Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Testing The New Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner's Limit

Captain Randall Neville, chief model pilot for the 787 program, along with Captain Mike Bryan, chief pilot for the 787-9 variant, pushed the limits of the new aircraft on Monday at the Farnborough International Airshow outside of London. Watch as the Boeing 787-9 completes some spectacular maneuvers during a six and a half minute demonstration flight:


While definitely not as insane as the barrel roll test pilot Tex Johnson pulled off in a Boeing 707 prototype way back in 1955, I think most people would probably be losing their lunch after that incredibly steep takeoff. The aircraft was pitched just shy of 30 degrees, although it looks a lot steeper from certain angles. In addition to the remarkable takeoff, the pilots also conducted a 60-degree banked turn, a very fast side-to-side roll, and a beautiful touch and go takeoff, banking sharply to the right in the process.

Just last week, Boeing delivered the very first 787-9 to launch customer Air New Zealand. This plane is a stretched version of the original 787-8, with an extra 20 feet in length. It is capable of carrying 280 passengers (40 more than the 787-8) while extending the range by an extra 300 miles. And just in case you have any doubt regarding the authenticity of the above video, here is the same flight in full from a different view:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Metropolitan Area Airport Codes

Large metropolitan areas around the world often have unique codes designated by the IATA to include multiple airports serving the same region. Depending on the booking engine, this can make searching for cheap airfares a much simpler task, especially if travelers are somewhat flexible with their departure and arrival airports. Searching across several airports for award availability can also greatly increase the probability of finding open seats.

While metropolitan area codes often simplify the search process, one frustration is the lack of uniformity and consistency across different booking engines. For example, QSF is recognized in Expedia and Travelocity (Sabre) to represent all three San Francisco Bay Area airports (SFO, OAK, and SJC), but it is alternately recognized as Sétif International Airport in Algeria by Priceline and Orbitz (ITA).

Different OTAs gather their flight database information from a variety of sources, and they can further customize search parameters to suit their own needs. To make the process easier, and to return as many relevant itineraries as possible, many sites now automatically include nearby airports, along with the option for users to filter their results afterwards (e.g. Kayak). I have found that virtually all booking engines now incorporate the largest and most commonly searched-for metropolitan areas, such as London (LON), Tokyo (TYO), New York City (NYC), and Washington D.C. (WAS).

When searching for itineraries with multiple connections, be careful to note if the inbound and outbound flights are using the same airports. If not, costly and time-consuming ground transportation may be required. Also, travelers may need to retrieve non-interlined checked baggage and obtain travel visas in order to enter foreign countries.

I was surprised to see a very long list of metropolitan area airport codes included in the Wikivoyage page, which may come in handy for more obscure searches. Some codes, such as Istanbul (IST), Bangkok (BKK), Kuala Lumpur (KUL), and Shanghai (SHA) appear to be identical to specific airports in the region. In these cases, it depends on the individual booking engine whether results correspond to the entire metropolitan area or only to one specific airport. I have tested all of the codes below and included additional notes where they apply:

Asia
  • Bangkok, Thailand - BKK
    • Suvarnabhumi Airport - BKK
    • Don Mueang International Airport - DMK
  • Beijing, People's Republic of China - BJS
    • Beijing Capital International Airport - PEK
    • Nanyuan Airport - NAY
  • Jakarta, Indonesia - JKT
    • Soekarno - Hatta International Airport - CGK
    • Halim Perdanakusuma Airport - HLP
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - KUL
    • Kuala Lumpur International Airport - KUL
    • Subang Airport - SZB
  • Nagoya, Japan - NGO
    • Chubu Centrair International Airport - NGO
    • Komaki Airport - NKM
  • Osaka, Japan - OSA
    • Kansai International Airport - KIX
    • Osaka - Itami Airport - ITM
  • Sapporo, Japan - SPK
    • New Chitose Airport - CTS
    • Sapporo Okadama Airport - OKD
  • Seoul, South Korea - SEL
    • Incheon International Airport - ICN
    • Gimpo International Airport - GMP
  • Shanghai, People's Republic of China - SHA
    • Shanghai Pudong International Airport - PVG
    • Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport - SHA
  • Taipei, Republic of China (Taiwan) - TPE
    • Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport - TPE
    • Taipei Songshan Airport - TSA
  • Tokyo, Japan - TYO
    • Tokyo Narita International Airport - NRT
    • Tokyo Haneda International Airport - HND
  • Tehran, Iran - THR
    • Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport - IKA
    • Mehrabad International Airport - THR
Europe
  • Berlin, Germany - BER
    • Berlin Brandenburg Airport - BER (Opening 2016)
    • Berlin Tegel Airport - TXL
    • Berlin Schönefeld Airport - SXF
  • Bucharest, Romania - BUH
    • Bucharest Otopeni International Airport - OTP
    • Bucharest Băneasa Airport - BBU
  • Istanbul, Turkey - IST
    • Istanbul Atatürk Airport - IST
    • Sabiha Gökçen International Airport - SAW
  • London, United Kingdom - LON
    • London City Airport - LCY
    • London Gatwick Airport - LGW
    • London Heathrow Airport - LHR
    • London Luton Airport - LTN
    • London Southend Airport - SEN
    • London Stansted Airport - STN
  • Milan, Italy - MIL
    • Milan Malpensa Airport - MXP
    • Linate Airport - LIN
  • Moscow, South Korea - MOW
    • Sheremetyevo International Airport - SVO
    • Domodedovo International Airport - DME
    • Vnukovo International Airport - VKO
  • Oslo, Norway - OSL
    • Oslo Airport Gardermoen - OSL
    • Sandefjord Airport Torp - TRF
    • Moss Airport Rygge - RYG
  • Paris, France - PAR
    • Charles de Gaulle Airport - CDG
    • Paris Orly Airport - ORY
    • Le Bourget Airport - LBG
  • Rome, Italy - ROM
    • Leonardo da Vinci International - Fiumicino Airport - FCO
    • Ciampino - G. B. Pastine International Airport - CIA
  • Stockholm, Sweden - STO
    • Stockholm Arlanda Airport - ARN
    • Stockholm Skavsta Airport - NYO
    • Stockholm Bromma Airport - BMA
  • Tenerife, Spain - TCI
    • Tenerife North Airport - TFN
    • Tenerife South Airport - TFS
  • Warsaw, Poland - WRW (Not recognized by booking engines)
    • Warsaw Chopin Airport - WAW
    • Warsaw - Modlin Mazovia Airport - WMI
North America
  • Chicago, United States - CHI
    • Chicago O'Hare International Airport - ORD
    • Chicago Midway International Airport - MDW
  • Dallas, United States - QDF (Not recognized by booking engines)
    • Dallas Love Field - DAL
    • Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport - DFW
  • Detroit, United States - DTT
    • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport - DTW
    • Coleman A. Young International Airport - DET
    • Willow Run Airport - YIP
  • Houston, United States - QHO (Not recognized by booking engines)
    • George Bush Intercontinental Airport  - IAH
    • William P. Hobby Airport - HOU
  • Los Angeles, United States - QLA (Sabre, Expedia, Travelocity)
    • Los Angeles International Airport - LAX
    • Ontario International Airport - ONT
    • John Wayne Airport - SNA
    • Bob Hope Airport - BUR
  • Miami, United States - QMI (Not recognized by booking engines)
    • Miami International Airport - MIA
    • Fort Lauderdale - Hollywood International Airport - FLL
    • Palm Beach International Airport - PBI
  • New York City, United States - NYC
    • John F. Kennedy International Airport - JFK
    • Newark Liberty International Airport - EWR
    • La Guardia Airport - LGA
    • Westchester County Airport - HPN
  • San Francisco, United States - QSF (Sabre, Expedia, Travelocity)
    • San Francisco International Airport  - SFO
    • Oakland International Airport - OAK
    • Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport - SJC
  • Toronto, Canada - YTO
    • Lester B. Pearson International Airport - YYZ
    • Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport - YTZ
  • Washington D.C., United States - WAS
    • Washington Dulles International Airport - IAD
    • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport - DCA
    • Baltimore / Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport - BWI
South America
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina - BUE
    • Ministro Pistarini (Ezeiza) International Airport - EZE
    • Aeroparque Jorge Newbery - AEP
  • Rio de Janerio, Brazil - RIO
    • Antônio Carlos Jobim (Galeão) International Airport - GIG
    • Santos Dumont Airport - SDU
  • São Paulo, Brazil - SAO
    • São Paulo / Guarulhos International Airport - GRU
    • São Paulo / Congonhas Airport - CGH

Monday, July 7, 2014

Australia September 2013 - Outback Pioneer Lodge & Exploring Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

***This post is part 18 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

Driving on the left side took some getting used to, but having done a road trip in New Zealand back in 2011 without any serious issues, I felt fairly confident in my navigation abilities. Plus, if you could pick any place to start driving in Australia, this would be it. Conditions were excellent, with hardly a bend or dip in the road, and virtually no traffic to speak of. The vast majority of people here were tourists, so drivers seemed extra cautious and courteous.

Intersection outside the airport

Despite being one of the most visited tourist destinations in Australia, options for accommodations near Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park are limited. In fact, the only town located in the vicinity is Yulara, and it isn't actually a town at all, but rather a dedicated resort village operated by one company.

Voyages Hotels & Resorts currently runs five properties in Yulara, ranging from a five-star luxury hotel to campgrounds and RV sites. Since they essentially have a monopoly on all lodgings in town, the cost is understandably steep, with the top-of-the-line Sails In The Desert Resort offering standard rooms for around $400-$500 AUD per night.

For the uber-wealthy, there is also a sixth option, Longitude 131°, which provides guests with a fully-immersive "glamping" experience. Located outside of Yulara, this property boasts just 15 palatial tents, each with unobstructed views of Uluru. Everything, from specialized tours to gourmet dining under the stars, is included with the price, which, not surprisingly, runs north of $1,000 AUD per night.

As a single traveler, I couldn't justify spending even one-tenth of that amount for my own room, so I decided to go with the only backpacking option around - the Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge. In addition to private "budget" rooms starting from $200-$300 AUD, there are two types of shared dorms. A 20-person shared room costs $38 AUD per night, while a 4-person shared room costs $46 AUD per night. I splurged a little and went with the latter.

Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge

After a brief 8-kilometer drive south from Ayers Rock Airport, I arrived at Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge around 10:45 am. I suspected it was too early to check in, but I wanted to see if I could store my large backpack at the hotel while exploring Uluru and Kata Tjuta during the day.

The spacious lobby was pleasant and clean, with just a few people milling about. I approached one of the front desk agents and politely asked if it was possible to check in despite my early arrival time. Thankfully, the helpful gentleman was kind enough to accommodate me. The dorm room hadn't been cleaned yet, but he said I was more than welcome to store my belongings in there for the time being.

Outback Pioneer lobby


Daily activities and Le Club Accor brochures

One of the more surprising features of Yulara is that every property in the resort village (besides Longitude 131°) participates in the Le Club Accor hotel rewards program. In recent years, there have been many opportunities to achieve instant top-tier Platinum status through various sign-up links, and luckily, I had done so prior to leaving for Australia.

While Platinum status isn't terribly valuable these days, it actually comes in quite handy at a number of dining establishments throughout the resort. As expected, food is expensive in Yulara, so discounts offered to Platinum members make the exorbitant charges somewhat easier to stomach. Just remember to bring your membership card, or at least copy down the number.

Before this trip, I had cashed in my Le Club Accor points for a $60 USD voucher. All the hotels in Yulara should be able to accept these vouchers as partial or full payment. And while no change was supposed to be given (since my one-night stay only cost $46 AUD), the front desk agent graciously allowed me to grab two bottles of water to make up the difference.

Outback Pioneer property

Shared dorm room building

4-person shared rooms

Friday, July 4, 2014

China Airlines New Boeing 777-300ER Website Up

A few days ago, I wrote about leaked renderings of China Airlines' brand new Boeing 777-300ER and opportunities to redeem Delta Skymiles for the reverse herringbone lie-flat business class seats from LAX and JFK. Well, it looks like the official welcome website for the aircraft has launched, and the seat designs and cabin layouts are exactly as envisioned.

Unfortunately, the website is only in Chinese as of now, although it is fairly simple to navigate the different sections featuring specifications and highlights of each cabin. In addition, an overview video of the entire aircraft has been posted, which I've included here:

video

Besides verifying much of what we already know about the new design, the only unpleasant surprise I found was the inclusion of 10-across seating in standard economy, which follows an unfortunate industry trend to pack in as many seats as possible into cattle class while generally improving premium offerings.

If American Airlines' brand new 777-300ER is any indication, the economy seats will have 17" width, which is significantly lower than the 18.3" offered by rival EVA Air. In addition, there is still no final word on seat pitch for either economy class or premium economy. EVA Air provides a very generous 33" pitch in economy - something I don't expect to see emulated by China Airlines. The new premium economy seats, however, with a fixed-back forward-reclining design, looks quite comfortable, and could end up being a better overall product.

As I mentioned in my previous post, award availability has already been loaded and appear to be very good in both business and economy using Delta Skymiles. The first long-haul destination will be Los Angeles starting on December 1, 2014. New York will then be added on February 2, 2015. Note that China Airlines has the following blackout dates in 2014 for award redemptions:
  • December 10, 2013 - January 4, 2014
  • January 24, 2014 - February 3, 2014
  • June 1, 2014 - August 31, 2014
  • December 10, 2014 - December 31, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

China Airlines Brand New 777-300ER Interiors Revealed

From Now News in Taiwan, renderings for China Airlines' brand new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft interiors have leaked. A China Airlines website dedicated to the new design apparently went public prior to the scheduled release date. While the site has since been pulled, renderings and full descriptions were quickly copied down by observant readers. 

Although it is difficult to say for certain if the pictures actually represent the final product, they do look quite professional and polished. Many of the details in the article also match previously reported features of the new design.

In recent years, the other major Taiwanese carrier, EVA Air, has made significant improvements to their hard product in addition to taking the major step of joining Star Alliance. This created a brand new lie-flat business class award redemption option across the Pacific and beyond. EVA Air's Royal Laurel Class, based on the ubiquitous Cirrus Reverse Herringbone layout, arguably remains one of the best business class seats in the industry.

Not to be left behind, China Airlines has finally decided to overhaul their outdated interiors, starting with their soon-to-be-delivered Boeing 777-300ERs. The first three aircraft are scheduled to commence scheduled flights in September of this year. In total, ten 777-300ERs will arrive by 2016, replacing a rapidly aging fleet of 747-400s.

Not surprisingly, China Airlines has decided to completely forego their first class offering, opting to follow EVA Air instead with a lie-flat business class, premium economy class, and standard economy class. Even less surprisingly, their brand new business class will feature the B/E Aerospace Reverse Herringbone design with slight modifications.

China Airlines new business class

The business class cabin will have a total of 40 lie-flat beds in a dark-blue color scheme and wood panel accents. A brand new Panasonic eX3 AVOD system will showcase 18-inch screens, the largest among Taiwanese carriers, and even the remote control will feature a 4.1-inch multi-touch display. Other amenities include fully-adjustable headrests, storage closets, power outlets, USB inputs, and noise-canceling headphones.

Business class lie-flat bed



AVOD system and storage

One slight modification from the EVA Air and Cathay Pacific designs can be seen in the removal of the side storage cabinets to create a more spacious feel for passengers. While the cabinets were well thought-out and useful, I did find that it required passengers to twist uncomfortably to the side to access. China Airlines' version places the seat and AVOD controls, as well as additional storage space, at arm level within easy reach. The reduced obstruction will also better facilitate conversation between couples seated in the center aisle.

Business class passengers will have access to the VIP Sky Lounge, featuring magazines, self-service alcohol, refreshments, and snacks in a comfortable and social environment.

Business class Sky Lounge


The 777-300ERs will introduce China Airlines' foray into the growing premium economy sector. Upon first inspection, the seats appear to be better than EVA Air's offering, with a fixed-back, forward reclining design that will prevent intrusion into the rear passenger's personal space. While Cathay Pacific used a similar design in their economy cabin with disastrous results, I believe these seats are more akin to true business class seats, and look far more comfortable. Details about width and pitch have yet to be revealed.

Additional features in premium economy include larger dining tables, front tray tables with cup and bottle holders, coat hooks, personal reading lights, USB and power outlets, and a large 12.1-inch multi-touch AVOD screen.

China Airlines new premium economy class

Fixed-back forward reclining seats



While no renderings of standard economy class were included, one interesting tidbit was the announcement of the Family Couch, which will allow the middle two armrests to fold up completely and an extra set of three leg rests to prop up horizontally, forming a fully flat bed of sorts for families. This idea is not new, as Air New Zealand pioneered the unique configuration years ago on their Economy Skycouch.

According to the article, China Airlines plans to introduce ten rows of their Family Couch in the economy cabin, for a total of 30 seats (I'm guessing only the center aisle). In addition, the seats will feature a specially designed harness for safety. Pillows, blankets, and even a mattress pad will be provided for extra comfort.

China Airlines Family Couch in economy class

Of course, the big question is what this all means for award redemptions through Delta Skymiles. Round-trip travel from the U.S. to Taipei costs 70,000 miles in economy and 140,000 miles in business. Delta imposes mild fuel surcharges on China Airlines, and they tend to run about $350 for a round-trip award ticket.

China Airlines award space is searchable on its own website even if you are not a Dynasty Flyer member, and availability should match what Delta agents can see, as long as the booking classes are correct (X for economy, O for business).

Unfortunately, Delta does not display China Airlines award space on its website, so the only booking option via Skymiles is to phone in. Air France's Flying Blue website is supposed to display China Airlines award availability, but it does not appear to be working right now. Another paid option, ExpertFlyer, only displays economy award space for China Airlines.

Oddly enough, after speaking to multiple Delta Skymiles agents, not one award seat in any class from October all the way through the end of the schedule could be found. Intra-Asia routes came up empty as well. A few hours later, I called in again and seemed to get an agent who knew what she was doing. This time, plenty of award space in both economy and business showed up. On certain days, there were even three or four business class seats available. So as the old saying goes... hang up and call again!

If you want to preemptively book a seat on the new 777-300ERs, China Airlines has initial plans to fly them on regional routes to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh City beginning in September 2014. The aircraft will then be deployed across the Pacific to Los Angeles in December, with continued expansion to New York City in February 2015.

Flight schedules featuring the new 777-300ERs have already been loaded, so an award search on China Airlines' website can quickly determine if you will get the new product. Of course, last-minute aircraft swaps are always a possibility, so keep your fingers crossed. The current route map can be found here.

China Airlines award search showing the new 777-300ER

Available business class award seats