Air New Zealand Chooses Houston for First U.S. Expansion in 11 Years

photo by hans-johnson (Flickr / CC Commercial License)
photo by hans-johnson (Flickr / CC Commercial License)

On April 15th, Air New Zealand announced its first new U.S. destination in eleven years – and Houston (Bush Intercontinental) was the chosen city. Houston is only the fourth U.S. destination for the airline, along with Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The route will be originate in Auckland (AKL) and be served by a completely retrofitted Boeing 777-200ER.

Onboard, guests can enjoy Air New Zealand’s award-winning “Sky Couch” in economy. Sky Couch is a row of three economy seats, which fold out into a 61×29-inch bed. The Business Premier class offers lie-flat beds, Kiwi-inspired cuisine, a selection of New Zealand wines, and over 1,800 hours of on-demand entertainment.

To those who do not live in Air New Zealand destination cities, the airline has made a name for itself on social media over the past few years, with a series of highly creative Hobbit-themed safety videos.

As a Star Alliance member, Air New Zealand will offer easy connections for United Airlines passengers from U.S. hubs such as Newark and Chicago O’Hare. At the announcement, Air New Zealand VP of the Americas Chris Meyer said:

“We are thrilled to open service to Houston and share our Kiwi spirit and award-winning service with The Lone Star State and beyond. This expands our reach into a thriving part of the country and also acts as a great feed to the East Coast, meaning a gateway to New Zealand is now less than three hours away from numerous U.S. cities. We’re also excited about the prospect of bringing New Zealanders to Texas and other southern and eastern states via Houston.”

This Thursday (April 30th), Air New Zealand will celebrate its 75th anniversary. The 7,415 mile flight from IAH to AKL would almost crack the top-20 of the world’s longest flights. If you’re looking forward to flying this route, tickets are planned to go up for sale in May, with flights beginning this December, five days a week.

Op-Ed: Alaska Air’s Snoozing Bag Handler Isn’t a Security Issue

photo by Paul Thompson
photo by Paul Thompson

In the fallout of the recent accidental stowaway of an Alaska Airlines baggage handler, (who was employed by a contractor service, by the way) “safety experts” are saying the incident should serve as a warning to carriers, calling it a security risk.

Not so fast! Every person working around planes on the ground (an area called “the ramp”) is authorized to be in, on, or under that aircraft by way of a background check and a identification badge called a SIDA badge (Secure Identification Display Area). And just to get to the ramp, the employee has to pass through several layers of security including personal bag searches, badge scans, fingerprint scans, and visual badge verifications be airport security personnel. Many of those checkpoints are also in view of surveillance cameras.

Safety consultant and former airline pilot John Cox told the Associated Press the concern is “How do you have something in the cargo bin that you don’t know is there?” But where is the risk, when all employees are eligible to be there, and all baggage and cargo is fully screened by the TSA?

Bags in the bin

Experts want more accountability from the airlines, to make sure every crew member is accounted for, before the flight departs. That is a fine idea, in theory – but it adds to the complication of the operation. Every airline does things differently, but there are always more agents there when the plane arrives than when it departs. Many airlines utilize employees to cover several gates, and when an agent is done with one flight, he or she often goes on to the next one before the first plane departs. To require the whole crew to stick around throughout the entire “turn” from start to finish would be an irresponsible waste of personnel resources. In addition, everyone working flights is an adult, and accountable for his or her own actions. They don’t need babysitters, and they shouldn’t be required to report to to a supervisor to say “Hey, I’m going over to Gate 34 now.”

I’ve worked in the belly of hundreds of planes, and I’ve seen guys take short naps under there while waiting for connecting bags to arrive. You may not realize this, but it’s not unusual for ramp agents to be on the clock for sixteen straight hours or longer. Airlines try to operate with as few staff on hand as possible, in order to cut costs – but when something like bad weather happens, the folks who are already at work are forced to stay past their normal clock-out time. The employees get paid extra, but it compounds work that has already left them physically and mentally exhausted.

If someone has the opportunity to catch a brief cat nap during down time, I think it actually makes things safer, because it helps revive them and make them more alert. The baggage contractor for Menzies Aviation who fell asleep in the bin of Alaska Airlines flight 448 on Monday isn’t a security risk. Not to make excuses for the guy… he should be held responsible for his actions, and possibly even fired. The plane was only in the air for fourteen minutes, but it wastes a lot of time and money to have to return the plane to the airport – not to mention the negative publicity. Let this serve as an example of irresponsibility, not a scary security risk.

Watch Air France install their new La Premiere cabin

AF Premiere 2

Air France began installing these gorgeous new private La Premiere Business Class suites on their Boeing 777 fleet last summer. Notice the privacy curtains on each side… I think this is great, and adds a touch of elegance over the bulky, motorized partitions we usually see with seats similar to this.

Each 777 will get four La Premiere suites. Each suite features a 30-inch wide seat that folds out into a 6′ 5″ long bed. While the seat is upright, you can be joined by a guest in your suite, who can sit on an ottoman, and even join you for a meal at a table which can be installed.

AF Premiere 3

For entertainment, hundreds of on-demand video and music choices are at your fingertips, which you’ll enjoy on a 24-inch screen.

I’m a big fan of the lighter color motif. The light grey fabric and light tan leather accents make the space feel more vibrant in comparison to the standard dark wood and brushed nickel accents we are used to seeing lately.

Photos courtesy Air France

My Avgeek Bucket List

I admit it. Sometimes, okay, frequently, I scroll through the updates of friends and colleagues I follow on Twitter & Facebook and I come down with a case of “Avgeek Envy.” Those who get to frequently fly to far-off places just to sample and write about the latest aircraft seating innovation or aircraft introduction. I often read these posts and think “gosh, why can’t that be me?”

But then, I remind myself that in most cases, these are just examples of passengers being along for the ride. I’m fortunate enough to be involved in the day to day operation of a major commercial airline. Very few of these people I envy have ever marshaled a 120,000 pound plane to its stop mark on arrival. They haven’t had to plan how to load an aircraft, or be accountable for its on-time departure, while protecting the aircraft, customers and coworkers from damage and harm.

I’d like to think that some of the people I envy also envy some of the cool things I get to do daily. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of aviation-related things I’d like to do in the near future – so I present my Avgeek Bucket List:

(In no Particular order)

Ride in a B-17 Bomber
Ride in a P-51 Mustang
Ride in a modern military jet
Skydive (planning for my 40th birthday)
Ride in a private jet (any private jet will suffice)
Ride in a hot air balloon
Ride in a zero gravity plane (weightless simulation)
Fly over the International Date Line
Fly over the Equator
Barrel roll – preferably in the P-51 mentioned above
Tour other commercial assembly lines – Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier
Attend a major international air show as a writer (Farnborough, Dubai or Paris)
Participate in a commercial aircraft delivery flight
Fly a plane, including takeoff & landing
Circumnavigate the globe, starting and ending at the same point
Fly over 100,000 miles in a year
Hang gliding
Fly to every continent. So far I’ve only flown within the U.S. and Europe.
Fly on the following aircraft types I have yet to fly: 747-8i, 787, 737-900, A318, A321, A330, A340, [any and all regional planes except the Embraer 190 and ATR-72]
Avgeek accomplishments

Tour Boeing aircraft factories in Everett & Renton Washington
Attend Space Shuttle Launch (Atlantis STS-129 Nov 16, 2009)
Witnessed the landing of the Solar Impulse at DFW Airport
Flew on Lufthansa inaugural A380 flight from Frankfurt to JFK
Attended British Airways A380 & 787 introduction ceremony
Flew on a sea plane (1950 Grumman Albatross)
Photo-documented the final landing and museum installation of the very first Boeing 737-300 (N300SW)
Landed (as a passenger) on the USS George H.W. Bush while it was at sea. Spent 24 hours on board as a “Distinguished Visitor,” and departed the next morning via catapult launch.
Over 490 flights and 285,000 miles flown since 2001 (when I began recording trips)

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the NEW Dallas Love Field

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The security checkpoint at Dallas Love Field features a gorgeous ceramic tile mosaic mural called North Texas Sunrise by artist Dixie Friend Gay

DALLAS – On Tuesday, April 16th, the City of Dallas will open the second phase of the modernized Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL).

Phase One was completed in November, 2012 with the opening of the new ticket counter, curbside arrival/dropoff area, and security checkpoint.

Phase Two will open with the addition of the new passenger terminal, which will feature new gates and passenger lounges, shops and restaurants. Below is a series of photos (shot by myself) to provide a peek at the marvelous modern terminal.

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The escalator will take passengers up to their gates once they have passed through the security checkpoint.
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“Blueprint of Flight” greets passengers after coming off the escalator into the new main terminal at DAL. The art is by Martin Dolan.

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A typical gate area in the new terminal at DAL. This is one of 16 that will be used by Southwest Airlines. The floor-to-ceiling windows will provide great views of arriving and departing flights on runways 13L/31R.
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Panoramic shot of Gates 1-5 inside the new Dallas Love Field passenger terminal.
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Wonderful news – the chairs feature LOTS of electric outlets! Almost one per seat!
An up-close look at the new Customer Service desks you’ll see Southwest Airlines using at Love Field.
Restroom fixtures and decor inside one of the restrooms at the new Dallas Love Field passenger terminal.
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“One Riot, One Ranger” is a bronze statue by Waldine Amanda Tauch that has made its home at Love Field since 1960. He was removed during construction of the new facilities, but returned to the airport in March, 2013.
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This wire sculpture full of planes and birds encircles the food court in the new Dallas Love Field passenger terminal.

The terminal will also feature several shops and restaurants that are new to the airport or moving to the new facility. Among them: Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Whataburger, Manchu Wok, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Dickey’s BBQ, Cool River Cafe, La Madeline, and Sky Canyon by Stephan Pyles

The NEW American Airlines

At 9:00 this morning in Dallas, and all over the Internet, American Airlines unveiled its first branding change in four decades. The airline began early in the morning by posting a countdown clock, teasing its social media followers into a frenzy of conversation and speculation.

Countdown

About an hour before the official unveiling, an image of the logo was leaked online via Twitter user @gatsby:

Logo 1

Personally, I think the logo is pretty smart! It’s a modern interpretation of their logo, evoking a half “A” with what is presumably the head of an eagle. It also brought the Texas flag to my mind.  Regarding the tail, it’s a bold statement that says “American” – loud and clear! One person I follow mentioned that it really seems to convey a message of power.

You may click here to view video from American regarding the changes made to the brand:

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Image provided by American Airlines

Throughout the morning, I followed tweets about how various people were receiving the new branding message. Generally it seemed that most people like the new logo over the tail design. I viewed CEO Tom Horton’s press conference online, and the 737-800 they had on display looks even better than in some of the early images I had seen. The paint wasn’t light gray we many originally thought – but in the hangar, under lights, I noticed a pleasing pearl-like sheen to the paint – like that which you’d find on a luxury car. At that point, I felt a suggestion of class and power. American has come a long way since going into bankruptcy, and this clean image will help take into the decades to come.

There are some noticeable similarities in the tail areas between this and US Airways’ current livery – and as rumors continue to swirl around a potential merger with US Airways, I think this livery would tie into the US Airways brand as well.