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Posts from the Travel Category

Southwest unveiled their new livery this morning and while I am not a huge fan of the font or the colors, it seems they really thought about unifying their look. The bubble font is what bothers me the most. I thought bubble fonts were dead and we all said “good riddance”. I guess not.

A new commercial accompanied the livery unveiling and it’s a different marketing approach from previous Southwest spots and I like what they did. They talk about their customers, their commitment and how much their employees matter.

The week of June 30th was insanely busy. I was traveling from Austin to New York for work, then back to Austin to start our move/drive to Portland and, to top it of, the end of the week was the Fourth of July. My trip started smoothly and it was a relatively standard week at work until Wednesday. The northeast was hammered by a large storm on Wednesday night and those same storms were predicted to flare up again on Thursday.

Knowing that I had to be home on Thursday night, I decided to look for seats on earlier flights out of New York but found nothing, probably due to the storms the previous night. I made my way to LaGuardia a little early, hoping to get on any flight that would get me out of the New York metro area earlier. Different agents did their best, but every single option was full.

My routing to Austin was LaGuardia-Chicago O’Hare-Austin and we actually boarded the LaGuardia-Chicago segment right on time. Then we sat at the gate. And sat some more. Then kept sitting. In all, we spent about 45 minutes parked at the gate with the door closed. When we started our taxi out to the runway the captain announced that it would be a while and we were free to use our cellphones. I started looking at the later Chicago-Austin flight on United, deciding that was a good backup in case things did not improve in New York and booked myself on it.

After another hour and 45 minutes the captain announced that we were ready for takeoff but that we were really close to the FAA three-hour tarmac rule and he was not sure if we would make it to the runway in time to be in compliance so we would be returning to the gate. By this point, I was in danger of missing my newly rebooked later flight from Chicago to Austin and was really worried that the beginning of our move was in serious jeopardy. I used different websites and the United iPhone app to look at different options to Austin, Lubbock, Albuquerque, Dallas, and Houston to see if there was any way to get to that region either late at night or early the next morning. In my experience, holiday travel, or travel on an actual holiday, is usually pretty light but from my searches, July 4 was the complete opposite. There were barely any seats out of New York at all.

When the crew opened the door to the plane to allow people to buy food, go to the restroom, and talk to the agents, I searched even more frantically for a seat on any airline from NY to the general Austin region. I was in luck, JetBlue had a non-stop flight from JFK leaving at 9:30pm and arriving in Austin at 11:45pm and there were two seats for sale. I spoke to the lead flight attendant and he said there was no way we were going to make it to Chicago in time for my connection. My options were JetBlue, be stuck in Chicago with very few seats available, or be stuck in New York with a few more options the next day. A few of the passengers around me asked what I was worried about and I told them. I also expressed my concern about beating the Van Wyck at 7pm. They understood and helped me weigh my options.

Just before the door was going to be closed to attempt another go at getting out of NY I grabbed my suitcase and told the gate agent my intentions. She was fine with it and walked back into the now chaotic terminal with me. Other flights were being cancelled left and right and I told her that there was a JetBlue flight I was going to catch. She told me that United could not move my ticket over to JetBlue and let her know that I was fine with that and to just uncheck-me in, which she did.

Before heading to JFK I made one last attempt to see if there was anything out of Newark or that evening but had no luck. The agent at the United Club “protected” me on the July 4th evening flight non-stop from Newark to Austin. I knew I was not going to use that but it at least gave me options. I then headed straight for the taxi stand at LaGuardia. The one in front of the central terminal was very crowded but the one at the end, near the American Airlines gates was completely empty and I was quickly on my way to JFK. While changing airports, I tried to book the JetBlue ticket online but it kept failing. When it finally looked like it was going to work, I was within the 1.5 hour before flight time cut-off for online bookings. I would have to try my luck in the airport.

The cab driver knew I was in a hurry and was more than willing to speed, arriving at JFK only twenty minutes after leaving LaGuardia. Yes, you read that right, twenty minutes from LaGuardia to JFK. I have never departed JFK, only arrived, and I had definitely never been to JetBlue’s Terminal 5, but I quickly found one of the ticketing/check-in lines.

The line was long, but not nearly as long as the line for cancellations and rebookings. I was also on the phone calling JetBlue, just in case I could get through and book the ticket that way. Luckily, the line moved relatively quickly and thirty minutes later I was being called to the counter. I asked the agent, Neomi, if I could buy a seat on the non-stop to Austin, to which she replied, “I am not sure we have any seats left, but I will check”… A few tense seconds go by, she raises her eyebrows and says, “Look at that, we have two seats, let me get one secured for you”. This all took place about forty five minutes before the scheduled departure time. She took my credit card, ID, and my Known Traveler Number and printed out a boarding pass, with PreCheck! I told the agent how much it meant to be getting home that night and told her “I could hug you” and surprisingly, she obliged, coming from around the check-in counter and giving me a huge hug.

Through security in no time, I decided to charge my now dead phone and give my wife a call to let her know I would be getting to Austin that evening. As I watched the flight status boards, I noticed my newly booked flight become delayed. This wasn’t a surprise, there was a large storm cell passing nearby and there was a lot of lightning.

After giving my phone a little more life, I went to the gate and learned the delay would extend until 11:30pm ET, with a scheduled arrival into Austin at 2:30am CT. Hey, at least I am getting there. I checked the status of my original flight and it too was delayed until 11:30pm, so I made the correct decision. Being really late into Austin is much better than being really late into Chicago in need of a hotel room.

The delay gave me a little time to explore Terminal 5. I walked around a bit and found that there were a number of seating areas with a decent number of places to charge devices, though I would prefer a few more. The food options are good and I was able to buy some fruit, a granola bar, and some water without much of a wait. I did not visit a bar but there appeared to be a number of options there as well, including the little kiosks near some of the gates that allow you to order food and have it delivered to where you are sitting.

Eventually, boarding was called for our flight and being in an Even More Space seat, we were called to board near the beginning. Unfortunately, everyone else was tired of the delay and decided to make boarding very chaotic. No big deal, there was plenty of space in the overhead bins for my rollaboard and the seats were so spacious I had no problem putting my backpack under the seat in front of me with room to spare.

The seats were comfortable and spacious, my only complaint being the lack of “wings” on the headrests. If they had the adjustable headrest the product would be unbeatable, even if it is a little older. Without the wings, it was very hard to rest my head in a manner that was comfortable. I didn’t watch the free DirecTV but the picture looked fine before I turned it off.

Our flight landed in Austin at 2:30am and I was quickly on my way home. The next morning we started our drive to Portland delayed just over an hour due to me needing a tad bit more sleep. We kept our schedule pretty well and arrived in Portland just about exactly when we had planned, all thanks to a speedy cab driver and JetBlue.

My first experience on JetBlue, even with taking a delay, was extremely positive. The staff were friendly and helpful, the plane had nice seats, and, most importantly, the flight got me to Austin. Given all of the weather that had moved through the northeast, it was very likely I would not have reached Austin before 6:30pm the next day had it not been for JetBlue.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the May consumer price index summary yesterday and within it was a piece of data that has gone somewhat unnoticed.

The index for lodging away from home rose 2.0 percent and has increased 4.0 percent over the last three months. The index for airline fares rose sharply in May; its 5.8 percent increase was the largest since July 1999.

And…

The index for all items less food and energy has risen 2.0 percent over the last 12 months; this is the highest figure since February 2013. The 12-month increase in the shelter index reached 2.9 percent in May, its highest level since March 2008. The index for airline fares has increased 4.7 percent over the span, and the medical care index has risen 2.8 percent. Indexes that have risen more modestly over the past 12 months include apparel (0.8 percent), new vehicles (0.5 percent), and used cars and trucks (0.2 percent).

Airline prices are on the rise and with oil prices likely to rise in the coming weeks there will be little relief. But hey, consolidation is a good thing. Right?

At Birmingham Airport in the UK there was a series of days with severe crosswinds in March. The video below is a compilation of landings from one of those days from YouTube user flugsnug. Around 4:40 into the video you can see a United 757-200 departure and get an idea of just how strong the crosswind is, it picks the plane up and pushes it sideways during the climb.

Check out some other crosswind videos and pictures.

Etihad, the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, has released images and videos of their A380 and 787 products. All are interesting but the A380 first class product is what stands out. In it, there is a single three-room compartment area that can be occupied by two passengers called “The Residence”. Each residence consists of a living room, a bathroom, and a bedroom.

Etihad A380 - The Residence

Etihad A380 Residence – The Living Room

Etihad has posted a video of the Residence layout and general look and feel.

They have also uploaded a video narrated by Dannii Minogue, giving a better feel for what the seat layout and bathroom will be like.

The bedroom will have a full size bed and can accommodate two people.

The Residence Bedroom

Etihad A380 Residence – The Bedroom

The bathroom will have a private shower and plenty of personal care amenities.

Etihad A380 Residence - The Bathroom

Etihad A380 Residence – The Bathroom

On top of all of this, passengers in the Residence will have a private butler.

Starting price? You can look to part with close to $20,000 for a one-way flight between London and Abu-Dhabi in the Residence. Even for what you are getting, for what maxes out at an eight hour flight, $20,000 one-way is mighty steep.

There are a lot of posts out there talking about how amazing this new product is and they all end with “these will not be available as award redemptions”. So, if you want to book one of the Residences, you are going to need to pay cash, something very few of the people touting this product as “amazing” and “groundbreaking” are willing to do. At the $20,000 price point per person, you are coming very close to private jet prices and then you could fit more people and spread out the cost somewhat. While Etihad’s first class private cabin looks really cool and makes for great marketing, I am more interested in the products that I actually have potential to fly. Etihad will also have 9 first class “Apartments” which will still have a ton of privacy and space but will not feature the separate bedroom and the bathroom will be shared with other first class passengers (there is a shower in that bathroom as well).

Eithad A380 - The Apartment

Eithad A380 – The Apartment

Not wanting to drop the cash on first class? Etihad’s new business class on the A380 and the 787-9 looks fantastic and perfectly suited for a long haul flight where I needed to be into work the next day.

There is a ton of space in what Etihad is calling the “Business Studio”. The small flat surface to the side allows you to keep your essentials within arms reach and still have space to spread out.

Etihad - Business Studio

Etihad – Business Studio

Etihad - Business Studio

Etihad – Business Studio

Etihad has also provided another Dannii Minogue narrated video of their Business Studio cabin.

Lastly is the economy cabin which seems to have received some very intriguing features. The first thing I noticed were the headrests. They have a built-in wing on them to allow for leaning into, great for a nap. I do not know if Etihad will do away with pillows because of this feature, but it does allow you to rest your head without worrying about the wing on your headrest collapsing. The other thing you will notice is the inflight entertainment and the power ports in the seat in front of you. This is a huge plus for passengers. Being able to stay entertained and keep your own devices charged is one of my biggest needs when traveling and Etihad has made both of those things of the past with the A380 and 787-9 economy product that they are calling the “Economy Smart Seat”.

Korean Air - 777-200ER

Today is the big day, Korean Air is arriving from Seoul around 8:30am CT, bringing the first non-stop passenger service between Houston and the capital of South Korea. The flight is being operated by a Boeing 777-200 with three classes of service, first, business, and economy. It appears they will be featuring their new product on the route, the Kosmo suite in first and the Prestige sleeper seat in business, both of which are lie-flat seats. The economy seat is also a new product featuring audio and video on demand and power and USB ports available for each seat. The seat map below shows the layout of the cabin.

Korean Air 772 Seatmap

Korean Air has an extensive route network and gives Houstonians another great option for getting to Asia. Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, while far from the city center, is a great airport for connections and offers plenty of amenities, including free shower rooms for transiting passengers. They also offer free tours of Seoul for transiting passengers, which is a great way to see a city rather than sitting an airport waiting for your connection.

I should note that Korean also flies into Gimpo International Airport, the smaller, closer to the city airport, with flights only serving Asian destinations. But, if you are spending a few days in Seoul and then continuing on elsewhere in Asia, Gimpo is a great option with frequent flights and an easily accessible location close to the city center.

This is a fantastic option for travelers to get to Asia. Of course, I wish it was Asiana Airlines with their ties to the Star Alliance and United, but another carrier at Houston offering more flights is never a bad thing.

The Korean Air flight departs Houston for Seoul at 10:40am and arrives in Seoul at 3:10pm the next day. Current summer prices on the route range anywhere from $1500 round-trip to $2000 round-trip in economy. Korean Air is a member of the Skyteam airline alliance.

Seth has details of the changes. The big changes are in the AAnytime Awards, or awards that have more availability across dates. There are now three tiers of AAnytime Awards with the highest tier being exponentially more expensive than the lower tier. US Airways also upped the price of the sweet spot on their reward chart, US-North Asia rewards go from 90,000 miles to 110,000 miles.

The biggest news out of this seems to be American releasing the chart with no announcement and making the changes effective immediately. That is definitely not the most customer friendly way to do business and is different than the announcement from other airlines regarding similar types of changes.

I think this is the beginning of the end of the American Airlines love affair that a lot of travel/airline bloggers seem to have. American is going to start to fall in line with what the other carriers have in place for elite programs and reward bookings and people need to prepare themselves for that.

SAS has announced they will start a new flight from Stavanger, Norway to Houston on August 20, 2014. This flight has been rumored for a while (no it’s not an April Fool’s joke) and it looks like it is coming to fruition. With ExxonMobil and Shell both having large facilities in Houston and Stavanger and Exxon’s Dallas campus, the flight is a great way for these companies to move their people between offices and offshore operations centers.

The flight will be operated by a PrivatAir 737-700 in an all business class configuration with 44 seats. The service will operate every day of the week except Saturday.

I will definitely be trying to move one of my reward tickets to Europe to this flight as soon as it becomes bookable later this month.