According to Raleigh-Durham International’s blog, Delta Air Lines will add new nonstop services from Raleigh/Durham (RDU) to the warm weather destinations of Miami and Nassau later this year. Per the blog, “Nonstop service to Nassau is scheduled daily for the peak holiday travel period of Dec. 20, 2014-Jan. 20, 2015. Miami nonstop service will operate on Saturdays from Dec. 20, 2014- Aug. 15, 2015.” However, my own look at the schedules shows both services as Saturday only at the moment, with the last Nassau flight on January 10, 2015.

While these markets might seem a little odd at first glance, RDU is a bit of a focus city for Delta with a big number of flights to Delta’s major hubs and large markets like Los Angeles. Delta has operated a Saturday only nonstop from RDU to Cancun for a few years, and these new Saturday only flights are likely using aircraft that have some spare time on the weekend. Miami is well served from RDU by American, but I guess Delta could capitalize on its inherent strengths in the local RDU market, and deliver a few folks to weekend departing cruises too.

Now for the next big question – will Delta revive its idea that never took flight from years back of 757 service to Paris from RDU? Hmmm.

-MJ, August 20, 2014

It’s hard to believe that the MJ on Travel team is just 104 days away from boarding the beautiful new Quantum of the Seas. One of the restaurants I’m looking most forward to visiting onboard is Michael’s Genuine Pub. Introducing the Gastropub aboard a cruise ship should be no small feat, but I’m pretty confident that the chef and the folks at Royal Caribbean will figure it out. One of the features I’m looking most forward to sampling is the craft beer selection, including the pub’s own brew, Michael’s Genuine® Home Brew, working with Back Forty Beer Company. Here’s a look behind the scenes at Back Forty where the new brew will be crafted.

Last weekend I took my first United mainline flights in several years. At least 3 years…maybe 4 or even 5….the memory is fuzzy. I think the last one was a reroute from AA Eagle to UA from Raleigh to Washington. I’ve had an interesting relationship with United over the years. After working for their primary competitor for so many years, I found flying them to be interesting. I like to compare and contrast airline operations, and the differences (and similarities) between United and my ex-employer were always curious to me. There really weren’t that many, but it was just different enough to be novel at the time. It didn’t hurt that they had a good number of flights to where I needed to go at the time either.

I’ve held both Premier and Premier Executive status in the then Mileage Plus program. I’ve flirted with United on and off since 2004. It was always interesting, but never quite real. For whatever reason, I’d find myself flying someone else after a flirtation with United. I liked their mileage program just fine, but something about the airline itself always bugged me. And being the kind of guy who finds that the airline matters more than its mileage program, I always wandered away. The final parting came when I was spending more time flying US Airways, but crediting to Mileage Plus. Probably not a bad plan, but I was flying enough that upgrades began to matter – even on 2 hour flights. I made the final switch to Dividend Miles and spent most of my MileagePlus miles in late 2012 on a Lufthansa First Class trip. With that as background, I thought I’d share some details of recent flights given the drubbing (at times deserved I think) that United has taken from some circles.

The Trip

I needed to get home from LAX, and studied my options – money, miles or walking. I went with miles as I had some MileagePlus miles leftover that were burning a hole in my pocket – just enough for a domestic first class award. I found a one-way itinerary from LAX to Atlanta via SFO and booked it. I thought the 737 transcon experience might make for an interesting experience as United has been flying nonstop from SFO to ATL for a several months now. When the time arrived, I checked in via United’s fairly functional iPhone app the day before, and enjoyed my evening. As I was getting ready the next morning I got a little push notification from United letting me know that my flight from LAX to SFO was delayed. I couldn’t help but think I was about to get Jeff’d. I selected my routing with purpose. First, it assured me mainline jets all the way, something of which I found to be challenging with UA. Second, I wanted to check out the transcon service on the 737-800. I elected to get out to the airport and try and standby for an earlier flight even though it did not look promising on ExpertFlyer.

I checked in with an agent, and she placed me on the standby list. The flight was booked solid, and I wasn’t very hopeful. However, I stuck it out at the gate, and what do you know? I cleared – 32D in an A319 was not the same as 2A on the A320 I was originally scheduled or, but I would make my connection with ease. This flight left right on time, arrived SFO early, and I wandered around the terminal a bit. It’s been years since I’ve flown United but portions of their terminal are clearly improved. I burned a day pass for the United Club, camped out and got some work done. In no time it seemed, I was walking down to board my flight home to the ATL. We were a tiny bit late boarding, but things went smoothly, and we pushed right on time. I was looking forward to the flight, partially thanks to an email I received from United the day before:

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The Seat

I surmised that it is such an event to actually get wi-fi on a United flight that they need to send you an email to let you know you’ll have it. :) Funny thing is, both of my United flights that day were wi-fi ready. I boarded, and took my assigned seat 3E, on the aisle. The seats were a tiny bit old school, but comfortable, and I enjoyed catching up on a little news via DirecTV while we boarded. Legroom was plentiful. Perhaps they felt extra roomy because I was waaaay back in coach on my first flight of the day. Let’s compare…here’s 32D:

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And 3E.

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To tell you the truth, I found the coach seat very comfortable until the person in front of me reclined into my lap. But I’ll take 3E, thank you very much. Soon enough, we were airborne and winging our way towards Atlanta. I did try out United’s satellite wi-fi. I found it to be sufficiently speedy for my needs (4mbps download speed when I tried), and I liked the pricing plan very much. Basically, you buy as much as you want in 1 hour blocks for $2 per hour. I don’t know if that is a test phase price or not.

The Meal

Dinner was served during our flight. Our choices were chicken cacciatore and some kind of spinach filled thing that didn’t sound all that great. I went with the chicken with red wine for my beverage. Service began with hot towels, beverages, and my eternal favorite, a ramekin of warm mixed nuts.

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While the pre-dinner services were going on, I began to explore the entertainment offerings. DirecTV offered a LOT of channels, and I found myself surfing a bit. My eyes settled on VH-1. Yes, I said that. Why? The movie Purple Rain was playing. The rest of the flight was made as I enjoyed the music of Prince at FL370. But alas, dinner did eventually arrive so here ya’ go.

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If you’re counting, that’s approximately 1/3 of a chicken breast under some sauce with veggies and something resembling pasta. It doesn’t look like much, but it actually tasted OK. The salad was fresh, if skimpy (1 olive, 1 chunk of tomato, lettuce). A bread basket was offered as well. Dessert was a cranberry and white chocolate cookie. The meal was good enough, but I’m not sure it would have passed muster with Delta, much less American, and I’m not talking about the A321T First Class meal I had the day before. The first class F/A, on the other hand, was ever present, frequently offering refills of beverages and routinely checking on passengers. She absolutely made the flight. Well, other than Purple Rain on the TV, she absolutely made the flight.

The Bottom Line

I viewed the idea of flying United again with some trepidation based on a bit of media attention they’ve been receiving. Even though my original flight was delayed, I stood by for an earlier trip, and everything worked out fine. The agents and crew I interacted with were all uniformly polite, smiling, and helpful. Two flights doesn’t mark a trend, and living where I live, it’s not likely that I’ll go out of my way to fly United. That said, I won’t actively avoid it either. I enjoyed my flights.

-MJ, August 19, 2014 (OMG, I took my first airplane ride 34 years ago today!)

Dear Delta,

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone against the grain in support of Delta Air Lines. Even when my little inside voice has told me to just keep my mouth shut, or let other people worry about it, I’ve piped in with support. Don’t get me wrong, I know my place in Delta’s world. I’m one guy who flies a little, spends more than some, less than many others, and to my knowledge has only ever sent one formal complaint to Delta that I can remember in all my years of flying. Let’s review a few gems from the past from me.

And those are just a small sample. Here’s the thing, I still believe every good thing I’ve said about you, really, I do. But when you pull chicken sheet little nonsense like removing upgrade inventory from ExpertFlyer.com, a service which many of us that fly like to use, you make it difficult to love on you, even if I am personally not all that impacted by your decision. I’m sure you’ve got some reason as to why you did this. It may even make some sense if I heard it. However, all we know is that in addition to changing everything we know about mileage programs, you’ve removed a good bit of the utility from an extremely useful tool that many of us like a lot. I still love you, I still seek to fly you, and I’m pretty sure you don’t hate having me as a customer…but seriously….is this where you take your stand? I don’t get it. Explanations welcome.

Love,

MJ

-MJ, August 18, 2014

 

As a self-described airplane nerd, I could not help but wax a little nostalgic when I read that the final flights of the Boeing 737-400 for US Airways were scheduled. According to the FlyerTalk thread dedicated to the topic, the last flight will be tomorrow, August 19th, from Philadelphia to Charlotte. Some dedicated frequent flyers have booked the entire last day’s flying which includes CLT-DFW-PHL-CLT.

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I well remember my first ride aboard a brand new 737-400 operated by Piedmont Airlines, the type’s launch customer. The flight was from Los Angeles to Charlotte, and it had that new airplane smell. It’s hard to believe so many years have passed, and now there’s a whole generation of newer 737s and coming soon, the 737MAX to fly us where we need to go. August 19th has special meaning for me because August 19, 1980, was the day I took my first airplane flight. It was aboard an Eastern Air Lines DC-9-50 from Raleigh (RDU) to Washington (DCA). The fare was $68.00 one-way, and I still have the boarding pass safely preserved in a scrapbook! I wish I’d been paying attention as I would’ve considered booking one of these segments just for fun!

Goodbye old friend. You’ve served us well.

-MJ, August 18, 2014

Marriott recently upgraded its smartphone app (iOS and Android) to accommodate mobile check in at many of its hotels. This weekend was my first opportunity to try the app’s mobile check in feature. It was as easy as it appears to be in this video from Marriott.

I checked into my LA hotel while I was sitting at JFK. Upon landing at LAX, I had a notification waiting in the iPhone notification center informing me that my room was ready.

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Upon arrival at the hotel, I proceeded to the front desk where I picked up my key. No muss, no fuss, but I still had to wait for a front desk attendant to assist a hapless couple. There is a large sign that says something to the effect of “pick up your key here for mobile check in” but the person working that position was also working the regular line. I expect that’s something that will evolve as more people try mobile check in. It will certainly need to if Marriott wants people to use this option frequently. In reality, my wait was only a few minutes, and the actual process of getting my key once I was in contact with a front desk attendant seemed to go very quickly as my room key was already prepared, etc.

Mobile check out appeared as an option on the morning of my departure. It was really easy. You have the option of checking out with an email receipt or no receipt. The whole thing took about 5 seconds, and I was done. Much quicker than the option of checking out via in room TV, which always seems to be agonizingly slow to me, no matter the hotel brand.

The bottom line – I’ll be a frequent user of Marriott mobile check in, and I’m looking forward to watching it evolve as both guests and hotels get comfortable with it.

-MJ, August 18, 2014

Yesterday, I paid my first visit to the AA Flagship Lounge at JFK. With my only other Flagship Lounge experiences having been LHR, MIA, and ORD, I was curious to see the lounge. I am not 100 percent positive, but I believe it may be the most recently opened. I’m sure some readers know the scoop on that and can correct me in comments if it’s not true.

I haven’t frequented Flagship Lounges because I don’t fly AA that much anymore with my relocation to Atlanta, and I’m not now, nor have I ever been an AA Executive Platinum. My previous Flagship Lounge experiences were all courtesy of international First Class itineraries. Indeed, my JFK visit was available to me as a First Class customer on an AA 3-class transcon flight. In my case, I was purposely there to sample the AA A321T product.

The JFK Flagship Lounge is located in AA’s terminal 8, just beyond security. It is housed within the B Concourse Admirals Club. You enter the regular club, and upon check in, they will provide you with a key card for access to the Flagship Lounge, which is just to the right of the Admirals Club check in desk. I was politely assisted, and offered a key to the lounge, which I happily took. Once inside, the lounge concierge greeted me, and took the key card. I’m guessing they’d just give you another if you needed to leave, but I did not….I had 3 hours to kill, and I was looking forward to enjoying the lounge. For the first 40 minutes, I was the only customer there.

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Furnishings weren’t necessarily better than you’d find in the Admirals Club, but they had me at power outlets. In short, there were power outlets everywhere! I arrived just as the staff was transitioning from breakfast to lunch. I would enjoy a full dinner on my 3:30PM flight to LAX, but I wanted to at least sample the food. Being the only person there, I was able to enjoy a few lunch items before I was joined by more customers. The lunch spread was great for a US airline lounge and included different salads, cheeses, etc. There were two soups, Minestrone and a chili.

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The food was tasty….I was actually pleased with it. It wouldn’t pass muster at some international lounges, but it was what it was. I enjoyed lunch. There was also a complimentary self-serve bar setup.

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I’ve become a bit of a wine snob, even if I don’t understand why or how. The Show Cabernet is certainly drinkable, but I don’t love it. Admittedly, even though I had the opportunity, I did not try the rest of the wines to see if I liked something better. No matter what, I appreciated the opportunity to relax in a very quiet lounge with reasonable food and drink options. That said, I think my favorite part of the JFK Flagship Lounge experience was the beautiful views of the ramp. In short, I was geeking things up when it came to plane spotting.

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That A321T in the shot was ultimately my ride to LAX. :) In the end, I really enjoyed the AA Flagship Lounge at JFK. Furnishings were comfortable, the atmosphere was pleasant (and in my case, exclusive), and the upgraded food was a step up from the usual Admirals Club fare. I enjoyed my visit, and it was a great setup for the A321T First Class experience.

-MJ, August 17, 2014

A great week of travel talk, and a long sought travel experience is the story this week. Yesterday’s ride aboard the A321T 3-class airplane in First with American Airlines was a highlight of the week. I’ll have a full trip report up later this week. Here’s a look at the weekly recap.

And this week, at MJ on Travel -

  • Trip Report – The AA A321T First Class
  • Trip Report – My First United Flights in Years
  • Hotel Review – Renaissance LAX

These topics, the weekly cruise deal, and no doubt more, this week at MJ on Travel.

-MJ, August 17, 2014

Just in case you did not pick up on today’s Twitter feed, I am aboard American Airlines 117 right now, enroute from JFK to LAX in First Class. I originally booked the flights for this trip report in the spring, but circumstances beyond my control prevented me from flying the A321T transcon service when first planned.  I’ll have a full trip report in the coming days, but I wanted to post a few thoughts now. Without further adieu, here are my three favorite things about the A321T transcon service with American Airlines.

The Seat – I can’t speak from personal experience, but I hear that the A321T F seat is essentially the same as the Business seat on the new 777-300s. Knowing that, suffice it to say I’m pretty sure how I’m getting to Europe for my next trip. While I could think of a couple of things I would improve about this seat, they are minor in the scheme of things. In short, this rocks!

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The Proper Wine Glass – It’s been a bit since I’ve been served wine in a mostly proper glass on a US airline. While I find domestic first class wine to be a work in progress on most airlines, I appreciate the proper glass. Even in the air, the wine just tastes better.

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The Environment – So it’s a new plane in a premium class of service. Of course, the environment is OK, but there’s more. Aside from the lack of L2 boarding, the small cabin size, attention from the flight crew, and wonderful seats, there’s more. It’s a nice and mostly exclusive environment. I like this 3-class A321 a lot.

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So, there you have my three favorite things about American’s A321T transcon service. I’ll have a full trip report, and maybe even a little constructive criticism posted in a few days. Have a great weekend!

-MJ, August 16, 2014

This morning I flew Delta Air Lines from Atlanta to New York LaGuardia. Delta’s meal windows would not normally allow for breakfast on such a short flight, but New York is a competitive market, so breakfast was served. The aircraft was a 737-700 and the choices were both cold. One being some kind of cereal/granola something, and the other being smoked salmon. Since I love smoked salmon, I went with that.

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In addition to smoked salmon, the meal included a tasty toasted bagel, cream cheese (not from the little Kraft plastic tub), capers & onions, yogurt, and delicious fruit. The salmon was fresh and very tasty. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and taste of this breakfast. Frankly, if it were offered as a choice along with the always reliable Delta First Class omelet, I might have to seriously consider the smoked salmon!!

This was a light and mostly healthy way to start a long day of traveling. What’s your favorite Delta First Class breakfast?

-MJ, August 16, 2014

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