Tag: Airline

Basic economy: Are the savings worth it?

More airlines will be offering basic economy seating, but will you buy these tickets? This Q&A may help you figure out when it’s worth it.

Briefcase in the plane

What is basic economy?

Think of it as the opposite of premium economy class: You get less but you pay less. The cheaper, fewer-frills seats are a tactic for big legacy airlines to compete with low-cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier.

Which airlines offer basic economy?

Delta is the leader here; it began introducing basic economy seating in 2012 with a big expansion a couple of years later. Last week, American announced its basic economy will go on sale in February (“select routes” only). United will begin offering basic economy service sometime this year but no start date has been revealed yet. However, a few details about these frill-free cabins have been trickling out.

What won’t you get in basic economy?

It depends on the airline but here’s what you do without on Delta:

  • No seat assignment until after check-in or at the gate.
  • If traveling as a family or group, you may not be seated together.
  • No eligibility for same-day changes or ticket refunds (outside the post-booking 24 hour grace period).
  • Basic economy passengers board last and cannot even pay for early boarding.
  • No paid or complimentary upgrades or preferred seats, even for elite miles members.

Both American and United have released one controversial lost frill that so far Delta has avoided: American and United will not allow basic economy passengers to use full-size carry-on bags. They will allow one small item that fits under the seat and that’s where it must stay because basic economy passengers have no access to overhead bins. And when they say one small item, they mean it: Those planning to board with a laptop, a purse and a backpack or some other small clothing bag will have choose one; the rest must be checked, and yes, there’s a fee for that.

Is basic economy worth it?

So far, we only have Delta fares for comparison purposes; here are some round-trip fares found Jan. 9 for travel in March. The first price is basic economy, the second is regular economy.

  • Boston to Salt Lake City: $267 and $277 (save $10)
  • Atlanta to Chicago: $135 and $157 (save $22)
  • Los Angeles to Newark: $314 and $344 (save $30)

Is it worth it? Passengers opting for no-frills fares are not going to get rich off the savings but sure, it’s worth it so long as you don’t care where you sit, when you board or what you pack. Families of course could save even more but may have a harder time justifying basic economy because of the seating and boarding requirements. On the other hand, unlike Spirit and Frontier, Delta’s basic economy does provide customers with free soft drinks and snacks, and allows regular carry-ons for free.

As for American and United, some will surely be watching the cheaper fares closely to see if they will be worth the inconvenience of the no carry-on rule, as well as the baggage fees.

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First Class has come a long way

Image result for first class TWA

 

For most travelers, flying isn’t a pleasant experience – long lines, terminals and concourses well past their prime, and of course, old and dirty planes. As you sit in your cramped seat with limited recline, listening to flight attendants directing you to push your seat back upright, stow your tray table, and turn off your in-flight entertainment, you wish there was a better way to fly. Well there is… except most of the general public can only dream about the unbelievable ways of air travel we’re about to describe.

The Etihad First Apartment

Emirates Airlines, based in Dubai, is regarded by many as the most luxurious carrier in the world. Founded in 1985, it is also one of the largest airlines both by passengers carried and by revenue, as well as the largest operator of the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest passenger airliner. Noticing a trend? Meanwhile, Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, is one of the newest operators of the Airbus A380, but sent shockwaves through the industry when details of their new premium class designs on the flagship Airbus were released. Their top tier product, The Residence by Etihad, is perhaps the most luxurious and over-the-top product in commercial aviation today.

Despite their airport hubs being only an hour apart from each other and located in the same country, both airlines have created some of the most eye-popping First Class seats in the world. Perhaps there’s a bit of sibling rivalry boiling under the cordial exterior?

Emirates Airbus A380

So now let’s get to the heart of the matter, the crux of the issue, the meat and potatoes… who truly has the best First Class experience – Emirates or Etihad? In order to settle this burning age-old question once and for all, we sent two lucky LoungeBuddies to the Middle East (at their own expense, of course) to uncover the answer.

SEATS

Arguably the most important aspect of international First Class is the seat. Forget the cramped and uncomfortable torture devices found at the back of the bus, since Emirates First Class is configured with only four suites per row. Compare that to the 10-across seating typically found in the Airbus A380 Economy cabin (though in all fairness, if you’re going to fly coach, the A380 has some of the widest Economy seats in the sky).

Emirates First Class Suites

Etihad, having balked at the thought of placing four First Class suites in one row (the horror), instead decided to configure their cabin with only two First Class suites per row. Much better, no?

Etihad First Apartments

Both are equipped with shoulder-height privacy doors that can easily be used to block out other meddlesome First Class passengers, making it feel like you truly have your own private room in the sky. No more having to deal with unnecessary human contact.

Etihad First Apartment Suite

On Emirates, you can even electronically control the privacy doors from a tablet at your seat – because using arm strength to close your suite doors is just so 2008. I mean, who would want to have to put on slippers, get up, and shut the doors manually when you’ve finally gotten comfortable in your First Class bed? Seriously.

Emirates Tablet

The Etihad Suite is equipped with Poltrona Frau leather, the same material found on high-end automobiles such as Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. With both a seat and an ottoman as wide as a park bench, it’s easy to throw a party in your suite with other First Class passengers. In the event of turbulence, there’s no need to stop as both seating surfaces are equipped with seat belts.

Etihad First Apartment

Winner: Etihad

Clearly, two suites per row is much better than four, and most First Class travelers need the extra room to spread out… particularly if you’ve invited a guest (or four) to join you in your suite. Even Emirates’ automated privacy doors can’t challenge that.

BED

On Emirates, the seat turns into a fully flat bed with a 180-degree recline, again, at the touch of a button on your tablet.

Emirates First Class Bed

Etihad takes it to the next level by creating an entirely separate bed using the ottoman in your suite, allowing the bed to be made without having to sacrifice your seat. And if there’s one thing First Class passengers hate, it’s sacrifice. If you have a significant other traveling with you, certain rows of the First Class cabin allow you to lower the divider located between suites. The one thing you can’t do is create a full double bed, as the partition retracts only near the head. If you truly desire a double bed, you’ll need to upgrade to The Residence by Etihad for only an extra $10,000 USD.

Etihad First Apartment Bed

Both First Class seats are impeccably designed, although they differ in significant ways. Imagine rich gold plating, plenty of bling, and heck, even a small table lamp on the console of your suite. That would be what you’d expect and receive on Emirates.

Emirates First Class Suite

Etihad, on the other hand, uses refined Arabic decor to subtly include their heritage, while also incorporating the most modern Western design elements.

Etihad First Apartment Bed

If you want to fly like a wealthy Arab Sheikh, Emirates would probably be your style. Otherwise, you’d be better off sticking with Etihad, which has a more subtle, but sophisticated, suite design.

Winner: Etihad

What kind of First Class passenger wants to get up to wait as their bed is made?

FOOD

When it comes to airline food, few of us would say they enjoy pre-cooked meals served on plastic trays. For those traveling in international First Class, however, it’s a completely different story. Emirates and Etihad offer meals like you would find in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Caviar and Arabic mezze are staples of the Emirates menu, in addition to a list of items stretching as long as the menu at the Cheesecake Factory (but with edible food instead).

Emirates First Class Caviar Course

You won’t find prices or any number signs listed beside the menu descriptions either. Everything is complimentary, as expected in First Class. Etihad takes the concept of airplane food even further by having a dedicated chef on board. Imagine a gourmet meal, customized to your liking, presented on fine bone china, served with premium alcohol, on a plane, in the sky, rocketing at 550 miles per hour. Truly mind-boggling, to say the least.

Emirates First Class Arabic Mezze Course

One of Etihad’s specialities is their “From the Grill” selection. Instead of mystery meat, First Class guests have a choice of five meat options, including lamb shank, rib eye steak, and a seafood option. Want fries on a plane? You can have that too. There are also six side options and four selections of sauces, making it a total of 120 possible combinations in all.

Etihad First Apartment “From The Grill” Selection

Care for something on the sweeter side? Whether it’s ice cream, pudding, or cake, Etihad has you covered – like decadent raspberry sauce.

Etihad Dessert Course

Winner: Etihad

No discerning First Class passenger wants to eat an identical cookie-cutter meal as the rest of the cabin. Etihad’s in-flight chef concept makes it easy for you to customize your meal.

SHOWERS

After collapsing from the weight of your First Class meal and plenty of alcohol too, you wake up covered in First Class grime (yes, it’s a real thing). Think unfinished glass of Dom, crumbs from your creme brûlée, and a few stains from that 40-year aged port you were dying to try. What better way to wash off the mess than with a hot shower? Both Emirates and Etihad have two showers at the front of their cabins. However, in the all-important category of shower-to-passenger ratio, Emirates wins, with one shower for every seven passengers, while Etihad only provides one shower for every nine passengers. It looks like Etihad had to make the difficult decision of having First Class passengers potentially wait for a shower, all because The Residence royalty needed their own private shower.

Etihad Bathroom And Shower

Most travelers who’ve flown in both cabins believe that Emirates’ showers are more pleasant, with adjustable heated floors, and a panoramic wallpaper view of the Dubai skyline. There are few things more novel on a plane than having the ability to dance around in a space big enough to do cartwheels, in front of the Dubai Skyline, in your bathrobe!

Emirates Shower Spa

Both airlines have everything you need for the complete shower experience, including toiletries and a hair dryer. Emirates has two varieties of their Timeless Spa toiletries – relax and revive – depending on the time zone you fall into (which, incidentally, is also a critical factor for deciding on when to start drinking). For those First Class passengers with discriminating taste, Etihad offers New York City-based Le Labo toiletries.

Winner: Emirates First Class passengers obviously need their space while showering. For that, Emirates takes the win.

ONBOARD LOUNGE

Now fresh from your in-flight shower, you suddenly have a desire to socialize (or empathize) with your unfortunate friends who are experiencing the horrors of Business Class. While you can reach them through the in-seat chat, Emirates and Etihad also makes it possible for passengers from Business and First Class to congregate in a social area with no Economy plebeians to contaminate the refined environment. In case your suite wasn’t big enough, the lounge should give you ample room to stretch your legs.

Both Etihad and Emirates situate their lounges on the upper deck. The Etihad Bar takes a page out of luxury hotel lobbies. Hence, its designation as “The Lobby”.

Etihad “The Lobby” Lounge

With ornate seating situated about a round table, you can chat with friends or plug in your headphones and watch in-flight entertainment from your seat. Sadly, even in First Class, you’ll have to have your drinks refilled from the display case, rather than an actual bar area.

Etihad “The Lobby” Lounge

Luckily, if you prefer a more traditional bar experience, you’ll find it on Emirates. The Emirates Bar epitomizes the golden age of travel, when Boeing 747s had onboard lounges (sans piano player and cigarette smoke) with extensive seating, elegant lighting, and a horseshoe shaped bar to allow for passengers to mingle. Worried that the booze selection won’t cut it? Just tell your bartender what you want from the First Class menu and he or she will bring it out to serve you (and perhaps your new BFF from Business Class).

Emirates First And Business Class Bar

Winner: Emirates

First Class passengers who need a place to stretch out want a different environment from their seat. Emirates achieves this atmosphere with their onboard lounge, featuring comfortable seating, cocktails, snacks, and even a flight attendant manning the bar.

ALCOHOL

Although the UAE is a country based on Islamic Law with stricter alcohol regulations than Europe and North America, Emirates and Etihad both have complimentary top-shelf alcohol for those who are above the age of 18. Not a fan of the swill that domestic carriers often serve? Both airlines offer a wide range of New and Old World wines, with options from the United States, France, Australia, and more. Each selection is printed on the wine list handed to you at the beginning of the flight, along with a description longer than anything you’d care to read once you’ve had a few glasses. For those who do enjoy excruciatingly detailed wine descriptions, including grape varieties and their region of origin, feel free to savor every printed word on the elegant menu.

Emirates First Class White Wine List

If other types of alcohol are your fancy, feel free to choose from a vast range of spirits, liquor, and champagne, include Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Dom Perignon, and Bollinger La Grande Année Vintage. Worried about plastic cups diluting the taste? No need to worry, because proper crystal glasses are always served.

Etihad Bollinger La Grande Année Vintage Champagne

Both airlines offer great alcohol, but in terms of brand and cost, Emirates takes the cake, with plenty more drink options breaking the $100 USD per bottle ceiling. They are also the only airline serving Hennessy Paradis Cognac in First Class. With a retail price hovering around $700 per bottle, it is the most expensive liquor available on any carrier – equivalent in price to what most Economy passengers pay for their entire return ticket. I’m sure we all have the same opinion on which option is better.

Don’t want to wait for your drink? First Class passengers on Emirates can help themselves to all the alcohol they can drink from the First Class bar.

Emirates First Class Bar

Winner: Emirates

As a First Class passenger, only the most expensive and premium alcohol will do.

ENTERTAINMENT

On those 13+ hour flights from North America to the Middle East, having to sit in a metal tube gets boring fast. If having a gourmet meal, socializing at the onboard bar, and having a shower isn’t enough, First Class passengers also have fantastic entertainment options to whittle down the hours of their flight.

Both Etihad and Emirates First Class suites on the Airbus A380 have screens at least twice the size of those at the back of the bus, featuring a wide variety of content from around the world. If that isn’t enough, you can surf the web with your smartphone or laptop using their satellite-based WiFi systems. Emirates has gone the route of making WiFi affordable for everyone – free for the first 10 MB and only $1 USD for 500 MB of data. Unfortunately, this also makes the internet connection virtually unusable due to the sheer number of passengers logged on to the network.

Emirates WiFi Connection

If you just want to disconnect from the online world, Etihad has the superior entertainment system. The screen not only pulls back to let you watch TV in bed, but it also has split-screen capabilities if you want to mix both work and pleasure by streaming two kinds of content at once.

Etihad First Apartment Entertainment

On top of that, Etihad has two touchscreen controllers for the in-flight entertainment, allowing you to choose your next selection while still watching your current movie. With the other controller, you can also watch the skies with the tail camera, or track your position with the interactive flight map.

Etihad First Apartment Multiple Screens

Winner: Etihad

Being able to watch content on four different screens while surfing the web will definitely entertain any First Class passenger.

WHO’S THE WINNER?

With the list of First Class components we’ve evaluated, Etihad wins in four of the categories, while Emirates wins in three. Ultimately, it’s a close race. If we examine each specific category, however, the results are more telling. Etihad has the better suite, bed, entertainment, and food – all the essential components of a flight from a typical perspective. However, Emirates has a better shower, onboard lounge, and alcohol – things that display the full extravagance of being in First Class. At the end of the day, both products are luxurious and over-the-top in their own unique way, and are sure to satisfy the sophisticated taste of any First Class traveler.

HOW CAN I TRY EMIRATES AND ETIHAD FIRST CLASS?

Thinking about purchasing a First Class ticket on Emirates or Etihad out-of-pocket? Typical Dubai or Abu Dhabi to London flights will set you back approximately $8,000 – $9,000 USD minimum. Not part of the 1% but still want to experience life at the nose of the plane? A much more cost effective way, of course, would be to use miles and points.

For Emirates, the best way to redeem for First Class flights is through Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. With no fuel surcharges to pay for and extremely reasonable award charts, it takes some flying on Alaska Airlines or a few approved Alaska Airlines credit card applications to earn enough miles for a shower on Emirates First Class! Another redemption option is to transfer your Starwood Preferred Guest points to Japan Airlines Mileage Bank, and redeem those miles for Emirates First Class. Japan Airlines has a distance-based award chart and no fuel surcharges. However, note that redemptions cannot be made online. Want to learn about more crazy ways to use Starwood Preferred Guest points? Read our blog post 10 Insane Ways To Blow One Million Starwood Points.

Luckily, Etihad is a partner of American Airlines, and AAdvantage miles can be redeemed directly for Etihad First Class flights. With Middle East to Europe awards in First Class starting at just 40,000 AAdvantage miles one-way, it doesn’t get much cheaper to experience your own private suite in the sky. The best ways to obtain AAdvantage miles are by flying AA or a oneworld partner, through signing up for and receiving credit card bonuses, or by transferring them from the Starwood Preferred Guest program.

The airlines making stopovers sweeter

As an experienced pilot who flies Boeing 757s for Icelandair, Commander Sigrun Bjorg Ingvadottir might seem overqualified as a cycling guide.

But these days she’s just as likely to be leading visitors across the wild, windswept ridges of Iceland as she is flying them across the North Atlantic.
Ingvadottir is one Icelandair’s 12 “stopover buddies” — staff volunteers who give their free time to offer passengers a glimpse of Icelandic lifestyle as they pass through the island.

A remote air hub

It’s a cool idea — and one that’s been adapted elsewhere.
But beyond the gimmick is a serious drive to bolster Iceland’s status as a stopover destination in the fiercely competitive transatlantic aviation market.
In the early days of commercial aviation, shorter flying ranges meant Iceland, halfway between Europe and North America, became an unlikely aviation hub.
Aircraft advances have diminished this role, but Icelandair has continued pushing its routes as affordable alternatives to flying directly across the Atlantic.
It’s also been looking for new ways of using Iceland’s stunning natural settings to persuade passengers traveling through Keflavik International Airport to lengthen their stopover.
And so Stopover Buddy was born.

Outdoor pursuits

Anyone flying from Europe to North America with Icelandair who decides to spend some time in Iceland on their way can sign up to the Buddy program on the airline’s website.
Passengers choose from a range of activities — mostly free apart from equipment rental charges — and are then matched to an Icelandair volunteer host.
Outdoor activities and sports feature prominently on the menu.
There’s hiking, horseback riding and fishing in the cold North Atlantic waters, but also cultural and food-related outings.
So far it’s been a hit.
Nearly 700 Stopover Buddy requests were received during the program’s debut February to April 2016 run (it’s returning in the fall), with outdoor sports being the most popular activities.

Enthusiastic response

Air crews and other Icelandair staff have responded enthusiastically, with even the airline’s CEO, Birkir Holm Gudnason, signing up.
Ingvadottir, the mountain biking pilot, says she’ll be volunteering again when the program restarts after several successful buddy excursions.
“As an airline pilot I do my fair share of traveling, and wherever I go, even if it is only for a few hours, I don’t like to do the standard tourist things.
“I would rather experience local lifestyle as closely as possible. So, when I heard about the Stopover Buddy program, I did not need to think about it for long!
“It has been very gratifying so far. We, in Iceland, are very proud of the beauty of our country, so it has been a nice experience to share a bit of it with our guests.”

Layover with a Local

Icelandair isn’t the only airline experimenting with peer-to-peer schemes.
Dutch flag-carrier KLM might not have Iceland’s volcanoes and majestic national parks to capitalize on, but its main hub at Schiphol international airport is barely half an hour away from the center of the buzzing city of Amsterdam.
The airline’s Layover with a Local app aims to offer transit visitors the chance to briefly escape the airport to perhaps join a local for a drink at one of the Dutch capital’s picturesque cafes.
As with Icelandair, transit passengers make up a very significant chunk of KLM’s traffic.
While Schiphol airport has plenty of amenities, the airline’s marketing team was looking for a way to help anyone with a long enough stopover to experience the true Amsterdam.
Layover with a Local allows passengers to connect with local Amsterdam residents who’ve registered with the app and are available when the traveler is in town.

Free drinks

In order to use the app, travelers enter their name and booking code.
KLM then checks if there’s enough time for the layover experience.
If the answer’s yes, and a match for languages and interests can be found, the passenger gets a notification on their phone.
Once they land at Schiphol, the app guides them toward the airport’s train station — the train ticket is included for free, as is the first round of drinks.
From there it’s just a short hop to Amsterdam’s Central Station, where they should encounter “their local,” holding up a phone with the traveler’s name displayed on it.
The free app ensures they make it back in time for their flight by sending an alert.
It’s still in pilot phase until the end of June, being made available for iTunes download in the U.S., Canada and Italy, but has attracted interest from more than 3,000 people.

The Cheapest (and Most Expensive) Flights in the World

June 11, 2016

Any guesses as to how much the cheapest flight in the world costs?

Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts.

Search online for “Why is airfare so expensive?” and you’ll find no shortage of theories. But try to find information on what air travel actually does cost by factors including miles, fuel, and amenities—kind of essential for determining if it’s expensive in the first place—and you’ll find a lot fewer resources.

Thankfully, someone crunched the numbers: for a recent infographic, Seats and Stools, a residential and commercial seating manufacturer, looked at another type of seat—ones aboard airlines. Findings, based on searches conducted in early May for flights the last week of June via Google Flights, as well as historical research for bespoke forms of air travel, run the gamut.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE

Unsurprisingly, space travel is the most expensive option for air travel. A 12-day ride on the International Space Station—with round-trip transportation—cost Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberté a reported $35 million in 2009, the last time a civilian boarded the ISS. (In case you’re wondering, Laliberté totally thought it was worth it.) Though it’s still theoretical at this point, a suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, designed to take a crew of two pilots and up to six passengers to space, is $250,000—approximately $83,000 per minute of weightlessness.

For a terrestrial aviation, the most expensive commercially available option is a $64,000 round-trip ride inEtihad Airways’ penthouse cabin, “The Residence,” between New York City to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Featuring a three-room suite with a butler, this option should probably be categorized as a short-term luxury apartment rental rather than an airplane ride. Do the math, after all, and this seat price equates to about $4,752 per hour.

Other expensive seats of note? A seat on a flight from Portland, Maine to Billings, Montana on United Airlines is the most expensive economy class ticket in the U.S. ($1,585); and the average cost of a seat on an eight-person private plane from New York City to Los Angeles is $33,900—per person. Time to start saving…

THE CHEAPEST

On the other end of the price spectrum, there are flight deals to be had: According to Seats and Stools data, the cheapest flight in the world is $11 for a one-way trip from Warsaw to Brussels on Ryanair. Sure, the low-cost carrier is notorious for its no-frills fares (at one point, its CEO was considering charging people to use the lavatory mid-flight), but regardless of which way you slice it, $11 for a ticket is a steal.

In terms of value, which the study calculated as cost per mile, an American Airlines flight from New York City to Miami took top domestic honors at $0.60 a mile. And at $3.70 a mile, the worst value unearthed was a United flight from Newark to Washington, D.C. So much for the destination driving the price.

Yan Baczkowski

Why People Are Cranky About Super-Cheap Flights to Europe

Norwegian Air faces ever more opposition as it tries to increase traffic across the Atlantic.

If you’ve been waiting for Norwegian Air’s deeply discounted flights between Boston and Ireland this summer, don’t pack your bags just yet. Norwegian has been waiting for the U.S. Department of Transportation to greenlight the new route for two years, and while the agency is wrapping up its work this week, it hasn’t said when it’ll make a final decision.

What’s the holdup? Norwegian Air, after all, already flies from the U.S. to Europe, via London Gatwick and several Scandinavian gateways, and it also offers seasonal flights from the U.S. to the French Caribbean. But those flights are operated by a Norwegian company called Norwegian Air Shuttle; Norwegian has another subsidiary, based in Ireland—Norwegian Air International—that was set up to take advantage of greater freedoms out of that nation. (Norway is not a member of the European Union; Ireland is.) And it’s this newer company, NAI, that’s the launch pad for a raft of new flights from Irish airports at cut-rate fares and the source of all the ongoing controversy.

That’s because a powerful coalition of U.S. airlines and their employee unions are labeling this offshoot operation as a major threat to the U.S. aviation industry, charging that it will pay low wages and, as one union official said, could cost thousands of U.S. jobs (allegedly because some U.S. carriers would drop routes rather than compete with this interloper). And they’ve gotten the ear of politicians—this is, after all, an election year—with Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both urging the DOT to reject the new services. In a statement on his website, Bernie Sanders wrote: “The U.S. Department of Transportation should not be rewarding [Norwegian Air International] with a foreign air carrier permit that would allow it to undercut the wages and benefits of airline workers throughout this country… We must do everything we can to prevent a global race to the bottom in the airline industry.”

“We think it’s a very dangerous situation,” said Ed Wytkind, head of the transportation trades division of the AFL-CIO. “They will go for the cheapest employees.”

Although the DOT recently issued a tentative decision in favor of Norwegian, a bill opposing the airline has landed in the House of Representatives and is garnering support. Norwegian has struck back, however. “Our opponents have created a wildly inaccurate fear-mongering situation,” said spokesman Anders Lindstrom. “We have filed a document with the U.S. pledging that NAI’s U.S. flights would be operated by U.S. and European crew,” he said, adding that the employees are paid market wages. He also claimed Norwegian already has more U.S.-based crew than any other foreign airline and plans to add additional American crew.

With all the heated rhetoric, it can be hard to sort out the facts, but one that’s often cited by Norwegian and its supporters (consumer group Travelers United among them) is that the airline business has become highly concentrated. In fact, the three major U.S. international carriers (Delta, American, and United) and their alliance partners control roughly 80 percent of the airline passenger traffic across the North Atlantic.

“The union efforts and claims are totally misdirected and are bad for consumers and the national economy,” said Charlie Leocha, head of Travelers United. Asked by Condé Nast Traveler to comment, a DOT spokeswoman would only say that once all the comments are in this week, there’s no deadline for the agency to act. In other words, super-cheap flights to Europe may not arrive in time for this year’s summer season.

Norwegian Air announces another U.S. route

Norwegian Air plans to launch nonstop service between Las Vegas and London’s Gatwick airport, the carrier announced Monday.

The route would give fast-growing Norwegian its fourth route out of Las Vegas. The low-cost carrier already flies to its bases in Stockholm and Copenhagen. Las Vegas-Oslo flights are set to begin in November.

But the Gatwick flights will test whether there’s enough demand for a third carrier to fly between Las Vegas and London. Virgin Atlantic already offers daily round-trip service from Las Vegas to London Gatwick. British Airways flies daily between Las Vegas and its hub at London Heathrow.

Norwegian would fly two flights a week on the route using 291-seat Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The service starts Oct. 31.

The ‘boneyard’: Where airlines send old planes to be scrapped

ROSWELL, N.M. –American Airlines Flight 9780 arrives from Dallas/Fort Worth and taxis past a line of other MD-80 passenger jets as the morning sun rises over the New Mexico desert on a chilly morning this past winter.

But as the jet comes to a stop, there’s no boarding gate or jet bridge. In fact, there are no paying passengers aboard at all.

The pilots leave the cockpit and head toward the rear of the plane. They drop the rear stairs from the 140-seat MD-80’s rear emergency exit, and the flight’s four occupants – two pilots, an American employee and a journalist – calmly descend the steps into the New Mexico sun.

Lines of planes stretch for nearly as far as the eye can see. Many bear familiar logos. Most planes are intact – but not all of them. Reams of airplane parts lay strewn nearby across the desert floor.

Fastest seat in sports 360

“They affectionately call this the boneyard,” says Martin Testorff, one of American’s aircraft storage managers based here.

The “boneyard” is the colloquial term given to aircraft storage facilities where out-of-use planes are sent to be sold, stored or scrapped. Most are in arid locations such as California or Arizona. The one here in New Mexico – officially the Roswell International Air Center – is the preferred facility for American.

The Center’s sprawling grounds sit adjacent to Roswell’s tiny airport terminal, where American is the only carrier currently offering regular scheduled passenger flights – three per day to Dallas/Fort Worth and one to Phoenix.

But it’s the flow of older, retiring jets that are the real lifeblood of the Roswell International Air Center.

Planes can sit indefinitely in storage here, where the dry desert air helps keep the idle aircraft from corroding. Some find second lives, taken in by cargo carriers or by smaller airlines in the developing world. Others face a stark end – raided for parts or scrapped altogether.

Whatever fate awaits, Testorff says, “We take good care of our airplanes out here.”

American isn’t the only carrier to retire its planes to Roswell, one of about a half-dozen such facilities in the United States. Several Boeing 777s from Asian discount carrier Scoot are visible during one recent visit. As is an old Thai Airways Airbus A300 and a Boeing 727 with a long-faded paint job.

There are private aircraft, too, including a red 1962 Lockheed JetStar JT 12-5 that once flew Elvis, according to American’s staff at Roswell.

But most of the planes currently on the ground here have come from American. And for good reason: The airline is phasing out its once-vast fleet of MD-80 and Boeing 757 jets, retiring those older models as part of an aggressive fleet-renewal plan.

The retirement of the MD-80 – long the backbone of American’s domestic fleet – has been especially prolific. The carrier once had more than 370 “Super 80s,” as American refers to them, in its fleet. But they’re scheduled to be phased out by 2017, replaced by modern new Boeing and Airbus jets.

The airline has been sending its MD-80s to the Roswell boneyard since 2003, with the rate increasing in the past two years to about one retirement a week.

The stored planes have become especially important for American for as long as the last MD-80s and 757s remain in its active fleet. Both planes have long been out of production, meaning parts can be difficult to track down if maintenance is needed. This makes their idled brethren in Roswell a crucial link to keeping the others flying.

“We store them so we can use the material for the fleet, to keep the fleet flying,” says Paul Bahle, manager of aircraft disposition for American Airlines.

While the MD-80 is the current headliner for American at Roswell, the airline retires other aircraft types here too, including 757s and a few 767s.

Leased planes are returned “and we sell as many as the owned assets as we can. But as you can see, we keep quite a lot of them out here,” Bahle says.

Beyond the business side of the boneyard, there’s plenty of interest in the facility from aviation enthusiasts.

“We get more requests for tours than probably Disneyland,” Testorff says, even though the facility is not open to the public.

“They (people) always want to come see it and experience it for themselves,” adds Bahle. “To see an airline in kind of a different light. They just want to come out and see the planes in different states of disrepair.”

Pat Walsh – the captain on Flight 9780 that brought yet another American MD-80 to “the Boneyard” – has been here previously. Even he’s eager for another look.

“All the airlines that have come and gone over the years,” Walsh says, reminiscing about a previous visit. “Pan Am, TWA and Braniff brought back a lot of memories … those carriers I remember as a kid.”

“And now there are American Airlines airplanes as we’re getting new airplanes and retiring our older ones,” he adds, bringing his visit full circle.

Air Bags in the Air

The late, brilliant comic George Carlin frequently riffed on air travel, especially some of the processes and procedures that we have to endure after the cabin doors close. “I listen very carefully to the safety lecture, especially the part where they teach us how to use the seatbelts,” he joked in one of his flying-related skits. “Here we are, a plane full of grown human beings, and they’re actually taking time out to describe the intricate workings of a belt buckle!”

Silly or not, that belt buckle is the only personal safety device that passengers receive on most aircraft. An increasing number of carriers have transitioned (or are transitioning) to airbag-equipped seat-belts but full airbags in airline cabins have yet to be widely implemented. That doesn’t mean that designers haven’t considered it; German airline seat manufacturer Recaro has recently filed a patent for an airbag that would be installed in the first or business class cabins. Recaro’s patent illustrations show that, in the event of a crash, the airbag would deploy from a compartment beside the in-flight entertainment screen.

The airbag would inflate in two separate zones, with the first providing immediate impact protection for the passenger’s head, and the second inflating to cushion the passenger’s shoulders.

Recaro has not linked its patent to any particular carrier but, but the firm designs and constructs seats for dozens of different airline customers around the globe.

If those airbags are ever implemented in premium cabins, we look forward to hearing about them in the safety lecture. Just make sure you fasten your seat-belt too.

Jelisa Castrodale is contributor to USA TODAY’s Road Warrior Voices and her posts are occasionally used in Ben Mutzabaugh’s Today in the Sky blog.

JetSuiteX to try ‘private jet experience’ on scheduled flights

There will soon be a new option for some fliers looking to book flights in the West. JetSuite, a California-based private jet charter company, will try its hand at scheduled passenger service on select western routes.

JetSuite, which began flying in 2009, will debut a public charter service that sells seats on scheduled flights under the brand “JetSuiteX.”

The company promises passengers buying tickets on those flights will get a “private jet experience.” Flights begin April 19, with fares starting at $109 and maxing out at about $300 each way for departures from private-jet terminals.

Customers can even earn points thanks to a frequent-flier partnership with JetBlue. JetSuiteX passengers can earn 250 TrueBlue points per segment on regular fares and 150 points for sale fares.

JetSuite CEO Alex Wilcox, who was on the executive team that helped successfully launch JetBlue in 2000, is bullish on the prospects for the new JetSuiteX service.

Wilcox says fares have been increasing on short-haul flights. Wilcox says that — coupled with increasing security headaches at major commercial airports — has created a sweet-spot in the market where JetSuiteX hopes to lure well-heeled, time-sensitive fliers looking for something between low-fare “cattle car” domestic flights and more expensive private jet options.

“That’s created a space for this kind of product where we can charge a little bit more, but provide a lot more – especially in terms of time savings,” Wilcox says to Today in the Sky, pointing to the advantage of flying from private jet terminals.

There are security procedures for passengers flying from private jet terminals, Wicox says. But he adds “there’s no TSA line. People can show up 15 or 20 minutes before their flight.”

JetSuiteX’s inaugural route will operate within California, connecting Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport to Concord’s Buchanan Field, located about 30 miles east of downtown San Francisco.

JetSuiteX says its initial schedule of up to two daily round-trip flights will give Concord its first scheduled passenger service since the early 1990s, when USAir discontinued the Concord service it inherited via its merger with Pacific Southwest Airlines.

The next JetSuiteX route will begin April 22, with weekend-only service between Concord and Las Vegas. On June 30 JetSuiteX begins flying its third announced route, offering up four flights a week between Mineta San Jose International Airport and Bozeman, Mont.

While JetSuite’s private-jet charters have so far been flown on smaller 4- and 6-seat aircraft, its JetSuiteX “public charter” service will be on newly acquired Embraer E135 regional jets. The company has 10 on order, all of which previously flew for American’sAmerican Eagle affiliate before being returned to Brazilian jetmaker Embraer.

But Wilcox says customers won’t mistake JetSuiteX’s E135s for a planes flying typical domestic airline feeder flights.

JetSuiteX has completely revamped the interior of the aircraft, configuring them with 30 seats. All have at least 36 inches of “seat pitch,” a standard industry measure of personal space. That, says JetSuiteX, is comparable to business class service on domestic carriers.

Overhead bins have been removed to create a more spacious feel to the cabin. The cabin interior is also wrapped in a leather finish.

“There’s no plastic in the cabin anymore,” Wilcox says. “It’s all leather sidewalls like a private jet would have.”

Also onboard will be free in-flight Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment that fliers can stream on their personal devices.

JetSuiteX says new destinations will come online as more of its specially configured E135s are delivered. San Diego, Phoenix and Santa Barbara, Calif., are among cities JetSuiteX has singled out as possible expansion destinations.

“There are a lot of markets that can support 30 seats that can’t support 160 (that are typical on bigger jets like a Boeing 737). We’re going to be creative in finding those,” Wilcox says.

“We’ve only got 30 seats to fill. And we only have to sell 20 of them to (break even),” he adds.

The company expects to have all 10 of its E135s flying by “mid 2017.” The aircraft also will be available for private charter services, selling for about $8,000 per hour for the 30-seat jet.

As for the new scheduled routes, tickets are now on sale via the JetSuiteX website and app

Flying in the 1980s

Our multi-stop trip through each decade of the aviation industry is approaching its next stop. Now that we’ve lovingly reflected back upon the groundbreaking 1930s, the explosive 1940s, the golden 1950s, the swinging 1960s and the positively intoxicated 1970s of the commercial airline industry, let’s touch down once more in an age where celebrities flew on a dedicated airline and in-flight service made a questionable detour. This is what it was like to fly in the 1980s.

Airplane!

“Standby…for the most extraordinary chain of events ever swept up in to high adventure!” The decade in aviation lifted off with an uproarious satire of the magic of flying that skewered the various industry tropes that had begun popping up in movies and television. The slapstick comedy gave the definitive take on the in-flight medical emergency, the paradox of the smoking section, and the chatty passenger seated next to you. The film was an elaborate exaggeration of the travails of air travel that is remembered as one of the best comedies of all time. And as such, it is impossible to talk about air travel in the ’80s, or any time, without also mentioning Airplane!

Physics-defying smoking sections

After decades of permissible smoking aboard flights, airlines finally began to wise up to the fact that not every passenger wished to emerge from their cross-country flight reeking of tobacco. And thus, the illusion of a non-smoking option was born in the form of the cabin’s non-smoking and smoking sections. And while airlines could instruct passengers to sit in the designated areas, the laws of physics unfortunately prevented any ability to also instruct the smoke itself to remain in its proper vicinity.

Smoking was a controversial subject in the ’80s, leading to both an industry-wide ban and subsequent unbanning of in-flight smoking in 1984 alone. President of the FAA-precedingCivil Aeronautics Board Dan McKinnon said of the quick policy reversal, “Philosophically, I think nonsmokers have rights, but it comes into market conflict with practicalities and the realities of life.” Such a frank remark about industry influence on something so widely understood now to be a health hazard is difficult to imagine in today’s instantly sharable, social media-saturated world.

In-flight tours of the flight deck

For thousands of ’80s babies — myself included — a first flight aboard a commercial airplane wasn’t complete until a flight attendant whisked you up front to the cockpit for an introduction to the captain and a tour of the buzzing and whirring machinery. Inviting children, or people at all, into the area of the plane from which the pilot was actively controlling the aircraft sounds like something out of a fantasy novel in our post-9/11 world, and yet thousands of grateful fliers share memories of the experience. Thankfully, pilots or flight attendants would routinely pin commemorative wings upon kids to mark their trip up front, proving that the practice wasn’t just some fever dream we all collectively imagined.

Modern day pro-tip: Many airlines still offer wings for children on their first flights. Ask your FA if any are tucked away onboard somewhere.

Dedicated airlines for the people … and the very important people

Each of the decades prior had airlines synonymous with their respective eras. TWA and Pan Am are practically synonymous with the 1950s, Aeroflot was ascendant in the ’60s, and the so-called “route of the aristocrats”, Southern Airways practically screams70s. A pair of airlines kept up the tradition in the ’80s, but via entirely different business plans.

People Express was the dominant low-cost carrier of the decade, albeit one fondly remembered for a welcome twist on the LCC business model that we’ve come to expect today. People Express paired their ultra-low prices with phenomenal first-class customer service that people still rave about to this very day. Talk about making a lasting impression!

At the other end of the price spectrum, but no less synonymous with the over-the-top ’80s,MGM Grand Air built a fan-favorite airline essentially around a single route between Los Angeles and New York. Billionaire playboy Kirk Kerkorian purchased a small, six-plane fleet in the mid-’80s, and gutted their 110 seat cabins, before retrofitting them with just 33 ultra-posh loungers. A-list celebrities and studio executives instantly flocked to the new airline. Madonna, Diana Ross, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Roberts andRobert De Niro were frequently spotted indulging in silver trays of caviar aboard what became the most exclusive nightclub in the world — even on the morning flights.

While neither airline ultimately survived the spate of mergers, acquisitions and bankruptciesthat pared the airline industry down to the handful of remaining players that exist today, both People Express and MGM Grand Air left a lasting impression on the industry.

Delays before the age of transparency

Without cellphones, there was no cellphone waiting area. And that was the least of the infrastructural absences that today’s travelers might find difficult to maneuver. No cellphones also meant no flight-tracking apps. Expectant family and friends would simply show up to the airport at the posted time of arrival. And if the plane wasn’t there — well then it simply wasn’t there, and thus the potentially hours-long waiting game began.

Security? What security?

Amidst the modern age’s labyrinthine airport check-in process, it can be difficult to even imagine a time when most of today’s airport security apparatus didn’t exist. In the 1980s, not only were passengers relatively free to roam about the airport after briefly passing through a metal detector — with their shoes on — but family and friends were welcome to join departing passengers all the way up to the departure gate. Likewise, many a weary traveler was greeted the second they stepped off the plane by adoring loved ones, who were permitted to walk all the way through the airport without a ticket to make a proper welcome. The specter of threatening liquids, body scanner radiation and underwear bombs was still more than a decade away.

While we may rue the devolution of in-flight meals, seat pitch, and loss of airline options when booking, the starkest contrast between flying in the 1980s and today is without a doubt the loss of airport innocence that we unfortunately experienced following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.