JetBlue has big plans for Fly-Fi, their in-flight internet service. The carrier has been working for the past couple years to get the Ka-band satellite service up and running and they’re in the home stretch, with one plane fitted and awaiting FAA approval for test flights and, eventually, formal certification. And while they might not be flying yet, that doesn’t mean that the service isn’t being tested. Thanks to this modified test truck the company is able to test the connectivity and performance from a moving vehicle.
Sure, it isn’t an Airbus A320 cruising at 35,000 feet, but it gets the job done, at least for now.
The excede product from ViaSat is known to be reliable and functional for stationary transceivers; the big leap for JetBlue, LiveTV and ViaSat is ensuring that the system remains stable when the dish is moving. This custom rig lets the companies test their operations at highway speeds. The test rig previously spent some time on the west coast and it is now doing a tour of duty in central Florida, near the LiveTV headquarters.
The company still expects to have the system flying by mid-year on their planes. United Airlines will also be using the system on part of their fleet.
PointsHound, the hotel booking engine which also lets you earn airline points, has a promotion out through the end of March earning members 500 bonus miles in their airline program of choice for completing a new hotel booking. PointsHound currently has 5 partners available:
When the program initially launched there were some limitations in the earning scheme, most notably that bookings made via PointsHound were considered OTA bookings by the hotels and therefore not eligible for earning points in the hotel loyalty program as well. Earlier this month that started to change as the company introduced certain markets and properties where it is possible to earn both airline points at booking AND hotel points during the stay. That’s a big upgrade for people who like their hotel status just as much as their airline points.
The double earning is limited right now but expected to grown in the near future. Ditto for the collection of partner airlines.
Still no option to search directly for properties where the double earning is possible but that will hopefully change soon enough. In the mean time, at least worth looking in to again, particularly with the 500 bonus miles on offer right now.
n.b.- The link above to PointsHound is a referral link for me. I don’t know if it still actually does anything, but it used to offer bonus points for enrollment.
Another lawsuit has fallen in the lap of United Airlines and their MileagePlus frequent flyer program. This time around it is not based on elite benefits but on claims that passengers are not begin credited with the proper number of points per their contract with the company. And, I must admit, what I saw when I actually read the filing surprised me quite a bit, mostly because the claimant missed the opportunity to go after what is likely a legitimate data set and instead went with one of the more ridiculous claims I’ve heard in a while.
Hongbo Han has filed a class action claim in Illinois suggesting that the airline is shorting customers because they are credited only with the nominal point-to-point distances between two cities rather than with the actual miles flown on any given flight. Han claims that this approach violates the terms of the contract with Mileage Plus because:
Nowhere in the MileagePlus Program Rules does United state that mileage or miles credited are not actual miles flown by the member. Clause 18.1 of the MileagePlus Program Rules merely states that "[i]n the case of air travel, mileage will only be credited for flights actually flown by the member."
The filing includes a number of Beijing – Dulles flight details, noting that United routinely awards 6,920 miles for that routing despite the actual flight routing being more than that. Han’s complaint details the actual miles flown on his travel dates and suggests that United owes him those miles, plus the 25% bonus on those extra miles due to his "Premier status."
Han does acknowledge that the awarded flight miles are determined by the "purchased ticket routing" which does not necessarily match the flown aircraft routing, so it is not entirely clear that there is much of a case here, but I suppose we’ll see. The part where Han cites a USA Today "article" about points as supporting his claim through selectively quoting the content out of context also probably isn’t going to help the case.
What is most surprising to me is that Han took the rather less certain claim in filing the case, ignoring that the number of miles credited often is actually less than the distance between the airports even on the most ideal routing. The IAD-PEK flight he mentions several times in the claim only earns 6,920 points. But the distance between the two airports is actually 6,921 according to the most commonly accepted formula for calculating the distance between two points on a spheroid of the earth’s dimensions. Newark to Hong Kong is 8,065 miles. United even knows that:
And yet they routinely only ever award 8,060 miles for the trip.
There was some outrage a year ago when the points credited for each city pair changed, mostly to lower numbers. United at the time claimed that the issue was related to differing data sets and calculation methods. Ultimately they simply backed off the changes. But that seems a much more likely case of being able to actually win a claim against the company than the suggestion that actual flight miles should be used.
To be fair, I was pretty drunk on a flight back in October 2007 and during the time we spent circling over Virginia and Pennsylvania waiting to land in Newark I wrote an open letter to Continental asking to earn the points actually flown rather than just the point-to-point distance. But I also was joking. This guy filed a class-action lawsuit over basically the same thing.
We’ll see where this one ends up, but I have a feeling it won’t be in Han’s favor.
A copy of the filing can be found here.
UPDATE: It seems that United isn’t the only carrier facing this challenge. US Airways and Delta were served with nearly identical suits (citing the same USA Today story and basically just search/replace on the other salient details) as well.
I was only a bit surprised to find a wide range of choices available for award flights from New York to Northern Germany in mid-March. After all, it is the middle of winter and most spring break folks are headed to sun and surf or other more traditional destinations. We had our choice of the non-stop United flight to Hamburg or taking a connection in Frankfurt and flying in to Hannover. Given our initial destination of Hildesheim is much closer to Hannover, plus the better flight time (9pm departure rather than 5:30pm) I figured we’d take the extra travel time. Plus it meant I’d get to experience Singapore Air in their economy cabin, rounding out the full set (I did suites a couple months ago and business a year ago). So, thanks to some MileagePlus points I got us booked on JFK-FRA-HAJ with a reasonable layover in Frankfurt for breakfast and a shower in the Senator Lounge.
We got to JFK a bit early so that we could have dinner. We considered the options in the Swiss lounge in T4 and quickly decided to have a real dinner instead. There is a branch of The Palm in the terminal and, despite some previous bad experiences with other airport steakhouses, we gave it a go. Mostly because it was the only reasonable meal option there. And it was surprisingly good. It was helped by our waitress Victoria who was old-school NYC in a good way. But the food was also quite tasty. And by virtue of sitting there rather than in the lounge we got to see this guy and his sparkly backpack. All sorts of good happening there.
Once on board we were treated to the bonus of having the middle seat between us empty. We almost got lie-flat coach but I was slow to jump into the seat across the aisle. Yeah, loads were light. That was good because the space on board isn’t particularly generous down the back of the plane. There is a foot rest which mostly just got in my way, preventing me from extending my legs under the seat in front of me. And the seats are the articulating ones so the recline slides the bottom forward a bit. Reclining decreases legroom. Yuck.
On the plus side, economy class got amenity kits (socks & a toothbrush) and earplugs/eye mask were available on request from the flight attendants. Also, free drinks with the dinner service, though it was really only beer & wine. Liquor was available but not on the drink cart so the delay in having the FA go to the galley to get it made it a rather unappealing option. The meal was OK. Nothing special, really, either good or bad. I suppose that’s about all one can really hope for in coach these days.
On the plus side, Singapore has quite a selection of movies loaded up on their IFE systems. Most were relatively new releases but there were a few from the archives as well. It took three reboots for my IFE to actually work properly (others around me had similar troubles) but once it got working it was pretty good. The in-flight internet was not working, making me 0/2 on trying that product out with Singapore Air. I’m happy my plan was to sleep and not be working.
Oh, and just because I can, a laviator shot on board showing off my RouteHappy shirt.
Overall I’d say that the timing of the SQ flight was still better than the UA option I had. But seat comfort would have been better on United, especially vis a vis personal space since I can get EconomyPlus for free. The meal was maybe a smidgen better on Singapore Air but with the later departure that matters less. And United’s IFE selection is sufficient for my tastes, maybe even better if you like the classics more than current cinema. In premium cabins there are a many more reasons to favor Singapore Air over United. In economy I’m not so sure about that choice. Especially if you’ve got elite status.
Seems to me that, in the interest of being able to more easily find awards, having a listing of all the long-haul routes, by alliance and region, would be useful. And I haven’t ever found a good collection of them so I decided to start building one. Shocking, right??
I’m sure you’ll also be shocked to learn that I started with Star Alliance and the transatlantic (TATL) routes. I’m defining TATL in this context as between North America and Europe. I know there are more flights than just these but I’m going to have a series of posts in the coming days breaking it down and adding to the collection. And I had to start somewhere. So here it is.
There are, by my count,
172 173 route/carrier combinations across the North Atlantic Ocean operated by one of the thirteen Star Alliance members with at least one flight in the regions. Some are seasonal but, if you’re looking for seats, this is probably a good place to start.
Putting them all on a single map is actually pretty useless, other than just to show how massive the coverage footprint is:
To make it slightly more useful here’s a collection of maps split up by carrier. Still sortof sloppy in some cases, but better.
And, if you prefer the data in a less graphical format, it is also available in a table format here.
If you can see any I’ve missed let me know and I’ll update the tables.
Unique North American Gateways:
Unique European Gateways:
Among the many rumors circulating about the return of Boeing‘s 787 Dreamliner to the skies is one which involves the suspension of the ETOPS rating on the plane pending a significant number of flight hours to validate the proposed fixes. The plane entered service with certification to fly a long way from diversion airports; with the GE engines the rating was 330 minutes, more than 5 hours. And while the engines may still operate safely for that long there are concerns about the batteries and just how far from a diversion airport the planes should stray. Without any special ETOPS ratings the limit would be 60 minutes, roughly 400 nautical miles. That limits a lot of routes including many which the 787 was already flying or slated to operate. Here’s a map of (most of) the announced 787 routes showing 60 minute ETOPS blackout zones:
What is most surprising to me is actually how many of the routes DO work, even with this limitation in place. Service between North and South America has a couple small no-go zones but many routes would actually work pretty well. And any deviation from the optimal routings wouldn’t be too significant distance-wise. Between North America and Europe there is a path which allows for 60 minute ETOPS travel, crossing over the southern tip of Greenland as part of the trip. The route is already commonly used, especially eastbound to take advantage of the jetstream, though westbound traffic uses it less often. LOT’s Warsaw-Chicago route could make a go of it with minimal adjustments.
United Airlines‘ planned Denver-Tokyo route doesn’t quite work perfectly, but the diversion required to make it happen isn’t all that bad; Los Angeles to Tokyo would not work so well. And the east-bound versions of these flights typically fly much further south to take advantage of the prevailing winds.
Similarly, Qatar’s planned Europe service would be OK with minor deviations, as would Air India’s.
And most of the Asia service being run by JAL and ANA would be permissible. There are a few routes which will just not work. Houston-Lagos and Santiago-Madrid have chunks of the routes which won’t allow for easy adjustments to meet the non-ETOPS rules.
But, despite my concerns when I started reading about this last night, it seems that the 60 minute limit could actually still fly, so to speak.
No doubt that these “alternate” routes will affect the efficiency of the flights and will take away from the ability to realize the lower operating costs and other benefits that the 787 was supposed to bring to the airlines. That said, having the planes in the air is better than having them grounded. And if the rumored 250,000 hours of no-incident flying to regain ETOPS certification is true then these slightly longer routes might actually help get things back to normal sooner than not.
Assuming the batteries cooperate, of course.
It isn’t just the world’s airlines where the "big three" of the Middle East – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar – are making huge inroads. Just ask the fans of Barcelona’s football club. The team will see, for the first time in its 113 year history, a corporate sponsor on the front of their jerseys: Qatar Airways. The deal nets the team £25 million annually.
The move has angered some fans (the club is wholly owned and operated by its supporters) who see the move as a betrayal of their tradition. Club president Sandro Rosell insists that the deal is "good for our club, good for our city and good for our country." This isn’t the first major marketing move by one of the three carriers. United Airlines was a long-time sponsor of the US Open tennis tournament. Last year that sponsorship was taken over by Emirates in a reported seven year, $90mm deal.
Enormous amounts of money are shifting around with these carriers and there doesn’t seem to be much the other global carriers can do to keep up. The hubs of Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi present incredible geographic advantages for huge chunks of the world’s population. An 8 hour flight from any of the three can cover 60%+ of the world’s population, including Barcelona. And including huge chunks of India, China, south-east Asia, and Europe. When Etihad can afford to buy a chunk of Air Berlin (both the airline and their loyalty program) to gain access to the local markets rather than figure out bilateral treaties and such that’s a huge competitive advantage for them.
I’ve talked in the past about the impact of the Middle Eastern carriers on global alliances. The Qantas/Emirates deal was a huge move to change the way the world’s air traffic moves and the way marketing partnerships operate. Barca agreeing to wear the Qatar logo on their shirts isn’t quite as big a deal financially, but it very well may be just as significant from a marketing and psychological standpoint.
With the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner now in its 6th week and looking to stretch into several months the long-term impact on flight schedules is starting to build up. With no certainty of the planes reentering service anytime soon airlines are extending route cancelations or aircraft swaps, depending on the circumstances. For United Airlines the groundings are affecting a number of routes, even those not scheduled to operate on the 787.
United has officially removed the 787 from their schedule through June 5, 2013 (or they will be with this weekend’s schedule updates). The only flight on the 787 expected earlier than that is Denver-Tokyo, a route which was supposed to launch on March 31; the new launch date for that route is May 12th, a delay of 6 weeks. And that date is soft, depending on the 787s getting back into service. Because United has other routes scheduled to be operated by the 787 which are now being operated with other planes the ability to continue expansion efforts are also impeded.
United’s flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo and Shanghai, as well as Houston to Lagos, Nigeria, will continue to operate, but with the 777 rather than 787s. Flights between San Francisco and both Paris and Taipei, both scheduled to start in the coming weeks, are pushed back. Paris service is now slated to begin April 26th and Taipei is expected to start June 6th; these dates are several weeks after the originally announced route launch dates.
For me, the delay on the DEN-NRT flight creates a personal problem for me: I was supposed to fly on the inaugural. United is being quite flexible on rebooking and reroutes, including positioning flights to Denver, and so I now have to decide what to do. I’m still inclined to get the new line and I’d still love to be on the inaugural. Plus, I think I can make the timing work with another event near Denver that weekend. So that’s probably what I’ll do. But I’m tempted to get creative on the way home, extending my mileage run. Maybe a routing via Honolulu? Or something else. Hong Kong or Singapore might be a bit too much, I think. I’d love to get the Island Hopper in there, especially since I’m on a B fare so upgrades would be easier, but I want to do that flight on the daytime, westbound version so that doesn’t work out for me. Any other suggestions??
Cranky Flier has a post out this morning suggesting that American Airlines really isn’t so weak in Asia. There are some interesting numbers in the post, and he does a good job of explaining how he got to those numbers. I’m a fan of that in many ways. Except for the part where I think he’s completely messing up where it really matters. He only considers flights between the US mainland and anywhere in Asia. That makes sense because that’s mostly where the business matters. But where he screws up, to me, is this assumption:
Lastly, I’m including joint venture flights operated by ANA under United and by JAL under American, because since it’s a joint venture, those flights should be considered their own. Sure, there is work to be done before the experience is seamless, but the path is there.
It is a nice theory, but it just doesn’t work. None of the three alliances have figured out the right way to run these JVs as though they are integrated operations. Mileage earning rules are mostly standardized now and fares are generally fixed. But operationally there are still differences. Ditto for things like frequent flyer benefits and recognition. Upgrades, for example, happen very differently (if at all) on partners.
The other thing overlooked is that coverage isn’t only about frequencies. Including JV partners American has service to Tokyo (NRT & HND), Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai. Both United Airlines and Delta have additional Japan destinations and United also has Hong Kong. And if the JV flights are excluded the number of gateways on the US side are notably higher for Delta and United.
American has some service in Asia. But they are nowhere close to the other two major players, especially on their own metal.
The past week or so has been quite glorious for anyone looking to get into South America from the United States on the cheap. Both American Airlines and United Airlines had crazy sales from Orlando to Rio and now there is another sale available – in business class no less – from New York City to Chile on either AA or LAN metal for the long-haul segments. We’re talking about <$1000 fares to just about anywhere in Chile in business class, and Easter Island is included! And they are still available as of this morning. Needless to say, I’ve got a couple more flights booked now than I expected to have at this point in the year. But all in a good way. I think.
Considering that I started the year without any major trips planned I think that I’ve filled out my dance card pretty nicely so far. Between late April and Labor Day I have the following southern hemisphere flights booked:
And I still have to figure out how I’m getting home from Johannesburg. I’m hoping that a routing via South America works. Those are fun lines.
And, lest there is any confusion, I am not actually averse to traveling anywhere, including the southern hemisphere. It just seemed like a decent post title.