Month: December 2015

Free snacks and pyjamas: US airlines up their game to woo Australian passengers

American Airlines will add premium economy class to most of its international aircraft from late 2016.

It’s no secret that American airlines have long had a bad reputation among Australians. For many travellers, they conjure up images of old planes, surly flight attendants and a sub-par meal service.

The good news is the big US airlines are now acknowledging the perception is grounded in truth – and facing increased competition from Gulf carriers in the international market and hip domestic carriers like Virgin America and JetBlue, they are working rapidly to improve.

American Airlines on Wednesday unveiled plans for a new premium economy cabin to be rolled out on its international aircraft from late 2016, offering a similar type of service to its partner airline Qantas – including more legroom, wider seats, noise-cancelling headphones, amenity kits and an enhanced meal service.

“Our customers tell us they want a class of service between business class and main cabin, and this feedback provided the genesis for our new premium economy service,” said Andrew Nocella, American’s chief marketing officer. “Premium economy is offered today by many premier carriers around the world. We studied those offerings and developed a world-class product.”

Virgin Australia’s trans-Pacific partner, Delta Air Lines, is meanwhile transforming its extra-legroom Comfort+ section to a more proper premium economy cabin. United Airlines, which flies to Sydney and Melbourne, on Wednesday said it would bring back free snacks to economy class on domestic US flights used by many Australians to connect to cities beyond Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“We’re refocussing on the big and little things that we know matter to our customers, and shape how they feel about their travel experience,” said Jimmy Samartzis, United’s vice president of food services and United Clubs.

Free beer and wine

In June, United re-introduced complimentary beer and wine in economy class on its trans-Pacific services, in a move no doubt popular with Australian travellers who typically expect to have free alcohol on international flights.

In business class, Australian travellers have long been partial to pyjamas on long-haul flights, but they haven’t been on offer from the US carriers plying the trans-Pacific route. For sleepwear enthusiasts, that could be enough to tip the scales toward flying Qantas or Virgin rather than the US carriers.

But that’s about to change, too, with American offering pyjamas in business class when it begins flying the Sydney-Los Angeles route next week and Delta also adding sleepwear to its business class. United may not be far behind, amid reports on Wednesday that pyjamas were under consideration. United also recently improved its business class amenity kits.

American is also trying hard to attract well-heeled Australians to its first class cabin, with the carrier reportedly stocking four bottles of 2010 Penfolds Grange Shiraz on its inaugural Sydney-Los Angeles flights next week.

American chief Doug Parker travelled to Australia with his senior executive team last month to show off the carrier’s flagship Boeing 777-300ER offering, trying to combat lingering perceptions that US carriers couldn’t meet Australian customer standards.

“If you haven’t flown American Airlines in a while, we look forward to having you back on,” he said at the time. “It is a new, modern American Airlines.”

Yan Baczkowski

Apple ensures you’ll always have enough juice with official 25-hour iPhone battery case

Photo: Apple

Rejoice, weary travelers. For this day brings news of a miracle from Cupertino. After eight long years of questionable battery performance for its iPhone, Apple has finally released an official iPhone battery case.

Apple claims the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case packs enough punch to extend talk time on your phone upwards of 25 hours, or let you use the internet for 18 hours (over LTE). Hardware and software unite between the case and your phone’s current version of iOS, providing users with some new notifications displaying battery life. And while we don’t see any mention on the case’s product page in Apple’s online store, The Verge notes that the case packs some built-in extra antennas to boost cell signal.

Is it the best case available on the market? Only time (and the internet) will tell. Regardless, it is exciting to see Apple finally plunge into a pool that so many people have been treading while waiting for an official, Apple-ordained lifesaver for their worn out devices. Still, some users may find themselves scratching their heads over the case’s design. It’s already been called an iPhone 6s pregnant with an alien, and been compared to an iPhone that ate an iPod.

Business travelers may find Apple’s official smart case a particularly smart addition to their usual travel arsenal. Unlike competitor cases, Apple’s new product charges in tandem with just the iPhone’s lightning cable, meaning you don’t have to travel with any additional wires or accessories just to keep the case juiced up enough to actually be of use.

The U.S. State Department is about to take away your extra passport pages

For frequent travelers, there’s nothing more impressive than a well-stamped passport, with every page filled with multicolored inks, dates and destinations. But if you’re down to your last blank page, you probably want to add “request new visa insert” to your December to-do list. As of January 1, 2016, the U.S. State Department will no longer issue additional passport pages due to its own security concerns.

After that date, passport holders who have run out of blank visa pages will have to apply for a completely new passport at a cost of $110, and they may request either the standard 28-page passport or a new supersized 52-page version. Though, yes, you still have until December 31 to apply for your last 24-page visa insert.

In a statement, the State Department said:

“The decision to discontinue this service was made to enhance the security of the passport and to abide by international passport standards.”

The statement was an update to the State Department’s original announcement back in March that it was considering the new rule to eliminate the option of adding visa pages. Well, it only took eight months for the department to officially make up its mind, but now we know for sure. And thankfully we were given a little notice before we reach the deadline — so thumb through your own passport to see how many pages you have left, because you don’t have long to add extras.

Some countries will not allow travelers to enter unless they have two (or even four) blank visa pages (you can review your destination’s entry and exit requirements on the State Department’s Country Information page).

According to the most recent update on the State Department’s passport processing page, it will take between 4-6 weeks for you to receive your new passport. If you need to have that little blue book sooner, you may pay an additional $60 for expedited processing (in addition to paying for two-way Express Delivery, if you don’t apply in person) and you should receive your new passport within three weeks. And if you’re really in a bind, remember, you might just be eligible to get a second passport.

Yan Baczkowski

Hawaiian Airlines launching second Tokyo route

Hawaiian Airlines has announced a new daily nonstop service from Honolulu to Narita International Airport in Tokyo, which will begin next July.

It becomes Hawaiian’s fourth Japan route after Tokyo Haneda, Osaka and Sapporo and the airline’s eleventh international service overall.
“Japan is Hawaii’s largest international market with arrivals from the market making up 18% of total arrivals to the state in 2014,” said George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority,
“Hawaiian Airlines’ daily flight from Narita to Honolulu is projected to contribute an annual $130 million in visitor spending and $14.7 million in state tax revenue.”
Hawaiian entered the Tokyo market in 2010 with nonstop flights to Haneda and added Osaka to its route network a year later.
“We’ve had the pleasure of carrying more than 800,000 visitors between Haneda and Honolulu since the launch of our daily A330 service more than five years ago,” said Mark Dunkerley, Hawaiian’s chief executive officer.
“With average load factors routinely exceeding 90 percent, it is clear Japanese travelers have chosen Hawaiian as their carrier of choice. We are excited to offer even more options for service between Honolulu and the Greater Tokyo region. “
The HTA said overall tourist arrivals were up in October by nearly 5% to more than 690,000 although average spend per arrival declined slightly.
Yan Baczkowski