I’m Australia, where we flew Virgin Australia between Sydney and Tasmania. Nothing at all unusual about the aircraft or the service. Still, in inaugurating service between San Francisco and Denver, its sister airline Virgin America, which a press release describes as “the Bay Area-based airline known for reinventing flying.” Mood lighting in the cabin, above-average food, swivel TV screens, comfortable seats and such are often mentioned.
We fly back to Denver on Monday the 14th, so I am sure to be too jet-lagged to consider attending the festivities at DIA the next day. That means I’m missing out on the chance to be in the same room with Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson, Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and other notables and quotables. I’ve never flown Virgin America’s DIA-JFK service, whose schedule seems diabolically designed for bad connections to international flights.
Will, it has a loyal following of flyers for its business-friendly and tech-forward flight experience, including being the first and only U.S. carrier to offer fleetwide WiFi and power outlets at every seat. The Denver area, which has been dubbed “Silicon Mountain” because of its own booming innovative economy, is today the number one most requested destination by the airline’s corporate clients.
I’ve visited Fiji, a beautiful island nation in the South Pacific populated by people who exemplify the Polynesian tradition of hospitality. I’m dismayed to read about Winston, the most powerful ever recorded with winds of 180 mph with gusts over of 220 mph, that slammed into Fiji. It has resulted in relatively few fatalities — thus far.
Some 900,000 people are scattered among the 100 or so inhabited islands of the total of 332. Communications, water, electricity and sewerage must surely have been impacted, but how strongly is still unknown. And then there are the airports. I flew Air Pacific to Nadi, one of the country’s largest cities, and from there to smaller islands — each with a ferry pier and/or a grass or asphalt airstrip. Fiji boasts secluded and yes, romantic resorts on outlying islands.
In the interim, Air Pacific has become Fiji Airways, and my husband and I are scheduled to fly to Australia with them early next month. We have a stopover in Nadi. Reports are that the storm tracked between the two biggest islands. Suva, the capital, and Nadi, where there main airport is located, are both on Viti Levu. The country will reportedly still be under a curfew and state of emergency when we pass through.
American cities on Fiji Airways’ route map are Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Honolulu. It also serves Australian and New Zealand and is a popular and convenient getaway for folks from both. Here’s hoping for the visitors and the tourism infrastructure catering to them that clean-up is fast — more importantly, for the Fijians that their beautiful islands are restored to full function very soon.
I have long felt that Denver and Munich are twin cities in spirit, separated by history and time zones. Both are near the mountains but not in the mountains. Both display the energetic pulse of a young, active population. And of course, they are both famous for beer. And come May 11, they will be on either end of new nonstop flights. My husband and I were just talking about our next European trip, so we might well book this one.
A Lufthansa Airbus A330-300 will fly the five-times weekly service. The new eastbound LH 481 will operate on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, departing Denver at 4:05 p.m. and arriving in Munich the following morning. The westbound LH 480 service will also operate on Tuesdays, Wednesday, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, departing from Lufthansa’s Munich hub at 11:45 a.m. and arriving in Denver at 2:30 p.m.(all times local) after a 10 hour, 45 minute flight.
The Denver-Munich route is the first time that the A330-300 has been scheduled for regular service at Denver International Airport — 177 in Economy and Economy Plus, 30 in Business and a handful in the ethereal front cabin.
Icelandair has long offered no-extra-charge stopovers in Iceland to passengers flying to Europe on Icelandair. This winter and spring, they can request a Stopover Buddy with similar interests such as hiking, nature, food, culture or just city sightseeing.
The assigned local Buddy will tailor a trip to Iceland based on their shared interests. As Icelandair puts it, “Check out a favorite swimming pool, café or boutique. Go hiking on a secret trail, practice yoga at a secluded hot spring, or explore a favorite spot to view the northern lights. The time spent together is up to the passenger and their Buddy.”
Among the Icelanders who are Buddies is 41-year-old Birkir Holm Gudnason, the airline’s CEO. He offers passengers a tour of his hometown and a day of backcountry skiing. Where else would an airline boss take the time to pal around with passengers? Other Buddies include Margret, 64, a flight attendant of 30 years who is an expert on geothermal springs. Enjoy a cooking lesson in traditional Icelandic fish dishes with travel consultant, Inga, 45. Passengers wanting to keep active on their stopover may find themselves on a running or cycling tour with fitness enthusiast Dagur, 51, who has worked in Icelandair’s IT department for 20 years. The more adventurous guests can spend time with pilot Sigrun, 44, whose passion is bike racing down icy mountains.
Sweets & bubbles on some transcontinental flights.
Who says that US airlines don’t include any extras for back-cabin passengers anymore? Of course, it’s mostly true — unless you count the little bag of pretzels on Southwest. But for one day and on limited flights, Delta is offering sweet extras.
On Valentine’s Day, Delta passengers flying to or from JFK via SFO and LAX will be treated to what the airline calls “festive delights to make their transcontinental flights…more special. Each each passenger gets a 3-pack of holiday-inspired Baked by Melissa cupcakes paired and a mini bottle of Veuve du Vernay Rosé sparkling wine, while Delta One passengers get this sparkling wine by the glass. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cupcakes are Melissa’s micro-treats, each the size of a quarter, and the wine is in a thimble-size bottle. It’s not much, but better than the usual nothing
Allegiant passengers forced onto aircraft wing upon landing in Boise.
Who ever expects that an airline ticket will include unbreathable cabin “air”? Some passengers on Allegiant Air that landed in Boise the other day, who ended up standing on the aircraft wing, found out that it could happen. According to a report in the Idaho Statesman, “Passengers were forced to escape onto the wing of an Allegiant Air plane after fumes leaked into the cabin on landing. The worrying incident happened after Flight 330 had landed at Boise Airport in Idaho, U.S. from Los Angeles.”
Passengers reported smoke and a smell of fuel in the cabin the plane taxied to the gate in Boise. Some of the 163 passengers escaped onto the wing after fumes leaked into the cabin upon landing. Even after the emergency evacuation, some were dismayed at the way the airline dealt with the situation. “Passengers Criticize Allegiant Air’s Handling of the Evacuation.”
This follows another Allegiant Air emergency landing in Clearwater, Florida just a week earlier, when minutes after takeoff, the crew reported smoke in the cabin and was forced to return to the airport. Four passengers and one flight attendant reportedly sustained injuries that time.
According to a press released issued by BerlinRosen Public Affairs on behalf of a client that I can’t seem to identify, “Allegiant pilots have been raising concerns about the airline’s bare-minimum approach that’s infused all aspect of its operation. Earlier this year, Teamsters Aviation Mechanics Coalition (TAMC) released a report that shows the airline experiences a high rate of air returns and diversions due to mechanical issues. Between January and March of 2015 alone, there were 38 new instances of fixable mechanical issues such as engines failing, pressurization problems, smoke in the cockpit, radar being inoperable and anti-ice devices on windshields failing.”T
his follows another Allegiant Air emergency landing in Clearwater, Florida, just a week earlier, when minutes after takeoff, the crew reported smoke in the cabin and was forced to return to the airport in Clearwater. Four passengers and one flight attendant sustained injuries. This is a result of what I think of as the Walmartization of America, turning us into a nation of bottom-feeders. Cut costs to the bone, no matter what the possible consequences. It is fortunate that there were only survivable injuries in the Clearwater incident and none reported in Boise, where BTW, Allegiant reportedly gave each affected passenger a $50 certificate. I wonder how many people will actually use it. I wouldn’t.
I recently returned from Cuba, flying a Sun Country charter between Miami and Havana. Charter flights are something of a sham to get around the shrinking prohibitions against American travel to Cuba. Here’s another crack in the travel restrictions, and it’s great news. JetBlue has announced that it is inaugurating scheduled service between New York and Havana beginning on July 3. The new flight will be between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, departing New York each Friday at 12 noon and returning from Havana to at 4:30 p.m. Reservations need to be made through Cuba Travel Service. Back in the charter camp, Island Tours is offering itineraries from Miami, Tampa and starting in July, from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
This big break for independent travelers comes soon after Airbnb announced that it is now booking accommodations in Cuba. It started last month listing “only” about 1,000 properties, mostly in picturesque Old Havana. Budget-wise and people-to-people-wise, a stay in somebody’s home costs less than a hotel and also directly promotes travel in a way that that “won’t pave over Cuba’s unique character, forged by decades of isolation from its northern neighbor,” said Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb cofounder and chief technology officer. Challenging Internet access and a separate tourist currency (the CUC) do not appear to be great hurdles to booking or staying.
He added that “the idea here is to support growth in travel that isn’t disruptive, that actually celebrates and preserves Cuba as a distinct destination. The Airbnb style of travel was already thriving.” Even before Airbnb appeared on the scene, the concept of staying in a casa particular was entrenched, and “Room for Rent” signs appear on many an Old Havana building.
Natural wonder in the sky replicated on planes interior and exterior.
Last fall, flying Icelandair, we were alerted by the flight attendant that the Northern Lights were visible from the left side of the aircraft. Now, Icelandair has commissioned interior and exterior design of its aircraft.
The world’s first Aurora Borealis-themed plane‘s exterior is painted with luminescent colors and the cabin is outfitted with mood lighting that mimics the Northern Lights. The plane is named Hekla Aurora (a reference to one of Iceland’s most popular names and also the name of an active volcano in the country), the brilliant Boeing 757 airplane is the newest addition to Iceland’s ongoing and the #MyStopover campaign promoting seven-day layovers, free of charge, to those flying between Europe and North America.
Top revenue source, surprisingly, isn’t passengers but banks.
If you need any reason to fly Southwest, it is the staggering amount of money airlines are raking in by charging for everything other than your seat, lavatory access and maybe a cheap beverage (water, coffee, tea) and a little bag of peanuts or pretzels. Not long ago, travel authority Peter Greenberg dissected the outrageous revenues carriers are extracting from travelers in a blog post called “How Much Are Airlines Making from Ancillary Revenue?”
According to the site, “Ancillary revenue for the entire airline community—international and domestic—hit $31.5 billion in 2013. The top 5 U.S. airlines earned over $13.5 billion alone….The folks at IdeaWorks, a company that tracks these things, has projected that ancillary revenue will climb to $49.9 billion worldwide in 2014—a 17.2 percent increase from 2013.”
As annoying as the add-on fees are to aggrieved passengers, I was very surprised to learn that what we are paying isn’t the largest ancillary revenue source for carriers. It’s banks. According to PeterGreenberg.com, “The largest contributor is the sale of frequent flyer miles—when the bank pays the airline to redeem your frequent flyer miles accrued through a credit card. This makes up 55 percent of profits from ancillary revenue, and has earned airlines $27.45 billion in 2013.”
The latest à la carte airline offering super-cheap base fares is WOW Air, an Iceland-based carrier that I never herd of — even when I was in Iceland. It recently announced that this coming March, it will begin non-stop service from both Boston and Baltimore to Reykjavik for introductory fares as low as $99 one-way and one-stop flights onward to London and Copenhagen starting at $228 round-trip. The airline will begin offering the flights next March.
Like every other deep-discount carrier, a ticket on WOW Air will buy a seat, a mini-tray table and an 11-pound carry-on limit. Everything else will cost extra. A carry-on heavier than 11 pounds will be $29 additional when booked online or $48 at the airport. Checked luggage will be even more expensive, each piece adds an extra $48 online or $67 at check-in. And extra leg room, pre-assigned seats and food will add to the total cost of a the journey. Flying round-trip? Multiply by 2.
WOW Air says that it will be able to cross the Atlantic for so little thanks to some built-in efficiencies. Online sales and marketing enable it to avoid paying booking engines or travel agents. This is similar to other low-fare carriers and even Southwest. It currently a mini-fleet of only four aircraft. In theory, by refueling in Iceland, WOW can fly smaller planes, which is fuel-saving. Another fuel benefit is that planes don’t need to carry sufficient fuel for the entire transatlantic flight.
In addition to intra-European and US, Norwegian Air started flying cheap London-New York flights over the summer, but flights were reportedly plagued with delays, which could be a real issue for small-fleet WOW. Once a small-fleet airline’s flights get off schedule, there’s little redundancy and therefore difficult to get back on track again. Discount airlines currently control nearly 0ne-third of the Noth American market (that must include Southwest) and more than one-third of it in Europe, but only Norwegian flies the transatlantic.
There’s room for growth but also for miscalculation.
Award-winning travel blog. Colorado-based Claire Walter shares travel news and first-hand destination information from around the corner, around the country and around the world.