Downgraded: The view on AirTran
While US Airways has long had ads on the tops of their tray tables, which you only see if you pull the tray down, AirTran is going a step further and pasting ads on the undersides — the side you see during takeoff and landing, when those traytables are in their “upright and locked position.” The Ryanairification of American air travel is nearly complete. Stay classy!
Downgraded: Premium seats on Qantas
Qantas is cutting the number of premium seats. No surprises there.
Upgraded: A380 first class seats
The Global Traveller has flown the A380 on Singapore, Qantas, and Emirates, and offers a comparison of all three products. Well played, sir. Well played.
Downgraded: Airbus A380, not so premium
In direct contrast to the previous item, how about an A380 equipped with 840 seats? Air Austral, which travels between La Réunion in the Indian Ocean and Paris, has ordered two single-class A380s, jam-packed with passengers.
Forget Paris, New York, San Francisco, London, Chicago… Tokyo gets the nod for the city with the most top Michelin-starred restaurants.
Downgraded: Flying into de facto lava fields
Horrible event, but a great headline: “Plane Misses Runway, Lands in Lava“… The accident occurred in Goma, Congo, where the runway was cut in half by the lava flow from a 2002 volcanic eruption. Apparently, there were a few injuries, but thankfully no deaths.
Downgraded: Amex cards’ point/mile programs
Want to earn the miles or points from an affinity credit card purchase? Be sure to pay the bill on time. American Express is withholding the points if the cardholder doesn’t pay the bill by the due date. Customers forfeit the points, unless they pay a $29 reinstatement fee, in addition to late charges and interest. This isn’t just Amex: JPMorgan Chase has a similar policy with their United Visa. Expect this to be the norm. And try to pay that bill on time.
Give a warm welcome to guest poster Ben Curtis, who spends half of every year traveling. Ben leads tours for Rick Steves, gives culture and history lectures onboard cruise ships, and recently started putting his passion for the Adriatic, one of his favorite destinations, into blog form at adriaticfanatic.com.
Today, Ben offers some feedback from his recent flight onboard Singapore Airlines’ super-behemoth Airbus A380.
The A380 is changing passenger air travel as we know it. Once you’ve flown in it, you are forever changed. It’s a revelation, nothing less.
Or so the hype would have it. My reaction, having flown Singapore Airlines’ route between Sydney and Singapore back in December? It’s just a plane. A ridiculously well-hyped plane.
Boarding and disembarking however many hundred passengers proceeded very smoothly and quickly. But don’t expect to get a peek at the high life. Those flying in cattle class like me can’t even get a peek at infamous suites; they are totally cordoned off from the hoi polloi.
The overhead comparments are spacious, but when they’re down it’s very easy to bonk your head on them.
I was on the lower deck, in the back not far from the stairs to the upper level. If you fly the A380 and in you’re in economy, try to get a seat on the upper level. There are fewer people up there so it’s just a bit more “intimate,” if you will.
Also towards the rear of the plane there was a relatively decent-sized area by the galley for standing and stretching. The drawback is that if you’re seated way back in economy, the WC doors open right into this standing area and I found that people had a habit of opening the door before the toilets were finished flushing. That means noise.
The seats were comfortable enough, and Singapore Airlines’ entertainment system is the best I’ve ever encountered. There are noticeable air vents all along the ceiling in coach class, so I’m hoping that translates to better air circulation. I also did enjoy the simulated dawn lighting effects as we got closer to Sydney–but other newer planes have that as well.
All in all, it’s a plane. Probably not going to change your life. Unless perhaps you’re fortunate enough to be in a suite…
Downgraded: The mile-high club
Singapore Airlines has some of the swankest first class seats — ahem, “suites” — in the sky, but if you want to get frisky with your mate at 39,000 feet, no dice. Despite having a double bed in their suites, the airline enforces a no-sex policy in the sky. Note the key word: enforces. Early passengers on the A380 weren’t pleased:
“So they’ll sell you a double bed, and give you privacy and endless champagne — and then say you can’t do what comes naturally?” asked Tony Elwood, a vigorous 76. “Seems a bit strange.”
Sorry, Tony. Your ticket may say first class, but you and the missus will have to use the lavatory, just like everyone else. Or rent a private love jet for $299.
Downgraded: Airbus’ green claims
One big selling point for modern aircraft is always their lower fuel consumption. Leo Hickman at the Guardian ran the numbers on the A380, and found that Airbus’ calculations are bogus. They assume a full plane of 555 passengers, but zero luggage or cargo, when they calculate the kerosene burn. How realistic. (By the way, Airbus claims that the A380 will burn 2.9 liters of fuel per passenger for every 100km traveled, i.e., 75 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger per km.)
Upgraded: Olde tyme hotel rates
The Palmer House in Chicago is allowing repeat guests to stay there at the rate they paid years ago. A great deal… as long as the earlier stay was fifty years ago or more, and if the guests still have the original receipt. A 1947 receipt will get you a room under $10. Which wasn’t cheap! (Notice to my wife: THIS is why I keep receipts.)
Downgraded: The State Department
Turns out that the $97 passport fee is nicely padded in the government’s favor, far above the cost of processing. Gosh, really?
The seven most annoying travel surcharges, from Chris Elliott. Room service “Tray fee”?? Wow, that’s really brazen.
Downgraded: The TSA
TSA regularly sends staff to conduct internal testing of its security procedures. But it turns out they’re sometimes tipping off the front-line staff in advance. (I know someone who works for TSA, who has had the pleasure of carrying a “bomb” through the airport. Yes, they caught him. Who’da thunk.)
Yes, I’m asleep, but yes I am happy to see you
The spectre of naked sleepwalking businessmen is haunting Europe. UK-based Travelodge reports a seven-fold increase in the number of cases of sleepwalkers, usually male, often in the buff. It’s become so much of a problem, the hotel chain has started issuing pamphlets to franchisees, giving guidance on how to handle a sleepwalker. “Have towels ready” in case of embarrassing nudity. Noted.
Sioux City, Iowa ROX
Sioux City’s three-letter airport code is rather unfortunate: SUX. But after years of objecting to code, and after considering the alternatives offered by the FAA (GWU, GYO, GYT, SGV and GAY), the city has decided to embrace the code. Paging Hubwear to create the appropriate t-shirts! (Thanks, Will!)
Meet the buyer of the world’s most expensive ticket
So the Airbus A380 took its first commercial flight, with all seats sold by Singapore Airlines as part of a charity auction. The winning bid for the pair of 1st class suite seats went to the fresh-faced 38-year old Julian Hayward of the UK, who spent roughly US$100,000 for the pair. Ouch. At least it was for a good cause, I guess.
Who knew commuter airlines flew to space?
Rocketplane, one of the companies hoping to bring suborbital space travel to the masses, is redesigning their spaceship. You might not know what weightlessness feels like, but the experience of the flight might seem all too familiar: In lieu of a refitted Learjet (!), they’re creating a new design, which looks astonishingly like a regional jet. I hope the legroom is better.
The movie seemed so nice, why is the guy in the uniform so unfriendly?
Nearly a year ago, the U.S. government commissioned Disney to help revamp the image of the United States as a travel destination. Thanks to the post-9/11 paranoia-driven fingerprinting, slow visa approvals, and the perpetually incomprehensible line “managers” and gruff INS agents at airports across the country, the reputation of flying to (or, heaven forbid, transiting through) the U.S. has been in the cellar. Disney’s first visible change: A seven-minute movie, depicting the diversity of American culture. Fine, and good. But until you train the passport checker in a little customer service, you’re still a long way away from people calling the U.S. a friendly place to enter.
Upgraded: Hotel executives’ waste of shareholder funds
Hotel corporation annual meetings rarely reach the level of sublime self-indulgence, but InterContinental has raised the bar:
[InterContinental Hotels Group] Americas’ President Steve Porter kicked off [IHG's national meeting] with the gusto of a rock star, directing a choir singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” A band, including CEO Cosslett on guitar, provided the thunderous chords while drummers drilled the song into the rafters of the Dallas Convention Center.
“Today we are at a crossroads,” Porter said. “Our relevance is at risk.”
Clearly, true. For real relevance, Porter would have conducted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and London Symphony Orchestra in a complete performance of the Who’s “Tommy,” while discussing the prospects for expansion of the Hotel Indigo brand.
Upgraded: Airport health care
Why visit a doctor — or heck, a supermarket — when you can get your flu shots at the airport? Now injecting at gate C17!
Downgraded: New England fall foliage
One year’s weather or global warming? Either way, fall foliage in the northeast U.S. isn’t looking so great.
Upgraded: Eos adds more all-business flights
Eos Airlines, which currently flies from JFK to London-Stansted is expanding. New routes will include Newark to Stansted in the spring, and JFK to Paris in the fall.
Upgraded: Skybus adds flights from Greensboro
Late last month, I posted about Skybus’ plans to expand to a new hub — or “focus city,” if you must use the proper nomenclature. Signs were pointing toward Greensboro, NC or Portsmouth, NH. Greensboro it is. Up to 11 flights a day coming soon.
Upgraded: A380 cinema verité
Video of the interior of the new Singapore Airbus A380. It’s pure, unadulterated Singapore Airlines and Airbus PR video. But it’s actually often rather unflattering, if you ask me, at least in coach. (Legroom looks good, but those colors are drab!) For those seeking some first class airline porn, voila.
(Thanks to reader Chris!)
Airbus officially delivered its first A380 superjumbo to Singapore Airlines today. It’s been a bit of a wait — nearly two years past schedule — but it’s quite an aviation milestone, no matter how delayed.
The first official flight with passengers will be between Singapore and Sydney on October 25, so we’ll see more PR fanfare when that date approaches, I’m sure.
The timing of the A380′s official delivery nearly coincides with Boeing’s recently-announced six-month delay to its 787 Dreamliner delivery. After several years of trouble, it’s Airbus’ turn to bask in the warm glow of positive press for a while.
I saw the A380 when it made a pit stop at Chicago O’Hare in March 2007, and it was impressive. A behemoth, just absurdly large next to other planes. I laughed as an MD-80 shuttled past it, like a chihuahua standing next to a great dane.
In light of the Airbus debutante ball, enjoy this time-lapse video of an A380 being constructed.
- Video: Airbus A380 evacuation test
- Reader mail: How much will tickets on the Airbus A380 cost?
- Video: Airbus A380 landing in fierce crosswinds
- Airbus A380 at Chicago O’Hare
- Singapore Airlines ups the ante for business and first class travel — big time