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3 Links I Love: Interviewing United Execs, Ram…

3 Links I Love: Interviewing United Execs, Ramping Up Against Gulf Carriers, Sun Country Look Back:

Tomorrow is Dorkfest!  Hope to see some of you at In-N-Out by LAX between 11 and 1p…

This week’s featured link:
How United’s Working to Right the Ship: An Interview With UA LeadersThe Points Guy
Chris Sloan did an interview with United COO Greg Hart and CCO Andrew Nocella.  It’s a long read and worthwhile, but I found it interesting that some of the comments made seem to go against what Scott Kirby told me and others at Boyd this year.  In particular, the COO says the airline is investing in the Dulles facility while Scott Kirby sounded like that wasn’t the case.

Two for the road:
American CEO on Gulf Carrier Pact: ‘Someone Is Cheating Already’ – Skift
I listened to the A4A summit and heard the whole interview with Doug Parker.  As Skift points out, there’s already some talk about whether the Gulf Carriers aren’t holding up their end of the bargain on the recent agreement between the US and UAE.  Of course, the agreement itself was entirely nebulous and nothing is really being broken here, but it sounds like it might be time for rhetoric to start up again.

Former Sun Country owner learned a lesson: ‘Don’t fly under the radar’ – Minneapolis StarTribune
A few interesting nuggets as the former owners talk about owning Sun Country.

September 21, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

LAX’s H Hotel is a spotter’s paradise

LAX’s H Hotel is a spotter’s paradise:

This was our view from our table while eating lunch at the In-N-Out Burger. Alitalia on short final.

This was our view from our table while eating lunch at the In-N-Out Burger. Alitalia on short final.

Los Angeles International Airport (IATA: LAX, ICAO: KLAX), is renowned as a planespotter’s happy place. It boasts a seemingly endless stream of aircraft, many from airlines not often seen elsewhere in the U.S., along with several very good public viewpoints from which to watch them all parade past.

Occasional fare sales allow a weekend trip down the West Coast to be an accessible avgeek treat, so Francis Zera (AirlineReporter’s associate editor) and I grabbed a couple cheap seats and headed south.

There are several hotels very close to LAX. The runways are aligned east-west, with standard traffic flows arriving from the east; there are two parallel runways, separated by the airport’s terminal buildings. Off-site, there is a cluster of hotels to the east of the terminals, and this is where the H Hotel is situated. It seems purpose-built for planespotters, with an amazing roof deck that allows great views of arrivals on both of the airport’s runways.

The rooms are really comfortable and well-appointed. Our room looked out over the iconic LAX sign and the control tower. We took this before messing it up with all of our photo gear.

The rooms are really comfortable and well-appointed. Our room looked out over the iconic LAX sign and the control tower. We took this before messing it up with all of our photo gear.

The hotel’s official name is a mouthful: H Hotel Los Angeles, Curio Collection by Hilton. With no wait at the front desk, we were greeted with a smile, quickly checked in, and sent on our way to our room up on the 12th floor. The first impression of our room was that it was spacious with a very tall ceiling and spectacular views of the airport. Just like the room, the bathroom was also comfortable and had a nice-sized shower. The supplied shower amenities were also pretty nice — we wound up smelling lots better than usual.

Getting back to photography, which is why we traveled to LAX in the first place, the hotel has a most excellent rooftop terrace on the 12th floor that provides great views to the north, west and east, with a peek-a-boo view to the south. The terrace is surrounded by five-foot glass barriers, and it has plenty of seating and tables. IMHO, it’s worth the price of the room just for the ability to spend time up there.

The views from the hotel's roof deck are nothing short of amazing.

There were two queen size beds in the room, and they were extremely comfortable. We slept very well during our stay. Of course the comfortable beds helped, but we were also very tired from an early morning flight and from a full day of spotting around LAX.

An SAS A330 departing from LAX with the iconic Theme Building and control tower, as seen from the Imperial Hill viewpoint.

Also noteworthy was the lighting in the room; there were individual reading lights on each side of both beds and a nice accent light along the top of the headboard. We also made good use of the many outlets throughout the room, including two outlets that each provided a pair of USB charging ports.

The outlets sure came in handy at the end of the day when it was time to charge our camera batteries, phones, and laptops.

Even when it's foggy, LAX is a fine place to watch airplanes.

Even when it’s foggy, LAX is a fine place to watch airplanes

Per usual in nice hotels, the room had a giant flat-screen TV, which we did not use during our stay, but we did make use of the Nespresso coffee machine the following morning. Not being familiar with the various colored, yet unlabeled, Nespresso capsules, we did not know what color meant coffee, so our luck had that on our first try we made tea. Overall no big deal, but there were only two cups in the whole room, so that left us with only one cup. Sure would have been nice to have a couple of extra cups in the room, and perhaps for those Nespresso capsules to be labeled so for those of us who are not proficient in the apparently secret language of Nespresso machines. We did survive the ordeal, though, and there’s a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shop down in the lobby as a backup.

The hotel's exterior.

The hotel’s exterior

Ours was room 1229, on the 12th floor, which is the hotel’s highest level, and sported a fantastic view of the airport and its runways. The view was equally impressive at night, with nice views of the taxiway and runway lights. It was too bad that the windows on the outside were extremely dirty — as photographers this was something we noticed right away.

It was quite foggy the night of our stay, but that somehow didn't really matter. This is the view from room 1229.

It was quite foggy the night of our stay, but that somehow didn’t really matter. This is the view from room 1229.

There is a restaurant in the lobby, which we did not visit, but we did patronize the coffee shop. There is a free airport shuttle for guests that runs every 20 minutes or so, 24/7. Parking is available, too – self-parking for one night costs $35.20.

We saw plenty of special liveries during our visit — this is Qantas' OneWorld livery on a B744.

We saw plenty of special liveries during our visit — this is Qantas’ oneworld livery on a B744

All in all, we were very impressed with our stay. For spotters, the access to the rooftop terrace is reason enough to choose the hotel, and, if you choose to use the shuttle and not to rent a car, it’s only a 10-15 minute walk to the park by the In-N-Out, which is a pleasant spot to pass a couple hours or even a whole day.

Editor’s note: The H Hotel provided one complimentary night’s stay at their LAX property for the purposes of this review. Our opinions remain our own.

The post LAX’s H Hotel is a spotter’s paradise appeared first on AirlineReporter.

September 21, 2018 at 12:36AM Source:

Fee Regulation: Congress Should Give Up and Ai…

Fee Regulation: Congress Should Give Up and Airlines Should Shut Up:

Fall must nearly be here.  The air is crisp, leaves are changing colors, and Congress is trying to regulate airline fees.  It’s a time-honored tradition, and one so dependable that I was able to reuse the image below from a previous post.  Even some of those faces are the same.

As usual, I think this latest plan is a bad one, but I also wish American would stop throwing around threats about what will happen if this comes to fruition.  It’s not helping.

The plan this time (aka Fee Regulation Act #3,958) comes from the Senate.  The idea is to regulate the level of fees that can be charged by airlines.  Specifically, it’s in section 3129 of the Senate FAA re-authorization bill.

…the Secretary of Transportation shall prescribe regulations–
(1) prohibiting an air carrier from imposing fees described in subsection (b)(1) that are unreasonable or disproportional to the costs incurred by the air carrier; and
(2) establishing standards for assessing whether fees described in subsection (b) are reasonable and proportional to the costs incurred by the air carrier.

The fees in question are those for changes, cancellations, checked bags, seat selection, same day change or standby… and “any other fee.”  So, yeah, it’s broad.  Even though the Senate is telling the DOT to figure out how to do it, it’s not leaving much to chance.  The guidelines demonstrating exactly what needs to be considered in determining the costs involved are quite detailed.

This idea is, to put it bluntly, stupid.  In what industry are the players forced to price based upon costs?  You think your iPhone is sold as a reasonable mark-up over the cost of sweatshop labor in Asia?  No, it’s priced based on what the market will bear.  That’s the foundation of a free market.

There must be limits to this, of course.  That’s why we have rules around things like monopoly pricing power and gouging.  It’s hard to define that in the airline industry and previous cases have often resulted in no action, but an attempt to define and regulate that wouldn’t be objectionable.  That is absolutely not what’s happening in this proposal.

Why is this bad?  Well, let’s look at change fees, for example.  I find the standard $200 change fee obnoxiously high.  We can argue whether there’s collusion on that or not and whether it should be challenged.  But the proposal here would require airlines to charge change fees based solely on:

  • The net benefit to the airline after considering the ability to anticipate expected cancellations and changes, ability to fill a seat after someone changes off a flight, the difference in fare paid for a ticket sold to fill that seat vs the original value, and the likelihood that the changing passenger will fill another seat on another flight
  • The costs of processing the change electronically
  • Any related labor costs

This is completely ridiculous.  So the airline will have to build some sort of interactive model that updates in real-time to determine the valid change fee? Or do you just have to take a random average over time throughout the network and then apply that number across the board?  Neither solution makes sense.

Fortunately, this probably won’t happen.  Last I checked, the House version didn’t have this in it, and I assume it will quietly disappear if there’s ever a final bill.  Considering how bad Congress is at putting together any FAA re-authorization, it remains to be seen if we’ll see any bill pass at all.

But let’s pretend it does happen.  Then what?  Well, unless the airlines can magically make their models reflect the existing change fee as being valid, fees are going to have to go down.  Hooray, victory for consumers, right?  Of course not.

This can go a couple of ways.  Airlines need to make a healthy profit.  Fares are low on a historical level, but much of that is true because of all these optional fees that have sprung up in the last decade.  Change fees alone are big business.  In the first half of this year, DOT-reporting airlines took in more than $1.3 billion in change fees alone.  American had the most with $450 million.

If these fees get cut in half, do you think American is going to just say “aw shucks, that’s a bummer”?  Of course it won’t.  American has decided to speak out about its plans.  CEO Doug Parker told a group in Texas this week that it would consider eliminating the ability to change tickets at all if this were to happen.  That may sound like a valid threat, but to me it rings hollow.  When Doug used to talk about the 3-hour tarmac delay rule, he used to say that the airlines brought it upon themselves by having so many bad incidents.  This is the same situation.  If American opted to retaliate against bad legislation by banning changes, then it would find itself facing worse legislation due to its actions.  I wish American wouldn’t say stuff like this, because it just makes people angry at the airline.

What’s more likely is that fares would rise.  The airlines want to maintain healthy margins.  If fee revenue drops significantly, then they have to pick it up elsewhere.  With fees regulated across the board, the only place to gain is via increased fares.  It’s just moving the money around, but it will likely result in reduced service.  If fares have to go up, demand will go down.

This whole thing is a bad idea, but American isn’t helping things by speaking about it.  Just work the halls of Congress and let it die the quiet death it deserves.

September 20, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

3 Links I Love: Sabre Warms to NDC, OneJet and…

3 Links I Love: Sabre Warms to NDC, OneJet and WOW Air Face Trouble:

This week’s featured link:
Sabre Agrees to Pilot New Technologies With American Airlines and Other Travel GiantsSkift
Distribution-giant Sabre spent a long, long time fighting against the use of NDC to modernize airline distribution, but under Sean Menke, the company has finally lurched forward and joined the party. That’s a good thing, because it would have been left behind if it continued down its previous self-destructive path. This announcement shows Sabre partnering with the right people to try to make the changes that airlines and agencies have pushed for time and time again. Considering the company’s track record, I won’t believe this until I see it, but for the first time I’m cautiously optimistic. Sabre is a tough company to change, but it feels like there’s progress being made for the better.

Two for the road:
Pittsburgh sues OneJet for $763k+ due to contract breachch-aviation
It looks like OneJet’s plan to take advantage of generous airport/city support has run into a snag. OneJet pulled out of most of its Pittsburgh markets (or didn’t start them) before it was allowed to, and now Pittsburgh wants its money back. It gets worse, yesterday the acquisition of Ultimate Jetcharters fell through. This isn’t sounding good at all.

WOW Air seeks investorsiceland monitor
WOW is private, so we don’t know much about its performance… until now. It’s losing money, unsurprisingly, and it needs to raise more. What I’d like to know is whether it makes money during the summer and then loses it all in the winter OR if it just doesn’t make money at any time. It’s hard to know if there’s a sustainable airline buried in there or not without seeing more detail.

August 17, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

If You Think Fares Are Confusing for Travelers…

If You Think Fares Are Confusing for Travelers, What About the Poor Pricing Analyst?:

When I first came out of college in 1999, I started work as an analyst in pricing & tariffs for America West Airlines. I realize I sound like an old man when I say this, but back then it was a simpler time. When I left in 2002 to go to grad school, the industry had changed but pricing really hadn’t. A la carte pricing had yet to take hold, and the fare was still pretty much all people paid to travel. Since then, of course, things have changed rapidly. While it is obviously hard for travelers to keep up with these changes, I hadn’t even thought about how it would be for those doing my old job. A press release about a patent that ATPCO just received got me thinking.

ATPCO is the airline-owned Airline Tariff Publishing Company. For decades, ATPCO has been the clearinghouse for airline fares and rules. Airlines would file everything with ATPCO, and then it would compile and distribute that information to travel agents, distribution systems, other airlines, etc. As a one-stop shop, it just made it easy to propagate changes to everyone who was selling tickets. Now I know I acted like times were simpler back then, but they were never really simple. When fares combined with rules, airlines could put last ticketing dates, restrict travel dates, pick only certain days/times where a fare was valid, limit availability to specific flights or combinations of flights with other airlines, add seasonal restrictions, apply surcharges, require an advance purchase, apply minimum and maximum stays, use blackout dates, and restrict by routing. There was a lot in there, but when it came to the consumer making a decision, the only real difference within any single cabin was whether the fares were refundable or not. The rest of the product was the same.

Now, different fares bring very different product offerings with them. To make some sense of this, airlines have organized fares into various fare families, but these aren’t standardized. It can be very difficult to compare apples to apples. Consumer-facing websites have done a truly lousy job of displaying product differences between fares, though there has been some effort to fix that. I just wrote about how American was adding a carry-on bag back to the Basic Economy fare, because Google Flights put a simple filter that allowed consumers to request only fares that included a carry-on in the price. When people selected that, American was not competitive with Delta, an airline which includes a carry-on in its Basic Economy fare. That seemingly simple ability to categorize fares into what people want has materially impacted American’s ability to make money, and so American had to change its product to align with the market. But now think about it from a pricing analyst perspective.

I looked up fares from LA to Frankfurt in November and found far more than 650 different fares filed. (It caps at 650 unless you narrow it down further, and the 650th fare was still a low coach fare for under $2,000 roundtrip.) Just look at the dizzying array of fare families from some of the European carriers:

  • Aeroflot – Economy Saver, Economy Classic, Economy Flex
  • Air France/KLM – Economy Standard, Economy Standard Plus, Economy Full Flex
  • Alitalia – Economy Classic, Economy Flex
  • British Airways – Basic Economy, Standard Economy, Economy Fully Flex
  • Finnair – Light, Standard, Flexible
  • Iberia – Basic, Optima, Flexible
  • Lufthansa – Without Bag, Including Bag
  • SAS – SAS Go Saver, SAS Go, SAS Go Flex
  • TAP Air Portugal – Basic, Classic, Plus

How the heck is an analyst supposed to keep this straight? Airlines do use sophisticated tools to analyze pricing in the marketplace. Some airlines have developed their own tools while others purchase them off the shelf. Presumably some are better than others (it’s been years since I’ve looked at one), but there’s always room for improvement. This, apparently, is the focus of this patent from ATPCO. The press release is fairly vague, but I did have the chance to speak with John Murphy, VP of Technology, Navid Abbassi, Chief Architect, and David Peart, R&D Innovation Architect so I could try to wrap my head around what they’re doing.

So far there aren’t a ton of tools that are out there using this patented technology, but ATPCO has started to develop some. Here’s a look at the Total Price Comparison tool which is the most interesting so far.

This looks at the lowest fare by airline in each market over time, and it includes all surcharges and taxes. Presumably this will also have the ability to do it by fare attribute (carry-on bag, etc) over time. The idea behind the patent is that it can deconstruct and compare fares to each other in real-time based upon the attributes.

ATPCO isn’t interested in this patent just so it can sell some tools, however. This is really a play by ATPCO to remain relevant any way it can. The base functionality of ATPCO as a fare and rule aggregator is a relic from another time. That’s not to say the function isn’t useful, but there’s so much technology today to allow disintermediation that ATPCO has to find a way to stay in the game. It is planning on not only developing its own tools using this technology but also allowing others to develop off this.

I know what you’re saying… “this makes it easier for a pricing analyst, but what the heck do I care?” Well, if pricing analysts can get better information and get a true sense of the dynamics of the market in real time, it should allow them to keep their airline more competitive with others. That doesn’t guarantee fares will come down, but increased competition usually pushes things in that direction.

August 16, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

The Grave Threat Posed by Aircraft Thieves (or…

The Grave Threat Posed by Aircraft Thieves (or Not):

When I first heard that a non-pilot had stolen a Horizon Air Dash-8 Q400 and flew around Seattle for an hour, I couldn’t help but be impressed. How could someone who doesn’t have a license to fly figure out how to choreograph that entire event? If you haven’t seen the video, it’s stunning to watch what he did.

It appears that my reaction was not the norm. Judging from the stories I’ve seen and emails I’ve read, many people went into panic mode. This was a national security threat and major changes needed to be made yesterday or we’d face the grave threat of stolen airplanes dive-bombing all over the land! While I don’t doubt that changes could benefit aircraft safety (as is always the case), I just have a hard time seeing this as the huge threat others do.

I think Patrick Smith sums up my view fairly well. Once you start thinking about who could actually pull off something like this, you start to understand that it’s not as big of a threat as some might think. Think about it this way…

  • You would need access to a secure area of the airport where passengers can’t go. That means you would need to have a SIDA (Secure Identification Display Area) badge issued by the airport. This eliminates anyone except employees who frequent an airport enough to have been badged at that location specifically. (Here we had a guy who worked for Horizon in Seattle so he had access.)
  • The aircraft would need to be in a location where you could easily evade security and other employees. You would also need to be able to avoid other aircraft traffic. (Here the airplane was at the far north end in a maintenance/cargo area that was right near the edge of the runway for easy access.)
  • You would need to know how to start up the airplane, taxi it, and then fly it. (Here was a guy who was trained to tow aircraft, so he had better knowledge than most. The rest he figured out possibly through video games, though I’m not sure we know for sure.)
  • If you were looking to do damage to people or landmarks as a terrorist might, you would have to have even better flying skills to actually reach your target.

When you think about it this way, the question becomes… could additional security measures help all that much? I’ve seen some shocked to find that airplanes don’t have “keys” that prevent unauthorized access. But that’s proven to be mostly unnecessary because of just how hard it would be for anyone to actually do anything with that airplane if he or she snuck onboard. Of course, this Horizon crash shows that under the right circumstances someone can still pull this off, but it’s exceedingly rare that all the stars align to allow it to happen.

The biggest concern in the news is that a terrorist would sign on with an airline or contractor, go through extensive background checks, get a SIDA badge, learn not only to fly but also to taxi and takeoff, find an aircraft parked in a convenient spot, and then execute the plan to kill a bunch of people on the ground or bring down a landmark. The chances of that happening are incredibly minute for all the reasons already discussed. There are plenty of security checks in place along the way to make this truly unlikely. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but it would take a great deal more coordination and work than what happened on 9/11 — bringing some legal box-cutters on to a mostly-empty airplane and hijacking it once in flight.

Perhaps the biggest concern here shouldn’t be terrorism but rather the mental health of people who have access to these areas. It’s the same thing I wrote about in 2015 when that Germanwings pilot crashed his airplane into a mountain and killed everyone onboard. I’d like to put my faith in the background checks as being adequate, but that doesn’t help when it comes to evaluating ongoing mental health issues over time. If there’s one takeaway for me after this, it’s that we need to pay more attention to mental health and well-being in this country, especially at a time when rates appear to be rising. This isn’t news, and this particular incident doesn’t really change anything. It just shines more light on the problem.

Adding additional security to aircraft? Sure, it could be useful to prevent the one-in-a-million chance of something sinister occurring, but it’s hard to imagine that being worth the cost. Still, fear-mongering is easy and it unfortunately gets clicks. I can only hope there’s no knee-jerk reaction to this.

August 14, 2018 at 01:45PM Source:

China Eastern Economy: Does it Deliver?

China Eastern Economy: Does it Deliver?:

An Airbus A330 with off colored nose - Photo: Ken Donohue

An Airbus A330 with off-colored nose – Photo: Ken Donohue

For the past few years, our family has spent spring break in Maui, but with the increasing number of Asian carriers landing at North American airports, especially those from mainland China, airfares to Asia have been too good to pass up. That’s why we decided to fly from Vancouver (YVR) to Bangkok (BKK), and spend two weeks in Thailand, instead.

Vancouver has long been Canada’s gateway to Asia. In fact, from many U.S. cities, it’s often quicker to route through Vancouver when traveling to eastern Asia. Fifteen Asian carriers currently serve Vancouver; seven of those are from mainland China, including Hainan Airlines which joined the list in May, with a twice-weekly service connecting the western Canadian city with Shenzhen and Tianjin.

We booked with China Eastern, as they had a great deal of $730 CDN ($570USD) all-in to Bangkok. The airline first started service to Vancouver in 2004, and now has 14 flights a week to YVR. I had never flown the Shanghai-based carrier before, and looking at the online reviews, their service is decidedly mixed.

Some of the reviews went like this: “what a nightmare experience”, “never recommend this airline”, “service is awful and messy”, “worst airline”. To be fair, there were an equal number of positive comments, but I even noticed that social media comments on the airline made the overly anxious reach for the refund policy when they read negative comments.

A day before our trip, I caught my wife looking up reviews of the airline. “What kind of airline is this,” she asked? “Just go with no expectations, then you might be surprised,” I told her. “Well, I do have an expectation now, and it doesn’t seem good,” she replied.

China Eastern economy cabin in the Airbus A330 - Photo Ken Donahue

China Eastern economy cabin in the Airbus A330 – Photo: Ken Donohue

Heading west on China Eastern

China Eastern operates two flights a day from Vancouver; one that departs just after noon, and the other after midnight. The latter is timed for morning connections at their Shanghai hub. Our outbound flight to Bangkok departed at 01:30. I tried to check-in online, but the airline’s website was clunky, and the web check-in didn’t work. Was this a sign of things to come? YVR was busy at this time of night. In addition to our flight, there were two flights departing to Australia, two to Taipei, one to Hong Kong, and another to Mexico City. Despite the number of long-haul flights, check-in and security screening was quick.

The Sky Enterainment

The Sky Entertainment screen seemed impressive – Photo: Ken Donohue

Having arrived in the early evening, our aircraft was already waiting at Gate D64. Despite staff announcing boarding by row numbers, a mass of people crowded around the gate. Thankfully, the staff were diligent about turning back passengers whose rows hadn’t been called. We boarded the Airbus A330, and settled into rows 69 and 70, near the rear of the aircraft. When I spotted the personal seat-back monitors, I thought perhaps this flight wouldn’t be so bad after all.

My meal – Photo: Ken Donohue

With an announced flying time of 11 hours and 40 minutes, we pushed back 15 minutes early at 01:15, and a short time later rotated off runway 26L. Soon after takeoff, a meal service commenced, with two choices between beef and noodles or chicken and rice. I chose the chicken, which had a pleasing taste. Instead of having one drink and food cart for each aisle of the economy cabin, as many airlines do, they served each section at the same time. This was a refreshing, as those of us in the rear of the aircraft didn’t have to wait as long for the meal.

I used to think that one thing that distinguished business class from economy was that you got a heated bun up front, where in the back it was cold. Apart from some of the world’s leading airlines, this is usually the case. I was surprised that during the meal service, cabin attendants came around with a basket of warm buns. A nice touch, though I did notice on some flights, the buns were distributed after most people had finished their meal, which wasn’t the best timing.

I’m not much of a movie person, but I did note that the inflight entertainment system had an extensive selection of 54 Hollywood movies, and other Chinese and international films.

At 05:00 local time, we touched down at Shanghai’s Pudong Airport. Being one of the first flights to arrive in the morning, the airport was quiet. With our checked baggage tagged through to BKK, we whiled away the time in the departure lounge.

Shanghai Airlines Boeing 737

Shanghai Airlines Boeing 737 – Photo: Ken Donohue

Three hours after arriving at Shanghai, we were bussed to a remote stand, where we boarded a Shanghai Airlines Boeing 737. Shanghai Airlines is a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Eastern. It was surprisingly cold and blustery as we climbed the stairs of the aircraft. But the warmth of Thailand was just hours away.

We took off from runway 35R, and with a flight time of four hours, we tracked south across China, Vietnam, and Laos, before crossing into Thai airspace. Pillows and blankets were offered, along with a hot meal service, something which has become a thing of the past in some parts of the world.

Under sunny skies, and with temperatures in the mid-30s (95 degrees Fahrenheit), we touched down at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport just after noon, some 21 hours after leaving Vancouver.

Bangkok check in area

Bangkok check-in area – Photo: Ken Donohue

The Return Home

Our routing home would take us from Bangkok to Kunming, China for an overnight stop, before continuing to Vancouver, with a stop in Nanjing, 300 km west of Shanghai. While checking in for the flight, an airline agent, unprompted, printed off our onward itinerary, which we could show Chinese immigration to confirm we would be transiting through the country.

From Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, a China Eastern Boeing 737-800, operating as flight MU742, took us two hours north to Kunming (KMG). As had become standard on our China Eastern flights, pillows and newspapers were distributed. We were seated in row 34, which on this aircraft was the fourth row in the economy cabin. We departed on time, and before long we left the Thai capital behind. With enough time for a full meal and drinks service, we began our descent into Kunming at 18:35, and 40 minutes later we were on the ground. Because our stay in China was less than 24 hours, we were exempt from having to obtain a visa (Editor’s Note: these China policies vary depending on your country of citizenship).

Early the following morning, we returned to Kunming’s Changshui International Airport for our direct flight (yes, a true “direct” flight) to Vancouver, via Nanjing (NKG). Opened in 2012, the airport is modern and has a very spacious feel. We checked the departures monitor and despite it saying that check-in for Vancouver was at counters H and J, there was just a single business class counter open, which caused some confusion for the handful of passengers like us wondering where to check in. After some time waiting for more counters to open, we ended up checking in at the business class desk.

Flying high with the China Eastern Airbus A330 – Photo: Ken Donohue

Our Airbus A330 left the gate on schedule at 08:40, and after taxiing to the runway, we had a 15-minute wait for takeoff clearance. Presumably, this was because of the busy morning rush. Most of the passengers on board were travelling to Nanjing, with only a few of us continuing to Vancouver. There was one meal service of beef and rice, and service from cabin attendants was mediocre. Compared to other flights experienced on this trip, the cabin crew spoke little English.

Some two hours after tracking across southern China, we landed at Nanjing’s Lantou Airport, where we were required to deplane and go through immigration and security. Fortunately, this was located near our gate, and it did not take long. There was a crew change for our onward flight across the Pacific, and with a full complement of passengers, we pushed back 10 minutes behind schedule.

As on most of the previous flights, the service was good, and included two meal services and a mid-flight snack. During the 11-hour flight, cabin attendants came through several times offering green tea. The only complaint was an inoperable soap dispenser in the toilet. I noticed this on our first flight to Shanghai, but on that flight, they provided a bar of soap.

Overall Impressions

Is China Eastern shaking its negative reputation? I’m not sure a handful of flights can adequately judge; however, if my experience counts for anything, then perhaps it is. Did China Eastern exceed my expectations, because I had set the bar low? It’s a question I keep asking myself, but I don’t think so. As an aviation journalist, I have experienced dozens of airlines. I have seen what excellent service looks like, and I have experienced the mediocre. China Eastern provided good service. Given the negative reviews that have dogged the airline, its biggest failing is probably a lack of consistent service. I never thought I would end up saying this, but based on my experience I would recommend China Eastern.

This story was written by Ken Donohue for AirlineReporter. Curious by nature, inspired by flight, fascinated by the places, people, and stories that make flying possible, Ken is based in Vancouver. You can see more of his work at

The post China Eastern Economy: Does it Deliver? appeared first on AirlineReporter.

August 13, 2018 at 06:17PM Source:

Tokyo Hub? Who Needs a Tokyo Hub?

Tokyo Hub? Who Needs a Tokyo Hub?:

For many years, Delta seemed like an airline in search of an Asia strategy while its competitors pushed forward definitively. Now that the Korean Air joint venture is in place, however, the combined Delta/Korean efforts looks like an airline on a mission. They have plowed forward, most recently with a new Boston-Seoul flight that Korean will operate. Long having the weakest relationships in Asia, Delta is quickly working toward building the best of the big three, but this isn’t just a story about Delta. It’s also about Korean Air, Incheon’s amazing airport, and Tokyo’s problems.

Go back a few years, and Delta’s Asian strategy was basically Northwest’s old strategy. It served markets that it could fly nonstop from the US, but the real strategy focused on connecting people via its Tokyo hub. That proved unsuccessful in a changing world and Delta didn’t wait long before dismantling it. The Tokyo hub shrunk quickly as Delta moved to make Seattle a hub and Asian gateway, but a long-running rift between Delta and its obvious partner Korean Air left the airline without a major Asian option. That gave United and American a real opportunity.

United, of course, had the strongest position in Asia. It previously had a Tokyo hub as well, but more importantly, it had San Francisco, the best Asian gateway from the US. The Tokyo hub shrank down to nothing on the back of that San Francisco hub as well as the joint venture with ANA. Why would United need to fly beyond Tokyo when it could use its partner ANA to do the heavy-lifting? American had virtually nothing in Asia, so it decided that it would build up Los Angeles as its gateway. After a close call during a restructuring, American was able to keep Japan Airlines (JAL) as a joint venture partner.

While those Tokyo-focused joint ventures were nice, they had problems. The biggest issue was around capacity constraints. Tokyo’s preferred airport, Haneda, was only relatively recently reopened for international service, and it was further restricted on US flights to night-time hours until even more recently. While some US flights are now into Haneda, most are still sent into Narita due to a variety of restrictions. Narita was a thriving international hub, but it’s an airport that’s increasingly focusing on leisure travel business from low cost carriers. It’s far less convenient than Haneda for most of Tokyo. Plus, it has this problem…

I don’t need to rehash all the Godzilla-related issues, but the point is that Tokyo still has a split airport system and that makes it tougher to build and develop new service especially when that new service has to go to the airport that’s falling out of favor. Early on we saw Japan Airlines and ANA build up service into secondary US markets like San Jose, San Diego, and Boston. But they’ve been relatively stagnant since those early days.

In the meantime, Delta has done nothing but shrink Narita. Today, the only flying Delta does from there to non-hubs is to Singapore, Manila, and Honolulu. Many of the flights have moved to Haneda, when possible. In other words, it’s not really a hub anymore. At the same time, the Seattle hub has struggled to support all the service Delta wanted there. Most recently, the airline walked away from Seattle to Hong Kong. Delta needed something to fix its Asian issues. It needed Korean.

The joint venture between Delta and Korean should have happened long ago, but relations soured under Delta CEO Richard Anderson. As soon as Ed Bastian took over, it was like a switch flipped. Ed had tended to that relationship even during rocky times, and now with Richard gone, the joint venture was a no-brainer. The thaw began two years ago, and the joint venture launched this year.

The airlines have not wasted time since then. Delta previously served Incheon via Detroit with Seattle being added in the build-up back in 2014. In June 2017 in anticipation of growing ties, Delta added Atlanta to Incheon to complement Korean’s existing service. The airlines rapidly expanded codesharing to get maximum benefit.

This summer, fresh off the opening of its brand new, sparkling Terminal 2 at Incheon, Korean bulked up its schedules into the US where it was already the largest Asian carrier. Dallas/Ft Worth went from four to five weekly flights. Seattle went from five weekly flights to daily service. But this was a just an appetizer for the real growth which begins next summer.

Delta announced it would start flying from Minneapolis to Incheon in April of next year while Korean would begin flying from Boston. Why Korean and not Delta? Well, its 787s are the right aircraft to make that work, but it only works with the Delta customer base being onboard.

These early moves make a great deal of sense as the two airlines begin to mesh their networks, but will this just be an early push that flattens out like most of the other joint ventures? It doesn’t seem like it should end that way. Incheon’s new Terminal 2 is an incredible facility, and the airport has capacity for growth. That Boston flight will feed into dozens and dozens of destinations beyond Incheon. Meanwhile JAL’s Boston flight has to deal with the declining options at Narita for feed. But what may be most remarkable is that even with this just being a start, Delta/Korean already have a lead.

It’s still mind-boggling to me that JAL/American and ANA/United haven’t tried to penetrate more into the US as has been done through partnerships over the Atlantic. But JAL/American still can’t even justify a 787 into the Phoenix hub, and ANA/United haven’t added a new dot in the US from Tokyo since 2013 when San Jose joined the network. (JAL is expected to start Seattle next year, but that’s hardly inspired.) Even though Korean/Delta are years behind in developing their relationships, the others have squandered their leads.

These early moves by Delta and Korean are easy fill-in-the-blank efforts. But as time goes on, I imagine we’ll see them get even more creative.

August 13, 2018 at 01:45PM 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:

Southwest Struggles With Denied Boardings, But…

Southwest Struggles With Denied Boardings, But Others Are Worse:

Yesterday I wrote about the denied boarding trends at Alaska, American, Delta, and United. Today, I’m going to start with Southwest and work my way through the rest of the branded airlines that report their numbers.

If you’re comparing to yesterday, remember that these numbers from the Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report are for mainline only. None of these airlines I’m writing about today have a regional operation except for the miniscule one at Hawaiian, so it won’t be an issue unless you’re trying to put aggregate numbers side-by-side with the big guys we looked at previously.

Southwest Declines, But Not As Much As You’d Expect
As I alluded to yesterday, Southwest is a particularly interesting airline to review, because last year it made the decision to follow JetBlue’s lead and stop overbooking entirely. With that, you’d think the numbers would drop to near zero, right? Well…

Yes, the numbers went down significantly but that’s a long way from zero. Involuntary denied boardings are still strangely high for an airline that doesn’t overbook at all. In fact, its 669 total involuntary denied boardings were higher than Delta, American, and United combined. So what gives? I asked the airline for comment and was told this:

The reason we still have involuntary denied boarding are related to day-of-travel operational issues. In these situations, we’re focused on helping our impacted Customers, which may result in re-accommodating a Customer from a flight that was impacted by a day of operation issue by overbooking them onto another flight. This helps ensure they get to their destination in a timelier manner. This can sometimes result in an involuntary denied boarding situation on the second flight.

Our Ground Operations Teams are focused on helping our Customers who are in these situations to get them to their destinations as quickly as possible.

In short, Southwest won’t let you overbook, but it’ll definitely let its own agents do it. I find this really strange that it hasn’t been able to get a better handle on the situation. That’s more than 7 people a day who get bumped involuntarily, and it’s apparently a self-inflicted wound.

JetBlue Fixes Last Year’s Problems
JetBlue has always said it won’t overbook its flights, so it really shouldn’t have denied boardings. But it does. This year, however, it seems to have made improvements.

The airline has clearly made significant strides in reducing that astronomical involuntary denied boarding rate. This wasn’t a one-off thing in 2017. I wrote about JetBlue’s issues back in 2016 as well. It appears that the airline has finally righted the ship, or at least it got lucky. With only 7 people bumped involuntarily and a still low (if slightly higher) volunteer rate, JetBlue seems to have figured out how to stop making people mad (at least through denied boardings).

Frontier Does Poorly…
Oh Frontier. People want to love you, but you make it so tough.

In an age where nearly everyone seems to be improving, Frontier is not. Oh sure, its involuntary rate went down ever-so-slightly, but that’s still far worse than pretty much every other airline. (We’ll get to the exception to that rule next.) The number of volunteers required went up significantly. I honestly don’t know what to make of these numbers since it’s hard to know if this is by design (less likely) or due to operational issues (more likely). But what I do know is that these numbers aren’t good.

…But Spirit is Worse
And then there’s Spirit. If you thought Frontier’s numbers looked bad, you’ll want to see this:

Yes, the airline’s rate of involuntary denied boardings went down, but it was still the worst by a mile when looking at all airlines. To give you some perspective, Spirit bumped 410 people, that’s only 73 less than American yet American carried more than 5 times as many passengers. My assumption is that the airline would have looked a lot worse if not for its huge increase in voluntary denied boardings. I know Spirit has worked hard to get its operation in order, so you’d think these numbers would look better, but they don’t. For those who like getting paid to get bumped, Spirit looks to be your best bet.

Hawaiian Outperforms
I couldn’t end on that note, could I? Let’s go with something calm and soothing to finish… Hawaiian.

Hawaiian involuntarily denied boarding to 2 people in the entire first quarter. I’m sure those two people were mad, but that’s a tiny number. You might notice that voluntary denied boardings climbed, but look at the rate. That is incredibly low. In fact, it’s the lowest rate on here (unless you isolated Virgin America). This makes sense, because most of Hawaiian’s travel is leisure-based. Those people book further out, and they show up when they fly. A lot less overbooking is needed compared to a business-heavy network.

One more interesting note to end on. Allegiant just started reporting this year, so I couldn’t do a comparison. The airline apparently doesn’t follow in its ULCC-brothers’ footsteps. It had an involuntary rate of 0.18, same as Southwest. But it also had no voluntary denied boardings, so apparently it doesn’t even try to avoid those involuntary ones. Seems like an easy fix there.

Overall, airlines are doing a much better job of cutting back on involuntary denied boardings, and that is good. If you’d like more detail, see page 34 of the DOT report.

August 07, 2018 at 01:45PM Source: