts to promote tourismmay indeed be working.

Scary in-flight hacking details come to light in FBI probe

FBI: Security researcher took over controls of plane

The security researcher booted from a United Airlines flight last month had previously hacked into a plane’s flight deck systems to momentarily alter its course, according to FBI search warrant.

Chris Roberts, a security researcher with One World Labs, told the FBI in February he had hacked the in-flight entertainment system and re-coded the plane’s Thrust Management Computer allowing him to alter its course.

“He stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights,” FBI Special Agent Mark Hurley said in the warrant application.

“He also stated that he used Vortex software after comprising/exploiting or ‘hacking’ the airplane’s networks to monitor traffic from the cockpit system.”

Roberts was taken off a United Airlines flight following a joke Tweet about its security vulnerabilities and questioned by FBI agents for several hours.

He also told investigators he had accessed in-flight systems on more than a dozen previous occasions between 2011 and 2014.

Some in the information security industry have expressed doubt about the claims while others disbelief at his actions.

“You cannot promote the idea that security research benefits humanity while defending research that endangered hundreds of innocents,” said Alex Stamos, chief information security officer of Yahoo.

Roberts also told WIRED the media attention has irked One World’s investors who have pulled out, resulting in half of its workforce being laid off.

5 things to look forward to with Ryanair’s planned $15 transatlantic fares

ryanair

After years of speculation, Ireland’s buffoonish low-cost carrier Ryanair has been given the green light, by its own board, to begin transatlantic service. One-way fares, by report, will begin at an absurdly low £10 (around $14 right now), with base $99 one-ways likely filling out the rest of the cabin. More expensive, heftier premium-class seating will apparently balance out budgets. A £10 flight to Europe would be completely bananas, even by WOW Air standards.

Unfortunately, we’re still at least four or five years out, per the BBC, so don’t get too excited just yet. Flying cars may literally hit the market before this latest Ryanair revolution. More importantly, it’s a Ryanair revolution, and anyone who’s stuffed him-or-herself into one of Michael O’Leary’s jets before knows that Ryanair expectations are better held way, way in check. The budget carrier may be phasing out the highlighter yellow aesthetic, but we know its true colors, and they ain’t pretty.

From that sardonic corner, we lay out here five things Americans can look forward to once Ryanair arrives stateside:

New airports
In Europe, auxiliary airports are famously part of the Ryanair experience. Politics and logistical limitations play a part, but the cheaper slots available at Stansted in London and Beauvais-Tillé in Paris fit precisely into the low-cost model that churns out the iconic cheap fairs. You get those cheaper fares, but you also might have to take a comically long bus ride to get to your actual destination. I once flew Ryanair from London (Stansted) to Vienna, which my ticket confirmed. Of course, the Ryanair airport in Vienna was actually in Bratislava…Slovakia, which — yes — is in an entirely different country. That’s kind of like booking a flight into Boston and arriving in Montreal.

More inflammatory quotes
CEO O’Leary has carved out an impressive name for himself as aviation’s “daftest” soundboard. The stances he takes are sharp, bewildering and calculated – but never uninspired. Those currently living inside the Ryanair service map are more grounded (sometimes literally) for it. Policy decisions and cost-cutting measures are more charged, and with Ryanair coming to the U.S., the airline will have a new theater and audience for the likes of its “fat tax” act.

Crazier boarding
Ryanair’s boarding procedure asks that you pay to preselect a seat or simply elbow your way through the masses when the time comes to board. It’s first-come, first-served, and it incites grade-school-level vitriol on two-hour hops from London to Berlin. What people will be willing to do when the prize is a bulkhead seat on a 9-hour Chicago-London flight, we can’t imagine.

More packing confusion
Fishing vest, fedora, cargo pants – you just never have room to pack it all, and Ryanair’s ludicrous baggage fees are only going to make things worse. By current policy, each piece of luggage you dare check with Ryanair costs you £/€15-£/€45, with a maximum weight of 15-20 kg (roughly 33-55 lbs). Every kg you run over your allotted mass will cost you an extra £/€10. Sweet merciful O’Leary will presumably have to knock down the walls to his luggage prison to avoid a full-scale travel mutiny, but you can count on fees and restrictions of some strict capacity to stress you out or take your money whenever you take your first flight.

More posts on this site
In the early runs of the service, there will be many kinks to work out, and with those kinks will come dissatisfaction, disappointment and anger. That much will be natural. But then, Ryanair’sabhorrently reviewed customer service will be tasked with working things out, and that should not go well. This is a group that charges by the minute for phone-based customer service inquiries and whose CEO is on record beside this bomb: “People say the customer is always right, but you know what – they’re not. Sometimes they are wrong and they need to be told so.”

Mecca soon to host the world’s largest hotel

Abraj Kudai, rendering by Dar Al-Handasah

If size does indeed matter for you, start planning your trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia (Muslims only) for 2017, when the world’s largest hotel is set to open.

At almost 686,000 square feet, the $3.5-billion Abraj Kudai will be home to 10,000 rooms, 70 restaurants, a shopping mall, “royal floors,” prayer halls, and a convention center, all spread among 12 separate towers topped with helipads. The focal point, however, will be the central dome, expected to be one of the largest of the world.

As the site of the hotel is only about a mile from the Masjid al-Ḥarām, the largest mosque in the world, which surrounds the Kaaba, no doubt the hotel will host many of the millions who come on hajj each year. However, guests may need a robust bank account to book a room, as the towers aim clearly for the high end, with four-star luxury in 10 towers, and five-star in 2.

rendering by Dar Al-Handasah

As for the architecture, the Abraj Kudai looks like a semi-futuristic, sand-colored, desert version of a 1930s Manhattan high-rise. Inside, London-based design practice Areen Hospitality has been given the task of decorating the vast spaces, a major challenge indeed, especially with no operators in place yet.

But it’s no sweat off the brow of Areen Hospitality, according to Andrew Lindwood, head of design at Areen Hospitality, who told ArabianBusiness.com, “We allow for this and have the experience to respond to such a challenge, without ever losing the creative essence needed to welcome and surprise the guests expected at Abraj Kudai.”