Category: fligh

Inside America’s Most Punctual Airline: Interviewing Hawaiian Airlines’ Head of Neighbor Island Operations:

You’re sitting by the gate at the airport, watching the clock tick closer to your flight’s boarding time. Suddenly, there’s a *ding* overhead as the PA system comes on. Your stress levels rise. You know what’s coming. “Sorry folks, but departure has been delayed by an hour due to [insert any one of a million reasons / excuses here].”

In the airline world, on-time performance is hard. Airplanes are complex, ground operations are a logistical nightmare, and weather can wreak havoc on even the best-managed carriers. Given all those factors, it’s sometimes surprising how many flights still do leave on time. Most airlines rise and fall in the Department of Transportation’s on-time performance rankings. But over the past fifteen years, one U.S. carrier has kept an iron grip on the top position: Hawaiian Airlines.

We just wrote about our flight from Oakland to Maui on one of the airline’s new Airbus A321neos. After landing, we sat down with Hawaiian’s Head of Neighbor Island Operations Pat Rosa, who discussed what goes into Hawaiian’s on-time performance. Sure, Hawaii’s lack of snowstorms helps (though the islands still deal with their share of bad weather). But there’s plenty more ingredients that go into Hawaiian’s secret sauce for punctuality. Pat also talked about the unique culture within the islands’ home airline, his love for the new A321neo fleet, and his excitement for the airline’s Boeing 787 order.

If you love behind-the-scenes looks at airlines you definitely don’t want to miss this one, so read on!

Pat and I sat down in the airline’s training room for its Kahului employees. We were joined by Tara Shimooka, a communications specialist with the airline.

Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Pat. And congratulations to you and your team on being America’s most on-time airline for another year! To start, tell us a little about how you came to work at Hawaiian Airlines.

Pat: I started in this business in 1985. I was actually on the ramp here as a baggage guy. Then I got into maintenance and worked in that field for a while. It’s been over 30 years that I’ve worked in airport operations. Prior to joining Hawaiian I was an aviation consultant, consulting for Hawaiian. They reached out to me and said, “Hey we have a gig for you in Maui! We need some help building our hub there.” I said “Yeah, sure!” That was two and a half years ago and I’ve been here ever since.

BONUS: The Fascinating and Turbulent State of Hawaii’s Airlines (2014)

Q: What does your day-to-day look like as Head of Neighbor Island Operations?

Pat: First thing in the morning, we prepare the team and communicate any updates. On-time performance is a big focus for us, but safety is the most important. So we always start out with that — by talking about safety and taking care of each other, and then we begin our operational day. Throughout the day there are always challenges that come up, like delays or maybe even cancellations. But we have a strong and experienced team that knows how to handle those problems. We have a bunch of team members who have been here for a while, and they are veterans of this operation. We have one guy here who has been an employee for 54 years now.

Q: What are the ingredients that go into Hawaiian’s on-time performance?

Pat: Communication is one of the biggest things. We ensure the team knows what the shared goals and vision are. Most employees understand them, but it’s only once we actually apply them that we fully grasp them. Most of our employees here welcome the communication, and sometimes they reply to our ideas with tough talk too. Sometimes they’ll say “here’s why this may not work.” But we work through those things.

BONUS: Oh Snow! Rare Multi-Day Snowstorm Makes for Busy Ops at Sea-Tac Airport

Q: Each year when the on-time performance statistics come out and Hawaiian is on top, does your team celebrate?

Tara: We’re the biggest airline based in Hawaii but when you compare us to airlines like American, United, and Delta, we’re much smaller. As we continue to grow, while we do celebrate the milestones and achievements, mostly it’s a “go! go! go!” mentality.

Pat: Our airline, like Hawaii itself, is very Asian influenced. Culturally, I think we’re very humble. We don’t always raise the flag and say “Hey look at me, we’re doing better than the other guy!” For us it’s about doing the best job we can, which is the most fulfilling thing for our employees.

A Hawaiian Airlines DC-8 from the 1980s – Photo: Hawaiian Airlines

Q: People in the contiguous 48 states probably think of snowstorms when they think of weather-related flight delays. Snowstorms aren’t a problem here in Hawaii. What are some of the weather events or other external factors that your team does have to deal with here on the islands?

Pat: The most recent events I’ve seen here are hurricanes. Last year we had five or six that came through the region. They all missed Hawaii but one came very close and we had to prepare to shut down completely. There was so much preparation. We were in close touch with our central operations center in O’ahu to get updates about where the storm was. We were thinking about how we might reroute airplanes and how we would deal with diversions. We were calling in overtime. We had people who couldn’t get to work because of fallen trees and downed power lines across the roads. It was a challenging time, but we were very transparent about communicating what was going on to our customers.

BONUS: Ice, Ice Baby – Winter Operations at Iceland’s Keflavik Airport

Q: So if a hurricane or major storm hit the island, what would happen to the aircraft to keep them safe?

Pat: It depends on the severity of the storm. In the case of the recent hurricane that we thought would come right across the island, we were preparing to reposition our planes on the farthest islands to the north. And as the hurricane came through we would have flown the planes off of those islands, around the hurricane, and to the islands in the south. Our widebody aircraft could transition to the mainland. We had all of that planned, but fortunately we didn’t need to execute that plan.

Q: Does aircraft maintenance mostly happen in Honolulu?

Pat: Yes, all major overnight aircraft maintenance work happens in Honolulu. But every flight to the West Coast needs needs maintenance before every flight because of ETOPS. So we have a large maintenance team here in Maui to check the essential systems required for extended over-water flights.

Q: What’s something about Hawaiian’s operations that the general public may not know but might find interesting?

Pat: Well most people don’t know that Maui is the airline’s number-two hub. We have over 700 employees here in Maui.

Fast facts on Hawaiian Airlines’ Maui operations — Source: Hawaiian Airlines

Tara: The A321s have allowed us to expand our operation here in Maui. Honolulu used to be where everyone flew into. There’s a big modernization of that airport and a lot of international travelers in and out of that airport. The A321neo has allowed us to open up direct routes from the West Coast to the neighbor islands like Maui. It’s important because our largest market into Maui is the U.S. West Coast. They love Maui and they’re repeat visitors. The A321neo has allowed us to bring in more people from the West Coast directly into Maui. With that, there’s been a big expansion here at this airport. Five to ten years ago it was a small operation, but now we’re growing, with over 700 employees, 6,000 visitors daily, and 4,000 bags daily.

Hawaiian’s direct flights to the West Coast from Maui — Source:

Q: I flew in on one of the new Airbus A321neo aircraft. From an operational perspective, how has it been working with that new plane?

Pat: The A321neo is one of the most fuel efficient planes in the industry. It’s an engineering success, but also the mechanics who turn the planes around do less because these planes are so much more reliable than older planes like our retired 767s. Even our employees who board and service the plane say that their work is much faster. When we initially brought the A321neo in, there was a huge learning curve. We have an 80-minute standard turn time for long-haul flights, which is pretty fast by industry standards. All the cleaning, offloading, onloading, and catering has to happen during that time. The biggest challenge was taking a high-capacity narrow-body and spinning it around very fast. When we first started with the plane we gave ourselves longer 90-minute turn times as we perfected the turn with the new plane. But now we’re pretty consistent with the 80-minute turn.

BONUS: An Academic Look Into Airline Scheduling

Q: Do you sometimes miss the 767 now that it has left the fleet?

Pat: The 767 was a great airplane. For us, though, it was time for a newer, more reliable, more fuel-efficient airframe. I think taking on the A321neos was the best business decision the company has made in the time that I’ve worked here.

Tara: We hope our passengers get a sense of Hawaii while they’re on the plane, from the drinks and cocktails we have available to touches like the coconut soap in the bathroom. We share that Hawaiian hospitality with our guests. We want it to be like we are inviting people into our home, giving them some of our food, and helping them relax.

Pat: Our passengers will never meet or see our people on the ground, but our ramp team really sees the bag that they have as being so important. They take pride in making sure the bag gets to where it needs to go. A year ago we implemented bag scanning. We had perfected our process for getting a bag from the front counter to an airplane’s belly. But with bag scanning we proved that we could really make that complex system work.

Q: Tell me more about the culture and spirit of the people who work at the airline.

Pat: We don’t typically celebrate as individuals when we have successes. We celebrate as a whole team when the team does well. And as you’ll see when you spend time in Hawaii, we love to celebrate with good food.

Tara: The airline has been in service for 89 years and November will kick off our 90th year. We’ve started celebrating by getting out into the community a lot. We recently had an employee volunteer program to encourage employees to donate to local charities. We matched up to $90,000, since we were celebrating our upcoming 90th anniversary. We met and exceeded that goal, and so we had a big party for the employees. I think we are a little different in our relationship to the community here than most other airlines, since 90% of our workforce is here on the islands.

Q: Hawaii is very in tune with, and sensitive to, changes in the environment and climate. Other than investing in the fuel efficient A321neo, are there any other efforts the airline is making to promote sustainability in its operations?

Tara: We’ve partnered with a company called IAGOS that attached a climate monitoring system to our A330s. We’re the first US airline to do that. Because of our unique positioning in the Pacific, we can track weather events and send results back to IAGOS. We also work to lower APU usage at gates. We have an employee resource and sustainability group, which is constantly meeting to discuss ways to improve our sustainability. We also know that we bring a lot of tourists to Hawaii, and that it is our responsibility to educate them — not just on our culture, but also about the land and resources they will be experiencing while they’re here. We do a lot of ecotourism initiatives to bring people here and set them up with nonprofits to teach them about the land. We partner with reef-safe sunscreen programs. On our inflight entertainment systems we have a lot of programming on water safety and how to be a responsible tourist. We want people to enjoy Hawaii but to enjoy it responsibly. We live here. This is our home. Sustainability is very important to us.

BONUS: Southwest Airlines Says Aloha As It Launches Flights to Hawaii

Q: What is your favorite aircraft, past or present?

Pat: For me it’s the 787, which we announced recently that we are ordering. It’s 70% carbon fiber, which is amazing. It’s really fuel efficient. It no longer uses the engine to pressurize the cabin. It uses air pumps instead to get to higher air pressure, which will help with jetlag. Personally, I’m a Boeing guy. I worked on them myself, and so I do love Boeing airplanes. Sometimes I feel like I should turn in the pen and go back to working on the airplanes myself.

Well thanks for sitting down and speaking with us, Pat. It was a pleasure!

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

The post Inside America’s Most Punctual Airline: Interviewing Hawaiian Airlines’ Head of Neighbor Island Operations appeared first on AirlineReporter.

May 21, 2019 at 05:59PM Source:

Hei L.A.! Finnair’s Inaugural A350 Flight From Los Angeles to Helsinki:

Late last year we spent a fun couple of days flying long-haul with Finnair and interviewing the head of their flagship Airbus A350 fleet. But we never actually flew the A350 ourselves, since Finnair’s US routes were all handled by their older A330s. That changed a month ago, when Finnair re-launched flights to LAX after a long hiatus and gave the honor to the A350. Obviously we weren’t going to miss the chance to cover the inaugural, and the folks at Finnair gave us the chance.

The onboard product lived up to the hype, with universal aisle access, lie-flat seats, Nordic style, and even a northern lights simulation on the ceiling. And it was just as fun covering Finnair’s pre-flight festivities on the ground. Clearly this route was a big deal for the Finnair team, getting the honorific flight numbers AY01 and AY02.

Read on for the full scoop on Finnair’s (re)inaugural celebration of its service from Los Angeles to Helsinki.

I had barely walked through the doors at LAX’s Thomas Bradley International Terminal when I saw signs of the day’s celebrations: white and blue balloons around Finnair’s check-in counters.

Compared with most of LAX’s other terminals, TBIT is fresher and airier.

BONUS: LAX’s H Hotel is a Spotter’s Paradise

Finnair’s business class passengers get access to the OneWorld Alliance lounge — a solid place to recharge and relax with a drink and maybe grab a bite to eat.

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

Pre-Flight Festivities

I walked up to the gate and — BAM — the Finnair A350’s bandit mask cockpit was staring me in the face.

BONUS: A Quick Take On Flying Long-Haul With Finnair

The ribbon cutting ceremony started with some words from Ossi Karuvaara, Finnair’s Director of US Airports.

And the short ceremony ended the way ribbon cuttings always do: with a big pair of golden scissors.

BONUS: Opinion – Why the LAX Terminal 4 Connector Matters For You

Passengers got to enjoy a hearty cake, fruit, and snack spread.

With that, it was time to head down the jetway!

Onboard the Finnair A350

Consider me dazzled. Finnair’s A350 cabin design looked great and did the airline’s Nordic roots justice. There’s lots of light tones with deep blue accents — in line with the fleet’s exterior paint job.

The reverse-herringbone seat layout gives every passenger direct aisle access.

All of Finnair’s A350s have eight rows of business class seats between the first and second set of doors. The cabin feels extra spacious since Finnair eliminated storage bins over the center section. The bins on the side of the cabin were plenty large enough to handle everyone’s carry-on bags.

Some of the airline’s A350s have a second business class mini-cabin behind the main one. That cabin has a more secluded feel, but it gets all the economy class foot traffic during boarding.

I was assigned one of the window seats in the mini-cabin — seat 11A. I had two windows to myself and plenty of personal space.

It’s not as private as “suites” with doors like Qatar’s QSuites or Delta’s A350 suites. But compared with most business class seats the privacy factor was still pretty good. I could easily see the person seated across the aisle from me but otherwise nobody else. Anyways Finnair seems like it was going for an open, airy cabin feel over total privacy.

Be aware: these seats’ lap belts are bulky.

The panel beside each seat has a nook with a hook for hanging headphones as well as a reading light, USB port, power outlet, seat controls, and a remote for the entertainment system.

Size-wise the footwell was generous. Relative to the seat it curved slightly to one side, which made sleeping on my side easier when facing the window than when facing the aisle.

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

The center section of the lie-flat bed is broad. Since these planes are new the seat padding is still on the firm side.

Taking a peek back at economy, the 18-inch-wide seats looked fresh. In particular the seatback entertainment screens were high-res and relatively large. Also the space under the seat wasn’t cluttered by misaligned seat pylons or big boxes for the entertainment systems.

Finnair’s first few rows of economy are an “Economy Comfort” product with a bit of extra legroom. There’s no true long-haul premium economy product on Finnair’s long-haul fleet … yet.

BONUS: A Tale of Two Airlines – British Airlines vs Iberia in Economy

Finnair scheduled its LAX flights with less than two hours turnaround time on the ground. Given the congestion and frequent delays at LAX, that’s ambitious. Our flight ended up leaving a bit late, but it (and most of Finnair’s LAX-HEL flights since) made up most of the time in the air.

The sun had set just before we pushed back, but LA looks amazing from the air whether it’s day or nighttime.

Inflight Service Begins

In lieu of printed menus — which didn’t get to LA in time for this inaugural flight — flight attendants took a knee by each passenger and explained the meal options.

I love Finnair’s Tapio Wirkkala glasses, which add a beautiful textured appearance to the meal service. They look like something out of Disney’s Frozen, which seems right for an airline whose home country straddles the Arctic Circle.

After a light amuse-bouche I was served a grilled chicken starter. It tasted simple but the plating was beautiful.

The white fish in creamy sauce with rice and vegetables was nice and light, though the flavor factor was light too.

Dessert totally knocked it out of the park. The chocolate cheesecake, chocolates, ice cream, and fruit brought the sweetness. And the cheese plate and port balanced them out well.

Taking a Closer Look at the Finnair A350 Cabin

The cabin lights were a simple white during boarding, but that all changed when we hit cruise altitude and the crew turned on the mood lighting. Finnair and Airbus designed a unique northern lights effect on the overhead panels. The result is honestly gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

This time-lapse exaggerates the effect, but you get the idea.

The home page of Finnair’s A350 inflight entertainment system features a timeline of the flight. In the rush to prepare this inaugural flight someone had flipped the arrival and departure times. So the timeline showed a hilariously long 22-hour flight time. Oops. But inaugural flight mistakes aside, the timeline is a really practical IFE feature.

Finnair’s A350 lavatory design and amenities are straightforward. The lav was spacious and kept clean throughout the flight, which is what counts.

Done with my exploring and full from the meal, I flattened out my seat and conked out.

Approaching Helsinki

I woke up after five hours of restful sleep, just in time for breakfast. The frittata, potato cake, coffee, juice, fruit, bread, jam, and yogurt hit the spot.

Just before our descent, the flight attendants came around with a Polaroid and props so that passengers could have a memento from the flight.

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

It was a clear day with great visibility as we started the approach into Helsinki.

I also took a deeper dive into the entertainment system and found lots for an AvGeek to love. For one, the inflight map was sleek and responsive.

It even had a cockpit mode.

Of course, the real star of the show was the A350 tail and nose cams, which I enjoyed all the way through descent, approach, and landing.

BONUS: Come Fly With Me, On the Delta A350, Domestically!

The Verdict

This flight didn’t feel like any old inaugural. Finnair already had a pretty extensive long-haul route network across Asia and North America. But the re-inauguration of service to Los Angeles was an especially big moment for the airline. The flight jumps to the second-longest route in the network, just 150 miles shy of the longest (Helsinki-Singapore). It gets flight numbers #01 and #02, which symbolically is a big deal.

Most of all, it’s the first North American route that Finnair gave to its flagship A350, which (as we can now confirm first-hand) makes for a really nice ride. There’s all the benefits of the A350 design — big windows, better cabin pressurization, less noise. And Finnair did well to pick a great premium cabin seat design and go for a bright and airy Nordic vibe.

BONUS: Reactions After My First Airbus A350 Flight

Based on this experience, Finnair’s A350 is one of the better ways to get from Southern California to Europe in style. These inaugural flights aren’t great for real “reviews” since they involve a lot of one-off positive and negative factors. We were focused on all the fun the Finnair team was having with this celebratory flight. We’ll be back later with a report from our return flight, which was more reflective of the airline’s usual ops.

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

Note: Finnair provided us with a premium cabin itinerary for the purpose of this story. All opinions remain our own. 

The post Hei L.A.! Finnair’s Inaugural A350 Flight From Los Angeles to Helsinki appeared first on AirlineReporter.

May 14, 2019 at 10:06PM Source:

Los Angeles’ Newest Star: United’s Polaris Lounge Shines Bright at LAX:

Most people looking for the stars in SoCal head to Hollywood. But when we were in town recently, we headed the exact opposite direction and made a beeline for LAX. That’s because we were on the hunt for one particular star. The northern star, AKA Polaris. United Airlines has been making gradual but steady headway with the rollout of both the Polaris seat (now on its 787-10 Dreamliners in addition to many of its 777s and 767s) and its top-of-the-line Polaris lounges. We’ve already been to the Polaris lounges at SFO, Newark, and Chicago. And we hear great things about Polaris Houston. So when Polaris LAX opened earlier this year, we knew we had to swing by.

We found a lounge just as impressive as the other stellar Polaris lounges we’ve seen before, though with a smaller footprint. With plenty of sleek decor, amenities, and local flavor, Polaris LAX is definitely worth visiting. Read on for the full details and prepare to be starstruck!

United flights leave from terminals 7 & 8 at LAX, which recently benefitted from a half-billion-dollar renovation campaign. LAX isn’t as big an operation as United’s hub up the coast in San Francisco, or across the country in Newark or Dulles. But with direct service to ten international destinations — including long-haul flights to Asian, Australian, and European cities — United LAX isbig enough, and has enough premium demand, to earn a Polaris lounge. It’s located halfway down terminal 7, one floor up from the main concourse.

We marked the location of the lounge’s entrance with a star – Image: LAX

BONUS: Dash-Ten Out of Ten – United’s 787-10 Inaugural From SFO to Newark

When the first few Polaris lounges opened up there were TONS of passengers confused about who gets access. It used to be a big burden for the front desk folks to direct many comers to United Clubs. But now they’ve wised up and are placing big banners by lounge entrances making it clear who has access. FYI, flying short- or medium-haul international (i.e.: Canada, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean) isn’t enough to score Polaris lounge access. You need to be flying long-haul in a cabin billed as Polaris business class. Here are the full access rules (scroll down to the Polaris section).

United struck a distinctive style for its Polaris lounges that’s consistent from one lounge to another. The entrance to Polaris LAX gets the usual well-lit marble treatment with a bold lighting fixture on the ceiling.

If you need help with your reservation, there’s sometimes a representative at a concierge desk. But when things are quiet the desk is usually empty and you’ll have to check with the front desk attendant.

This Polaris lounge is one of the smaller ones with a capacity of only 140 guests. The staff describe it as the “boutique” lounge in United’s Polaris collection. Still, when I was there during the middle of the day there was plenty of room to stretch out. The main section of the lounge has many types of seating along a window with a great view of the ramp between T6 and T7.

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

It’s not quite a 360-degree panorama since the lounge isn’t at the very end of the terminal, but it still has amazing views. There’s TONS of ramp activity to enjoy and you can see aircraft lifting off from the southern pair of runways.

The signature Polaris seating cubes are great for solo flyers.

Across the main room from the window is a gorgeous bar.

BONUS: 17 Hours in the Friendly Skies – United’s LAX-SIN Route [note: route has since been axed in favor of a second SFO-SIN frequency]

Each Polaris lounge gets a few locally-inspired cocktails in addition to the usual suspects. Out of those “local features, the On Sunset is a spin on a tequila sunrise, and the Let’s Rumble is tall and fruity. Both were great, though my personal favorite from the Polaris cocktail menu is the Paper Plane — which comes with a little plane clipped to the rim.

The selection of spirits is way above average for a U.S. airline lounge.


If you’re not too hungry, or if you’re in a hurry, there’s a big selection of self-serve smaller bites. I say “smaller” with a grain of salt, because even the counter-serve options are heartier than the best you’d find at most U.S. airline lounges. And I appreciate that there are some relatively healthy options as well.

BONUS: 747 Flight Review – United “Polaris” Global First, London to San Francisco

The attention to detail in the plating is seriously impressive. Everything in the buffet looks delightful.

But the self-serve food isn’t even the best part of the Polaris lounge dining experience. That honor definitely goes to the Dining Room, a mini restaurant that’s free of charge for lounge guests.

BONUS: Taking a VIP Polaris Flight on United’s First 777-300ER

Just as with the cocktail list, the Dining Room menu has plenty of local inspiration.

I asked my server for whatever the frequent flyer favorites were. She came out first with the Korean bulgogi arancini and the LA fish and chips. The arancini were flavorful. And the fish and chips were out of this world, thanks to the added crispy factor from the almond crust.

I had a tiny bit more stomach real estate left so I tried the street taco trio. The diced cactus was a bit new to me but all of them were tasty. One thing I love about the Polaris Dining Rooms is that the portion sizes are modest so you can try multiple items.

For anyone in the mood for dessert, I hear the churros are also great. Anyways, Polaris LAX knocks dining out of the park. I couldn’t find anything to complain about if I tried. Just remember: the Dining Room may not be a good fit if you’re in a hurry.

Rinse & Relax

If you need to freshen up after a long flight (or a big meal at the lounge) there are some beautifully decorated shower rooms and gender-neutral restrooms. All are equipped with Cowshed amenities.

You can get your clothes steamed while you’re in the shower and there’s plenty of amenities on-demand if you need ’em.

A wellness room is a nice touch for parents on the go.

BONUS: Etihad’s New Lounge in LAX

There’s a row of nap spaces on the far side of the lounge, against a window facing T8.

The relaxation rooms come with some water, an eye mask, earplugs, and a few other amenities.

I’d imagine most people who use this part of the lounge want to get real sleep, and I wish they had installed fully-flat furniture instead of those recliners. Still, these nap nooks are nice to have as an option — especially if the rest of the lounge gets crowded and loud.

The Verdict

My main takeaway from Polaris LAX? All awesomeness, no surprises. This place is totally on brand for United’s super-premium new breed of lounges. The airline tried to design a lounge that would meet just about any need a traveler has. And here, as in SFO, EWR, ORD, and IAH, they hit the mark.

The decor is gorgeous, the food and drink are delicious, the showers are clean and well equipped, and the people working there were friendly — in large part I’m guessing because they’re really proud of the product they’re delivering. This place — or any Polaris lounge, for that matter — is absolutely worth getting to the airport early for.

The crazy thing is: this lounge isn’t even the most deluxe experience that United offers at LAX. That honor goes to the “United Private Suite,” a partnership with a VIP terminal called The Private Suite that we profiled last year.

The Private Suite is its own terminal across the south runways from most of LAX’s passenger terminals – Photo: The Private Suite

Some closing notes about the Polaris lounge at LAX:

  • Reportedly, the lounge is most crowded in the evening. Even then I don’t believe there’s any risk of not having a place to sit. But the Dining Room may have a wait.
  • If you are flying an itinerary labeled as United Polaris business class you can access this lounge whether you’re arriving, connecting, or departing from LAX.

  • If you’re departing LAX on a long-haul business class flight on one of United’s Star Alliance partner airlines (Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana, Austrian, EVA, LOT, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore, Swiss, Turkish) you technically have access to the Polaris lounge. But your flight probably boards waaay over in the international terminal, which is now connected to T7 by a long twisty set of walkways. For most passengers in this position the 20-plus-minute trek probably isn’t worth it, but if you have a long layover or are really really committed to dropping by, it’s doable. Remember, though, Star Alliance flyers can only access this place if LAX is the departure airport for their long-haul biz class leg.

BONUS: LAX Story – Why the T4 Connector Matters to You

Bonus photos: Taxiing around LAX

Here are some tidbits from our window seat view in and out of LAX. Gotta love the amazing plane spotting at LAX, whether you’re flying overhead, taxiing around, watching from the terminals, or eating at the Sepulveda Boulevard In-n-Out.

BONUS: LAX’s H Hotel is a Spotter’s Paradise

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

Note: United granted us access to this lounge for the purpose of this story. All opinions in this story are our own. 

The post Los Angeles’ Newest Star: United’s Polaris Lounge Shines Bright at LAX appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 25, 2019 at 06:04PM Source:

Southwest Airlines Says Aloha As It Launches Flights to Hawaii:

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Alert: a new player has entered the game. At long last, Southwest Airlines is flying to Hawaii. It’s a major milestone for the airline, which has had its eyes on the Hawaii prize for a years. So when the first flight departed Oakland for Honolulu on March 17th, the airline threw a BIG party to celebrate.

There were hula dancers, live musicians, cakes, speeches, and (of course) TONS of Hawaiian shirts. Passengers on the flight — who mostly seemed to be Southwest employees and die-hard fans — got luggage tags and flower leis before taking to the skies. And we got to head out onto the airfield to see the flight off. Read on! We have so many photos, you’ll feel like you were there with us.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Building up to a big aloha

Southwest has been on an impressive campaign to solidify its strength on the west coast. So adding Hawaii flights was only a matter of time. Still, Southwest took its sweet time making the jump from “hmm we want to do this” to “OK we’re actually doing it!”

The airline needed to clear ETOPS (extended-range twin-engine operational performance standards, or more recently, just called extended operations) certification and some other red tape to make Hawaii happen. But just as it moved forward, the government shutdown hit. It pushed back Southwest’s Hawaii start date back by a few months, but soon after the shutdown ended the certification process wrapped up and tickets went on sale.

Here’s the schedule of the Hawaii inaugurals:

  • March 17: Oakland to Honolulu (Oahu)
  • April 7: Oakland to Kahului (Maui)
  • April 28: Inter-island flights between Honolulu and Kahului
  • May 5: San Jose to Honolulu
  • May 12: Inter-island flights from Honolulu to Keahole/Kona (Big Island)
  • May 26: San Jose to Kahului

Service to Hawaii from San Diego and Sacramento is also on its way.

BONUS: Rolling the Dice With Southwest Air’s A-List Same-Day Standby Perk

Kicking off Southwest’s big day

On the morning of March 17th, we headed over to Oakland International Airport — one of Southwest’s west coast hubs — to join the festivities. Literally the moment we walked through the front doors of terminal 2 it was clear something Hawaii-related was going on:

BONUS: Opinion – Nine Reasons Why I Think Southwest Is the Best, Counterpoint Opinion – Nine Reasons Why I Don’t Fly Southwest

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The flight was departing out of terminal 1, the home of most airlines other than Southwest. T1 and Southwest’s T2 are connected airside so passengers could still clear security at the T2 TSA checkpoint, which recently got a wellness-focused makeover from Kaiser Permanente.

At the gate the party had already begun.

A group of Hawaiian musicians was there to set the mood.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Oakland Airport people were as excited as the Southwest folks were. Which made sense, since it was an honor for their airport to be chosen for Southwest’s first Hawaii route. To celebrate they were cutting slices of cake for passengers.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

It became really obvious really quickly that this was no usual airport crowd. A lot of passengers were Southwest employees, having the time of their lives celebrating their airline’s milestone. Most other passengers were diehard Southwest fans. There were a lot of Hawaiian shirts around, but a few passengers had made custom T-shirts to commemorate their ride on this historic flight.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Klan family, shown below, had been on a mind-blowing thirty Southwest route inaugurals before this one.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

In addition to a certificates, passengers also got custom Southwest baggage tags as a keepsake.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The flight’s veteran captain Michael Styer was your classic straight-faced pilot. But he couldn’t help but hide his emotions, a mix of pride in the airline, honor at getting to fly the inaugural, and a tinge of sadness over the passing of Southwest co-founder Herb Kelleher earlier in the year.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

As boarding started, a pair of Hawaiians garlanded passengers with flower leis.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

BONUS: How Do You Get the Best Seat on Southwest Airlines?

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Off to the ramp and runway

The ground crew got in on the fun too. They had made signs to celebrate and they took a lot of pictures (when they weren’t hard at work preparing the aircraft).

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Seeing off flight #808

As boarding wrapped up we rode to the far end of the departure runway.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

A few minutes later, the 737-800 bound for Honolulu roared over our heads, looking brilliant in the midday sun.

BONUS: Putting the Newish Southwest Seats to the (Knee, Back, Arm, Butt) Test

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The plane’s route curved around San Francisco, which must have made for some amazing views. Hopefully the people on board enjoyed them, though we couldn’t blame ’em if they were already busy breaking out the Mai Tais.

Photo credit: FlightRadar24

And with that, history was made! Anecdotal accounts from onboard suggest that the flight was as much of a blast as you’d have expected it to be.

Passing by a grounded bird

March 17th was right in the thick of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 controversy, and as we rode back from the runway our van passed a grounded Southwest MAX 8. Since then, the planes have been moved to a more remote location for storage while the Boeing folks work on a software update.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Once the MAX 8’s safety issues are sorted out they will probably share the work on Hawaii flights. But it’s anyone’s guess when that will happen. For now, the tried and true 737-800 is more than capable to get Southwest from the west coast to Hawaii.

Wrapping up a big day for Southwest

Southwest has celebrated a lot of major milestones during its past few decades of immense growth. But the launch of Hawaii flights is one of the very biggest. Just take a look at the airline’s route network and clearly one flight stands apart from the rest:

Photo credit: FlightRadar24

But putting aside the well-deserved fanfare, will Southwest succeed in Hawaii? Sure, there are factors working in its favor. It’s a popular airline with a cohort of die-hard fans. It already has a well-developed west coast presence. It has the planes to make the jump to Hawaii. And by resolutely refusing to charge bag fees or change fees, it’s pretty differentiated from the competition.

BONUS: What’s Next for Southwest Airlines? An Elite Flyer’s Wishlist

So long, flight 808! – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

At the same time, Southwest will face its share of challenges. The airline’s bread and butter is the short-to-medium-distance domestic game, and Hawaii is on the outside edge of their comfort zone for flight times. Routes to Hawaii are long enough that some passengers may get hungrier than what Southwest’s onboard “menu” can satisfy. You’ll need to bring your own power source, as Southwest doesn’t offer outlets. And the airline’s decision not to operate overnight flights limits connection opportunities to the rest of the U.S.

Still there’s no doubt that Southwest’s Hawaiian debut is exciting and big news!

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. What do you think about Southwest’s Hawai service? Were any of you on one of the first few Hawaii flights? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. 

The post Southwest Airlines Says Aloha As It Launches Flights to Hawaii appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 09, 2019 at 06:23PM Source:

Touring the Antonov AN-124-100M: Climb Onboard one of the Largest Cargo Planes in the World:

Antonov AN124-100M

Antonov AN124-100M

It was a beautiful winter day on the ramp of the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease (PSM) in Portsmouth, NH.  A handful of us were watching FlightAware and listening to air traffic control on the radio.  Just over the buildings to our left, descending on short final, we caught our first glimpse…

We all watched as one of the world’s largest cargo planes touched down, slowed, and turned to taxi.  As it approached us, the size really became apparent.  This is one big airplane. And I was about to have one big AvGeek experience. 

The Russian-made APU was whining loudly as we waited while the crew did their shut down.  After about five minutes, the crew emerged.  Once the last man got off the airplane, we were lead up the stairs and into the 120-foot-long by 21-foot-wide by 14-foot-high cargo area.  In case you’re wondering how big this is, imagine 42 Ford Explorer SUVs parked inside, three-abreast, 21-deep, and stacked two-high.  You would still have room to walk around.

Running along the ceiling of the interior cargo area are rails that hold two gantry cranes capable of lifting 30 tons. They are used to facilitate loading.  Cargo can also be trucked in and tied down using numbered slots on the wall which correspond to tie downs on the titanium floor.  This is used to position cargo for weight and balance purposes.  There is even a track system to bring cargo in like on a rail car, which can be pulled by winches if need be.

The flight deck is located on the upper level, which is accessible by a ladder and small hatch.  Once in flight, the cargo bay is not pressurized, much like the 747 Dreamlifter.  There is an aft crew cabin for the technical flight crew.  While there is a connection between the rear pressurized cabin, the front pressurized cockpit, and flight crew area, the tunnel itself is not pressurized and requires oxygen to make the journey.  It is not something typically done during flight unless absolutely necessary.  So, up we go…

The first thing I noticed upon emerging on the upper side of the hatch is the “first class” seat, complete with a window.  This is the only passenger seat on board with a window.  Because the airplane is so heavy upon departure, the engines are spooled up for about five minutes to ensure stability.  Losing an engine on takeoff would be catastrophic.  The technical crew in the rear of the airplane will feel the engines spool up and the aircraft shake under power, but with no visual reference they really have no idea if they are in flight until they feel any slight turbulence on climb out.  They also have no idea they are back on the ground until the wheels touch.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine how this must feel as a passenger.  I need my window!

We were unable to get a look at the rear technical crew cabin, quite frankly because there are no cleaning crews or flight attendants to tidy things.  They didn’t want us to see any mess that might have been made during the seven-hour flight from Victorville.  That was understandable; I wouldn’t want to show off my house with it untidy.  It was okay, we got to check out the flight crew’s kitchenette and sleeping quarters.   Not quite the upper deck of a BA 747, but it does the job.

I wonder how many of you remember the Gilligan’s Island episode (yes, I’m dating myself), where Gilligan found an old Japanese sub from World War 2 and was going to drive it to Hawaii to rescue everybody.  The sub’s instrumentation was all in Japanese and he couldn’t figure anything out.  This is how I felt looking at this Russian-made cockpit.

This is not a Boeing, and it is far from an Airbus.  There are six stations, not counting relief pilots.  This is old school stuff.  Navigator, radio operator, weight and balance, load, pilot, copilot etc…  Taking a closer look at the flight deck, I felt lost.  I am pretty familiar with the modern aircraft cockpit.  I can name most switches, dials, and knobs and tell you what they all do.  I couldn’t even tell you how to start the APU in this airplane.

It was really cool though, sitting in the pilot’s seat of this beast.  Honestly, it felt like a 747. Well, except that I couldn’t read anything.

As we climbed back down, I turned to get one more close up shot of the 124, amazed by its size and beauty.  A few interesting facts about this airplane: there is no “hub” that they can fly to for repairs.  They carry pretty much everything they need to do repairs “on the road.”  They have a technical crew on board that handles loading and unloading, weight and balance etc…  And every person on board has an expertise.  One may be an expert on the gantry.  One on the hydraulics.  The crew chief on board knows pretty much everything about this airplane.  In other words, on the road they are very self sufficient.  They even carry spare tires should they need to replace one.

The airplane can hold 26,486 cubic feet in volume of cargo. It can fly 2,889 miles and requires 9,843 feet of runway holding nearly 132 tons of cargo.  It was an amazing opportunity to see this aircraft up close and I want to thank my friend Kate who made this happen.  I also want to thank the cargo team who gave us the tour and were so friendly and accommodating.  I was able to take my son along (he is the one climbing the latter in the photo above).  They gave him a model of the AN-124, and yes I was jealous. 

This airplane is as impressive up close as it is from the spotter’s field of any local airport you may see it at.  Keep an eye out for it.  Who knows when it may be summoned to your local field to transport a new engine for some airline!

The post Touring the Antonov AN-124-100M: Climb Onboard one of the Largest Cargo Planes in the World appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 05, 2019 at 09:50PM Source:

Video Report: Finnair’s A330 Long-Haul Business Class From Helsinki to New York JFK:

You might remember our story late last year about our flight in Finnair’s A330 business class throne seat from San Francisco to Helsinki. After a few days in Finland — which included a very AvGeeky chat with the manager of Finnair’s A350 fleet — it was time to head back to the US. To shake things up a little, instead of our usual article format, we put together a video recapping the return journey. We hope you enjoy it!

You probably noticed that we spent a ton of our trip with Finnair talking about their new flagship Airbus A350s … but we never flew one ourselves. Well we’re about to fix that! On Sunday March 31st into Monday April 1st we’ll be flying Finnair’s re-inaugural service from Los Angeles LAX to Helsinki on the A350. It’s the airline’s first US route to get full-time A350 service, which means a huge passenger experience upgrade in all cabins. As usual, we’ll be live tweeting along the way.

Also we’re genuinely interested in your feedback on the video trip report format. Do you prefer our usual article style? Or would you like to see more videos enter the mix? Either way, definitely subscribe to our YouTube channel to get a first look at clips from our trips!

The post Video Report: Finnair’s A330 Long-Haul Business Class From Helsinki to New York JFK appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 29, 2019 at 05:09PM Source:

United Unveils Its Newest Inflight Entertainment System:

You might remember that we got to fly United’s inaugural Boeing 787-10 stretch Dreamliner service from San Francisco to Newark a few weeks ago. There was all the new plane buzz you’d expect. But one feature that deserved its own special mention was the plane’s inflight entertainment system. It was redesigned from the ground up to include tons of new features, from a better moving maps for the #AvGeeks (including us!) to live news updates, a movie+map split-screen option, a favorites list, and a trippy “relax mode.” Plus, the folks at UA went out of their way to accommodate passengers with impaired vision and/or hearing.

Read on for our report with all the details about United’s new screens in the sky!

For context, it’s been a change-filled time for United’s inflight entertainment offerings. DirectTV became free on the 211 737s that have those systems installed. And United unveiled a redesigned mobile app earlier in the year. But the new IFE system on the 787-10 takes the cake.

We were flying in Polaris business class on our 787-10 premium domestic transcontinental flight from San Francisco to Newark. The cabin includes MONSTER 16-inch flatscreens that are sharp, bright, and super responsive.

Frequent United flyers will note that the welcome screen on the new system has a fresher look than previous systems did.

You’ll notice the small service icons on the bottom right of the welcome screen, which lead into some useful practical features. You can control the transparency of your Dreamliner windows through the system, as an alternative to using the stiff buttons below the windows.

Fun fact: most window seats in odd-numbered rows have two windows to themselves, and hitting the dim button on one window will automatically dim the other.

Another practical touch: the option to state your preference via the IFE system on whether you want to be woken for meals or left alone to sleep.

BONUS: Behind the Scenes – How Honeywell is Changing the Flight Deck

We went straight to the flight tracker once we got settled into our seat. The map can either fill your screen or you can split-screen the map while watching TV or a movie.

From the default view you can scroll around or stay centered on the flight.

A day-and-night view can help if you’re designing a sleep schedule to minimize jet lag.

A data dashboard puts a bunch of relevant info on one screen.

BONUS: Taking a VIP Polaris Flight on United’s First 777-300ER

Overall the flight tracker gets the AvGeek seal of approval from us. If only the plane had exterior camera views!

As per usual, the system has a solid library of TV and movies, including new releases. The system can make recommendations based on how much flight time you have left.

Here’s most of the new releases available on our flight (in February).

One useful new feature is a personal favorites list, so you can build your shortlist as you scroll through options.

Also new: live news updates.

United’s Polaris brand is designed in large part to improve inflight relaxation and sleep. Keeping with that theme, the new IFE system has a “relax mode” that pairs calming imagery — like natural scenery — with low-key music options. Your appreciation for relax mode will depend on your state of mind when you fly. Give it a try, but don’t be surprised if it’s not your thing. As an aside: if THC products are ever legalized on a national level, I’d expect this trippy feature will get used a lot more.

One of the most notable aspects of the new IFE system is actually one that most passengers won’t use. United set out to make the new IFE system the most accessible one in the world.

There’s lots of options to help passengers with limited or no vision.

And there are also captions for passengers with impaired hearing.

These features are a big deal for the passengers who need them, and we applaud any airline that goes out of its way to help passengers with disabilities.

BONUS: All Wheels Up – Trying to Change the Way Passengers in Wheelchairs Fly

On our inaugural flight the WiFi was having some performance issues. The Panasonic system installed on United’s 787-10s is supposed to deliver better bandwidth to keep your browsing speedy. Once the entry-to-service issues are smoothed out, time will tell if the reality matches the hype.

All in all we were very impressed with United’s new inflight entertainment system on its new 787-10s. The new features just make darn sense from a practical standpoint, and they’re all in a sleek and stylish package. No details yet on when these systems will be hitting the rest of United’s fleet. For now, it’s just the 787-10s.

What do you think about United’s new IFE system? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Note: United provided our ticket. All opinions in this story are our own.

The post United Unveils Its Newest Inflight Entertainment System appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 27, 2019 at 05:21PM Source:

AvGeek Alert: SFO Recently Opened an Awesome Observation Deck:

We #AvGeeks are easy to please. Just give us a good view of the planes, and we’re golden. Too few airports in the US have official planespotting points, but San Francisco International (SFO) just made that situation a bit better. On February 6th it unveiled a new outdoor observation deck at the very tip of the international terminal’s G concourse.

How good is it? Very good. How close are you to the planes? Very, very close.

It’s post-security (AKA airside) so you need to be flying United or one of its Star Alliance partners to have access. But don’t worry landsiders: later this year SFO will open a pre-security observation deck in T2.

For now, read on for more info and photos from SFO’s new observation deck!

I’m biased as a Bay Area resident, but I love my home airport. And especially the international terminal, a building the city and region can really be proud of.

SFO’s international terminal has two concourses, A and G. G gates serve United and many of its Star Alliance partners like Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, SWISS, Air China, Air India, and a few others. Concourses A and G are not currently connected past security (though many years from now that might change). G gates are connected to United’s Terminal 3 via a post-security walkway.

The new observation deck is at the very end of concourse G.

Walking to the terminal from the BART station and parking garage, you can see a corner of the observation deck.

BONUS: Plane Spotting at Chicago Midway

To access the deck you walk past a new set of dining facilities and through some automatic doors.

Step out onto the observation deck and you’re immediately treated to sweeping views of the ramp, with the South San Francisco hills as a nice backdrop.

Though the space isn’t huge, it’s tastefully done up with bronze sculptures and plants that I’m told are drought-resistant and unappealing to birds.

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

There’s some seating. But not a ton. If it’s a busy time at the terminal, you probably can’t count on scoring a seat.

I was by in the morning, when Dreamliners and 777s flying westbound to Asia predominate. If you drop by in the afternoon or evening you’re more likely to see flights preparing to depart eastbound to Europe and the Middle East. If you’re looking for the more unusual aircraft around, Air China’s 747-8 departs around 11AM, Lufthansa’s A380 can be seen around 9PM. Aircraft assignments change all the time, though, so if you have your heart set on seeing a particular plane you should look up listings beforehand.

During my visit in the morning, the south side of the concourse on my left was busy with United 787s.

United 777-300ERs, the pride and joy of the fleet sporting the new Polaris business class seat, can be found at the tip and right (north) side of the concourse.

An ANA 777 departing for Tokyo Narita pushed back just as I arrived.

The observation deck’s location gives you a close-up view of all the action on the busy ramp.

BONUS: Sweet Photos – Plane Spotting (And More) In Aruba

One small downside is that concourse G is sort of far from the runways. To be fair, that’s only true in a relative sense. SFO has a compact footprint and so all the terminals are fairly close to the runways. But compared with T1-3, where it feels you could almost reach out and touch the planes rolling down the runway, the international terminal is set further back. T1-3 also block the point where planes rotate and lift off. But on most days, you can at least enjoy views of aircraft climbing from 28L/R, which handle many heavy aircraft departures and flights to Hawaii.

I saw a 737 departing for Hawaii.

And later a 777-300ER heading for Beijing.

BONUS: LAX’s H Hotel is a Spotter’s Paradise

Don’t get so sucked into the planespotting that you miss your flight! A screen with passenger paging may help with that.

All in all I had a total blast visiting the new observation deck at SFO. It also seemed to be a hit with the passengers (and a fair number of flight crewmembers) who were curious and dropped by. I’d definitely recommend that any of you flying from SFO T3 or international concourse G drop by. If you’re coming from T3, leave plenty of time for the lengthy walk. To be fair, you get plenty of good views from inside the terminals at SFO. But it’s nice to hear the sound of the engines and smell the jet fuel. Plus, the glass panes at the observation deck were more photo friendly than many of the windows in the international terminal.

The big downside of this deck is that it’s airside and only accessible if you have a ticket. But good news! SFO will be opening a landside observation deck in Terminal 2 later this year. We can’t wait to drop by once it’s open!

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Are you looking forward to visiting SFO’s new observation deck? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

The post AvGeek Alert: SFO Recently Opened an Awesome Observation Deck appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 11, 2019 at 06:31PM Source:

Flying on a JetBlue Inaugural: Cookies, Bingo, and a Water Cannon Salute!:

Early dawn at Boston Logan's at Terminal C9 as we await boarding

Early dawn at Boston Logan’s at gate C9 as we await boarding

As an AvGeek, if you have never flown an inaugural, it’s something to consider doing.  That’s not to say that every first flight comes with fanfare, but JetBlue knows how to throw an inaugural, complete with…


On board the Jetblue airplane…

I arrived at the gate in Boston at 5:31am and was greeted by a table with refreshments and customized BOS-MSP cookies. 

Interior of a freshly renovated Airbus A320

There was certainly excitement in the air as the JetBlue and Massport execs were on hand to initiate this new service. And for that, they brought in a newly reconfigured Airbus A320.

10-inch screens for a great entertainment experience

The 10” screen was almost as nice as being at home, and a refreshing change from the smaller screens on the ERJ-190 and older A320s. 

Fresh airplane smell all around!

The comfortable seats offer an average 32-34″ of pitch throughout the cabin with power outlets at every seat. I moved my seat around a few time in the preceding days and ended up in 4A, mostly so I could get a good shot of the water cannon salute upon arrival. This move became a very lucky choice for me, as you will find out in a moment.

Enroute fun and games!

Once airborne, Marty St. George, Executive VP of Commercial and Planning for JetBlue had some awesome prizes for “Seat Bingo.” Selecting a seat first, “A-F,” and then selecting a row “4” – – 4A hit that “Bingo” … and yes, I was the first winner on this flight! The prize? Two round-trip tickets to return to Minneapolis (MSP), two night’s stay at the Radisson Blu Mall of America, and free admission to four amazing attractions at the Mall of America. Other prizes included a Minneapolis themed tour of Prince’s estate, flight vouchers, etc…

Welcome to Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport

Water Cannon Salute!

Once on the ground, Minneapolis greeted us with a traditional water cannon salute (or complimentary airplane wash, depending on how you look at it.)

Welcome to Minneapolis

When we arrived at the terminal, we were warmly welcomed by ground crew and a fife and drum band playing traditional Yankee style music in the background.

My next birthday cake!! Check out the airplane on top!!

Dunkin Donuts had Boston Cream donuts for us, along with a goodie bag filled with cool things (JetBlue blanket, commemorative MSP sunglasses, a Mall of America discount book, and a few other welcome items).

Welcome sign at MSP’s spotter’s area

And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention how spotter friendly this airport is. There is a designated spotting area, complete with parking and tables with benches. I especially like the spotters guide and “how to tell the difference between a Boeing and an Airbus!”

Seeking out and flying on these special flights is certainly making yourself part of history, whether it’s a new city your favorite airline is servicing, or a new airplane entering the fleet.  Airlines will typically have some type of fanfare and it’s really cool being part of it.

My next inaugural will be on KLM to Boston 3/31/2019.  I can’t wait to see what fun surprises await!

The post Flying on a JetBlue Inaugural: Cookies, Bingo, and a Water Cannon Salute! appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 06, 2019 at 07:44PM Source:

Dash-Ten Out of Ten: United’s 787-10 Inaugural From SFO to Newark:

Photo: United

In our line of work, new planes are a big deal. So we’ve watched closely as Boeing’s longest version of the Dreamliner — the 787-10 — enters service. United is the first U.S. airline to get the “dash-ten” and it has started deploying the stretch Dreamliner on their premium transcontinental routes between Newark and Los Angeles & San Francisco. When we found out that the San Francisco-Newark inaugural flight was on Valentine’s Day, we knew we had to be on it!

There’s a lot of reasons to care about United’s 787-10. It’s the first of United’s Dreamliners to carry the Polaris business class seat, which goes fully flat and offers everyone direct aisle access. The plane comes with an awesome new inflight entertainment system. And now United is the first and only airline to operate the full Dreamliner family: the 787-8, 787-9 and the 787-10.

Read on for photos and more from United’s inaugural 787-10 transcon service out of SFO — including a Valentine’s Day celebration for United’s newest plane.

Warming Up To A Very Special Transcontinental Flight

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is a super-fuel-efficient plane, and most airlines use it for long-haul routes. So it was surprising when United announced that its dash-tens would be a permanent fixture on domestic transcontinental routes from Newark EWR to Los Angeles LAX and San Francisco SFO.

But when you think about it, the 787-10 is a pretty good fit for United’s most premium domestic services. Those routes are premium-heavy and very competitive, so the airline wants to put its best foot forward. Flights from SFO-EWR, LAX-EWR, and SFO-BOS already fly with lie-flat business class seats only, so the Polaris seat would fit right in.

I wasn’t checking a bag on this flight, but if I was I’d have had access to United’s Premier Access lanes. Security was a breeze thanks to TSA Precheck — which a few more of United’s Star Alliance partners recently joined too.

The weather was a mess on Valentine’s Day morning, but just as I cleared security the clouds parted and a rainbow appeared over the airfield.

BONUS: United Unveils Its New Polaris Lounge in San Francisco SFO

SFO just opened an awesome outdoor observation deck at the end of the international G concourse, which is connected airside to United’s domestic terminal 3. So of course I dropped by (a story on that coming very soon). I got to see one of the dash-ten’s little sisters, the 787-9. That aircraft handles many of United’s longest routes, including the ultra-long-haul flights from San Francisco to Singapore. My very first long-haul business class flight was on a United 787-8, and although the experience was a blast for me, the ex-Continental business class seat doesn’t hold a candle to Polaris.

Good news, though: United recently announced that it will start retrofitting its older Dreamliners with the Polaris seat in the fourth quarter of this year. The pace of retrofits will probably be slow, but at least we know when they’ll begin.

A Valentine’s Day Welcome for the 787-10

At last, the star of the show — the 787-10 — made its appearance at the gate, looking absolutely stunning even under cloudy skies.

BONUS: Photos – The Many Liveries On the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

The folks at United are clearly jazzed about their newest members of the Dreamliner family. Just before boarding, there was an overhead announcement celebrating the start of 787-10 service to Newark.

Even better, United decided to hand out beautiful commemorative Valentine’s Day cards to every passenger on this flight. Here’s United SFO Supervisor Joni Belknap handing me my set.

Designed by artist Kelsey Montague, the cards were really beautifully designed.

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

Polaris: A Rhapsody in Blue

From the moment I stepped onboard, it was clear that this was no ordinary United plane. The Polaris seats — eleven rows in one single cabin — looked extra gorgeous inside the Dreamliner. The finishes were a mix of sleek metallic textures and deep blues. Every seat has direct aisle access, but is well enclosed to maximize privacy. Once you’re seated it’s honestly hard to see any other passengers.

As other passengers boarded, there were lots of oohs and aahs. One frequent flyer commented that it was the nicest plane he’s ever flown domestically. And the flight attendants greeting passengers were beaming with pride.

Which seats are best? Traveling twosomes can select paired seats in the center section, which are cloistered away from the aisles. If you end up in these seats and you’re flying alone, you can raise the divider between the seats to maximize privacy.

Polaris on the 787 is in the same 1-2-1-across configuration as on the slightly wider 777-300ER. I didn’t notice any major difference in seat width, but the aisles are definitely narrower.

BONUS: Dreamliners Going the Distance – New Ultra-Long-Haul Routes for Boeing’s 787

Depending on your row, window seats are either flush with the windows or closer to the aisle. The former seats are far superior to the latter in terms of both privacy and views out the window. So solo travelers should definitely aim for odd-numbered rows (note: row #5 is missing one window).

I was in one of those odd-number-row window seats and I had two big Dreamliner windows all to myself. I noticed that dimming one of my windows automatically dimmed the other, a nice design detail.

We’ll have a separate article dedicated to the new inflight entertainment system. For now, it’s enough to say that the seatback screens are huge, bright, and sharp.

Talk about a monster tailwind!

Polaris footwells are deep enough for tall travelers. Width-wise the footwells are okay — wide enough to allow me to sleep on my side, but not as spacious as some might prefer.

I really appreciated the user-friendly design of the push-to-release tray table.

For safety reasons Polaris passengers need to fasten a shoulder harness during takeoff and landing in addition to the lap belt. Tip: when you aren’t using the shoulder strap, tuck it under the headrest instead of trying to push it back into its slot in the seat.

There’s a faux-marble tabletop beside each Polaris seat. The side console contains a storage locker with a door, a reading light, a power outlet, headphone outlet, and remote control.

Below the console is a small literature pocket.

The seat is at its best in fully-flat mode. The padding was comfortable enough even though the plane was new and it’ll probably soften up more with time. The middle section of the lie-flat bed is nice and wide.

On premium transcon routes, business class passengers get a simpler version of the excellent long-haul Polaris bedding from Saks Fifth Avenue. The pillow was substantial and the blanket was exceptionally soft. I also received a small amenity kit with a dental kit, sleep mask, lip balm, and earplugs.

Preflight Fun

I was able to say a quick hello to the captain and first officer, who were keeping a close eye on the weather but were otherwise very excited about operating this inaugural flight. The Dreamliner flight deck looks like it might as well be in a spaceship.

Before settling in to my Polaris seat I took a quick look back at Premium Plus, United’s new premium economy cabin. It’s comparable with premium economy products on other airlines’ long-haul aircraft, and comes close to a domestic first class seat.

Here’s United’s seat map for the plane, which offers 44 Polaris seats, 21 Premium Plus seats, 54 extra-legroom Economy Plus seats, and 199 standard economy seats:

Back in my Polaris seat, I enjoyed a pre-departure glass of sparkling wine as I admired United’s Valentine’s Day 787-10 cards.

Of course there’s always excitement just outside the window (at least if you’re an #AvGeek).

BONUS: Living the Dream – Flying Seat 1A on a United 747

I fly plenty, but the takeoff view on this flight still took my breath away. There was a rainbow right off of the Dreamliner’s right wing as it flexed and carried me into the sky over the Bay Area.

The climbout involved a loop around San Francisco, with more great views.

BONUS: 17 Hours in the Friendly Skies – United From LAX to Singapore

United’s Premium Transcontinental Service

Business class on United’s premium transcon routes (SFO-EWR, SFO-BOS, and LAX-EWR) is notch above United’s standard domestic first class.

After boarding, flight attendants had distributed menus and taken orders for main courses.

Here’s the bar and beverage list:

Whenever an airline has a signature or special drink I have to try it. I’m usually not one for old fashioneds but I liked United’s version, especially the candied orange peel to enjoy with the drink.

It’s generally not fair to judge pace of service on an inaugural flight since crews are still getting used to the plane. The galley on this 787-10 looked like something out of the Tron movie. The flight attendants were working hard and offered service with a smile, but the pace of the meal was understandably slow. I’d wager the pace will improve as crews get used to the new galley.

The meal started with a spinach and watermelon salad along with a starter of chilled chicken breast with apple slaw. Simple, but satisfying — especially along with a pretzel roll and garlic bread.

When I received my entree — a seared turbot fillet with barbecue and soy glaze — I was surprised by how basic it looked. I was surprised again by how tasty it was relative to its appearance, with the soy’s saltiness going well with the barbecue sauce’s sweetness. Generally I’ll take taste over appearance, and in that sense the dish was fine.

Obviously I couldn’t turn down the signature United sundae, which I enjoyed with some Illy coffee, cheese, and red grapes.

It was a tasty meal, but a long one. As the sun set behind us and we got closer to the East Coast, I took a moment to appreciate the cabin design touches. The Dreamliner ceiling and colored lighting scheme — which simulates sunrise and sunset — makes for some amazing ambience.

One potential downside for #AvGeeks: the FAs overrode passengers’ window controls and kept the cabin in darkness for most of the flight. I think some airlines are still ironing out their Dreamliner window etiquette. I’m fine with crews dimming everyone’s windows after a meal as long as they allow passengers to manually un-dim their window if they want to. But the iron first approach like on this flight is best avoided, I think.

BONUS: A Morning Visit to United’s Polaris Lounge at Newark

The WiFi worked well for part of the flight, but then cut out. Reliability remains a challenge for inflight internet. But the 787-10 is flying pretty new connectivity hardware that’s supposed to be faster and more reliable, so maybe this was just a first-flight hiccup.

Soon enough we were descending into Newark. Touchdown gave us a total flight time of barely four hours thanks to a monster tailwind.

The Verdict

On one hand, you could see the Boeing 787-10 as an incremental advance, stretching the existing Dreamliner enough to carry more passengers. In United’s case, I’d argue the introduction of the dash-ten to the fleet carries more significance.

For one thing, it’s the first Dreamliner to see intentional domestic service. True, you occasionally see some United 787-8s and 787-9s on inter-hub domestic flights, but those are generally repositioning flights or proving flights.

Transcon routes from New York to San Francisco and LAX are fiercely competitive. United’s decision to deploy the 787-10 on those routes shows that it’s serious about competing against other premium transcon products like JetBlue Mint, American’s A321T first class, and Delta One. The 787-10 will handle only a small share of United’s transcon frequencies. But given the passenger experience benefits, I’d aim for ’em if you can.

The 787-10 is the first Dreamliner to get United’s real-deal Polaris business class seat, which is a massive improvement over United’s older business class seats. It’s also the first member of the United fleet to come factory installed with the Premium Plus premium economy seat. The sleek, responsive, and disability-accessible inflight entertainment system on this 787-10 was really impressive, and we’ll be discussing it in a separate story.

As with any flight, there were some small areas for improvement. My appetizer and entree were tasty but appeared a little plain. And the WiFi system’s reliability remains a work in progress.

Looking Ahead for United’s 787-10

In addition to domestic transcontinental service, between March and May some of United’s 787-10s will be deployed on international routes from Newark EWR to Frankfurt, Tel Aviv, Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, and Dublin. Boeing 767s and 777s handle most of United’s transatlantic ops from Newark, and the switch to the 787-10 will mean big fuel savings.

All in all, United expects to take delivery of 14 787-10s over the next two years. At least based on this one experience, it’s worth trying to fly them! Stay tuned for our stories on the new United inflight entertainment system and the Polaris lounge at Los Angeles LAX. And if you can’t get enough of the Dreamliner, check out our full Dreamliner story archive.

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

Disclaimer: United provided our itinerary for the purpose of this story. All opinions are our own. 

The post Dash-Ten Out of Ten: United’s 787-10 Inaugural From SFO to Newark appeared first on AirlineReporter.

March 01, 2019 at 09:36PM Source: