The Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation – SUX it Does Not

FedEx Boeing 727 sitting outside of the museum – Photo: Aaron Giddings

Ask most airline travelers what they know of Sioux City, Iowa and, if they’ve heard of it at all, it’s likely for only one of two reasons. The first, that Sioux City was the site of the crash of United Flight 232 in 1989. The second, that the Sioux Gateway Airport has a somewhat unfortunate airport code, particularly if one’s ultimate destination is either Charlotte, North Carolina or Pensacola, Florida. However, there is much more to this sprawling complex than just a notable aviation disaster and an awkward airport designator.

Unitef Flight 232 Artifacts

Artifacts at the front of the United Flight 232 section of the museum – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Tucked away in the northeastern corner of the airport lies the Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation. AvGeeks will likely first notice the retired FedEx 727 parked outside the museum’s main building, or perhaps the EA-6A standing guard near the gate as visitors pull into a parking lot carved from a portion of the airport’s 1930’s era runways. Inside the main building, a bright yellow Monnett Moni motorglider hangs from the ceiling and presides over the gift shop, which sells a variety of aviation items, including “Fly SUX” shirts and hats.

Monnett Mini

A Monnett Mini shades the gift shop – Photo: Aaron Giddings

Past the turnstiles sits a chronicle of one middle American city’s largely unknown contributions to aviation history. In addition to an afternoon spent exploring both the museum and the airport, I had the fantastic opportunity to sit down with Larry Finley, Director of the Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation for some inside discussion about the history of the airport and the museum’s collection.

Sioux City’s aviation history dates back to the 1920s, a point that the museum works hard to chronicle. In the 1920s, Kari-Keen airplanes took to the skies of Sioux City, as a company that got started building storage boxes for early cars went into the airplane building business. By 1940, five different airlines were making regular visits to Sioux City, just in time for World War II to cause a massive building boom and create the footprint of the airport that now goes by SUX.

Kari-Keen Display

A brief history of Sioux City’s own aircraft manufacturer, Kari-Keen Manufacturing – Photo: Aaron Giddings

As the European theatre demanded ever more men and aircraft, Sioux City became the site of one of the Army Air Corp’s bomber crew integration training centers. For four to eight weeks, crews would meet here from the various specialist schools all around the country to form into a single, cohesive unit. The Sioux City airport expanded to 10x the size, going from a 200-acre local hub to a sprawling 2000-acre facility that trained B-17 crews at first, then B-24 crews in 1943, and finally B-29 crews by the end of the war.

SUX History - Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart and his crew did their integration training here – Photo: Aaron Giddings

LINK Trainer Interior

The WWII section also includes a mostly restored LINK Trainer – Photo: Aaron Giddings

SUX History - Bomber Squadrons

The museum has a neat pictorial of the different bomber squadrons that came through here – Photo: Aaron Giddings

In 1946, the Iowa Air National Guard formed, originally meeting in one of the airport’s old B-29 hangers. Throughout the rest of the twentieth century, the 174th Fighter Squadron flew a variety of aircraft, beginning with P-51D Mustangs, then F-80C Shooting Stars, F-84E Thunderstreaks, F-100C Super Sabres, A-7D Corsair IIs, and finally F-16 Fighting Falcons in 1991. During the same year that the unit began receiving their first Vipers, the genesis of the museum was formed.

Originally it was just a single building, barely outside the secure fence on the military side of the airport. When post-9/11 security restrictions made that location unusable, the museum’s collected artifacts were put into storage while a suitable building could be found. The new site, safely located as far from the military section as possible, opened in 2010, sadly without the bulk of the previously stored artifacts. A pair of fires had served to demolish the majority of what had gone into storage.

What has been reassembled in the new building, however, is well worth viewing. Along with the papers and other artifacts chronicling the airport’s history are a number of restored, drivable vehicles, a few operating aircraft, and some well-cared-for static displays. One particular highlight is a 1971 Chevy Camaro owned by a Sioux City local. Rebuilt and restored after three severely damaging events, the Camaro still gets taken out and run at least once a month.

1971 Camaro

Locally owned, rebuilt three times, runs like a dream – Photo: Aaron Giddings

Another great sight is a mostly restored Vietnam era UH-1 Huey. Originally delivered to the museum courtesy of an Army training exercise (not the only resident to arrive that way either), their UH-1 was in pretty rough shape when it arrived. Years of volunteer work by a retired Army mechanic have paid off though, as she looks practically ready to take flight once again, if the museum could source an engine and if the Army would allow it. Barring that, perhaps a very large rubber band could… never mind, no one would ever believe that would work.

UH-1B Huey

The museum’s lovingly restored UH-1B

The museum also contains a section devoted to the crash of United Flight 232. The section is dominated at the top by a 1/12th scale DC-10 model that was originally used in trade shows. Along one wall is a timeline of the flight’s events, along with photos and other artifacts from the crash, while the back wall contains the only mural recording all the passengers and crew on the flight who lost their lives in the crash. In addition, a video containing multiple news sources has been pieced together to give an excellent explanation of the events that day, and explains how Sioux City’s past preparations helped reduce fatalities that day.

Sitting in one of the repurposed First Class seats that make up the video viewing area, it’s difficult to not be touched by the video of that crash. Watching that footage again, at first glance it’s amazing that anyone walked away from that event, much less a majority of the passengers and crew.

United Flight 232

A preserved sign marks entry to the Flight 232 section – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

United 232 Timeline

The accident timeline takes up one wall – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Movie Seating

Sit down and learn a few things – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Stepping outside the museum’s doors gives visitors a chance to walk to the small Flight 232 memorial located at the initial impact site. Though some of the cornfields have been replaced by a FedEx loading station now, much of the surrounding area is still farmland. It was quiet the day I visited, with the sounds of crickets and birdsongs being interrupted only by the distant roar of aircraft departures. But being outside after seeing the event records inside made it easy to orient where events happened, and visualize the chaos of the day.

Flight 232 Memorial

The appropriately understated United Flight 232 memorial spot – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Three large aircraft are also parked outside the museum. “Miss Daisy”, the retired FedEx 727, is clearly the jewel of the group. When the passenger side of the airport modernized their jetways, the museum was able to acquire one of the ones being replaced, and set it up as a connection from the interior of the building to the inside of the aircraft. While not finished yet, plans are underway to turn the interior of the aircraft into a learning center, complete with a theater, library, and individual learning stations.

The cockpit will remain intact, as will a section of passenger seating. At the time of this writing the museum was in the process of getting the A/C units restored. Then comes electrical, plumbing for heat, and insulation. It’s a lengthy process. For the time being, the rear airstair is down, allowing visitors with a bit of imagination to stand at the door and imagine D.B Cooper’s view of the world before his infamous jump.

Step right up. Or down. – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

The next aircraft on the line is a C-123 transport, which, like the 727, had Sioux City as its final flight destination. A retired freight hauler, the faded interior, canvas jump seats, and intact static lines hint at stories the airframe will never tell to an outsider.

Fairchild C-123K Provider

Fairchild C-123K Provider – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

C-123 interior. Hauntingly quiet. – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Finally, the biggest oddity of the bunch, a bulbous-nosed, twin-boom, freighter with four narrow turboprops sprouting from its high wings, and faded RAF roundels and British registration letters on its weather-beaten paint. One of only seven Armstrong-Whitworth AW.660 Argosy airframes in the world (out of an original production run of seventy-four), this aircraft is one of the two viewable in North America (with the other serving to train mechanics at Fox Field in California). It came to its final resting place by way of New Zealand, Minnesota, and Lincoln, Nebraska. The museum plans ultimately to clean out the interior, which is full of discarded airline seats and other detritus, and restore the exterior to RAF colors.

Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy

Ex-RAF Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Beyond the gates of the museum, old ghosts of Sioux Gateway Airport’s past can be found in a few places on the grounds. Of the hundred-plus buildings built during the airport’s days as a training base, three remain. One is a large hangar, originally used to service B-17s, that now serves as the headquarters for 1 Vision Aviation, an aircraft Maintenance Repair Operation. Another is the original chapel, still in use by a local church. The third was originally a parachute repacking building, now converted to a private gun club used by members of the co-located ANG unit.

Sioux City Airport Chapel

The base chapel, still home to a local church – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Ironically, it’s far easier to visit Sioux City airport by car than by air, unless one has access to a private plane. Only American Airlines (actually Envoy Air operating as American in a feeder capacity) currently services the commercial airport side, with three daily flights – two to Chicago/O’Hare, and one to Dallas/Fort Worth. These are almost exclusively on Envoy’s Embraer ERJ145 aircraft. Given the load factors generally associated with Sioux City, it seems unlikely that these will be replaced by Envoy’s newer E175s anytime soon.












Sioux City’s location along the Interstate 29 corridor two hours north of Omaha makes it an easy drive, and the museum, along with some of the other interesting places in the city itself (be sure to visit Palmer Candy!) make it well worth a day trip. I know I’ll be planning a return trip next spring when the sun is out, the snow has melted, and the open road is calling to my Harley.

The post The Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation – SUX it Does Not appeared first on AirlineReporter.

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The Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation – SUX it Does Not

FedEx Boeing 727 sitting outside of the museum – Photo: Aaron Giddings

Ask most airline travelers what they know of Sioux City, Iowa and, if they’ve heard of it at all, it’s likely for only one of two reasons. The first, that Sioux City was the site of the crash of United Flight 232 in 1989. The second, that the Sioux Gateway Airport has a somewhat unfortunate airport code, particularly if one’s ultimate destination is either Charlotte, North Carolina or Pensacola, Florida. However, there is much more to this sprawling complex than just a notable aviation disaster and an awkward airport designator.

Unitef Flight 232 Artifacts

Artifacts at the front of the United Flight 232 section of the museum – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Tucked away in the northeastern corner of the airport lies the Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation. AvGeeks will likely first notice the retired FedEx 727 parked outside the museum’s main building, or perhaps the EA-6A standing guard near the gate as visitors pull into a parking lot carved from a portion of the airport’s 1930’s era runways. Inside the main building, a bright yellow Monnett Moni motorglider hangs from the ceiling and presides over the gift shop, which sells a variety of aviation items, including “Fly SUX” shirts and hats.

Monnett Mini

A Monnett Mini shades the gift shop – Photo: Aaron Giddings

Past the turnstiles sits a chronicle of one middle American city’s largely unknown contributions to aviation history. In addition to an afternoon spent exploring both the museum and the airport, I had the fantastic opportunity to sit down with Larry Finley, Director of the Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation for some inside discussion about the history of the airport and the museum’s collection.

Sioux City’s aviation history dates back to the 1920s, a point that the museum works hard to chronicle. In the 1920s, Kari-Keen airplanes took to the skies of Sioux City, as a company that got started building storage boxes for early cars went into the airplane building business. By 1940, five different airlines were making regular visits to Sioux City, just in time for World War II to cause a massive building boom and create the footprint of the airport that now goes by SUX.

Kari-Keen Display

A brief history of Sioux City’s own aircraft manufacturer, Kari-Keen Manufacturing – Photo: Aaron Giddings

As the European theatre demanded ever more men and aircraft, Sioux City became the site of one of the Army Air Corp’s bomber crew integration training centers. For four to eight weeks, crews would meet here from the various specialist schools all around the country to form into a single, cohesive unit. The Sioux City airport expanded to 10x the size, going from a 200-acre local hub to a sprawling 2000-acre facility that trained B-17 crews at first, then B-24 crews in 1943, and finally B-29 crews by the end of the war.

SUX History - Jimmy Stewart

Jimmy Stewart and his crew did their integration training here – Photo: Aaron Giddings

LINK Trainer Interior

The WWII section also includes a mostly restored LINK Trainer – Photo: Aaron Giddings

SUX History - Bomber Squadrons

The museum has a neat pictorial of the different bomber squadrons that came through here – Photo: Aaron Giddings

In 1946, the Iowa Air National Guard formed, originally meeting in one of the airport’s old B-29 hangers. Throughout the rest of the twentieth century, the 174th Fighter Squadron flew a variety of aircraft, beginning with P-51D Mustangs, then F-80C Shooting Stars, F-84E Thunderstreaks, F-100C Super Sabres, A-7D Corsair IIs, and finally F-16 Fighting Falcons in 1991. During the same year that the unit began receiving their first Vipers, the genesis of the museum was formed.

Originally it was just a single building, barely outside the secure fence on the military side of the airport. When post-9/11 security restrictions made that location unusable, the museum’s collected artifacts were put into storage while a suitable building could be found. The new site, safely located as far from the military section as possible, opened in 2010, sadly without the bulk of the previously stored artifacts. A pair of fires had served to demolish the majority of what had gone into storage.

What has been reassembled in the new building, however, is well worth viewing. Along with the papers and other artifacts chronicling the airport’s history are a number of restored, drivable vehicles, a few operating aircraft, and some well-cared-for static displays. One particular highlight is a 1971 Chevy Camaro owned by a Sioux City local. Rebuilt and restored after three severely damaging events, the Camaro still gets taken out and run at least once a month.

1971 Camaro

Locally owned, rebuilt three times, runs like a dream – Photo: Aaron Giddings

Another great sight is a mostly restored Vietnam era UH-1 Huey. Originally delivered to the museum courtesy of an Army training exercise (not the only resident to arrive that way either), their UH-1 was in pretty rough shape when it arrived. Years of volunteer work by a retired Army mechanic have paid off though, as she looks practically ready to take flight once again, if the museum could source an engine and if the Army would allow it. Barring that, perhaps a very large rubber band could… never mind, no one would ever believe that would work.

UH-1B Huey

The museum’s lovingly restored UH-1B

The museum also contains a section devoted to the crash of United Flight 232. The section is dominated at the top by a 1/12th scale DC-10 model that was originally used in trade shows. Along one wall is a timeline of the flight’s events, along with photos and other artifacts from the crash, while the back wall contains the only mural recording all the passengers and crew on the flight who lost their lives in the crash. In addition, a video containing multiple news sources has been pieced together to give an excellent explanation of the events that day, and explains how Sioux City’s past preparations helped reduce fatalities that day.

Sitting in one of the repurposed First Class seats that make up the video viewing area, it’s difficult to not be touched by the video of that crash. Watching that footage again, at first glance it’s amazing that anyone walked away from that event, much less a majority of the passengers and crew.

United Flight 232

A preserved sign marks entry to the Flight 232 section – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

United 232 Timeline

The accident timeline takes up one wall – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Movie Seating

Sit down and learn a few things – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Stepping outside the museum’s doors gives visitors a chance to walk to the small Flight 232 memorial located at the initial impact site. Though some of the cornfields have been replaced by a FedEx loading station now, much of the surrounding area is still farmland. It was quiet the day I visited, with the sounds of crickets and birdsongs being interrupted only by the distant roar of aircraft departures. But being outside after seeing the event records inside made it easy to orient where events happened, and visualize the chaos of the day.

Flight 232 Memorial

The appropriately understated United Flight 232 memorial spot – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Three large aircraft are also parked outside the museum. “Miss Daisy”, the retired FedEx 727, is clearly the jewel of the group. When the passenger side of the airport modernized their jetways, the museum was able to acquire one of the ones being replaced, and set it up as a connection from the interior of the building to the inside of the aircraft. While not finished yet, plans are underway to turn the interior of the aircraft into a learning center, complete with a theater, library, and individual learning stations.

The cockpit will remain intact, as will a section of passenger seating. At the time of this writing the museum was in the process of getting the A/C units restored. Then comes electrical, plumbing for heat, and insulation. It’s a lengthy process. For the time being, the rear airstair is down, allowing visitors with a bit of imagination to stand at the door and imagine D.B Cooper’s view of the world before his infamous jump.

Step right up. Or down. – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

The next aircraft on the line is a C-123 transport, which, like the 727, had Sioux City as its final flight destination. A retired freight hauler, the faded interior, canvas jump seats, and intact static lines hint at stories the airframe will never tell to an outsider.

Fairchild C-123K Provider

Fairchild C-123K Provider – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

C-123 interior. Hauntingly quiet. – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Finally, the biggest oddity of the bunch, a bulbous-nosed, twin-boom, freighter with four narrow turboprops sprouting from its high wings, and faded RAF roundels and British registration letters on its weather-beaten paint. One of only seven Armstrong-Whitworth AW.660 Argosy airframes in the world (out of an original production run of seventy-four), this aircraft is one of the two viewable in North America (with the other serving to train mechanics at Fox Field in California). It came to its final resting place by way of New Zealand, Minnesota, and Lincoln, Nebraska. The museum plans ultimately to clean out the interior, which is full of discarded airline seats and other detritus, and restore the exterior to RAF colors.

Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy

Ex-RAF Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosy – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Beyond the gates of the museum, old ghosts of Sioux Gateway Airport’s past can be found in a few places on the grounds. Of the hundred-plus buildings built during the airport’s days as a training base, three remain. One is a large hangar, originally used to service B-17s, that now serves as the headquarters for 1 Vision Aviation, an aircraft Maintenance Repair Operation. Another is the original chapel, still in use by a local church. The third was originally a parachute repacking building, now converted to a private gun club used by members of the co-located ANG unit.

Sioux City Airport Chapel

The base chapel, still home to a local church – Photo: Aaron Giddings, Sr.

Ironically, it’s far easier to visit Sioux City airport by car than by air, unless one has access to a private plane. Only American Airlines (actually Envoy Air operating as American in a feeder capacity) currently services the commercial airport side, with three daily flights – two to Chicago/O’Hare, and one to Dallas/Fort Worth. These are almost exclusively on Envoy’s Embraer ERJ145 aircraft. Given the load factors generally associated with Sioux City, it seems unlikely that these will be replaced by Envoy’s newer E175s anytime soon.












Sioux City’s location along the Interstate 29 corridor two hours north of Omaha makes it an easy drive, and the museum, along with some of the other interesting places in the city itself (be sure to visit Palmer Candy!) make it well worth a day trip. I know I’ll be planning a return trip next spring when the sun is out, the snow has melted, and the open road is calling to my Harley.

The post The Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation – SUX it Does Not appeared first on AirlineReporter.

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Air Canada’s Signature Suite Reflects the Airline’s Lofty Ambitions

The entrance to Air Canada’s Signature Suite – Photo: Air Canada

Air Canada’s Signature Suite, its newest lounge at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), officially opened on December 1.  The Signature Suite creates an environment that makes it easy to forget you’re in an airport. Those eligible to access the lounge can receive complimentary beer, wine, champagne and signature cocktails. Complimentary food will also be available; passengers will be able to dine a la carte from a menu created by Vancouver-based celebrity chef David Hawksworth.

Prior to its opening, Air Canada spared no expense as it invited select media to preview its newest premium creation. Read more to learn about the experience inside the Signature Suite.

I arrived at T1, Air Canada’s main terminal, and was met by event staff to be checked-in. Since I was not flying that evening, I required an escort after passing through security. The first security officer escorted me to a departure point where I was driven by Air Canada’s chauffeur service between the domestic and international gates.

Air Canada offered media members its chauffeur service to transfer us from the domestic gates to the international gates at T1, where the new Signature Suite lounge is located – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

The driver made their way around the terminal building, giving great ground-level views of the various planes in Air Canada’s fleet. When we got to the international gates, I was escorted up to Air Canada’s Signature Suite.

After passing through the entrance and checking my coat, I immediately forgot that I was in an airport. The walls had overhangs to distract from the vaunted terminal ceiling. A chandelier in the middle of the central room kept my focus inside the lounge. There were also various areas that surrounded the main room, where the bar was.

This Cloudscape Chandelier by Toronto design firm Moss & Lam helps you forget you’re in an airport terminal. However, if you do look up, it casts interesting shadows on the ceiling – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

This is part of the dining room behind the bar in the Signature Suite. The picture on the wall, of Picadilly Circus, is by Montreal artist Nicolas Ruel. – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

A sliding glass door with bronze inlays of maple leaves blowing in the wind. This helps passengers who may need or want an extra bit of privacy. – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

After wandering around and checking out the various rooms, it was time for a drink. Passengers in the Signature Suite will have their choices of complimentary beverages. These include 10 different beers on tap, including a rotating craft beer.  You can also choose a glass of wine from Canada’s Niagara region, or champagne. Signature cocktails are another offering, and for my first drink I chose the BlackBerry Royal.

Canadian Rye and maple syrup combine with vanilla and muddled blackberries for an exclusive treat. Pictured is the artist who created this drink, Alfreda Addy. – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

With my drink in hand, I ambled over to a table and started talking with some of the people involved with creating this lounge. First up was Chad Clark, operations director with the Hawksworth Restaurant Group. Based in Vancouver, celebrity chef David Hawksworth worked with Air Canada to design the menu for the lounge. For this event, the menu items were arranged buffet style for us to sample (my recommendation: the split pea falafel).

The full menu was displayed buffet style for the event. Per Andrew Macfarlane, the buffet will feature grab-and-go items for passengers who don’t have much time. Those with longer layovers can order complimentary food from the a la carte menu. – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

Clark mentioned how they wanted to showcase not only Canadian fare, but also Asian-inspired options for travelers to or from destinations in the Far East. At this time a server offering hors d’oeuvres came by and handed me a sample of Korean fried cauliflower.

Korean fried cauliflower, one of the many hors d’oeuvres that will be offered to passengers – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

After I finished my food and conversation with Clark, next up was Gavin Lynch. Hailing from Ottawa, Lynch was the creative genius behind the mural on one of the Signature Suite’s walls. The mural is of a winter scene in a pine forest. However, Lynch threw a creative curveball into his work. Rather than painting branches with green pine needles, he instead used other colors to represent the branches and pine needles. Lynch stated that it took him over six weeks to paint the mural.

Gavin Lynch’s mural on one of the walls of Air Canada’s Signature Suite – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

Once Lynch had moved on to talk to others, it was time to order my second drink. This time I had the Muskoka Maple. This drink has Bulleit bourbon, maple simple syrup, fresh pressed lemon juice, ginger ale. It was garnished with a lemon wedge and a sprig of thyme.

Mukoska Maple – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

As I was sipping on my drink, Air Canada Airport Product Design Manager Andrew Macfarlane walked by and I was able to sit and talk with him about the lounge.

“Air Canada’s goal is to become a top-ten global carrier,” Macfarlane stated. “When you look at those top ten global carriers, those are the Cathay Pacifics and Emirates of the world, and we benchmark ourselves against them. We ask ourselves what does a business class customer desire. What do we need to do elevate that customer experience?”

This room off to the side provides a quieter place to work or relax. The consoles all have power outlets to charge your devices – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

He went on to mention that Cathay Pacific has five different tiers of lounges and that was the inspiration for Air Canada’s Signature Suite. “What you will find here and what you are seeing here tonight is a full service, five-star-restaurant dining experience. All our staff is very attentive to a customer’s needs and wants, but as well as to notice the fine details. Some of those fine details might be if a lady orders a cocktail, and she has lipstick on, they are to also offer a straw. Or if you drop your servlet they are to offer you a clean one even before you know you dropped it.”

I then asked about showers, as I noticed there were none in the bathroom area. Macfarlane explained that those desiring a shower will be escorted to a shower area, and if it was full they would be placed on a list and escorted when their name was called.

The bathroom area consists of several individual water closets. For those wanting a shower, a lounge worker will escort that passenger to a different area. – Photo: Jonathan Trent-Carlson

Macfarlane added that in Air Canada’s quest to become a “top ten” global carrier, they are using strategic advantages to capture additional market share. Nearly everyone in the U.S. flying to Europe or Asia is going to fly over Canada, and Air Canada’s Toronto hub is centrally positioned for many of those flights. The hub features U.S. Customs pre-clearance, so passengers continuing on to the U.S. from an international flight from Asia or Europe can clear customs and their flight to their destination will be considered a domestic flight. The biggest secret, that the airline wants to make known, is that you don’t have to recheck your bags to your final destination, like you would if you were passing through JFK or Atlanta. These competitive advantages are why the airline is aggressively expanding into the U.S., in order to capture more market share.

An Air Canada Boeing 787-8 - Photo: Caribb | Flickr CC

An Air Canada Boeing 787-8 – Photo: Caribb | Flickr CC

So who can access this lounge? “This is strictly Air Canada, mainline Air Canada paid business class passengers,” said Macfarlane. So if you would like to visit Air Canada’s newest lounge, you will need to buy a business class ticket to an international destination beyond the North American mainland. Your status, flying on a partner airline, securing a ticket with points/miles, or being upgraded will not get you into the Signature Suite, though you will still be able to access Air Canada’s Maple Leaf lounges.

After I finished talking to Macfarlane, I got up from my seat and mingled with some new friends I had met earlier that evening. I then took one last look around before being escorted to a BMW (Air Canada partners with BMW) that was waiting to return me to the hotel.

Air Canada’s Signature Suite achieves what few airline lounges can do, in that it makes you forget that you are in an airport and you feel more like you’re in a five star restaurant. The fact that it is exclusively for paid business class passengers on long-haul Air Canada flights should help to prevent it from feeling chaotic like other lounges can at times. If I were forced to pick only one lounge to visit for the rest of my life, I would probably pick this one.

Note: Air Canada provide travel and accommodations in order to cover this story, but all opinions are our own. 

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Behind the scenes with an agricultural pilot. “It’s just good, fun flying.”

These guys know how to fly.

These guys know how to fly

Agriculture (ag) aviation is not the swashbuckling, seat-of-the-pants occupation that popular culture led me to expect. Sure, it’s definitely all about daring flying, but it’s also gone all high-tech, making use of 3-D obstacle mapping, computer-controlled spray nozzles, and precisely-defined GPS flight paths across the fields.

“I’m not just drilling holes in the sky going from point A to point B – I’m helping out, it’s a gratifying feeling,” said Gavin Morse, co-owner of GEM Air, an aerial spraying company based in Warden, Wash.

A GEM Air Air Tractor 602 in action, spraying a field in central Washington state.

A GEM Air Air Tractor 602 in action, spraying a field in central Washington state

Morse said the term ‘crop duster’ is freighted with assumptions based on behaviors from a bygone era. He prefers to use either ‘ag aviation’ or ‘aerial spraying’ when referring to his line of work.

“People think of ag aviation as being a little crazy or a little wild, but that’s just not the case – the average aerial applicator is highly trained even before they’re flying,” Morse said. Pilots spend a long time, sometimes years, as loaders, mixing and loading the chemicals into the planes, along with helping to maintain the aircraft, and, of course, training to fly them.

 

"From the ground perspective, it may look like we’re being crazy, but I tell you everything is preplanned with GPS, even shape-planned, and fields are pre-scouted to make sure there are no surprises before we send the airplane out," Morse said.

“From the ground perspective, it may look like we’re being crazy, but I tell you everything is preplanned with GPS, even shape-planned, and fields are pre-scouted to make sure there are no surprises before we send the airplane out,” Morse said.

The aircraft are turbine powered, and their small cabins are pressurized to keep the chemical spray out of the cockpit. The Air Tractor 602s that GEM Air flies can hold up to 630 gallons of chemicals, have a maximum speed of 198 mph, and can cruise at 150 mph for 600 miles. They’re serious airplanes.

“Back in the day, these planes cost $10,000, liability was low, and guys were crazy. Anymore, with the way liability is and the way crop insurance is and the accountability for pesticides, going hand in hand with the cost of the airplanes — $1.3 million — you just don’t go out and do crazy stuff in a million-dollar airplane.”

Morse said the flying changes throughout the year as crops are planted, then mature, are harvested, and fields are prepared for fresh plantings.

Pilots and loaders go over the day's schedule prior to heading to the hangars.

Pilots and loaders go over the day’s schedule prior to heading to the hangars

Morse and his wife Erin Morse make work packets the night before for the pilots and loaders for the next day’s work, saying it’s essential to have everything organized in advance.

“We’re flying off of four different airstrips – it can be a bit of a logistical headache,” he said.

"We follow the sun and start at 4:00 in the morning in the summer," Morse said.

“We follow the sun and start at 4:00 in the morning in the summer,” Morse said.

“Everybody gets their packets, goes to their respective locations, meets their loaders, and tries to get as much done as possible until the weather changes or the wind shifts, because we need to work with the wind so things don’t drift,” he said.

Erin Morse watches as Gavin Morse, her husband and business partner, lines up on a field to start spraying.

Erin Morse watches as Gavin Morse, her husband and business partner, lines up on a field to start spraying

When applying chemicals, be they pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, whether they’re organic or traditional, it’s essential to keep the spray within the bounds of the assigned field.

“We can’t do anything that’s going to get us sued, which is a real possibility if we’re not paying attention to the laws and agencies,” he said. “The Washington Department of Agriculture, the FAA, the EPA — there’s umpteen agencies watching us, so every move we make is based on a methodical, laid out plan on how to spray that field,” Gavin Morse said.

Flying low over the crops helps reduce the drift of the spray. And it's very cool to watch.

Flying low over the crops helps reduce the drift of the spray. And it’s very cool to watch.

Which leads to his least favorite part of the job – the ever-present knowledge that one small misstep can lead to a lot of harm.

For example, Morse said that “if you’re spraying and are not paying attention to what’s going on behind your airplane, and you drift over someone else’s field, you can wipe that crop out — it can get really messy really quick.”

Morse said he likes to write each day's spray plan on the cockpit window with a grease pencil.

Morse said he likes to write each day’s spray plan on the cockpit window with a grease pencil.

He said the stress of making sure things like that don’t happen is enormous, so being methodical is essential, even if it means waiting two weeks or more for the winds to be just right for a particular spraying application.

“It’s amazing how many applications are made in the state that are perfect — it’s incredible to me how good everyone is — every single crop out there is getting sprayed, whether it’s organic or conventional, and it has to be done right, and it’s amazing to me how few problems there are,” he said.

Beyond having excellent flying skills and an intimate knowledge of the land over which they fly, ag pilots also need to have a solid understanding of the local farming practices and chemicals they’re applying. “That’s almost 90 percent of the job,” he said.

"The biggest thing is how to control the spray behind you so that all your chemicals stay in the field, and there's a lot of tech in the cockpit to help us do that — the nozzle tech we have now is phenomenal," Morse said.

“The biggest thing is how to control the spray behind you so that all your chemicals stay in the field, and there’s a lot of tech in the cockpit to help us do that — the nozzle tech we have now is phenomenal,” Morse said.

Those careful plans also equate with efficiency. “We’re fast, we’re burning less fuel, and we’re not touching the crops and spreading diseases or compacting the soil like a tractor would,” he said.

Ag pilots also get paid by the acre, not by the flight hour. “So, if the money handle (that’s what we call the spray handle) isn’t on, we’re not making any money,” he said.

Morse pilots his plane over irrigation equipment in a central Washington field.

Morse pilots his plane over irrigation equipment in a central Washington field

“The thing I love the most about it is at the end of the day I can look around and see that I’ve done something tangible. Some of these crops actually require an airplane, like potatoes, where you can’t drive over them after a certain point without ruining the tubes. We can do 2,500 or 3,000 acres of potatoes in a day — we’re helping make sure that food is going to get somewhere and do someone some good,” he said.

Precision is the name of the game to make sure that the chemicals are being applied properly and don't drift onto adjacent fields.

Precision is the name of the game to make sure that the chemicals are being applied properly and don’t drift onto adjacent fields

Morse said that what he loves most about this job is that the planes are fun to fly. “You’re actually flying the airplane; there’s nothing controlling the plane but me, it’s just stick and rudder, tried-and-true old-fashioned flying.”

"We’re down low, we’re going quick, we're going around obstacles, it’s just good fun flying," Morse said.

“We’re down low, we’re going quick, we’re going around obstacles, it’s just good fun flying,” Morse said

Watching all this from the ground, and learning about what it takes to be an ag pilot, filled me with admiration for these folks. My chief lament was that Morse’s planes are all single-seaters so none had room for a passenger.

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Hola Mexico City — Aeromexico Starts Service Between MEX-SEA

The inaugural flight from Mexico City arrived in Seattle to a traditional water-turret salute.

The inaugural flight from Mexico City arrived in Seattle to a traditional water-cannon salute

On Wednesday, November 1 at 7:57 p.m., the inaugural Aeroméxico flight from Mexico City to Seattle touched down eight minutes ahead of schedule. After a brief taxi, the Boeing 737-800 lined up for the traditional water cannon salute, courtesy of the Port of Seattle Fire Department.

An Aeromexico 737-800. Photo by <a href="http://ift.tt/2AuathJ Maloney</a> is licensed under <a href="http://ift.tt/1lz6V0V BY-SA 2.0</a>.

An Aeromexico 737-800 – Photo: Eddie Maloney is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

“Seattle was the largest North American market without nonstop service to Mexico City,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner Stephanie Bowman. “Mexico City is an important gateway to Mexico and Latin America, and Sea-Tac provides numerous regional connections to cities throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

Consul of Mexico Dr. Roberto Dondisch gets his picture taken by the media attaché as Aeroméxico’s inaugural flight taxis past

Aeromexico is the sixth new international carrier to inaugurate service at Sea-Tac in the last 18 months. Mexico City is now the airport’s 25th nonstop international destination.

Roberto Dondisch, Mexico’s Consul General in Seattle, is interviewed by local media inside the terminal.

Roberto Dondisch, Mexico’s Consul General in Seattle, is interviewed by local media inside the terminal

Dondisch said there will be benefits for businesses on both sides of the border. “Having a direct flight between one of the most important tech hubs in the world right now, which is Seattle, and one of the most innovating cities in the world, which is Mexico City, will simply allow us to strengthen those dimensions to allow business people to travel more, be more directly engaged in getting businesses from Mexico and from Washington state and Seattle on a stronger footing, and to find new opportunities to grow trade and to grow investments.”

There were no festivities at the gate; just a few balloons at code-share partner Delta’s check-in counter marked the service launch. Sometimes, airlines are all business.

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Mixed Emotions Flying on the Final United 747 Flight

The last United Boeing 747 sitting at SFO

The last United Boeing 747 sitting at SFO – registration N118UA

It is okay to get emotional over an airplane. That is what I kept telling myself anyhow as I experienced United’s final 747 flight recently. I was sad that this was going to be a huge milestone for the retirement of Boeing 747 passenger service. I was also happy and excited to be a part of this historic event. Turns out I was going to be able to experience a few firsts and quite a few lasts on my journey. This was to be my first time flying on a United 747 and this was also going to be my first time flying backwards.




At one point I was asked something along the lines of, “There is one other U.S. airline (Delta) that is still flying the aircraft, not to mention British Airways and others. Why is this such a big deal?” At first, I almost felt insulted, but then I realized that from a non-AvGeek perspective, why make a big deal about this plane, with this airline?

First off, I think it is like visiting a really good friend or family member you don’t get to see very often and it is hard to say goodbye. You start out saying “well, I guess I better get going,” and three hours later you aren’t quite out the door yet and still sharing stories of good times before finally parting ways. This was the first goodbye stage between me and the 747.

My Boeing 757-300 at Seattle - Photo: David Parker Brown

My super long Boeing 757-300 at Seattle – Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

My trip started very early in order to catch my 5:00am flight from Seattle to San Francisco. I had a Boeing 757-300 at the gate and I love that aircraft. Not only because it is a bit of cool and awkward (being so long), but with that much capacity, it was just 50% full, so I ended up with my own row. This turned out to be my only United flight over the next two days that would depart with no issues, and on time.



I arrived to SFO about an hour before the gate party started. I went to get some food and walked around before heading back to the gate to see some familiar faces. I feel like a broken record saying this in so many of my stories, but these sorts of events are so great because of the people. After doing this gig for almost a decade, I start to see the same faces at these events and it is great to catch up. Then I get to meet new people (including some of you readers), and talk about airplanes. What’s not to love?




There were a variety of visuals at the gate to take pictures with and even eat. So I was glad that I got there early, as the gate area filled up quickly. Passengers ranged from media to those who used miles, won an auction, or bought legit tickets during the very short time tickets for this flight were actually for sale.



It was a good group and many were dressed up in either Hawaiian or 70s-themed dress. Normally I am down, but with my SEA-SFO-HNL-SFO-SEA trip over a 27-hour period, I just sort of wanted to be in normal clothes. However, at this point I wish I would have gone more with “you only live once.”



Soon it was time to board our Boeing 747-400. This was the last 747 in United’s fleet and held the registration N118UA. It was built in 1999 and flew only for United during its entire career. It really didn’t feel that old, and the 757 I flew to SFO seemed in worse shape.

The energy was amazing as people got on board, chatted, and started to settle in. I was in seat 6D, which was in the center section, on the aisle, and facing backwards. Sitting in the inside section made looking out the windows difficult, but it did allow me to watch all the people watching outside, which is its own sort of special.


As we were almost lined up for takeoff, we were told we would have a delay. Turns out one of the three air conditioning packs were bad and we needed to be towed to the hangar. I was actually pretty excited. I had never been towed on a plane into a maintenance hangar and I had an eight hour layover in Honolulu, so I had time. The good/bad news was they were able to get it resolved while still on the taxiway and we lifted off just a bit behind schedule.

I wasn’t sure what to expect sitting backwards during takeoff, but it was for sure different. I used my legs to keep me in the seat and more of my abs to keep my back to the seat. A nice little workout. I enjoyed it for the sake of being new, but after that, probably prefer sitting forward.

The crappiest part of being in the middle was when we flew right by the Golden Gate bridge. However, I was on the correct side of the plane and I could watch it via the phone held by the guy at the window. It was still beyond cool being there and I had a better view than the people at the windows on the other side of the plane.


United went all-out on this thing. On top of everything else, all passengers got a special menu made just for this flight. The food choices were pretty tasty on the inside, but the drawing of the 747-400 on the back cover, with the special livery, made me smile.






The food was delicious. It did help that we had United’s executive chef Gerry Gulli onboard. I was also super excited to have ice cream at 35,000 feet and it was going above and beyond to have sundaes (with a cool dry ice visual) being built right in front of me.




The seat was amazing. Not in a sort of “best product” sort of amazing, but more of a “don’t throw away my favorite recliner I have had for the last 25 years” sort of amazing. It was so comfortable and the 2-4-2 layout wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But of course I was up walking around socializing most of the flight and not using the seat.

One of the pilots and me hanging in the flight deck in Honolulu.

One of the pilots and me hanging in the flight deck in Honolulu

The flight was too short and soon we started our descent. We first did a little tour around the islands (which wasn’t so great in the center again) before landing. As people started to de-plane, I asked if I could make my way to the flight deck and they were happy to allow me to do so. The pilot I spoke with after the flight said he would be transitioning to flying the 757. He has a few more years until retirement and wanted to be closer to his family in Denver. Totally makes sense, but still hard leave flying the Jumbo Jet.

Saw this on the upper deck!

As I was heading back down to the main deck, I noticed one of the windows had red in it. At the time, I had no idea what was going on. It wasn’t until I got off the plane, and looked out the window that I realized what it was.

Even the 747 got a lei!

There was a large party at the gate to greet the final 747 flight, but I was sort of partied out and sleepy. I was trying to find some cell signal or wifi in the terminal to share photos, but it was worse than the service at 30,000 feet in the air.

Watching United’s final 747 being towed

I soon made my way to the United lounge and as I started to process my photos, I noticed a few guys heading towards the windows. The 747 was being towed across the airport to an employee party in the hangar — with the lei still on. By the time I arrived home (after taking a 777-200 to SFO and A319 to SEA), I had been awake for 29 of the last 30 hours – and it was totally worth it.

This plane is more than a plane. It brings up emotions and memories for people.

A Northwest Boeing 747-200 – Photo: Dean Morley | FlickrCC

I remember my first flight on a 747 quite well. I was about six years old and this was my first unaccompanied flight. I was leaving from Seattle and heading to visit my uncle in Minneapolis, and the aircraft that was going to take me there was a Northwest Airlines Boeing 747-200. My mother was able to walk me on and take me to my seat. I was so excited. But then when she left, the reality sunk in, and I started crying. The flight attendant knew how excited I was, so in an attempt to entertain me, she asked if I wanted to see the first class cabin in the nose. I sure did. The cabin was almost empty and I ended up talking with a nice man, who happened to be blind.

He ended up asking the flight attendant if it would be okay if I could sit next to him during the flight and she said it was no problem (in retrospect, I think he sort of wanted the company, too). That was my first time sitting in the nose of a 747, and I wouldn’t be able to do it again for another 30 years or so.

It is interesting because I don’t really have stories like that for any other aircraft type. None that make me feel the emotion that the 747 does. I would love for you to share your 747 memories in the comments!

Note: United provided the 747 and positing flights for us to cover this story, however all opinions are our own. 

See more photos on our Flickr page!

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My First Spirit Airlines Flight… on Virgin America

A Spirit A319 taking off from LAX – Photo: Thomas Hart | FlickrCC

Often, people try to avoid the ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCC), but I have been wanting to try Spirit Airlines for quite a few years now.  During a recent trip from Seattle (SEA) to Los Angeles (LAX) with my girlfriend, I ended up having that chance… kind of.

There is quite a bit of competition between SEA and LAX. I hold most of my miles with Alaska Airlines and also have their credit card. That means I get extra miles when booking their tickets and I also get a free checked bag. When I compare prices, it is not just the sticker price, but also all the extras and the miles that factor into my decisions. Going down to LAX, Alaska was the obvious winner. But coming home, even with paying for a checked bag, two seat assignments, and loss of miles, Spirit was much cheaper (about $175 for both of us). To be honest, I was hoping that was the case, since I wanted to give them a shot (always been jealous of our JL doing the legit bare fare… for science).

I will say that getting to the final price on Spirit, to compare to other airlines, is not the easiest. There are so many different steps, a log-in, and up-sells before you finally get to the payment screen to see the total price. It was a pain. However, I cannot understand how someone could go through that entire process and not understand that they were being (or will be) charged more for the extras. Annoying, but also annoyingly clear.

Flying into the sunrise on Alaska - Photo: Brittany Rolfe | The Girlfriend

Flying into the sunrise on Alaska – Photo: Brittany Rolfe | The Girlfriend

The flight down to LA on Alaska was great. Then we went to a friend’s wedding, got almost hit by about a dozen crazy LA drivers, saw the Queen Mary, and then we were walking along the ocean in Long Beach when I received an email from Spirit letting me know that my flight was cancelled. Damn it!

I knew it had been snowing lightly in Seattle previously, but had no idea it could get bad enough for flights to be canceled… six hours before take off. My email said I could log in to my account and pick another flight, or I could call their help line. Thinking online would be my best bet, we hurried back to our rental car where I busted out my laptop, and tethered to my cell phone.

Love these boats, but wished the Goose was still around! - Photo: DPB

Love these boats, but wished the Goose was still around! – Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

I was hoping to get this all done ASAP, since there are only two flights to Seattle per day and I wanted to get the next one, in the morning. I logged in and the instructions on the page said for me to click “change flight,” but there was no such option. I tried it on two browsers and no go. I figured I would get myself on the holding queue on the phone, so I dialed up.

An automated message said they were sorry for my flight issues and asked for my flight number. Then someone picked up. No joke. From me hitting send to talking to a person, was like 10 seconds… on a ULCC. I was in shock, but a good shock.

She confirmed my information and let me know I could take the next open flight on Tuesday, get a refund for this portion of my trip, or get credit for a future Spirit trip. Oh… by the way, this was all happening on a Sunday. Leaving on Tuesday wasn’t going to work for me.

I was pretty sure I knew what my answer was going to be, but I needed to run some numbers and talk to the girlfriend. It didn’t take long before we realized we would ask for the refund, and end up paying about $250 more for new tickets, and $125 on a hotel for one night. My goal was to get on Alaska, since they have so many daily flights, in case there were issues the next day. The closest I could do was Virgin America (Alaska Air Group is their parent company now), so I still get the miles, free bag, AND I get to fly on Virgin America, which I had not done in a long while.



As I dialed Spirit up again, I was wondering if the first one was a fluke. Nope. Just as quickly someone was on the phone and after I explained we wanted to take the refund, she explained how it would be processed and I was off the phone in only a few minutes. I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I was with the quick phone customer support that Spirit provided.

I often see people blaming airlines for canceling flights to save money (or even to anger customers just for fun?!). I wanted to think that was not the case, but I had friends on an Alaska flight, at about the same time, arrive with no issues. Hmm. So, I reached out to Stephen Schuler, Director of Communications at Spirit, to learn a bit more about why my flight was canceled.

On approach to home! GO DAWGS!

On approach to home! GO DAWGS! – Photo: David Parker Brown | AirlineReporter

“The delay for flight 253 was extended to 1:45 as a result of the SEA Ground Delay program that was in effect due to low ceilings in SEA” Stephen explained to me via email. “In addition, our other flights to SEA were equally delayed and causing carry-over delays into the next day.  We solicited the FAA for relief, but were unable to gain any reductions.  Additionally, at the time we decided to cancel, the info being shared on the ATC calls was pointing towards delays becoming worse.  In order to keep the rest of our operation on time, we elected to use an ATC cancellation to improve our overall SEA delays and prevent the delays from carrying over into other flights that day and the following day.”

There were a total of 38 flights cancelled into SEA the day of my flight, 25 of which were from Alaska flights. This was at least painting a better picture.

Was I happy? No. I do not like Los Angeles. Neither of us do. The money we had to spend (to pretty much be stressed and sit at an airport hotel) had to come out of a future trip budget. It sucked, but this is life, right? We both were frustrated, but took it as an adventure as much as we could.

An increasingly rare site, the Spirit Pixel livery - Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

I am using this old “file photo” just to be more like a “real” media outlet (hehe?) – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter

My first flight on Spirit was sort of an interesting failure. I lost money and time. And it wasn’t fun. Up front, Spirit looked to be the right deal, but it is a risk. If you have an airline with a few number of daily flights, when things go wrong, you get screwed. If Spirit had more flights to Seattle, I would have easily been put on a flight the next day (or later that day) for free. Instead, I had the option to wait two days or put out additional money. Although I lost the gamble this time, thousands win on a daily basis.

Would I choose to fly Spirit from Seattle to Los Angeles again? Probably should ask me that after a bit more time passes (although I know I will fall into the five steps of flying an ultra-low-cost carrier). I really want to have the entire flight experience, and I love trying airlines I haven’t flown before. I will probably need to wait until the snow season in Seattle is over (Editor’s note: I lived in Seattle for four years – it snowed once). Until then, I will stick to my (high frequency) hometown airline.

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Lounge Review: Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse at San Francisco International (SFO)

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Virgin Atlantic has a pretty slick sense of style. The many elements of the airline’s brand – from the unique metallic red of its livery down to its creative cocktail lists and small touches on its printed materials – ooze cool. We definitely picked up on that sense of style when we dropped by the airline’s small but well-provisioned lounge — called the “Clubhouse” — in the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). We put the place through its paces and came away very impressed.

Read on for a quick photo tour of the Clubhouse and all that it has to offer, from menu-order dining and creative cocktails to airfield views and even aircraft models. It’s a space that goes way beyond the bare minimum for business class lounges.

Walking up to the lounge – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Clubhouse is one level up from the check-in concourse, pre-security. Landside lounges are always less convenient, but the airport is working on changing that (more on that below).

There’s a big Dreamliner floor mat at the entrance — just one part of the 787 flair on display.

Welcome to the Clubhouse – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Exploring the Clubhouse

The lounge is long and thin, with a sleek bar spanning much of its length on one side, and huge windows with views of the runways on the other. Size-wise it’s pretty cozy, but there wasn’t much of a crowd when we dropped by. Depending on the day, Virgin Atlantic operates one or two departures from SFO to London Heathrow. This past year they also launched a seasonal summer route to Manchester.

BONUS: Flying on Bubbles — Upper Class on a Virgin Atlantic A340-600

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

On both ends of the bar there are seating areas that can accommodate solo travelers and small groups. The furniture has a quirky contemporary vibe, though not at the expense of comfort. I loved the design finishes like the tinted panes of glass and cove lighting.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The views from the lounge are spectacular, especially because you’re so high above ground level. You get a close-up look at the long-haul aircraft at the non-Star Alliance side of the international terminal, the soon-to-be-expanded terminal 1, and the run-up area of runways 1L and 1R, which handle departures on most days.

Front-row seats to the greatest show on earth – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

A-gate international departures – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Dining in Style

My favorite aspect of the Clubhouse was the real-deal à la carte dining — a feature that most business class lounges in the U.S. don’t offer.






I tried out the “farmer’s cheese plate” starter, which was bursting with flavor thanks to pickled carrots and a healthy dash of spice.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I snapped a quick picture of a soup dish that was coming out of the kitchen for another guest. The staff here take the art of plating seriously.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

As creative as Virgin Atlantic’s cocktail list is, I was most interested in the airline’s new partnership with Seedlip, a brand of non-alcoholic spirits. I thought the phrase “non-alcoholic spirits” was a bit of a head-scratcher at first, but the two drinks I tried were delicious, creative, and prepared with a lot of TLC. The “Peas of Mind” — which had real peas in it — was surprisingly refreshing. And the “Garden Sour,” topped with a layer of thick salt foam, struck a great balance between sour, sweet, and bitter.

The Peas of Mind and Garden Sour off the Seedlip cocktail menu – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I’m no teetotaler — you can check out my other AirlineReporter articles for proof. But given that alcohol can worsen the dehydration and jetlag often associated with air travel, I love the idea of non-alcoholic cocktail options at airport lounges.

BONUS: Turkish Airlines’ Flagship Lounge is Ridiculously Awesome

Business, Bathrooms, and Beyond

Done with the bar, I explored the rest of the lounge, including the small business center.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

In my book, showers are one of the things that differentiate an acceptable lounge from a great one. No surprise, then, that the Clubhouse had that covered.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

A fun feature that fell a little flat was the brand-new VR experience. I wish I could tell you more, but the headsets weren’t working.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

I did appreciate the Virgin Galactic spacecraft model, a fun tie-in to Sir Richard Branson’s highest-flying enterprise.

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The Final Verdict

I tried my best to think of things that could be improved about this place, but it was pretty darn hard. Virgin Atlantic’s SFO Clubhouse is a class apart from the average business class lounge — good enough that I’d go a bit out of my way to fly the airline just to have access to this place.

BONUS: Richard Branson: “Virgin Flies On,” Adds London-Seattle Virgin Atlantic Route

Going through my checklist of criteria for excellence in lounging, let’s see how the Clubhouse does:

  • Comfortable and plentiful seating: ✓
    • To be fair I dropped by at a non-peak time, so I can’t speak to the crowd factor right before a flight.
  • Real meals, not just light snacks: ✓
    • I stuck with starters but there are more substantial options on the menu, like burgers and pasta. Bear in mind that food prep at the Clubhouse may not always be speedy.
  • A good drink selection: ✓
    • It’s a fully-staffed bar, so you can enjoy a well-made cocktail even if you don’t know how to fix one for yourself.
  • Showers: ✓
  • Apron & runway views: ✓
  • Friendly staff: ✓
  • Model planes: ✓

Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The one major downside is the fact that the Clubhouse is pre-security, so that even with expedited passes through TSA lines you need to leave the lounge fairly early to make your flight. Fortunately, by the end of 2018, a re-design of passenger flow through the terminal will make the Clubhouse a post-security lounge without physically moving it. Problem solved!

Now it’s time for us to hear from you. What do you think of Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse at SFO? Have you experienced any of the airline’s other clubhouses? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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PHOTOS: Boeing Kicks off 777x Production

A Boeing employee inspects a composite wing spar at the Building 40-02 spar shop.

A Boeing employee inspects a composite wing spar at the Building 40-02 spar shop.

In a big milestone for the program, Boeing officially started production on its new 777x line on Oct. 23. The 777X will feature new GE9X engines, an all-new composite wing with folding tips, longer range, and leverages technologies from the 787 Dreamliner.

The one-piece composite spars measure more than 100 feet long, and each aircraft requires a total of four spars - two per wing.

The one-piece composite spars measure more than 100 feet long, and each aircraft requires a total of four spars – two per wing.

777X chief project engineer and vice president Terry Beezhold said it’s taken Boeing seven years to get to this point in the project. The current project schedule calls for the first test flight to happen in the first quarter of 2019 and the first delivery about a year after that.

The Composite Wing Center covers more than 27 acres — equivalent to about 25 football fields. The building is 1,250 feet long, 950 feet wide, and 110 feet tall.

The Composite Wing Center covers more than 27 acres — equivalent to about 25 football fields. The building is 1,250 feet long, 950 feet wide, and 110 feet tall.

The new plane includes combining “lots of 777 heritage with 787 heritage,” Beezhold said. “We scalloped the frames to make the fuselage wider than the -300ER for comfortable 10-abreast seating.”

The 777x’s empennage is also of a new design, and includes a 787-style one-piece rudder. The supply chain will be spread out in a similar manner to that of the 787, he said, with the wing being built in-house, fuselage tubes built in Japan & at Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, Kansas, and wing leading and trailing edges made at Boeing’s St. Louis plant.

Renderings of the 777x-8 and -9 models show a wing that looks very similar to that on 787 models. -Boeing image

Renderings of the 777x-8 and -9 models show a wing that looks very similar to that on 787 models. -Boeing image

Beezhold said the new plane will require less thrust than the -300ER because it will have a more efficient wing. And that wing is quite long — the 777x’s wingspan will come in at 235′ 5″ (71.8 meters). Because that’s wider than standard airport gates, the jetliner will feature a folding wingtip to reduce the span to 212′ 8″ (76.7 meters).

The 777x's wingtips will fold after landing to allow the aircraft to use standard airport gates. -Boeing image

The 777x’s wingtips will fold after landing to allow the aircraft to use standard airport gates. -Boeing image

Beezhold explained that Boeing had developed a folding wing for the original 777, but it proved to be an overly-complicated design, as the folding portion included the aileron, so the ideal was shelved in favor of a traditional wing.



The 777x has a “very simple folding wingtip – the hardware is all contained within the wing,” Beezhold said, adding that airlines wanted a design that required little or no specialized maintenance.

For pilots, the new aircraft will have a common type rating with the 787, which will also simplify scheduling for airlines.

Boeing's Composite Wing Center, like nearly everything at their Everett, Wash., facility, is best described with superlatives. -Boeing graphic

Boeing’s Composite Wing Center, like nearly everything at their Everett, Wash., facility, is best described with superlatives. -Boeing graphic

The passenger experience will also improve, he said, as the 777x includes many features from the 787: the big windows, an airy-feeling, bright cabin, etc.

The published range for the 777-8 is 8,700 nautical miles (16,110 km). The 777-9 will have a range of 7,600 nautical miles (14,075 km). Boeing says that the 777-8 competes directly with the A350-1000, while the 777-9 is in a class by itself.

We’re looking forward to flying in one early on to assess those statements for ourselves. Watch this space.

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AvGeeks Assemble! Loving Aviation Geek Fest Seattle 2017

One group of AvGeeks enjoy the American 727 - Photo: Francis Zera

One group of AvGeeks enjoy the American 727 – Photo: Francis Zera

At the end of September we got to enjoy another amazing Aviation Geek Fest. If you follow the site, the name probably sounds familiar. It is a VIP-access event that allows AvGeeks to get together and experience some pretty cool things not typically open to the general public. This year we had people converge from around the world (guests from Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, & USA) to Seattle, WA to partake in this three-day aviation-themed event. How cool is that?

As it has been the last in previous years, the events and activities are amazing, but you cannot beat hanging around a bunch of other like-minded folks for a few days! Everyone gets to tell their airplane stories and everyone actually wants to listen!

This year the event started Friday evening, September 29th, on the Stratodeck of the Future of Flight at Paine Field. I needed to go pick up my good pal from the airport, so I arrived a bit late, but in enough time to chat with a few great people.

Although I live in the area, I opted to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn just next door. You cannot beat going to sleep looking out to the runway and I actually got woken up in the middle of the night by an Antonov AN-124 landing. That was awesome.



Our Saturday started with delicious breakfast and some aviation trivia (hosted by AvGeek Issac Alexander). Then we broke off into different groups (I was group D, which I am pretty sure stood for “Dashing, Daring David,” but I was told it was just the fourth letter of the alphabet). My group was a bit small (totally cool) and I had my wonderful girlfriend and a guy I would consider a good friend (as-seen recently on The Daily Show with a messy bed — yup Jason I told you I wasn’t going to bring it up in person, but I am doing it here — you are welcome).


View of the 747 line from the factory floor

A Qatar 777 in the Boeing factory. It will be configured with 10 abreast in economy

There were some things that every group did, and others that were dependent on your group. The big thing that we did together was taking a VIP floor tour of the Everett factory. Now, if you have been on the public tour, it is totally awesome (and if you haven’t gone, go!). However, it is nothing compared to walking on the factory floor next to and under the planes being built. No cameras are allowed, but that is okay. In a way, I think that can be better, since it allows you the opportunity to enjoy the facility and planes using just your eyes.

It doesn’t matter how many times I get to be in the factory — I am always amazed at the size, and impressed with Boeing’s ability to make these planes so quickly.




The other things people got to visit and experience:

  • Aviation Technical Services – where airliners get maintenance done
  • Applied Technical Services – where electronics (some for airlines) are made
  • Elextroimpact – creates tools for factory automation
  • Esterline – working with aviation technology
  • We also got to fly drones, play with robotics, explore 3D printing, and learn more about flight via fancy folded paper planes.

I wish that I could have done them all, but that would have taken much more than the two days. Already my inner child and adult were happy, and we weren’t even done with the day.


As we gathered back on the Future of Flight Gallery floor, I started to set up the giveaways that airlines kindly gave to Aviation Geek Fest to raffle off to the participants. Most of those gifts were mailed directly to my home before the event. You can imagine the willpower it took to make sure that all of them made it to AGF. And they did. (Okay, I took an Allegiant sticker and one set of wings — there were plenty). Our goodies:


United gave us a large Boeing 747-400 model — which is great timing since they will be retiring that bad boy soon.

Icelandair gave us TWO models. One large 757 in standard livery and one smaller one in their Hekla Aurora livery. Both awesome in their own ways. All three models went to new, loving homes!


Both Allegiant and Alaska Airlines came through in their own amazing, fun ways. Allegiant sent over a fun pack that a true AvGeek would have created. An MD-80 model, a smaller A320 model, glasses, wings, and in-seat card from an MD-80. Hot damn, I couldn’t believe it when I saw they sent a safety card — they get AvGeeks!

I have to say that for me personally, Alaska Airlines was the most fun. You see, they have a store, down by the airport, that is open to the public. I was given store credit to go in and pick whatever I wanted to make a sort of prize pack. Oh heck yes! As you can see, I had a great time finding different items to add up to the credit and the women there were very helpful in adding things up to let me know how much I had left. It felt like I was playing Supermarket Sweep.



I was also able to round up a nice giveaway pack of EVA Air stuff and Qatar Airways that I have collected from different events to give out as well. All good stuff. Gogo was also kind enough to make some fun packs that everyone at AGF received!

After we enjoyed our meal and giveaways, it was time for our special guest speakers. And they were quite inspiring.

Nancy and Cliff Hollenbeck are a husband and wife team that shared their aviation adventures. I knew them as the people behind the history of Alaska Airlines book that I own (I got them to sign it, of course), but I didn’t know their interesting stories relating to aviation. Nancy shared her story of being hijacked when she was 22 and working her first flight as a flight attendant. That’s legit. Hearing their tales of travel and working with airlines on projects was very interesting and engaging!




As things wrapped up, I had some great conversations, and then headed back across the street to the hotel to get some rest and prepare for the next day down at Boeing Field. It was pretty easy to wake up the next morning, knowing the adventures that were in store!

Ready to go at the Museum of Flight - Photo: Jody Hawkins | IoF

Ready to go at the Museum of Flight – Photo: Jody Hawkins | IoF

Sunday morning we woke up, got ready, and headed south to the Museum of Flight to check in for our day’s adventures: 1) VIP tour of the Boeing 737 factory. 2) Lunch on a classic Boeing 727. 3) Check out all the great stuff at the Museum of Flight. Now, that’s a good day.




The 737 tour is something very special — it is not open to the public. This was also my first time in the factory where I could see the MAX line. Like the larger factory up north, we weren’t able to take any photos here, but that was okay. Above are some photos from a previous tour by our own Francis Zera. I loved seeing those MAX winglets lined and ready to go.



“Hey let’s all get on an airplane and eat airline food.” That probably doesn’t sound super exciting for most people out there, but when you are talking about our group and a classic Boeing 727 — you have yourself an AvGeek adventure!

The plane is a mix of older and older. It was first put into service in 1978 by American, and it was retired in 2002. The interior is something from the mid-1990s, so you get a few levels of history being inside the aircraft. Today, it is owned by National Airline History Museum (NAHM) in Kansas City, Mo, and they hope to get it flying again one day.




We walked up the rear stairs (of course) and into the cabin. I picked some seats in the back and students from our local Raisbeck Aviation High School acted as flight attendants and served us our legit economy airline meals.




After we were done, we headed back to the Museum of Flight where I made my way through the Concord, 707, 787, 747, and more. Doesn’t matter how many times I have walked the aisles of that place, I can always find new stuff to enjoy!

The first Boeing 747 at the Museum of Flight – Photo: Jody Hawkins | Institute of Flight

No question, the events we enjoyed and the planes we saw were great. But as with previous years, the people are what make this event amazing. A HUGE thank you to those at Boeing, the Future of Flight, and others for putting in so much time, stress, and passion into making this event happen. They are truly the heroes!

If you are interested in participating in a possible future Aviation Geek Fest, make sure you are on our email list. I hope you can join us!

See more photos via the Institute of Flight’s Flickr page

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