Category: fligh

A Milestone for Sustainable Aviation: Virgin A…

A Milestone for Sustainable Aviation: Virgin Atlantic’s First Flight Powered By Jet Fuel Made From Industrial Pollution:

The aviation sector is responsible for roughly two percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. If current trends continue, its share of the total is expected to grow substantially in coming decades. Fortunately, in recent years a number of airlines have made concerted efforts to make flying more environmentally sustainable. Most of the solutions to date have involved biofuels made from plant-based compounds. But Virgin Atlantic took a different approach, partnering with the U.S.-based company LanzaTech that was developing a technology to turn industrial pollution into jet fuel.

On October 2nd, the partnership achieved a major milestone: the first passenger flight powered (in part) by the innovative new fuel. There was plenty of fanfare around the flight, which we were on hand to cover. And though the flight was one incremental step out of many required to make the tech mainstream, it was still a milestone worth celebrating. Read on for our full coverage of the announcement, press conference, and the flight itself — including a surprise appearance by Sir Richard Branson!

Photo: Doug Peters/PA Wire

The Tech

LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic’s sustainable fuel is produced through a fascinatingly complex process. Carbon-containing waste gases from industries like steel mills and oil refineries are captured instead of being released to the atmosphere. Those gases are fed to a proprietary mix of bacteria, converting them into ethanol. Thanks to the magic of science, LanzaTech then turns the ethanol into kerosene, AKA jet fuel. For the chemistry buffs out there, check out the company’s video explaining the process.

Third-party estimates suggest that the LanzaTech fuel could result in a 70% lower carbon footprint than standard jet fuel.

Earlier this year, LanzaTech’s fuel was approved for commercial flights after a 50:50 mix of the fuel and standard jet fuel was found to be just as safe and powerful as the standard fuel alone. At this point, the technology is developed enough to produce modest amounts of fuel for testing and proving flights, though production has yet to be scaled up.

BONUS: United and Alaska Airlines Announce Regularly Scheduled Biofuel Flights

The Partnership

Virgin Atlantic has had a big focus on environmental sustainability for many years. From 2007 to today, the airline has reduced its carbon footprint by about 24%, driven largely by uptake of more fuel-efficient aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. But company leadership was looking to tackle the emissions issue from multiple angles. So in 2011, Virgin Atlantic forged a partnership with LanzaTech. In the years since, the collaboration between the companies has been supported by other partners, including Boeing, GE, Honeywell, and fuel suppliers.

Photo: Doug Peters/PA Wire

The Flight

Years of hard work and steady progress finally led to a major milestone for the partnership: the first Virgin Atlantic passenger flight powered — at least in part — by LanzaTech’s fuel. Flight #16 from Orlando International to London Gatwick was chosen for the honor. And if there wasn’t already enough AvGeek appeal to the flight, it turned out to be a flight operated by the Queen: the Boeing 747-400.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

It’s worth noting that less than 10% of the fuel in the tanks on this flight was the LanzaTech fuel, given the small production scale the company is currently limited to. Future flights will push the mix up to 50%, though that will depend on LanzaTech increasing its production capacity.

BONUS: Lounge Review – Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse at San Francisco SFO

Before the flight, Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger and LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren held a joint press conference with the airport as a backdrop. Instead of chest thumping, the pair was humble in framing the news, characterizing the industrial carbon capture technology as one of many solutions needed to make aviation more sustainable.

Photo: Doug Peters/PA Wire

In addition to the two CEOs, the press conference featured a representative from the National Wildlife Federation and another from Boeing, which was a key helper as the LanzaTech fuel was being developed and tested.

With that, the contingent headed for the gate, where the plane was being fueled up.

Photo: Doug Peters/PA Wire

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

As always, it was a total joy to fly on the Queen of the Skies. Virgin’s 747s largely operate from Gatwick and Manchester, while its Heathrow operations are dominated by its Dreamliners, Airbus A330s, and gas-guzzling A340s.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

We were seated in the Premium cabin, which is Virgin’s premium economy product. At 2-4-2 across, it’s a much roomier seat than the 3-4-3 configuration for standard economy.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

BONUS: Flying On Bubbles – Upper Class on a Virgin Atlantic A340-600

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Even though the aircraft was far from new, the cabin interior looked fresh and sported Virgin’s characteristic jazzy lighting scheme.

Once boarding was completed, the crew made an announcement highlighting the historic nature of the flight. We were curious if passengers would be antsy about being on the flight, but most people were either excited or unfazed.

We enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine during boarding. The flight pushed back on time and a few minutes later was airborne. For what it’s worth, the whiff of fuel exhaust fumes during engine startup smelled totally normal to us.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

We settled in for the inflight service, which was delivered in real dinnerware in Virgin’s premium economy cabin. We’ll have a full review of Premium class in a separate article.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

To commemorate the flight, every passenger got a custom luggage tag — a nice touch!

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Other than the press conference, PA announcement, and the bag tag, the flight felt like any other flight.

The Landing

After a restful night’s sleep over the Atlantic, we awoke to a beautiful descent over England’s southern coast. And just before the double chimes, Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger made an announcement on the PA system congratulating the crew on the flight’s success.

The Surprise

As the 747 pulled into the gate at Gatwick, it was met with a big surprise: Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson, grinning from ear to ear.

Photo: John Nguyen/PA Wire

BONUS: Boeing and ANA Conduct The First 787 Dreamliner Biofuel Flight

He also took part in a press conference at the airport, voicing his appreciation for the Virgin and LanzaTech team (and their partners) in the achievement of the milestone flight.

The Significance

How does this flight fit into the bigger picture of sustainable aviation? We see it as an important — but incremental — milestone along a long path of many other steps needed to get the aviation world to its goal.

Why incremental? Remember that only a small proportion of the fuel in flight #16’s tanks was LanzaTech fuel. Right now, there isn’t enough production capacity to support regular commercial flights. So we’re still many years away from Virgin’s ultimate goal of fueling 50% of its London outbound flights with LanzaTech supply.

Photo: Doug Peters/PA Wire

Even so, we think Virgin and LanzaTech are right to be proud of their progress. It’s incredible that their technology exists and has been proven, and now it’s just a matter of encouraging investment in the technology so that LanzaTech can produce the fuel at scale. The company points out that two-thirds of the world’s steel mills could serve as sources of carbon for its process, which could produce enough fuel to cover 20% of global commercial aviation’s fuel needs. And because the LanzaTech process utilizes unused industrial waste as its carbon source, it’s very possible that its fuel will be competitive from a cost perspective with standard jet fuel. And in the meantime, Virgin will continue taking delivery of aircraft like the Dreamliner and (starting next year) the A350 to reduce its overall fuel burn.

Photo: Doug Peters/PA Wire

All in all, there’s reason to be optimistic about a greener future for aviation!

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Note: Virgin Atlantic provided our ticket and accommodation for this trip. All opinions are our own.

The post A Milestone for Sustainable Aviation: Virgin Atlantic’s First Flight Powered By Jet Fuel Made From Industrial Pollution appeared first on AirlineReporter.

October 16, 2018 at 06:34PM Source:

The Private Suite @ LAX: Going Inside Los Ange…

The Private Suite @ LAX: Going Inside Los Angeles’ Brand-New Ultra-Exclusive Terminal:

The bar for premium airport lounges has reached stratospheric heights in recent years. In the U.S., spaces like United’s Polaris lounges and American’s Flagship First facilities now offer restaurant-quality dining. And outside of the U.S., airlines like Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, and the big Middle Eastern three offer lounges that are even more opulent. How could you top that?

How about designing an ultra-exclusive airport within an airport, built to provide complete seclusion from the rest of the traveling public? That was the idea behind The Private Suite, a recent addition at Los Angeles (LAX). For those willing to splurge for access, it offers an intensely private, luxurious, and unique experience from curb to plane. Read on for our inside look, from extravagantly-stocked suites to a one-person miniature TSA facility and a fleet of BMWs to drive you to your plane.

The Fast Facts on The Private Suite

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting plenty of airport lounges. The Private Suite wasn’t one of them. The place isn’t a lounge. It’s a standalone terminal, set apart from the main passenger terminals at LAX. It has its own TSA checkpoint and even its own immigration and customs facility. It’s like you turned a corner of LAX into a private airport.

The Private Suite is the creation of Gavin de Becker & Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in security services for VIPs. So they have plenty of experience catering to the rich and/or famous.

Photo: The Private Suite

The Private Suite is located along Imperial Highway, across the southern runways (7L/25R and 7R/25L) from the Bradley International Terminal. By virtue of its location, it allows you to avoid the massive traffic heading towards the main terminals. To enter the facility, your car passes a security gate that looks like it might as well be guarding a military base. You then drive up to a striking blue building, where you’re greeted by a staff member who walks you to your suite.

“Private” is in the Title for a Reason

The entire Private Suite experience is designed to eliminate any potential for contact between guests. You get a suite to yourself, and whenever you leave it you’re chaperoned by a burly person in a suit with a CIA-esque earpiece. Photography of any sort is strictly forbidden on the site (which is the reason we’re using stock images for this story).

Photo: The Private Suite

True to form, during my entire visit I never saw a soul other than Private Suite staff.

Spacious Suites, Endless Amenities

Each suite is spacious enough to comfortably accommodate four people — and probably more if some of them are children. When you enter, you’ll find an atlas on the coffee table opened to your final destination, along with a card with your destination’s weather forecast.

Photo: The Private Suite

In addition to four chairs, each suite has a daybed.

Photo: The Private Suite

Bathrooms are tastefully decorated and overflowing with self-care products. The suites don’t have their own shower, but separate shower rooms are bookable.

Photo: The Private Suite

Each room comes stocked with a huge array of amenities on hand, running the gamut from snack dispensers to make-your-own-margarita kits and top-shelf spirits. There’s also a menu of more hearty meals to order.

Your Own Private TSA Checkpoint

When it comes time to head for your plane, you’re escorted through a one-man TSA checkpoint. Guaranteed wait time of zero minutes or less!

Once you clear the checkpoint, there’s a small fridge with beverages you can stick in your bag.

If you’re using The Private Suite on arrival, there’s a cozy Customs and Border Protection facility located within the building. They will also send someone to baggage claim to get your bag and bring it to your suite.

AvGeek Appeal

Aside from the insane level of luxury, I was also surprised with how much AvGeek appeal The Private Suite offered. Many (but not all) of the suites offer airport views, with close-up perspectives on the active runways.

But the clear winning factor is the chauffeur service, which drives you from the facility directly to your departing aircraft. Your BMW 7 Series has to obey the 20mph intra-airport speed limit, so you’re guaranteed to get a solid chunk of time with some unbeatable airport views.

They photoshopped some weird looking windows onto this plane, but you get the idea – Photo: The Private Suite

The Best Things In Life Aren’t Free

In what will be a surprise to exactly zero of you, this incredible experience comes at a hefty price. For non-members, each visit will cost $3,500 for domestic flights and $4,000 for international flights, covering up to two companions. Frequent users can opt for a $4,500 membership that brings the domestic and international per-visit prices down to $2,700 and $3,500, respectively.

A New Partnership With United

A few months ago, The Private Suite announced a partnership with United. Passengers flying the airline on certain routes can purchase Private Suite access at a discounted rate. The experience may not be as private as the standard Private Suite experience, as there is one suite reserved for United that (depending on usage) may handle multiple clients at a time. But at the discounted rate, it may still be worth it. According to a Private Suite rep, usage of the “United Private Suite” experience has been picking up steam over recent months.

The Final Verdict

Of course, The Private Suite is way out of financial reach for most travelers — myself sadly included. But if you happen to have the means to splurge, or are among the L.A. elite, it’s a truly one-of-a-kind experience that offers a lot of value for certain types of travelers.

Famous actors and actresses certainly benefit from the privacy from the paparazzi. The corporate elite will save a ton of time by skipping traffic and security lines — and one of the suites features a conference room with video conference capability.

Another sweet spot for The Private Suite is families. I was struck by how many great features the facility offered for young fliers. It offers a literal menu of toys for children to pick from. And there’s a small patch of greenery out front that functions as a play space.

So although The Private Suite’s stereotypical clientele will remain the Hollywood rich and famous, it has much to offer to a wider customer base as well.

Looking to the future, there are plans for The Private Suite to expand to Miami and New York JFK next year. And if the model continues to be successful, who knows where else it could set up shop.

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. What do you think about The Private Suite at LAX? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Note: The Private Suite offered us entry to the facility for the purposes of this story. All opinions are our own.

The post The Private Suite @ LAX: Going Inside Los Angeles’ Brand-New Ultra-Exclusive Terminal appeared first on AirlineReporter.

October 09, 2018 at 09:55PM Source:

Breaking: Virgin Atlantic Operates First-Ever …

Breaking: Virgin Atlantic Operates First-Ever Commercial Flight Fueled By Recycled Industrial Carbon:

Photo: Doug Peters/PA Wire

It can be hard for the environmentally minded AvGeek to get on a flight without a twinge of guilt, since planes spew tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every minute of every day. Over recent years, the industry has slowly started wising up to the importance of sustainability. We’ve seen some airlines introduce biofuels derived from plant products. But today, the field takes a new leap forward.

The Boeing 747 flying Virgin Atlantic’s flight #16 today from Orlando to London Gatwick will be powered by a unique sustainable jet fuel that’s recycled from carbon-containing waste gases from industries like steel mills. The result is a product that has proven at least as powerful as regular jet fuel but with a significantly lower carbon footprint. The flight is the outcome of a partnership between Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech, which developed the fuel. Partners like Boeing, Honeywell, GE, fuel suppliers, and the DOE played a significant role as well.

The star of the show. Or stars, if you include the fuel tanker. – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

We’ll be on the inaugural flight and will be back later with a full report. For the time being, check out our Twitter feed for live updates. Here’s to a greener future for aviation!

The post Breaking: Virgin Atlantic Operates First-Ever Commercial Flight Fueled By Recycled Industrial Carbon appeared first on AirlineReporter.

October 03, 2018 at 02:52AM Source:

Five Items I Always Have In My Carry-On Bag

Five Items I Always Have In My Carry-On Bag:

One cubic foot. That’s roughly how much volume airlines grant you for the 9 inch x 10 inch x 17 inch “personal item” that goes under your seat. It’s a tiny allowance. Sure, you have a bit more space in your bag stored in the overhead bin. But nowadays many airlines are charging you for overhead bin access (THANKS, basic economy). Even if they don’t, nobody wants to be that guy who gets up every hour to get things from the overhead bin — especially if you’re sitting in the window seat.

So if you fly frequently, you put a lot of thought into what goes into your under-the-seat-in-front-of-you storage. The contents of your inflight go-bag are probably a good window into your personality and priorities when it comes to flying. In the spirit of sharing, I’ve compiled a list of the five essential things that I always have in my carry-on bag. Some cover the basics necessities, some are for fun, and some are for the AvGeek in me. And once you’re done reading my list, let’s hear what’s on yours!

Legroom on board a British Airways Airbus A320 in economy with mysteriously more than the listed 30" pitch slimline seats.

So little space. So much potential!

Heads up: this is not a sponsored article and I have no business relationship with any of the items I mention. Though if anyone at any point does have a desire to give me money for any reason whatsoever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Mooooov'n on up in Alaska - Photo: Bag's Human

Our vintage Pan Am bag could probably fit under the seat in front of us. The yak probably couldn’t. – Photo: Bag’s Human

1. Foldable water bottle

Planes are dry places. It’s not because the folks at Boeing, Airbus, et al have a master plan to turn the human race into raisins. It’s because humidity causes corrosion. And nobody likes a rusty plane.

This plane is getting plenty of hydration. But what about you? — Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Unlike your average aircraft, the human body does not like to get dried out. So staying well hydrated is critical. But your inflight H2Options can be limited. If you come aboard with nothing you’re at the mercy of your flight attendants, who may or may not make their water rounds often enough for you.

So boarding with your own water is the way to go. Standard solid plastic bottles work fine for most people. But if you’re really space conscious, then consider a collapsible bottle.

I purchased a Vapur flexible and collapsible water bottle (maybe “pouch” is the better word) before a marathon four-flight itinerary from North America to Europe to Southeast Asia. And on that trip — and every flight I’ve taken since — it’s served me well. When I don’t need it, it rolls up to the size of my fist. But after I clear security and hit my first water fountain, it expands to hold a full liter. It’s never unexpectedly sprung open or leaked on me after hundreds of refillings — which is important if you have your electronics in your bag as well. Here’s an Amazon link.

Water anyone?

Anyone remember the old-school self-serve water dispensers on United’s 747s?

2. Black hooded sweatshirt

When you’re working with limited storage space, versatility is key. And when it comes to versatility, I found that the simple hoodie is the unsung hero of my travel wardrobe. Here’s three great reasons why:

  • When you’re flying, layering is your best friend. You may go from a 90-degree summer day outside the airport, to an overly chilled terminal. Then you board a plane that’s turned into a toaster after sitting in the sun for a few hours, only to become an icebox after you hit cruise and the air conditioning ramps up.
  • Climate at your origin ≠ climate at your destination. You may not have had the foresight to pack an umbrella, but at least with a hoodie you’re covered in a pinch.
  • For me personally, the three biggest threats to getting sleep on a flight are: (1) light, (2) noise, and (3) feeling exposed. My trusty hoodie tackles all three. When I’m trying to sleep, I take my hoodie and put it over my front side, with the hood covering the front of my head. The hood blocks out light and even muffles some ambient sound, while the rest of it acts like a blanket. The reverse-hoodie look probably freaks out my neighbors a bit. But it’s worth it for a good night’s sleep.

3. Two-pronged headphone adapter

If you fly enough and can afford them, noise-canceling headphones are a flyer’s best friend. Unless they meet their nemesis: two-pronged headphone jacks. That’s why it’s worth investing in a simple, cheap adapter, which will ensure you can make use of those amazing headphones you brought.


4. Monocular

There are wonderful views to be had from the windows of a jet. And the views are even better if you can zoom in on specifics, like cities or other aircraft sharing the skies. Most people would think of binoculars, but I find a monocular to provide good views in a much smaller package. After all, space in your go-bag comes at a high premium.

With the sliding door over its 17-ton infrared telescope wide open, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – or SOFIA – soars over California's snow-covered Southern Sierras on a test flight in 2010 - Photo: NASA

The SOFIA 747 flying telescope: better magnification than my monocular, though harder to fit into my bag – Photo: NASA

5. Suction cup smartphone mount

What if you’re not satisfied with just taking in the views. What if you want to capture them? For your friends? For Facebook? For the Insta?

My personal favorite form of aerial photo/videography is the time-lapse video. But holding a camera or phone still against the window for ten full minutes isn’t easy. So I picked up a suction-cup iPhone mount — the type that you might have in your car. I attach it to the window, twist the arm so the phone camera is pointed out of the window, and voila! Steady videos captured with ease.

Here’s the setup:

And here’s the result:

Honorable mention: a burrito

Compact. Tightly wrapped.Not strongly odorous. Filling. Perfectly edible at room temperature. Yes, all are descriptors of the humble burrito, which makes for the ideal carry-on meal. I get mine with sour cream and guac, which usually registers as a gel in the TSA scanner. Still, the inconvenience is worth the deliciousness.

If you’re flying Lufthansa first class, you can probably skip the burrito

So what’s on your must-pack list?

Now for the best part of this article: where you all get to chime in. What do you always have within arm’s reach when you’re on a flight? Who knows — maybe you’ll start a trend! We look forward to seeing your must-pack list in the comments section below.

Why put any of your stuff in this part of the plane if you don’t need to? – Photo: Francis Zera

The post Five Items I Always Have In My Carry-On Bag appeared first on AirlineReporter.

August 08, 2018 at 05:14PM Source:

A Morning Visit To United’s Polaris Lounge At …

A Morning Visit To United’s Polaris Lounge At Newark:

So far, United has opened four of its flagship Polaris lounges: Chicago (ORD), San Francisco (SFO), New York / Newark (EWR), and Houston (IAH). We visited the Chicago lounge last year before it opened, and more recently we dropped by the one at SFO. Both were seriously impressive, with amenities like restaurant-style high-quality dining, showers, and nap rooms, with a dash of local inspiration. In short, everything we’ve seen from the Polaris lounges goes above and beyond. And we’re out to review the whole set.

Our next stop was the Newark lounge, which opened earlier this summer. Newark is United’s primary east coast hub and handles huge amounts of traffic, so a Polaris lounge here was a long time coming. We swung by on a Sunday morning and put the place through its paces. And between a delicious eggs Benedict and some relaxation with views of the ramp, we had a great time. Read on for tons of photos and an in-depth review — plus our analysis of how the place fits into United’s broader lounge landscape.

The Polaris lounge occupies what used to be Newark Terminal C’s largest United Club, just after security and between the C2 and C3 concourses. It’s open from 4:30AM to 10:30PM. The entrance is marked by a large sign that is hard to miss.

The lounge is new, and there’s still some passenger confusion about who has access to the Polaris lounge. The gist is that it’s only for travelers in United or its partners’ long-haul business or first class cabins. You can’t buy access if you don’t automatically qualify. The full fine print is:

“Customers in United Polaris first or business class may visit the lounge at departure, connecting or on arrival throughout their eligible same-day trip. Customers in first or business class on Star Alliance member airlines may access the United Polaris lounge at the departure airport for their long-haul international first or business class flight. Travelers booked in a first-class cabin may invite one guest to join them in the lounge.”

The ladies up front were all smiles, though they had their work cut out for them in turning away passengers who instead only had access to a standard United Club. More on this lounge’s effect on those passengers below.

The entrance featured a constellation-themed lighting fixture.

A distinctive lighting fixture meant to mimic a constellation, created by Brooklyn-based art and design laboratory Richard Clarkson Studio – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter


Just past the front desk was the first of many seating areas. This one was less secluded and probably only worth it for those planning on the quickest of stays.

BONUS: Lounge Review – Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse at San Francisco SFO

The Newark Polaris lounge is a massive 27,000 square feet, with 455 seats and at least as many power outlets.

It also features a curated collection of art from local artists.

Near the front of the lounge, there are also a couple of spaces for phone calls or secluded work.

There’s a customer service desk within the lounge, separate from the front desk at the entrance.

Further inside the lounge, closer to the windows, there are a few rows of the signature Polaris lounge seats — individually enclosed seats with a small table, light, and power outlet.

It’s a simple but well designed seat for the individual traveler trying to get work done.

This part of the lounge has a great view of the ramp, which was buzzing with more widebody aircraft than I was expecting this early in the morning, and this far from the rush of PM transatlantic departures.

The lounge is big enough that the navigation aids on the walls were helpful — arguably necessary.

Showers & Nap Rooms

A “valet” sitting at the entrance to the shower section can help you find an open shower room, and can also arrange to have your clothes pressed while you freshen up.

I poked my head into one of the suites and found it stylish, clean, and well equipped with the basic amenities.

Restrooms are gender neutral and single occupancy.

BONUS: Anything But Ordinary – SAS Scandinavian’s Next-Gen Lounge In Oslo

In the same section of the lounge, there are ten “quiet suites.”

Each features an inclined sleeping surface, Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, a white noise machine, and some sleep amenities.

The concept is thoughtful, but the execution could use a touch more work. The daybeds are firm and curved in a way that may not be comfortable for everyone, and definitely isn’t the best for getting real sleep. Also there’s no curtain to block the light, so you end up feeling exposed and quite dependent on a sleep mask if you’re light-sensitive.

The Bar

Personally I love the look of the Polaris lounge bars — especially the lit-from-below counter surfaces. The team working it didn’t have much to do at 8am, but were plenty friendly.

Here’s the full bar menu:

Boozehounds will note some unique items on the menu, like oolong-steeped spirits.

Self-Serve Food

We’ve found food to be one of the other Polaris lounges’ strong suits. The Newark lounge is no exception.

If you’re in a hurry, there’s a wide selection of self-serve food that is enough to fill you up before a long-haul flight — something you can’t say about most U.S. airline lounges.

Seating for when you’re eating – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Illy espresso – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Of course it wouldn’t be a New York lounge without a wide selection of bagels and spreads.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Mini parfait cups – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Hot items included oatmeal, eggs, sausage, hash browns, and breakfast burritos.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

BONUS: New American Airlines Flagship Lounge at JFK Airport

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Dining Room

Where the Polaris lounge food scene really stands apart is the restaurant-style “Dining Room.” The 24 tables here have some of the best views of the ramp too.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Though the format is fancier than self-serve food, the price is still the same: free! A guy sitting near us asked the server for the check. Needless to say he was pleasantly surprised when his server told him the meal was on the house.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The menu features some locally inspired items that you won’t find at the other Polaris lounges, though much of the menu is consistent across Polaris lounges. The menus strike a good balance between not offering too many dishes (to help the kitchen keep moving quickly at peak times) while still covering the spectrum from light to heavy fare.

For breakfast, I gave the eggs Benedict a try. It came on top of a slice of grilled rye bread and a piece of smoked duck. It looked great and tasted even better.

I followed it up with a creme brûlée french toast, which came with berries, syrup, and an apple compote. It was a bit firm for french toast, but tasted amazing.

Any espresso drinks you order at the restaurant get the Polaris logo treatment.

A Word About the WiFi


The Verdict

Out of all the Polaris lounges, the one at Newark was an especially important one for United to get right. New York is a fiercely competitive market. And although United has invested a lot in terminal C, the airport in general doesn’t get a lot of love from New York flyers.

So given the expectations, how does the Newark Polaris lounge fare? Compared to the otherwise lackluster lounge scene from the U.S. carriers, I’d say it’s truly awesome. It may not be surprising that Skytrax recently rated the Chicago Polaris lounge as the best lounge in the U.S.

The biggest wins:

  • The food scene is seriously to die for. It’s amazing for lounge food to make the jump from mixed nuts and snacks to restaurant-quality food. As a bonus, the food isn’t just tasty and well made, but it’s genuinely interesting and locally / seasonally inspired.
  • Shower suites are a welcome sight after a long flight
  • The place is ENORMOUS
  • The design touches are beautiful

Areas for improvement are few and far in between. The quiet rooms would be more worthwhile if they were more secluded and conducive overall to getting real sleep. Maybe the biggest issue is that United must work to educate its customers on who has access to the Polaris lounges and who doesn’t. When we were checking in, a majority of people who walked in were turned away and told to go to a United Club because they weren’t flying long-haul business class. Some clear signage up front would go a long way in addressing that issue.

The place was nearly empty on the weekend morning we came by, but we hear it gets much busier before the evening bank of long-haul departures.

What about the rest of United’s lounges at Newark?

This is an important question for United’s customers in New York, because the Polaris lounge ate up what used to be the largest United Club in the terminal. As a reminder, the non-Polaris United Clubs are for passengers who have a UA Club membership, have one-time passes (like those from the Explorer card), are Star Alliance gold and flying internationally, on shorter international routes, and certain transcon flights. As of now, the only United Clubs in terminal C are the permanent one in concourse C1 and a “pop-up” in C3. From what we hear, both are bursting at the seams due to capacity issues, and may not be accepting one-time passes. Someone in the Polaris lounge mentioned to us that there’s a new pop-up Club in the works, which may help a bit, but probably won’t solve the crowding situation overnight.

United has its work cut out to make sure its regular Club customers don’t come away from Newark disappointed. It would be a nice touch if they offered meal vouchers for use at concourse restaurants as a voluntary alternative to the Clubs. Who knows, people might gladly accept a modest meal voucher instead of a crowded lounge. Or, since the Polaris lounge goes empty a lot of the time, we wonder if the airline could offer its highest-tier elites on domestic itineraries one-time access to the Polaris lounge. Besides relieving the crowds at the standard Clubs, it would help market the Polaris experience to non-Polaris travelers.

Bonus photos for the foodies: lunchtime!

We ended up sticking around the lounge for a while. Here’s some extra photos of the lunch spread.

Share your thoughts about the Polaris lounge at Newark in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Author disclosure: The airline facilitated our entry to the lounge for the purpose of this story. 

The post A Morning Visit To United’s Polaris Lounge At Newark appeared first on AirlineReporter.

August 04, 2018 at 12:30AM Source:

Philippines Airlines’ New A350s Will Enable Di…

Philippines Airlines’ New A350s Will Enable Direct Flights From Manilla to New York:

The A350 is at it again! Airbus’ fuel-sipping widebody is enabling another airline to turn a one-stop long-haul route into a direct ultra-long-haul one. This time around the carrier is Philippines Airlines (PAL), which currently operates its service from Manilla to New York JFK via Vancouver using a 777. Starting in late October, an A350 will take over the route and will fly it direct.

The routing isn’t the only thing getting an update. The 777 currently flying to New York features a stale onboard product, but PAL’s brand new A350s feature a new onboard product that looks to be far better. That’s an especially good thing for passengers because the new direct route clocks in at a whopping 8,520 miles, making it one of the longest in the world.

Source: Great Circle Mapper

There’s already been some good coverage on this news, so here’s some links to our favorites:

  • AusBT features some renderings of the onboard product. The highlight is a much-improved business class seat. It’s based on the Thompson Vantage XL design, which we’ve flown (and loved) most recently on SAS’ refurbished long-haul fleet. The PAL A350 will also benefit from the airline’s brand-new premium economy cabin.
  • Reuters discusses the A350’s fuel efficiency. It also notes that Singapore Airlines is doing the exact same thing with its A350s as PAL is: using them to turn one-stop 777 routes into direct routes (as SQ is doing with its SFO, LAX, and New York services).

Source: Philippines Airlines

It’s great to see airlines put the A350’s (and/or Boeing Dreamliner’s) technological edge to great use. We’re excited to fly this route once it’s airborne!

The post Philippines Airlines’ New A350s Will Enable Direct Flights From Manilla to New York appeared first on AirlineReporter.

July 24, 2018 at 05:19PM Source:

Reactions After My First Airbus A350 Flight

Reactions After My First Airbus A350 Flight:

It’s not every day that you get to fly an aircraft model for the first time. But at long last, after my fair share of missed attempts, I finally got a chance to fly an Airbus A350. I’m a bit ashamed I hadn’t flown it sooner. Being based in San Francisco, it’s been easier to fly the A350’s contemporary — Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner — courtesy of United and its star alliance partners ANA and Air Canada. I was excited to see firsthand how the A350 would compare, and it definitely did not disappoint.

Read on for this AvGeek’s take on the joys of flying Airbus’ A350, and thoughts on how it stacks up against my time flying the 787. Some of the differences are a matter of math, some are slightly more subjective. And yes, we’ll even talk about the most contentious topic of all — window shades versus window dimmers!

Just remember. I’m no airline industry insider. I’m not claiming to be an expert. These are just some subjective reflections and musings. I doubt everyone will agree with me on most points. Actually I hope you don’t. Remember, there’s a comments section at the bottom of this story. Show it some love!

Hong Kong Airlines A350

Xtra Wide Body indeed

Before I had ass-in-seat experience with the A350, the “XWB” branding (for “Xtra Wide Body”) struck me as a touch cheesy. I mean, would the extra bit of width make more of a difference than all of the other cutting-edge features that make the A350 unique? Turns out, it sure does.

MSN002 outside of the test hangar - Photo: Airbus

MSN002 outside of the test hangar – Photo: Airbus

A lot of people focus on the 18-inch seat width standard in economy with the nine-abreast A350 configuration, which makes sense since elsewhere economy class seats keep getting narrower. On my Hong Kong Airlines flight I was fortunate to be flying up front, but I ducked back to look at economy. I’m a skinny guy so I can tolerate the narrow Dreamliner seats OK, but I could definitely appreciate the extra elbow room, which would be especially welcome on the long-haul routes the plane is designed to fly. An underrated bonus is that the A350’s cabin sidewalls were designed to be more vertical so that they don’t encroach as much on window seat passengers’ personal space.

I wasn’t expecting the extra fuselage width to make as much of a difference in business class. But that’s where I was wrong. Hong Kong Airlines flies a version of the forward-facing fully-flat staggered business class seat that can be found on airlines like Iberia and Asiana. But compared with those airlines, Hong Kong Airlines’ seat offered pads beside window seats that turned the already wide seat into an incredibly wide bed — the widest I’ve ever slept on.

Hong Kong Airlines A350 flat bed business class seat

So whether you’re sitting up front or in economy, the “XWB” factor makes a difference. Unless you’re flying the very few A350s delivered with a terrifyingly narrow ten-abreast seating layout. In which case, godspeed brave traveler.

BONUS: Qatar Airways Airbus A350 Photo Tour

Setting a higher bar for cabin ceilings

From the moment I walked onboard I was struck by how roomy the cabin A350 felt. The cabin ceiling is one of the highest out there. The picture below is with the overhead bins open. The cabin feels even more airy when they’re closed.

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

The design wizards at Airbus designed ENORMOUS overhead bins that don’t intrude much into the cabin space when stowed. The ambient ceiling lighting is an added bonus, though not one that’s unique to the A350.

The A350 features a new style of overhead bin designed for greater rollaboard capacity – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

No claustrophobia aboard this bird!

I think the A350 has a spirit animal?

I don’t mean it as a knock against the plane at all. Raccoons are adorable. Unless they’re toppling over your garbage cans in the middle of the night. Luckily A350s don’t do that.

BONUS: The “Bandit” Sneaks Into YVR — Cathay Pacific Begins A350 Service to Vancouver

It’s a damn good looking plane

Animal doppelgangers aside, while I personally don’t find the A350’s appearance quite as inspiring as the Dreamliner’s, it’s still gorgeous. In particular, the blended winglets are a thing of beauty.

The A350 wingtip with special escort - Photo: Owen Zupp

The A350 wingtip with special escort – Photo: Owen Zupp

I don’t feel like images on blogs and websites do them justice. They end up looking more like normal winglets in 2D. But getting to appreciate the dimensionality of the gracefully curved ribbon-like wingtips with your own two eyes is something else entirely.

OK, let’s talk windows

There are entire corners of the aviation blogosphere devoted to the mixed opinions about the 787’s windows. A lot of people seem to prefer the A350’s more traditional slide-down window shades. And to be fair, the A350’s windows offer excellent views and are much bigger than average.

Personally, I still prefer the Dreamliner’s windows. Although the A350’s windows are undeniably large, they’re still significantly smaller than the 787’s. The 787 windows are so tall and large that you sometimes get a solid view looking across the cabin through the windows on the far side of the plane, which really lets you feel the planes speed and size.

By comparison, the A350’s windows are smaller. They benefit from a larger inner windowpane that makes the window seem bigger than it is, but the wide space between the two panes can make it harder to take glare-free aerial photos.

Taking photos and videos out of an A350 window is doable, but not as easy as on the 787 – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

What about the dimmers? I can see why some people aren’t fans of the 787’s dimmable tinted windows. But I personally far prefer the Dreamliner dimmers to standard window shades. I dread the moment when flight crews ask everyone to close their windows so that people can get rest. On daytime flights, having to shut out the sun completely hurts my ability to adapt to a new time zone. Also, no more views! On a 787, I can dim the windows to the next-to-lowest setting, which allows me to enjoy cruise flight with at least some view of the sun and scenery, without flooding the cabin with unwelcome sunlight.

External camera views for the AvGeeks

As with other A350 operators, Hong Kong Airlines offers passengers two external camera views through the inflight entertainment system. One looks down on the plane from the tail, and one looks forward and below from just behind the nose gear. The resolution is surprisingly good, even when displayed on a large screen. It easily beats endlessly rewatching movies or TV shows. Don’t just take my word for it — here’s some examples from my flight:

BONUS: My First Flight on the Airbus A350 XWB

BONUS: My First Airbus A350 Flight — On TAM Airlines

As for the other A350 bells and whistles, your mileage may vary

The A350 passenger experience features that impressed me most weren’t the ones I expected to. To be honest, the increased cabin humidity is probably good for me, but its not something that makes me feel much better in the moment. The plane offers advanced turbulence-dampening features, but you’re still going to feel the chop if you hit it.

The advanced flight deck of Cathay Pacific's A350, B-RLI, at the gate at YVR

The advanced flight deck of Cathay Pacific’s A350, B-RLI, at the gate at YVR

On the other hand, I was definitely impressed with how quiet the A350 is. Even on takeoff, it’s more of a throaty hum than a deafening roar.

Airlines are really proud of their A350s

Last but not least, it’s great to see how proud Hong Kong Airlines and most other A350 operators are about showcasing the aircraft. When you board a HX A350, images of the aircraft are plastered on every inflight entertainment screen. And given all the passenger experience benefits I covered earlier, you can’t blame ’em.

The A350 vs the 787 vs the rest of the pack

Based on my first A350 trip, I’d say the plane makes good on its promise to improve the overall passenger experience. I’d lean heavily towards the A350 over the 787 if I was flying in economy, given the extra seat width, airier cabin, and incredible luggage storage capacity. But flying in premium economy or business, I think it’s more of a toss-up. My bigger takeaway is that I’d leap at any chance to fly either the A350 or 787 instead of any other aircraft model, except perhaps for the A380 or a 747-8.

Now it’s time for us to hear from you! Share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section below. 

The post Reactions After My First Airbus A350 Flight appeared first on AirlineReporter.

June 20, 2018 at 06:54PM Source:

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: