I don’t expect much from most hotel stays, and getting a room at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC for $65 all-in is a hard bargain to pass up. Still, even with that great bargain coloring my views, I was a bit disappointed in the stay. Part of that is my fault. The hotel is still undergoing renovations to the guest rooms and that meant lots of construction going on inside. Had I booked directly through Hyatt I would have been sufficiently warned:
Even a hotels.com booking might have warned me (though it isn’t updated with the delayed completion date) had I scrolled down enough to find this bit:
Alas, the booking via the United.com Hotels booking engine (just another 3rd party OTA contracted out by United) didn’t include the renovations warning in their property alerts:
Not Hyatt’s fault that the OTA isn’t up-to-date, but still frustrating.
I had also asked of my Twitter followers which Hyatt to stay at (the Hyatt Regency was the same price) and the Hyatt Washington account responded. They neglected to mention the construction as well. Sadly, I think this is the most disappointing part of the news. They should know and, when asked which is better, a heads up on the construction wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Our initial room assignment had us squarely between construction on three sides; the atrium was the only side without contractors coming and going all afternoon. Normally not a problem but we wanted to take a nap. That’s more difficult to do with someone hammering on the walls of your room all afternoon.
To their credit, the hotel was very up front about the construction at check-in. All guests were offered a glass of sparkling wine upon arrival and there was also a voucher for free internet, a free movie or a free cocktail in the hotel bar.
They did their best to be accommodating. Except for the part where the construction schedule didn’t go floor-by-floor so as to minimize the number of people booked in next to the construction. Or maybe it was my 3rd party OTA booking that got me the worst room location in the building. After a visit to the front desk after the attempted nap we were able to get a room a few floors up, away from the noise. It was much better.
And, I must admit, the renovated rooms are pretty nice.
The translucent screen in the headboard is back-lit which is a bit strange but it is also nice, indirect light for the room. The bed was comfortable, the bath amenities sufficient (though I’m pretty sure the shampoo in our room was a half-used one left over from a previous guest) and generally speaking the space was aesthetically pleasing. At the price-point I paid there was really nothing wrong up to this point in the stay.
My wife went out to the gym in the morning and I didn’t bolt the door behind her. I could hear housekeeping headed up and down the hall outside but they didn’t come to our room; we had arranged for a late check-out (no charge, even for a no-status OTA booking) and they were apparently aware of this. At one point I heard a key card on our door and then it opened. I figured my wife was back from the gym. Instead it was a hotel employee, opening the room and announcing "Hotel Security" as he stepped in. WTF?!?
Apparently a prior guest left something in the room and he was just coming to see if he could find it. At least that’s the story he told me. And the front desk manager was aghast when I mentioned the incident as we checked out. But neither actually apologized. And it NEVER should have happened in the first place.
I’d probably stay here again given the same price point. Even without the $50 coupon from United the Hyatts were pretty much the cheapest hotels in DC proper for the weekend; Priceline and Hotwire couldn’t even save me much on the stay. And the room renovations are quite nice; I actually liked the room layouts and amenities. But the guy from the hotel walking in on me definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. Not cool at all.
JetBlue is continuing to grow their operations in Boston, focusing on business markets in a big way. The carrier announced today that they will offer service between Boston and Philadelphia with five daily flights beginning May 23, 2013. This is not a small entry into a market, testing the waters to see if there will be resistance. This is a major move with the expectation that they have to show up with a solid offering or be beaten out of the market by US Airways.
Speaking of getting beaten out of the market, Southwest tried to attack US Air on this route recently. The carrier added service in June 2010 and competed with US Airways for 20 months before throwing in the towel. As of February 2012 Southwest killed the route, leaving US Airways once again as the only carrier on the route. JetBlue is no stranger to competing with an incumbent on a major business Boston route. The New York-based carrier has previously established similar service at Washington’s National airport and Newark.
The route schedule offers reasonably good timings for business travelers:
It would be nice to see one early morning flight out of Philadelphia and a later flight out of Boston – as it stands a "day trip" out of Philly is really only about half a day – but the schedule has potential. That said, JetBlue will be competing with 15-17 daily departures on US Airways. The shuttle-type service will be tough to match. JetBlue faced a similar schedule discrepancy in Washington, DC and eventually grew their operation to 10 daily flights to keep pace. The Philadelphia operation may need to grow to succeed, though it is not clear that demand exists for both JetBlue and US Airways to run "shuttle" operations on the route.
Also worth noting is that, despite the reputation of Philadelphia as a massive US Airways fortress hub, the carrier isn’t nearly as dominant there as some other airline hubs around the country. Not that the JetBlue service appears to be focusing on connecting traffic, but there could be an opportunity here. If nothing else it should help bring fares down for passengers. Currently a one-way fare in the nonstop market is $404 while return trips can be had for as low as $260 return. Even aside from the introductory $17.76 fare sale there is the opportunity for the lower one-way fares to make a big difference for both leisure and business travelers. And to cut at US Airways’ bottom line.
It is not surprising that, eventually, younger airlines have to compete on major business routes to try to win customers. JetBlue has taken a relatively conservative approach lately on this front. They’ve been somewhat selective and limited in their moves but they seem to be working as the carrier has maintained loads and yields as they’ve expanded. Still, this is a market where such an effort has been staged before and the challenger lost. It will be interesting to see if JetBlue can succeed.
The fact that a few United Airlines Airbus A319 aircraft have the Panasonic in-flight internet kit installed is not much of a secret. The carrier has been reasonably open about the fact that the type is getting the gear installed these days. But there haven’t been any more details released. No word on exactly when the carrier expects to formally launch the service. No word on pricing. Basically no word.
A member on FlyerTalk has indicated that a flight today indicated that they were posting on the site while in-flight on one of the A319s. Based on the time of the post and the route listed it would appear that the service actually is live on ship 4002 a/k/a N802UA. There were apparently two advertised prices for the quick 3 hour flight from Houston to Washington, DC, $6.99 or $9.99 with different speeds offered as well, though not much on details there either.
The United website doesn’t indicate that this frame has in-flight connectivity yet. And I haven’t found the STC approval in the FAA database yet. But at least one person was able to use it. That’s a great step forward.
UPDATE: FlightAware shows the aircraft on the ground in O’Hare for 20 days at the end of November. That seems like when the install happened.
Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you’re asked to put together a plan for starting up a new airline. You have to choose a base of operations, a handful of initial routes and an aircraft type to run on those routes. So, what would you choose?? For the base of operations you probably want an airport with a decent sized local population, low operational costs and maybe even a decent location to route connecting passengers through efficiently, especially if the hub doesn’t have a huge local population. For initial routes you’re probably going to want to go after big population areas. After all, more people means more business and a better chance that some might fly with you. And for aircraft you’ll probably want something reasonably comfortable for passengers and reasonably efficient in terms of fuel economy.
Based on those conditions who would choose Melbourne, Florida as the hub? Or Dulles as the initial destination?? Or the Canadair CRJ-200 as the aircraft type???? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
But that’s what Elite Airways has announced. The company runs a charter operation currently, according to their website. And now they’re looking to provide scheduled service, too. Their target market is snowbirds and the Florida cruise port departures, not business travelers. And while regional jets are generally less costly to operate than mainline operations that’s usually because the crew costs are much lower, not because the planes are more efficient. The per-hour fuel burn is lower than on bigger planes but disproportionately higher on a per-seat basis. So if there is actual demand for the service the bigger planes are a lot cheaper to fly on a per passenger basis. And let’s not forget that the CRJ-200 is one of the least comfortable planes to fly on in a typical commercial passenger service layout.
So they’ve got a limited market segment to target, an uncomfortable aircraft to fly and relatively high costs. Oh, and their hub airport is only an hour from Orlando’s international airport, where many other options exist for service.
Good luck…they’re going to need it.
Earlier this month JetBlue updated their website to add back the NYC booking code to search options. I didn’t pay it much attention at the time but I probably should have. Not only because JFK, EWR and LGA are now easily searchable from a single query, but because that’s not the only regional code they added. And while NYC is a reasonably common one (so are WAS and, to a lesser extent ZLA) some of the others I’ve not seen before.
NYC – JFK, EWR, LGA, HPN & SWF
XBO – BOS & PVD
ZLA – LAX, LGB & BUR
XSF – OAK & SFO
XFL – FLL & PBI
WAS – IAD, DCA & BWI
And there’s even an international entry available in the Dominican Republic.
XDR – LRM & SDQ
Following on the moves in California last week to add high-speed rail links on the west coast, Amtrak announced plans this week to up train speeds on the east coast to over 200 miles per hour. These speeds will cut travel times between New York City and Philadelphia to less than 40 minutes; travel to Washington, DC and Boston will be around 90 minutes with the new speeds. Great news, should it ever actually come to pass.
The plan calls for more than $150 billion in spending to achieve these goals and provides no indication of where the funding will come from. Amtrak’s spokesman offered up some interesting insight on this issue. In addition to hoping that the NE Corridor can get some of the $450 million Florida rejected – money that California is also after – the following theory was offered:
You have to have a plan and if you have a plan, the money will follow.
They also plan to add rail connectivity to several airports in the region (PHL and HPN currently are not linked and are highlighted in the report) and note that the Acela rolling stock will need to be upgraded starting in the next decade.
Oh, and their target timeframe for all these improvements is 2040. Takes the concept of long-term vision to a whole new level.
United Airlines is keeping busy with major announcements during the Farnborough Air Show this week. Today they indicated that new service will be offered on about 10 new routes from 5 of their US hubs. The routes will be launched starting later this year and into early 2013.
Perhaps the most significant routes announced are two long-haul routes from San Francisco. Taipei, Taiwan and Paris, France will see service return from San Francisco in mid-April 2013. Taipei will be served with a 3-cabin 777-200 and Paris will be served with a 2-cabin 767-300. Other routes being offered include Chicago to Monterrey, Mexico; Thunder Bay, Canada; Nassau, Bahamas (weekly seasonal); Jackson, Mississippi and additional seasonal service to Anchorage. Denver will see service added to Williston, ND. Los Angeles will gain service to Kelowna, British Columbia. Washington’s Dulles will add service to San Salvador, El Salvador.
Maybe it is just a coincidence, but no new service was announced from Cleveland, Newark or Houston as part of this move.
Read the full announcement from United here.
Although their official operations/consolidations list has not been updated, reports are coming in that United Airlines will be consolidating their operations at Washington DC’s National Airport on Tuesday, July 10. They will be taking over two gates currently occupied by Delta in the south pier of the terminal and vacating their gates in the central pier. This is the space where Continental operated from historically.
There are two good bits which come out of this announcement. First, consolidating the operations into a single security area is great news for customers. That checkpoint also has TSA PreCheck at it so that is a win, too. Better IRROPs handling should also be possible as passengers won’t have to move to the other area in the terminal.
The second bit of good news is that this means the old Presidents Club lounge is being kept. The facility is one of very few in the network which actually has some character and connection to the local station. It has great views and a somewhat majestic feel inside.
Yeah…I’m really happy this is happening.
UPDATE: The United Lounge Locations page shows the legacy RCC closing permanently on the 10th. Sounds like the move happens that night!
With three different inaugural flights over a seven day span inevitably one of them was going to be a let-down from the celebration perspective. For my week it was the inaugural United Airlines flight from Honolulu to Dulles. Part of that is because they didn’t really celebrate the eastbound flight as a party nearly as much as the westbound inaugural (though big thanks to the few from the HNL station who did host the party they did have; y’all are great!) and part if it is because this was a redeye flight and I was suffering from ridiculous jetlag by this point. All I really wanted once on board was a quick meal and to fall asleep. Fortunately that part of the plan worked perfectly.
The flight is operated by a legacy Continental 767-400 in the 76H configuration. These planes fly almost exclusively between the islands and the mainland and they are configured more or less to meet that goal. They have an upgraded premium cabin seat versus other domestic flights but they are not the latest nd greatest flat-bed seats. Still, they recline quite far and I have no trouble sleeping on them for a few hours, especially on a redeye.
Once airborne there is a meal service offered. Two choices up front (I chose the veggie ravioli) is a downgrade from the glory days of service in the long haul HNL routes where Continental used to market the route as a truly premium product. Alas, those days are long gone and I’ll take what I can get. There was a separate salad and appetizer course (smoked salmon) prior to the meal as well.
It was reasonably tasty, though I didn’t have particularly high expectations at this point, especially having gorged on L&L about 6 hours prior and on cake in the pre-flight celebration. Also, there was an ice cream sundae for dessert. I actually passed on the sundae and went to sleep. I’m a bit disappointed in myself on that one, but I really was exhausted.
I woke up about 6 hours later and we were somewhere over Ohio. It was time for breakfast. Apparently the route rates a hot breakfast, though there didn’t seem to also be the cereal option that I normally take. Instead I had the "egg sandwich" along with the side of yogurt and fruit salad.
I probably should’ve skipped it. The flavor was fine but almost certainly not worth the calories.
Upon arrival in Washington it was nice to see that United had a bit more significant of a celebration set up for the westbound flight. In addition to cake and hula dancers a couple folks from the local station spoke and they had the traditional Hawaiian blessing over the route.
They also invited a bunch of passengers and employees up to do some hula with the pros. That was fun to watch.
The flight was not treated as an inaugural by the company despite it being the first trip on that route. A bit disappointing for me, but such is life. The crew was reasonably in to the celebration, even if unofficial, so that was nice. Otherwise a relatively uneventful journey with at least one decent meal up front. Not too shabby.
Yeah, that was awesome. It is not common that such can be said for a flight in coach, but this one absolutely was.
Today was the inaugural flight of the Boeing 747-8i in passenger service. The flight, Frankfurt to Dulles with Lufthansa, was quite an event over and above simply being a smooth, quick and reasonably comfortable flight. When was the last time you saw a press conference on a plane, for example? What about two of them running concurrently (one in German and one in English) on the upper deck of the 747? Yup, a first for me, too.
The press conference saw some interesting information discussed, but that’s not really what defines the in-flight experience. I was ticketed in economy and spent at least part of the flight there. I also spent a few hours on the upper deck, hanging out with friends and enjoying that part of the flight (yes, I even managed to partake of the premium cabin catering a bit), but the bulk of my time was spent in seat 31D. And, for the first time ever, I actually enjoyed the Lufthansa economy product.
The new seats offer a surprisingly large amount of room at the knees, thanks to the slimline seat design and relocation of the magazine stowage. There is also no metal bar across the rear of the seats at the bottom where it normally would dig into your shins. Oh, and a pillow and blanket at every seat.
The cushioning of the seats was my biggest concern. Turns out that the concern was mostly unfounded. My previous slimline seat experiences were on short-haul aircraft and those are not particularly generous in the padding department. The new Lufthansa 747-8i coach seats were markedly better. They aren’t luxe, by any stretch, but I didn’t find sitting in them for several hours to be particularly uncomfortable at all. Yeah, they are still coach seats, but they really aren’t that bad.
The seat pitch isn’t any greater than the other Lufthansa economy products so I was somewhat concerned about using my laptop (10" netbook) and otherwise take advantage of the space at my seat. With the seats upright I had no troubles at all. I could actually cross my legs and rest my computer on my lap reasonably comfortably.
With the seat in front of me reclined it was rather more challenging. I could still use my netbook thanks to the short tray table and the extra space lower down in the seat area, but it was definitely not as comfortable an experience.
One interesting bit of note is that the seats are articulated so reclining also means losing a couple centimeters of legroom. It is less than an inch, but it happens.
Shortly after departure we had a drink service along with a bag of snack mix. It was preceded by a hot towel service.
After the snack service a hot lunch was served. I chose the chicken (veggie ravioli was the other option) and then held my breath as I peeled back the foil lid to reveal my meal. I was shocked.
In addition to looking good it actually tasted good. Not just "good for airplane food" but actually a pretty good sauce and the chicken was moist and tender. It really was pretty good. The salad and the dessert weren’t my thing, but I got over that pretty quickly when I realized that I actually enjoyed the main course portion of the meal.
Shortly before arrival a second meal was served. Again, it was preceded by a towel service. The choices this time were a veggie calzone or a beef taco. I chose the latter.
I’m not going to pretend that it was nearly as good as the first meal, but it actually tasted like what it was called and it had some flavor to it rather than generic bland. It washed down quite nicely with another beer.
I also discovered that at some point they had cake in economy for the birthday of the plane. I was apparently upstairs at that point and missed it.
As I mentioned above, I also spent a bit of time in Business Class. The meal service appeared to be a typical Lufthansa Business meal and I didn’t actually eat it so I cannot comment on it. I can comment on the schnapps and chocolates, however. I quite enjoyed that.
The seats are most definitely a new and different experience and I got to sit and lay down in them so I can comment a bit more on that as well.
They are fully flat and 1.97m long when in sleep mode. This is quite a welcome change to the product for most folks. That said, they are also a bit narrower and the pairs of seats (2-2-2 on the main level and 2-2 upstairs) point in towards each other. This means the foot well space is shared by the passengers. It also means that the seats feel a bit narrower throughout. One friend I was chatting with about the seats noted that the narrower layout was a negative for him and that he preferred the older version. I can see where he’s coming from but I like the new one much better, at least so far.
The seats are well-padded and the controls to manage the positioning are intuitive. The seats are quite comfortable throughout the range of the recline.
The overall flight experience was really quite reasonable. The cabin is quiet. I think that the main deck business class area was slightly quieter than the upper deck and both were quieter than the economy cabin. I’m guessing that first class is even quieter but I didn’t head up there during the flight. And it also didn’t seem as quiet as the A380 in coach (but my last experience there was a year ago). Still, quite an improvement over the older aircraft.
And then, a landing at Dulles (slightly bumpy; one oxygen mask compartment actually popped open) and we headed to the terminal. So ended the very first passenger flight of the 747-8i. Like I said at the very beginning, it was awesome.