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Virgin America Has One More Day Before it Disa…

Virgin America Has One More Day Before it Disappears and Alaska Is Prepared:

Virgin America’s time is almost up. After the last flight goes tomorrow night, April 24, the airline will officially be gone from the public eye. Starting Wednesday, all those Airbuses operate under the Alaska Airlines name. There are many milestones in a merger, but for the public, the passenger service system (PSS, aka reservation system) cutover in the big one. Sometimes these migrations have gone horribly wrong (US Airways/America West and United/Continental are the poster-children) while others have gone extremely well (most recently, American/US Airways). How will this one go? After talking to the team running this cutover, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t go smoothly.

I’ve written about how American and US Airways set the gold standard for how to do a cutover, but Alaska and Virgin America are making things even more fool-proof. I spoke with Charu Jain, Alaska’s Chief Information Officer as well as Sandy Stelling, Managing Director of Process Engineering (and project lead for the migration) who walked me through the plan.

You’ll remember that American and US Airways did a “drain down” meaning that at 90 days before the day they wanted to cut over, they stopped accepting reservations on US Airways and sold the flights as American only. That meant that there were very few reservations that needed to be migrated to the new system since most bookings happen within 90 days of travel. Alaska and Virgin America are taking this one step further. They won’t have to migrate a single booking.

About a year ago, Alaska made the decision to set April 25, 2018 as the date that all flights would operate under the Alaska name. So at 330 days before departure when reservations would normally open for sale on Virgin America… they didn’t. Oh sure, you could keep buying tickets on Alaska’s Boeing fleet. But the Virgin America Airbus routes just didn’t go on sale for travel past April 24. In fact, they kept cutting down the booking window for the Airbuses, not taking any bookings past April 24 until October 5 when the schedule finally opened for sale… as Alaska flights.

That means Alaska had to migrate exactly ZERO bookings from the Virgin America reservation system. Every booking was made on Alaska Airlines. So, uh, end of story, right? What else matters? Well, there are a few things.

Airport Training
While the bookings had all come in on Alaska, there’s still the issue of making sure the Virgin America people at airports know how to use the new Alaska systems. It certainly helps that both airlines use Sabre, but they each have different graphical overlays, so the Virgin America people had to learn something new.

At the time of the merger, Virgin America operated at 29 airports, and all but 2 were also airports where Alaska flew. Those two, LaGuardia and Love Field, got Alaska flights soon after the merger, and the airlines worked hard to co-locate in all of those airports as quickly as possible.

With the teams working together, Alaska decided to install both Alaska and Virgin America systems on every workstation. Training of Virgin America airport employees began last November and has been happening continuously. So Virgin America employees have been exposed to Alaska’s system for several months, and have used it in real-life on Alaska flights as well. They should be well-prepared.

Call Center Training
What about in the reservation centers? This one was easy. Virgin America outsourced its call centers to a third party, so, as Virgin America bookings wound down and volume increased on Alaska, Alaska started hiring in its own call centers in Boise, Phoenix, and Seattle. There are today more than 300 additional res agents on the Alaska side.

At the same time, Virgin America stopped using one of the outsourced call centers as volume shrunk. There are fewer and fewer people working in the second one. On April 25, calls will all go to Alaska’s in-house team, so no training of the old outsourced agents was needed.

Why Wednesday?
As I was going over this information, I stopped and realized how weird it was that they would make the switch on a Tuesday night into Wednesday. Why do that when most airlines do Friday night into the quieter weekend? Alaska had a lot of reasons, actually.

  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays are quieter operational days with fewer flights.
  • Demand is lower, so load factors are lighter and they could thin out the schedule by cutting more redeyes that night without having a big negative impact.
  • Middle of the week tends to have more experienced travelers who are more likely to understand how things work and need less hand-holding.
  • Lastly, Alaska’s most senior employees tend to be working on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and not on the weekend.

Adding all that up, Alaska thought mid-week was the way to go.

What to Expect
So what exactly can you expect to see that’s different between April 24 and April 25? Not much. The last departure goes surprisingly early on the 24th. It’s Virgin America flight 1947 leaving Los Angeles at 9:35pm and arriving San Francisco at 11:04pm. If you wanted to be on that flight, too bad. It’s a celebration flight for Virgin America employees who were there since the beginning. But there are flights which will land later, including a couple of the only redeyes still flying like SF to Newark and LA to Philly.

When the 25th arrives, things will only look mildly different. Alaska has already replaced Virgin America signage where it could. In some places, the Alaska signage is hiding beneath a Virgin America sticker which will just be removed. Alaska has already installed enough of its own kiosks to handle the full passenger load for both airlines. The old Virgin America kiosks aren’t being rewired. They’re being retired.

Possibly the most noticeable difference will be the extra employees in the airport. Alaska is staffing up in the Virgin America stations just in case there’s an issue, but really, there shouldn’t be….

What Could Go Wrong?
With all the bookings being made in Alaska’s system and employees already proficient in the new system, what actually could go wrong? Very little, but there are a couple points to watch.

The first is flight status, or what Alaska calls “flight movement.” The Airbus fleet will still run on the legacy Virgin America system for now when it comes to flight movement, and Alaska had to make sure that the res system would work with that. The work has been done and it’s been tested, but I’ll be looking for errant flight status information on that day if things don’t work right. Still, that shouldn’t be a major source of delays even if there is a hiccup.

The bigger threat could be the the passenger counts used for weight and balance. That’s also on a legacy system for the Airbus fleet, and it too has been tested with the Alaska reservation system. If that goes wrong, there are backups. But if you see them manually calculating weight and balance, then you know things have gone really wrong. That could cause delays if it were to happen, but that’s a pretty small risk compared to what we’ve seen in other migrations.

There are just so few potential points of failure in this cutover that it’s remarkable. Chances are, it’ll go smoothly and you’ll never even know anything changed. That is, unless you’re a Virgin America fan. Then you can recognize this as a key point in the ultimate demise of the airline. Sure, some of those airplanes will still have the name painted on the side and purple mood-lighting for awhile longer, but the end is near.

April 23, 2018 at 01:45PM Source: http://crankyflier.com

Kansas City International: First U.S. Airport …

Kansas City International: First U.S. Airport with a Fleet of Electric Buses:

One of KCI's new electric buses. - Photo: Kansas City Aviation Department

One of KCI’s new electric buses – Photo: Kansas City Aviation Department

Today, countries all around the world are celebrating Earth Day. We recognize that transportation accounts for the vast majority of climate-changing emissions, and for what it’s worth, the industry and its supporting partners are starting to as well. Some could argue that the change is coming too slowly and that’s hardly contestable. The solution to climate change isn’t something we will solve overnight, or, apparently, in the 48 years since the first Earth Day. However, we at AirlineReporter are optimists and do our best to highlight the positives wherever we can. Enjoy this story about how a medium-sized, midwest airport is taking steps to sprinkle a small bit of sustainability into their own operations.

Late last year my hometown airport quietly deployed four brand-new 100%-electric buses to their fleet. Why should AirlineReporter readers care? Because being first is important. The Kansas City airport was the first U.S. airport to deploy all-electric buses alongside their existing fleet. Not Portland, not San Francisco, nor Austin – Kansas City. An airport in a so-called “red state” beat dozens of others on a short-list of airports in progressive and environmentally-friendly states. As a plug-in driver myself, I’m proud to see Kansas City International Airport lead its peers. Excellence deserves praise, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.

I would contend that the best-managed airports are ones which appropriately reflect the local culture. These economic drivers are, after all, the front door to the greater community and a basis for first impressions. Thanks in part to leadership by KCP&L, the local electric utility, our two-state Kansas City metro is home to one of the largest EV charging station networks in the U.S. The Kansas City metro area also routinely ranks near the top for electric vehicle sales each year. Electrics are a big deal here in what many of us now refer to as the “Midwest Silicon Prairie.” It should come as no surprise that these electric buses arrived less than a year after the airport and KCP&L installed 27 dual-head (meaning two outlets) ChargePoint stations in the various airport-managed and partnered parking facilities.

Looking inside one of the electric buses. - Photo: Kansas City Aviation Department

Looking inside one of the electric buses – Photo: Kansas City Aviation Department

About the electric buses

The BYD electric buses picked up by Kansas City International offer a 144-mile range and can recharge in 2-3 hours using special high voltage chargers which the airport had installed as a part of their purchase. These buses are currently deployed on the economy parking circuit, the largest and most demanding of the bus assignments at the airport.

BONUSUrban Exploration: Kansas City International’s Shuttered Terminal A

As a plug-in driver myself, the number one question I get is about range. “How far can you get per charge?” Despite being an electric vehicle proponent, I still recognize the importance of a healthy dash of skepticism. On a recent visit to the airport, I did my best to replicate the “blue bus route” (economy lot buses are simply known as the blue buses) to understand the time and mileage associated with a single round. The roughly seven-mile trip clocked in at just under 30 minutes with typical traffic, lights, and low speed limits. Of course, I wasn’t making multiple load/unload stops along the way. Using a liberal estimate of roughly 14 miles driven per hour, the buses have more than enough range for a typical 8-hour shift, potentially enough for a 12-hour shift if the operator plugs in while on lunch.

The BYD electric buses join a fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG) powered buses which, again, KCI was among the first to implement. CNG has become the defacto-standard for most public buses, just as I expect electrics will given time.

About BYD

BYD is Chinese-based and still an obscure manufacturer in U.S. BYD, which stands for “Build Your Dreams” is North America’s largest electric bus supplier with a large plant just outside of Los Angeles, CA. A firm backed by Warren Buffet, they also claim to be the largest EV-bus company in the world. BYD has delivered around 150 electric buses domestically, but over 27,000 worldwide.

BYD has recently made headlines in delivering over 16,000 electric buses to Shenzhen, the Chinese industrial megacity with a population of nearly twelve million. Shenzhen, the home to BYD HQ, just recently met its ambitious goal of converting their entire bus fleet to electrics and has now refocused their attention on 100% conversion of their taxies.

Final thoughts

I have written a lot on AirlineReporter about happenings here in Kansas City and our airport over the years. Typically my stories are regarding new (to us) news or coverage of events that regularly happen elsewhere. It’s not often that we here in the so-called “flyover country” get our place in the limelight. I am deeply proud of our airport and its administration for their environmental leadership and reflection of our local, passionate electric vehicle culture. I look forward to seeing other airports follow KCI’s example.

The post Kansas City International: First U.S. Airport with a Fleet of Electric Buses appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 23, 2018 at 12:57AM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Cranky on the Web: Rethinking Window Seats Aft…

Cranky on the Web: Rethinking Window Seats After Southwest 1380:

Window seat or aisle? After Southwest incident, some fliers think twiceCNN Money
If you read the title of this post and rolled your eyes, then we’re in the same boat. When I got the call saying some people were suggesting that they would reconsider window seats because of the death that occurred on Southwest 1380, I started to rant. The odds of something like this happening in the same exact way are so incredibly tiny. You’re more likely to die by getting run over by a cart in the aisle, or something else equally improbable and ridiculous. But, I did change my tune toward the end of my conversation. I think people should definitely start choosing aisles more. That leaves more window seat options for me.

April 21, 2018 at 01:45PM Source: http://crankyflier.com

Thank You Pilots

Thank You Pilots:

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

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

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

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

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

A Delta Airbus A320 - Photo: Aero Icarus

A Delta Airbus A320 – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

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

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

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

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

A B1 Lancer – Photo: Airwolfhound | FlickrCC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Thank You Pilots appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 21, 2018 at 06:19AM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

3 Links I Love: Allegiant and the FAA Get Hamm…

3 Links I Love: Allegiant and the FAA Get Hammered, Rolls Royce Has Engine Problems Yet Again:

This week’s TWO featured links:
I decided to feature two links this week, because they shine light on two sides of the same coin…

Allegiant Air: The Budget Airline Flying Under the Radar60 Minutes
In case you missed it, 60 Minutes ran a scathing half-hour piece on Allegiant’s safety issues last Sunday. It makes the FAA look pretty bad too. Now the question is… how much is right? Had Allegiant bothered to actually comment on the story, maybe some of the inaccuracies could have been resolved easily. But no, Allegiant inexplicably wouldn’t talk to 60 Minutes, and that instantly made the airline look guilty in the public eye. After the story went live, Allegiant finally woke up…

Personal message from Allegiant CEO Maury GallagherYouTube
Here’s a video from CEO Maury Gallagher that was uploaded on Tuesday talking about the report. He refutes some of what was in there, and I’ve talked to people who have been crunching the numbers. It’s not easy getting to some of the exact data points mentioned in the story, so I don’t quite know what to believe and what not to believe. But as they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire (inappropriate pun intended). There are issues here in one form or another.

Either way, I don’t think this hurts Allegiant in the long run. People will still keep buying tickets because it’s cheap and in many cases, it’s the only nonstop option. Oh, and did I mention it’s cheap?

One for the road:
FAA imposes restrictions on Boeing 787s powered by some Rolls enginesThe Seattle Times
Remember when Rolls Royce had those A380 engine problems? Well, now it’s time for the 787s to have trouble. No US airlines are impacted since they don’t have Rolls onboard, but British Airways, Norwegian, and ANA all do. And now they have to fly closer to alternate airports while this gets worked out.

April 20, 2018 at 01:45PM Source: http://crankyflier.com

Southwest’s Post-Accident Response Starts the …

Southwest’s Post-Accident Response Starts the Right Way, But The Road is Long:

At first, it seemed like a routine engine failure. Sure, the pictures coming off Southwest flight 1380 looked bad as did the panicked passenger response, but we’ve seen that plenty of times. It was only in February that a United 777 lost an engine cowling and those images looked just as bad. But the more we learned, the more the severity of this situation became clear. The window was knocked out by the debris from the engine, and one passenger was killed. Southwest’s crisis response team jumped into action, and it did a commendable job. But this is just the beginning of a long and difficult path.

Southwest has been flying for more than 45 years, and it has never lost a passenger due to an accident until this week. (Yes, a little boy was killed when a Southwest aircraft over-ran the runway in Chicago. Not that it’s a distinction that really matters, but he wasn’t on the airplane.) Like most big airlines, Southwest had a response plan in place, but it hadn’t been tested in a real-life accident like this. Heck, no US airline has been tested in this way since 2009 when Colgan Air had an aircraft crash in Buffalo.

This particular aircraft was flying from New York to Dallas near cruising altitude when the engine failed. The pilots descended quickly and landed in Philadelphia just before 11:30am Eastern. By all accounts, they did a textbook job of getting the aircraft on to the ground safely, though I’m sure that will be scrutinized carefully in the investigation, like every other detail.

It looks like Southwest’s first official tweet about the accident was at 12:39pm (all times Eastern from here on out).

An initial press release was put out confirming that something had happened. Southwest continued to operate Twitter as normal by responding to customers as quickly as possible, but no proactive tweets went out except for those related to the accident.

As we’ve seen other airlines do in other parts of the world, the airline then scrubbed its public presence to make sure it appeared focused on the accident and not on selling tickets. The logo on Twitter was changed from the usual multi-color heart to a gray one. And the background was just a flat blue.

On the airline’s website, it took off any sale advertising and left a generic blank spot with the logo in the middle. (That was eventually shrunk down in size and a link to information about the flight was posted.)

Another press release was put out around 4:30pm with more detail, including the fact that one person had died. The press release linked to a video of CEO Gary Kelly talking about the accident.

I thought the video was well done. I know he’s just reading a script, but Gary still seemed somewhat shaken. Leaders are at their best when they don’t try to hide emotions in times like these. That somber tone carried through to the media briefing Southwest held at 6pm. (Ok it was more like 6:15pm by the time it got started, but that’s excusable. There’s a lot going on.)

The name of the passenger who died soon became public. Jennifer Riordan was from Albuquerque. She was married with kids. This made the story much more human. Southwest didn’t flinch, however, and stayed on message that its focus was on helping the family and not on anything else. By the end of the day, when people were talking about Southwest, they were talking about the actions of the pilots and not about any potential culpability of the company. But that will inevitably change over time as the unfortunate race to assign blame begins.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Robert Sumwalt said yesterday that in the preliminary investigation, they had found that one of the fan blades in the engine had broken away. And in this “preliminary examination,” they saw that there was “evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated.”

We don’t know more than that, but that is the kind of news that makes everyone nervous. Certainly there will be questions about whether Southwest properly inspected the engines on this airplane. The engine manufacturer, CFM (a joint venture between GE in the US and Safran in France), will come under scrutiny as well. This is one of the most popular engines in the world, and it has had a handful of issues that may be similar to this one. In fact, there was an airworthiness directive issued the last time this happened (also on a Southwest aircraft). Undoubtedly the FAA will be under the microscope. Looking closely at every party involved is what makes for a good investigation.

Right now, we don’t know why this happened, but the NTSB will figure this out. And there will be inspections and changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Ultimately, there will be learnings that make flying even safer than it already is. That’s the best thing that can happen in any accident and it’s what really matters, not the blame game.

As Southwest CEO Gary Kelly kept repeating over and over, this was a sad day. Southwest communicated well throughout the early hours of the crisis, but it will be tested further as this investigation unfolds.

April 19, 2018 at 01:45PM Source: http://crankyflier.com

Dreamliners Going the Distance: New Ultra-Long…

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

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

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

Go long! – GCMap.com

Read on for more details on these exciting Dreamliner updates!

Qantas launches the first direct route from Australia to Europe

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

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

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

Two crews operated the ultra-long-haul flight.

QF9 flight crew and Qantas leadership – Photo: Qantas

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

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

Qantas’ 787-9 business class – Photo: Qantas

Qantas’ 787-9 economy class – Photo: Qantas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The benefits of ultra-long-haul direct routes

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

BA787 flight deck - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

BA787 flight deck – photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economy cabin seatback and screens – Photo: Singapore Airlines

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

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

April 18, 2018 at 06:51PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

Sun Country Earns the Cranky Jackass Award for…

Sun Country Earns the Cranky Jackass Award for Giving No Options to Stranded Customers:

When it comes to major weather problems, I’m a pretty forgiving person. Weather wreaks havoc on an airline, and recovery can be really difficult. But even if it takes a week, it’s still important for an airline to make sure it completes its recovery by getting everyone where they need to be. Sun Country failed that test this weekend when it stranded scores of passengers in Mexico. I hoped the airline would change its mind, and I reached out for comment today thinking maybe it would have. But even in the face of widespread (well-deserved) criticism, Sun Country has stuck to its guns. And for that it gets the Cranky Jackass award.

Let me set the scene here a bit. A bunch of pale Minnesotans hopped on an airplane to fly down to Cabo and Mazatlán to catch some sun. Spring break is over, and Sun Country is getting ready to pack it in for this year’s season before moving airplanes to different markets. But in the dying days of winter, there are still Minnesotans looking to escape.

While they’re there, Mother Nature gets involved. She says, “You think winter’s over? HELL NO. I hope you like Dairy Queen, because it’s BLIZZARD TIME!” And Minneapolis/St Paul (MSP), home of Sun Country, gets absolutely walloped with a late season storm. I’ll let Sun Country’s VP of Marketing Kelsey Dodson-Smith tell you just how bad it got for the airline.

MSP was closed to all arrivals and departures for a total of 9 hours on Saturday causing us to cancel 25 flights, combined with other carriers, the cancellation count came to 495. Network disruptions continued into Sunday due to weather challenges and runway closures at the airport. We had to cancel 15 of our flights, 315 flights were cancelled in total.

We understand that it has been difficult to call through to our reservations call center based on the significant increase of call volume and recognize the hold times are unacceptable. Our staff continues to work around the clock to reduce the call volume and assist every passenger affected by the extreme weather. We continue to staff to the fullest in an effort to decrease the wait time and assist our passengers as soon as possible. Some of our agents have literally worked from one day, through the night, and into the next to help passengers and to cover for colleagues who were unable themselves to get to work due to the storm.

Long hold times, canceled flights, rolling delays. I get it. It’s really uncomfortable, and people will have their plans disrupted, but that’s just life when weather hits the one hub of a small airline, especially a newly-minted ultra low cost carrier. There isn’t the same capacity to recover as there is with the bigger guys. None of that is Jackass-worthy, but wait, there’s more. Remember those people in Mexico? They were supposed to come home during the blizzard, but instead, flights were canceled and their options were… well… I’ll let Kelsey describe it from here.

Our most challenging recovery situation remains to be our Los Cabos and Mazatlán flights and we cannot apologize enough to those passengers who were hit by the one-two punch of an April snow storm and the seasonality end date of our winter schedule. Our fleet was already allocated to fly other operations and unfortunately, we were unable to send additional aircraft to Los Cabos and Mazatlán without cancelling more flights causing further disruptions to more of our passengers. We felt the best option for these passengers was to provide them a full refund on their airfare so they could get on their way as quickly as possible. If their tickets were booked directly with us, the refund is being automatically credited back to their account. If passengers booked through a travel agency or online travel provider, we are working with those partners to assist with those refunds. Sun Country may take up to 7 days to process the refund. Dependent on the passenger’s bank it may take longer for the refund to be reflected in the passenger’s account. We have expedited processing these refunds ahead of all others.

That’s right. Sun Country has its fleet flying hard, and it doesn’t have the slack to send a rescue mission down to pick up those people who are stuck. So what did it do? It just punted. That is not a solution. People who likely got a bargain flying at the end of the season were now told to go buy a ticket on another airline out of pocket. You can be sure they had to pay a whole lot more than they did in the first place. Of course, a refund should be an option for people who need to get home. But Sun Country should provide more options for those where cost is a greater concern.

I sent follow up questions asking if the airline had thought about other options, but I didn’t receive a response before publishing. Here are just a few of the things Sun Country could have done.

  1. Find some spare aircraft time and send a rescue mission. I know, Sun Country says it has no spare aircraft time. But guess what? You can cancel one of the three daily flights to Vegas and reaccommodate those passengers so you can send a plane to rescue the Mexican tourists. There has to be some way to make this work.
  2. Charter a plane. This isn’t cheap, but it’s an option. If the airline wanted to prove it was the ULCC with a heart, then this would have given good press for miles.
  3. Put people on other airlines. It’s true, the big guys don’t have interline agreements with Sun Country, so the airline would have to just pay for tickets out of pocket on most. But Sun Country does have an interline agreement with Alaska, and Alaska flies to both of those places. This seems like a cheap solution for Sun Country, especially in Cabo where Alaska has a lot of flights back to the US (if not Minneapolis) and a lot of seats available to sell in the next few days. Mazatlán is tougher since Alaska has much less service, but it’s still an option that could be offered to some people. But Sun Country could have just bought the tickets outright. Maybe, what, $150,000 total to do that? It’s worth it.

I don’t know why Sun Country has decided that the “best option” was to give no option. But you would think the airline would be more sensitive to its public persona right now as it morphs from a well-liked hometown carrier with a Minnesota attitude into an ultra low cost carrier. That move made sense to me, but part of the pitch was that the airline was going to keep that “Minnesota nice” attitude. This says very loudly, very publicly, otherwise.

April 17, 2018 at 01:45PM Source: http://crankyflier.com

Hub Report: Denver International Airport (DEN)…

Hub Report: Denver International Airport (DEN) and United Airlines:

Getting ready for some long-haul flying, a 787-8 is at the gate with a 777-200 domestic in the background.

Domestic aviation in the western United States is a different operation than the population-dense East Coast. With major cities often 1,000 miles apart, often the only way to get between them in less than a day is to fly. Over the years, air traffic to the three largest Mountain West cities – Denver, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City – has increased significantly as the importance of these markets has elevated through sustained and continued growth.

United Airlines has been a dominant force in Denver for many years, with an 80-year history that reaches back into the early years of commercial aviation. It is currently, and by a wide margin, the largest carrier in Denver by passenger enplanements, flights, and revenue.

United’s focus on Denver is no accident; the airport is its most profitable hub, a key part of its route network, and is a focus for continued growth within the airline. As a frequent traveler based in Colorado, I’ve wanted to explore and learn about how United Airlines uses its position in Denver to get people to their destinations, nationwide.

This is the first part of a two-part feature on United Airlines’ operations at Denver International Airport. The second part will cover United’s inaugural 787-8 Dreamliner service to London Heathrow as an example of how United is expanding the reach and prominence of Denver within its network.



How Denver Sits in United’s Hub Structure

Denver is one of United’s three continental-focused hubs, geographically speaking, along with Houston George Bush Intercontinental (IAH) and Chicago O’Hare (ORD). These hubs, centrally located instead of near the U.S. East Coast or West Coast, are efficiently positioned to connect passengers traveling domestically through the United States and North America. Many of these connections between Denver and the other hubs are flown daily on large, wide-body aircraft including the 777-200, 787-8, and 787-9.

United’s hubs in the Continental U.S. Denver is centrally located to flow traffic hub-to-hub without venturing far out of the way. Image: GCmap.com / Kevin Horn

Both Chicago and Houston have large international and intercontinental route networks that feed from their domestic connections. Chicago is heavily focused on Europe (nine cities) and Asia (four cities), while Houston is United’s gateway to Latin America and also serves destinations in Europe (four cities) and a lone flight to Asia (Tokyo). United also recently ultra-long-haul service from Houston to Sydney.

Denver, on the other hand has a much more limited international route network for United, and truly has been a domestic focused hub for both origin and destination passenger traffic (O&D), as well as connecting passengers to and from the western U.S. with the rest of the United network.

Dropped off international arrivals from NRT and headed to pick up more – Photo: Kevin Horn

Currently, Denver serves international destinations in Canada and Latin America, with a single daily flight to Tokyo (NRT) since 2013 and new service to London (more on that later). While not international, it is important to mention the routes to Alaska and Hawaii since they are much longer than other U.S. domestic routes are are served by larger aircraft including the 757-200 and 777-200 in international or United p.s. transcon configurations (seats only, not service).

United has been focusing on improving connecting options and feeding traffic to Hawaii and now offers year-round daily service to Honolulu (HNL), Kona (KOA), Maui (OGG), and Lihue (LIH). These flights are operated by a mix of aircraft including 757-200 and 777-200 domestic with up to 366 seats, including a dense, 8-across lie-flat business offering in the forward cabin on the 777.

United’s International and Intercontinental routes from Denver including Alaska and Hawaii. Note that the MUC, FRA, and PTY are codeshares operated by Lufthansa and Copa. Image: GCmap.com / Kevin Horn

United has close partnerships with Copa, Lufthansa, and Air Canada in Denver as members of the Star Alliance. Passengers can book daily United codeshare flights to Panama City (PTY) with Copa, and Frankfurt (FRA) and Munich (MUC) on Lufthansa. While these flights are not considered parts of United’s core operations, they do provide key connections to passengers in the western U.S. and are bookable directly with United including connections to destinations beyond the partners’ international hubs.

Denver’s Operations

Domestic is big business in Denver. Sitting on a 737 with an A319 in the foreground. – Photo: Kevin Horn

The U.S. domestic network that Denver serves is unique because of its location. Denver is ideally located to conveniently connect large portions of the United States. And operationally, because of Denver’s large footprint, excellent sunshine, and multiple parallel runways, impacts due to ATC restriction and weather are rare.

As of March 2018, United is serving 471 daily flights to a total of 145 destinations, including 133 U.S. domestic locations. Recent expansions have pushed service east including smaller east coast markets like Hartford, CT (BDL) and Norfolk, VA (ORF) to alleviate traffic in the northeast at hubs like Newark and Dulles.

United’s extensive route network to continental U.S. destinations from Denver. I’m still waiting for anywhere in South Carolina or Savannah, GA (SAV). – Photo: GCmap.com / Kevin Horn

With so much connectivity, Denver stands as United’s most profitable hub. This is impressive since Denver is the fourth-largest airport in terms of traffic across the network. With profitability, operational efficiency, and low passenger duties (fees paid by the airlines to an airport for use of the terminal and facilities), United has made it a priority to expand the number of daily flights, destinations, connections, and passengers moving through Denver.

An E175W at the gate in Denver. United has a large regional operation there but more mainline flights overall. -Photo: Kevin Horn

United occupies all 73 gates in Denver’s Terminal B and also conducts some operations in Terminal A, including international arrivals. Announced by the airport as part of a large modernization project was the proposed addition of 11 additional gates for United at Terminal B, bringing the total to 84 preferred use gates by 2023.

The gates at Denver. Notice United’s exclusive use of Terminal B. – Diagram: Denver International Airport

Aircraft

United operates a full range of aircraft from Denver included regularly scheduled domestic service with the 777-200 to hubs and Hawaii, all the way down to 50-seat E135 aircraft on regional routes. Nearly all of the types in the United and United Express fleet can be spotted on the tarmac, with the exception of the 767 type, with no scheduled service currently listed.

A common sight in Denver are United’s 787 Dreamliners, which have consistently operated from Denver since the type was acquired in 2012. United was a launch customer for the 787 and one of earliest routes was between Houston and Denver as operational experience was gained on the aircraft from its original Houston base.

Fresh in from Tokyo Narita (NRT), this 787-8 is on a two-hour turn for London (LHR) – Photo: Kevin Horn

United has moved the headquarters of 787 technical operations to Denver and is equipped to perform engine service and changes on site as well as aircraft maintenance and service. Denver serves as a 787 crew base, so considering these factors along with the economics of the aircraft, it’s no surprise that the 787 is the type chosen for long-haul international operations from Denver.

Despite Denver’s high field elevation of 5,430 feet MSL, performance penalties are limited due to the long runways and mild weather, even during the summertime. The longest runway, 16R/34L measures 16,000 feet with the rest of the runways at 12,000 feet. Even fully-loaded 777 and 787 aircraft heading on long-haul missions can perform from the long runways.

Passengers and Freight

It was mentioned earlier that United is the single largest passenger carrier in Denver. In fact, United Airlines and its affiliates operating as United Express carried a total of 25.9 million passengers in 2017. This represents a total market share of 42.2% in Denver for passenger traffic. Percentage wise, the share of traffic is up slightly over 2016; however, overall growth is strong and up 5.6% or 1.44 million passengers. To put this in perspective, United’s passenger growth in Denver in 2017 was greater than the total number of Denver passengers serviced by Alaska, Allegiant, JetBlue, and Virgin America, combined!

Freight is another important metric that can make a big difference in the bottom line. An airline that can sell excess capacity in the cargo hold is a more profitable airline, and United takes advantage of the size of its operation to move lots of it. United had the third-largest cargo operation in Denver with 13.1% of market share and a total of 7.3 million pounds, behind only the two largest dedicated freight airlines in the world: Fedex and UPS.

Poised to Grow

The long-haul aircraft of choice for Denver: the 787-8 – Photo: United Airlines

With this much momentum, United is growing fast and aggressively at Denver. The quality and size of the operation make Denver International Airport United’s most profitable hub. It’s no wonder that senior leaders have announced their intention to grow United’s operation at Denver and it is poised to surpass both Houston and Newark in passenger traffic within one to two years.

All of this is good news for United’s 7,000+ employees in the Denver area as well as the state of Colorado and surrounding areas. The economic benefit that is delivered to the region is enormous and has been instrumental in the sustained growth of the Denver area over the last 20 years.

The best and most exciting way to grow is through the launch of international flights. And United’s new, non-stop Dreamliner service to London is the first high-profile move to expand (and put pressure on Norwegian, which recently started serving Denver from London and Paris with its Dreamliners). Part two of this article will document this flight including all of the celebrations surrounding the inaugural of UA27, Denver to London Heathrow.

The post Hub Report: Denver International Airport (DEN) and United Airlines appeared first on AirlineReporter.

April 16, 2018 at 05:21PM Source: https://ift.tt/2Ex2ezu

IAG Shows Its Smarts With Effort to Acquire No…

IAG Shows Its Smarts With Effort to Acquire Norwegian:

There is nothing quite like watching CEO Willie Walsh and the team at the generically-branded International Airlines Group (IAG) work. Every so often, the company (parent of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling, Aer Lingus and LEVEL) comes up with seemingly hare-brained ideas that, after further review, don’t seem so crazy after all. The latest news is that IAG has taken a stake of 4.61 percent in Norwegian, and it’s interested in talking about a takeover. Why would a company like IAG want a money-losing, debt-ridden mess like Norwegian? There are so many good reasons, and the fact that IAG is making a move shows that the company remains at the top of its game.

Norwegian, as I’ve written here before, is a mess. It has grown like a weed but not in a wise way. Though it was successful as a low-cost carrier flying 737s around Europe, its expansion since then has tanked the airline’s financial performance. Now, as things have become more dire, the airline looks increasingly vulnerable. Its stock has been trading near a 52-week low, and that means it’s the perfect time to ponder an acquisition… if there’s anything worth acquiring.

IAG has been very deliberate about the airlines it has brought into its portfolio over the years, so it might seem strange that Norwegian would be of interest. But IAG is always looking for something that would better the group’s performance, and this has the potential to do just that. It would be a great way to eliminate an irrational competitor and pick up some assets along the way. This is a forward-thinking move. While Air France/KLM bumbles around with regular strikes and poor strategic decisions and Lufthansa continues to cobble together its Frankenstein-esque monster in Eurowings, IAG continues to outpace them both by a mile.

The most obvious benefit to IAG would be to simply get rid of a ton of competitive capacity from an airline that doesn’t seem to be interested in actually making money. Norwegian has been aggressive over the Atlantic not only with 787s on big routes but also 737s on smaller East Coast-Europe runs. And unlike competitors, IAG has not been taking this threat lightly.

At British Airways, Norwegian’s large-and-growing Gatwick hub has been of real concern. Without Norwegian, there’s no way BA starts flying London to Oakland or Ft Lauderdale. Those flights, operated by 777s in a dense configuration, are merely meant to put pressure on Norwegian. Then there’s LEVEL, the quickly-whipped-up long-haul, low-cost competitor to fly from continental Europe to longer haul destinations, many overlapping with Norwegian. This may seem like an overreaction from a competitive standpoint, but it’s really not, as I’ve come to appreciate. IAG realizes that if Norwegian doesn’t make it work, someone will. If Norwegian disappears, that will be quite the vacuum to fill, but IAG can get ahead of the game by acquiring Norwegian and re-shaping it into something worthwhile.

It could take the long-haul routes that work and bring them into the LEVEL operation. Or really, it would go the other way since LEVEL is still mostly piggy-backing off the Iberia operating certificate. It could use the Norwegian operating certificates in the UK as well as Ireland. For short-haul, IAG could find a way to have some of that mesh nicely with what Vueling has built. This would rationalize routes while letting IAG cherry pick what make the most sense. The continuity of the whole transaction would give little daylight for others trying to take advantage of Norwegian’s vulnerability.

Presumably an IAG-owned Norwegian would be much smaller than today’s Norwegian, but many of those shiny 787s and 737 MAXs could find a home elsewhere in the networks of IAG’s portfolio airlines. The airplanes it doesn’t want, it can use its heft to negotiate out of (or it can lease them out through Norwegian’s leasing company, though that would seem odd). It’s not just the airplanes either. Imagine how British Airways would like to have all those Gatwick slots under its control. Oh sure, some divestiture would be necessary to pass a competition review, but BA would still end up ahead of where it is today. Then there are the ancillary businesses, like Norwegian’s staffing operation. As Jon Ostrower notes, that could be of real interest as well.

The basic idea is that Norwegian doesn’t work as a whole, but there are pieces of interest. And if Norwegian fails, there will be a race to fill that void. This gives IAG pole position in that race.

Of course, this may go nowhere. Norwegian had no idea this was coming. Early signs don’t indicate that the CEO (who owns over a quarter of the airline) is jumping at the chance. But guess what? Even if it falls apart, IAG still gets rich off its investment. Just announcing it had taken a small stake caused Norwegian’s stock to rocket up 50 percent. If this works, IAG gets to shape the competitive landscape in a meaningful way. If it doesn’t work out, Willie will be able to walk away and count his kroner. Either way, IAG wins.

April 16, 2018 at 01:45PM Source: http://crankyflier.com