Air Travel

Now: fly commercial to Havana

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The first commercial flights between the United States and Havana started flying on Monday, by coincidence just a few days after the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

A 45-minute American Airlines flight from Miami to Havana was the first flight US – Havana flight of the day, followed by JetBlue’s flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Havana.

I joined the JetBlue flight. Here are some snaps from the send-off festivities, the flight and the Havana airport.

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JetBlue crew members had to apply to be part of the team on this inaugural flight, writing letters to try to compete for a spot. This flight attendant was glad to be on the flight so she could bring her doll “Lulu” back to Havana for the first time since 1962.

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There are just a few shops in the post-security area of Havana Airport – but several places to buy cigars.

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View out the window of Havana Jose Marti International Airport

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American and JetBlue were the first airlines to begin flying between the US and Havana, but by January Alaska Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Spirit, Southwest and United should be flying there too from a variety of cities throughout the U.S.

JetBlue boosting Boston service. Now: Atlanta

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JetBlue, already the largest airline at Boston Logan International Airport, is ramping up service there a bit more with the announcement of new service to Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport beginning on March 30, 2017.

This will be JetBlue’s 63rd nonstop destination from Boston –(the most destinations of any airline at Boston Logan, the carrier notes) – and with it comes an introductory one-way fare of $47 – starting today.

In addition to Boston-Atlanta flights, JetBlue will be adding service between Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, New York JFK, and Orlando.

Wait – there’s more:

In addition to the flights between Boston and Atlanta, JetBlue also today announced some added flights out of Boston, including a fourth daily roundtrip Mint flight between Boston and San Francisco International Airport (SFO), starting July 15, 2017, and year-round service between Boston and Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport (MBJ), which currently operates as seasonal service.

JetBlue is also expanding its seasonal service between Boston and St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport (STT) to year-round service.

Worst days to fly this summer

 

Courtesy Chiago O'Hare Airport - busy day

My ‘At the Airport’ column this month for USA TODAY takes a look at the days airports traditionally see the highest traffic and the plans in place this year – given all the talk about longer-than-usual TSA lines – to smooth things out.

The good news is that airports and airlines, some of which have pitched in their own funds for extra staffing, are reporting improvements in passenger processing times. And for its part, TSA is working overtime to reassure travelers that its 10-point plan is having its intended impact.

Here’s what some airports have planned:

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year. But Independence Day and Labor Day weekends are also heavy.

ATL expects the same peak days this summer, said ATL spokesman Andy Gobeil, and to prepare, “we communicate on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis with not only the TSA, but also with our airline partners.”

ATL is also where TSA partnered up with Delta Air Lines to install and test two “innovation lanes” at one security checkpoint to speed up the lines.

In 2015, the busiest travel day at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was Aug. 3 (92,497 originating passengers), with July 6 (90, 276 passengers) not far behind.

This year, the Chicago Department of Aviation expects a variety of high-traffic days at ORD during June, July and August and is working with the TSA and its airline partners “to explore every possible option” to help reduce TSA wait times, said CDA spokesman Gregg Cunningham.

Denver Airport planes

Denver International Airport usually sees its peak travel days in July and August and this year os expects the busiest traffic days during the July 4th holiday week.  To help out at the checkpoints this summer, DEN has hired seven contract security workers to assist with passenger divesting, bin management and line management.

July and August (peak season for cruises to Alaska) are traditionally the busiest months at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Thursday and Fridays are the busiest traffic days and this summer SEA hired 90 full-time equivalent private workers to free up TSA personnel.

Peak days at San Francisco International Airport occur during summer, and this year should be no different and to prepare for peak travel days airport officials meet weekly with the TSA to review security checkpoints and other security topics, and have planning meetings with airlines, service providers and other organizations to make sure staffing is appropriate for peak demand periods.

LAX Susan Goldman - pink lightband

Elsewhere, Los Angeles International expects a record 24.5 million passengers to travel through the airport this summer, an increase of 7.3 percent over last summer’s record 22.8 million travelers.

The busiest week of the summer is expected to be July 18-24.

“Lines at the TSA passenger screening checkpoints at LAX are being managed,” the airport said in a statement, “but they are expected to grow longer as the summer progresses with more travelers.”

JFK Airport rededication

Based on three years of data, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey predicts the busiest day of summer at JFK International Airport will be August 11, July 28,  August 4, July 21 and July 14, in that order.

Each of JFK’s terminals are managed separately, but the company that manages Terminal 4 (JFKIAT) teamed up with its 32 airline partners to invest more than a quarter of a million dollars on increasing staff levels at the terminal’s TSA checkpoints through September 10, the weekend after Labor Day.

While March sees the busiest passenger traffic at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, PHX officials expect the July 4th weekend to be the peak travel time this summer.

“We prepare for peak days by meeting with all of our partners – airlines, TSA, concessionaires, law enforcement and others – in advance,” said airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriquez, and during peak times “airport staff who usually work in the office wear special customer service vests and go out into the terminals to assist passengers and answer questions.”

Miami International Airport also sees its highest travel days during the winter travel season. But for the busy summer season, MIA officials went to Washington, D.C. to meet with TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger and other high-ranking federal officials, and came away with a commitment for 60 additional screening officers.

DFW ART in Terminal D

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is one of the beneficiaries of the $4 million American Airlines is spending this summer to help ease checkpoint backups at a variety of airports and, on peak days, the airport reallocates its volunteers, ambassadors and other staff as needed.

Going forward, DFW will have one more tool to help manage checkpoint traffic: in June, the airport’s board of directors recently approved a $600,000 contract to have AT&T anonymously track passenger cellphones in the airport to gather real-time information on wait times.

 

Heathrow’s photographer snapped them all

London’s Heathrow Airport is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year and digging into the archives for some treasures and special stories.

This is one about “the Godfather of Heathrow” – 84-year-old Dennis Stone – who has been a photographer at the airport for 70 years, starting work at age 14.

Heahtrow Dennis Stone then

Over the years, Stone has snapped it all, including the visits of a dozens of celebrities, including including Frank Sinatra, Goldie Hawn, Princess Diana and the Beatles. Here’s a video about Stone’s time at the airport and some of the great photos he took.

Liz Taylor at Heathrow Airport

Liz Taylor at Heathrow Airport

Clint Eastwood at Heathrow Airport

Clint Eastwood at Heathrow Airport

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Heathrow also has a website set up to gather stories about the airport, with a wide assortment of prizes for the best stories, including trips from London to Sydney, Australia with Qantas.

Flying on the new Bombardier CS100

Star Alliance CEOs posing for celebratory photo on arrival in Zurich

Photo by Harriet Baskas

CEOs from a good number of Star Alliance airlines – and a rag tag group of journalists – attending the Annual General Meeting of IATA (the International Air Transport Association) in Dublin took part in a special flight to Zurich on a new aircraft: the Bombardier C Series – CS100.

Swiss International Airlines (SWISS) will be the first airline in the world to operate the new Bombardier C series. The carrier is putting its first CS100 into service on 15 July and will begin replacing its existing Avro RJ100 fleet of 20 aircraft with this new plane.

The flight from Dublin to Zurich was on a SWISS-branded test plane – #5 – but offered a preview of the new  short- and medium-haul twinjet that promises improvements in inflight comfort and operations.

“Official” snaps are being prepped, but here are some tweets and reports from a variety folks on the flight and on the ground.

Here’s a video from June 17th 2015, when SWISS welcomed one of the Bombardier C Series CS100 prototypes to Zurich Airport.

(Film produced by SkyProduction.ch for Swiss International Air Lines)