Category: fligh

Photo Review: Hong Kong Airlines’ Club Autus L…

Photo Review: Hong Kong Airlines’ Club Autus Lounge:

If you had to pick any place to kill some time, Hong Kong International Airport ain’t a bad choice. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture, it offers great runway views, and it has a lounge scene that’s arguably second to none. Most of its best known lounges belong to hometown juggernaut Cathay Pacific, which sets a pretty high bar for excellence in the ground experience at HKG.

Enter player two: Hong Kong Airlines. Their inflight product was a joy to fly on their A350s — you can read that review here. During our brief time on the ground in Hong Kong, we made sure to drop by the airline’s brand-new “Club Autus” Lounge at the HKG midfield concourse, where most of the airline’s long haul flights depart. The lounge delivers all the necessities plus some bonus creature comforts, and does it with style — if sometimes a very quirky style. But after a few hours getting watered and fed, taking a shower, and enjoying some stellar runway views, we’d give Club Autus two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Read on for more photos and details about the new player on HKG’s lounge circuit.

Club Autus is available to Hong Kong Airlines business class passengers, Fortune Wings program premium status holders, and can also be purchased for HKD 350 (~$45 USD) by anyone else flying the airline.

At the center of Hong Kong International Airport’s midfield concourse, a sign points flyers upstairs to Club Autus’ entrance. The lounge opened late last year. Previously, Hong Kong Airlines’ only lounge at the airport was Club Bauhinia, located in the main concourse. That space is still open, and is now probably less crowded than it used to be thanks to Club Autus’ opening. Bear in mind that if you buy a voucher, you’re not allowed to hop between lounges, so you’ll have to pick one.

Just past the entry desk, a shelf welcomed travelers with reading material. I had a hard time figuring out how to describe Club Autus’ style, which featured lots of wood and earthy tones with a few real plants. Forest-contemporary, maybe?

There’s a variety of seating near the entrance, including a set of broad curved tabletops.

BONUS: A Helicopter Flightseeing Tour of Hong Kong

Running the length of the center section of the lounge is the bar and dining area — a really nice looking space decked out with honeycomb shelves.

The bar is staffed and features a signature cocktail that’s contains a layer of rose syrup.

If you’re not in the mood for something boozy, there’s a huge selection of teas further down the bar, along with coffee and juices.

Food is one of this places’ strong suits. The highlight is a made-to-order noodle bar. You place your order at the counter and take a seat somewhere in the lounge, and someone will bring your noodles right to you.

Then there’s a significant spread of self-serve salads, snacks, shu mai, and some heavier fare.

I was saving my appetite for the flight, so I skipped the noodles and grabbed a small sampling of the snacky stuff. Then I scoped out a place to sit. The full time I was there, the lounge was never so crowded that it was hard to find a place to sit, though the seating closest to the entrance did get a bit crowded. I can’t speak to crowd factors in the early morning or later in the day, though.

Past the dining area, there was some couch-style seating that wrapped around a small computer station, which also had a printer.

BONUS: ANA Ambassador Report – Two AvGeeks Visit Hong Kong

Next was a small nook with high-back chairs surrounded by some snazzy shelves. Although the terminal roof is cavernous, the ring-like ceiling fixtures in this portion of the lounge gave it a more cloistered, comfy feel. 

The rearmost part of the lounge offers the best view of the ramp. So obviously that’s where I chose to hunker down.

Rest & Relaxation

There’s a dimly lit nook towards the back of the lounge with a few nap stations, along with a massage chair.

The lounge offers travelers shower facilities. The shower room was large, looked great, was spotlessly clean, and had the full range of amenities.

BONUS: Photo Tour of Asiana Airlines’ Business Class Lounge at Seoul Incheon International Airport

It was definitely one of the best in-airport shower experiences I’ve had. Feeling nice and refreshed, I headed for my gate.

The Verdict

Hong Kong Airlines offers a strong inflight product on its new A350s, but does it have the ground experience to match? After dropping by the new Club Autus, I’d say it absolutely does. The main ingredients for a competitive flagship lounge — made-to-order food, sleep spaces, showers, and views — are all present and accounted for. Clearly a lot of attention went into Club Autus’ style and design, and the result is a genuinely great looking space. It’s a bit hard to know exactly what brand image Hong Kong Airlines is trying to cultivate, but based on Club Autus, it feels like they’re going for amenities on par with their local full service competitors (namely Cathay) but with a less formal, more whimsical style.

I wouldn’t list Club Autus in my personal list of my top five favorite lounges, but I’d give it a strong 4.5 stars out of 5. It’s definitely worth dropping by if you have access, and if you don’t have access but you have a layover longer than two hours, you may find a HKD 350 (~$45 USD) voucher worth it — especially if you’re in need of a meal and shower.

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. What’s your take on Club Autus? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

The post Photo Review: Hong Kong Airlines’ Club Autus Lounge appeared first on AirlineReporter.

June 14, 2018 at 04:34PM Source:

United Unveils Its New Polaris Lounge in San F…

United Unveils Its New Polaris Lounge in San Francisco:

Here in 2018, we know two things about United’s new premium Polaris product. First, from what we’ve seen of it, it’s pretty awesome. Second, we haven’t actually seen that much of it. Seriously, the rollout has taken its sweet time! In the friendly skies, most of United’s long-haul fleet is still flying the pre-Polaris product. And on the ground, the Chicago Polaris lounge — which is amazing, by the way — has been the lone lounge of its kind for over a year.

That is, until now! At long last, United opened its second Polaris lounge at its San Francisco International Airport hub. We got the chance to swing by shortly after it opened, and it turns out the place was well worth the wait. Read on for an in-depth photo tour of United’s second-ever Polaris lounge, from dining and drinks to shower rooms and aircraft views.

Are you flying Polaris business class overseas on this beauty? Then welcome to the Polaris lounge!

SFO’s Polaris lounge is located just after security in the G concourse of the international terminal, which hosts United and most of its international Star Alliance partners. For those familiar with SFO, the Polaris lounge occupies the space formerly held by the United Club, PLUS the old Singapore Airlines and EVA Air lounges, PLUS some extra space that wasn’t being utilized before. The end result is a 28,000 square foot behemoth that United hopes will be able to handle swarms of travelers with ease. That’s good news, since the Polaris lounge in Chicago has been struggling with severe crowding issues.

The Polaris lounge is located just after security in the G concourse – Image:

A banner at the entrance outlines the basics of Polaris lounge access.

Polaris lounges are pretty exclusive. Specifically, they’re limited to:

  • Polaris business class and first class passengers (first classers get to bring a guest).
  • Star Alliance long-haul international passengers in first or business class (again, first classers get to bring a guest).

If you have Star Alliance status or any of the criteria for United lounge access other than the ones above, you’ll be directed to the regular United Club farther down the G concourse, which was formerly the Global First lounge.

The entry desk and corridor are decked out in marble.

The lounge spans two levels, with passengers entering on the lower of the two. Most of the seating is on the upper floor. Each section has a catchy title, and the lower floor features the “library.”

Note the Polaris star-shaped design of the drinks counter. Cool touch!

Beyond the library, flyers can find the “valet,” guardian and protector of the shower rooms and nap spaces.

Just like in the Chicago Polaris lounge, the shower hallway here sports a starry-sky ceiling.

The eight shower rooms are large, tastefully decorated, and well stocked with Cowshed amenities. The shampoo and soap in the shower is from a dispenser rather than individual bottles.

Adjoining the shower section is a hallway with five bookable daybeds. They’re comfortable for a moment’s rest, but the shape of the furniture isn’t particularly conducive to sleeping. The fact that the beds face a bright window doesn’t help either.

The majority of the lounge’s 440 seats, along with all the food, is up on the second level.

The lounge’s enormous scale is clear once you hit the top of the escalators.

At one end, close to where the bar used to be in the old United Club, there’s a space called the studio. The tentative plan is to use it as an event space, for wine tastings and the like.

The entire length of the lounge fronts windows with an amazing view high over the ramp. While you don’t get a great view of the runways themselves, you can see departing heavies ascend over Terminal 3. As an added bonus, I found a spotting scope by one of the windows.

Near the center of the second floor there are a few workrooms if you need privacy to make a phone call.

Across from those rooms is the traveler assistance desk.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the lounge’s excellent decor. A number of the art pieces here are apparently on loan from SF MOMA‘s collection.

The style factor goes turbo at the lounge’s centerpiece bar, which looks all sorts of cool. And with a countertop lit from below, I’m guessing it looks even better at night.

The SF drink list features cocktails that were invented in California: pisco punch and the mai tai. The rest of the list ain’t bad, either. Personally I’d probably go for the Paper Plane. Mostly because of the name.

Last but not least, all things food-related can be found at the furthest corner of the lounge. There’s a huge range of self-serve items…

… from a DIY noodle bar …

… to more hefty items like chicken scallopini.

On the snackier side, there are cute mini-cups of Cobb salad:


A sushi bar:

And a mouth-watering lineup of desserts, including matcha green tea cannoli.

But the Polaris lounge’s real crowning jewel — probably the single feature that does most to set it apart from the pack — is the full service restaurant. It’s called “the dining room.”

The menu looked impressive, though unfortunately I didn’t have time to try anything for myself.

The Final Verdict

I’ll be honest: coming into 2018, I was feeling pretty frustrated at how long United was taking to open the Polaris lounge in San Francisco. But having finally seen the result, I’d say that the wait was worth it. As U.S. legacy airline lounges go, United’s Polaris lounges are a complete game changer. I’d actually go out of my way to get to the airport early just to hang out at the San Francisco Polaris lounge for a while.

Here’s my rundown of the biggest positive factors:

  • The place is ENORMOUS. I can’t imagine that overcrowding will be a major problem.
  • I absolutely love the design touches, from the furniture and lighting down to the design of the printed menus.
  • Showers and places to nap go a long way in making long layovers more relaxing and refreshing.
  • The food scene is best-in-class, especially with full service restaurant-style dining available.

My gripes about the place are few and far in between. The food is in the farthest corner of the lounge, so the lounge isn’t great for grabbing a snack to go. Also, the nap rooms face a bright window, which may not make for the best sleep experience.

More Polaris Lounges To Come

Luckily for us, Polaris lounges will start opening at a faster pace. This week, Newark Liberty (EWR) gets a Polaris lounge of its own — one just as large as the SFO lounge. Houston opens on July 29th, and LAX in the fall. Polaris lounges are also in progress at Washington Dulles, Tokyo Narita, London Heathrow, and Hong Kong, though there’s no official word on when they’ll open.

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Is this a lounge you’d make time to visit? Have you been to any of United’s Polaris lounges, and if so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

The post United Unveils Its New Polaris Lounge in San Francisco appeared first on AirlineReporter.

June 04, 2018 at 03:59PM Source:

Flight Review: Hong Kong Airlines’ Impressive …

Flight Review: Hong Kong Airlines’ Impressive A350 Business Class, SFO-HKG:

Hong Kong is a dazzling city. With a dazzling international airport. And some great hometown airlines. Though not the oldest or largest among them, Hong Kong Airlines has arguably been the most exciting over the past year, launching new long-haul routes to North America on the wings of its small new fleet of Airbus A350s. With that unique aircraft’s help, the airline launched service to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver over the past year.

We have a blast reviewing airlines for the first time, and we got to do exactly that with Hong Kong Airlines on a flight to its Hong Kong (HKG) hub from San Francisco (SFO), barely a month after the route launched. From the fresh and roomy business class seats to the impressive dining experience, we found a lot to get excited about. Plus there’s the AvGeek joy of flying on the relatively new A350!

Read on for plenty of photos, videos, and thoughts on Hong Kong Airlines’ A350 inflight experience.

On the ground @ SFO

Hong Kong Airlines’ check-in counters at San Francisco International (SFO) are right next to security.

Hong Kong Airlines’ check-in counters at SFO

A lot of international airlines don’t yet participate in the TSA PreCheck program, and Hong Kong Airlines is no exception. But with my business class boarding pass I was guided into the priority security queue, which cut down significantly on my time in line.

Hong Kong Airlines doesn’t have its own lounge at SFO. Business class passengers get access to the Air France KLM lounge, which is nothing special and tends to get crowded. Besides some pretty solid views of the ramp, it’s not worth getting to the airport early for. 

Air France / KLM Lounge @ SFO

I dropped by for just long enough to check the lounge out, then headed for the gate.


Before boarding, I caught a glimpse of the plane that would be taking me the 6,000+ nautical miles to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Airlines A350

Exploring the Cabin

Hong Kong Airlines business class cabin

Hong Kong Airlines business class cabin

Hong Kong Airlines’ first four A350s — the entire fleet for now — feature a staggered 1-2-1-across business class product. Similar layouts can be found on airlines like Asiana and Iberia, though the version on this A350 looked particularly fresh. Both the seat upholstery and the overall cabin color palette were comparable to what you’d find on Hong Kong Airlines’ sister, Hainan Airlines.

We’ll share some tips on seat selection in a separate article, but the main takeaway is that window seats in even-numbered rows are amazing for solo travelers, offering the best window views and lots of privacy. I was seated in 20K, the rearmost window seat on the right side.

Hong Kong Airlines business class seat 20K

My seat was exceptionally wide, offered great privacy, had a spacious footwell, and had plenty of space for inflight storage (though most of it could not be used during takeoff and landing).

Beside me, a ledge offered place for storing small items. Two USB ports, a three-prong headphone port, my IFE remote, and my reading light were within easy reach.

The seat goes fully flat. As a nice point of differentiation from other airlines’ version of this seat, a set of pads along the sidewall make the already wide seat into an even wider bed. It’s the widest fully-flat bed I’ve ever flown in business class.

Hong Kong Airlines A350 flat bed business class seat

I do wish the seat padding was softer or more contoured. The seat is so firm that it’s a bit hard to get 100% comfortable, both in the upright position and in the sleeping position. Hopefully the padding softens up as the seats get used more.

Staggered seat arrangements may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but future A350 deliveries are likely going to receive a reverse herringbone seat that will be extra-spacious and offer more consistency between seats. Hong Kong Airlines picked up their first few A350s after another airline canceled their order, thus the inconsistency in product.

BONUS: My First Flight on the Airbus A350


The purser came through the cabin to introduce himself, followed by a flight attendant with a choice of non-alcoholic drink, inflight service menus, and slippers.

The slippers came in one size only and were a little small for my feet.

Boarding was completed on schedule, and I enjoyed an amazing view out the window as we departed SFO to the northwest.

Inflight Service

Flight attendants wasted no time kicking things off once we were in the air. Precisely fifteen minutes after takeoff I was served champagne and mixed nuts.

Drink in hand, I took a look through the menu. The cover and contents were filled with playful illustrations. An intro page noted that “as an airline that is growing its global presence, we believe in introducing you to an authentic taste of the many destinations we now serve.” For this flight, this meant featuring items from local S.F. chef Chris Consentino.

The meal began with a unique kohlrabi caesar with shrimp, along with a simple but refreshing salad. They tasted as great as they looked, complementing each other wonderfully flavor-wise.

Kohlrabi caesar, shrimp, parmesan, and sourdough croutons with an organic side salad

Flight attendants were excellent about serving each passenger at their own pace. The complexity of that approach did lead to the occasional hiccup — like me getting offered my entree before my soup had arrived. But that was fixed quickly, and the rich cream of mushroom soup was very worth it, as was the excellent garlic bread.

Cream of mushroom soup

For my entree I went with the SF chef-inspired short rib, which was melt-in-your-mouth tender. Given that it was part of a five-course meal, I appreciated that the portion wasn’t overwhelming.

Braised beef short rib, white bean puree, broccolini, and pickled peppers

To close out my huge and very tasty meal, I tried the cheese selection, the strawberry-balsamic panna cotta, and some port.

Panna cotta, strawberries, and balsamic vinegar, with cheese plate

It was a very impressive meal for business class. Every dish was presented beautifully and had flavor to match.

Inflight Entertainment

My flight was a noon departure and I was in no mood for sleep after lunch, so I dove into the inflight entertainment options. My favorite were the two external live camera views, a total AvGeek win!

The airshow was one of the sleekest and most customizable ones I’ve seen.

There were more than enough movies — including recent releases — to keep me occupied on both the outbound and my later return leg.

The library of television shows was a bit more limited.

BONUS: Jason Watches the Airbus A350-1000 Fly for the First Time

Business class earphones looked, felt, and sounded relatively cheap. At least they didn’t have to block much sound out, since the A350’s forward cabin is a quiet ride.

Inflight WiFi was available for $20 for the full flight, which was a great deal. Speeds varied but were generally usable.

Who else loves hunkering down with a blanket and a drink and rewatching movies on planes?


Rest & Refresh

Hong Kong Airlines offers a set of L’Occitane amenities in a simple Hong Kong-themed canvas case.

The business class cabin had two modestly-sized lavatories. Each was stocked with extra L’Occitane hand products.

I finally started feeling drowsy and decided to get some sleep. Hong Kong Airlines’ pillow and blanket are both soft, and the pillow in particular is very substantial.

Before drifting off, I took a moment to appreciate the overhead mood lighting, which together with the overhead bin design on the A350 gave the cabin a stylish and roomy feel. One of the many advantages of flying a new aircraft model!

Thanks to the bedding and the extra-wide fully-flat bed, I had no trouble getting a solid six hours of restful sleep.

Mid-flight Snacking

I woke up as we were just south of Kobe, Japan. I took a look at the inflight snack menu and ordered the selection of dim sum, which hit the spot.

For those looking for something simpler, flight attendants had set up a self-serve snack station in the galley. Between meals, flight attendants were pretty hands-off, though they were a few seconds away with the help of the call button.

Final Meal Service

Speaking of food, there were only 90 minutes left in the flight and it was time for the final meal service, which was billed as a “refreshment.” I opted for the stir fried shrimp with egg white and yellow chives, e-fu noodles, and seasonal vegetables. Along with some raspberry mousse cake, the meal was enjoyable, though not as memorable as the first service. As per usual for Hong Kong Airlines, warm bread (including some more awesome garlic bread) was served with the meal.

My flight attendants made quick work of the dishes when I was done, leaving me with plenty of time to freshen up before enjoying a beautiful descent into Hong Kong.

I caught a final look at the gorgeous A350 as I deplaned.

Then it was off towards immigration on the people-mover…

… and then into the city just in time to see it shine by night.

BONUS: Qatar Airways Airbus A350 Long-Haul Review — Inaugural Service to Boston

The Final Verdict

Hong Kong Airlines may be a new player in North America, but they’ve busted onto the scene with style. Hong Kong isn’t an easy market for a new airline to prove itself in, with juggernaut Cathay Pacific known for a strong overall inflight and ground experience. But I’d say Hong Kong Airlines can hold its own against its local competitor and other airlines connecting Asia and North America.

Here’s a recap of the winning factors:

  • Flying new planes is always a treat, and it’s hard to get much newer than Hong Kong Airlines’ brand-new A350s.
  • The business class seat is plenty wide, and with the lateral expanders along the sidewall it became the widest flat bed I’ve ever slept on in business class.
  • I’m a foodie, and the five-course main meal service was amazing from both taste and presentation perspectives. Featuring dishes inspired by local chefs in the departure city is a nice touch.
  • Service was friendly and professional. This was an invited flight experience, but taking a look at other passengers’ service on my flight (plus what I’ve read elsewhere), I think flight crews for Hong Kong Airlines’ long-haul flights are often above average.

Of course, there’s always room to improve. Although Hong Kong Airlines’ business class seat is incredibly spacious, the overly firm seatback and seat pan keep it from delivering peak comfort. A mattress pad could go a long way in addressing that issue. For the San Francisco route, I wish they contracted with a different lounge, because the Air France/KLM space was crowded before my flight’s departure. Finally, the airline’s lack of participation in a global alliance makes it a bit less accessible and less rewarding to fly from a miles/points perspective.

All told, I found Hong Kong Airlines’ business class experience impressive and well above average. I’d go out of my way to fly them again.

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. What did you think about our take on Hong Kong Airlines’ A350? Have you flown the airline before? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The post Flight Review: Hong Kong Airlines’ Impressive A350 Business Class, SFO-HKG appeared first on AirlineReporter.

May 23, 2018 at 07:07PM Source:

Star Alliance Battle Royale: Asiana vs EVA vs …

Star Alliance Battle Royale: Asiana vs EVA vs SAS vs Turkish vs United:

Meet the competitors! – Photos: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Reviewing airlines is fun. But ranking them is even better! I got to review five Star Alliance premium cabins in 2017, and in the spirit of a little healthy competition I wanted to consider how they stacked up against each other. Our contenders are a Taiwanese AvGeek favorite with a penchant for Hello Kitty, a legacy U.S. carrier with a knack for being in the news, one of South Korea’s largest long-haul airlines, Scandinavia’s hometown favorite, and a company that’s looking to become the dominant Middle Eastern airline.

The routes we flew –

Read on as we rank United Airlines, EVA Air, SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and Asiana Airlines across a range of categories including lounges, seat design, dining experience, service, amenities, and in-flight entertainment. By the end, we’ll see if any of our contenders can rise to the level of champion!

Rules For a Fair Fight

In each category I’ll award a winner, a runner-up, an occasional honorable mention, and a loser. I’m basing my ranking purely on my experience on five flights — one on each airline — which is a pretty small sample size. Also, comparing airlines is subjective. So don’t consider this to be a definitive ranking. Your experience on these airlines may vary! FYI, these airlines may have made tweaks to their product since I flew them.

At London Heathrow, Star Alliance airlines operate out of the gorgeous new Queen’s Terminal – Photo: Star Alliance

Since some of our contenders offer more than one premium cabin experience, let me clarify which ones I’m comparing:

  • Asiana: Business Smartium class on a 777-200ER from Seoul Incheon (ICN) to London Heathrow (LHR) — here’s our trip report.
  • EVA: Royal Laurel business class on a Hello Kitty 777-300ER from Paris (CDG) to Taipei (TPE) — here’s part 1 and part 2 of our trip report.
  • SAS: Business class on an A340-300 from San Francisco (SFO) to Copenhagen (CPH) — here’s our trip report.
  • Turkish: Business class on a 777-300ER from San Francisco (SFO) to Istanbul (IST) — here’s our trip report.
  • United: Polaris Global First class on a 747-400 from London Heathrow (LHR) to San Francisco (SFO) — here’s our trip report. But wait! Isn’t comparing first class to other airlines’ business class an unfair advantage? Fair point, but nowadays United’s Global First is just Polaris business class service with a bigger, older seat.

Let’s get started!

Round One: The Seat

Winner: EVA

EVA bedding – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

It’s hard to beat EVA’s renowned Royal Laurel business class seat. It’s a reverse-herringbone universal-aisle-access design that’s remarkably consistent across EVA’s long-haul 777 fleet. The seat is spacious, plush, private, well-designed, and convertible to a fully-flat bed. It offers a spacious footwell and sufficient storage. Slam dunk.

Runner-Up: SAS

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

SAS Scandinavian Airlines redesigned the seats on its long-haul A340s and A330s in 2016, and the result is impressive. The 1-2-1 seating configuration gives everyone direct aisle access, although half of the seats are more exposed to the aisle because of the staggered design. The seats flatten out into a long and roomy bed. In addition to the comfort factor, I think the charcoal grey tones with golden orange accents makes for a great appearance.

Honorable Mention: United

I DQ’ed them from medal consideration in this category since I flew a first class seat, but felt they deserved a mention.

I ended up liking my battle-worn Global First seat more than I was expecting. It’s not a flashy design, but it was incredibly comfortable. As time goes on, United passengers will see less of this seat, and more of United’s new Polaris cabin, which also makes for a comfy ride. All things considered I’d be just as glad to fly the Polaris seat as the Global First seat since it has more privacy, even though it’s much less spacious.

Not part of the formal comparison, but here’s a look at United’s new Polaris seat

Of course, the dorm-style eight-abreast business class configuration still flying in a lot of United’s planes should be avoided at all costs.

BONUS: Touring SWISS’ New Flagship Boeing 777-300ER

Last Place: Turkish

Turkish Airlines’ business class is a forward-facing, 2-3-2 abreast configuration. The seat and finishes looked pretty fresh on my flight, but that can’t compensate for the lack of privacy and of universal aisle access. God forbid if you get stuck in the middle seat in the center section — yuck! As a silver lining, Turkish provides a firm lumbar pillow that’s very comfortable.

Round Two: Dining

Winner: Turkish

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

When the legendary catering company DO&CO is involved, this category becomes a no contest. My dinner on my flight to Istanbul is hands-down the best meal I’ve ever had on a plane. Each dish was elegantly plated and tasted amazing, with fresh ingredients and bold flavors. Turkish brands its dining services as “gourmet entertainment” and they definitely deliver on that hype.

Runner-Up: Asiana

Real-deal Korean barbecue on a plane? Sign me up! It may not have been the most elegant meal, but it was seriously tasty. Asiana excels at providing authentic Korean flavors alongside more conventional Western entree options.

BONUS: Flying the Gourmet Skies – Turkish Airlines Business Class

I spent a long time thinking about which airline would be loser in this category, and in the end, none of the three remaining contenders felt right. I liked the dining experiences on United, EVA, and SAS overall, though not as much as on Turkish or Asiana. So I’m going to call it a wash.

Round Three: Drinks

Winner: EVA

Krug Rosé, anyone? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

On my Hello Kitty-themed service, the champagne of the day was a gorgeous Krug rosé, which retails for well over $200 a bottle on the ground. If you needed hard evidence that EVA invests in its drink selection, there you have it. The rest of the wine list was good too, though I would steer clear of some of their bright green cocktails.

Runner-Up: SAS

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

SAS Scandinavian Airlines did an excellent job showcasing its hometown distillers and breweries. It also wasn’t afraid to get adventurous with mixology, and their “beer cocktail” was one of the tastiest and more unique drinks I’ve ever had on a plane.

SAS: After-dinner cognac, anyone? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

BONUS: Flying Business Class on a Singapore Airlines 777-300ER

Honorable Mention: Asiana

Asiana has some Korean drink options to go with its meal selections, and the Korean rice wine that my flight attendant recommended went exceptionally well with my meal.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Last Place: United

Wine list – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

United’s selection of wines was blah for business class … and I was flying in first class. I was bummed they weren’t offering the signature Polaris wine tasting trio on my trip. I do give them style points for the champagne glass stand, although it’s a bit impractical. In recent months United has pared back some of the beverage-related features, and the specialty bloody mary cart that I enjoyed on my flight is now a thing of the past.

Oh Polaris bloody mary cart, we hardly knew ye – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Round Four: Crew & Service

Winner: Asiana

My Asiana crew gave me a warm welcome onboard. They took the time to advise me on food-drink pairings and were never far away when my glass needed refilling. They were the perfect mix of efficiency and friendliness. Well done!

Runners-Up: EVA and SAS

My EVA crew was impressively proactive, though not particularly conversant. My SAS crew was personable, but meal service loses style points because some meals are served on trays instead of directly onto your tray table. Between the two, I’ll call it a tie.

Last Place: United

I’ve had my share of very positive experiences with United crews, but it’s no secret that service can be hit-or-miss with the U.S. legacy airlines. And on my flight in Global First, it was definitely more miss than hit. My flight attendant was uninformed about Polaris benefits, turning down my requests for a turndown service and a Polaris cooling gel pillow. These fails definitely detracted from what was otherwise a fun flight.

BONUS: Air India – Reputation vs. Reality

Round Five: Amenities

Winner: EVA

EVA Air’s snazzy Rimowa amenity kits – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

EVA Air’s Apujan pajamas – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

A good selection of amenities in a stylish Rimowa case + pajamas in business class = gold medal for this category. If only the Hello Kitty flights came with Hello Kitty amenity cases!

Runner-Up: United

Even if I subtract out the items that only come in the Global First kit, United offers a nice range of amenities in stylish cases.

Last Place: SAS

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Out of our contenders, SAS offered the most basic amenity kit — though in fairness it’s comparable with what many other European carriers offer.

BONUS: Tour of the New Star Alliance Lounge at LAX

Round Six: Inflight Entertainment

Winner: SAS

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

“A” through “F” on the new releases menu – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

SAS offers a good selection of movies on a delightfully large and crisp screen. For AvGeeks, there’s also two external camera views! But maybe the biggest win for SAS is the free and reasonably fast WiFi for all business class passengers — and even premium economy passengers. That’s definitely enough to take the gold.

Runner-Up: Turkish Airlines

Turkish offered a great library of movies on a sleek interface, including a handheld remote with its own built-in display. The images above were taken of the remote.

Last Place: Asiana

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

At least on the relatively old 777 I flew, the entertainment system was hard to use and the screen was grainy. The library of movies was pretty limited, too.

Final Round: Lounges

Winner: Turkish

As far as business class lounges go, it doesn’t get any better than this place – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Turkish Airlines’ flagship lounge in Istanbul Ataturk (IST) is seriously insane! Spread over two levels, this place has a mind-blowing selection of food, a movie screening room, video games, and even a golf swing simulator. If you haven’t already, you’ve got to check out our article on the place.

Runner-Up: United

London Heathrow Global First lounge – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Both the Global First and Business Class lounges at London Heathrow are gorgeously decorated and offer gorgeous shower facilities. Not counting the new Polaris lounges, I think United’s Heathrow lounges are the best ones in their network.

BONUS: Photo Tour of Asiana’s Business Class Lounge at Seoul Incheon Airport

Last Place: EVA

I guess someone in the design department at EVA was a fan of the Tron movie? The futuristic vibe at this EVA lounge in Taipei was a little over the top for me. And neither the seating nor the food were impressive.

Crowning Our Champions

After seven full rounds, I was surprised how close the fight was. All our competitors managed to snag their share of winning performances across our categories. It was tough to pick a top three, but here it goes!

Gold medal: EVA

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Combine a spacious seat that’s consistent across the fleet, best-in-class amenities, and a well-rounded onboard dining experience and you’ve got a recipe for a gold medal. The sense of fun from the Hello Kitty flight was icing on the cake. I can see why EVA is an AvGeek favorite.

Silver Medal: SAS

The forward business class cabin – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Coming off an excellent long-haul cabin refresh, SAS Scandinavian Airlines only barely missed my top spot. There’s lots to love about SAS, from its incredible sense of design and strong lounge presence to small touches like free inflight WiFi.

Bronze Medal: Turkish

Istanbul-Ataturk Airport is Turkish Airlines' home base.

Istanbul-Ataturk Airport is Turkish Airlines’ home base

I’ll admit, it was a tough choice for bronze, and what ultimately made up my decision was my love for inflight dining and over-the-top lounges.

To be clear, I had a great time on my United and Asiana flights too. My flight to San Francisco was really a review of pre-Polaris United, and I’d expect to see UA move up in a lot of peoples’ rankings as more Polaris features come online. Asiana’s service was top notch, and the overall experience would probably have been much better on one of their newer A350s than on the old 777 I flew.

EVA getting welcomed into the Star Alliance in 2013 – Photo: Star Alliance

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Would you rank these airlines differently than we did? What is your favorite Star Alliance airline? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The post Star Alliance Battle Royale: Asiana vs EVA vs SAS vs Turkish vs United appeared first on AirlineReporter.

May 01, 2018 at 05:08PM Source:

Thank You Pilots

Thank You Pilots:

My kiddos aboard an Airbus A320, thanks to a gracious Delta first officer.

Knowing you’re in good hands is more than an insurance company slogan, it is a daily practice for the talented men and women who fly millions of people safely around the globe on a daily basis.

Less than 24 hours after the engine explosion that killed one person on Southwest Airlines flight 1380, I boarded an airplane with my two children for an international flight back home.  The kiddos (11 and 8) heard a little news about the incident, but I intentionally did not give them all the details so they wouldn’t get worried as we had two flights with a combined eight hours in the air that day.

As soon as we boarded, the first officer immediately said hello to my kids and quickly offered them a look up front. The kids were game and their AvGeek dad was more than willing to check out the flight deck of the Delta Air Lines A320 that would be safely getting us back to the USA.

Being the former TV news reporter, it’s habit to ask him lots of questions – which planes he’s flown, Airbus or Boeing and what one is his favorite. The thing that stuck out about the chat was his mentioning flying a KC-10 refueling tanker for the Air Force.

A Delta Airbus A320 - Photo: Aero Icarus

A Delta Airbus A320 – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

When I asked him if flying a civilian plane must be quite boring compared with the military, he smiled and said “no, at least here there’s less chance of getting shot at.” Good point. If he handled military combat zones, in a big plane filled with fuel, then getting into Atlanta should be a piece of cake!

It is not rare to find veteran pilots, like the one I recently met. The Air Line Pilots Association reports 44 percent of Delta Air Lines pilots have served in the military.

Tammie Jo Shults was in the left seat when she made the emergency landing on SW 1380. She is also a veteran and one of the first women to ever fly a Navy F/A-18 fighter jet. For those with an urban dictionary, that’s considered “badass!” She and her first officer deserve the talk show appearances, book deals and speaking fees that come with such a feat.

My appreciation for pilots came during a TV news story 20 years ago. I had the honor of showing the training Air Force B-1 bomber pilots go through and got to fly with them on a training mission. I spent an entire day with them before the flight, going over their flight plan and doing all the “regress training” required in case there was an emergency. Pilot Kevin McCandless was at the controls that day and was as good as they come. Today he’s in the left seat of an MD-11 for FedEx.

A B1 Lancer – Photo: Airwolfhound | FlickrCC

The thing that struck me during the pre-flight the flight itself was the calmness and professionalism they displayed. I wasn’t a bit nervous hopping aboard because these guys were so cool and capable. We did an in-air refueling and they made it look easier than most people pulling up at a corner gas station, no less one that’s flying in the air.

Stop and think about how talented you have to be to fly a military aircraft and all the training required. Then tack on the idea of flying in hostile territory and its a safe bet you’re in mighty good hands if your pilot has served our country. More good news, a large number of air traffic controllers also have a military background. If they can figure out how to get planes in and out of an Iraqi desert, certainly O’Hare or LAX can’t be that bad?

Training for non-military pilots is extensive too, including years spent at smaller regional airlines before getting the call to the big leagues, or “mainline” as they say in the industry.

2 time NHL All Star, current American Airlines Captain Al Secord Photo: Brian DeRoy

One pilot I met has played in two big leagues. Al Secord was a 1978 first round draft choice in the National Hockey League and played 14 years in the pros. In the early 80’s he was a feared opponent, racking up 94 goals and nearly 500 penalty minutes in just two seasons. He was hated by so many teams that fans would often chant “Secord Sucks” when his Chicago Blackhawks took the ice.  He told me the “Secord Sucks” chant was an honor, that meant he was making a difference and helping his team.

Secord earned two All-Star game appearances, getting to skate with Wayne Gretzky.

After hanging up the blades and likely icing down his knuckles (he played when fighting in hockey was a lot more common), Secord took up another passion in life: flying. Breaking into aviation doesn’t have a draft or high-powered agents like today, he had to train and learn like everyone else. He spent six years at regional airlines before getting the call to the big leagues with American Airlines. He worked his way up from first officer of an MD-88, to captain of a 737. April marks his 20th year with American, six more than he played in the NHL.

Have you thanked your pilot today? Photo: American Airlines.

I met him while working with Boeing and found his passion for flying equal to his love of hockey. He shares a love of flying with his wife Tracy, who also flies for American. Guess where they met? Yep, flight school!

Whether your pilot was a military fighter jet commander, a pro hockey all-star, or worked their way through the piloting ranks, stop and thank them for a job well done. They’ve spent a lot of time and money training and work weekends, holidays and early mornings to get you safely to your destination. We hope they don’t have to take heroic action like Captain Shults did recently, but if things get dicey we know they’re ready for anything.

And if you see Captain Secord, lay off the “Secord Sucks” chant. Hockey is only a game and he’s on your team now!

The post Thank You Pilots appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 21, 2018 at 06:19AM Source:

Dreamliners Going the Distance: New Ultra-Long…

Dreamliners Going the Distance: New Ultra-Long-Haul Routes For Boeing’s 787:

ZB-001 (N789EX) the First Boeing 787-9, takes to the sky – Photo: Bernie Leighton

March was a big month for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The largest member of the family — the 787-10 — saw its first delivery. We also learned about two new Dreamliner routes delivering on the plane’s promise to make ultra-long-haul routes feasible. With its direct flight from Perth to London, Qantas became the first airline to run a scheduled service nonstop from Australia to Europe. And later this year, Air New Zealand will inaugurate a new nonstop route to Chicago O’Hare.

Go long! –

Read on for more details on these exciting Dreamliner updates!

Qantas launches the first direct route from Australia to Europe

In late March, Australian carrier Qantas inaugurated QF9, which flew without stopping from Perth to London Heathrow — a 17-hour journey over a whopping 9,010 miles. At least for now, it’s one of the top three longest routes in the world.

The first flight was operated with a 787-9 sporting a gorgeous livery inspired by Australia’s indigenous peoples.

A special livery based on the artwork Yam Dreaming by Indigenous artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye – Photo: Qantas

Two crews operated the ultra-long-haul flight.

QF9 flight crew and Qantas leadership – Photo: Qantas

The flight flew a fairly direct route, maxing out at 40,000 feet final cruise altitude before touching down in London on schedule.

Qantas’ fleet of 787-9s features a sweet-looking staggered business class seat. Behind the premium economy section in the middle of the plane, economy is in a tight nine-abreast configuration that some passengers might find tough for a 17-hour flight — though at least Qantas provides 32-inch pitch.

Qantas’ 787-9 business class – Photo: Qantas

Qantas’ 787-9 economy class – Photo: Qantas

Air New Zealand announces a new direct route to Chicago O’Hare

Starting from the same region of the globe but heading in the opposite direction, Air New Zealand unveiled a new planned route that will connect its Auckland hub with Chicago O’Hare International Airport 8,184 miles away. Flights will begin on November 30th of this year.

Air New Zealand's first Boeing 787-9 at the delivery center - Photo: Bernie Leighton

Air New Zealand’s first Boeing 787-9 at the delivery center – Photo: Bernie Leighton

The flight will take 15 hours northbound and 16 hours southbound. It will use the newer, more premium-heavy of Air New Zealand’s two 787-9 seating configurations.

Coinciding with Air New Zealand’s announcement, alliance partner United noted that it will turn its seasonal San Francisco – Auckland service into a year-round route. It’s one of the (few) United routes that feature the true Polaris seat — at least for part of the year.

BONUS: Taking a United 787-9 Delivery Flight – More Than Just A Plane

The benefits of ultra-long-haul direct routes

The sorts of ultra-long-haul routes enabled by Boeing’s Dreamliner and Airbus’ A350 aren’t just good for bragging rights (though they’re definitely good for those). They meet a need for direct point-to-point travel as an alternative to routings through mega-hubs. There’s the obvious time advantages from cutting out a connection. Then there’s avoidance of hassle associated with flight transfers — and the potential for irregular operations to mess them up.

BA787 flight deck - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

BA787 flight deck – photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Another win with direct flights is that the routing from origin to destination is fully customizable, allowing the flight to take advantage of optimal winds. Add a connection along the way and you add constraints on the route.

It’s thrilling to see the sorts of new routes that are possible — and financially feasible — thanks to the Dreamliner. We’ll be excited to cover more new 787 (and A350) routes over the next few years!

Bonus photos: Singapore Airlines’ 787-10 delivery and new onboard product

The first ever Boeing 787-10 being delivered to launch customer Singapore Airlines – Photo: Singapore Airlines

BONUS: Singapore Airlines Returns To Ultra-Long-Haul Flying. Ready?

Singapore Airlines’ new regional business class seat, available on the 787-10 – Photo: Singapore Airlines

Economy cabin seatback and screens – Photo: Singapore Airlines

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Are you excited about the new Dreamliner routes? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

The post Dreamliners Going the Distance: New Ultra-Long-Haul Routes For Boeing’s 787 appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 18, 2018 at 06:51PM Source:

Flight Review: How Smart Is Asiana’s Business …

Flight Review: How Smart Is Asiana’s Business “Smartium” Class?:

When it comes to business class, branding is big. British has “Club World,” Delta has “Delta One,” United has “Polaris,” EVA has “Royal Laurel” — the list goes on and on.

The Korean airline Asiana is popular and I’ve wanted to try it for a while, but I think the name they picked for their premium cabin — Business “Smartium” Class — is a bit goofy. But hey, maybe they picked the name for a reason. Maybe it was designed by geniuses. Maybe it’s such an amazing product that it’s the only smart way to fly.

Asiana Boeing 777-200ER – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Well, there’s only one way to find out! Read on as we share our experience on a long-haul Smartium flight from Seoul/Incheon to London on a 777-200ER. We’ll rate each part of the experience, and at the end you can decide for yourself whether the product is as smart as the name suggests.

Asiana’s Lounge @ Seoul Incheon Airport

Before our afternoon departure, we made sure to swing by Asiana’s excellent business class lounge. We wrote about the experience in a previous article — check it out if you haven’t already. As high-capacity business class lounges go, it scores a solid A grade.

This guy on his phone has an A380 for a head so he must be REALLY smartium … I mean smart – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Refreshed and showered, I headed to my departure gate just in time for boarding.

The Smartium Business Class Cabin + Seat

Asiana’s fleet is a total smorgasbord, with the A380, 747, 777, A330, and 767 represented, plus a few new A350s joining the club. Different aircraft within a given subfleet may fly different seating configurations, so it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. For example, some 777s fly a regional angled-flat business product, while others feature the true Smartium flat-bed product. While flight 521 to London is currently operated by an A350, when I flew the route it was being serviced by a 777-200ER with a six-row Smartium cabin.

The 1-2-1-across staggered layout gives everyone direct aisle access. Even-numbered-row window seats are especially amazing for solo travelers, as they are farther from the aisle and very private. Odd-row window seats are more exposed to the aisle and make it harder to look out the window.

Asiana 777-200ER business class cabin – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Over in the center section, the paired middle seats are great for couples, but less ideal if you’re flying solo since you’d be shoulder-to-shoulder with your neighbor.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I wasn’t a big fan of the cabin decor, which featured lots of bland grey and beige.

I was assigned seat 6K at the very rear corner of the cabin, which had a misaligned window but was amazingly private.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

There was an awkward gap between the window seats and cabin sidewall, though you could get creative and use it to store your bedding.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

These seats go fully flat and offer a spacious footwell. The transition between the seat cushion and footwell cushion felt a bit uneven.

Asiana Smartium business seat in bed mode – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The grade: for cabin design and seating, Smartium gets a B overall. Universal aisle access and flat-bed seats are definite plusses, and the privacy you get in even-row window seats is amazing, but if you don’t score one of those seats you’re out in the open. And as flat beds go, the Smartium version is roomy but not the most comfortable I’ve experienced. I’m mindful that I flew a relatively old version of the Smartium product, and I’m guessing that fresher versions on newer planes might score a little better.

One nice extra bonus is we got a friendly wave from the ground crew as we pushed back from the gate:

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

BONUS: Photos & Details On Asiana Airlines Flight 214 Crash In San Francisco

We passed quite a few Korean Air planes during taxi. Korean and Asiana together account for a lot of the traffic out of Seoul Incheon International Airport. – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

It was a gloomy day in Incheon and shortly after lifting off we were already in the clouds.

The Smartium Service, Dining, and Drinks

The flight’s purser warmly welcomed each business class passenger to the flight. The lunch menu had a Korean option along with a few western entrees. Since this was my first time flying a Korean carrier — and because Korean barbecue is awesome — I went with the former.

I was a little clueless about what drink would go best with the Korean meal selection so I asked my flight attendant. She spent a solid minute with me talking about Korean drinks before recommending the “Makegeoli” Korean rice wine. It went incredibly well with the duo of delicately flavored starters.

Mung bean jelly with sliced beef and vegetables – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Steamed scallop with mustard dressing – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

BONUS: A Very Hello Kitty Adventure: Flying an EVA Air 777-300ER In Royal Laurel Business Class

Shiitake mushroom and wild sesame porridge – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The entree looked basic but tasted absolutely incredible. It benefitted from a wide range of bold flavors in the surrounding sides and soup.

Short rib patty with grilled mushrooms – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I’m guessing they ran out of the tiramisu option by the time they came to my seat, since I was handed a fruit plate.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The meal ended with a date and a “walnut cookie.”

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I was very satisfied with the meal, and stuffed beyond belief. Although Asiana offers à la carte light meals like noodles and sandwiches for midflight snacking, I was so full that I didn’t want to think about eating more until the second meal service many hours later.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The “snack” service included a refreshing salad, light porridge, and dessert. I enjoyed it but found it less memorable than the first meal.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The grade: Asiana definitely gets an “A” for dining, drinks, and service. Both my meals were impressive in terms of quality, quantity, and authenticity. Compared with crews I’ve had on other airlines in the region, my flight attendants were just as efficient but much warmer and more personable — not to mention spot-on with their drink pairing advice.

The Smartium Amenities

My amenity kit contained only the basics, and the bag itself was pretty wimpy.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The lavatories were small, but at least were stocked with some extra personal care products.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The pillow and blanket were both unsubstantial.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The grade: Asiana’s Smartium amenities and bedding are definitely areas for improvement — I’d only give them a C+.

BONUS: Trip Review — Korean Air Business Class on the A380 Upper Deck LAX-ICN

Inflight Entertainment

I’ll be brief in this section, but I was pretty disappointed with the inflight entertainment system on my flight. The screen was small and low-res, the interface wasn’t intuitive, and the movie selection was mediocre. C-grade.

But hey, who needs inflight entertainment when you’ve got views like these?

The Smartium Final Verdict

I came away from my flight disappointed by the hard product and amenities in Asiana’s Business Smartium class, but was blown away by the dining and service. My crew struck an exceptional balance between efficiency and personality. Honestly I think my gripes about cabin decor, condition of the seats, and inflight entertainment systems probably wouldn’t be so bad if I flew Asiana on an A380 or A350. I’ll also admit that this review is being published a little after the fact, so I can’t speak to any improvements that the airline has made recently.

Asiana is part of the elite club of Skytrax five-star airlines, which is a pretty serious honor. Based on my experience alone, I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly Asiana again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid it either. If any of you get to fly in Smartium business class, make sure to score an even-row window seat, and definitely go for the Korean meal option — you won’t be disappointed!

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Have you flown Asiana before? If so, what was your experience like? What are your reactions to this trip report? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

The post Flight Review: How Smart Is Asiana’s Business “Smartium” Class? appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 11, 2018 at 04:54PM Source:

SAS Plus: Taking the Edge Off Economy Class Tr…

SAS Plus: Taking the Edge Off Economy Class Travel:

When it comes to the passenger experience on long-haul flights, the gap between economy and business class just keeps getting bigger. Today’s business class is all about universal aisle access, suites with doors, and other features that used to just be for first class. Back in economy, seats and legroom are tighter, and amenities are disappearing.

But lucky for us, many airlines are offering a new island of refuge in the middle of the gulf between economy and business: so-called “premium economy.” Oxymoron? Maybe. But if it’s a way to take some of the harsh edge off of flying in economy, without having to shell out big bucks for business class, then consider us interested!

We recently did some flying with SAS Scandinavian Airlines, whose long-haul A330 and A340 fleet recently got a major interior makeover. On the outbound to Copenhagen we had a blast trying out their new business class, but on the way back we made sure to score a seat in SAS Plus, their premium economy cabin. The seat itself was more economy-plus than business-minus, but amenities like lounge access, free WiFi, and fast-track airport security were a great way to sweeten the deal. All in all, SAS Plus did a great job of making economy class much more comfortable and fun.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Read on for our full report and our thoughts on whether SAS Plus is worth it on your next trip.

The Ground Experience

SAS Plus includes a bunch of business class perks, like access to fast-track security lanes at certain airports. In Copenhagen, where I started my journey, I was through in thirty seconds flat.

SAS Plus further sets itself apart by including business class lounge access. The lounge in Copenhagen is divided into two sections: a ground level lounge for business class and SAS Plus passengers, and an upstairs section for passengers with SAS / Star Alliance Gold status. The photos below are from the business class + SAS Plus section. There’s a variety of seating and a solid selection of light food.

BONUS: Anything But Ordinary: Scandinavian Airlines’ “Next-Gen” Lounge in Oslo

The SAS Plus Seat

If you’re flying SAS Plus, you get priority boarding along with business class. Awesome! And I got to say hi to the flight crew during boarding. Extra awesome!

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

SAS’ long-haul fleet is fairly fresh off a major cabin overhaul, and it really shows. The seats and finishes were in good shape, and I was a big fan of the charcoal seat colors.

The cabin on SAS’ A340-300 fleet is arranged in four rows, 2-3-2 across. Regular economy is 2-4-2 across, so you can think of economy plus as cutting one seat and distributing the extra width across the other seven seats. SAS Plus isn’t the most spacious premium economy seat out there, but it’s definitely enough to make for a noticeably more comfortable ride, and offers a good degree of recline.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Seat backs have a large storage pocket, though the seats have no other dedicated storage. The inflight entertainment screens are as big as many other airlines offer in business class, with crisp resolution and great touch responsiveness.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

BONUS: Air France A380 In Premium Economy

Bulkhead seats have fold-out IFE screens, which are slightly smaller – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I had selected bulkhead window seat 20A for my journey, which gave me enough legroom to leave my seat without making my aisle seat neighbor get up.

This A340-300 took its sweet time getting off the ground on takeoff roll. It was a dreary morning in Copenhagen, and right after we lifted off we were in the clouds.

Four engines for long-haul – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Inflight Service

Flight attendants started the first meal service by asking which drinks I wanted before the meal, with the meal, and with dessert. Then they handed them all to me at once. It was a bit awkward having to store it all at my seat, but at least SAS is generous! Regular economy on SAS doesn’t include wine, beer, or spirits gratis, so SAS Plus is a big step up in that sense.

Drink service – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

There aren’t any printed menus in SAS Plus. Instead, flight attendants came around a few minutes after drinks and explained that we’d have a choice between chicken with mashed carrots or tortellini. I went with the chicken. The presentation was definitely economy-style, but it was one of the tastiest long-haul economy meals I’ve had. The seafood appetizer was nice and light, and who knew mashed carrots are even better than mashed potatoes?

Dinner service – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

A sweet coconut dessert went well with some after-dinner cognac and coffee.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

By the time the meal wrapped up, it had gone from daylight to twilight outside. Interestingly, the sun hadn’t set because we were too far east or west of sunlight, but because we had flown so far north.

Beautiful “sunset” – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter


While SAS Plus does offer an amenity kit, it only includes a shoe bag, dental kit, ear plugs, and a sleep mask. The essentials, but nothing more.

Amenity kit – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The cabin doesn’t have its own lavatories, and instead shares lavs with the regular economy cabin.

Even though it was a daytime flight, I got three hours of solid sleep thanks to the thick blankets, pleasantly cool cabin temperature, and good amount of seat-back recline.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Midflight Snack

The flight crew did an amazing job coming through the cabin regularly with water and juices. About halfway through the flight, they offered a snack service of flatbread with either venison or butter, along with fruit, candy, and coffee or tea. I’d already checked “venison on a plane” off my AvGeek bucket list during my flight in SAS Business a few days prior, so I went with the safer butter-only option this time. Bread and butter sounds boring on paper, but Scandinavian butter tastes amazingly rich.

Butter and candy… – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Inflight Entertainment and WiFi

Internet access goes a long way in helping pass the time on a long flight, but usually the crazy cost of inflight internet keeps me offline. So I think it’s a huge positive that inflight WiFi is free of charge for everyone in SAS Plus. Especially later in the flight, I was pulling some excellent download speeds.

BONUS: Singapore Airlines Unveils Premium Economy Product

Ever since its long-haul cabin makeover, SAS offers bright and responsive inflight entertainment screens in all cabins. There are also exterior camera views — every AvGeek’s favorite! The library of movies is pretty good, too. The soft-tipped earphones block out some sound but are still pretty basic, so BYO headphones if you have ’em.

Free headphones. Bose they are not. – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Final Meal Service

Over the Sierras – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

As we crossed the border into the U.S., flight attendants came around with the final meal service. This time around there weren’t any choices offered, and I didn’t catch the name of the dish being served. Whatever it was, it was pretty tasty — especially the lentil salad. SAS does well with the small touches on dining like offering cool glassware and serving bread nice and warm.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I never get tired of the view on the approach to SFO from the north.

SFO area, including the Golden Gate Bridge – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Verdict

All things considered, SAS Plus does a great job of providing a comfortable middle option between basic economy and business class. You can’t grade any inflight experience in a vacuum, and SAS Plus and other premium economy options are increasingly appealing as regular economy gets more and more features stripped away.

Here are the winning factors for SAS Plus in my book:

  • The seat is big enough to avoid rubbing shoulders with your neighbor, and the generous recline and footrest make for better sleep.
  • The dining service benefits from more drink options and the extra choice of entree, though overall it’s still closer to economy than business.
  • The smart selection of extra features address the most painful parts of basic economy: crowded airport terminals (solution = business class lounge access), security lines (solution = fast-track security lanes), and inflight boredom (solution = great inflight entertainment and free WiFi).
  • From my bit of research, SAS Plus is priced pretty affordably for a premium economy product. And you can often make a game-time decision to upgrade at the gate.

I do think there are a few small areas for improvement:

  • The trek back to the regular economy cabin to use the restrooms was annoying. I wonder if SAS can include some dedicated premium economy lavatories when it takes delivery of its new A350s.
  • The amenity kit is very basic and could benefit from some moisturizer, socks, and/or a comb.

A look at SAS’ Star Alliance partner as we pull into the gate – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Have you flown SAS Plus before? Or have you tried any other airline’s premium economy product? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Disclaimer: SAS Scandinavian Airlines provided us with access to this flight for the purposes of a review. All opinions are our own.

The post SAS Plus: Taking the Edge Off Economy Class Travel appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 06, 2018 at 05:08PM Source:

Wings for Autism – A Success at Sea-Tac

Wings for Autism – A Success at Sea-Tac:

Welcome aboard! Photo: Kristin Atkinson

Your first time is something you’ll always remember. Maybe it was with the love of your life or you were even with your parents or had a close family member nearby. You may be nervous, not fully knowing what to do. Feelings of excitement, joy and even some bumps up and down happened. But a helpful hand guides you through a very exciting ride and you end up with a great touchdown.

Yes, that first time you ever fly in an airplane is pure joy and everlasting.

Yet for some, the thought of going through a crowded airport, getting into a pressurized tube with wings flown by a total stranger at speeds exceeding 500 mph, thousands of feet in the air, can be terrifying.

Thankfully there are programs at many airports to help nervous travelers.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Recently, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) hosted its 7th annual “Wings for Autism” event that welcomed families. The event was so popular, registration filled up in the first half an hour it opened online. More than 300 families and 1,000 people have taken part in the program during its seven year run in Seattle.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports about one in 69 children has some form of autism spectrum disorder.  The number could be even higher, according to parent surveys done by autism awareness groups.

For the past two years, I had the pleasure of working alongside event planners and gained a firsthand perspective at everything that goes into making this event so meaningful for families. Trust me, these folks don’t miss anything – their dedication is truly amazing.

Sea-Tac Airport Customer Service Manager Sue Hansen-Smith leads the efforts on behalf of the airport. Sue volunteers her time, attending weekly planning meetings with event co-sponsors Alaska Airlines and the The ARC of King County. The team goes over everything from invitations, balloons, welcome gifts, volunteer totals, to the big stuff like airplane, gate and crew availability. It is truly amazing everything that goes into an event that happens once a year for a few hours.

All smiles during “Wings for Autism” Photo: Kristin Atkinson

“Along with 55 event volunteers, Alaska Airlines, TSA and Port of Seattle staff worked the event,” said Wings for Autism Program Manager Stacia Irons. “Many have a connection to autism, or actually have autism and have volunteered at the event to assist others navigate the experience. We have volunteers who have been there at all 7 events and cannot wait until the next one.”

Alaska Airlines plays a major role in the event, donating time with a 737-900, along with flight crew and gate space. The airline has a position dedicated to customer advocacy and accessibility. Simply put: Alaska knows it has a responsibility to serve all passengers, from the million-mile business traveler to first-timers who may have special needs.

Volunteer teams work Sea-Tac’s ticketing counter, and a dedicated TSA security checkpoint for families and the gate area. They guide families through every step of the process, showing autistic children that while sometimes hectic, an airport and airplane ride can be a welcoming and sometimes exciting experience.

“We are pleased to work with Wings for Autism to educate and empower this special group of travelers with the airport experience and the security checkpoint process,” said Jeff Holmgren, TSA Federal Security Director for Washington.  “In addition to the benefit to families, TSA officers learn how to be more responsive to the needs of these travelers without compromising our security mission.”

The exciting part of the day comes as the plane pulls out and taxies around the airfield. A packed 737-900 with a volunteer crew make the 20-minute trip smooth. While the plane doesn’t actually take off, this dress rehearsal is huge for so many kids and families.

A happy “Wings” family, Photo: Kristin Atkinson

“As a parent of a child on the spectrum, my involvement with Wings gives me hope,” Irons said. “It is wonderful watching inclusion unfold as others gain knowledge and understanding of autism while families gain confidence in travel. Wings makes the world a better place for all.”

Wings for Autism is part of a nationwide initiative, developed by of The Arc of the US: in over 45 airports, with 13 airlines and serving over 13,000 people to date nationwide.

The post Wings for Autism – A Success at Sea-Tac appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 27, 2018 at 12:51AM Source:

Boeing’s “Cash Cow” milks out its 10,000th pla…

Boeing’s “Cash Cow” milks out its 10,000th plane:

Thousands of Boeing employees at the Renton, Wash. factory celebrated the 10,000th 737 to come off the production line. The milestone was recognized by GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™. – Photo: Boeing

The world’s most successful commercial airplane has a lot in common with a popular sugary treat.

Seriously, the first time I walked into the 737 factory in Renton, Wash. I said to myself “geez, this place runs as smooth as a Krispy Kreme processing line.”

Apparently spending 12 years in the south and being a fan of the treat made me liken the two together. At Krispy Kreme stores that make the doughnuts, an automated system puts the dough into a doughnut form, fries them, and then scoops them up onto the assembly line for their final bath in frosting.

Hungry yet?

Efficiency on the doughnut line makes money for Krispy Kreme, and the same can be said for Boeing. The 737 is nicknamed the “cash cow” internally. Boeing hit quite the milestone by manufacturing its 10,000th 737 in mid-March. Boeing’s Renton factory cranks out 47 airplanes a month. The company hopes to push that number up to 52 later this year.

Lufthansa Boeing 737-100 D-ABEC was the 4th 737 off the line and one of the 6 originally involved in the test program. Long since scrapped in 1995 at Marana, AZ, it was last registered to Ansett New Zealand. This 737 was also owned by America West AIrlines. Image Courtesy: Boeing

Lufthansa Boeing 737-100 D-ABEC was the 4th 737 off the line and one of the six originally involved in the test program – Photo: The Boeing Company

The 737 has come a long way since it was introduced in 1967. It was first built in the historic Seattle “Plant 2” – a site that had produced the B-17 for World War II and was the birthplace of “Rosie the Riveter,” women who assembled the planes as many of their male spouses were off fighting in the war effort.

Today’s 737 is called the “MAX” emphasizing maximum efficiency. Passengers may also notice maximum capacity, as European discount airline Ryanair plans to stuff 200 people into a specially modified 737 MAX 8, which Boeing calls the 737 MAX 200. Hope you’ve been on a Krispy Kreme-free diet before squeezing into that plane.

737 Facts:

  • A 737 takes off or lands every 1.5 seconds
  • On average, more than 2,800 737s are in the air at any given time
  • More than 22 billion people have flown on a 737
  • The 737 has flown more than 122 billion miles, the equivalent of five million times around the Earth

Having made several trips to the Renton factory while I worked for Boeing, the thing that struck me about the main facility was how quiet it was. You’d think a place that cranks out nearly 50 planes a month would be noisy and chaotic. But that’s the secret to the 737’s success; tried and true processes that emphasize efficiency and quality.

From the train, into the factory in Renton, WA

Another thing that keeps the noise down is the fact that the largest part of the plane isn’t even made by Boeing, nor is it done in its Renton factory. Fuselages for the planes are made by Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, Kansas. It’s a very common site to see specially designed train cars deliver the fuselages daily to the factory. I’ve often wondered how much it has to cost to ship one of those halfway across the U.S.

In fact, many of you may not realize that hardly anything on a Boeing 737 is even made by Boeing. Supplier Spirit produces approximately 70 percent of the 737 structure for Boeing, including the fuselage, pylon, thrust reverser and engine nacelle at its Wichita facility and the wing leading edges at its Tulsa, Oklahoma facility.

The 737 MAX engines are made by CFM International, a 50/50 joint venture between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines.

While the big twin-aisle planes capture attention on the international stage, the 737 is that little engine that keeps on going for Boeing. I had the honor of being inside a newly dedicated 737 for Myanmar National Airlines that was blessed by a Buddhist monk. (Click the link, there’s a pretty cool video!)

The 737 flies for many international flag carriers, including Myanmar National Airlines – Photo: Boeing

Take a drive by Renton Municipal Airport and you’ll see 737s fresh off the assembly line for a variety of international airlines.

As noted in my previous story on the success of the Airbus A321, Boeing is constantly being pressured on price by Airbus. Reports I’ve seen show Airbus selling its popular A320 for far less than half the list price of $75 million – a price that Boeing leaders said was too low for them to go. Boeing’s strategy has always been to emphasize quality and reliability over price, so the challenge will be to maintain the quality while upping production rates and also pressuring suppliers to reduce costs.

Kevin McAllister (left), president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, and Scott Campbell (right), 737 program VP and GM, celebrate the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS 10,000th 737 to come off the production line – Photo: Boeing

While competitors in China and Russia still get their acts together on a true competitor to the 737, it’s clear Boeing’s 737 program will keep cranking out the planes, much like doughnuts. Although I have a feeling the list price of a 737 can buy a whole lot of doughnuts, but if you ate that many you’ll really have a hard time stuffing yourself into a modern slimline 737 seat.

The post Boeing’s “Cash Cow” milks out its 10,000th plane appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 16, 2018 at 07:23PM Source: