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Posts tagged A380

An OpEd in the December 12, 2014 Houston Chronicle by a United Airlines employee really has me scratching my head. In it, Mark Segaloff posits that Emirates’s status as an airline hinges on them being state owned and that they are able to hurt U.S. airlines because of their use of the Import/Export bank to finance their aircraft. He continues, stating that state-owned airlines cause domestic U.S. carriers to lose business and suffer, costing jobs. While my heart is with Mr. Segaloff, my head is not.

Emirates A380 - Mark Harkin

Emirates A380 – Mark Harkin

It is true that there has been some concern about state-owned airlines coming into the U.S. and hurting domestic carriers. Even European carriers have stated that the Middle East carriers pose a serious risk to their business in the region. Here’s the kicker though, the European carriers are really the only ones with skin in the game. They are the ones with multiple flights to multiple destinations in the Middle East. U.S. carriers fall well behind when it comes to service to places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kuwait City and others. In fact, United could not make their Washington-Dulles to Doha, Qatar (with a stop in Dubai) route work, so they pulled that service.

Mr. Segaloff’s key point is that the Emirates flight will cost Houston jobs. I fail to see any facts in the article as to why that would happen. United offers a once daily flight to Dubai from Dulles. If they want to compete directly for those dollars from potential customers out of Houston, maybe start non-stop service? Maybe offer a product that is not being degraded by installing slimline seats, reducing seat pitch, and generally making the travel experience sub-par. I know that Mr. Segaloff would probably retort, “But they are a state-owned airline with all the money in the world to make service improvements.” to which I would simply give him a link to United making a record profit in Q3 of 2014. There seems to be some money for improvement there, yet United offers 2-4-2 seating in business class on the Dubai flight. No thanks, I would rather take the non-stop from Houston (avoiding Dulles) in 1-2-1 seating on the A380. United does offer a number of one-stop options to a number of Emirates destinations via their antitrust immune joint venture with carriers such as ANA and Lufthansa. Granted, the service standards are not the same as Emirates but there are options that make money for United and their partners.

Something that Mr. Segaloff fails to mention is that the Emirates service to Houston is not new, it is simply bigger now. Truth be told, Emirates used to offer two daily flights to Houston from Dubai and with those two flights they actually had more seats (532) flying to Dubai than they do now with the A380 (489/517 depending on version). Where were the complaints when Emirates was running that second flight?

There have been a number of announcements of service to Houston by carriers that are not state-owned and not from the Middle East but these seem to do little to upset employees. But from an airline business perspective, these new routes are the worrisome ones. Korean has started non-stop service to Seoul, which I had heard was off to a rocky start but is doing better now. ANA announced service to Tokyo, EVA has schedules loaded to Taipei, and there are rumors that British Airways wants to bring an A380 to Houston for one of their two flights a day. ANA and EVA are Star Alliance partners with United, but Korean brings a good product and a fantastic network in Asia. Where is the uproar against that?

The Import/Export Bank is actually a valid concern, especially when the money is not spent the way it was meant to be spent, helping a foreign company grow by buying American goods. However, I do not think Emirates has any problem letting that money fall away. In fact, that money is specifically for Boeing jets, not for the Airbus A380 that Emirates is bringing to Houston.

I think one place where Mr. Segaloff could apply is argument is to the new Emirates flight linking New York City with Milan, Italy. This is a city pair that is served by two U.S. carriers, Delta from JFK and United from Newark. Now you have a third foreign carrier on the route who is trying to bring down the prices but not having much success. But I do not think it’s a question of letting foreign carriers operate routes from the U.S. to their respective hubs but whether or not those foreign carriers should be allowed to operate so called “Fifth Freedom” routes like New York-Milan ad infinitum. A number of carriers do this but use that fifth freedom flight to connect to their hub at the end. Out of Houston, Singapore Airlines flies to Moscow and then onward to Singapore. They are allowed to sell tickets to Moscow or Singapore out of Houston and they fill their plane. It’s a win/win. But when do those flights become anti-competitive? That’s for the FAA and DOT to sort out.

It is one thing to cry wolf when there is a valid concern but to say that Emirates and their A380 is going to hurt Houston is simply fiction. If anything, the Emirates service is helping strengthen the Houston economy by offering one-stop service to places that were previously unreachable without 2 or more stops. It will also continue to keep prices relatively competitive, which is good for the consumer. Sure, United may not like that, but how many passengers are they really flying a day to Dubai? How many are they flying to Europe for Middle East connections? United has a choice to make, they can up their game and focus on becoming a world class international carrier or they can relegate themselves to a middle-tier domestic focused carrier with a product that just barely keeps up with the competition. That decision will dictate the fate of those jobs that Mr. Segaloff is concerned about, not a single Emirates A380 flight a day to Houston.

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”.

On Thursday evening, while randomly looking at reward availability on united.com, I happened upon two first class reward seats on Lufthansa’s A380. The flight would leave from Houston on December 29th and arrive in Frankfurt on December 30th. For 235,000 miles I knew I could have a one-way first class reward with a return in business class for two people. That coupled with how rarely Lufthansa opens first class seats on the A380 I started frantically planning a quick trip to Europe.

The first thing my wife and I did was start looking at different cities in Europe that we would want to spend New Years Eve in. We have been to Frankfurt and while it’s a pleasant city, there is not a whole lot there to do. After looking at hotel prices in Paris, London, Leipzig, Salzburg, and Vienna, we settled on Nuremberg, Germany. We have visited before and enjoyed it, so New Years Eve there would be enjoyable. I made a refundable hotel reservation and jumped into “how to make this happen” mode.

I searched for flights to get us to Houston by Tuesday evening. I have a 7:30am work flight on Wednesday and needed to give myself some time to repack and be ready to go. Jessica is joining me in New York on a later flight and would need time to do the same. Sure enough, I found two business class seats on Lufthansa’s new Boeing 748i to Washington-Dulles with a two hour connection before the final flight back to Houston.

Our dog would need to go to the kennel, we would need to make sure we had our Christmas tree taken down, and a few household chores needed to be completed before we could leave. Jessica got to work on the tree and we hauled it to the tree recycling drop-off. I called the dog kennel and made sure they had space, no issues there. We finished up some chores around the house and then started doubting ourselves.

I’ll admit, the thought of this trip revolved mostly around the idea of trying out Lufthansa’s new first class product on the A380. Neither of us was sold on the idea going back to Nuremberg. It’s a great city and I recommend it to anyone visiting Germany, but we had already been and were kind of wanting to enjoy a New Years Eve celebration. I had looked up what the festivities were in Nuremberg and while they had fireworks it just wasn’t like a New Year celebration like Paris or Amsterdam.

We decided to sleep on it and on the morning of 29th, I made the judgement call to not go. Not going would give us more time to focus on planning our activities in New York and would relieve a little bit of stress on the quick repacking front. Plus, not being sold on the final destination made it a little easier to bear.

That led to a refund.

All is not lost. I still have the miles and I am sure first class availability on the A380 will appear again. Would have it been an awesome trip? More than likely. Would it have been worth it? For such a short trip, I am not completely convinced. I certainly would have enjoyed the plane rides, but the time in Nuremberg would have been too short to really cherish. For this redemption, the lack of a desired destination coupled with the short time of the trip meant it was the right decision to refund the trip.

My wife and I decided that a summer trip this year would be a bit of hassle with me starting a new job and her having to do a summer conference. Instead, we decided that a trip to Warsaw and eastern Germany before Christmas would be something that we’d both enjoy. After seeing pictures of German Christmas markets my wife was sold on the idea of spending more time in Germany.

So, I’ve started early on the search for reward tickets. Just before Christmas is not a heavy travel season to Europe so I figured I would find some availability but my first few searches came back with nothing. My goal was to go from Houston to either Los Angeles or San Francisco and then to Frankfurt, Munich, or Zurich from there. Why, you ask, would I want to fly from the west coast? More sleeping time, plain and simple. I was still having a hard time finding availability, with only Denver coming back with empty seats.

Then, Friday night, it happened. I went to continental.com and plugged in “MIAWAW” and got back a bunch of neat routings, including First Class on Lufthansa’s Airbus A380-800. The most interesting routing was Miami to Frankfurt to Kiev to Warsaw, but the connection time in Frankfurt had the potential for us to miss our flight to Kiev, especially in the winter. So, I ended up booking the one-way reward as Miami-Frankfurt-Bucharest-Warsaw.

People may think I’m crazy to route the trip through Bucharest but I did not want to arrive too early into Warsaw and be stuck lugging our suitcases around the city in the snow. Now we’ll get in at 3pm, perfect for checking straight into our hotel. Not to mention, I’ll get a couple of neat new lines 😉

This is merely the beginning of planning this trip, I still need to get from Houston to Miami, as well as continue to monitor flights from the west coast as I would still prefer the longer flight, and finally, figure out our routing for the way home.

The big thing to look forward to is the First Class experience on the Lufthansa A380. I was lucky to grab the seats since Lufthansa has been holding them back for their own frequent flyers. I expect the service will be just as superb as our flight to Frankfurt from Houston last summer but the new suites will add a whole new level of awesomeness.

This is a trip I am really looking forward to, a new aircraft, a new airline (LOT Polish Airlines), and a few new lines. As I make changes and find the return routing, I’ll make some new posts.