New SFO terminal brings romance back to air travel

It was 1954 when San Francisco International Airport (SFO) welcomed it’s first flights. At the time, air travel was a luxurious experience and would-be classic airliners ruled the sky. This weekend, SFO reopens Terminal 2, thought to be the most modern and sustainable terminal in the United States, ushering in a new era of travel by air.

“An airport terminal designed to bring back the romance of travel,” airport director John Martin told KGO-TV.

The new $383 million SFO terminal will be home to American and Virgin America airlines. Airport supporters hope to recapture the golden age of air travel with local restaurant stars, artwork, a classic American Airlines DC-3 and even the ability to fill an empty water bottle and take it on board.

“We immediately felt we walked into a five-star hotel lobby that was just declared LEED gold standard in its environmental design,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

On the flip side, the new terminal welcomes the future of aviation with open arms too. Sir Richard Branson was on hand this week with Virgin Galactica’s White Knight 2 which will take passengers into space, a venture California legislators hope to see reality soon.

“This is a big part of economic growth and economic development in the region and it is a big part of keeping down the costs for passengers to fly,” said California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

That’s great news for San Francisco, not so great news for nearby San Jose where their airport has struggled, trailing behind San Francisco then Oakland, losing lucrative routes to Paris and Taiwan. The economic slump that started in 2008 pretty much drove a stake through the beleaguered airport’s heart causing a loss of a third of its scheduled flights and a quarter of it’s passengers. This probably won’t help them either.

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Bottoms up? Airports and airlines don’t want you sober

If you want to grab a beer at 5 AM, go to your nearest airport or board a flight. More airports are letting vendors sell liquor at dawn, or in some cases 24 hours a day. The move isn’t intended to keep you happy, of course, that’s really irrelevant to the aviation industry. Rather, the goal is to pump up revenues by getting you to dig a little deeper into your wallet while you’re traveling. Further, it reflects a bit of “marketing savvy,” USA Today reports, as airports and airlines are figuring out that they can sell just about everything, “from meals to day passes to their premium lounges.”

USA Today continues:

“What’s happening is airlines are becoming better retailers of products,” says Jay Sorensen, a consultant, who says the cocktail push by U.S. airlines began during the last year. “They’re doing things to highlight the fact that, ‘Yes, indeed, we do sell alcohol on the airplane.’ They’re trying to mimic what occurs on the ground in terms of consumer promotions.”

Of course, some corners of the airline industry aren’t happy about the prospect of bringing new revenue into businesses that often struggle to perform well. The concerns are legitimate, with “some union leaders, local officials and frequent fliers fear[ing] that the increased access to alcohol raises the risk of more drunken travelers, particularly at a time when many passengers find a travel experience that involves enhanced screening and crowded planes more stressful than ever,” USA Today reports.The decision to serve liquor around the clock is expected to have tangible results, however, with an extra $500,000 to $1 million in revenues for O’Hare alone, up from the current level of approximately $20 million a year.

There’s good money in liquor, and if you drink enough, maybe the airlines and airports will be able to invest in a little customer service training …

China Airlines fined for price fixing

China Airlines is the latest carrier to get fined for price-fixing air cargo rates. The Taiwan-based airline plead guilty and now faces a $40 million fine. Northwest Airlines has also plead guilty.

A total of 18 airlines have been snared by the Department of Justice in an ongoing investigation. Eight airline executives have also been charged. The Department of Justice has imposed a total of $1.6 billion in fines and given four executives jail time for a conspiracy that reaches back to early 2000. China Airlines was conspiring with other airlines to fix cargo rates to and from the United States, a violation of antitrust laws. Rates are supposed to be subject to the free market, but the airlines secretly agreed to set a rate in order to maximize profits.

For a complete list of the airlines and executives involved, click here.

Could Apple fix airports?

Maybe this is exactly what we needed – someone from outside the aviation industry to fix it. With Apple‘s latest patent, iTravel, the company stands to make some cash on mobile payments and paperless ticketing, and it could alleviate the bottlenecks we rush into at so many points while traveling. New regs look like they’ll yield a substantial paperless boarding pass/check-in market, according to a post on SocialTimes, and Apple wants a big piece of it. Hell, Apple probably wants all of it – who could blame them?

Now, it appears there’s potential beyond merely taking paper out of tickets and boarding passes. Other reservations and rentals could be brought into the system, using an approach similar to the iPhone-based payment system adopted by Starbucks. The possibilities are endless, as suggested by the hypothetical proposed on SocialTimes:

Imagine this scenario: you visit an iTravel-enabled website (or via your iPhone), book a vacation package including hotel and car rental, with details downloadable to your iPhone, which in turn triggers information for the NFC chip. A barcode or QR code on your iPhone, displayed by the iTravel app, is scanned for your airplane boarding pass. You can check in your luggage yourself, at a special unmanned kiosk, and claim your luggage on arrival at a similar kiosk, thereby reducing wait times at carousels. You arrive at your hotel without manually checking in, go straight up to your room and wave your NFC-enabled phone near the NFC-enabled security plate, and voila, your door opens. Later, when you go to the check-in desk to ask about restaurants, your iPhone gets a push notification to join an ad hoc network (courtesy of Apple’s iGroups patent) which lets you see if any contacts you know might be nearby. You also get access to special coupon offers for transportation, if you decided not rent a car. You might even potentially be able to pay transit fees with your phone – something trialled successfully in various places around the world.

Apple may not own the travel market yet, but it certainly has the potential to seize a decent portion of it. If Apple were to launch an online travel agency and integrate it with a variety of device-driven services that make lines shorter and reduce frustration, it would be an unstoppable force in this business. To see how Apple could change the business, go visit your local Tower Records. Oh, right …

European Union proposes global airline black list after Yemen crash

For several years, the European Union has been maintaining an airline black list. The list contains the bottom of the barrel in the aviation world. On it, you won’t find any of the big global carriers, but it is very well represented by countries like Kazakhstan, Angola and the Democratic republic of Congo.

As it turns out, the airline involved in the most recent crash had once been on the black list for incomplete reporting on its fleet inspections.

That crash has now prompted the E.U. transport commissioner, Antonio Tajani to propose turning the the European black list in to a global black list.

As much as I like the idea of sharing this kind of information and turning it into a global list, I’m not sure it will actually make any difference – for a global black list to work, every country in the world will have to participate. Thing is, the kind of country that does not take aviation safety that seriously, is not going to be the kind of country that signs up for the black list, only to ground its own national carrier(s).

A global black list of carriers won’t do anything to prevent any of the recent air disasters we’ve seen – Air France would certainly not deserve a spot on the list, nor would Continental/Air Colgan (involved in the Buffalo crash back in February).

Many of these rickety airlines fly within their own country, or to neighboring countries with similar lax oversight. For a global aviation black list to work, countries should help each other, not simply tell them that they are not welcome to land at their airports. I’m pretty sure that “Sky Gate International” from the Kyrgyz Republic won’t give a damn if the USA tells them to stay away from any of their airports.

The only other option is to increase passenger awareness and get the list promoted, to help people make an informed decision about whether or not to travel with an unsafe carrier. But if that airline is their only option, I’m guessing they’ll take the risk.
The top countries by number of their airlines included in the list:

  1. Democratic Republic of Congo (57 airlines!)
  2. Republic of Indonesia (51 airlines)
  3. Republic of Angola (18 airlines)
  4. Kyrgyz Republic (17 airlines)
  5. Equatorial Guinea (9 airlines)
  6. Sierra Leone (8 airlines)
  7. Republic of Benin (8 airlines)
  8. Swaziland (7 airlines)
  9. Republic of Gabon (7 airlines)
  10. Republic of Kazakhstan (7 airlines)

Some noteworthy airlines (mainly because of their silly sounding names):

  1. Helimalongo – Republic of Angola
  2. Alafia Jet – Republic of Benin
  3. Golden Rules Airlines – Kyrgyz Republic
  4. Motor Sikh – Ukraine
  5. Dames – Kyrgyz Republic