airplanes

Here, kitty: Hello Kitty plane goes to Paris

eva

Eva Air’s Hello Kitty Hand-in-Hand jet is on the move again.

This time, with a beret and a baguette.

Part of a fleet of Hello Kitty-themed jets, this Boeing 777-300ER is the airline’s first long-range Hello Kitty-themed aircraft and has a collage of 19 Sanrio characters joining hands the entire length of the aircraft.

On board, it’s all about Hello Kitty, starting with the boarding passes and baggage stickers. Inside the plane, the cabin crew wears pink aprons with Hello Kitty designs and there are more than 100 in-flight service items with Hello Kitty themes – including the headrest covers, pillows, napkins, paper cups, utensils, snacks and meals.

Hello Kitty economy meal

Want to ride on this plane? EVA operates the Hello Kitty Hand-in-Hand Jet on three of its four weekly Paris flights as BR88 from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Return flight BR87 flies TPE – CDG on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.

E-cigs on a plane & in the airport

Lucky Stirke smoking

Can you vape on vacation? Maybe. Maybe not.

Sales of e-cigarettes and their cousins, re-fillable “vaporizers,” are currently a $2.2 billion market in the United States, according to tobacco analysts at Wells Fargo Securities, up from an estimated $1.7 billion in 2013. And e-cig consumption could surpass that of combustible cigarettes in 10 years, according to the same forecast.

Yet, while the popular, smoke-free, nicotine delivery tools are marketed as being less toxic than traditional cigarettes, the options for where travelers may use the devices can be hazy.

In the air

Although its rules don’t explicitly spell it out, the Department of Transportation believes the existing ban on smoking on domestic and international flights of U.S. and foreign air carriers is sufficiently broad to include a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes.

“We are finalizing a rule that will address whether we should amend the existing regulatory text to explicitly ban use of electronic cigarettes aboard commercial airline flights. DOT expects the final rule will be published in the Federal Register in early 2015,” an agency spokesperson said via email.

While e-cigs are sold at some airport newsstands, their use is determined by local regulations and ordinances.

A handful of airport shops operated by Paradies have been selling e-cigs since July at the request of the airports, according to Paradies Senior Marketing Manager Justin Marlett.

The Hudson Group also sells e-cigs in some airport newsstands. Cigarettes and other tobacco products, including e-cigs, now account for less than 1 percent of Hudson’s overall newsstand sales, “but while only 7 percent of that 1 percent is represented by e-cigs, e-cigarettes are the only tobacco products that are showing growth…albeit only incremental growth,” said Mike Maslen, Hudson’s vice president of sales.

Buying e-cigs at an airport is one thing, using them there is another.

Rules vary airport-to-airport, and sometimes within concession-to-concession. Until earlier this year, when Minnesota enacted legislation banning e-cigarettes from government buildings, e-cigs could be used in the terminals of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

“We had no ordinance or policy banning them,” said Patrick Hogan, MSP’s director, public affairs & marketing, which mean e-cigs could be used in areas controlled by the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “However, concessionaires and airlines could prevent their use within their leased space. I don’t know how many did,” said Hogan.

Because the city of Los Angeles prohibits e-cigarettes inside public buildings, “the public is prohibited from using e-cigarettes within 20 feet of entrances to terminals, office buildings, and other on-airport properties,” said LAX spokesperson Nancy Castles.

But at Denver International Airport, where some retailers sell e-cigs, “this falls under the airport’s tobacco policy, so their use is only allowed in areas where smoking is allowed, such as the remaining smoking lounge on the C Concourse,” said airport spokesman Heath Montgomery.

At hotels

Hotels also vary widely in their e-cig policies.

While the cluster of hip Provenance Hotels in Oregon, Washington and Nashville, Tennessee, have no formal policies on e-cigs, The Warwick in San Francisco is clear that the hotel’s smoking ban includes e-cigs.

And while some hotels sell e-cigs in the in-room mini-bars, “most hotels use the same policy for e-cigs as they do for traditional smoking,” said Julie Faver-Dylla, executive director of the Hotel Association of Tarrant Country, Texas, which represents about 400 properties in and around Arlington and Forth Worth.

“Although we understand that oftentimes the vapor produced by e-cigs is less damaging to our properties and less offensive than traditional burned cigarettes, there many variants of those products in use, and it is not possible for hotel staff to determine which might be problematic,” she said.

At sea

There is no industry-level policy on e-cigarette use on cruise lines, but “it is something that individual cruise lines are looking at,” said Elinore Boeke, spokeswoman for Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade association.

American Cruise Lines, for example, does not have a formal policy in place for e-cigarette use, but “for our smoking passengers there is a designated area on the top deck of each of our ships. In the event we have a passenger who does use e-cigs or vapes, we encourage them to go up to the top deck as well,” said company spokesman Britt Rabinovici.

On the Holland America Line, “electronic cigarettes are permitted in staterooms but not in other public areas of the ship other than on outside decks designated as smoking areas,” but on Royal Caribbean Cruises, e-cigarette users must join traditional cigarette, cigar and pipe smokers in designated outdoor areas of the starboard side of most ships.

(My story about e-cigarettes first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior).

Hello Kitty plane saying bye-bye to LAX

EVA HelloKit Hand in Hand Jet runway_CourtesyEVAAIR

Eva Air’s Hello Kitty “Hand-in-Hand” jet that has been flying between Taipei and Los Angeles since 2013 will change routes at the end of October and fly instead between Taipei and Paris.

Eva Airways said the charmingly liveried plane starts the new route  October 29, 2014.

The airline operates a total of four weekly flights between Taipei and Paris and in late October will add the Hello Kitty Hand-in-Hand Jet to the regular schedule as BR87 from Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle (CDG) on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. On the return, it will fly as BR88, CDG-TPE on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.

The Hand-in-Hand Hello Kitty jet, which is painted in a livery that features Sanrio characters holding hands along the length of the airplane, and EVA Air’s five Airbus 330 Hello Kitty-themed jets. which fly within Asia, will also be getting some new themed service items , including new some new Hello Kitty-themed meals.

EVA AIR NEW KIDS MEAL - coming this fall

Hello Kitty economy meal

Fast in-flight Wi-Fi: more important than legroom or lavs?

Not everyone wants or needs Wi-Fi access on a plane. For those who do, fast and reliable Wi-Fi is a such a priority, some say they’d even forgo access to the lavatory to get it, according to an industry survey.

Honeywell Aerospace, one of the companies that makes equipment for in-flight Wi-Fi service, surveyed 3,000 in-flight Wi-Fi users from London, the United States and Singapore and found that nearly 90 percent (86 percent in the United States; 89 percent in London; and 87 percent in Singapore;) would be willing to give up a physical amenity such as legroom, a reclining seat, preferred seating and even access to the bathroom in exchange for better in-flight connectivity.

The online survey was conducted via email invitation between May 15 and June 10 and polled 2,008 Americans, 508 Londoners and 501 Singaporeans ages 18 and over who used in-flight Wi-Fi in the prior 12 months.

In the survey, 61 percent of Americans (compared with 59 percent in London and 53 percent in Singapore,) said not having Wi-Fi during their entire flight would be worse than having a seat that doesn’t recline. About 76 percent of Americans (and 73 percent in both London and Singapore,) said a slow Wi-Fi connection was more irksome than slow snack and beverage services during a flight.

And, in exchange for the best Wi-Fi service possible, 42 percent of Americans said they’d be happy to forgo the in-flight snacks, 22 percent would give up beverage service and 13 percent (17 percent in London and 22 percent in Singapore) would trade away their lavatory privileges.

“Wi-Fi is becoming an important amenity and one that can’t be brought on-board by consumers as food and drinks can be,” said Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorksCompany, a consulting organization, “That might explain why travelers are so eager for it.”

In most cases, the number of travelers who said they’d actually give up an amenity in exchange for a better Wi-Fi signal was sharply lower than those who simply rated fast Wi-Fi as highly desirable. But these results show that “in-flight Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury, but considered a part of what passengers expect in travel comfort.” said Bill Kircos, Honeywell Aerospace vice president of Communications.

But no matter what this vendor-sponsored survey says, for now, “the majority of travelers absolutely will not trade off amenities they consider to be more essential, such as legroom, for Wi-Fi,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Hudson Crossing.

A February survey by TripAdvisor of 2,000 travelers underlines his point. While one quarter of respondents said they’d choose one airline over another if it offered in-flight Wi-Fi, the top five biggest complaints about air travel were uncomfortable seats/limited legroom, airline fees and ticket prices, unpredictable flight delays, long security lines and annoyances from loud children and other passengers—not slow Wi-Fi.

“Some passengers will prefer to stay offline while aloft and others consider Wi-Fi to be as essential as the bar cart,” Harteveldt told CNBC by email. “I’m writing you to now from a plane, so I’d certainly put myself in the latter group. But not everyone in my row, or the rows ahead or behind me, is online.”

Still, technology marches on. And while no one has yet devised a way keep babies from crying on airplanes, faster and more reliable in-flight Wi-Fi is on the way.

Kircos said Honeywell Aerospace and its partners are working on a satellite-based system that will provide “a high-speed, consistent and across-ocean wireless connectivity experience.” Other companies, including Row 44, a subsidiary of Global Eagle Entertainment, are working on services they say will do the same. And on Wednesday, Gogo, which currently provides in-flight connectivity to more than 2,000 commercial aircraft and more than 6,500 business aircraft, announced a new hybrid technology that it says will perform at least six times faster than the current service. “Gogo is adding an extra ‘down’ connection from the satellites to its ground-based system. Together, it promises a big bump,” said John Walton, director of data for Routehappy.

The service will be available in the second half of 2014, with Virgin America as the launch partner.

(My story about what passengers might give up in exchange for faster in-flight Wi-Fi first appeared on the CNBC Road Warrior blog.)

Kid-free zone on Singapore Air’s budget carrier, Scoot

FlyScoot - Changi, Singapore

Would you pay extra to be able to scoot your seat away from small kids on a plane? Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier, Scoot, is betting you will.

The airline, which currently flies from Singapore to 11 destinations in Asia and Australia, has created a premium “Scoot in Silence” section at the front of its economy class cabin.

There, passengers can pay about $14 extra per ticket in exchange for more legroom and the promise that “the under 12s will be someplace else.”

“I’d pay to sit in an adults-only section,” said Keri Coull, an “unemployed mum/graduate” from San Francisco now living in Scotland. She thinks others would too. “I loved my 2 1/2 year-old, but returning from Mexico was traumatic for other passengers.”

Scoot is not the first Asian airline to set aside a cabin section that is off limits to kids.

In February 2013, long-haul, low-cost carrier AirAsia X introduced a kid-free “Quiet Zone” on its aircraft. And last year Malaysia Airlines declared the upper decks of its A380s kid-free. The airline also bans kids from its first class cabins.

“These quiet zones are part of a wider trend that sees airlines providing passengers more choice and control of the onboard experience without having to pay a lot to upgrade to a different class,” said Raymond Kollau of Amsterdam-based AirlineTrends.com.

Of course, in the close quarters of an airplane, a quiet zone can be hard to define.

“What about the passenger seated in the last row of the kid-free section when an infant begins screaming behind him or her?” said Anya Clowers of JetwithKids.com.

For now, representatives from American and Delta said they have no plans to introduce kid-free zones. And the no-kids-allowed idea “doesn’t quite fit the overall familial vision Lufthansa is embracing,” said Christina Semmel, the airline’s corporate communications manager for North America. (In fact, the airline recently introduced new family and kid-friendly amenities, including boarding passes — but no special seating — for stuffed animals and dolls.)

But in the modern unbundled-amenities world of airlines, having the “opportunity” to pay to sit outside a kid zone on a domestic carrier may just be a matter of time.

“I can see airlines such as United and Delta, who already offer separate zones with extra legroom seats, trialing whether they can turn part of these zones into a quiet zone, depending on the configuration of the aircraft,” said Kollau.

The audience rushing to buy these seats might be business travelers, who are “universally in favor of kid-free zones,” said Joe Brancatelli, who runs the business traveler newsletter JoeSentMe. “(At least) until they have kids and are banished to the kid zone when they cash-in miles to take the family on holiday.”

(My story:  “Scoot in silence”: Singapore Air budget carrier offers kid-free zone first appeared on NBC News Travel)