#LUVisInTheAir: How My Passion for Aviation Led to AvGeek Love

JL Proposes under N300SW, the first Boeing 737-300, now at Frontiers of Flight Museum. - Photo: Allan Klueckman (My Brother)

JL proposes under N300SW, the first Boeing 737-300, now at Frontiers of Flight Museum – Photo: Allan Klueckman (My brother)

In most standard relationships, AvGeeks are hard to love. Consider the effects of our passion: we are either always gone, pining to be gone, or perhaps spending hours on end stalking planes at the nearest airport. My friends and I often joke about how “mixed” relationships (that is, relationships with just one AvGeek partnered with a “muggle” – an outsider) are difficult in that there is a lot of compromise and time apart. It can add additional friction and baggage to the already complex reality of finding the perfect partner.

Consider for a moment that happiness is attainable to all. For most of my adult life, I didn’t believe that. The fact of the matter is, AvGeeks are hard to love. Of course, the solution is easy – find someone with similar passions and interests, things that you can bond over. Except upon a survey of the AvGeek landscape, it becomes apparent that women are an extreme minority. Much has been written about the severe lack of women in aviation, a concerning trend that unfortunately extends across most STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) industries.

Being a rational person I recognized that my passion would statistically put me at a disadvantage against my non-plane obsessed peers. Imagine how excited I am to come to you today (on Valentine’s day no less!) to tell you my AvGeek passion didn’t get in my way. Instead, it was the catalyst and enabler for my relationship with my now fiance and best friend…

 

JL & Jillian at Dorkfest 2017

JL & Jillian at Dorkfest 2017

Jillian and I met virtually in February of 2015, thanks to Twitter and the #AvGeek hashtag, a place where Twitter folks go to see what’s going on in the topic and to connect with like-minded people. Consider it the subreddit of the days before the ubiquity of Reddit. We were both college students and aspiring world-travelers. While Jillian was working on her undergraduate degree and taking pilot lessons in New England, I was gearing up for my master’s program and spreading my AvGeek wings writing stories for AirlineReporter like my #AirlineSampler series while based here in the Great American Midwest. Jillian and I became great friends in the coming months but given the major geographic limitation, I expected our friendship would remain just that.

In 2016, Jillian came to Kansas City to meet her well-organized KC-based AvGeek pals and to enjoy our many travel-worthy AvGeek attractions, to include the TWA Museum. That’s where I met Jillian in real life for the first time, outside of what we locals call TWAM (not to be confused with NAHM- the National Airline History Museum on the other side of the downtown airport.) As a person who has historically placed emphasis on fact over emotion, I have long been a skeptic of the “love at first sight” concept. Perhaps our year of social media banter and chit chat enabled it, but when I laid eyes on Jillian standing outside of the museum, I knew she was extra special and that she was the one for me.

BONUS: Up, Up, and Away with the TWA Museum, a review. 

BNSF Hauls Boeing 737 fuselages from Wichita, KS to Renton, WA. Photo: - JL Johnson

BNSF Hauls Boeing 737 fuselages from Wichita, KS to Renton, WA – Photo: – JL Johnson

Upon my arrival to the museum, Jillian told me that she had just spotted a train passing by carrying what appeared to be the iconic green Boeing 737 fuselages. “Greenies” as we refer to them are known to pass through the heart of downtown KC en-route from Wichita, KS to Renton, WA. I had some experience in chasing these and knew that they are often delayed by traffic in the train yard just north of the airport. Excited, I invited her to hop into my car so we could go to a well-known park and wait for them to pass by. As fate would have it, only a few minutes after getting positioned the train-carrying-planes emerged and provided for an extra special treat for our visitor. Even knowing that they pass by a few times a week, catching these intentionally irregularly timed trains proves to be a real challenge. I couldn’t help but think something special was afoot.

Our AvGeek weekend came and went, and Jillian returned home to Connecticut. She and I were at the time both otherwise involved, but I couldn’t shake her. I later came to find she felt the same way. Over the coming months, we tried to live our lives but it was hard to ignore what might have been. As things do, relationships change and some opportunities demand attention. Jillian and I decided to try the “long distance” thing and thanks to low fares and high frequencies between Kansas City and New England we made it work. I’d love to go into detail about how Southwest was the enabler of our relationship but we already have a similar story: How low-cost carriers helped save my relationship.

Enjoying "fly-over-country." Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park.

Enjoying “fly-over-country.” Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park.

As our relationship progressed it became clear that while always having an excuse to travel and earning Southwest Airlines A-List status at a record pace was fun, it wasn’t sustainable. We decided to take a break from aviation and road-tripped to the Utah desert where we would take a stab at living together, albeit only for a week in an Airbnb. While this important phase of our relationship wasn’t directly tied to aviation, it did lay the foundation for what came next… Relocation.

Jillian's first time flying Spirit's Big Front Seat

Jillian’s first time flying Spirit’s Big Front Seat

Over the coming months, we continued our Southwest Air-enabled back and forth until Jillian left her home, her family, and her career to join me in Missouri. Finally together for more than a few days, we took advantage of her newfound free time, my overflowing time-off bank, and nearly all of our accumulated rewards points to travel the country together exploring new cities and furthering our bond. True to my passion, most of our flights were with Southwest, but we squeezed in a few with others, including Jillian’s first aboard Spirit Airlines in the most economical and comfortable seat in the U.S. skies: The Big Front Seat, or BFS.

Until I met Jillian I never really understood the excitement behind marriage. I’d made it thirty something years into life with an unfavorable view of the arrangement. There were broken and bad relationships all around me, why would I subject myself to the same? As love and time worked their magic on me I came around to the idea. The thought of a commitment to my best friend and peer seemed to be a logical next step in the advancement of what had been an already incredible relationship. I ordered a custom-designed heart-shaped diamond and began plotting my engagement strategy.

As AirlineReporter readers know, I’m a big fan of Southwest Airlines and figured a company so crucial to our relationship had to somehow be involved. I booked a weekend trip to Dallas for the two of us, plus my son. Given our whirlwind year of travel, it came as no surprise and raised no eyebrows. On our way to the airport that Saturday morning the unthinkable happened. Our flight was canceled and as a result, my plan to propose under a Southwest Heart-liveried-737 at Dallas Love Field fell apart. While our plans didn’t quite pan out as expected, we were able to secure a much later flight to Dallas. Thankfully, my friends at Frontiers of Flight Museum came through with an excellent backup plan. For those not in the know, Southwest was the launch partner for the Boeing 737-300. The very first to roll off the line served Southwest for many years before being donated to the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Dallas Love Field. I may not have had airside access, but thanks to self-described sucker for love museum president Cheryl Sutterfield-Jones, I did have access to a plane.

She says yes under N300SW. Photo - Stephanie Murphree Photography

She says yes under N300SW – Photo – Stephanie Murphree Photography

Just before the sun began to set, we arrived at the Frontiers of Flight Museum which had been reopened just for us. Moments later I proposed to my now fiance in front of family and friends in what has since been referred to by my closest friends as “the most JL way possible” — under an iconic plane and with Southwest involved for good measure.

Look, an airplane! - Photo: Stephanie Murphree Photography

Look, an airplane! – Photo: Stephanie Murphree Photography

I thought my passion for aviation would be a hindrance to finding love and never considered that it could be an enabler. By the way, it turns out even moments after getting engaged, while the tears of joy are still streaming, it’s still easy for an AvGeek to get distracted by planes passing by. Only in our case, we were distracted as an AvGeek couple.

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Photo Tour: Asiana Airlines’ Business Class Lounge at Seoul Incheon

What better welcome than a massive A380 model? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

In a world of rising air travel passenger volumes, airline lounges walk a fine line. They need to cater to large crowds of travelers, while still preserving an aura of  luxury and classiness. What sort of airline might you trust to strike the right balance between size and sumptuousness? How about South Korea-based Asiana Airlines, which has built a strong enough reputation for itself to earn an elite five-star rating from the aviation rating website Skytrax?

Read on for a photo tour of Asiana’s flagship business class lounge in Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN), and see for yourself if it’s the sort of place you’d want to spend a long layover.

Asiana’s premium check-in counter – Photo: Manu Venkat – AirlineReporter

Checking in at the airport was speedy thanks to the dedicated check-in area for premium cabin passengers and travelers with Star Alliance status. After clearing security, I had an easy time finding Asiana’s lounge, located centrally in Seoul Incheon Airport’s massive main terminal.

As you ascend the escalators, you’re greeted by a jumbo-sized A380 model. The aircraft is Asiana’s current flagship, though the airline has also invested in the A350.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The lounge consists of two expansive spaces on either side of the welcome desk.

Plenty of space to spread out – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The mahogany decor, low diving walls, and large armchairs gave the space a pleasantly swank vibe despite its size.

TV seating – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

If you’re really big on seclusion, there are a few private spaces with plush chairs and ottomans. However they had all been taken when I swung by, so you may not be able to count on snagging one.

Private spaces for solo R&R – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

For those with a taste for views of the ramp, there is plenty of seating facing the window.

Seating with a view of the tarmac – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I took a moment to admire the tasteful bookshelves along the walls.

Food and Drink

There was a variety of both warm and cold self-serve food options in the lounge. I wasn’t a big fan of the stew-style hot option, but at least the salad bar had some high-quality ingredients.

In addition to the self-serve options, there was a small “chef’s corner” with made-to-order light meals.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

There was also a modest selection of self-serve boozy drinks in addition to the non-alcoholic options.

A Pre-Flight Power Shower

If you need to freshen up before your flight, you’re in luck. At the front desk you can ask for access to one of the lounge’s multiple shower rooms. If they’re all occupied, you’ll get a handheld buzzer than will ring when your room is ready.

The shower tiles are eye-catching, but what stood out most was the amazing range of amenities that Asiana offers.

Just a few of the shower amenities – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Verdict

I thought Asiana’s flagship lounge managed to provide impressive capacity without sacrificing on style. Although I wouldn’t rank it among the top couple of lounges I’ve ever visited, Asiana’s flagship lounge at Seoul Incheon International Airport is most definitely above average, with the tasteful decor and shower rooms as the standout positives.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Stay tuned — a bit later on we’ll be back with a review of Asiana’s “Smartium” business class.

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. What do you think of Asiana’s flagship business class lounge? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Related AirlineReporter Posts

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT – SAN FRANCISCO, CA. Manu got his private pilot license in high school, setting the tone for his interest in all things aviation. He earned his frequent flyer credentials working as a journalist, and is now a medical student in San Francisco. He enjoys writing about air travel from a millennial’s perspective.

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Unveiling the Boeing 737 MAX 7: The Runt of the Family

Mini-max 7!

Mini-max 7!

“Who cares?”

I knew I would hear that from observers when covering the unveiling of the first Boeing 737 MAX 7 in Renton, WA this week. I get it. Sure, the MAX 7 is the runt of the MAX family, but often runts can grow up and do amazing things, like going fast.

This is going to be one fast plane to fly. The entire MAX family, from 10 down to 7 will have the same CFM LEAP 1-B engines. With the 7 being the smallest and lightest, I am sure it will become a favorite to fly for pilots. Of course being fun to fly isn’t really a great business case for airlines, and so far they haven’t bought many.




Where the entire MAX family has accumulated over 4,300 orders, from 93 customers from around the world, the MAX 7 has only 63 of those orders from four customers in the U.S. and Canada (Southwest has dibs on 30, WestJet has 23, Canada Jetlines has five and ILFC has the final five). Is there a bright future for this airplane? Personally, I hope so.

The aircraft almost blends into the gray Seattle skies.

The aircraft almost blends into the gray Seattle skies

Let’s dive a bit more into Southwest’s relationship with the plane. As they currently operate about 500 737-700s, I would think they are an obvious 7 customer. Sure, Southwest is moving more towards the MAX 8, but those orders won’t cover the 737-700s that will need replacing in the upcoming years.

Even for the 30 7s that they have on order, they won’t be taking delivery for a while. They plan to take their first one in 2019, then six more soon after, but the other 23 have already been deferred to 2023.  Talk about an un-luved runt. I wanted to learn a bit more how the 7 will fit into their future plans and they replied with the following:

“We remain excited to take delivery of our first Boeing MAX 7 in 2019 as planned. We did recently align the MAX 8s and the MAX 7s delivery schedules to match our expected growth while also better aligning the delivery of the MAX 7 for the time period when we expect to have more 737-700 retirements. Configured with 150 seats and all the Customer comforts and operational efficiencies of the 737 MAX family, we expect the MAX 7 will be a good fit for our fleet and network strategy. We’ll be incorporating the first seven MAX 7s into our fleet in 2019 to begin experiencing the expected operating benefits.”

The nose of the first 737 MAX 7 at the Renton Boeing factory

The nose of the first 737 MAX 7 at the Renton Boeing factory

So why is Boeing moving forward with the 7 MAX, without much love? Well, they are hoping that once it gets into service and airlines can see the benefits that the aircraft offers, customers will come flocking.

Maybe, but I think I remember similar sentiments with the 747-8I and we know how that turned out (if you don’t know, sadly not well). Also, there will be some tight competition for customers. Of course you have the recently famous BombardiAirbus CSeries, which doesn’t directly compete, but obviously close enough that it has caused Boeing to worry.


The more direct competitor is the Airbus A319neo, and according to Boeing, the MAX 7 will “fly 400 nautical miles farther than the A319neo, on 7 percent lower operating costs per seat.” I always take these statements with a huge grain of salt, since the MAX 7 hasn’t flown yet and the A319neo hasn’t yet been delivered to a customer.




So there might not be much business love for the 7 right now, but there was sure a lot of love by the employees who help to build the aircraft. The media was able to arrive early to get photos, before Boeing had some employees come out to see their plane. They were excited. Really excited. I mean, these were the people who see these planes day in and day out. Yet, here they were taking selfies and photos of themselves in front of their creation — it was very cool. Number of orders didn’t mean squat — they were proud of their mini-MAX.

I got to ride a scissor lift to take this photo. That was pretty rad (and a little scary)

I got to ride a scissor lift to take this photo. That was pretty rad (and a little scary).

Do not get me wrong. I have a love for this plane. Just the fact that it is a runt with not many orders makes me want to love it more. Not to mention that you will see all the excited AvGeeks getting the chance to ride on one of just a few 737 MAX 7s flying around North America.

The bad news is it will be a while before we can fly on one. The first MAX 7 will start test flights here soon and then will be delivered sometime in 2019. The good news is that leaves additional time for some airlines to pick one of these up.

You can also see some additional photos on our Flickr page

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Flying Norwegian’s Long-Haul Premium Product on the 787

Norwegian flight DY 7131 taxiing after landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Norwegian 787 taxiing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

High risk, high reward. That’s how I viewed my booking on Norwegian. They recently started serving Denver, Colorado (DEN) from London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) using their ever-expanding fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.  The one-way, one-stop fare from my family vacation in Copenhagen was only $600 per person in their “Premium” cabin – a steal for holiday travel.

Why did I need a one-way fare? I had used United miles to book my family from Denver to Copenhagen (via SFO) on Christmas Day. 30,000 miles per person for a pretty convenient one-stop routing on United and SAS was too good to pass up. But it made getting home a challenge. That’s one of the things that drew me to Norwegian. Also, we’re not exactly rolling in international service here in Denver. Norwegian is a new player, and I wanted to try them out.

For some reason, international travel has not reached the same parity as domestic U.S. travel when it comes to one-way fares. Piecing together an itinerary in the states is pretty easy, but just try booking a one-way flight from London to Denver. Norwegian is disrupting that model with its a la carte approach to everything, as are its long-haul international competitors such as WOW and Icelandair.

Lovely weather in London right before boarding – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

So, why high risk, high reward? Norwegian only flies to Denver three times per week. They also don’t interline with other carriers. So, when things go bad (delayed/canceled flights) they go really bad. I knew not to expect to be booked on another carrier if things went wrong. I had a backup plan in case we got stuck in London (there are worse places to be stuck), but we were lucky that our travel was flexible.

So, how was the trip? Did I win the gamble? Read on…

Boeing Sky Interior on this six-week-old 737-800 – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

The Norwegian Flights

As we were starting our trip in Copenhagen, Denmark, we had a much more typical Norwegian flight to kick things off – a short intra-European flight on a high-density 737-800 (I was sort of hoping for my first 737MAX). Because we had booked our overall trip in Norwegian’s “Premium” class (about a $140 up-charge per person from the economy fare that included bags, seat selections, and meals on the long-haul segment), we didn’t have to suffer the bare-bones indignities of flying a low-cost carrier. We had bags included, fast pass security, and pre-reserved seats. That said, there isn’t much more “premium” to get on Norwegian’s short-haul fleet. It is a high-density cabin.

The roughly two-hour flight to London was pretty uneventful, other than a delay in Copenhagen holding in the penalty box due to weather in London. Our plane was a six-week-old 737-800 that had been delivered from the Seattle area right before Thanksgiving. The plane was in great shape, but didn’t yet have any wifi connectivity installed.  That Boeing Sky Interior sure makes any plane look nice – even the ones with crammed seats.



I’m 6’1″, and I found the legroom tolerable for the short flight. My wife commented, “this isn’t any worse than United.” We passed on the drink and snack service – Norwegian charges for everything, including water. The barf bags did give me a good chuckle – Norwegian has a sense of humor.

Because of spending time in the weather penalty box en route to London, we didn’t have time to check out the No. 1 Lounge (which our Premium tickets would have entitled us to). We trekked across LGW through a maze of corridors that seemed to be added one upon the next. What a strange airport. At least we didn’t have to take a bus for miles like at Heathrow.

Premium cabin on Norwegian’s Boeing 787-9 – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

Shortly after we arrived at our gate, an on-time boarding commenced for our ten-hour flight to Denver. Premium passengers were invited to board first, and we were soon in our seats. My kids (both under age 10) were very excited for their first flight in “big seats” so they were thrilled to find blankets waiting for them (although, notably, no pillows were offered at any point). Flight attendants offered a choice of water, orange juice, or apple juice. My kids were thrilled.

Norwegian economy mini-cabin between doors 1 and 2 – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

The premium cabin on Norwegian’s 787-9 has five rows of seven seats, in a 2-3-2 configuration (while the economy section is in the now-standard 3-3-3 configuration).  The seat is definitely not a lie-flat experience; it is a comfy recliner with an adjustable foot rest and lots of leg room – better than domestic first class seats in the U.S., but don’t go in expecting a bed for your trip. For what it’s worth, the seat just felt sort of cheap. It was covered in vinyl, sort of like the chair at your dentist. In the upper back, a metal bar protruded. The tray table would not stow on its own without me messing with it.



The plane could have been maintained a little better. I’ve seen it discussed on Twitter recently, but the air supply vents along the wall were gross. This plane (LN-LNJ) isn’t very old – it was delivered in April of 2016. Given their pride on operating a young fleet, Norwegian would be well-served to keep them a bit more polished.

IFE screen deployed from armrest, with the passenger ahead of me in full recline. Legroom was unaffected. – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

The IFE screen is stowed in the armrest. The system is responsive, has a decent selection, and offers a nice feature for ordering drinks and snacks. The drawback is that you can’t have it out during the lengthy taxi at places like London Gatwick. Norwegian does not offer wifi on their long-haul fleet.

Beverage service right after takeoff in Norwegian Premium cabin – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

Once in the air, the two flight attendants working the premium cabin sprung in to action, offering a variety of drinks (at no charge) from the cart. I had a nice glass of sparkling wine (cava). For the benefit those traveling in economy, where everything comes with a cost, Norwegian did have very informative videos about how their service worked. I found it clear cut, and the buy-on-board prices were reasonable ($3 USD for a nice bag of kettle chips, for example).

My family was well settled in when the first meal was served. Up until that point, I was quite happy with the value proposition. I was sitting in a comfortable lounge seat, enjoying sparkling wine, and watching a movie. I knew that I shouldn’t expect a meal like I’d get in ANA business class.

Even in premium, Norwegian has no-frills service. I can appreciate that, actually, as it contributed to my $600 trans-Atlantic fare. The meal is served in the warming tin, along with a cardboard box of accompaniments. Wine is served in a plastic glass. I’m not fancy – I don’t need a multi-course meal service on china. My main complaint about the meal was that the beef option I selected (of three options) was pretty much inedible. I’m pretty sure prisons might reject this beef. The sides were all fine. My wife had something described as “shrimp scampi” – it was equally meh. The special premium “child” meal that I pre-ordered was all the same sides, with an entree of mashed potatoes, peas, and some odd little hot dogs.

Lunch service in Norwegian Premium cabin – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

The crew was top notch throughout the flight. As an example of this, the woman across the aisle from me was a mom traveling with an infant. The flight attendant knew that she and her husband were going to take turns eating, and proactive offered to serve her meal at any point later on. He then refilled her wine glass.  Good man. The crew passed through the cabin after the meal service offering Baileys or cognac to all premium passengers.

Buy-on-board menu: prices were reasonable and the food was of good quality and variety – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

The meal being weak wasn’t a deal-breaker. I took advantage of the buy-on-board snack menu through the IFE, ordering some munchies through the flight (and a few more drinks). Drinks were all included for premium passengers, but not the snacks (which I found a little odd… unlimited Heineken? Sure. Potato chips? Get out your wallet). Whenever I ordered something from the electronic menu, even water, it was delivered in an instant and with a smile. Crew on legacy U.S. carriers would hate this system.

One side note for the passionate folks out there – they had individual air vents at each seat! Holla! 

We were served breakfast about an hour outside of Denver. It was equally unmemorable, but not offensive. As it was a daytime flight, there was less of a push to get the cabin woken up.

We landed in Denver and taxied to our gate, arriving only two minutes late despite our nearly-45-minute-late departure from London due to weather. We bid farewell to the pleasant crew and headed toward customs.

Overall Norwegian Premium Cabin Thoughts

As I said in the beginning, everything went right for us on this trip. I know from others that things could have gotten jacked up in a hurry if we’d had a missed connection, lengthy delay, etc. But, that didn’t happen.  Instead, we had a seamless intercontinental, two-flight trip that arrived within two minutes of its scheduled time.

Still my favorite feature of the 787 – being able to see out the window while everyone else sleeps – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter

For the price I paid, I’d fly Norwegian again in a heartbeat. $600 for a flight with an intra-European connection, plus a long-haul flight to the U.S. in a comfy seat on a Dreamliner is pretty hard to beat. Yes, the food was mediocre, but booze was free. Next time, I’d book a longer connection to enjoy the lounge or a good restaurant in the airport. Also, the value proposition of being able to book a one-way affordable flight was hard to argue with. I look forward to similar carriers popping up in the trans-Pacific market as well.

Norwegian is adding a flight to Paris from Denver in the spring. Edelweiss is launching service to Zurich. Guess what – United is (finally, again after a decade) going to offer service to Europe from Denver. I’m enjoying the competition in the market.

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Old Guard vs New: Flying First Class on a British Airways 747

My 747-400 Awaiting Departure in Seattle – Photo: Colin Cook

In late 2016, my girlfriend Molly and I began planning a 2017 trip to Europe, with the goal of using points and miles to fly in a premium cabin. After considerable research, we ended up flying on a British Airways 747-400 to London, and on a Virgin Atlantic 787-9 home. This first post will review our British Airways first class experience, and the second will review the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class (business class) product.

One of the items on my AvGeek bucket list has been to fly international first class. I’ve had some wonderful experiences flying international business class (Air Canada 767, Lufthansa 747-8, and British Airways 777-300ER), but I’ve never had the chance for the best of the best. That all changed with this trip. I was already excited to be flying in first class, but I also unlocked another AvGeek desire: I was able to make the coveted “left turn” upon boarding the aircraft. When I have flown in a premium cabin previously, I have always boarded from the front left door. Sure, sure, there are benefits to both, but if you’re a passionate flyer, you can probably understand my excitement.

British Airways Boeing 747-400 - Photo: Andrew W. Sieber | FlickrCC

British Airways Boeing 747-400 – Photo: Andrew W. Sieber | FlickrCC

Molly and I had started planning for our European vacation nearly nine months prior to departure, leaving plenty of anticipation. When we started looking at different European options, there were many business class options, but I was hoping for the first class experience. We wanted to use our very valuable Alaska Airlines miles, as they are partners with British Airways. When initially booking, I found a flight on a BA 777 to London, via Houston. While direct flights are always ideal, we were elated to have found a flight with first class availability.

In the months and weeks leading up to our departure, I constantly monitored the Alaska Airlines website in search of a direct flight from Seattle to London. Much to my delight, about one week prior to departure, seats on the direct flight opened up! When I looked closer, I discovered this flight would be even more special – it was operated on a 747-400. The Queen of the Skies is quickly being retired by most U.S. airlines (both Delta and United are retired their fleet recently), but British Airways plans to continue to operate the type for years to come. I quickly changed flights and we were all set for the direct flight to London.

BONUS: MIXED EMOTIONS FLYING ON THE FINAL UNITED 747 FLIGHT

Once we arrived at Sea-Tac International Airport, we completed our passport check and made our way to the British Airways first class lounge. Their first class lounge is actually a small room located within their Galleries business class lounge. While the first class room is a bit small, the food was tasty and it had a nice view of the airfield. One downside: while there was a server that periodically comes to take drink orders, she was not frequently available. So to get a cocktail, we had to visit the bar window in the main business class lounge.

As the time to board arrived, we made our way from the lounge downstairs to the boarding gate. We had evidently missed the first and business class boarding, so we had to wait and board with the main cabin. I was quite surprised that British Airways does not maintain a dedicated first and business class boarding line. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long, but I surely wasn’t feeling this was a first class experience so far. Lucky for us, the experience was about to change!

The exclusive British Airways first class cabin – Photo: Colin Cook

As we boarded, we were immediately greeted by the purser who introduced himself and walked us to our seats. As we began to settle in, it was clear that this would be no ordinary international flight. The flight attendants came by to offer us pajamas, an amenity kit, and a glass of champagne. The first class cabin is laid out with individual suites along the windows, and two sets of suites in the middle of the cabin. If you are traveling alone, I highly recommend the suites along the windows, as they provide tremendous privacy and a closet to store belongings. Since I was traveling with my girlfriend, we selected the middle suites so that we could chat and share the experience. The suite had considerable legroom and plenty of space to stretch out. I was a little disappointed that there was not much storage room in the middle suites, as the window suites had tons of storage. The sconces in the suite were a nice touch and their traditional look made me feel like I was already in London.

My very comfortable first class seat – Photo: Colin Cook

Once airborne, the purser came around again to introduce himself and greet us by name. It was a nice touch and he spent some time with us to ask about our trip and plans while in Europe. That helped to set the mood and expectations for the flight, as his staff was thoughtful and kind throughout the flight.

The beverage selection was incredible and offered many different options. I was delighted to try Johnny Walker Blue Label scotch, which did not disappoint. My girlfriend sampled some of the champagne and sparkling rose, which was delicious as well. From there, we began our first course of salad, which had a tasty balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Dinner menu for first class – Photo: Colin Cook

For entrees, I selected the filet of beef, and Molly went with the salmon. The beef was prepared well, but I still have yet to experience a truly magnificent steak at 35,000 feet. I found it to be a bit dry, but had good flavor overall. Following our main course, dessert was offered, which was definitely the highlight of the meal. We both opted for the cheesecake, which was incredibly flavorful, and a great way to end our first meal service.

My filet of beef – Photo: Colin Cook

British Airways has their first class cabin in the front of the 747’s main deck, which helped it to feel like an exclusive experience — there are no other passengers or crew walking through. The flight attendants were attentive and our beverage glasses were never empty for long. They even let us take a quick tour of the upper deck which was a delight for Molly as well (she has quickly adapted to my AvGeek ways!).

The fantastic first class wine list – Photo: Colin Cook

Another highlight of the flight was the amenity kit. British Airways first class amenity kits are provided by Liberty of London, which is a high-end handbag store. We found the bags to be stocked with all the necessities, and also something we will use in the future. The bags were well-made, and very beautiful in color. While in London, we made a point to visit Liberty, which had many high-end bags for Molly to explore as well.

BA First Class Amenity Kit – Photo: Colin Cook

Overall, our experience was nothing short of phenomenal. I have often heard of the British Airways first class disparagingly referred to as the “world’s best business class”, which I’m not sure does it justice. Comparing it to my BA Club World (business class) experience, there was a noticeable step up in comfort and satisfaction. I can say with ease that this truly was the best flight I have ever been on, and one which will stick in my memory for years to come.

We truly received considerable bang for our buck with this award flight. While British Airways imposes hefty taxes on award reservations, it was definitely worth it for this experience. While it may not be on par with some of the other international carriers’ first class cabins (Singapore, Ethiad, Emirates, etc), British Airways’ first class thoroughly delighted. Both the hard and soft products were great, and the flight crew’s attention to detail was fantastic.

There was a window in the loo! – Photo: Colin Cook

The old guard of British Airways did not disappoint, but I was very interested to see how it would compare to my Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Dreamliner flight home. Stay tuned for part two of this story coming soon!

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Anything But Ordinary: Scandinavian Airlines’ “Next-Gen” Lounge in Oslo

If you fly often, airport lounges aren’t just an occasional treat; they’re a home away from home. However, at a lot of lounges it’s hard to do more than plonk yourself down in a chair, chow down on sugary snacks, and help yourself to free booze. Sure, sometimes that’s just what you want. But it’s not a particularly healthy way to pass the time.

To make airports a bit more livable, SAS Scandinavian Airlines has been working on a new generation of airport lounge for its passengers. We got to swing by Oslo Gardermoen Airport to explore the first of SAS’ so-called “next-gen” lounges. We found a lot of features there that were definitely out of the ordinary, like a real-deal gym, a cafe staffed with a barista, and a dining area decked out to look like mom’s kitchen. There were also some quirkier features, like a VR flight simulator and a 3D body scanner.

Read on for a photo walk-through of a lounge that’s definitely anything but ordinary!

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Arriving at Oslo Gardermoen Airport

Before heading into SAS’ updated lounge, I took a moment to appreciate how beautiful Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport is. It has a sleek, contemporary design, with wooden elements on the ceiling that make the building feel warm and welcoming.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

SAS’ next-gen lounge primarily serves domestic gates, though long-haul travelers can access it before crossing through the second round of border security. Automated gates scan your boarding pass as you enter.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Near the entrance, a large screen flashes fast facts about SAS’ operation.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The lounge has a fresh Scandinavian design, with chic lighting fixtures and tasteful wall decorations. There’s a variety of seating, like this nook reminiscent of a family room, complete with a faux fireplace that’s really mist lit from below with orange lights.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The vast majority of the lounge’s seating consists of simple tables and chairs that are close together. The design doesn’t provide much privacy, but instead goes for a more communal, café-like vibe.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Speaking of cafés, this lounge has one near the entrance. It’s staffed with a real-deal barista who made tasty cappuccinos. This place has a coffee game that’s on par with other airlines’ flagship lounges.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Cozy Kitchen, Healthy Eats

At the center of the lounge, there’s a dining area that’s been designed to feel like a kitchen, with pots hanging from the ceiling and shelves of Scandinavian groceries.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Breakfast spread – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

There were lots of healthier food options, like fruit plates if you’re just looking for a snack …

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

… and fresh greens and a tasty couscous dish for those looking for a bigger meal.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Scandinavians are big into their bread, and there were multiple types available.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

There were a couple of beers on tap, as well as two nondescript taps with generic “red wine” and “white wine” labels.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I put together a fresh, tasty plate and watched to get a sense of the crowd factor. The lounge wasn’t too crowded most of the time I was there, but every hour or two there would be a big rush of people that would make it feel pretty packed.

My First-Ever Airport Workout

The part of the lounge I was most excited to visit was definitely the gym, located at the end of a hallway lit with twinkling lights on the wall.

The fitness center has a bunch of treadmills, an exercise bike, a rowing machine, an elliptical, and lots of free weights. There are a pair of small locker rooms where you can stash your stuff at the beginning of your workout, and take a shower when you’re done. I ended up getting a pretty good workout, and a few other travelers were using the gym at the same time I was. The only thing that would have made it better was a view of the apron instead of the concourse.

The gym has a maximum capacity of eight people. Since usage is still picking up steam (I saw four people in there at the most) they just leave the door open. However, in the future they’ll probably have to implement a wait list in case more than eight people at a time want to use it.

Freshening Up

In addition to the simple gym showers, there are a set of more spacious shower suites outside the fitness center. Shower room amenities are limited to just towels and an all-purpose soap+shampoo gel.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Exploring the Technology Nook

My experience took a wackier turn when I found the technology nook, which SAS designed to showcase cutting-edge tech from partner companies.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

There’s a “make your own avatar” booth that lets you create a 3D model of yourself using a body scanner. I inputted my email address and stepped inside. There was some whirring and a set of cameras seemed like they scanned me. A few days later I was emailed a link to my 3D avatar, which looked fairly realistic. The website allows you to order a 15cm physical version of the avatar, but at 139 euro a pop I passed.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

There was a VR flight simulator, which I was excited to try. Unfortunately, someone (not a real-world pilot, I hope) had run the simulated plane into a fence. In the limited time I had I couldn’t figure out how to reset the simulation. I’d love to spend more time with it next time!

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Nearby there was a sunlight simulator, which came in handy since midwinter Norway gets barely six hours of dim sunlight a day.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

For those looking for a more conventional tech experience (ie: getting some work done on your laptop), there were a few private workrooms available.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Verdict

SAS’ next-gen lounge was a ton of fun to explore. It’s good to see the airline really thinking outside of the box and trying out new things with its lounges. Setting aside the novelty factor and grading it based only on comfort and the user experience, the lounge still does well based on food, drink, and style, though it loses a few points for lack of secluded seating and the crowd factor at peak times.

Highlights:

  • The fitness center: Having any sort of a gym in a lounge is amazing, and as gyms go this one was great for its size. I’d love to see more gyms in airports to help travelers stay active and fight off jetlag. While I was initially skeptical about how well-used an airport gym would be, this one was definitely being utilized.
  • The café: For all the things that most lounges today provide, good coffee often isn’t one of them. If you’re in a rush to get to your gate, being able to stop by a lounge for a tasty coffee or espresso drink instead of shelling out at Starbucks is a big plus.
  • Dining: Food that’s both healthy and tasty? Consider me a fan! SAS serves healthy options at its other lounges as well, so that’s not a factor that’s specific to the new Oslo lounge.
  • Showers: This is an especially big plus for a domestic lounge, and a must considering the fitness center.
  • Design and style: This is one of the better looking lounges I’ve seen. I loved the dining area’s cozy feel. The lighting is really nice as well.

All in all it’s definitely worth dropping by this place if you’re in the neighborhood. If SAS can take this “next-gen” model and add in more private seating, I think it has a winning concept on its hands that I hope it expands to the rest of its lounges.

Video walkthrough:

Bonus: SAS Café Lounges

At a few airports that are too small to get full-scale lounges, SAS has started rolling out miniature “café lounges.” They’re located close to gates and provide tea, coffee, pastries, dedicated wifi, and better seating than the general concourse. I haven’t dropped by one in person, but on paper it looks like a great concept.

A rendering of a SAS café lounge – Photo: SAS

What do you think of SAS next-gen lounge? What things would you like to see more of in airport lounges? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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More Farewell Tours Than The Who: Delta’s Endless 747 Retirement Party

Delta's Queen of the Skies took a victory lap across the country on Dec. 18.

Delta’s Queen of the Skies (N674US) took a victory lap across the country on Dec. 18

With Delta Air Lines’ last 747 now in the boneyard at Pinal Airpark in Arizona, we thought it would be a good time to look back at the next-to-last farewell tour in late December when it visited both the Boeing plant of its birth and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

N674US taxiing at Paine Field in Everett. Wash. Photo: Jordan Arens

N674US taxiing at Paine Field in Everett – Photo: Jordan Arens

This particular bird (N674US – LN: 1232) first flew on September 30, 1999 and was delivered to Northwest in October of that year. It was transferred to Delta’s fleet in June of 2009 and flew with the airline until being put out to pasture. With the retirement of these iconic planes from Delta’s fleet, no U.S.-based passenger airline flies them any longer (unless you count Atlas and their charters).

Landing at Sea-Tac.

Landing at Sea-Tac

We will still see 747s visiting the States in the liveries of quite a few international airlines, including Lufthansa, British Airways, and KLM. Also, UPS is buying several dedicated 747-8 freighters, so there are still opportunities for AvGeeks to enjoy watching the plane that launched the era of the jumbo jet. We wanted to share some photos and videos from both on the ground and in the air as part of this historic goodbye.

Still graceful after all these years. Photo: Jordan Arens

Still graceful after all these years – Photo: Jordan Arens

For a while, there were two Delta 747-400s at Sea-Tac. This one landed a few minutes before the farewell tour and was parked inside a maintenance hangar as a centerpiece for a party. It was later used to fly the Seattle Seahawks to a game someplace (we're not sportsball fans here at AirlineReporter - we only pay attention to the planes).

For a while, there were two Delta 747-400s at Sea-Tac. This one landed a few minutes before the farewell tour and was parked inside a maintenance hangar as a centerpiece for a party. It was later used to fly the Seattle Seahawks to a game someplace (we’re not all sportsball fans here at AirlineReporter – we only pay attention to the planes).

A special decal was applied to the port side of the tour aircraft to commemorate the series of flights. Photo: Jordan Arens

A special decal was applied to the port side of the tour aircraft to commemorate the series of flights – Photo: Jordan Arens



For a while, there were four 747s at Sea-Tac that day: the two Delta 744s, a Lufthansa 744, and a Singapore Airlines Cargo 744 freighter.

For a while, there were four 747s at Sea-Tac that day: the two Delta 744s, a Lufthansa 744, and a Singapore Airlines Cargo 744 freighter

And if the photos were not enough, here are some sweet videos of the flight deck, taken by our friend Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren (videos are USA Today, pool):

The post More Farewell Tours Than The Who: Delta’s Endless 747 Retirement Party appeared first on AirlineReporter.

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Taking the Long Way: Emirates A380 Business Class from London to Hong Kong via Dubai

Emigrating in style - 9K on EK016 LGW to DXB - photo: Alastair Long| AirlineReporter

Emigrating in style – 9K on EK016 LGW to DXB – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

I recently took a job in Hong Kong, swapping the grey skies of London for a life-changing experience in the fascinating Asian city. For my big life transition, I treated myself to Emirates (EK) business class and an upstairs berth in one of the carrier’s Airbus A380-800s. Taking a slightly more scenic route meant an overall journey time of roughly 16.5 hours (versus approx. 12 hours on a direct flight from the UK). That also included a 2.5 hour stopover in Dubai (DXB) en route. I decided to experience transiting the city for the first time ever, and also wanted to take advantage of their checked baggage allowance. I was not shipping possessions separately to Hong Kong. However, I mainly wanted to sit upstairs on the big bird!

Arrival at LGW - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Arrival at LGW – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Emirates business class includes a chauffeur-driven ride from anywhere to your departure airport (within reason – a 70-mile radius). My driver, George, drove me from my home in Canterbury to London Gatwick (LGW) with plenty of time to make the 13:35 flight to Dubai (DXB) and to enjoy some lunch in the EK lounge at the busiest single-runway airport in the world.

EK Cottage Pie - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

EK Cheese platter - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

We parked outside the dedicated Emirates departure point at LGW and George grabbed a trolley for my bags. I was traveling remarkably light, considering the personal significance of the journey on which I had embarked. My two pieces of checked baggage combined were well under the 40kg limit. I guess these things are relative though. Others would have done the journey with a single backpack, others with few possessions at all. I dropped my hold luggage and made my way through airside for some duty-free items and explore the lounge. I have only ever witnessed a heaving LGW whenever flying. It was a wholly pleasant experience to see it in a peaceful and sparsely populated state on a freezing Wednesday morning in bleak mid-winter.

Small tribute to the Arabian Horse - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter
Certainly quiet in the EK lounge - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter
More peace and quiet in the EK Lounge at LGW - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Emirates Business Lounge in LGW

The EK business lounge was even quieter, almost eerily so in fact. It was the calm before the maelstrom of people living in Hong Kong, and I was not complaining. A few people had seated themselves around the restaurant area, serving both a hot and cold buffet. Other travelers were spread throughout the wider seating blocks. Settling in a corner spot, I tucked into a hearty little pot of Shepherd’s Pie.

I then devoured a cheese plate and a supped a glass of red (St Emilion Grand Cru 2007) with relish. Cheese may feature less often in my diet (import costs of cheese into Hong Kong make it extortionately expensive). During lunch, I overheard a small group discuss the Ashes cricket series between England and Australia. I guessed they were en route, via DXB, to watch the matches down under. It never really occurred to me until then just how strongly EK has positioned itself to operate ultra-long-haul services connecting through its eponymous hub in the Middle East.

Photo: Emirates Airbus A380-800 | wikicommons | (c) Julian Herzog

Photo: Emirates Airbus A380-800 | wikicommons | (c) Julian Herzog

I’d recently read that by delivering interlining services through DXB, Emirates has enjoyed sustainable growth for more than 30 years. At 108 million seats flown per annum, the largest long-haul market serving the Middle East is the one connecting it to the Asia Pacific region. Much of that capacity has naturally come from the Gulf carriers (Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar — aka the ME3). Now whatever your views are on the rise of the ME3 – and I acknowledge that it can be a contentious subject – the sheer scale of growth, capacity, and product development is seriously impressive. With 102 in the fleet, Emirates Airline is the largest operator of the A380 ‘super jumbo’ in the world. Time to take my seat upstairs on board!

9K - Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

9K – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

My Emirates Business Class Flight: LGW-DXB

My temporary home for the next seven hours would be seat 9K. I proceeded to spread my personal items out with a flourish akin to Rose DeWitt Bukater hanging paintings in her cabin on Titanic (Ok, yeah, she was in first class and it was a movie). The two window storage bins were plentiful and I loved the forward shoe compartment. It literally made me wish that I’d had more shoes with me to store.

Making myself at home - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Making myself at home – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Bon voyage shoes - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Bon voyage shoes – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

It was a champagne welcome. Why not, says I. The atmosphere was relaxed and cabin crew were down to earth in their language and approach. A friend of mine greatly prefers it this way when he travels long-haul to the more formal, sometimes stiffer demeanor of certain business class soft products. I must confess that I like being called ‘Mr. Long’ or ‘sir’ from time to time. But I was excited about this trip and delighted to be here.

9K - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter
UK airspace from 9K - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

We pushed back in a timely fashion and rotating whilst sitting slightly higher up in the air frame felt smoother. That could just have been my imagination though – aerodynamic wishful thinking. Cabin crew took my cream of celeriac soup and slow-roasted chicken lunch order via her iPhone. She then brought me a glass of excellent Pinot Noir (Dundee Hills, Oregon 2014).

Celeriac soup starter - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Celeriac soup starter – photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

The soup was simple, but tasty. I wasn’t really hungry, but it would have been rude not to. The arrival of the slow roast chicken main course was well timed. A glass of Sancerre to accompany it (Les Chasseignes, Loire Valley 2015) was too. As the sun rapidly began to set, I settled down to eat and watch Alien Covenant. I never manage to choose appropriate films to match the meal service on my flights. But it was fun nonetheless.

Chicken main course - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter
Mango and raspberry torte - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Dessert was a choice of mango and raspberry torte, chocolate fudge brownie, seasonal fruit, or a cheese board. Admittedly, I’d have tried them all if possessed of the necessary bandwidth. I opted for the torte with a glass of chardonnay (Beringer Private Reserve, Napa Valley 2015). Please forgive the yellow hue (and frankly the shoddy quality of some of the photos in this article), but the mood lighting had kicked in by then.

The SkyBar - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

The SkyBar – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

An hour or so later, I checked out EK’s onboard lounge (a.k.a its Sky Bar) and observed other jet setters meeting ‘at 40,000 ft in an ambient setting.’ Those are EK’s words, not mine – what was mine though was that glass of 18-year-old Glenfiddich taking center stage in the picture! Sky Bar is indeed ambient and a quite awesome feature. I was politely ushered to one of the side benches for safety reasons, but decided to regain my seat and watch Churchill. Thereafter, the Walking Dead saw me through until we touched down in DXB in the middle of the night.

In comfort and zombies - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

In comfort and zombies – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Stopover in Dubai

Most of my article is largely devoted to the LGW-DXB sector. The reason for that is two-fold. Firstly, I slept through most of the DXB-HKG leg and, secondly, the brief interlude in the EK Lounge in DXB was nothing special. I had already been advised that the business lounge at DXB can get uncomfortably busy. And indeed it was packed. It took me ages to find a place to sit down for an hour or so. The plates of baklava and refreshments were certainly copious and divine. However, on reflection, I should probably have wandered around the vast array of shops instead.

More Arabian Horses - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

More Arabian horses – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Back on-board: DXB-HKG

However, I did snap another shot of the beautiful bronze Arabian horses found in EK lounges all over the world. Before I knew it, I had to scamper to gate B21 to complete the final part of my journey. I found seat 22D and, following an expert tip from a friend and former EK insider, grabbed an extra few mattresses to cocoon myself for the seven-hour trek to HKG.

Decent amenity kit - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Decent amenity kit – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

The EK amenity kit was comprehensively stocked for all my worldly needs. I therefore brushed my teeth and waited for us to get airborne so that I could build a nest and get some proper shut-eye. I also ordered a fulsome breakfast, which would be served an hour before landing. It didn’t take long before I’d curled up on the flat bed and drifted off.

Arrival breakfast - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Arrival breakfast – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

A few hours later, I was roused from slumber by a firm but polite tug on my arm. It was ready me for my full English breakfast and arrival into HKG. We were due to land at 2:30pm local time, but my body clock had pretty much stopped trying to work all that out by then.

Good afternoon HK - photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

Good afternoon HK – Photo: Alastair Long | AirlineReporter

The strong coffee and stronger landing into HKG certainly woke me up. I was in no rush to disembark, having plenty of time to make my way into the Asian metropolis.

Conclusion

Was it worth taking the scenic route to Hong Kong instead of a direct flight with, say, Cathay or BA? It does add several hours to the overall travel experience so may not be suitable if you are on a short visit. I wouldn’t wax lyrical about EK’s lounge in DXB either. However, EK’s product is superb. Seamless for an ultra-long-haul ‘Slow Boat to China’ style foray across the world. I’d like to test out Etihad and Qatar on similar routes, but I will certainly enjoy this Emirates experience again.

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My Thoughts: Boeing Leader Predicted Delta Airbus A321 Order – Could It Doom “New 757?”

Delta 757 on approach

A Delta 757 in the Sky Team livery on approach to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

The recent announcement by Delta Air Lines that it will be ordering 100 new Airbus A321neo jets could put a nail, or perhaps rivet, into the coffin of a 757 replacement.

I knew this Delta announcement was coming years ago when I was working for Boeing and had an insightful chat with a very high-ranking Boeing executive. The chat was not in a public forum, so I will not say who it was, but trust me – this person knew what he was talking about. He told me that he felt Delta may never by from Boeing again. He went on to talk about how Delta’s former CEO, Richard Anderson, and its current leadership, was pretty much married to the French conglomerate

Prior to Delta, Anderson made a couple of big Airbus purchases while heading Northwest Airlines. Delta’s entire A319, A320 and A330 fleet comes from Northwest. So what’s this have to do with the flirtation of a new 757?  Delta is far and above the biggest 757 user with 128 757s, a total that was boosted after the 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines. United’s the next-largest passenger carrier at 77 and American is third with 52. The aircraft is still popular in the US, but not as much overseas.

Icelandair 757's at Sea-Tac Airport

Icelandair’s specially painted 757s. The airline has 28 757s – the backbone of its trans-Atlantic flights.

There is obviously a demand and it’s not a secret. For several years, Boeing’s sales honchos liked to fuel talk of a new and improved 757. These folks talked about “studying the issue” about as much as Cleveland Browns fans talk about winning a single game. Meanwhile, Airbus is doing its best Tom Brady impression by racking up championship rings – thousands of A321 orders and deliveries. Now, Delta has just spiked the football with this big A321 order.

It’s widely known in the airplane sales industry Airbus can literally give planes away, with the carrot that the purchasing airline then remain an Airbus customer for future orders. Boeing’s strategy is to provide a quality product and charge more for it, contending their in-service performance is better than Airbus, so a more expensive plane that isn’t in the maintenance shop is ultimately better for airlines.

This A321 order goes beyond just Delta. The airline also owns 49 percent of both Virgin Atlantic and Aeromexico. It has a ten-percent equity and a board seat with Air France-KLM, 9.5 percent of Brazil-based GOL, and 3.5 percent of China Eastern. By the time this is done, Delta may try to buy part of me – but I’m not selling out unless they bring back those yummy honey-roasted peanuts! Delta’s checkbook is now a worldwide power and its influence over joint venture partners could spell even more orders for Airbus and the A321.

Delta 757

A 757 charter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, carrying football’s Minnesota Vikings

Personally, I love this plane. Ask any pilot (I often do) and they’ll say the 757 is a dream to fly, which performs better than both the 737 and A321. Sure, they’re biased, but 757 pilots I talk with say it’s the best plane Boeing has ever made. Aside from the legendary 747, the 757 is the most visually unique airplane Boeing has ever made in my view. It’s long and lean with an impressive wingspan. It’s a plane I chose to pay a little higher airfare for, just to take on my long-ago honeymoon. I’ve also flown it on a trans-Atlantic route to Berlin from Newark, and many times domestically.

Could there still be some form of new middle market Boeing airplane? Never say never. The big question for cost-cutting Boeing would be where to build it. Internally, Boeing considers Washington a “high cost” state, having cut around 20,000 jobs in the past five years. Expanding Boeing’s South Carolina or St. Louis operations won’t be quick turns.

Delta’s order shows the A321 has gobbled up the 757’s old market and Boeing might be too late. The 787-8 provides a market just beyond the 757 and the Boeing 737 MAX 9 and MAX 10 come up short with  distance and capacity. So Boeing will need firm evidence of a market that’s still out there for any new plane.

So 757 fans, enjoy it while you can. At least one consolation for “Made in the USA” supporters – newer A321s are being built in Mobile, AL – ironically not far from Delta’s Atlanta headquarters.

The post My Thoughts: Boeing Leader Predicted Delta Airbus A321 Order – Could It Doom “New 757?” appeared first on AirlineReporter.

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Emotionally Statistic: Looking Back at 2017 & the Last Decade

A cargo pallet is lowered away from the opened nose of an SIA Cargo 744F.

A cargo pallet is lowered away from the opened nose of an SIA Cargo 744F.

I know, I know… everyone and their mom does “year-end review” stories. I am adding one more. Really, this is more for me and our team to look back to see what and how we did for the year. While I am at it, I might as well share, right?

This was the first full year where I sort of half-assed it. Probably not the right word to use, but I am going with it. July 2018 will mark the 10th year I have been running this site. A decade. For many of those years we published one story per weekday, week after week. That takes quite a bit of time. Even just editing and formatting another person’s story can take hours. And all those emails — they never stop.

I was driven by passion and love of airplanes. I also was hoping to make this a full-time business. In 2016, I was given the opportunity to try to make that happen and I hated it. I started to lose the love for the site and that wasn’t cool. So, I decided to get a job that I love and turn AR back into a hobby. This was the right call — I am happier now than I have been in a long time.

We flew over 317,000 miles for 2017! Image: GCMap.com

Of course there have been consequences. We have moved from a very consistent five stories per week to one, two, maybe three. I think there was one or two weeks with zero.  I wish we could have daily content — I love reading our stories myself. However, the time commitment wasn’t sustainable, and that’s okay.

The number of stories might be down, but I don’t think we have half-assed the quality of our content. I am really proud of our stories and what we have been able to accomplish this year. I feel so grateful to have so many amazingly talented and passionate folks that have been able to share their experiences on AR.

Of course it is nicer when we write stories and people are there to read them. As expected, our traffic is down compared to previous years, but not as much as I thought. We still had over 3 million visitors to the site in 2017 and we’ve grown to over 100,000 Twitter followers. A huge thank you for sticking around with us, and hello to our new friends!

Alright, let’s move a bit away from the emotional stuff and let’s get into some stats (hey, we have something for everyone here).




I always enjoy seeing where our readers are located. We are still strong in the US, but the percentage of our readers from different countries is growing, which is pretty cool. Here are the top ten countries: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, India, Singapore, France, Netherlands, and Japan.

Breaking it down to cities, the top 10 are: New York, Boston, London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Sydney, Washington DC, and Houston. Looking at the top 50 list, you will also find Seattle area cities like Everett and Renton. I am sure it helps that a few of us are based in Seattle and we cover Boeing and Alaska Airlines quite a bit. Sadly Toulouse is #162, Mobile is #536, yet Hamburg is #50. Looks like we need to get some more Airbus readers — we love you guys too! .

An ATA American Trans L1011 Tristar 50 - Photo: Ken Fielding
The classic black nose cap on the retro livery - Photo: Lufthansa

TOP 10 READ STORIES IN 2017

Here are the most read stories in 2017, that were also written in 2017:

  1. Rare Lockheed L-1011 returns to the skies once more (JL Johnson) – never underestimate the power of the tri-holer. Especially one that is flying!
  2. Living Dream – Flying in seat 1A on a Boeing 747 (Manu Venkat) – if you don’t want to go re-read the story, at least scroll down on this story and watch the video
  3. Lucky! Flying Aer Lingus Business Class on an A330 (Jason Rabinowitz)
  4. Flying in business class, on the upper deck of a Korean Air A380 (Kevin Horn)
  5. Queen of the Skies review: Flying upstairs on the Lufthansa 747-8I (JL Johnson)
  6. Taking a VIP Polaris flight on United’s first 777-300ER (me)
  7. Drama with a Qatar Airways Boeing 747-8F delivery (me)
  8. Exploring Kansas City International’s Shuttered Terminal A (JL Johnson) – I am so happy to see this story make it on this list. Such a fun and unique angle on an airport that normally wouldn’t get the love that it deserves.
  9. Flying business class on a Singapore Airline 777-300ER (Ken Hoke)
  10. Flying salmon marks the retirement of the Alaska Airlines 737 Combi (me) – so sad that there are no more Alaska Airlines 737 Combis flying anymore

Air France's Premium Economy seats on the Airbus A380. Photo: John Nguyen | AirlineReporter
Okay. The livery doesn't look half bad in the sunset - Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren | NYCAviation.com

Mockup of how the Meridians will appear on the MAX 8 aircraft. Photo: Southwest Airlines

TOP 5 STORIES READ IN 2017, BUT NOT WRITTEN IN 2017

These stories were read the most in 2017, yet they were written before 2017. I think that makes sense…

  1. How to get a good seat on Southwest (2011) – SHOCKER. Every year, this is our most popular story.
  2. Flight review of Air France A380 in premium economy (2015)
  3. Inside different crew rest areas (2014) – So many different news outlets asked if they could use our photos for their own stories on this one.
  4. Flying China Eastern’s new 777-300ER (2016)
  5. Why do some airlines have row 13 and some do not (2009) – Wow, this is an old one and haven’t seen it in a really long time. This was the first time I felt like a big boy blogger because I reached out to many different airlines to know if they have a 13th row.

A Qatar Airways Boeing 777 in Doha
Etihad unveils their new livery on a Boeing 787-9
Allegiant retired their last 757 this year :(
A Spirit Airlines Airbus A-321 wearing the Bare Fare livery at TPA. Photo- JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

TOP 10 STORIES READ EVER!

Never done this before and not quite sure why (maybe I have and I cannot remember). My first “story” posted on July 23, 2008 and these are the most read since then. There are some familiar ones seen on the list above:

  1. How to get a good seat on Southwest (2011) – I wasn’t lying, this is always a top read story. It has 20% more views than the #2 story. Sure hope there are lots of people out there getting great seats on Southwest and if so, you are welcome!
  2. Covering the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (2014) – Never a good feeling getting traffic because of a crash.
  3. Following the crash of AirAsia flight QZ8501 (2014)
  4. Etihad economy class review (2014)
  5. How different airlines boarded (2013) – Whoa. Kinda disturbing this is so much read, it is almost five years old and horribly outdated. We should probably do a new version, huh?
  6. Inside crew rest areas (2014)
  7. Flying Allegiant for the first time (2010) – There are 163 comments on this story. Many sharing their own (not all positive) experiences.
  8. Detailing the hijacking of Ethiopian flight 702 (2014)
  9. Flying the Spirit Bare Fare for science (2016) – I love this story and it nails who we are so well. Also the most recently written story on this list. FOR SCIENCE!
  10. Comparing the Qatar Airways 777 and 787 (2013)

Elephants walk around inside the factory - Photo: The Boeing Company
Palletized freight is loaded aboard an Icelandair Cargo 757-200F at Keflavik International Airport.
Precision is the name of the game.

MY FAVORITE STORIES WRITTEN IN 2017

We don’t go writing stories trying to get traffic. We write what interests us, and luckily, most times those are the same things that interest you. Other times our stories might be too specialized or outside the airline realm too much and won’t make it on any top traffic lists. Here are some stories that I really enjoyed this year that didn’t make any top lists:

  • Crop dusting by Francis Zera: This is my favorite story on AR for 2017. That says a lot. The photos, the planes, and the people. It not only captures a passion for flying but I also learned a lot about the crop dusting business. (also, before publishing, I realized how the title of this bullet could be read in a childish manner. Heh, I am not changing it. Sorry Francis)
  • Elephants in the Boeing factory by me: I know this story is recent, but the traffic on it stinks like elephant dung. Whatever… I still think it is a cool story. Maybe the traffic will come in 2018 or maybe it will never be loved. Either way, I enjoyed writing it and learning about that darn circus!
  • Flying on a C-130 by David Lynn: I have been wanting a story like this for so long. Comparing flying military vs commercial and this story nailed it.
  • Cargo in Iceland by Francis Zera: Words? Who cares… look at those photos! Francis is amazing with the camera and did a great job covering cargo operations at Iceland’s Keflavik’s airport.
  • How low cost carriers saved my relationship by Kevin Horn: Where also are you going to see that story title like that? We love ultra low cost carriers for a number of reasons (even when they might suck), but this is such a real world example in how they can change a person’s life.

Flying off into the sunset. Or sitting at a gate during sunset.

THE 2017 CONCLUSION

I would love to make grand promises of our growth and more stories for 2018, but I can’t. It is what it is. I can tell you that we are going to continue to have a good time. Share when we have a good story and hold back when we don’t. We might try a few new things and I might become a bit more snarky in my old age. I think that is a good thing :).

Really, I want people to feel that they can share their passion for aviation on AirlineReporter. That can mean a number of different things. For many, it is just knowing there are others out there, like you, who love planes. Many of you will leave comments talking about your own stories or interact with our story. We really do love your comments and we look forward to them (even yours Cook).

Even some of you reach out asking if you can share your story on the site. I would love that. We just need people who can write well (I don’t have much time for editing), have some good photos, and brownie points if you know how to use WordPress. If interested, shoot me an email at david@airlinereporter.com with some ideas. Almost every single writer has started with an email and now we have flown over 2.1 million miles. Not going to lie, that is pretty impressive!

Cheers to all of you and hope that 2018 is going to be a great one for the airline business, AirlineReporter, and for your travels!

The post Emotionally Statistic: Looking Back at 2017 & the Last Decade appeared first on AirlineReporter.

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