Info ~ travel musings for the masses

Since the merger, United has struggled to keep its more loyal fliers, but today, in a bid to update the product and the overall premium cabin brand, United announced their reimagined business class product and experience, United Polaris. Named for the North Star, the new international business class for United promises a more enjoyable and restful journey.

At the center of the update is the new business class seat, an all aisle-access offering from Zodiac UK. Jason Rabinowitz posted a few shots on Twitter and my first impression is that it is much better than the 2-4-2 seat setup on the pre-merger United Boeing 777s.

The aisle seats look to be the worst choice, as they are a bit tighter and very exposed to traffic in the aisle. The window seats and those offset from the aisle in the middle look to be the best choices, with more space and great privacy. For more on the seat, be sure and follow Jason Rabinowitz and Scott Mayerowitz on Twitter to see their coverage of the announcement.


In addition to the updated business class seat United also announced amenities for travelers in United Polaris. There will be dedicated Polaris lounges with private shower rooms, small sleeping/nap areas, sit down pre-flight dining, and improved seating with AC and USB power. Onboard the aircraft United has promised updated inflight dining menus, wine flights, slippers, a cool-gel memory foam pillow, and on flights over 12-hours, pajamas. The Cowshed personal amenities will remain as part of the amenity kit.

[T]he new bedding collection will feature plush duvets, lightweight day-blankets and a large and small pillow for each United Polaris customer. In addition, mattress cushions will be available upon request.

Slippers will be available on all flights, and customized United Polaris pajamas will be available by request on flights longer than 12 hours. Flyers will also be able to request a gel-cooled pillow. New amenity kits will feature ergonomically designed eye shades, calming lavender pillow mist and additional products from Soho House & Co.’s Cowshed Spa.

United Polaris Pillow, Slippers, and Pajamas
You will start seeing Polaris rolled out starting December 1, 2016 with the soft products onboard (pillows, duvets, etc.) and the opening of the Polaris lounge in Chicago O’Hare Airport.

My $.02

Besides the name, I think this is a step in the right direction for United. The inflight dining in business class on longhaul flights is not very enjoyable and I would much rather enjoy the ability to eat a meal on the ground and use the time in the air for sleep. The new seat is innovative and while there is more density in the business class cabin when compared to American’s 1-2-1 seating, you still have aisle access from every seat and what looks to be a pretty nice sleeping area.

The lounge updates are also a welcome change. Anyone who has been to a United Club at Newark, San Francisco, Houston, or really, any of the United hubs, knows how crowded they can be. A lounge solely for business class passengers will help relieve some of the crowding at the United Clubs and give a few extra benefits to those traveling in business class. Shower rooms at all Polaris Club locations will be great and I would like to know if those will be accessible on arrival or if United will offer another option for those arriving from a long haul flight in business class, similar to the arrivals lounge concept they already have at San Francisco.

Anyway, these announced changes are a welcome improvement and I hope that the execution and delivery of them is as United promises.

In a move reminiscent to American cutting flights to Venezuela, Lufthansa has announced that as of June 18, they will suspend their Frankfurt to Caracas flight, citing issues with the country’s currency controls and economic woes.

The suspension does not have an end date and as the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, I doubt this will be the last airline to announce such a suspension. With it becoming increasingly difficult to get revenues out of the country, the viability of operating a business in Venezuela is losing proposition.

* The links to Amazon on this post are affiliate links that do generate revenue for me and this site. *

My friend Patrick tweeted a few months ago about how excited he was about the season two of Bosch being released. I had never watched the show and actually only really heard about it in passing, so I decided to watch an episode and see if it was something interesting. About three episodes into the first season and I was hooked. So hooked in fact that I watched the entire first season in a couple of days. When the second season was released, I watched it just as quickly.

I usually watch things on my iPad when I am traveling because the inflight entertainment on most airlines is not filled with the greatest content or things that I want to watch. Well, after I finished watching Bosch I read up on the book series that inspired the show and was intrigued. The show is an adaptation of Michael Connelly’s Bosch series. From the titles, you may not realize they are Bosch books but they are and Amazon is pretty good at showing you which ones are in the series and what Connelly’s other titles are. Note, Connelly also wrote The Lincoln Lawyer, which became a movie and is Connelly’s first novel in the Mickey Haller series.

After digging into all of this I decided I would buy the first three books in the Bosch series, The Black Echo, The Black Ice, and The Concrete Blonde. I am about halfway through The Black Echo and really enjoying Connelly’s writing style. He is detailed but not so much so that you lose interest and skip descriptions. The details add value to the story and I appreciate his taking the time to think through putting you into Bosch’s mind. The books don’t completely line up with the Amazon show, so if you are expecting that, just be aware that the two are set in different time periods and Bosch in the books is a Vietnam vet, not an Iraqi war vet. It’s a minor difference and not one that has diminished the reading experience.

The books are great “lounging around” reading. I am pretty much carrying it everywhere I go and reading little bits as I get the time. Doing a bit more reading has been a recent goal and the Bosch series is definitely helping to kick start that habit. I guess I have Patrick to thank for piquing my interest in the show!

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-400 "Combi"
In the exciting or “happy to hear it” news department, Alaska Airlines and Japan Airlines announced a partnership this morning. The partnership will start on June 29, 2016 and will allow customers to earn miles on each carrier and other partner benefits. However, the press release does not go into detail on earning rates or the redemption rates, but it’s clear from Alaska’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, Andrew Harrison, that those details are coming.

“For the first time, our members will be able to earn and redeem miles within Japan, taking advantage of 600 daily flights on JAL’s broad domestic network.”

I have always thought that Japan was a gap for Alaska Airlines. You could fly Delta or American but in a lot of cases it required a connection, sometimes two. The Japan Airlines partnership opens up a number of California non-stops into Japan. There is also the Japan Airlines flight from Vancouver, B.C. though that means going through Canadian transit immigration. In any case, I am excited about not having to overfly Japan to just fly back on Cathay Pacific. This partnership also opens up a bunch of connections out of Tokyo. Off the top of my head it makes parts of China, Japan, and some southeast Asia destinations really easy to reach.

Alaska Airlines continues to impress me with their growth and planning, let’s hope it carries into the merger with Virgin America.

Delta has been growing their Seattle hub operation over the last couple of years, trying to cultivate a west coast hub that can serve Asia as well as some domestic U.S. destinations and parts of Europe. They released a new commercial recently, that you can watch below, that is directly targeting their Seattle market.

The general consensus is that the commercial doesn’t really get Seattle or the Pacific Northwest. I can see that. The ad doesn’t say much except to give a nod to Seattle’s proximity to both Tokyo and London and how the city has momentum (whatever that means).

More concerning than the commercial is a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune where Delta’s new CEO had some interesting thoughts on the airline’s future plans in China.

In September 2014, then-CEO Richard Anderson told a group in Minnesota that Delta hoped to explore a new nonstop route from MSP to China “in the next three to five years.”

Bastian, who has served as president since 2007, succeeded Anderson, who formally retired Monday. Bastian said he also believes an MSP-to-China route “would be an ideal opportunity” once Delta receives its new Airbus 350 planes — which will replace the retiring Boeing 747 aircraft — next year, and if U.S. carriers are granted more traffic rights in China. Foreign governments negotiate how many flights from each country it will allow to operate within its borders.

So why is Delta focused on building their Minneapolis hub’s reach in China when they have a rather large presence in Seattle, where they can use aircraft that don’t require ultra-long ranges? I am not sure. It seems like the complete opposite of what they were originally trying to do when they opened the hub in Seattle. United has started flying to non-top tier airports in China out of San Francisco, capturing a part of the market that Delta will quickly lose unless they make a move soon. By spreading their transpacific flights over multiple hubs I am a little worried that they are diluting themselves and not really building up the Seattle base. There has already been a slight withdrawal with the reduction of Seattle-Hong Kong and threats to stop flying to Tokyo from a number of U.S. airports if they are not granted certain slots at Tokyo-Haneda. One has to wonder how much more Delta’s presence at Seattle will retract all while they release commercials touting its awesomeness as a hub.

According to U.S. Representative Walden’s website, the House has unanimously approved the Treating Small Airports with Fairness Act. The act name is kind of cheesy but essentially it would bring back TSA screening to small airports that lost service at the beginning of 2013 and has a commitment from an airline for service.

The TSA Fairness Act would require the TSA to restore screening services to any airport that lost service after January 1, 2013 and that has a guarantee from a commercial airline to resume service within one year. There are currently at least six airports nationwide that have commercial airlines seeking to resume flights after undergoing a temporary gap in service, but are being denied TSA security screening and personnel. Instead, the agency directed the airports to allow passengers to fly unscreened to their next destination, and undergo screening there.

Klamath Falls is one of the closest airports to Crater Lake so this change will make it easier for tourists to make it to that lovely attraction, not to mention the rest of southern Oregon. If the act passes in the Senate the airline that has already been tapped to operate the Portland-Klamath Falls service would be PenAir, who has already started a number of routes out of Portland and is partners with Alaska Airlines.

There is no date for when the Senate would vote on the legislation, but I will definitely be on the look out for its passing.

The New York Times posted an article titled, “Avoiding the Dreaded Middle Seat May Now Cost You” and it is a pretty accurate depiction of the landscape of commercial air travel. Most major U.S. airlines will soon have a “basic” economy fare that is essentially only the price for a seat on a plane between origin and destination. No other benefits. Want to check a bag? That’s $50. Want to select a seat? That’s $15-30 depending on the route. Want that seat to be an aisle? That’s another $10.

Recaro Slimline Seat 1
Some would argue that the unbundling of airfare into different components is good for the consumer because they can purchase just the items they want for the trip and save money. But that would imply that the different services airlines provide, seat selection, baggage handling, etc. are things that are completely unrelated, which is far from the truth. When you travel you need a seat and you might need to check a bag. Neither of these is a cost that is unaccounted for by the airlines. They are going to have to handle cargo/bags/mail whether you fly or not. A seat selection, in simple terms, does not cost the airline money. This is the illusion of unbundling. Yeah, if you and your family do not mind sitting in random middle seats around the plane, you will probably save a few dollars. But, if you don’t want your mother seated at the rear of the plane while you’re ten rows up, that’s going to cost you. This is the illusion of cost savings. Sure you might save $100 in airfare but as soon as you check a bag or select seats that cost savings dwindles and it is hard to tell where the equilibrium is between that “basic” economy fare and the regular fare that would have included the items you paid for. If you do not check bags, travel with family, or care where you sit, then unbundled fares are probably for you.

There is also the illusion that unbundling items from airfare will keep the airfare low. Well, that would go against the basic argument of unbundling, which is that the airfare and the ancillary items can act independently of each other. So, if the airlines decide that $60B in ancillary fees is not enough, they can adjust those prices, leaving airfare untouched. Or, they can manipulate airfare to fit a market and leave the ancillary fees alone. I am not against the airlines making money but it is disingenuous to paint the unbundled fares as “saving customers money” when the basic facts point to the scheme as being solely about revenue generation. And that’s fine, airlines are businesses, they are supposed to make money. Just don’t promote a revenue generation tool as mystical cost savings awesomeness, because for a lot of people, it means they will be sitting in a middle seat, delayed at LaGuardia.

As Jon Ostrower from the Wall Street Journal reports:

That means Alaska will have 349 aircraft at their disposal after all deliveries are made and the merger is completed. That is a huge increase for them and even with the retirement of 15 Bombardier Q400s by 2018, they will still have a very big fleet for the size of the operation they are running now.

Route growth has to be on the horizon then (no pun intended). With the Virgin America merger it is clear that Alaska will increase their presence in San Francisco. I would not be surprised to see them keep Virgin America’s transcontinental routes to JFK and Boston but I could also see them flying a number of west coast routes that are underserved by United, Delta, and American.

The big unknown is what happens to Alaska’s presence at Seattle. They have the planes for growth but Seattle is already overcrowded and I don’t know that Alaska has the gates to start a whole of new flights. I guess theortically they could park the E175s at the regional gates and have passengers walk outside to the planes, but even that area is a mess during the morning and evening rush hours.

This could also mean the end of the contract that Alaska has with SkyWest for operation of CRJ-700 and E175 regional jets to a number of destinations. SkyWest currently flies routes like Seattle-Milwaukee and Portland-Austin on E175 and Portland-Tuscon with CRJ-700s. To responsibly grow, Alaska may start operating those routes with their own planes and pilots via the Horizon Air subsidiary.

All of this to say, it is going to be interesting to see a rather niche carrier like Alaska navigate the waters of huge growth without overextending themselves in terms of passenger capacity and the physical limitations they will face at Seattle and Portland.

In late 2014 I was commuting from Portland to New York every week for work. A friend of mine was getting married on one of the weekends and I planned to fly from New York to San Antonio for the wedding and then home to Portland. About halfway through my work week I became very ill with intestinal issues to the point that I could not leave the hotel room. I eventually recovered slightly and made it to San Antonio for the wedding but still experienced the illness until I was home. I was happy to enjoy the wedding but was in a lot of pain during the weekend.

To this day I still do not know what caused me to get sick. I had a slight cold the week before all of this took place and took Mucinex to help with the congestion. Was it the Mucinex? Was it food poisoning? Who knows. But ever since then, I have noticed myself becoming more and more obsessed with food preparation, cleanliness, and a concern of becoming ill. I will admit that it is completely illogical. In fact, I even remind myself that it is when I am thinking about it, but there is still a part of me that obsesses over it.

Satay Stand

Three or four years ago without hestitation, I would describe myself as an adventurous eater. Put something new, different, funky, whatever, in front of me and I would gladly try it. What has happened since the illness is that I have found myself questioning whether or not I should eat something. Go to a new restaurant and I am wondering about cleanliness and less about what to order. If I notice that something has not been cleaned, I immediately become hesitant to order and have to fight a mini-war in my brain that I have eaten in some crazy and less clean places around the world and that I will be fine.

It is hard to even write this post because it sounds crazy to think about food preparation and health so much. It sounds obsessive to believe that a little dirt would make someone sick. And I do not disagree with you. The one illness event did not all of the sudden cause me to feel this way, I think it simply started my mind racing down a path that it struggles to deviate away from. Getting sick while criss-crossing the country made me feel completely out of control. I was taking medicine but still at the mercy of my body and I hated that feeling.

Deep down I know this is all mental with very little rooting in reality. Deep down I know that eating at a food truck is not going to make me sick. Deep down I know that I am going stay healthy on the road. But my thought process immediately goes the opposite direction and it takes quite a bit of self-convincing to get back on track. I know there is a bit of anxiety involved and I am working to control that and not overthink the small things that I cannot control. It is an uphill battle. Here’s to fighting that fight and adventurous eating.

The Economist has an interesting short piece and infographic on international airlines and the price you pay versus the service you receive. They used customer satisfaction data from Skytrax and lined that up against flight-volume data from

At the bottom of the satisfaction list? United and American Airlines.

Another interesting tidbit was the “worst airports to sleep in” category. Port Harcourt International Airport in Nigeria topped that list… And that isn’t a good thing.