Category Archives: Business Travel

American Airlines to overhaul premium seats

American Airlines said Wednesday that it will overhaul the most expensive seats on its international fleet, and will drop its highest class of service on some planes.


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Those front-of-the-plane seats attract the highest-paying passengers. They’re also a sought-after upgrade for frequent fliers. Airlines have been focusing their spending on the premium seats as they compete for the passengers who fill them.

American didn’t give a specific cost estimate for the overhaul, but said it will spend “several hundred million dollars per year in enhancements to the customer experience.” At the same time, it’s juggling its bankruptcy reorganization and asking a judge to let it throw out employee contracts so it can replace them with cheaper ones. It’s also dealing with US Airways Group Inc.’s efforts to convince creditors to think about letting it merge with American.

Most of the seating changes American announced Wednesday don’t begin until 2014.

All of American’s planes have at least two cabins — coach, and a front cabin called first class or business class, depending on the flight. Some of its international flights have a third cabin, called Flagship Suite, on its 777-200s. Some of those were added as recently as 2009, according to American’s website.

On Wednesday American said it will return to having two cabins on those planes “to better match capacity and demand.” American flew 47 of those aircraft as of the end of last year, out of 617 in its mainline fleet. It said it will install new lie-flat business class seats on those planes. The 777s are its biggest planes, and airlines have traditionally seen international first class as especially important for competing against overseas airlines.

American is getting 10 new 777-300ERs, and those planes will have three cabins. Those are set to begin arriving late this year, continuing through 2013. American is also keeping three cabins on its 767-200s, which it uses between New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and Los Angeles and San Francisco.

American, based in Fort Worth, Texas, also said it will overhaul up to half of its 58 Boeing 767-300ERs. They are mostly used on flights to Europe and South America, as well as some long-range U.S. flights. The overhauled planes will get 28 lie-flat business class seats. The new 777s and refurbished 767s will also have American’s new “Main Cabin Extra” coach seats with more legroom. The airline plans to charge extra for those.

The 767-300s that aren’t overhauled will be retired over time, American said.

Also, US Airways said on Wednesday that it is wrapping up an upgrade to business-class seats on its 16 Airbus A330s, which it uses for flights to Europe and to Tel Aviv, Israel. US Airways calls that front section of the plane “Envoy.” Those seats recline flat and include a power outlet, along with other amenities.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Never drink alone with Richard Branson ice cube

Courtesy Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic has just unveiled “Little Richards,” ice cubes in the likeness of its president Sir Richard Branson.

If you didn’t think Virgin Atlantic cabins, with their mood lighting and retro sensibility, could get any more psychedelic, think again.

The airline has just unveiled “Little Richard” ice cubes, which are molded in the likeness of the company’s president, Sir Richard Branson. The details are striking in their resemblance, down to Branson’s signature wavy hair and Cheshire grin. The airline said that it took six weeks to create the mold using photographic techniques and laser scanning technology.


When Branson announced the cube’s debut on Wednesday on Twitter, he joked, “When I said let’s put the idea on ice, this isn’t what I had in mind @virginatlantic!”

Rather than a tribute to the airline’s fearless leader, the cubes are a stunt to promote Virgin Atlantic’s new onboard bar, which the airline says is the longest of any carrier. The bar is eight feet long, accommodates eight passengers and is a feature of the airline’s new upper-class cabin. The bar is already on flights between JFK and Heathrow and will be added to more routes soon. The ice cubes will begin popping up in drinks this month.

This isn’t the airline’s first attempt to brand the new upper-class cabins. In March, the airline launched a red lipstick; a spokesperson for the company told TODAY.com that, “Red lips signify jet-set glamour and style synonymous with the Virgin Atlantic brand.”

Matt Eastwood, chief creative officer at the advertising agency DDB New York, called the ice cube-campaign “brilliant” since it quickly becomes a conversation starter.  “Is it the most amazing idea I’ve ever seen? No. But it’s smart, simple and very true to the brand character,” Eastwood told msnbc.com. “And, best of all, it provides a quick, inexpensive media hit for the brand.”

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Rebecca Ruiz is a reporter at msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter.

Wireless in-flight entertainment expanding in the skies

For business and leisure travelers alike, a frustrating part of flying is the lack of access to wireless services for work or entertainment. But that will change soon, as increasing numbers of airlines install equipment that will allow passengers to connect to the Internet, according to a new report released Thursday.

Only about 80 planes today now have access to streaming wireless in-flight entertainment (IFE). But that number is forecast to reach nearly 9,000 aircraft by 2021, allowing passengers far more options for entertainment and communication, according to the report by IMS Research, a market research firm. The report was produced following interviews with hardware suppliers and communications companies as well as a survey of 50 major airlines, according to Alastair Hayfield, research director of IMS Research.

Deployment of such systems will begin around the world in earnest this year, with a steady installation rate per year up to 2021, Hayfield said. Hundreds of planes in the United States do already offer in-flight, WiFi connectivity in which essentially the plane acts as a hotspot. Wireless IFE is a step beyond this as, typically, a server is installed in the aircraft that allows a range of content such as video, games, audio and connectivity to be beamed around the cabin from providers such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Pandora and Spotify. 

Wireless in-flight entertainment systems on planes would allow passengers to use their own devices to access the Internet, and also to stream a wider selection of content than can be stored on their devices. Southwest and Delta are undergoing trials on the technology, according to the survey by IMS. Other airlines trying it out on a limited basis are Delta, American, Air China and Qantas.

At the moment, traditional in-flight entertainment like movies is usually available on a screen embedded in a seat back or hanging from the cabin ceiling. But Hayfield says a new wireless innovation is emerging that is removing the need for cabling, and taking away the need for fixed entertainment systems altogether. Wireless IFE systems beam media such as video, TV, games and audio around the cabin to be received on passengers’ tablets, smartphones, or airlines’ own handheld devices.

Those likely to benefit the most are passengers of low-cost airlines or passengers on older fleets. If these aircraft don’t have a seat-back or overhead IFE system, the addition of a wireless IFE system could provide passengers on those aircraft with an entertainment system through their tablet computer, laptop or smartphone, significantly improving their travel experience. It would be a cheap and low-cost addition for the airlines as well, say those who follow the technology.

The Federal Aviation Association does not at present allow the use of personal electronic devices like smartphones, iPads or electronic readers such as Kindles on planes during taxing, take-off or landing, citing concerns they might interfere with a jet’s avionics systems. But that may be changing. Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs for the F.A.A., told the New York Times recently that the agency has decided to take a “fresh look” at the use of personal electronics and figure out how to test them for safety. Clearly, any IFE will need to comply with all relevant safety rules when in use, whatever they might be at the time.

One factor hard to pin down at present is what the cost will be to passengers to use such wireless systems. “This is a difficult question to answer as the cost will likely vary by carrier, route, passenger class and flight duration,” Hayfield told msnbc.com. Currently, the service Gogo costs $12.95 for a 24-hour pass, or $39.95 for a month on in-flight Internet access.

Business travelers already expect to receive free Internet access where it is available, and would likely expect to receive free wireless IFE too, he said. For leisure travelers, paying for wireless IFE may well be a popular addition on flights where there isn’t an entertainment system or the entertainment system is overhead with limited choice.

Many airlines already rent out personal electronic devices (PEDs) pre-loaded with a selection of movies or TV shows. On Alaska Airlines, for instance, it costs between $6 and $14, depending on whether the device is reserved ahead of time and the length of the flight. Hawaiian Airlines offers a similar service.

Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, says that streaming IFE content is an approach that makes sense for airlines. Atmosphere’s fourth quarter study in 2011 of 2,670 airline travelers in the United States showed that 83 percent have a laptop, 27 percent have tablet devices like iPads and that 59 percent have a smartphone.

“They bring these devices, especially tablets and smartphones, with them on most trips,” Harteveldt said. “A critical mass of travelers have the capability to take advantage of streaming entertainment. Plus, passengers who don’t have these devices, especially tablets, show strong intentions to buy one, which will only increase the potential audience for this product. Airlines have tested renting or loaning out iPads, Samsung Galaxy tablets, and Google laptops to travelers, which allows travelers who don’t have these devices to take advantage of the entertainment. 

“The challenge will be whether travelers will pay for this,” he added. “Airlines will need to be able to separate the connectivity needed to access the plane’s IFE system from that needed to connect to Wi-Fi, which would allow the traveler to send e-mail, for example. I disagree with the assertion that business travelers expect in-flight Wi-Fi to be free, but I agree with the point that those in a premium cabin expect entertainment to be complimentary. Airlines will face some logistical challenges on how they offer the entertainment. I suspect that premium cabin travelers will be given a code to enter so that their entertainment is free.”

IMS Research is currently producing a passenger survey that will attempt to answer questions on how much passengers would be willing to pay for WiFi, video streaming, gaming and other such options, Hayfield said.

He thinks passengers will welcome the improvement. “Until very recently, we have all been cut-off from the outside world when flying, dependent on a limited program of entertainment, or reliant upon our own media,” he says. “But very soon we will all be able to access not only online content, but be able to communicate with family, friends and colleagues (and) keep tabs on ongoing travel plans.”

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Worst airports for connections

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Newark Liberty International Airport has the worst record for on-time arrivals and departures of any U.S. airport.

Few phrases strike dread in the hearts of travelers like “connecting flight.” Flying to a destination on more than one plane increases the odds of delay and a missed connection.

Some U.S. airports have more late or missed connections than others, depending, in part, on which airlines use them and where they’re located. Some airlines are notoriously unreliable, and some airports are in cities that take regular beatings from bad weather. These airports become notorious for delayed connections.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics ranked the 10 U.S. airports with the worst records for on-time arrivals in 2011. The bureau also provides data for on-time departures. Its survey covers 29 major airports, defined as serving at least 1 percent of total passengers boarding domestic flights in one year, so small airports weren’t included.

Read ahead to see which airports were the worst for connections in 2011. 

Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport is in Broward County, Fla., about 20 miles north of Miami. According to the bureau, 78.88 percent of flights landed at the terminal on time.

This means that passengers on 21.12 percent of the flights that landed there had to make a mad dash through the terminal if they had a connection to catch. Most of them didn’t have to worry, though, since 19.74 percent of flights from the airport didn’t take off on time either. 

9. Washington Dulles International Airport
Washington Dulles International Airport is in Dulles, Va., 25 miles west of the nation’s capital. In 2011, the airport served over 23 million passengers, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, but 21.39 percent of the flights arrived later than they were supposed to, making connections needlessly stressful, while 20.19 percent of flights experienced delayed departures, leading to lots of huffing and fuming in the waiting area.  

8. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
The airport in Arlington County, Va., processes fewer passengers than nearby Dulles, with just over 18.8 million people passing through it in 2011, according to the airports authority. Still, 22.28 percent of flights landing there did so later than they were supposed to, while 17.59 percent left late. 

7. Philadelphia International Airport
Philadelphia International Airport served almost 31 million passengers in 2010, and is the 12th busiest in the world in terms of traffic movements, according to a 2011 report from the Airports Council International.

With that kind of activity, it’s easy to see why the airport would encounter lots of delays. In 2011, delays affected 23.84 percent of incoming flights and 21.1 percent getting off ground. 

6. O’Hare International Airport
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport suffers from something of an identity crisis. On the one hand, it was voted “Best Airport in North America” for four consecutive years by Global Traveler magazine, from 2004 to 2007. On the other hand, fully 24.52 percent of flights landing there did so behind schedule, and it had the third-worst record for departures in 2011, with delays at 25.6 percent.  

5. John F. Kennedy International Airport
At New York’s Kennedy International, 24.66 percent of all flights landed there late in 2011, and 22.49 left late. But unreliability is only one factor leading some to consider it to be one of the worst in which to make a connection.

Frommers.com, the website of the traveler’s guide book series, included it in its “10 Worst Airport Terminals” feature published in January. It called the airport’s Terminal 3 “the worst single airport terminal in America,” and cited “an utter lack of food and shopping options…hallways that could have been designed by M.C. Escher” and “a sense that the cleaning crew gave up in despair a while ago.” 

4. Logan International Airport
Boston’s Logan International Airport, the largest airport in New England, had a banner year in 2011, when almost 29 million passengers used it. Unfortunately, a whopping 26.35 percent of flights didn’t get there when they were supposed to, and 21.11 had takeoff delays. 

3. LaGuardia Airport
Together with Kennedy International and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International, New York’s LaGuardia is part of the largest airport system in the United States, and the second-largest in the world after London.

With that much traffic at the airport and the others in its vicinity, it’s not surprising there are frequent delays. Accordingly, 27.82 percent of flights arrived late and 22.49 percent left late.

LaGuardia was also ranked the worst major airport in the U.S. by the Zagat Survey in 2010, and in January, Frommer’s singled out the airport’s U.S. Airways terminal as “dull and sad.”  

2. San Francisco International Airport
San Francisco International Airport is the second-largest airport in California after Los Angeles International Airport. The terminal is easily accessible from various points in the Bay Area via mass transit, and the airport operates AirTrain, a completely automated train system connecting the terminals.

Inside the airport, the atmosphere is decidedly less pleasant. One is statistically likely to see at least a few impatient passengers waiting for delayed flights to land, as these account for 28.62 percent of all arrivals. As for departures, 23.72 percent took off later than scheduled.  

1. Newark Liberty International Airport
When it comes to on-time arrivals, Newark Liberty International Airport has the worst record of any U.S. airport. A whopping one in three flights — 33.28 percent — arrived late. It also has the worst record for on-time departures, with 27.03 percent taking off later than scheduled.

According to an August 2011 article on the “Consumer Reports” website, the two most chronically delayed flights in the U.S. both originate from Newark. Both flights go to Atlanta during rush hour, both flights have an average delay of one hour and 21 minutes, and both flights are delayed between 50 percent and 60 percent of the time.

Frommer’s was also unkind in its assessment of the airport itself in January, particularly Terminal B. “The airport idiotically puts security before individual piers in Terminals A and B, which means that rather than have a whole terminal’s food and shopping to entertain you, you’re stuck out on a single pier,” the article said.  

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High-tech bling for the deep-pocketed traveler

Æ+Y, a cell phone by Danish company Æsir, can tell the time, and you can call and text with it, too. It’s available in stainless-steel and 18-karat gold.

 

Traveling has always been a means to get away. To leave behind a desk job, paperwork — and more recently, technology, social media and the Internet.

Lugging a laptop to the Bahamas? Most people would say, “Forget it.” These days, though, that’s not always the case. As New York Times writer David Carr has put it, “The last time I got on an airplane without a laptop, there were no laptops.”

High-tech gizmos surround us everywhere, and whether you like it or not, there’s no avoiding that fact. They’re as much a part of our daily — and now traveling — lives as, say, a wristwatch once was.

Slideshow: See the high-tech toys for the road

The good news, even for technology naysayers: There’s plenty of high-tech stuff that can make trips more enjoyable and relaxing. Take, for example, Philips PowerStation Pebble. Traveling with this handheld $40 unit will ensure that your phone will never again run out of power while you’re navigating back to your hotel using your mobile phone as a GPS.

For the high-end (and deep-pocketed) excursionist, there are plenty more options. From Copenhagen-based company Æsir, there’s the Æ+Y, a handmade cell phone; from Colorfly, there’s the Pocket HiFi C4 Pro audio player, with its impeccable sound and retro look. Both almost make you forget you’re using an electronic gadget in the first place. Let’s not forget Sony’s HMZ-T1 personal 3-D viewer, either. The device mounts directly on your head, packs easily and allows for a quick escape — in certain cases, from your trip itself. (Let’s face it: Not every vacation goes as hoped.)

Even the less tech-inclined traveler can find a fix. These days many everyday items have been turned into neat gadgets: a pen, for example, that can start a fire and includes a flashlight and compass; a Swiss Army Knife with a biometric fingerprint sensor and laser pointer; binoculars with high-definition lenses.

Escaping no longer means leaving technology at home. These devices — call them travel accessories — are proof.

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