After several weeks of speculation Delta, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic have come to an agreement which will see Delta acquire a 49% ownership stake in Virgin Atlantic for $360mm. Delta’s stake will come from Singapore Airlines; Virgin Group, headed by Sir Richard Branson, will retain their current 51% share and control of the company. The Virgin brand and operating certificate will remain intact. The deal is still dependent on approval from regulators on both sides of the Atlantic. The airlines expect the deal to close by the end of 2013.
Delta and Virgin Atlantic also intend to establish a joint venture operation for trans-Atlantic operations. The joint venture will not, at least for now, include other SkyTeam partners. It will, however include:
- A fully integrated joint venture that will operate on a "metal neutral" basis with both airlines sharing the costs and revenues from all joint venture flights.
- A combined trans-Atlantic network between the United Kingdom and North America with 31 peak-day round-trip flights.
- Enhanced benefits for customers including cooperation on services between New York and London, with a combined total of nine daily round-trip flights from London-Heathrow to John F. Kennedy International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.
- Reciprocal frequent flyer benefits.
- Shared access to Delta Sky Club and Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse airport lounges for elite passengers.
The joint venture will definitely give the combined carriers a leg up in the ultra-competitive London market. That said, the combined lift between London and New York City and Newark still doesn’t begin to reach the frequencies at British Airways/American Airlines offer. The 23 total flights daily between the USA and Heathrow will place Delta/Virgin in a solid second place, ahead of United’s 16 but well behind BA/AA’s nearly 40 daily operations.
From a passenger perspective the overall product should be very competitive in both economy and business class. Both Delta and Virgin Atlantic currently offer flat beds for all passengers in their business class cabins. For economy class the AVOD systems on both carriers should provide sufficient entertainment to distract the passengers from their tighter seating quarters. Virgin Atlantic has a proper premium economy cabin which Delta does not offer; there may be some work to reconcile that difference at some point. On the ground the Virgin Clubhouse lounges are some of the nicest business class operations, particularly in New York and London. Delta’s SkyClubs are not at the same level but in shared markets customers will have the benefit of access to both.
Delta has been looking for a way to get at more slots into Heathrow. They picked up a couple when British Airways was forced to divest them following their acquisition of bmi but that wasn’t enough to significantly change their operations. The partnership with Virgin Atlantic will open up access to many more slots eventually. And the price point was quite reasonable. Of course, Virgin Atlantic has been losing money in recent quarters so it might become a more expensive investment over time, but at least initially it looks like a positive opportunity for both carriers.
I will admit that I was rather confused when I received an email this morning from JetBlue regarding flight change policies and Sandy. After all, the storm was a few weeks back and most affected customers had made the necessary changes already. When I read that the policy applied to flights in February I was even more confused. It isn’t often that a change fee waiver comes out 2+ months in advance of the affected dates. But that’s exactly what JetBlue is doing. Change fees (but not fare differences) are being waived for travel to or from the NYC area, including White Plains and Newburgh, between February 14-25, 2013. Those dates are when the schools in the area normally have a holiday break but, because of the extra days they were closed in November, many are cancelling that holiday this year. Passengers can also cancel their flights and convert the value of the ticket to a credit without penalties.
Very generous and very classy.
The wind and rain may have stopped but that doesn’t mean the disaster is over. Far from it, really.
As the recovery process in the New York City area continues in the wake of Hurricane Sandy airlines are getting in on the act, supporting the American Red Cross and other agencies. For some airlines that support comes in the form of volunteers from their employee ranks, heading in to the disaster area to support the efforts on the ground. And for others the support comes in encouraging members to donate to the relief organizations, mostly in the form of earning frequent flyer points in exchange for donating.
Here are the links I can find right now for airlines offering up bonus miles. If anyone has any others let me know and I’ll add them to the list.
- JetBlue is matching customer donations up to the first $50,000 donated to the American Red Cross and also offering 6 points per dollar to their TrueBlue members. JetBlue is also making their presence felt on the ground in New York City, paying for meals from the Wafels & Dinges food trucks to be distributed to residents.
- Delta is donating $100,000 to the American Red Cross relief efforts. Additionally, SkyMiles members can also donate miles or money to the Red Cross; there does not appear to be any miles promo associated with it at this time.
- United Airlines is matching up to $100,000 in donations to three charities: the American Red Cross, Feeding America and AmeriCares. As of this morning their member have already donated more than $300,000 to the charities so the match is maxed out. Additionally, members who give a minimum of $50 will receive 250 bonus miles.Donations of $100 or more will receive 500 miles. The company will issue up to 5 million miles as part of the effort.
- American Airlines is offering 250 AAdvantage miles to members who donate $50 and 500 miles to members who donate $100 or more.
- Starwood is matching donations of points made through November 30, 2012.
- 2,000 Starpoints = $25 USD donation
- 4,000 Starpoints = $50 USD donation
- 8,000 Starpoints = $100 USD donation
- 12,000 Starpoints = $150 USD donation
- 16,000 Starpoints = $200 USD donation
- Hilton is matching donations up to $100,000 through December 31, 2012. Additionally, members will earn 10 HHonors points for every dollar donated.
Finally, there are a bunch more resources available for folks looking to see how they can help out. JetBlue has a great list at the end of their post here.
This past weekend was a quick, relatively local getaway down to Savannah, Georgia. The trip was great overall. Savannah is a lovely town, and I’ll get to writing up some of those details eventually, but the flights both ways were rather worse than expected. And I wasn’t really expecting all that much from Delta Connection.
The outbound flight (LaGuardia – Savannah) was operated on N800AY, a Canadair CRJ-200. This aircraft type should be removed from service globally as a violation of torture treaties. Seriously, they are the most uncomfortable seating and in-flight experience I’ve ever had. I also had the apparent good fortune to be seated in a seat where the seatbelt was more than 3 feet longer than necessary. Apparently they don’t stock seatbelt extenders on those aircraft so they have some that are built extra long just in case. I seriously think I might have been able to sit in the row in front of me and still use this belt. But at least that was entertaining rather than troubling.
We also had some issues with seat assignments on the flight down. We couldn’t get seats assigned at booking which is usually no big deal. At the airport we were assigned seats that were not together. Again, no big deal as we can handle 90 minutes not sitting next to each other, but when I asked about switching it up the agents said there was no chance. So what are the odds that the only empty seat on the plane happened to be next to my wife? Go figure.
The return trip was an even greater adventure. As we were getting out of the taxi at the Savannah airport (great facility, though the free wifi was busted) my phone rang and the Caller ID showed Delta’s number. Not good.
Our flight was going to be delayed. It happens some times, but the way it was handled was anything but smooth. I asked the ticket agent why the flight was delayed and he offered up that it wasn’t loaded in their computer and that it was probably ATC in the New York City area. Probably a safe bet, but in this case completely false. The issue was actually that Chautauqua, the carrier providing the service, had a rather significant systems meltdown and they were having difficulty dispatching a number of flights, with cancellations and significant delays throughout the system. So when I asked about alternate routings and other options and they suggested that it was no big deal I wasn’t all that impressed.
Two hours later, while still waiting for the aircraft to depart from New York to get to Savannah to operate our flight the agents were much more helpful, but they were also now more limited in terms of what alternate flights they could offer. Eventually we got rebooked via Atlanta with roughly 9 minutes to get through security and on to the plane. Awesome.
We did make the flight despite the best efforts of the TSA to mess that up and then were in Atlanta looking to get on the next flight to New York. With a two hour layover we headed to the gate of the earlier flight to try to get on as standby passengers. Ahead of us in line was a pilot dead-heading and the flight was full; the pilot couldn’t get a cockpit jump seat and was number 5 on the standby list when he walked away from the podium. I was quite surprised to hear the same agent who just put the pilot on the list tell me that there was no opportunity to be listed as a standby passenger and that, "There is no way I’m going to put you on this flight." Harsh.
At least we had dinner at One Flew South (my first time there and it lived up to the rave reviews I’ve heard). But beyond that the experience in Atlanta was pretty poor.
And then we caught our flight from Atlanta to LaGuardia. It was a reasonably quick, though bumpy, flight and we made it home the same day as scheduled and only a few hours late. In the end that’s great, but most of the customer service interactions along the way, save for the two women in Savannah who actually cared and tried to help us, were pretty craptacular. I doubt any other airline would do much better, particularly for a pair of customers with no elite status. Sad, but true.
Eero Saarinen was an architectural genius. This is generally an accepted fact and one that I have never had reason to dispute. Passing by the TWA terminal he designed has always been one of my great pleasures in flying out of JetBlue‘s T5 facility at JFK Airport. But those interactions were always fleeting, leaving little time to admire the facility and never permitting access inside to truly get a feel for what it is like and just how amazing it is.
That changed this past weekend thanks to the folks at Open House New York and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. For a few hours on a beautiful, clear Sunday afternoon the Saarinen terminal at JFK (officially named the Trans World Airline Flight Center at John F. Kennedy Airport) was opened to the public. I was one of several hundred aviation, architecture and history buffs who made the trek out to the airport to explore the terminal and bask in its glory.
The sunken seating area in the main section of the terminal.
Saarinen, who also was the architect behind the incredibly utilitarian Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC, never got to see the TWA terminal completed. He died in late 1961, several months before the facility opened in May of 1962. Almost immediately after it opened the terminal was recognized as being too small to serve the passenger loads it was seeing. Additional space was added on outside the main lobby and lounge area and a second "people tube" was built arching over the roadway to the end houses where passengers boarded their airplanes and embarked on their journeys. But the beauty was in the Flight Center building. That beauty still very much exists today.
The curves in the building are incredible.
A number of former TWA employees were on hand as well, drawn to the history of the building just like the rest of us. One pilot, Richard Siano, arrived in his full uniform. Siano chatted with anyone and everyone asking about his history with the airline and the operations of the facility. He also was able to recount some of his fondest memories, including showing up to work one day in January 1964 with barely more that 1000 hours of flying experience and no multi-engine rating. He was placed in the right seat of a Constellation and after 500 hours as a First Officer he was made Captain. A couple years later the Connies were retired as TWA became the first major carrier to be all-Jet and he was flying as a Captain on the 727s. Towards the end of his career he would often commute from his home in Western New Jersey to JFK in his private Piper Cub and then switch over to a 747 to fly around the world.
Lenny (left) and Captain Richard Siaro catching up on old times at the event.
There was also Lenny, a driver for the carrier, and Tom who worked maintenance for them up until the assets were purchased by American Airlines. A number of JetBlue pilots and other crewmembers who showed up to pay their respects to the previous generation of aviators and I had a great chat with a pilot from Continental who had come for similar reasons.
The tiny, round tiles are everywhere, and they are amazing.
There were a couple officials at the event as well. One was Jim Steven, the Manager of JFK’s Physical Plant and Redevelopment for the PANYNJ and to talk about both the future and the history of the building. In addition to gushing that he "has the absolute best job in the world for a civil engineer," Steven was quite excited by the renovation efforts that were completed thus far and even more so about the future redevelopment efforts in store for the building. The Port Authority is in discussions with a couple hotel developers to repurpose the facility in a "completely outside the box" manner in the coming years. Seeing the building potentially being placed back into use is an incredible development.
The departures board has been updated to tie in to the current JFK schedule, but the architecture is 100% original.
Charles Kramer, the architect leading the restoration efforts from Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners was also on hand talking about the history of the building as well as the challenges faced in the renovations. In many cases the challenges were literally the little things, such as the half-inch round tiles that cover many of the surfaces. These tiles were impossible to source new as no one makes them that size any more. The roughly two million tiles needed in various areas were contracted out to be produced from scratch.
The non-slip skids on the stair nosing was similarly unique to the building and was more or less destroyed in the last years of the Terminal’s functional life, eventually covered with a rubberized sheet to meet the functional, though hardly the aesthetic, needs of the building. These, too, were rebuilt and restored to their original designs.
The striations in the concrete are form the individual boards used to shape the forms from which it was originally cast.
There was also much discussion of the original construction process. Each side of the structure was produced as a single pour of concrete which took roughly 30 hours start to finish. This pour was made over significant amounts of re-bar and into enormous, custom-built wood forms to create the shape seen today. If you get up close to the facility you can actually see the markings from the original wood forms still on the underside of the concrete faces. It is simply amazing the amount of detail that went into the construction effort.
Inside the original "People Tube" connecting the Flight Center to the gate area across the way.
Faced with the impending renovations of Delta‘s facilities at JFK, including the Pan Am Worldport (now known as Terminal 3) there was some discussion about whether that, too, would be maintained given its historical significance. The answer was a rather frank and un apologetic "no." Essentially the Port Authority had to pick one building that would be kept on as a historical landmark and homage to the previous era of aviation and the TWA Flight Center is that choice. I certainly can understand why. Don’t get me wrong – the Pan Am Worldport has plenty of history as well – but it has nothing on the TWA Flight Center as an icon of aviation.
I’m very much looking forward to when the building is fully renovated and developed so I can have a new hang out at the airport, even if that is a few years down the line.
In an interview which first aired last night NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly stated that the department does, in fact, have that ability:
[i]n an extreme situation, we would have some means to take down a plane.
Unsurprisingly, the Commissioner didn’t provide any additional details on the capabilities but he was quite explicit that the department has the equipment and training to do it if they determined it was necessary. No word either on the details behind who authorizes such an action or in what types of scenarios they would be considered.
I do not think I’m alone in thinking that this announcement opens up more questions than it answers regarding aviation safety.
A hat tip to the folks at NYC Aviation for mentioning this one; they’ve got the video clip of the interview on their site, too.
Singapore Airlines has announced that effective 15 January 2012 the Singapore-Frankfurt-JFK route will change from the Boeing 747-400 to the Airbus A380. This change has been expected for quite some time and the news from the carrier finally puts to rest speculation on the timing of the change.
For the United States, our customers will be able to enjoy the latest cabin products on all routes, in addition to having the A380 serving both east and west coasts. For Germany, it will also mean offering our customers the latest cabin products on both of our daily Frankfurt flights as well as our daily Munich flights.
The change has both positive and negative aspects associated with it. The quality of the hard product on the 747 is pretty mediocre. It was great a decade ago when it was introduced but it has since been surpassed by many other carriers. The product quality on the A380 is significantly better throughout the aircraft so that’s an upgrade to be sure. There are also 25% more seats on the A380 which means potentially lower prices and easier access to award inventory. Sortof.
The main negative of the change is on the award inventory front. Singapore has chosen to outright block redemption of first class seats ("Suites") on their A380s from partners and allows redemption for KrisFlyer members only at incredibly inflated prices. Business class award seats are generally not available to partners either, though some routes are now showing award inventory to some partners so that wall is coming down a bit.
Overall this change is probably a good thing. It certainly is for the folks who are paying the going rate for premium cabin fares as they’ll be getting a much better product for their money. But it sucks for folks like me who tend to only fly in premium cabins on award redemptions. If this route starts to show award seats to partners then I’ll certainly consider it an upgrade overall. I did the JFK-FRA route once a couple years ago in business class and it was nice but not amazing. But given the choice between nice or not available I’ll take nice.
Hat tip to SitInFirst.com for noticing the update.
Box seats for opening night at the US Open tennis tournament in Flushing, New York. Not a bad deal if you can swing it. And I almost didn’t bother to show up.
Starwood and their social media marketing team held contests via Twitter and FaceBook to give away the seats in their box for opening night. I don’t really follow the hotel programs so much so I didn’t even know the contest was going on. I found out about it quite quickly last Thursday when a friend announced that he had won. Said friend isn’t in New York and couldn’t use them and didn’t want them to go to waste. Fortunately I was available to help out on that front.
Thanks to Hurricane Irene the FedEx delivery of the tickets didn’t work out so well but that’s what Will Call is for, right? How hard could that be? Apparently harder than I thought as they left one ticket for me and one for my wife who ended up not coming. A friend did instead. Convincing the ticket agent to let me sign for her ticket was quite a challenge (even the SPG rep had trouble) but eventually we got that sorted as well and finally made it into the stadium.
I love the USTA facility.
There isn’t a bad seat anywhere on the property. The smaller courts offer up close and personal views of the action, especially in the early rounds. And the sight lines in Arthur Ashe Court are phenomenal from every seat. That said, the SPG box seats are incredible.
|Great views of the opening round women’s match from the SPG box seats.
The box seats also had us directly adjacent to the President’s Box area of the stadium. That was great for celebrity spotting. Alec Baldwin and Tony Bennett were among the stars out for the festivities. Lots of fun.
|Views from the 300-level seats aren’t so bad either. I stopped by to visit a friend up there.
As I mentioned above, I almost didn’t show up for the night. I wasn’t particularly keen on heading out to Flushing on my own. Fortunately I found someone at the office who was willing to go with me. That contributed to part of the problem with picking up the tickets at Will Call, but it was way better to have gone than not.
|Some of the goodies provided by SPG at the event. There was a full Westin toiletry kit, too.
We also got to experience the inanity that is security at the USTA. No laptops are permitted, unless you are a credentialed sponsor. Ditto for metal water bottles. It wasn’t that there was water in it, but that it was metal. Go figure. Fortunately we had the SPG sponsor with us and she was able to bring my stuff in for me.
The tennis was a lot of fun to watch and all that much better thanks to the food and beverage provided and the great seats. Plus, they managed to maintain the brand standards in the bathroom, with Westin amenities on offer. I didn’t see the loofa though.
Overall, a wonderful event and very well managed by the folks at Starwood. Thanks for the great time!
All flights are cancelled. So are buses and trains. But you already knew that. Still, as a blog that is supposed to be focused on travel I figured that starting with the relevant bits was useful.
Beyond that, New York City is eerie tonight. Walking around the Meatpacking District at 9:30pm on a Saturday night and, at times, being the only person I could see on the streets was just plain strange. There were a a surprisingly high number of emergency services cars out and taxis rolling through from time to time. But very few people actually out on the streets.
I was also fortunate to find a local bar that was still open tonight. Apparently they were all supposed to close at 9pm but at least one was still serving. Kitchen was closed, but the taps were flowing quite well. And nights like this are when you truly bond with the other patrons at the bar. Needless to say, the folks out tonight were having a blast, self included.
The alarm is set to get up early tomorrow and watch the tide – and storm surge – roll in. It will be interesting to see how things develop up here. Hopefully the apartment doesn’t flood too badly.
Click on the pictures for larger versions and more images from the ‘hood tonight.
Tokyo for the weekend seemed like a good idea. Actually, it still does seem like a good idea and I’m considering booking more similar trips, but I’m also somewhat hopeful that the trend I experienced on my last trip reverses itself. I managed to book a somewhat creative routing, passing through Hawaii on the way. As the travel progressed through the three flights the flight duration got longer and the seats got smaller. That’s not the way you really want to fly.
LaGuardia to Denver was the first hop and it was a pretty reasonable flight once we got past the part where the originally assigned aircraft had a "major fuel leak" and we got underway. Fortunately flights out of LaGuardia are generally quite well padded on the schedule and we weren’t all that delayed into Denver in the end. The United Airlines 757-200 was pretty much as expected. Nothing special in the seat nor the service, though being called aside during the delay for a personal briefing from the agent managing the delay was a nice touch for Global Services members. As it was a breakfast flight the choices were eggs or cereal. I chose the eggs for some strange reason.
Despite the interesting texture imprint on top the eggs were actually pretty good. The sausage and potatoes were very flavorful; the fruit pretty bland.
Once in Denver I chose to buy my own meal for the onward flight. Yes, my upgrade had cleared for the Denver – Honolulu flight, but something in me decided that was the right move. In the end I actually gave away my seat so a couple could sit together, in large part because I had that food, so it worked out well for everyone in question. Also, I had a much better meal for lunch than would have otherwise been the case. As I mentioned in the full post on that flight the crew was exceptional, perhaps to a fault, once they realized I had downgraded myself. Had it not been for the downgrade, however, I’m not so convinced. Either way, the seat was definitely smaller, though Economy Plus certainly doesn’t suck.
The last flight of the day, from Honolulu to Tokyo’s Haneda airport, was the longest and also involved the smallest seat, a regular economy assignment on an Air Japan d/b/a ANA 767-300. The interior was pretty similar to a Continental 767 so that was at least familiar to me, if not especially comfortable. The seats were fine, but nothing special. They do have a footrest under the seat in front but that was less than useful for a passenger taller than 5′ 7" or so.
|The bulkhead in the mini-cabin actually looks quite comfortable but I was not so lucky to secure such a seat assignment.
I was rather impressed with the initial meal service on the flight. In economy we had a choice of a pork curry or scallops and asparagus main. Side included noodles as well as salmon and some veggies. One of the better coach meals I can remember recently.
Combined with the snack I picked up at the L&L just outside the airport it was sufficient to make for a pretty good dinner overall.
The flight also includes an arrival meal which wasn’t nearly as good as the first meal, but more than nothing. There were some pickled veggies, a fruit cup and a wrap that had some sort of meat-ish flavoring inside.
The best part of the flight for me was picking up a new carrier and a fun new line. The service was good, as is generally expected from the Asian carriers.
That the seats got progressively smaller during the trip as I got progressively more tired didn’t matter all that much; it turns out that I’ll sleep anywhere if I’m tired enough. Sure, I’d rather the trend was the other direction but I’ll take what I can get. Besides, I can claim it was prep for my pod hotel experience.
Just another day of living the dream.