Posts in the category "Air Travel":

Countdown to opening of Heathrow T2

London’s Heathrow Airport is putting finishing touches on T2 – The Queen’s Terminal – which is set for a soft opening on June 4th with the arrival of the first United Airlines flight.

Her Majesty the Queen will be on hand to cut the ribbon and officially open the terminal on June 23rd and by November all 23 of the Star Alliance airlines, as well as Aer Lingus,Virgin Atlantic Little Red and Germanwings carriers, will be operating out of this building.

Heathrow Terminal

As you might imagine, Star Alliance officials are tickled about the project and on Wednesday they led a group of journalists through the terminal. And, as a treat, building architect Luis Vidal, who suggests the building be considered a “destination” rather than a “terminal,” was on hand to share some of his thinking behind the design focused on an improved passenger experience and point out some of his favorite features.

“The building and the roof guide you towards the plane and encompass three defined spaces, the last of which is the idea of the plaza,” said Vidal. There, “the roof seems to vanish as you look up and see what the weather is outside and you are free to rest, read, shop, dine, work – whatever you want to do.”

Luis vida

The last time I passed through the building, just about a month ago, the spaces for the shops, restaurants and amenities were empty. But now inventory is being put on store shelves, severs are being put through their paces in the restaurants and amenities, such as banks of terminals offering free internet, are being installed.

cath kitson

restaurant

yo sushi

please respect

Whales, sales & soccer at MIA airport

All sorts of news this week from Miami International Airport (MIA).

There’s a new exhibition of photography and video documenting the migration of whales from Alaska and Hawaii to Latin American, including Argentina, Columbia, Mexico, Panama and Peru.

Look for Giants/Rutas de Gigantes in the airport’s South Terminal international greeter’s lobby.

MIA WHALE Jason Isley

Jason Isley/Scubazoo/Fundación Albatros Media

This week MIA also opened an online store to sell caps and mugs with the airport’s classic logo.

MIA MUG“We actually got the idea from a celebrity we saw online wearing an imitation cap with our logo,” said MIA spokesman Greg Chin. “After we tracked down the store and took legal action against them to stop selling the merchandise, our Airport Director got the idea to sell the real merchandise ourselves!”

And, to celebrate the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, which kicks off June 12 in Sao Paulo, MIA has an ambitious line-up of activities for all the fans that will be flying to Brazil through MIA.

 

MIA GATEWAY LOGO

From late May through mid-July, the airport will be hosting interactive pop-up soccer fields with professional soccer players, soccer-inspired artwork by local students from Miami’s Design and Architecture Senior High, surprise musical performances (with a Brazilian beat) and Nintendo Wii Soccer game stations.  Shops will be selling soccer team souvenirs and gear and many of the shops will be having special offers.

Etihad Airways rolls out 3-room “Residence” on A380

You’ll likely be hearing quite a bit this next week about the ‘revolutionary’ new lay-out and products being rolled out by Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, on its Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 airplanes.

Most talked about will be the The Residence - a 3-room, 125-square-foot upper-deck cabin on the A380 that accommodates one or two people and has a living room, separate double bedroom, shower – and a personal butler who has been trained at the Savoy Butler Academy in London.

For those who don’t want to shell out for The Residence, Etihad’s A380s will also have “First Apartments,” which are private suites with a separate reclining lounge seat and full-length bed, a chilled mini-bar, vanity unit and wardrobe.

Here’s the airline’s promotional video about the new cabins on the A380 and a video tour of The Residence apartment by the Etihad guest ambassador who is, as you might imagine, very enthusiastic.

CheapAir.com & other travel companies accepting bitcoin

Santa cruz photo

Bit by bit, fans of bitcoin—the virtual currency currently experiencing wild fluctuations in value—are finding ways to use the digital dollars for travel.

On Thursday, November 21, on-line travel agency CheapAir.com announced it would accept bitcoin as payment for flights booked on its website. Soon the company plans to accept bitcoin for hotel reservations and flights via its app as well.

Scroll through the Bitcoin.Travel website or Facebook page and you’ll find an eclectic listing of other real-world cafes, transportation companies, hostels and tour companies around the world advertising the fact they’re willing to accept bitcoin payments.

Among those is New Jersey-based A Class Limousine, which provides sedans, limousines, vans and shuttle buses for airport and point-to-point travel in its region.

The company has been accepting bitcoin payments since January “because it is cheap, quick, and virtually risk free,” said accounts manager Aaron Williams, “and because it helps us grow our client base.”

The benefit to travelers, said Williams, is that bitcoin is now an internationally accepted currency “so there is no currency to exchange before getting in your car or credit card forex fees. The long and the short of it is that people spend it and we want them to spend it on our services.”

In and around Santa Cruz, Calif., travelers are welcome to use bitcoin to pay for airport shuttles, wine tours and other services (even weddings) offered by Santa Cruz Experience or one of the other companies operated by Norcal Transportation Corporation.

Company CEO Austin Twohig said he added the bitcoin payment option in part because the fees charged to merchants are lower than those charged for credit cards and because there are no worries about charge-backs.

So far, though, he’s had no takers. And even though he’s been watching the value of bitcoin fluctuating wildly, “if someone called today and wanted to pay with bitcoin, I would not hesitate at all.”

Mike LaGrotta, CEO and co-founder of New York- and London-based Techno Tourist travel company is also a big fan, mostly because bitcoin helps avoid bank or credit card fees that can hover around 10 percent for clients sending payment from places such as North Africa and Eastern Europe.

“In terms of speed of payment and accessibility for people to use it to pay us, it’s just easier in every single way imaginable,” he said.

“It’s just a no-brainer for us to offer customers this option.”

Road warriors have another option for turning bitcoin into travel: gift cards.

Among the more than 150 brands of gift cards available through online gift card company, eGifter are cards from American Airlines, BedandBreakfast.com, Carnival and Celebrity cruise lines, Hyatt and Marriott hotels and the Global Hotel Card from Orbitz. Gift cards for meals, gasoline and other consumable travel items are also offered.

“One of the advantages to accepting bitcoin is that it has attracted a whole new market of early adopters,” said eGifter CEO Tyler Roye. “There aren’t a lot of places to spend bitcoins now and we provide a whole bunch of options in one move.”

The company has been accepting bitcoin since August through Coinbase, a company that creates a digital wallet for users and a secure way for merchants to get their cash at service charge rates below what most credit card companies charge.

“They accept the bitcoin and convert them to cash so that we never have to touch the bitcoin or figure out what to do with them,” said Roye.

The pass-through shields the company from market fluctuations and other risks associated with taking bitcoin.

“It’s just a no-brainer for us to offer customers this option,” said Roye.

(My story about using bitcoin for travel first appeared on the CNBC Road Warrior)

Airlines test new ways to board planes

The task seems straightforward enough. Get passengers from inside the terminal onto a plane quickly and efficiently so the flight can leave on time.

But if you’ve ever stood in the aisle waiting as another passenger s-l-o-w-l-y takes off a coat, fiddles around for a book and then attempts to cram an overstuffed bag into the overhead bin, you know how tedious the process can be.

Airlines would also like to hurry it up. Not just because slow boarding makes already cranky travelers even crankier but because time is money for airlines, and planes earn their keep only when they’re flying.

Most carriers now give first-class passengers and elite frequent fliers a head start down the Jetway; they then board by groups, from back to the front or from window seats toward the aisle.

In March, United Airlines created clearly marked lanes for five different boarding groups.

“We also started going to a window-middle-aisle boarding method,” said United spokesman Charles Hobart. “This reduces the interference that may occur in the aisle as a result of someone having to move to allow another customer to sit in a window or middle seat.”

On many flights, American Airlines gives early-boarding privileges to passengers who won’t be using space in the overhead bins. And Southwest Airlines, which doesn’t assign seats, “lines people up like schoolchildren and avoids the ‘mad rush’ to the door,” said a flight attendant who tweets as @PeanutsnCoke.

“By allowing people to naturally flow to the seat where they want to sit among the available options in front of them, the time savings is unmistakable,” said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins. “Across 3,400-plus flights each day, that saved time realizes incalculable savings not only for Southwest but for our customers. Less time to board the whole plane translates into less time sitting and awaiting departure.”

Some airlines will allow passengers to jump ahead in the boarding line for a fee. Others, like Spirit Airlines, “charge a heavy fee for carry-on luggage,” said Raymond Kollau of Airlinetrends.com. “But this seems to be an effective way to encourage passengers to check their luggage and shorten aircraft turnaround times.”

Future boarding scenarios?

Alaska Airlines boarding ramp

In some airports in Mexico and at some smaller U.S. airports without boarding bridges, Alaska Airlines boards passengers from both the front and rear doors.

Last spring, with the help of a solar-powered boarding ramp made by Keith Consolidated Industries of Medford, Ore., the carrier began testing the use of both boarding doors on some planes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (its home base airport) and Mineta San Jose International Airport in California.

The motorized ramp is driven to the backdoor of the aircraft, and three switchbacks covered in a nonslip material offer a gentle slope that makes it easy to pull a rolling suitcase or push a wheelchair from the ground level to the rear door of the aircraft.

“It’s powered entirely by solar panels but can also be hitched to a tug if necessary,” said Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey.

Testing is scheduled to continue through year-end, and while the carrier isn’t shaving 10 or 15 minutes off boarding times, Lindsey said, dual-door boarding is speeding things up a bit.

“What this initiative really is about is providing our customers with a more hassle-free flying experience, i.e., saving time boarding and deplaning, which gives customers back time,” Lindsey said. “It’s also right in line with our environmental goals.”

Another option being experimented with is seats that slide out of the way.

Hank Scott, a former Australian Navy pilot who now teaches aeronautical engineering in Colorado, was sick of standing in the aisle behind people who didn’t move very quickly.

“I thought the process would go faster if I could just walk around them.”

Scott’s solution is the Side-Slip Seat, which can be moved a few inches out of the way during the boarding and deplaning process to help widen the aisles.

“We’re looking at a 50 percent improvement in the rate you can get people on an off the aircraft,” said Scott, who hopes to have the seats certified by the Federal Aviation Administration at the end of the year.

And then there’s the Jason Steffen approach.

Steffen, a Lindheimer Fellow in the physics department at Northwestern University, recommends boarding passengers in a line so that when they enter the airplane their seats are spaced two rows apart.

“For example, the first passengers would be 30A, 28A, 26A, 24A, 22A, etc. If speed is the primary goal, I believe that this method is the fastest.”

No airline has adopted the plan, but on Oct. 16, as part of a four-part PBS special called “Making More Stuff with David Pogue,” his method will be tested against that of Southwest Airlines.

“They currently have among the fastest, if not the fastest, boarding method,” Steffen said.

But perhaps not for long.

(My story ‘Airlines test new ways to board planes’ first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

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