Keeping Travelers Entertained

Whether you travel by air all the time or not-so-often, we are all used to the safety demonstration that is given by the flight attendants prior to departure. Some airlines perform these demos “old-school” with the flight attendants doing the demonstrations themselves, while other airlines take advantage of the video equipment available on board to show a video demo.

That being said, over the last number of years, we’ve seen a handful of unique and creative video demonstrations from airlines like Virgin Atlantic, Delta Air Lines and Virgin America. Perhaps one of the most famous videos was made by Delta a few years back that included, the now famous, finger wave. Over the last couple of days, we’ve had the chance to see two new safety videos released by Delta Air Lines and today, Virgin America.

Delta has released a few new versions of the last couple of months and the one that was released this last week was for the holiday season. Now, in true Virgin America fashion, they released their brand new safety demonstration and as you can watch below, it’s exactly that Virgin America feeling that we’ve come to know and love. What makes the Virgin America demo even more spectacular is that it was produced by Virgin Productions, so it truly is a Virgin produced product.

Thanks Delta and Virgin America for keeping the traveling public entertained, even if it just for a couple minutes. One last thing, thanks Virgin for your catchy little tune.

Delta Increases West Coast Service

New routes support expansion of International offerings from Sea-Tac International Airport

Delta 737-900ER

The Boeing 737-900ER in Delta colors (Photo Credit: Boeing Corp.)

Delta Air Lines will offer new daily nonstop service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from San Francisco International Airport as well as increased service fromLas Vegas’ McCarran International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport, beginning next year. The new service is designed to provide customers access to the airline’s growing trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific network from its global gateway in Seattle.

Details of Delta’s new and expanded Seattle service include:

  • Six new daily nonstop flights from San Francisco beginning March 29, 2014, increasing to seven daily flights on June 5, 2014.
  • Two additional flights from Las Vegas for a total of three daily nonstop flights beginning Jan. 6, 2014, increasing to five daily nonstop flights on April 1, 2014.
  • Two additional flights from Los Angeles for a total of seven daily nonstop flights beginning June 5, 2014.

“San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles are the three largest West Coast-to-Asia markets in the United States,” said Mike Medeiros, Delta’s vice president – Seattle. “Their addition into this local market will bolster domestic service as well as continue to help support our growing international portfolio in Seattle.”

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Efforts to extend Amtrak service beyond Oklahoma City towards Kansas City

Efforts to bring Heartland Flyer rail service through Wichita gain speed

Amtrak's Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma.

Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma.

By Bill Wilson, The Wichita Eagle

Wichita’s pursuit of the Heartland Flyer passenger rail system has gained momentum, with state support, City Council support and a possible train station in downtown Wichita.

With an initial planning study for expanded rail service in hand, the Kansas Department of Transportation has joined the city’s ongoing pursuit of the Amtrak passenger route that runs from Dallas to Oklahoma City, with expansion possibilities from Fort Worth to Kansas City.

Officials from KDOT, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration have told the architect of the city’s passenger rail effort, council member Pete Meitzner, that his first goal has been met.

“We’re at a point where they have confirmed independently that the (initial planning) study done a year ago is a good first step that gets us in the game,” Meitzner said.

“We were afraid we weren’t in the classroom as a state, but we’ve got a chair now.”

The Wichita City Council has signed on to efforts launched nine months ago by Meitzner to pursue the rail service, making funding more passenger rail studies a lobbying priority for the upcoming legislative session.

The effort is supported by Wichita commercial developer Gary Oborny, who has a letter of intent to buy the city’s downtown rail hub, Union Station, and convert it into key hospitality, office and retail space.

Oborny said a rail terminal is in his plans for the building. If he lands Union Station from its owner, Cox Communications, Oborny said, he’ll save space for the Flyer.

The reason? Bringing people to Wichita, he said.

Amtrak's Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma

Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer in Oklahoma

“The key isn’t just passenger rail,” Oborny said. “That’s a nice component, but the whole rail story is really about access to Wichita. If we want to drive commerce in our city, our gates and doors have to be open 24/7 every way we can think of.”

That commerce effort, launched by the Wichita Metro Chamber, where Oborny sits on the board, can be enhanced by rail passengers stopping in downtown Wichita.

“That’s why this effort is crucial,” he said. “The one thing we have to do right now is make sure we’re on the field and ready to play.”

Meitzner’s effort has landed critical allies in KDOT Secretary Mike King, a Hesston native, and his governmental affairs chief, Lindsay Douglas. King is continuing talks with Oklahoma officials who are more interested — today — in a more northeast route for the Heartland Flyer toward Tulsa that could be a roadblock to the Wichita effort, Douglas said.

“They have indicated to us at this point in time they’re interested in funding additional work,” she said. “They are interested in offering new service, but the towns north of Oklahoma City along the Heartland line are interested in service there, too. So there might be a sort of competing interest there.”

Douglas said the next step to move the Kansas Heartland line along is an environmental study, costing $3 million from Kansas and $2.3 million from Oklahoma, less with federal assistance.

And there are plans for a regional passenger rail workshop with the Federal Railroad Administration, a significant outreach to the feds showing that Kansas and Oklahoma are serious enough about passenger rail to need federal funds, Douglas said.

But, the immediate key toward the Heartland Flyer’s future in Wichita may lie in Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget proposal, which will be released on Jan. 16, and in the willingness of the federal government to provide grant funding, Douglas said, for future studies and for a project with an uncertain price tag. The latest project estimates, from 2011, are a little more than $87 million to run from Newton into Texas, although that number is fluid as the project develops and as time passes, officials said.

“Right now, there are a lot of demands on funds at the state level,” Douglas said. “Depending on the governor’s budget that comes out on the 16th, we’re all trying to figure out where our resources are and prioritize our investments. There are opportunities for federal funds, and we’re making sure that if federal funds become available, we can apply and be competitive.

“If funding becomes available, we’re in a good position to apply with the service development plan done.”

It’s all because Meitzner keeps pushing the passenger rail issue, Douglas said.

“It’s really opened from my standpoint our eyes to Wichita as a willing partner in this initiative,” she said. “They’ve really opened our eyes to different economic development opportunities there and what having that line through Wichita would do for the area. It’s been a good thing, working through these discussions.”

Boeing 777-300ER

A new look coming to American Airlines?

Recently there has been speculation that American Airlines is planning on launching a new brand or at least an updated brand.  That rumor continued to be fueled when one of American’s newest Boeing 777-300ER aircraft rolled around Boeing’s plant in Washington in only silver without any markings.  With these ideas floating around, designs and rendering that individuals have started to put together are showing up on the web.  So of these designs are pretty cool looking, while others, need a bit more fine tuning.  Enough of these rumors and speculations have been floating around that the NBC station in Dallas questioned American on it.  

American Airlines Remains Mum on New Livery

AA advises those curious about livery changes to “stay tuned”

With the purchase of hundreds of new aircraft from Boeing and Airbus, American Airlines is being forced to update their look.

The new planes have a composite skin, not aluminum, so the unpainted, polished silver look is likely on its way out.

As far as what the new look will be, however, AA isn’t saying yet.

“We know that we will be taking delivery of composite aircraft, starting with the Airbus deliveries and later the 787 Dreamliner. And we¹ve known since we placed those orders that those aircraft cannot be polished as we do today. With that in mind, and with our focus on building a new American, we are evaluating how the exteriors of our aircraft will need to be modernized in lock step with our plans for the interior customer experience,” said Andrea Huguely, with American Airlines. “Obviously with the delivery of composite aircraft, there are a lot of opinions regarding what our new livery should look like. At this point in time, all we can say is stay tuned.”

Huguely parroted AA CEO Tom Horton’s statements made in October to the Star-Telgram’s Sky Talk Blog.  In that interview, Horton said that he wouldn’t say when we would see the new livery, only that people will just have to wait and see.

The mystery over the livery change, the first for the airline in more than 40 years, has prompted aviation enthusiasts to create their own renderings.

From the NY Times: For United, Big Problems at Biggest Airline

My thoughts: I couldn’t agree with this article more.  Many, including myself, figured the “new” United would have many of the issues that it is still currently having.  The leadership of United isn’t as strong as it needs to be and that comes into play when you merge two strong headed companies (in any industry).  United needs to strive to make themselves a better company and it starts with the leadership.  My first suggestion for many of the leadership team… stop collecting bonus money for jobs well done, such as the change over of the reservation systems. While United is stating that most of the “growing pains” have shrunk, I think that the opposite could happen and things might even get worse than they already are.  American Airlines is currently going through strong labor issues (among other things) and United could soon find themselves in the same situation.

United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner

United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner poses at Boeing’s plant.

Anyway… here’s the article from the NY Times:

By Jad Mouawad; Published: November 28, 2012

CHICAGO — It was supposed to be a moment for celebration: United Airlines observing the delivery of its second Boeing 787 Dreamliner with a flight from Seattle to Chicago earlier this month for a select group of employees, while senior officers, including Jeffery A. Smisek, United’s hard-charging chief executive, served Champagne and took lunch orders.

But before the flight took off that morning, a computer glitch in one of the airline’s computer systems delayed 250 flights around the world for two hours.

So it goes at United these days. The world’s biggest airline, created after United merged with Continental Airlines in 2010, promised an unparalleled global network, with eight major hubs and 5,500 daily flights serving nearly 400 destinations. As an added benefit, the new airline would be led by Mr. Smisek of Continental, which was known for its attention to customer service.

But two years on, United still grapples with myriad problems in integrating the two airlines. The result has been hobbled operations, angry passengers and soured relations with employees.

The list of United’s troubles this year has been long. Its reservation system failed twice, shutting its Web site, disabling airport kiosks and stranding passengers as flights were delayed or canceled. The day of the 787 flight, another system, which records the aircraft’s weight once passengers and bags are loaded, shut down because of a programming error.

United has the worst operational record among the nation’s top 15 airlines. Its on-time arrival rate in the 12 months through September was just 77.5 percent — six percentage points below the industry average and 10 percentage points lower than Delta Air Lines. It had the highest rate of regularly delayed flights this summer, and generated more customer complaints than all other airlines combined in July, according to the Transportation Department.

The airline even angered the mayor of Houston, Continental’s longtime home and still the carrier’s biggest hub, when it unsuccessfully sought to block Southwest Airlines’ bid to bring international flights to the city’s smaller airport, Hobby. 

The United-Continental merger is weighing on the company’s finances. It took a $60 million charge in the third quarter for merger-related expenses, including repainting planes. It also took a $454 million charge to cover a future cash payment to pilots under a tentative deal reached in August.

While most large airlines reported profits this year, United has lost $103 million in the first three quarters of 2012, with revenue up just 1 percent to $28.5 billion. Its shares are up 7 percent this year compared with a 12 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and a 24 percent gain for Delta.

“United remains at a challenging point,” analysts from Barclays wrote last month, and they forecast that the carrier would not begin to see the benefits of its merger until late in 2013 and into 2014. Still, while airlines initially struggle, mergers increase revenue eventually, as the example of Delta’s acquisition of Northwest Airlines demonstrated two years ago.

Mr. Smisek, taking a break from serving coffee halfway through the maiden 787 flight, acknowledged that things were not going as fast as expected, particularly given the aggressive targets he set two years ago. Back then, Mr. Smisek said the merger would be wrapped up in 12 to 18 months. He has since learned to be patient, he said.

“It is still a work in progress,” he said. “The integration of two airlines takes years. It’s very complex. If you look at where we were two years ago, we’ve come a long way.”

Admittedly, the process is complicated. Airline mergers mean combining different technologies, often old computer systems, as well as thousands of procedures used by pilots and flight dispatchers, gate agents, flight attendants and ground crew.

Setbacks are common. Like United, US Airways experienced a breakdown in its booking technology after its combination with America West in 2005. Delta’s on-time performance fell sharply in the year after its purchase of Northwest.

But today, Delta is a leader among big airlines in on-time performance. US Airways had a record third-quarter profit even though it still lacks common work rules for its pilots seven years after its merger.

United has completed many of its merger tasks, particularly as far as passengers are concerned. It has received its single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing it to run a combined fleet. Despite all the problems this summer, it claims to have finally merged the reservation and technology systems.

Mr. Smisek said passengers would see the benefits of the combination by next year as United introduces new features on its planes, including satellite-based Wi-Fi, flatbed seats in business class and bigger overhead bins on its fleet of Airbus narrow-body planes.

One of the remaining sticking points, however, is getting employees of the two merged carriers to agree to a single contract. Pilot unions signed a tentative agreement with the company in August, after months of bitter negotiations. Talks are continuing for agreements with unions representing flight attendants and mechanics.

“There always seems to be some bump in the road,” said Ray Neidl, a senior aerospace and airline analyst with the Maxim Group. He said much of the merger’s benefits would kick in after the airline got its collective agreements with its work force. “Once they get these challenges out of the way, United will be a powerhouse.”

For many analysts, United’s real challenge lies in combining different work groups with different cultures, values and ways of doing things.

That is particularly true for United, which had a history of sour labor relations, and Continental, long considered one of the nation’s best-run airlines.

“You know, the cultural change takes time,” Mr. Smisek said. “And people resist change. People are sort of set in their ways.”

He added the airline was now intent on providing better operational performance and consistently good customer service. “And there are people who don’t like that,” he said. “I understand that. What I want is those people to either change or leave.”

There are few lasting advantages in the airline business. Airlines can easily match what rivals are doing, whether by lowering fares, buying new planes or installing new features on their aircraft. But United insists that its network remains its most resilient strength and will help it attract more passengers.

The carrier’s dominant market share at Newark Liberty International Airport, for instance, appears unassailable and provides a formidable gateway to the New York and East Coast markets. United’s Houston hub is a major jumping point to Latin America. And United is the biggest carrier in San Francisco, giving it an advantage in the Pacific, where it is the biggest American carrier.

United is counting on new planes to make a difference in coming years. It has made a big bet by ordering 270 planes over the next decade, including 50 Boeing 787s and 25 Airbus A350s.

The 787’s long-range ability and relatively smaller size will allow United to add new direct service between cities that did not have enough traffic to justify bigger planes like the Boeing 777. Its 787s will fly between Houston and Lagos, Nigeria, starting in January, followed by service from Denver to Tokyo’s Narita airport in March, and from Los Angeles to Tokyo and Shanghai.

United is betting that passengers will be drawn by those new services as well as by the 787’s carbon-fiber technology, which allows higher levels of humidity and oxygen in the cabin and can, Boeing claims, help reduce jet lag-related fatigue.

The airline moved its headquarters to the Willis Tower in Chicago last year. In June, it set up a new Network Operations Center, occupying a full floor in the tower in a vast open space previously used as a trading floor. From here, managers run daily operations, overseeing flight schedules, crew availability, weather forecasts and any delays throughout the system.

After the summer’s mishaps and poor performance, United has improved its on-time record. In particular, it said, arrivals on-time this month were 85 percent.

“We think we’re in a good spot given where we are in the merger,” said Peter D. McDonald, United’s chief operations officer.

Still, perceptions may be tough to fight, particularly online and in frequent-flier forums, where criticism of United’s service and performance has been particularly bitter. One critic, who goes by @FakeUnitedJeff, parodies Mr. Smisek on Twitter. One post last month read: “It’s raining in Newark. I wish we’d bought waterproof aircraft. Cancel, cancel, cancel.”