Category: AirlineReporter Francis Zera

Flight Review: Icelandair’s 737 MAX 8 Saga Cla…

Flight Review: Icelandair’s 737 MAX 8 Saga Class:

All aboard TF-ICU - next stop, ORD.
Boarding TF-ICU, aka Dyrhólaey at Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport, next stop, Chicago’s O’Hare International

The backstory

Loyal readers will recall our 2017 review of Saga class on Icelandair’s venerable 757-200s.

Since then, Icelandair has added several Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets to their fleet (they ordered a total of 16 of the MAX in both the -8 and -9 variants), using them on routes to U.S. destinations on the east coast and upper midwest, along with several European routes.

I flew SEA-KEF on a 757, then returned via Chicago on a 737 MAX 8, as Seattle is, unfortunately, beyond the working range of the MAX 8.

So, two years on, what was it like to fly Saga? Candidly, I was a fan of the last trip, so the memory still felt fairly fresh. My outbound flight was on TF-FIR, aka Vatnajökull, aka 80 years of Aviation, aka the glacier livery.

This AvGeek was stoked at the opportunity to fly on Vatnajökull, even though it was parked at a corner gate between two diagonal jetways at SEA, making photos pretty much impossible that day. IMHO, it’s the one of prettiest planes in the sky today, tied for that honor with Icelandair’s Hekla Aurora livery on TF-FIU.

TF-FIR landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in 2017. I wasn’t able to get out on the ramp to get pre-flight photos for this trip, so we’ll have to make do with an existing image

The outbound flight from SEA to KEF was as good as the last time – I was in seat 1A for this flight, which is in a bulkhead row. The seats themselves are the same as we reviewed in 2017. They feel even more dated now, especially when compared to contemporary options even on some domestic US carriers, but they’re still very comfortable and offer a generous amount of recline.

Flying over the Canadian Rockies in TF-FIR
Flying over the Canadian Rockies in TF-FIR

I love the 757. But it’s an old design and the aircraft are nearing the end of their service lives. While the MAX lineup isn’t a replacement for the 757 (nor, really, is the A321n, but that’s a different discussion for another time), it works for certain transcontinental-length flights, but doesn’t have quite the range to fully replace it.

The main event — Saga Class from KEF-ORD on the MAX 8

After an awesome couple of days exploring Reykjavik, spending a day at Icelandair’s MidAtlantic travel trade show, having lunch with Icelandair’s CEO Bogi Nils Bogason and CCO Gunnar Már Sigurfinnsson, and scoring a helicopter tour from Nordurflug Helicopters (more on those in separate upcoming stories), it was time to say bless í bili to Iceland and head home.

Love those new split-scimitar winglets.
Love those split-scimitar winglets

Let’s start in the lounge

Icelandair’s Saga Lounge at KEF has been open for a while now, but it was my first visit.

Velkominn to the new lounge

The lounge is spacious, bright, and comfortable in a very Scandinavian-style way. While some might find it a bit austere, I quite like the clean lines and the fact that there are plenty of tables available. Some lounges I’ve recently visited are so heavy on the recliners and sofas that there is practically no work space, or even a proper place to eat without feeling like you are juggling plates at a cocktail party. There are still lots of lounger-style seating, all with plenty of power ports. This place is a win for me.

The Saga Lounge at KEF - Eurostyle FTW
The Saga Lounge at KEF – Eurostyle FTW

My only complaint is that the airport consistently uses metal screens between the panes of exterior glass. It’s most likely there to reduce thermal gain in the warmer months, but it makes for lousy photos out the windows.

Boo — those window screens ruin the fun for photos
Boo — those window screens ruin the fun for photos

The use of such screens isn’t unique to Icelandair’s lounge, though — they’re on nearly every window in the airport — I’m guessing it’s an airport design requirement.

The buffet area

The lounge has window walls that look out over airport ramps and hardstands and the expansive Icelandic landscape beyond. It’s a lovely place to pass the time before a flight.

And, of course, there are expansive views of the ramps to keep the AvGeeks happy
And, of course, there are expansive views of the ramps to keep the AvGeeks happy

Time for me to fly

For the seven-hour KEF-ORD flight, I was in seat 1F, also a bulkhead row. I chose the seats deliberately so I could compare relative legroom across the two aircraft types. Even though the MAX 8 is a smaller aircraft, interior space utilization is worlds better than on the aging 757, with a corresponding moderate increase in legroom.

Boarding time - hardstands are delightful because you get to see the plane up close
Boarding time – hardstand boardings are awesome because you get to see the plane up close

It was the usual KEF scrum to board – there was a quiet boarding call only at the immediate gate area, then we all lined up to board a bus to the hardstand. A short drive later, we were at the plane and walking across the slushy ramp to the airstairs.

Icelandair's MAX 8 seat map - there are 144 standard seats and 16 in Saga Class. Graphic courtesy of Icelandair
Icelandair’s MAX 8 seat map – there are 144 standard seats and 16 in Saga Class. Image: Icelandair

We were welcomed on board and had plenty of time to settle in, as, for whatever reason, we departed about 20 minutes late. But I didn’t care, as I had a window seat, a great view of the nearby ramps, and plenty of time for my connecting flight on the other end.

The MAX 8 seats are similar to the 757 variety, but felt more comfortable and a bit more roomy
The MAX 8 seats are similar to the 757 variety, but felt more comfortable and a bit more roomy

The overhead bins on the MAX 8 are absolutely cavernous, especially compared to those on the 757s. The camera backpack I use for trips like this is technically small enough to fit under the seat, but it still was a bit of a squeeze in the 757 overhead bins.

It looked forlorn in the huge MAX 8 bins, and actually drifted around a bit during the flight as the bins were nowhere close to being filled. If you’ve flown on a 737NG with the Boeing Sky Interior, you’ve seen these bins. They’re awesome.

It's always comforting to watch your bag being loaded onto the same plane you're flying in
It’s always comforting to watch your bag being loaded onto the same plane you’re flying in

At takeoff, the MAX 8 was as quiet as I was told to expect. Being up front never hurts, but this was perceptually as quiet as I remember my last 787-9 flight having been. I’ve got a relatively-accurate decibel-meter app on my phone, and it measured 84db on full-throttle takeoff. I’ve recorded 100db up front on older 737s during takeoff, and keep in mind that the db scale is logarithmic, so each incremental change represents quite large sound-pressure differences.

In the first row in Saga, your IFE screen is on the bulkhead, and the USB charger port and headphone port are both on the bottom edge of the frame. Easy to get to, but be sure to bring your long phone cable. I had a six-foot cable that worked out perfectly. The coathook is a nice touch, especially when you're dressed for Icelandic weather
In the first row in Saga, your IFE screen is on the bulkhead, and the USB charger port and headphone port are both on the bottom edge of the frame. Easy to get to, but be sure to bring your long phone cable. I had a six-foot cable that worked out perfectly. The coathook is a nice touch, especially when you’re dressed for Icelandic weather

While equipped with the widely-anticipated Viasat WiFi , Icelandair’s systems are still awaiting certification, so the fast satellite service will have to wait until a future review. Airline officials said they anticipate receiving that certification this spring.

The meal, all on one tray. The mess is all me - I managed to stick my hand in the sauce while fumbling around for the napkin
The meal, all on one tray. The mess is all me – I managed to stick my hand in the sauce while fumbling around for the napkin

The meal was delicious. I quite enjoyed the licorice-infused smoked salmon appetizer. The chicken wasn’t dry, and the vegetables weren’t overcooked; high praise for airline food, which has a zillion preparation, delivery, and consumption constraints.

I didn’t use the IFE system for much other than tracking our progress, but I did note a reasonably wide selection of stuff to watch. The screen size and resolution are good, and I did enjoy the selection of Icelandic music.

Remaining observations: the forward lavatory is tiny. As in, I couldn’t stand up straight in there. But that’s the new standard for these planes as airlines work to maximize space utilization, and how much time does one really spend in a lav on a flight of this length anyway?

It still had that new-airplane smell. And, underneath that, it smelled vaguely of tuna-noodle casserole, although that wasn’t on the menu. Weird.

Conclusion

In researching for this article, I read quite a few reviews about other airlines’ MAX 8s. It seems Icelandair has taken a middle-of-the-road approach, and succeeded pretty well. The routes from KEF to the US East Coast and Upper Midwest basically mirror transcontinental routes in duration, so there’s not a huge need for the amenities expected on true long-haul flights. But I do wish the bathrooms weren’t quite so tiny.

Icelandair’s MAX 8 Saga Class is a solid product – relatively spacious, comfortable, with good food and good service. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than exactly what it is, which is both refreshing and very Icelandic.

The post Flight Review: Icelandair’s 737 MAX 8 Saga Class appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 05, 2019 at 09:13PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

PlaneTags — A Bit of Aviation History in Your …

PlaneTags — A Bit of Aviation History in Your Pocket:

Dave Hall holds the very first PlaneTag; he used it as a keychain long enough to nearly wear the design completely off the thing.
Dave Hall holds the very first PlaneTag; he used it as a keychain long enough to nearly wear the design completely off the thing.

While visiting the Los Angeles area a month or so ago, I dropped by the headquarters of MotoArt Studios in Torrance, Calif., maker of cool aviation-themed furniture and the originator of the PlaneTag, for a tour and some conversation with owner and founder Dave Hall. I’ve purchased several of his products over the years, including a polished propeller and quite a few PlaneTags, so I was excited to see his operation.

It feels like these products have been around for a long time, but Hall explained that while the idea for making keychains out of old aircraft skin came to him more than a decade ago, the tags have only been on the market for a few years.

Dave Hall helps one of his crew move a table that's being built in his studio.
Dave Hall helps one of his crew move a table that’s being built in his studio

“We had a small section of P-51 Mustang skin, and I decided to take a section and make a tag from it. I decided to call it a PlaneTag — it’s small enough to connect to a bag or suitcase, or even put in your front pocket on your keys. That first piece of aviation history sat in my pocket on my key chain for years before I actually had the sense to kick off the idea,” Hall said.

This year’s Black Friday marked the three-year anniversary of what’s become his flagship product. “We started with six PlaneTags: the 767 Gimli Glider, a 747, DC-9, A320, B-25, and a DC-3,” he said. He used the existing MotoArt mailing list, which included contacts dating back to 2001, to promote the new product to existing customers. “It was an instant hit,” he said. His online shop now lists close to 30 different types of aircraft tags, including hull No. 1 of the B-1B bomber.

Hall in the lobby of the MotoArt studio.
Hall in the lobby of the MotoArt studio

The process of making the tags is relatively straightforward, varying in complexity based on the assembly intricacies of each particular aircraft type: a section of hull, wing, tail, or aileron is cut from the aircraft, the aluminum outer skin is removed from the framing, then the tags are die-cut from the larger sheet, cleaned, and finally engraved.

The process of actually acquiring the old aircraft parts, however, is a different story.

“There’s something magical about discovering an old airframe or boneyard,” Hall said. “With commercial aircraft we have some great relationships with not only fleet managers at commercial airlines, but also recycling companies who scrap the planes. The vintage aircraft is mostly on leads that people send us.  It’s always exciting to get a email that says, ‘Hey — did you hear about that plane parked out in the middle of nowhere that’s going to get scrapped?‘”

MotoArt has been designing what Hall describes as “aviation functional art” for 18 years. “We rescue old airframes and create incredible pieces that are mostly used for conference tables, executive offices, and reception areas,” he said.

Hall shared a bit of MotoArt’s backstory. “It started two decades ago when the scrap aluminum guy came by our sign company yard to pick up our recycled material. On the back of his truck, he had an old WWII solid aluminum propeller. We tried to talk him into selling it but he refused,” he said.

Hall shows off a stack of tags that are in the middle of the manufacturing process.
Hall shows off a stack of tags that are in the middle of the manufacturing process.

“We found out where he got it from with a quick search of a couple local propeller shops: come to find out, they were scraping hundreds of old aluminum propellers because there was no longer a demand for them and recycled aluminum was at a high. That’s when the idea came up: let’s take a shot at creating a company that would rescue old airframes before they are destroyed and create something unique and fun with them.  No one else was doing it and we saw a market,” Hall said.

A section from an SR-71 vertical stabilizer, waiting to be converted to PlaneTags.

A section from an SR-71 vertical stabilizer, waiting to be converted to PlaneTags

“Everyone damn near laughed at us when we started in my garage. Vendors wouldn’t sell to us, and my neighbors laughed, thinking I was building an airplane,” he said. Now the business is in a dedicated building and has about 20 employees.

Motoart's Torrance, Calif., headquarters.
Motoart’s Torrance, Calif., headquarters

It wasn’t until men’s magazine Maxim discovered his hobby and did a two-page centerfold editorial in 2002 that things started to really take off.  After that, Hall said his company was featured in a large wave of print stories as well as television spots, which eventually led to a 2004 Discovery Channel show called WingNuts. After that, he said, it seemed like everyone was making airplane furniture.

Hall’s company does a fair amount of work with airlines, such as creating PlaneTags for their employees and special customers as perks. “This past year,” he said, “we rolled out a program to commercial airlines that seems to be a winning formula for everyone: we donate a large percentage of each PlaneTag sale to the airline’s charity of their choice and offer their employees a discount.” Those airlines include Delta, American, United, Virgin Atlantic, Allegiant, and China Airlines. 

The post PlaneTags — A Bit of Aviation History in Your Pocket appeared first on AirlineReporter.

December 17, 2018 at 06:01PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Alaska Airlines’ new 737-700 freighters provid…

Alaska Airlines’ new 737-700 freighters provide “lifeline” for many Alaska communities:

One of Alaska Airlines three newly-converted 737-700 freighters on the ramp at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

One of Alaska Airlines three newly-converted 737-700 freighters on the ramp at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Ever wonder about the process of loading, unloading, organizing, tracking, and planning the cargo side of a cargo flight?

Wonder no more — Alaska Airlines recently invited us to watch (and then ask a metric ton of questions about) one of the airline’s new 737-700 freighters on a recent visit to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“Alaska Air Cargo serves as a lifeline to many of the communities in Alaska where we fly,” said Jason Berry, managing director of cargo for Alaska Airlines.

“Offering reliable and consistent service is critical for us. The addition of our modern fleet paired with our proprietary navigation procedures allows us the ability to bring true scheduled service to the far north,” he said.

Alaska Airlines Ramp Service Agent (RSA) Carlos Arenas, foreground, prepares to pass a bag of mail to Lead RSA Metin Mehmedov. Both are working in the aft belly hold of the aircraft.

Alaska Airlines Ramp Service Agent (RSA) Carlos Arenas, foreground, prepares to pass a bag of mail to Lead RSA Metin Mehmedov. Both are working in the aft belly hold of the aircraft.

In preparation for the induction of Alaska’s first Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, the company’s strategy was to retire the remaining 400-series “classics” from its fleet. The five combis and single dedicated freighter were all 400-series aircraft.

According to Berry, those 400s were also getting extremely cycle-heavy, which meant they had so many takeoff/landing cycles that they were nearing the end of their useful life for Alaska Airlines.

“The decision to convert three 737-700 Next-Gen passenger aircraft to freighters meant we retain much of the same fleet commonality in terms of training and maintenance and it would give us the right-sized aircraft to still serve all the same communities we provide main deck cargo lift to today (-800s could not land at some of our current scheduled airports such as Adak, Kodiak, Petersburg, and Wrangell),” he explained.

And what’s become of those old cargo planes? Berry said all six were sold to leasing companies. “I believe you can find them for sale as we speak. I speculate that someone will eventually purchase the aircraft and convert them to full freighters.”

The soon-to-be-filled cargo hold of one of Alaska Airlines' new 737-700 freighters.

The soon-to-be-filled cargo hold of one of Alaska Airlines’ new 737-700 freighters

OK, now for the fun, nerdy stuff. Berry said that the new freighters can carry approximately 39,500 lb. at maximum load under optimal conditions. Compare that with the old combi aircraft, which were extremely weight sensitive and dependent on having the right number of passengers booked in the rear compartment. “We would normally move 12-13,000 lb. per flight. The previous freighter could carry approximately 36,000 lb.,” he said, so the new freighters have a cargo-carrying advantage of 3,500 lb. over the old freighter and a whopping 26,500 lb. capacity increase over the combis, although the dedicated freighters can’t, of course, carry any passengers.

Cargo ramps are busy places.

Cargo ramps are busy places

Alaska Air’s three 737-700 freighter conversions are the first of their kind. “Since taking delivery of our last aircraft at the end of February, we’ve quickly ramped up our scheduled service, flying our aircraft 10.5 hours per day averaging 6.7 daily cycles — this is a considerable metric for a narrow body aircraft,” Berry explained. “You would be hard pressed to find any other similar freighter operators of similar sized narrow body aircraft achieve these types of results. We are putting similar demands on our freighter schedule as we do on our passenger side. This is a testament to our amazing ground crews, pilots, and maintenance and engineering teams.”

Loading cans via the big cargo door on a 737-700 freighter.

Loading cans via the big cargo door on a 737-700 freighter

Berry explained the process of a cargo turn, starting from the beginning. “The process begins with pre-planning. This includes reviewing what is booked for the flight and what is currently available and on the floor. From there, our ramp team will begin build-up of the 10 ULD (a unit load device, aka pallet, container, or ‘can’) load, working to maximize the loads,” he said.

The flight that we photographed in late April was flying SEA-KTN-SIT-JNU-SEA (Seattle-Ketchikan-Sitka-Juneau-Seattle), which meant the cargo team had to prepare the flight to best support each of the stops along the way, paying attention to details such as making sure to build ULDs so they can be loaded with the JNU cargo in the back to prevent KTN or SIT from having to unload anything more than is necessary, thereby saving time.

Filled cans on the Seattle cargo ramp, ready to be flown to Alaska.

Filled cans on the Seattle cargo ramp, ready to be flown to Alaska

Berry continued: “Once our ULDs are built, the cargo manifest is electronically submitted to our Central Load Planning team (CLP). This group uses our weight-and-balance program to achieve the best possible center of gravity, while also considering the most efficient load for the downline station.

“Once the load plan is completed it is electronically published and sent back to the cargo warehouse and includes loading instructions (details of any special handling requirements, notification of where any dangerous goods are located, live animals, etc).”

Alaska Airlines flies their cargo jets nearly as much as their passenger aircraft, which is unusual in the industry.

Alaska Airlines flies their cargo jets nearly as much as their passenger aircraft, which is unusual in the industry

On the day we visited, the aircraft had a 50-minute scheduled turn time, as it was arriving from KTN (Routing was ANC-JNU-SIT-KTN-SEA). Prior to arrival, the crew prepared the ramp, performing a FOD (foreign object debris) walk and a safety check of the area, then organizing their pallets/containers to most efficiently offload the inbound load and organize their outbound containers into strings that make the process move as smoothly as possible.

One on the ramp, the aircraft’s wheels are chocked and it is immediately offloaded, so the inbound cargo can be brought into the warehouse and promptly checked in. “Approximately 60 percent of all cargo that touches our SEA facility is transit cargo, meaning it is arriving off an aircraft or connecting once it gets here,” Berry said, adding that the warehouse teams will break down the ULDs in order of priority, processing those that have connecting cargo first.

An average turn consists of six ramp agents, including a ramp lead and a departure coordinator. Cargo supervisors attend many of the turns as well to serve as a link to the different work groups should any issues come up, such as a need for additional fuel, changes to the catering for the crew, etc.

Lead RSA Metin Mehmedov unloads bags of mail from the inbound flight.

Lead RSA Metin Mehmedov unloads bags of mail from the inbound flight

Once the offload is completed, the team reviews the outbound load sheet again to confirm the loading order of the ULDs, and upload begins. “On the main deck of the aircraft, the team lead scans the bar code of each ULD, and then scans the bar code on the side wall of the aircraft located in the position that we are locking the ULD into. This is a positive-match scanning process to ensure all of the ULDs are loaded in the correct sequence and locked in the right position” for both proper efficiency and for proper weight-and-balance calculations, he said.

Once on board, each pallet is pushed into place by hand - the cargo-hold floor is covered with small bearing-like wheels.

Once on board, each pallet is pushed into place by hand – the cargo-hold floor is covered with small bearing-like wheels

All 10 cargo positions in the plane’s upper hold are then loaded and scanned. Any ULD/location that does not match the original plan will signal an error on the hand-held scanner that will require the loading team to stop and resolve before moving forward or dispatching the aircraft. “This is a great safety protocol we have built into our aircraft to preserve load integrity,” Berry said.

The loading process is very efficient - it seems to take no time at all to load or unload the containerized cargo pallets from the upper deck.

The loading process is very efficient – it seems to take no time at all to load or unload the containerized cargo pallets from the upper deck

After all the cargo is loaded into the belly holds and main deck, the departure coordinator (DC) will confirm that all the ULD scans match, he or she then calls in to confirm the load with the central load planning (CLP) team. Once the load has been confirmed, the flight is released and readied for dispatch. The ground crew in SEA then prepares for pushback and sends the aircraft on its way.

Bags of mail are loaded into the aft belly hold.

Bags of mail are loaded into the aft belly hold

Berry said their primary commodities carried are perishables (seafood, produce, meat, etc.), e-commerce deliveries, mail, live animals, pharmaceuticals, and other products requiring time-sensitive/express service.

“We are proud of the small role we play in Alaska to keep commerce moving safely and on time. Our company was founded over 85 years ago, carrying mail in the great state of Alaska, our freighters help us carry on this tradition,” Berry said.

The post Alaska Airlines’ new 737-700 freighters provide “lifeline” for many Alaska communities appeared first on AirlineReporter.

May 19, 2018 at 05:11AM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Spotting Tool Review: JetTip Watches for the G…

Spotting Tool Review: JetTip Watches for the Good Stuff So You Don’t Have To:

JetTip makes it easy to get notified when unusual aircraft are scheduled to visit your local airport. Sure, my avgeek friends *might* have told me about this MD-80F that visited KBFI last month, but it's also nice to be self-sufficient.

JetTip makes it easy to get notified when unusual aircraft are scheduled to visit your local airport. Sure, my avgeek friends *might* have told me about this MD-80F that visited KBFI last month, but it’s also nice to be self-sufficient.

There are lots of online aviation tracking and spotting tools available to AvGeeks and folks with a legitimate business concern for tracking aircraft.

JetTip is a new entry into the spotting category, created by Nick Benson. The web app is a one-trick pony, but it does that trick really well. Once a user is logged in (and paid up, natch; it’s not free), they’re able to select the airports they’re interested in, choose from a variety of notification options for when interesting aircraft have filed for either arrival or departure, and away you go.

The app is web-based, which means there’s not a phone-specific app. On iOS, for example, I just bookmarked the site by saving a link to the home screen, and it simply launches the site in my default browser. Easy.

A good friend was a beta tester for this app and became quite a fan. That made me curious about it, so I contacted the developer to ask for a review and I was given free access. I wasn’t actually sure that it would impress me enough to end up with a story, but it turns out that I was quite wrong about that.

I’ve been using the app for a few months now, both locally and while traveling. Here are my observations.

JetTip let me know this Cavok An-12 was scheduled to visit KSEA. Even though the photo wasn't optimal because of the late-night arrival time, it did mean that I got to see my first An-12.

JetTip let me know this Cavok An-12 was scheduled to visit KSEA. Even though the photo wasn’t optimal because of the late-night arrival time, it did mean that I got to see my first An-12.

• It’s solid. As far as I know, it hasn’t missed any interesting commercial flights. Military flights don’t file flight plans in the same way, so they’re notoriously difficult to track. Same with cargo, charters, VIP, and, of course, the ever-elusive Boeing test and delivery flights, which operate on what Puget Sound spotters call “Boeing time,” which is kind of like island time without the sunshine. But I’ve found the app to be far more useful than I’d anticipated.

• The alerts are great. I’ve come to rely on them when seeking out special liveries or unusual visitors to the four jetports within a 30-mile radius of Seattle: Paine Field (KPAE), Boeing Field (KBFI), Renton Municipal (KRNT), and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (KSEA). Sometimes our airspace is so busy with non-standard aircraft that I wind up turning off notifications for the local airports that I’m not currently near.

• The developer is an AvGeek. Yes, that matters, because he gets it. We’re a weird bunch, us airplane nerds, and Benson has obviously put in a lot of time and effort to make a spotting tool that works well and meets our needs.

• Based on the prior item, Benson says he’s constantly making adjustments to the app, and he says because of the fact that he’s maintaining a single web app and not multiple versions of an OS-specific app, it’s easier and faster for him to make updates.

• One very small annoyance came in the form of a deluge of notifications for my home airports when I was traveling. I suppose it’s not a huge deal to go into each saved airport and turn off the various kinds of notifications, but a global “vacation” switch would make it lots easier, especially as it’d save having to go back and reconfigure everything once I got home. That, and all those notifications made me sad to have missed all that cool stuff back home; sometimes ignorance is bliss.

• The app doesn’t cover every airport in the U.S. and Canada, but Benson says he is constantly expanding the list. As of March 18, there were 162 airports available — not too shabby.

A screen grab of the JetTip flight board for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for the afternoon of March 4, 2018.

A screen grab of the JetTip flight board for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for the afternoon of March 4, 2018

Benson also made time for an avgeek-to-avgeek interview:

Why did you decided to build this app?

I recently started to get interested in aviation photography, and I was setting up alerts for cool aircraft. At MSP, my home airport, there’s a pretty good amount of traffic, but relatively little variety, at least from the perspective of an aviation enthusiast. I thought it should be pretty easy to configure flight alerts here, but it was pretty frustrating. A good portion of my day job is spent reviewing web apps and figuring out how to improve them – that part of my brain kicked in, and things sort of snowballed from there.

Can you share a bit more about your background as it relates to this app and the avgeek community?

I’ve been a web developer and enjoy building little projects that can help me out with my hobbies. Like a lot of avgeeks, I’m also into railroad photography. In both hobbies, there are great communities of folks sharing information about interesting equipment nearby, but monitoring all of the various Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, email lists, forums, magazines, etc. can be very time consuming. I’ve got three kiddos now, and while I love taking them plane and train watching, I don’t have time to be out shooting four or five times a week like I did when I was younger, and keeping up with all of the news is harder too. I think that helped me realize there was a need for something that’d allow me to be an avgeek without spending a huge amount of time on it.

How long did it take to build and refine the app? Were there any challenges? Any triumphs?

I started building the app in the spring of 2017, and now (almost a year later), there are still plenty of improvements on my to-do list. The biggest challenge has been getting a handle on some of the nuances of the flight data services that are available, and balancing the needs of the application with the costs of getting information.

It’s been fairly straight-forward to build a service that works great at airports like MSP, where there’s a relatively small number of regular carriers, but getting the product to meet its potential at airports with lots more variety (LAX, JFK, SFO, ORD, etc.) is something that I’m still working on. There’s such a large volume of “cool” flights at airports like that, JetTip needs some additional filters to allow subscribers to mute certain types of alerts… that’s something that’s coming soon, but, as a one-man operation, every improvement takes time to build, test, and release.

Insofar as triumphs go, there have been quite a few cases where JetTip has triggered an alert for an interesting arrival or departure that the major flight tracking apps haven’t picked up on, and that always tickles me a bit, being the David compared to the Goliaths out there.

What has been the response to the app?

The vast majority of the feedback has been very positive; people really like the automatic tracking and notification of interesting flights and the filters and the arrival/departure boards. There’s been a steady flow of signups since the service was first offered – it’s not quite covering costs yet, but it’s getting there.

In using the app, I’ve found it to be quite useful. How does it work?

JetTip monitors every trackable flight (commercial passenger airlines and cargo operators, for the most part) at major airports in the U.S. and Canada. It evaluates each flight to see if the livery, airline, or type (or some combination thereof) is unusual at that airport. At MSP for example, a Delta 737 isn’t unusual, but, a chartered Cayman Airways 737 is. All of the analysis is done from the perspective of an aviation enthusiast – a DHL 767-300 is a DHL 767-300, regardless if its flown by Atlas, Kalitta, or ABX.

When an unusual flight is found, notifications are sent to subscribers by text message or email.

How do you decide which aircraft are important enough to warrant notifications?

Each flight is compared to traffic at the airport for the last 30 days. The first and second visits in that window trigger a high priority alert; low for the next three.

JetTip has a database of special liveries and other noteworthy aircraft (tankers, VIP airliners, white tails, alliance liveries, etc.). These noteworthy aircraft will always show on the arrival/departure boards, but, if they’re frequent visitors, they won’t trigger alerts.

What are your plans for refinements?

The biggest refinement in the pipeline is the ability to configure some more advanced filters for which types of alerts you receive; configuring simply on high or low priority works really well at most airports, but, for some airports with lots of international carriers, it can generate more alerts than most folks are probably interested in getting. I’ve got some really great stuff planned in that department.

Since JetTip is a one-man show, it takes some time for refinements to get built out, but, I’m genuinely interested in getting any feedback, good and bad, so I can improve the product. If it isn’t a joy to use, I’m not doing my job.

Any plans for other apps?

I’d love to build a full-featured flight tracking, mapping, or photography app, but, it’s a crowded marketplace with lots of people doing a great job already… maybe some of those features will get integrated into JetTip as time goes on, but I imagine things like that will come in as the result of partnerships.

Anything I forgot to ask, or is there anything that you’re dying to share that I didn’t ask about?

That pretty much covers it – I recently started offering a free arrival/departure board that rotates to a different airport every week or so so people can get a feel for how they work.

Bottom line: is it worth the subscription fee? Like anything, that depends on your situation. But if you like getting automatic, cherry-picked alerts about interesting aircraft that have filed in or out of a specific airport, then you’ll likely find it as useful as I have.

The post Spotting Tool Review: JetTip Watches for the Good Stuff So You Don’t Have To appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 13, 2018 at 05:12PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Bonjour, Seattle! Air France Returns to the Pa…

Bonjour, Seattle! Air France Returns to the Pacific Northwest:

Air France flight 338 arrives at Sea-Tac Airport March 25

Air France flight 338 arrives at Sea-Tac Airport March 25

Following an absence of nearly 10 years, Air France is once again flying to the U.S. Pacific Northwest, using a Boeing 777-200ER with a three-class cabin for flights from Paris-Charles De Gaulle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) on an initial schedule of three flights per week. Seattle is Air France’s 12th U.S. gateway.

Of course there was cake

Of course there was cake

The new SEA-CDG service will operate on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, increasing to five per week during the summer peak season (June 19 – Sept. 1) by adding Mondays and Tuesdays to the schedule.

The incoming flight was greeted with a traditional water-cannon salute

The incoming flight was greeted with a traditional water-cannon salute

According to Perry Cooper, senior manager of media relations at Sea-Tac Airport, Air France has returned to a very different Sea-Tac airport from when it first arrived. “Back in 2007, the Air France flight to Paris was the first new international destination in over a decade and Sea-Tac was the 19th busiest airport in North America. Now, Sea-Tac has risen to the 9th busiest airport with nearly 47 million passengers in 2017.”

One of the jet's GE90 engines, still dripping water from the water-cannon salute

One of the jet’s GE90 engines, still dripping water from the water-cannon salute

It’s always a great experience to be out on the ramp when a big jet comes in – the engines sound great up close, and the smell of jet exhaust is like AvGeek perfume.

Up close as AF338 taxiing to its gate

Up close as AF338 taxiing to its gate

The additional routes mean that Air France and its partner Delta Air Lines now offer up to 12 flights a week from Seattle to Paris. Air France-KLM is also part of the SkyTeam network.

The jet also received a water-cannon salute as it left the terminal on the return flight to Paris

The jet also received a water-cannon salute as it left the terminal on the return flight to Paris

I remember catching the SEA-CDG flight twice back in 2007, when Air France was using A340s on the route. Both were memorable flights, not just because of the destination, but, as I recall, the service was solid, even in coach. Hoping the same holds true a decade later.

Back on its way to CDG as AF355

Back on its way to CDG as AF355

The post Bonjour, Seattle! Air France Returns to the Pacific Northwest appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 09, 2018 at 04:48PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

No status? No problem. For $9+ You Now Can Fly…

No status? No problem. For $9+ You Now Can Fly VIP with Priority Boarding on United:

Tired of boardling last while flying coach? United has your cure, for nine bucks.

Tired of boardling last while flying coach? United has your cure, for nine bucks.

Note: This story was written earlier in March, but we opted to hold off a bit before publishing it so we wouldn’t look like insensitive clods in light of United’s recent, um, customer service issues. They seem to be coming around and hopefully this will make things even better — Eds.

As of March 2, 2018, passengers flying in anything other than basic economy with United Airlines can purchase “early boarding” for nine non-refundable bucks, a la American Airlines. The fee allows travelers to line up when the gate agent calls for boarding group two.

In the Polaris business class cabin on United’s first 777-300ER

If you’re already cool with the restrictions in basic economy, it’s a fair bet you’ve already made up your mind to trade “conveniences,” such as access to the overhead bins, for a lower fare. According to United spokesperson Maddie King, the airline already offers travelers the opportunity to purchase Premier Access, which includes the ability to access the premium (aka faster) TSA lines.

“Some customers already receive priority security access through programs such as TSA PreCheck, so this gives them an option of purchasing just the access to get on the plane quicker,” she said.
A United press release states, “This option is offered to customers for the initial price of $9, and its availability is closely controlled based on flight, date, time of day and day-of-week restrictions,” which leads one to imagine that the price could increase, if demand soars.

Asked whether this could potentially dilute the value of other status levels, King said that the new offering is the result of customer feedback. “We’re not expecting this to create a big difference in boarding group sizes.”

“Priority Boarding as a standalone product will offer choice to customers who want to board early yet do not want the full Premier Access product, primarily those with TSA PreCheck who do not need the security component,” said Merchandising Program Manager Jennifer Cool-Perik.

The post No status? No problem. For $9+ You Now Can Fly VIP with Priority Boarding on United appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 04, 2018 at 04:55PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Swiss Takes Delivery of its 10th and Final 777…

Swiss Takes Delivery of its 10th and Final 777-300ER:

Swiss International Air Lines took delivery on March 13 of the final Boeing 777-300 of their 10-aircraft order.

Swiss International Air Lines took delivery on March 13 of the final Boeing 777-300ER of their 10-aircraft order

Swiss International Air Lines took delivery of its 10th Boeing 777-300ER on March 13, completing the now-expanded order it originally placed in 2013. That order was for six aircraft; three more were added in 2015, and the final 777 was added in 2016, the same year the first jet in the batch was delivered to the airline.

The new jets, with a maximum range of 7,370 nautical miles, also offer lower operating costs than competing aircraft, making them a very attractive option on long-haul routes.

Swiss employees celebrate the delivery in Everett, Wash.

Swiss employees celebrate the delivery in Everett, Wash.

Swiss placed the order as part of a planned update to their long-haul fleet. The 340-seat 777-300ER is used on eight intercontinental routes, all making use of the airline’s Zurich hub: Bangkok, Chicago, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, San Francisco, and Singapore. The airline also operates Airbus A330-300s and A340-300s on its long-haul routes.

The airline takes pride in the on-board coffee makers - "The Swiss pioneered high-quality coffee on board their aircraft," said Swiss Airlines Flight Operations Engineer Michael Gachnang.

The airline takes pride in the on-board coffee makers – “The Swiss pioneered high-quality coffee on board their aircraft,” said SWISS Flight Operations Engineer Michael Gachnang.

The airline has configured all 10 of its 77Ws the same: eight first class seats, 62 in business, and 270 in 10-abreast economy.

The four-abreast seating in the center economy section. Life is definitely different in the back of the plane.

The four-abreast seating in the center economy section. Life is definitely different in the back of the plane.

Roughly 60 journalists and bloggers made the trip to Everett to cover the final delivery, and Swiss flew over a similar number of AvGeeks for the event — they were treated to tours of the Boeing plant and of Seattle, and many blogged and posted photos about the trip to pick up the aircraft and the ride home to Zurich on the mostly-empty jetliner.

HB-JNJ at Boeing's Everett delivery center.

HB-JNJ at Boeing’s Everett delivery center

The premium sections are very Euro styled, with warm colors and plenty of right angles. The sliding privacy screen/hanging closet in first is a very nice touch.

The view across the plane from first class is quite a bit more private than back in coach.

The view across the plane from first class is quite a bit more private than back in coach.

First class suites feature dimmable privacy glass on three sides and a 32″ video screen. The seat reclines to an 80″ bed.

The front of the plane is very spacious - this is business class.

The front of the plane is very spacious – this is business class

Business class also features lie-flat beds of more than two meters in length (appx. 6′ 5.6″), with a 16″ video screen. Wifi is available throughout the aircraft, for a fee, of course.

Swiss says that the giant video screens in first class are the largest in the industry.
An overhead view of the first-class seating.
Another view of the first-class seating.

There was a lot of excitement surrounding the delivery — it was the farthest thing from a somber event. Lots of smiles, lots of photos, lots of energy.

The formal part of the delivery ceremony, complete with a Northwest-style buffet.
Attendees of the delivery ceremony take photos on the ramp.
The obligatory group photo, complete with a show of 10 fingers for 10 airplanes delivered.

And, with that, the big jet was on its way to Zurich.

Swiss' newest 777-300 departing from Paine Field, headed for Zurich on a typical rainy and windy spring day in the Pacific Northwest.

Swiss’ newest 777-300ER departing from Paine Field, headed for Zurich on a typical rainy and windy spring day in the Pacific Northwest.

The post Swiss Takes Delivery of its 10th and Final 777-300ER appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 28, 2018 at 06:22PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

PHOTOS: Boeing’s Smallest 737, the MAX 7, Take…

PHOTOS: Boeing’s Smallest 737, the MAX 7, Takes its First Flight:

The new 737 MAX 7 departs from Renton on its first flight.

The new 737 MAX 7 departs from Renton on its first flight

Boeing’s newest offering, the 737 MAX 7, took to the skies on March 16, an uncharacteristically sunny, blue-sky day for a Boeing first flight — most all of them in recent memory have taken place on truly miserable days.

Crews prepare the jet for departure.

Crews prepare the jet for departure

The new jet is the smallest of the MAX family, has a seating capacity of 138-172, and a range of 3,850 nautical miles, which is the longest reach of any of the MAX models. Southwest Airlines, with its famously all-Boeing 737 fleet, is listed as the launch customer, with a scheduled entry in to service of 2019.

A large contingent of Boeing staff and visitors was on hand to watch the first flight.

A large contingent of Boeing staff and visitors was on hand to watch the first flight

The flight took off from Boeing’s Renton facility, without a hitch, at 10:17 a.m., accompanied by one of Boeings T-33 chase planes, for a successful three-hour, five-minute flight, landing at 1:22 p.m. at Seattle’s Boeing Field. According to Boeing, the airplane was put through tests on its flight controls, as well as checks of its systems and handling qualities.

Flight crew prepare the plane for takeoff.
The fact that the "experimental" signage is apparently temporary means this jet might find its way into service with an airline after certification is complete.
The MAX 7 shares the signature advanced winglets.

It was soon followed into the air at Renton Airport by a Japan Airlines 737-800, also on its first flight, which was a nice treat.

BONUS: The MAX 7 rolled out of the factory on Feb. 5

The Renton factory pumps out 47 of various derivatives of the 737 per month, on the way up to 52 per month at some point this year. The runway at Renton Municipal Airport is where every 737 ever built first takes to the skies.

The fourth and final MAX variant, the larger MAX 10, is expected to enter service in 2020.

According to Boeing, the MAX program has garnered more than 4,300 orders from 93 customers, making it the fastest-selling airplane in the company’s history.

According to Boeing, the MAX program has garnered more than 4,300 orders from 93 customers, making it the fastest-selling airplane in the company’s history

Currently, the MAX 7 is the slowest-selling variant by a lot. Instead, many carriers are opting for the larger -8 and -9 models. All models are powered by CFM’s LEAP-1B engines and feature Boeing’s Advanced Technology split winglets.

The MAX 7 rotates for takeoff.

The MAX 7 rotates for takeoff

Boeing’s newest jet competes directly with the Airbus A319 in what analysts view as a limited market, although both manufacturers have invested in upgraded offerings in that niche. The MAX 7’s longer range and hot-and-high performance make it suitable for airports such as Denver International (DEN), Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International (JHB), and Mexico City (MEX).

Taxiing for departure.
The MAX 7 and a T-33 chase plane head north over Lake Washington.

Experientially, the new jets are surprisingly quiet, even when standing on a midfield ramp during takeoff. That was made even more evident as one of Boeing’s two elderly, yet still quite serviceable, T-33 chase planes settled into place behind the departing MAX 7, with its wonderfully loud Allison J33-A-35 engine totally drowning out the new MAX 7’s departure.

The post PHOTOS: Boeing’s Smallest 737, the MAX 7, Takes its First Flight appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 21, 2018 at 04:17PM Source: http://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

jetBlue’s New Mint Premium Service Arrives in …

jetBlue’s New Mint Premium Service Arrives in Seattle:

JetBlue's Mint seating is available on certain A321s.

JetBlue’s Mint seating is available on certain A321s.

In the premium transcontinental game Seattle doesn’t get much attention, but things are about to change with the introduction of jetBlue’s Mint product.  While the premium experience might not be the first of its type in the US market, it does give Seattle a true shot at giving passengers something better than a domestic, first class, seat to sit in for about six hours. During jetBlue’s recent inaugural flight, from Boston (BOS) to Seattle (SEA), we were able to give their Mint seats a proper test-sit in the name of journalistic thoroughness.

JetBlue loves to name it's jets, too. This one is called "One Mint, Two Mint, Blue Mint, You Mint."

JetBlue loves to name it’s jets, too. This one is called “One Mint, Two Mint, Blue Mint, You Mint.”

The seats recline to 6’8″, which jetBlue claims is the longest lie-flat domestic seats in the biz. Perks of the new service include gate-to-gate Fly-Fi WiFi, an extended slate of in-flight entertainment options on a 15″ seatback screen, fancy headphones, and even fancier meals from a menu that changes monthly.


JetBlue's Mint route map.

JetBlue currently lists 17 routes with Mint service, and an 18th, SEA-JFK, will start in April, 2018.

BONUS: A Closer Look at the jetBlue Mint Product 

JetBlue's main cabin still boasts one of the highest domestic seat pitches.

JetBlue’s main cabin still boasts one of the highest domestic seat pitches.

And, just because we’re plane nerds at heart, here are some fun photos of the exterior of the plane:



The aircraft flown in for the flight, N982JB, was delivered on Aug. 17, 2017, so it’s only six month old — still pretty much brand new. Have to love that new air plane smell!



While we didn’t fly with them this trip, watch for a proper flight review in the near future.



The post jetBlue’s New Mint Premium Service Arrives in Seattle appeared first on AirlineReporter.

February 23, 2018 at 05:22PM Source: http://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

More Farewell Tours Than The Who: Delta’s Endl…

More Farewell Tours Than The Who: Delta’s Endless 747 Retirement Party:

Delta's Queen of the Skies took a victory lap across the country on Dec. 18.

Delta’s Queen of the Skies (N674US) took a victory lap across the country on Dec. 18

With Delta Air Lines’ last 747 now in the boneyard at Pinal Airpark in Arizona, we thought it would be a good time to look back at the next-to-last farewell tour in late December when it visited both the Boeing plant of its birth and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

N674US taxiing at Paine Field in Everett. Wash. Photo: Jordan Arens

N674US taxiing at Paine Field in Everett – Photo: Jordan Arens

This particular bird (N674US – LN: 1232) first flew on September 30, 1999 and was delivered to Northwest in October of that year. It was transferred to Delta’s fleet in June of 2009 and flew with the airline until being put out to pasture. With the retirement of these iconic planes from Delta’s fleet, no U.S.-based passenger airline flies them any longer (unless you count Atlas and their charters).

Landing at Sea-Tac.

Landing at Sea-Tac

We will still see 747s visiting the States in the liveries of quite a few international airlines, including Lufthansa, British Airways, and KLM. Also, UPS is buying several dedicated 747-8 freighters, so there are still opportunities for AvGeeks to enjoy watching the plane that launched the era of the jumbo jet. We wanted to share some photos and videos from both on the ground and in the air as part of this historic goodbye.

Still graceful after all these years. Photo: Jordan Arens

Still graceful after all these years – Photo: Jordan Arens

For a while, there were two Delta 747-400s at Sea-Tac. This one landed a few minutes before the farewell tour and was parked inside a maintenance hangar as a centerpiece for a party. It was later used to fly the Seattle Seahawks to a game someplace (we're not sportsball fans here at AirlineReporter - we only pay attention to the planes).

For a while, there were two Delta 747-400s at Sea-Tac. This one landed a few minutes before the farewell tour and was parked inside a maintenance hangar as a centerpiece for a party. It was later used to fly the Seattle Seahawks to a game someplace (we’re not all sportsball fans here at AirlineReporter – we only pay attention to the planes).

A special decal was applied to the port side of the tour aircraft to commemorate the series of flights. Photo: Jordan Arens

A special decal was applied to the port side of the tour aircraft to commemorate the series of flights – Photo: Jordan Arens



For a while, there were four 747s at Sea-Tac that day: the two Delta 744s, a Lufthansa 744, and a Singapore Airlines Cargo 744 freighter.

For a while, there were four 747s at Sea-Tac that day: the two Delta 744s, a Lufthansa 744, and a Singapore Airlines Cargo 744 freighter

And if the photos were not enough, here are some sweet videos of the flight deck, taken by our friend Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren (videos are USA Today, pool):

The post More Farewell Tours Than The Who: Delta’s Endless 747 Retirement Party appeared first on AirlineReporter.

January 16, 2018 at 03:01PM Source: http://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu