On United: new domestic 1st class seats

On Wednesday, United Airlines showed off the new seats that will soon be showing up in the first class cabin of the Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft the carrier uses on domestic routes.

United's new First Class seat to be installed on the carrier's entire Airbus fleet_photo Harriet Baskas

The new leather seats are a bit wider than the current seats and have some nice new features, including universal AC power plugs, more places to store your things, a wider center console that includes a space for water bottles, and a larger, more classy-looking, expandable drink table between the seats.

united armrest

The best part, though, is the tray table. Larger and sturdier than previous versions, this one draws on some of the patents held by Smart Tray and includes a built-in holder for personal electronic devices.

United tray table

I covered the “unveiling” for USA TODAY – here’s a link to that story.

On the bus with Air New Zealand


If you’re out and about in the Bay Area the next few days keep an eye out for Air New Zealand’s glass-sided tour bus, which is parking around town and giving folks on the ground a chance to try out the airline’s Premium Economy Spaceseat and Economy Skycouch, which are on the airline’s Boeing 777-300 service between San Francisco and Australia (via Auckland).

The bus has been on the road a few days already, but here are the spots where you can climb on board this week:

October 6th – San Pedro Square Marketplace – San Jose (8 a.m. – 6 p.m.)
October 7th – San Francisco: Fillmore & California Streets (throughout the day) – Fillmore Art & Wine Festival (6 – 9 p.m.)
October 8th – Downtown San Francisco –SoMa StrEat Food Park (10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.) & Embarcadero Center (8 – 9:45 a.m. & 3:15 – 6 p.m.)
October 9th – San Francisco: Union & Fillmore Streets (throughout the day) – Union Street Wine Walk (6 – 9 p.m.)
October 10th – Downtown San Francisco – Embarcadero Center (8 a.m. – 2 p.m.) & “Off the Grid” at Fort Mason (5 – 10 p.m.)

There are also prizes and gifts to go along with this promotion:

Anyone who spots the truck and shares Tweets, messages and photos with Twitter @AIRNZUSA, Instagram @AirNZ or Facebook @AirNewZealand using the hashtag #AirNZ777300 will have a chance to win “surprise and delight” Air New Zealand swag.

Visitors to the truck at any of its public stops will be eligible to win daily prizes.

And – for the rest of us – there’s an online sweepstakes for two Economy round-trip tickets from San Francisco to New Zealand or Australia.
Enter here.

In progress: wish list of airport amenities for 2014

Hilo Airport one mile

2014 will arrive in just a few days and here at Stuck at the Airport we’re making a wish list of amenities we’d like to see touch down at airports in the new year.

Here’s a list of some of the “wants” that have been sent to me so far. Feel free to add your own…

“More outlets”

“More massage places”

“Free basic Wi-Fi in all airports”

“CVS-type stores”

“Wireless recharging spots”

“More relaxation areas like those at Helsinki and Taiwan airports”

“More 10-minute manicures and Minute Suites”

“Working electrical outlets”

“More work desks”

We’re got a few more days to add to the list, so please let me know what fresh amenities you’d like to see in airports in 2014.

Posh public potties in airports, hotels & parks

Tampa Airport

Twenty recently renovated restrooms in the airport’s main terminal now have automated, hands-free fixtures and glass murals depicting scenery, animals and plant life native to the Sunshine State. “We’re overflowing with pride to be nominated for our restrooms,” said an airport spokesperson.

Travelers on the go know it’s sometimes difficult to find a welcoming and clean place to, uh, go.

So it’s encouraging to see the 10 posh potties, cool commodes and imaginative public washrooms that restroom supply company Cintas has flushed out as nominees in the 12th annual contest for America’s Best Restroom.

The family-friendly restrooms at Chicago’s Field Museum won top prize in 2011 and last year the 83-stall restroom at a Buc-ee’s convenience store in New Braunfels, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, was named king of the thrones.

“Guests look at the public restrooms as a clue to how the entire operation is run,” said Katie Davin, associate professor and director of hospitality education at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

“If the bathroom is clean, that’s a good indication that the kitchen is probably clean. If the restroom is out of paper towels, maybe management isn’t really on top of things. And if a restroom has TVs in the mirrors and cool music playing, that’s a good sign the business is probably modern and hip,” she said.

Among the nominated restrooms this year are those at the Waldorf Astoria New York. The very definition of swank since the 1930s, the landmark Park Avenue hotel oozes elegance at every turn. That includes the lobby-level ladies lounge, which has an Art Deco staircase, faux fireplace with oversized marble vanity, attendants and private stalls with toilets, vanities, sinks and Salvatore Ferragamo bath amenities.

“We often see harried female midtown investment bankers in early evening entering our lobby ladies room. They emerge transformed from dark business suit to gown and fabulous shoes,” said Matt Zolbe, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing. “We play a small but really helpful role. Sometimes the event is not even here; still we are part of her plan. The men? I suspect they change in their offices.”

Guests have surprising recall about whether or not a hotel restroom is unkempt and in need of renovation or whether or not it’s “wow,” said Bjorn Hanson, divisional dean of the New York University Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. “And many non-guests expect hotel restrooms to be especially clean and safe and will stop at hotels, en route, whether they’re walking or driving, to use the restrooms.”

So, like that bit of toilet paper that sometimes gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe, the condition of a restroom can linger and, said Hanson, “enhance or harm a hotel’s image beyond the experience of hotel guests.”

Voting for America’s Best Restroom continues through Oct. 31. This year’s winner will be announced later this fall.

For a slide show of the nominated restrooms, see the original version of my story 10 Posh Public Potties on CNBC.

New seats – and more – for Singapore Airlines

The longer your flight, the more importance you’ll likely place on the size and comfort of your seat and on the entertainment amenities offered to you in-flight.

That’s why Singapore Airlines held a big event today in Singapore to introduce new First, Business and Economy cabin products that will roll out first on eight Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and on other aircraft the airline will take delivery of in the future. If you’re flying on certain flights between London and Singapore (a flight that lasts about 13 hours) starting in September, you’ll get to experience these products right away. In the meantime, here’s a preview:

First Class

Singapore Air First Class

Designers from BMW helped created the airline’s new First Class seats, which are 35 inches wide, with a fixed back shell, extra storage space, a vanity area, a padded headboard, extra mattress layer and a full-flat bed that stretches up to 82 inches. First Class customers on the new B777-300ERs will also receive a gender-specific Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit that includes, among other items, a 30ml bottle of Ferragamo fragrance.

Singapore Air - first class amenit kit

Business Class

Singapore Air Business Class seat

The new Business Class seat has extra storage space, 32 degree recline, a padded headboard cushion and an improved ergonomic seat cushion that converts into a 78-inch full-flat bed. Business Class customers don’t get an amenity kit beyond eyeshades and socks, but there are plenty of useful amenities in the lavatories.

Economy Class

Singapore Air - economy seatback

Economy Class seats are getting a makeover on the new planes as well, with new backrest seat cushions with side bolsters for better back support and an ergonomically sculpted headrest cushion.

In-flight entertainment

Singapore AIR IFE

The new airplanes will arrive with upgraded an KrisWorld in-flight entertainment systems, including video touch-screen handsets and larger LCD screens in all three classes (24 inches in First Class, 18 inches in Business Class and 11.1 in Economy Class).  

Social networking is the new thing here – with a Travel Forum application that will let passengers share travel tips. And in addition to the Berlitz language-learning program and the Culture Quest program that offers tips for doing business in other countries, the airline is adding DK Travel Guides for major cities and Flight Path iXplore, which offers information about points of interest airplanes are flying over.