Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Book Flights

Regulator allows Virgins to hop into bed together

Virgins and ACCC

Australia’s competition regulator is proposing to authorize for five years a request by Virgins Australia and Atlantic to work more closely together.

The proposal had already received interim authorization in July but the Australian Competition and  Consumer Commission said Friday it planned to give it full green light.

READ what we found in our widest ever road test of American Airlines economy class.

The airlines want to cooperate on services between Australia and the UK/Ireland via mutual mid-points in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and “other future mutual connection points”.

The Virgins had argued this would increase passenger numbers on its Hong Kong service and allow it to operate more sustainably against dominant players Cathay Pacific and Qantas.

Although they share a common brand, the ACCC determined the carriers were separate businesses that do not operate overlapping services on any routes and were unlikely to do so in the future.

It said it considered it was unlikely the proposal would result in any significant detriment to competition on existing or future routes between Australia and the UK/Ireland.

“In authorizing this cooperation, we expect to see improvements to the carriers’ schedules and services to passengers,” ACCC commissioner Stephen Ridgeway said.

The ACCC said the authorization would allow the two airlines to coordinate on a wide range of matters, such as jointly managing prices, inventory, and marketing strategies.

This was not currently permitted in their existing arm’s length commercial codeshare and loyalty arrangements, it said.

There were no objections to the proposal, which attracted submissions from Tourism Australia, Qantas and Air Mauritius.



Alaska urges passengers to use refillable water bottles

Alaska water bottle
Bringing your own water bottle could help the planet. Photo; Newsfoto/Alaska Airlines)

ALASKA Airlines is urging flyers to help reduce single-use plastic by bringing a reusable water bottle and filling it before they fly.

Water filling stations are becoming more common at airports as part of the backlash against plastic and worries about the ubiquitous material’s impact on the planet.

Passengers simply bring an empty refillable bottle through security (don’t fill it beforehand) and fill it before they got on the plane at either a dedicated water station or an older-style water fountain.

READ: Greener US airlines fly in the face of “shamer” criticism.

This has the added advantage of avoiding highly-priced bottled water in the terminal.

Alaska’s #FillBeforeYouFly initiative is the latest manifestation of this trend and is part of a wider move by the carrier to reduce inflight waste per passenger going to landfills by 70 percent.

The airline says plastic bottles are among the top five items found in beach clean-ups around the world and points to a prediction from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that the ocean is expected to contain a metric tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025.

“We’re passionate about working with our guests, employees, airports, and partners to reduce waste, protect habitats, and improve water health,” said Alaska Airlines vice president external relations Diana Birkett Rakow.

“Land, water, and animals are incredibly special parts of the places we live and fly – and it takes many different company and individual actions together to protect them for the long term. This is just one step.

“If just 10 percent of our guests bring their own pre-filled water bottle when they fly and choose reusables, it could save more than 700,000 plastic water bottles and four million plastic cups per year. That’s a big lift.”

Alaska is partnering with environmental leaders Lonely Whale, MiiR and Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF), and with Sea-Tac International Airport in its environmental efforts.

It is also offering to plant a tree for every passenger who brings a pre-filled water bottle onto their flight and posts a photo to social media tagging @AlaskaAir with the hashtag #FillBeforeYouFly.

Since it started auditing its recycling efforts in 2010, Alaska has reduced per-passenger waste going to landfills by 65 percent and flight attendants have captured more than 15,000 tons of recyclable materials, about the same weight as 320 Boeing 737-900ERs.

“While we’ve made progress, there’s a long road ahead of us,’’ Birkett Rakow said.

“We’re working with supply chain partners and employees to come up with solutions to reduce waste, adopt sustainable practices and eliminate single-use plastics inflight.

“Change takes time; we value the collective impact our customers and employees can make today.”


We do our widest ever test of American Airlines economy. Here’s what we found.

american hurricane test
Photo: American Airlines

The plan was to conduct our widest ever road test of American Airlines’s economy class but nobody anticipated it would include a monster hurricane that would see us “stranded” at sea on the day we were scheduled to fly home.

Our travels included economy and extra-legroom economy flights on a variety of aircraft operating international and domestic routes ending with a Miami-Los Angeles leg.

Then came Hurricane Dorian.

Dorian closed the Port of Miami while we were on a Royal Caribbean cruise and meant we were unable to get back to take our flight home.

Not that we were complaining; the storm meant our eight-night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas was extended to 11 nights at no extra cost with two destinations added to an already busy schedule.

Once the cruise company had confirmed the extension it provided passengers with 24 hours of free Internet access and complimentary ship-to-shore calls to allow them to re-arrange travel.

US carriers are proactive when it comes to announcing fee waivers ahead of severe weather events —better than airlines in many other parts of the world — and American is no exception.

An email to our travel agent in the Australian coastal town of Woy Woy a couple of the days before the original flight was due to leave quickly saw new flights arranged for a later date at no extra cost.

It was one of the several aspects of the US giant that helped revise a somewhat dim initial view prompted by the challenge of a rocky booking experience.

READ: Why American Airlines needs to lift its customer service

Aging fleets and grumpy flight attendants have given international travelers a jaundiced view of US airlines but our foray on American backed up recent surveys showing improvements on US full-service carriers.

The US giant was specifically chosen because of its deepening associations with Australia’s Qantas and my wife and I paid for the six economy class sectors we took.

This was a “big guy” test utilizing the not inconsiderable frame and height (197cms) of yours truly.

American road test
Our chariot awaits. AA’s Boeing 787-9 on the gate at Sydney Airport. Photo: Steve Creedy

The journey began on a Boeing 787-9 flying from Sydney to Los Angeles, continued with an LA-Chicago flight and then a trip from Des Moines, Iowa, to Dallas/Fort Worth to connect to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

On the way back, we traveled from Miami to Los Angeles and back to Sydney.

READ: Another stellar performance from easyJet

Aircraft flown in addition to the 787-9 were the 737-800, the Airbus A321 and a Bombardier CRJ700 regional jet operated by American Eagle.

American offers both normal economy seats that it labels “Main Cabin” seats and “Main Cabin Extra” seats with more legroom,and other perks such as reserved bin space, at an additional cost that varies with sector length.

The exit row aisle seat I booked on the Sydney-LAX journey, 24J, cost an additional $US129 but was worth it for the extra legroom. Other main cabin extra seats are also available and offer an additional four inches of legroom for a slightly lower fee.

American road test
The 787 exit row aisle seat: tight but bearable. Photo: Steve Creedy.

Boarding was efficient and in groups.  Oneworld ruby frequent flyers and above get priority boarding and I was in group four while my wife varied between six and eight.

We had both weighed our cabin baggage, just in case (pun intended), but it was not checked on this or any other flight.

The seat on the 787, as is generally the case in the nine-across seating on these planes, was tight in terms of width at just over 17 inches. But the unlimited legroom and comfortable cushioning made it bearable.

One downside (or upside when nature calls) was that the seat was near the toilet.

But here comes a dire warning: the relatively painless outbound trip lulled me into a false of security and prompted me to pick a “window” exit row seat, 24A, on the way back.

Not only was there no window, but this extremely cramped seat turned the Dreamliner into a “tightmare” and made for an unpleasant 14 plus hours.

You are also confronted with a bulge in the exit door that means you have to angle your legs when you stretch out.

American’s seat map notes there are hip-crunching seats with a width of little more 16 inches in economy and this may have been one of them.

A seat to avoid. The window exit row.

My wife found the equivalent seat on the other side of the cabin so uncomfortable she used her feminine wiles to engineer a move to a normal economy aisle seat which she described as “much better”, despite the 31-inch seat pitch.

Alas, my attempts to drop thinly-veiled hints to cabin crew such as “this seat sucks” came to no avail.

Essentially, the extra legroom did not compensate for the cramped conditions and these window exit row seats should be avoided. I would advise even Hobbit-like people against forking out $US129 for one.


Other reasons I preferred the outbound flight included the service and the food.

For example, the crew offered a hot towel service, pretzels and a drink shortly after take-off from Sydney but not on the overnight LA-Sydney flight.

The surprisingly good open bar had a big beer selection, premium spirits such as Bombay Sapphire gin and Courvoisier VSOP as well as a limited choice of inoffensive wines.

The inflight entertainment system was also impressive with a sharp touchscreen, well-designed interface and a  handy, easy-to-spot headphone socket underneath the screen.

American road test
AA’s in-flight entertainment system worked well.

A good selection of movies and TV shows — including the final season of Game of Thrones —  came with one of the better categorization systems I’ve seen as well as an interesting selection of music.

This was available on all the domestic flights we took except the CRJ  which, I believe, had wireless streaming.

Offsetting this for economy passengers were the inferior earbud headphones supplied by American.  I heard the name Bose mentioned for people in the premium seats but the cheap economy efforts were a definite incentive to bring your own “cans”.

Bring your own headphones.

Other things to bring include eyeshades and earplugs.

The food was reasonable, although better on the outbound leg, and we were fed three times in both directions.

There were three main course choices and on the Sydney-LA leg, I opted for a passable beef Stroganoff with herb potatoes, green beans and carrots for lunch accompanied by an impressive chocolate mousse and a roll with butter.

American road test
The food was reasonable and sufficient.

About seven or eight hours into the flight the crew rolled out a strangely elongated Angus beef pie with a Weis ice cream bar and as we approached LA, there was a choice of a fruit plate or a traditional American breakfast of scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, bacon and grilled tomato.

The long-haul crew went about their business with varying degrees of enthusiasm — a couple looked like they’d much rather be somewhere else — but we were fortunate to have a gregarious and engaging flight attendant near us. Crews on the domestic flights were younger and chirpier.

At LA, we switched to an A321 and the additional width of the seats was immediately noticeable. We were in the main cabin on this flight but were pleasantly surprised by the legroom.

The aircraft had seatback screens that differed only slightly from the versions on the B787 and the flight from Los Angeles from Chicago was not arduous.

Food and alcoholic beverages were available for sale at what we considered to be fairly stiff prices but there was free stuff that included soft drinks, juices, pretzels and small packets of somewhat addictive sweet biscuits.

It was not until after the CRJ-700 flight from Des Moines that we discovered the benefits of being ruby status with oneworld and the power of gate agents.

The regional jet has a two-two seating configuration and my wife was of the opinion that the seating in the CRJ was more comfortable than the 787.

I might not go that far but it was certainly not onerous,  particularly after the obliging cabin crew allowed several of we bigger types to move to empty pairs of seats.

An American Eagle CRJ-700. Photo: Alan Wilson/Wikicommons

However, they drew the line at upgrading us to Main Cabin Extra.  That, they told us, had to be arranged before boarding with the gate agent.

It turns out people with oneworld ruby status can put in a bid for Main Cabin Extra seat in the 24 hours before flying and the ground staff at the gates are the people who can accommodate this.

When we got to Dallas/Fort Worth we decided to give it a go and we were pleasantly surprised when we were able to secure an extra legroom seat.

The same thing happened in Miami (where we got two seats that also came with free booze) and on the way back to Sydney. We had actually paid for MCE seats on the original LA-Sydney flight but lost them when the flight was rebooked.

The friendly gate agent offered a couple of alternatives but I unwisely opted for the exit row window seat.

We found most ground staff throughout the journey to be obliging and willing to help where they could, particularly when approached with a politely hopeful request rather than the angry demands we saw from some passengers.

I didn’t use American’s app but the airline kept us well informed with emails about flight status and connecting gates before and during flights. I didn’t pay for inflight wi-fi so these popped up when we landed and saved the usual airport search for the arrivals/departure screens.

One other thing worth mentioning for people flying in from outside the US is the luggage allowance.

People flying economy from Australia and several other countries get a luggage allowance of two 23kg bags. Stick with the same airline and this follows you throughout your journey, allowing you to avoid some hefty bag fees.

However, it may not apply if you change airlines.

We also used the kerbside check-in in Miami, which proved quick and efficient while allowing us to avoid inside queues. It was worth the tip.

I began this journey fearing for the worse about flying with American and ended by conceding  I could well book with the US carrier again.

It‘s not quite as good as some of the international flights I’ve had at home in Australia but it has some advantages and it’s not as far from those carriers as I expected.

It may have even been better than some domestic flights and it was ahead of a couple of recent experiences in Europe.

Pricing and convenience could well tip a future decision in its favor.








New pictures of A350 in stunning Fiji Airways livery

Fiji A350
The Fiji Airways A350-900. Photo: Airbus

Newly-released pictures from Airbus show Fiji Airways’ first A350 XWB in the airline’s striking livery as it rolls out from the pian shop in Toulouse.

The A350-900  will be the first of its kind operated by an airline in the South Pacific region and is seen on its way to the final phase of the assembly process to have engines fitted before starting ground and flight tests.

Fiji A350
Photo: Airbus

Fiji’s new aircraft will feature 33 Collins Aerospace Super Diamond, fully lie-flat Business Class beds, with each offering direct aisle access.

Watch funny safety briefing on Frontier Airlines.

Economy Class sports 301 Recaro CL3710 seats, which the airline says are ranked among the most comfortable long-haul economy class seats on the market.

The aircraft will be deployed in January 2020 to Sydney and Los Angeles and is part of an ambitious growth plan at the South Pacific airline.

It is one of two new A350 XWB which will complement Fiji Airways’ existing widebody fleet of six Airbus A330s.

The second plane is due to be delivered in December this year.

Fiji A350
Photo: Airbus

The long-range capabilities of the A350 will give Fiji Airways a significant efficiency boost as well as provide the opportunity of targeting new destinations not previously available to it.

The plane takes advantage of the latest aerodynamic design, carbon fiber fuselage and wings, plus new fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce engines to deliver a 25 percent reduction in fuel consumption and emissions as well as lower maintenance costs.

There are 257 Airbus A350s in the skies around the world today, flown by 24 operators. These include Fiji Airways’ partner oneworld airlines: Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways.

Other A350 operators include Hong Kong Airlines, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.

The ultra-long-range version of the aircraft is also a contender for Qantas’ Project Sunrise to launch non-stop flights from Eastern Australia to London and New York.

In other news, Fiji announced this week that it was leasing a Boeing 737-800 from Malindo Air due to the extended grounding of its two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

Malindo Air will operate flights on behalf of the South Pacific airline from September 16  between Nadi and Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland and Christchurch.

Fiji said the temporary wet lease arrangement would ensure minimum disruption to guests and the plane’s configuration was similar to its own


Is this the funniest – and most effective – airline safety demo?


Is this the funniest – and most effective – airline safety demo?

This video taken onboard Frontier Airlines is truly hilarious and gets the attention of all the passengers, which is so important.

WATCH: Extremely heavy 747 landing.

Boeing boss still betting on fourth-quarter MAX approval

Boeing return to service 737 MAX
Photo: Boeing

Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg still hopes to get the 737 MAX flying in the fourth quarter but has conceded that some regulators may take longer than others to give it the green light.

The global 737 MAX fleet has been grounded since March following two fatal crashes and the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to give final approval to a software fix aimed at preventing a reoccurrence of events in the two tragedies.

READ: Greener US carriers fly in the face of shamer criticism.

Muilenburg told a Morgan Stanley conference that Boeing was making solid progress on a return to service but a “phased ungrounding amongst regulators across the world was a possibility”.

The comments come after the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recently questioned Boeing’s approach to angle of attack sensors on the plane.

Erroneous data from an angle of attack sensor prompted a flight control system known as MCAS to push down the nose of the plane in both crashes.

A presentation by EASA executive director Patrick Ky on the agency’s review of the 737 MAX found a number of “significant technical issues” that needed to be addressed and were communicated to Boeing and the FAA in July.

While EASA gave a favorable assessment he extensive changes to the flight control computer architecture it said improved crew procedures and training were still a work in progress and there was still “no appropriate response to angle of attack integrity issues”.

MCAS had initially used information from just one angle of attack sensor but the revised system will now compare data from two.

While conceding the lack of alignment among safety regulators created “timeline uncertainty’’, Muilenburg was confident the FAA would push ahead with its decision.

“When the FAA is confident that the certification steps have been completed, that the airplane is safe, that we’ve answered all the questions, then they intend to proceed,’’ he said.

The Boeing chief said the company was working its way through the questions raised by EASA and concern about the level of redundancy could be addressed by simulation work, software updates or process changes.

He also told the conference that Boeing currently plans to keep monthly 737 production at 42 although a cut or pause was still an option.

Even if Boeing gets the green light from the FAA, it will take airlines additional time to get pilots and aircraft ready to fly.

US carriers have extended flight cancellations of  737 MAX services until the end of the year or early next year.

American Airlines announced earlier this month it had pushed out MAX cancelations to December 3, while United Airlines has extended to December 9 and Southwest Airlines to January 5.




Very heavy 747 landing captured on video


This very heavy 747 landing has been captured by Airplane Pictures.

The 747, like all aircraft, is built to handle severe punishment like this.

WATCh dramatic MD-80 landing over beachgoers.

Check out Beijing’s spectacular new Daxing airport before it opens

Daxng airport Beijing
Image: Daxing International Airport

You can check out Beijing’s amazing new Daxing international airport before it opens this month by taking an interactive tour by Chinese media organization CGTN.

Chinese media are reporting Daxing will be ready for operation by September 15 ahead of its expected official opening on September 30.

The technologically advanced airport will be a key travel hub for Beijing and is expected to handle 45 million passengers by 2021 and 72 million by 2025.

READ: British Airways bets on Beijing’s new Daxing airport.

It’s 46 kilomtres from Tiananmen Square and will be connected to downtown Beijing by high-speed rail.

Here is CGTN’s latest video tour of Daxing:

Designed by an international team of architects that included Dame Zaha Hadid, the facility covers 700,000 square metres and is Beijing’s second major airport.

It’s unique “starfish” design and 80,000 square metre ground transportation center have been designed to be “extremely user focussed and adaptable for future growth, ” according to Zaha Hadid Architects.

It said the impressive design evolved from traditional Chinese architectural principles that organize and interconnected spaces around a central courtyard.

“Its six-pier radial design gives exceptional convenience for passengers and flexibility in operations,’’ the company added.

British Airways daxing
The futuristic ‘starfish” design. Photo: 王之桐, Wikicommons media

Daxing has undergone a six-month evaluation and China Daily reported a sixth full-scale test run will be conducted Friday to assess operational readiness and fix possible problems.

The news outlet said the airport had undergone 750 tests involving over 500 flights and 50,000 “simulated” passengers since July 19.

It quoted terminal development department manager Wang Hui as saying the airport’s 400 self-service check-in kiosks mean that will cater for more than 80 percent of check-ins involving lining up for no more than 10 minutes.

A smart security channel would be able to handle 260 passengers an hour, 40 percent more than traditional technology, Wang Said.

Passengers would also enjoy a paperless boarding process using facial recognition technology.

The date of the first flight has yet to be announced but a WeChat post from China Southern suggested its first flight would be around September 20.

Greener US carriers fly in the face of ‘shamer’ criticism

Greener US carriers A4A
United is among the airlines already using biofuel blends. Photo: United

US carriers flew 42 percent more passengers and cargo in 2018 than they did in 2000 with just a 3 percent increase in total CO2 emissions, according to industry group Airlines For America.

They have also increased their fuel efficiency by 130 percent since 1978.

A4A environmental affairs vice president Nancy Young revealed the statistics in an op-ed piece in The Washington Times that argued US carriers have never been greener.

She said this was thanks to an influx of fuel-efficient planes, more efficient ways of flying them as well as the use of sustainable jet fuels and carbon offset programs.

READ: Air New Zealand adds Maori to inflight and check-in options.

Airlines are worried about the rise of “flight shamers”, particularly among young people in Europe, that are attempting to coerce people into flying less.

But Young said the movement flew in the face of facts.

She said worldwide commercial aviation was responsible for just 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but its contribution to the economy was “tremendous”.

“US passenger and cargo airlines drive more than 10 million U.S. jobs and $US1.5 trillion in annual U.S. economic activity, directly employing more than 700,000 workers across the globe,’’ she said.

“ Every day, our planes carry some 2.4 million passengers and 58,000 tons of cargo across the country and to 80 other countries.

“We safely connect friends and family members and enable business meetings and overnight deliveries of everything from fresh-cut flowers to medical supplies.

“Even as our airlines fly more people and packages to more destinations every year, we are growing greener every day. In fact, U.S. airlines carried 42 percent more passengers and cargo in 2018 than we did in 2000 with just a 3 percent increase in total CO2 emissions.

“ That’s a remarkable record of sustainability and we’re not stopping there.”

The A4A executive noted the airline industry was also the only one in the world to voluntarily commit to an agreement to reduce and offset carbon emissions.

This was through the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or “CORSIA”, which calls for carbon-neutral growth in international commercial aviation beginning in 2021.

Airlines had also committed to a goal of reducing net CO2 emissions by 50 percent in 2050 as compared with 2005 levels.

Young said US airlines were fighting climate change, driving advances in airframe and aircraft engine technology, sustainable aviation fuels, aviation infrastructure and operations to ensure it met its emissions targets.

“Here’s another fact you won’t hear from the “flight shamers”: Between 1978 and 2018, the U.S. airlines improved our fuel efficiency by more than 130 percent, saving nearly 5 billion metric tons of CO2,” she said.

“That’s like taking 26 million cars off the road every year.

“ And speaking of cars, while U.S. carriers account for less than 2 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, passenger vehicles account for more than 17 percent.

“Simply put, the airline industry is the backbone of the global economy and a leader in the fight against climate change. That’s not a record to be ashamed of — it’s one to be proud of.”


Air New Zealand adds Maori to inflight and check-in options

Air New Zealand Maori
IFE Maori style. Image: Air New Zealand.

Difficulties comprehending Air New Zealand’s inflight entertainment may not be because you’ve been indulging in too many of the airline’s fine Kiwi wines.

You may instead be using the te reo Maori language option now added to its bag drops and check-in kiosks and being rolled out on its inflight entertainment system (IFE).

The inflight roll-out has started on the airline’s A321 and A320 neo aircraft and should also be available on its Boeing 777 and 787 fleets from the end of the year.

READ:  British Airways strike grounds most flights amid fears turmoil will continue.

Air New Zealand cultural development manager Henare Johnson said the airline had been working closely with its digital team and translators to make te reo available on its check-in and bag drop kiosks as well as inflight content.

“We have already introduced some Māori content into our IFE, including bilingual answers on our domestic inflight quiz,’’ Johnson said, noting it was “great to introduce te reo as a language option”.

“As New Zealand’s national airline we recognize Maori culture is an important part of our country’s identity and are focussed on further weaving it into our organization and our customer experience.”

The introduction of to reo Maori is one of a number of initiatives Air New Zealand, which uses the signature Koru Motif in its branding,  has taken in recent years to promote recognition of indigenous culture.

They include a mobile app to help employees engage in Maori culture and use the language and an internship program to promote and encourage young people into corporate careers.

In September, the carrier bowed to pressure to relax a long-standing ban on visible tattoos to allow staff to display their non-offensive ink at work.

Tattoos have deep cultural significance to New Zealand’s Maori population and the AirNZ policy meant people with visible markings were unable to take up frontline positions.



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