Primera Air and the Emergence of Low-Cost Narrow Body Transatlantic Flights

A few weeks ago, I got a message from a friend. She was inquiring about this cheap ticket she’d found on Primera Air — a $300 round trip fare to England next summer. As Primera had recently announced routes from Boston to the English destinations of Birmingham and London Stansted, I knew the basics of the carrier, which I relayed to her. My advice was essentially this: you can’t go wrong for that price, but be warned: you’ll have to pay extra for pretty much everything aside from a seat and a carry-on bag. This didn’t deter her, and she (and her husband and in-laws) will be traveling on Primera next summer.

As is often the case when I have an interaction with a friend regarding plane ticket advice, I ended up thinking about this quite a bit more after the fact. I began to realize that we are entering a new era where airlines are beginning to use aircraft that were very much for short-haul flights on transatlantic routes, such as Primera using the Airbus A321neo (new engine option) on routes between the U.S and the U.K. Down the road, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a number of “smaller” cities — places where it wouldn’t have been economical for an airline to start long-haul flights — begin to acquire service to places across the pond.

The other thing I realized is that there seems to be some ambiguity around what it means to buy a transatlantic ticket on these low-cost carriers. As such, I figured it might make sense to dispel what it does include, what it doesn’t, and how you can work around (and hopefully avoid) the ancillary fees.

First things first, however — let’s have a look at how we got to this point.

Transatlantic Prices Have Gone Down

In the last few years, transatlantic flights have become exponentially cheaper. When I went to London in 2014 on British Airways, I paid a $952 round trip base fare ($1,034 total with window seat reservations), which was actually a pretty good price at the time. This spring, again going to London on British Airways, I paid a $505 round trip base fare, and $594.20 in total with window seat reservations. In two-and-a-half years, the price I paid — for the same route on the same carrier — dropped by more than $400.

There are a number of factors that have gone into this change, including Brexit, low fuel prices, and more efficient aircraft. However, there’s another factor that likely played a role: new competition from low-cost carriers.

With a number of round trip fares around $300, Norwegian Air Shuttle has made its name as the most well-known low-cost option between the U.S. and Europe. WOW Air and Icelandair have both made the Iceland Stopover quite popular, of course, and LEVEL emerged this year with cheap flights from Barcelona, too, but Norwegian really pioneered the emergence of the low-cost transatlantic sector.

This emergence has had a notable impact across the airline industry. Fearing market share loss, the legacy carriers have been forced to act. Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group (IAG), which is the parent company of legacy airlines such as Aer Lingus, British Airways, and Iberia, once scoffed at the threat of low-cost carriers on transatlantic routes. Walsh believed that four hours was the maximum that passengers would care to fly on a low-cost carrier, one which charged for bags, meals, and the like. However, Walsh has admitted that Norwegian has sent a clear message: people are willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort for the right price. Given that Aer Lingus and BA have dropped their ticket prices in transatlantic markets, and IAG launched LEVEL in March of this year, it’s evident that the impact of new competition undercutting the prices of the legacies has resulted in a new era — where the price of a ticket to France isn’t much different than going to Florida.

Primera, meanwhile, has been around for a few years, but has yet to launch its transatlantic operations, which are scheduled to begin in 2018. And while it doesn’t appear to want to match Norwegian in creating a low-cost transatlantic empire, it will certainly provide some extra competition on these transatlantic routes.

Narrow Body Transatlantic Flights Are Taking Off

Until this year, it was incredibly uncommon for any narrow body that wasn’t a Boeing 757 to be flying transatlantic. There were a few exceptions: Scandinavian Airlines flew its specially-configured 737-700 between Copenhagen and Boston, and Canadian carrier WestJet has started seasonal 737 services from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Dublin and London Gatwick. However, these were all unique cases in which either a specially-configured aircraft (the Scandinavian 737 has 86 seats, meaning it requires less fuel) or a unique distance (the distance from St. John’s to Dublin, for example, is only 2,042 miles — less than New York to LA).

This isn’t to say that narrow bodies like the new generation 737s (the -700, -800, and -900 models) and A321 aren’t capable of making it across the Atlantic between the U.S. and Europe. In fact, they quite often do so when an aircraft is delivered to an airline from the factory. jetBlue, for example, sometimes flies their A321s from Hamburg, Germany to Portland, Maine, a 3,538 mile journey, on delivery flights in order to stop and refuel on their way to having their cabins configured (TVs installed/etc.) in Greensboro, North Carolina.

When these planes did cross the ocean with passengers, however, they had long had to do so with payload restrictions. Norwegian, for example, could only have 150 passengers on board its 737-800, even though the aircraft has 186 seats. Add in the factor of headwinds, and you’ll see an aircraft with a 3,500 mile range (such as an A320) struggle to make it, say, 3,000 miles. Quite literally, the headwinds of the jetstream can take hundreds of miles off a plane’s range, which is why so many carriers avoided using “normal” short-haul planes on transatlantic routes even if they “technically” had the range to do it. Moreover, a related factor is that overhead costs (such as the cost of fuel and the high landing fees at major airports) had long made it imperative for airlines to use large planes (more seats = more passengers = more money) in order to ensure profitability.

This year, however, all of that changed. In June, Norwegian took delivery of its first 737 MAX 8, an improved 737 with improved aerodynamics, more efficient engines, and an improved range. This enabled the carrier to begin transatlantic service between Providence, Rhode Island and places like Cork, Ireland — free of payload restrictions. Of course, given that Norwegian has not yet taken delivery of all of the MAX aircraft it intends to use, some 737-800s are still operating payload-restricted transatlantic flights. However, the first Norwegian MAX made it clear: airlines can operate long-haul transatlantic flights on narrow body aircraft.

This isn’t to say that these flights won’t have their issues. As I’ve noted before, a number of westbound 757s — those battling headwinds from the jetstream — have been forced to divert short of their final destination to refuel in recent years. And while such incidents are much less likely for long-haul aircraft, narrow body planes will continue to occasionally suffer this fuel-burning fate during the winter. That being said, if the introduction of these planes on transatlantic routes can open a number of new destinations, I think the benefits will have outweighed the costs.

Primera: How does it compare?

While its flights will utilize an Airbus rather than Boeing, Primera will be the second low-cost carrier to enter the space from flying from the U.S. to the U.K. with non-payload restricted aircraft. Much like the 737 MAX, the A321neo is an upgrade on an aircraft that has been popular for years. And though a number of carriers thinking about entering the transatlantic market (such as jetBlue) are keen to wait for the A321LR — which will be even more suited to handle these long-haul flights — to come out, Primera has decided to take the plunge in becoming the first carrier to use an Airbus NEO aircraft on transatlantic flights.

As expected with narrow body aircraft, things may feel a bit tight — although the approximately 17 inches of seat width are pretty standard as far as economy goes, both for narrow body and wide body aircraft. Regarding pitch, Primera’s seats will have approximately 30 inches. This isn’t much, but it’s pretty much the same as the Norwegian 737s, and only an inch less than full-service legacies like Aer Lingus and British Airways. All told, it should be pretty much the same as what you’d experience on a domestic flight within the United States — not incredibly comfortable, but not unbearable by any means.

As far as amenities go, there will be no seatback TVs, but Wi-Fi will be available for a fee. The TVs are the one thing that I feel Primera is lacking — I’ve only ever flown on Norwegian’s 787s (both the 787-8 and 787-9), all of which have seatback TVs — although it should be noted that Norwegian’s 737 MAX 8 does not have TVs, either, so the like-for-like comparison is relatively similar.

As far as fees go, Primera has plenty of them. Here’s a quick summary of what it lists on its website (scroll to the bottom for transatlantic flights):

  • Seat selection from $39.99 per seat
  • Checked bags from $44.99 (max 23 kg/50 lbs.)
  • Meals from $39.99

For comparison, here’s a list of Norwegian’s fees:

  • Seat selection from $45 per seat
  • Checked bags from $45
  • Meals from $45
How do you avoid the fees?

As you can see, that cheap ticket can get a lot more expensive really quickly. Some of you might look at that list and understandably balk. However, there are a number of ways you can plan ahead and save money:

  • Buy a meal before your flight at the airport! I would much, much rather eat a nice meal at the airport than pay $45 for airline food. Even if you spend $25 on steak at TGI Friday’s, you’re still saving $20 versus buying a meal on the plane. And given you’ll be sitting for the next six or so hours, you’re not likely to get hungry!
  • Both Primera and Norwegian do (unlike, say, Spirit Airlines) give you one carry-on bag with the purchase of your ticket. A larger number of rolling suitcases (also called roller-boards) can fit in the overhead lockers — so pack as densely as you can.
  • Determine whether you feel you need that window or aisle seat (or, if you’re traveling with company, determine whether you need to sit next to each other). I, personally, prefer a window, so that extra money is worth it to me — but many don’t care.
Know what you’re getting into

My words of advice to my friend went something like this: that’s an excellent price, by all means go for it, but just don’t be surprised that this might be a bit “different” than your previous transatlantic flights. She acknowledged as much, and was able to get a solid deal.

Ultimately, that’s what it boils down to. In some cases, people book these really cheap tickets to Europe, thinking they just beat the system and got an absolute steal. Depending on your preferences, this may be true, as you wouldn’t have had a choice whether or not to pay (bundled in your ticket) for a meal, baggage, and the like a few years ago. However, some are quite surprised when they have to pay for bags, meal, and seat selection, and feel like they got ripped off. Again, that may be an understandable feeling if you thought you were paying $300 for something that ends up costing you (all amenities included) over $500.

That being said, there are ways to avoid fees while still making the most of your experience. Pack light (or “tight”), have a nice meal before you get on the plane, and, if possible, try to be flexible about where you sit. Of course, I’m certainly not one to talk on that last fragment, as I prefer the window seat, but I am willing to pay that extra money because it is worth it to me. That, ultimately, is what it boils down to — determine what you believe is worth paying, and you’ll likely have a much more fun and predictable journey.

End of an Iconic Era: The passenger Boeing 747

As a young kid, I had a (well-documented) affinity with aircraft. My father and I used to walk down the street from our house in rural Maine to the local air strip, and I would watch the prop planes take off and land. However, it wasn’t until I got older that I started to learn about different types of airliners. And while I’ve been fortunate enough to fly on a variety of different planes over the years, one stands above the rest: the Boeing 747.

The 747 Story

The 747 is a timeless classic — aesthetically and otherwise — whose impact has been like no other. Its distinctive “hump” and four engines are unmistakably unique. It was the plane that revolutionized air travel, making it accessible to the masses.

Ironically, though, it wasn’t even supposed to be more than a stop-gap. Back  in the 1960s, supersonic air travel was thought to be only a few years away. Of course, this didn’t happen for a number of reasons, namely that fuel burn and aircraft stress is disproportionately affected by supersonic travel, as well as the fact that — following tests — civilian aircraft weren’t allowed to fly supersonic over land within the United States. The buzz of supersonic travel came and went, but the 747 stayed.

Even the Airbus A380 — which, in 2007, overtook the 747 as the largest passenger aircraft in service — didn’t have the same impact as the original Jumbo, and the A380 program is largely being kept alive by Emirates. The 747, however, has sold more than 1,500 frames, both cargo and passenger.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

That said, we are entering the twilight years for the 747. Delta Air Lines — the last U.S. carrier to operate the passenger type — will fly its final 747 flight next month. Moreover, the newest passenger variant, the 747-8, is only in service with three carriers: Air China, Korean Air, and Lufthansa. Even British Airways, the world’s largest operator of the 747-400, has stated its intention to retire the fleet by 2024. As cliche as it is, we are entering the end of an era.

A Change in the Landscape

With all that 747s have done over the years, why retire something that has served so many airlines so well?

The answer is multifaceted, but it ultimately comes down to technology. As noted in an earlier blog post, aircraft manufacturers have begun to produce twin-engine aircraft that are more efficient than the 747 yet can handle the same number of passengers. The Boeing 777-300ER (77W), for example, has 85% of the maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) as a 747-400. It can also hold near the same number of passengers — and it only has two engines. The 77W is newer, more efficient, and — most importantly — provides airlines with lower fuel costs. Gone are the days when the 747’s unparalleled capacity made it the choice for certain long-haul routes.

Why Not the 747-8?

There has been much made of the lack of success of the 747-8, Boeing’s newest incarnation of a classic. And while some have suggested that it was Boeing’s meek response to the A380 — which, despite outperforming the 747-8, hasn’t exactly been a resounding success — there are a number of factors at play (and it would take another article to cover that). Regardless, the 747-8 is never going to stem the tidal wave of long-haul twin-engine aircraft being purchased, so it’s understandable that it hasn’t been able to continue the 747 passenger jet legacy.

An Indisputable Impact

As outlined, there are many reasons that the Boeing 747 is being retired. However, while the importance of various factors could (and will) be debated for years to come, what’s not up for debate is its impact on aviation. From the 747-100’s maiden New York to London flight with Pan Am World Airways, to the development and debut of the 747-400, which would go on to become arguably the most iconic airliner of all time, it has withstood the test of time, and 2019 will mark 50 years since the type first took flight. I have even had the chance to fly on the type three times, and found each flight to be an incredible experience.

It will be a sad day when the last 747 lands for the final time. However, despite retirement of the type increasing, we are still a long way off from that. In the meantime, I intend to enjoy its remaining time in the air.

Westbound Inconvenience: Why 757s are prone to transatlantic fuel stops

You’re flying along, looking out at the sky, and everything seems to be going smoothly. Suddenly, the captain comes on and makes an announcement, saying something along the lines of “we’re going to be diverting due to weather at our destination.” A collective groan falls over the cabin, and the plane begins an unexpected descent.

Having been on two different diverted flights, I’ve had this experience firsthand. And while I do enjoy the opportunity to add another landing (and takeoff) to my flight log, I can’t say I enjoy having my routine interrupted. Particularly when it comes to travel, I don’t like surprises — I prefer things to be predictable. Of course, this isn’t something you can prevent, so I’ve learned to get with it, whatever happens. Both of the diversions I’ve encountered have been due to weather. However, while it is the cause of a significant number of diversions, weather isn’t the only culprit: security issues, mechanical anomalies, and fuel are a few of the many causes that can send people to places they hadn’t planned on going.

Transatlantic Fuel Stops Fuel the Fire

Fuel, in particular, has caused a number of diversions in recent years — particularly with Boeing 757s flying westbound transatlantic flights. As the largest narrowbody aircraft, the 757 has a range of around 4,400 miles, which makes it comfortably suitable for transatlantic operations. A number of different medium-range, “thin” routes which wouldn’t be profitable with a widebody aircraft are possible thanks to the 757. Indeed, it makes a number of routes possible in similar fashion to the way the Boeing 787 makes long, “thin” routes more than just a pipe dream.

However, the 757 has also drawn the ire of a number of transatlantic travelers — particularly in the winter months. During that time, the headwinds of the jetstream are at their strongest, meaning that planes need more fuel than usual to compensate. And while widebodies generally don’t have an issue with this, the 757 doesn’t have the same fuel capacity that those larger planes do. Their range is usually good enough to make a transatlantic crossing without much issue, but they are much more prone to fuel diversions than their larger counterparts.

This frustration was the subject of a 2015 piece on Mashable, titled Why choosing the right airplane type is crucial in the wintertime. There are a number of other pieces, too, on the subject, including a piece in the Wall Street Journal, but those are behind a paywall. Regardless, the Mashable piece raises a number of interesting points, particularly that many simply choose the cheapest flight, regardless of other factors. This can be a dangerous game to play — and, in the case of a business traveler who needs to be somewhere at a given time, it can mean missing an obligation. Of course, that’s a dramatization, but I think my point is clear.

Not All Flights Are Equal

Some flights are more prone to diversions than others. For example, a sector that is around 3,000 miles in length, such as Aer Lingus’ Shannon, Ireland to Boston route (2,891 miles), does not see an incredible number of diversions. Start talking about routes in the neighborhood of 4,000 miles, however, and it’s a different story. This summer, AA203, a flight from Amsterdam to Philadelphia (3,715 miles) diverted to Bangor, ME a number of times. This fall, AA55, which goes from Manchester, England to Chicago O’Hare (3,826 miles) stops in Bangor with some regularity.

Sometimes, the carrier realizes before the flight that it isn’t able to make it on a full tank, and informs passengers of the impending disruption. And while it’s a nice gesture, as diversion-related surprises are not fun for most passengers, I can imagine it’s incredibly frustrating to be told of an impending diversion, whether in the air or on the ground.

Use Your Judgement

I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from flying transatlantic on a 757. On a number of routes, it’s the only aircraft that makes service viable — and for those routes, I would say absolutely take it. Moreover, the chance of having a fuel stop are far from a sure thing. That said, if there are other options at a comparable price when you are traveling, I might encourage you to think twice before taking a westbound 757 in the winter.

Flying is Cheaper Than Ever Before – at the Cost of Comfort: Why airlines are cutting legroom, food, and more

There is perhaps nothing in the world that is simultaneously admired yet scorned as the experience of flying.

Excuse my romanticism here for a minute, but I think it’s worth recounting just how exceptional flight is. The fact that we have an invention which can weigh over a million pounds, travel near the speed of sound, and have the endurance to travel halfway around the world is remarkable. Trips that once took weeks, even months, can now be conquered in a number of hours – though that number is greatly variable, as Austin is closer to Boston than Australia, for example. Even so, this is astonishing.

In past decades, flying was a luxury. Comfortable seats and high-class meals were the tenets of an exclusive experience. Of course, the price tag on a plane ticket made it something that could only be afforded by the wealthy – but for those who had the means, the end was worth it.

How the Times Change

Fast-forward to the early 2000s. From TWA to Trump Shuttle (yes, a real carrier), airlines had come and gone over the century before. As the 2000s came along, people were much more likely to be ranting about the perception of being treated poorly going through security checkpoints, at the gate, or on the plane. And while September 11th certainly had a significant, negative impact on airlines, one that took years to overcome, the cost-cutting had already started: for the most part, airlines were no longer serving meals, and the era of ancillary revenue (fees for things that would have been standard 50 years ago) had started.

Who knew olives were so expensive?

There are certain carriers that are synonymous with charging for the majority of amenities. I’ve joked that Spirit Airlines, for example, charges for everything except oxygen, as it even charges those who want an in-flight bottle of water. Norwegian Air Shuttle, meanwhile, has become known for charging for meals – something once unthinkable for those traveling on transatlantic flights. Regardless of whether these actions have precedent or not, these carriers have begun to develop reputations for being extremely stingy with what they provide to customers in their respective markets.

To be fair, it’s not just the “budget” carriers that are cutting costs – the legacies are equally culpable, especially in the United States. A famous tale about carriers “penny pinching”: former American Airlines CEO Robert “Bob” Crandall found that he could save the airline in excess of $100,000 per year by removing olives from the salads served in coach (predictably, he kept the olives in the first-class salads).

That’s an extreme example, of course, but carriers are always finding ways to cut costs. Generally, it’s the people flying coach that have to bear the brunt of the reductions in service. For decades, no American carrier served complimentary meals in economy class on domestic flights, and – despite that trend being bucked by American and Delta earlier this year – currently the only way to get a complimentary economy meal is to be on certain transcontinental flights. Ultimately, if you’re lucky enough to be served a free meal on one of those flights, you’re in the minority – the majority of passengers flying domestic economy within the U.S. will not get a free meal (for the time being).

A Rock and a Hard Place

I have no problem admitting that I’m a British Airways fan. From the Union Jack tail and Speedmarque to the majestic combination of the two on the carrier’s Boeing 747-400, I can name numerous reasons that I like the flag carrier of the United Kingdom. I even had yet another excellent experience flying BOS-LHR-BOS on BA back in April.

However, I am not afraid to say that, in my view, the carrier has made a number of mis-steps in its effort to cut costs. The decision to start charging for food (albeit food from Marks and Spencer, a high-quality brand) on intra-Europe flights was, at best, a slight reduction in service to cut costs. At worst, it was the first step of a long-respected carrier losing its reputation as a customer service darling.

More than Meals

It’s not just the food that has passengers questioning the quality of Britain’s flag carrier. Since CEO Alex Cruz, the former head of Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling, took over in 2016, many have alleged that Cruz – along with Willie Walsh (CEO of parent company IAG and former BA CEO) – is trying to turn the carrier into a low-cost carrier of sorts, as a litany of “customer-unfriendly” changes are in the works in both the premium and economy classes. In addition to removing the second meal on westbound long-haul flights, he sounded out the possibility of charging for meals on long-haul flights in the future – a possibility that BA adamantly denied was on the cards at the time, but nevertheless one that upset passengers.

I’ve certainly been critical of Cruz since he’s come in. Additionally, I don’t think that running a low-cost carrier like Vueling is necessarily great preparation for running one of the world’s most venerable brands.

At the same time, I can somewhat understand why he’s making these (admittedly undesirable) changes. After all, new, low-cost carriers like Norwegian and WOW Air have begun putting pressure on transatlantic carriers to cut their prices in order to stay competitive. For example, when Norwegian can sell a JFK-LGW ticket for $300, it certainly makes one think twice about shelling out $600+ to fly JFK-LHR on one of the legacies, even if it means paying for checked bags or eating at the airport restaurant to save some money.

It certainly doesn’t provide the same allure as flying Emirates, but, as of this writing, British Airways is still listed as a SKYTRAX four-star airline – one star better than any of the American legacy carriers in American, Delta, and United. Yet amidst a number of recent complaints about the experiences in both the premium and economy classes, many would say that BA is not making it easy to justify paying extra for an allegedly less-than-stellar experience. The challenge for BA will be to balance its cost-cutting measures with improvements in passenger experience – improvements that will enable passengers to justify paying a premium to fly “the World’s Favourite Airline.”

Consumers Drive the Market

Food and amenities aren’t the only thing that airlines are cutting. Aside from staffing reductions, perhaps the most controversial cuts in the airline industry have been to something that directly impacts the comfort of (most) passengers: legroom.

That’s right: carriers – including American Airlines – are reconfiguring planes to hold more seats, which ultimately reduces the amount of legroom that each passenger is entitled to. In fact, Spirit of all carriers is giving American a run for its money. Just to underline how notable this is, Spirit is the same carrier whose planes are so crammed that its seats can’t be reclined (the carrier calls them “pre-reclined” – which, however disingenuous, is a brilliant turn of phrase, I must say).

Why would American do this to itself? United President Scott Kirby – who formerly held the same role at American – put it simply:

“Seat pitch has come down…because that’s what customers voted with their wallets that they wanted. … [E]very time airlines put more seat pitch on, customers choose the lowest price. Customers have to be willing to pay if they want more seat pitch. And the evidence is that they aren’t willing to.”

I have to say that I have some reservations about Kirby’s oversimplified supply-and-demand equation, as I don’t believe that load factors would suffer as much as he might claim if ticket prices were raised as a result of more legroom. Yet as much as we might hate to admit it, he is (mostly) right. These days, it’s all about finding the lowest price – although those low prices are more due to low oil prices and increasingly fuel-efficient aircraft rather than the benevolence of airlines.

Even so, I am as guilty of this as any: I almost always go for the cheapest ticket, as it is much easier to justify spending a sub-$100 amount to fly somewhere for a weekend versus shelling out $200+ but having more legroom. The unfortunate reality is that the current trend will likely continue: as we continue to demand cheaper prices, airlines will continue to shrink legroom to stay competitive.

On a lighter note, there is one thing you can do to combat experiencing ever-shrinking legroom: fly on my favorite American carrier – jetBlue!

Quad Question: Why do airlines still fly four-engine jets when two will do?

While there have been a number of four-engine passenger jets over the years, there are – essentially – three major models today: Airbus’ A340 and A380 and the Boeing 747.

For a number of years, four-engine jets served the world’s most veritable long-haul routes. And while three-engine jets such as the Lockheed L-1011 and McDonnell Douglas’ DC-10 and MD-11 did serve some long-haul routes, quad-jets were generally preferred over tri-jets.

How Things Change

For a number of years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a jet with two engines operating intercontinental routes. Yet with the evolution of technology, the reliability of the engines that power twin-jets improved consistently. As a result, in 1985, ETOPS regulations were passed by the FAA, thus giving twins – which generally burn less fuel – the ability to operate on routes that previously required a tri or quad.

Given the reliability and power of these engines, and the massive savings in fuel costs, it would appear that the airlines have been vindicated. For example, the General Electric GE90 which powers Boeing 777s generates 115,000 lbs. of thrust – almost double what a GE CF-6 powering a 747 puts out. Indeed, the fact that a 777-300ER – whose maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) is approximately 700,000 lbs. – can still operate with an engine out speaks volumes to just how powerful the GE90 and other new engines are.

The gravitation towards the twin has been evident. For example, Delta and United are both set to retire their few remaining 747s before the end of the year, while both carriers possess fleets that are comprised of a number of twins which operate long-haul sectors. And given that no American carrier operates the A340 or A380, the retirement of those 747s is likely to be the end of the passenger quad-jet in the United States.

A Different Picture

In America, the reality is that quad-jets are almost obsolete. In Europe and Asia, however, there are still a significant number of quad-jets.

Between slower-than-anticipated orders and a number of other factors, it’s no secret that the A380 hasn’t been the success that Airbus would have hoped it to be. Despite this, a number of carriers are finding the planes useful. In Europe, British Airways, Air France, and Lufthansa all operate the A380. In Asia, there are nine carriers with the aircraft – Emirates alone has 93 within its fleet. Even though American carriers have found the A380 not to be a worthy investment, the same can’t be said for the rest of the world.

Though not as new as the A380, both the A340 and 747 are still used by carriers throughout Europe and Asia. In fact, British Airways remains the world’s largest operator of the 747, with 36 of the type still in service as of this writing. The carrier refurbished of a number of 747s in 2015, giving them new seats and upgraded in-flight entertainment systems and suggesting that those planes will remain active for some years to come.

What’s the Appeal?

Given that quads, which generally burn more fuel than twins, are still alive and well throughout the rest of the world, it begs the question: what is the appeal of a gas-guzzler over a more efficient aircraft?

There are a number of answers, but the one that I agree with the most is this: by using quads, airports operating close to maximum slot capacity can move more passengers using less slots.

For airports where slots are at a premium, airlines see the ability to operate one A380 per day rather than two 777s as a boon. After all, that slot is freed up to potentially be used by another aircraft, which could potentially allow a new destination to be served.

Though a 747 can’t fit as many people as an A380, they still boast superior capacity to two-engine models. This perhaps explains why BA – whose main base is at slot-constricted London Heathrow – still makes significant use of its 747s when other carriers have chosen to retire theirs. And though America has three of the world’s 10 busiest airports, as well as the busiest in Atlanta, I have to suspect that there are more slot-constricted airports in Europe and Asia than there are in America.

Ultimately, future developments like the 777-8 and 777-9 are anticipated to be able to seat significantly more people than the 777-300ER. Even so, we haven’t yet gotten to the point where we can fit, for example, 615 people – which Emirates has on its densely-configured A380s – on a twin. Moreover, airport congestion – and thus the need to alleviate it by using larger planes – is very much present. Until twins can seat a virtually identical number of passengers as their quad-jet counterparts, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see the latter in the sky for years to come.

Super Arrival: Emirates brings first scheduled A380 to Boston

As Emirates flight 237 approached Logan on the afternoon of January 26, 2017, it was evident that there was something different about this particular sector. In fact, it was an arrival that had air traffic controllers correcting themselves.

“Emirates 237 heavy…erm, correction, Emirates 237 super,” said the voice from Boston Approach after the Airbus A380 from Dubai made initial contact with the controller. A few minutes later, a Boston Tower controller had a similar exchange with the crew of the plane, which will return to DXB tonight as EK238.

These verbal stumbles were understandable. After all, Boston Logan has seen plenty of regularly-scheduled “heavy” arrivals and departures – a designation which is normally assigned to wide body aircraft like the Boeing 747 – over the years. However, this was the first time that the “super” designation, used by ATC for the very largest aircraft, had been used by a scheduled BOS arrival. And while the A380 operating in the place of the 777-300ER that normally operates this on this route is a one-off that was likely done to ensure that the recent upgrades to Logan’s Terminal E are A380-compatible, it was nevertheless an exciting event.

Fortunate Spotters Capture the Event

This wasn’t a significant media event by any means, but a number of fortunate spotters snapped pictures of the A380. The landing on Runway 22L was even caught on video by Instagram user nesam_sherovala, which allowed those of us who weren’t able to see the big bird touch down (such as myself) to enjoy the event virtually.

What it Means

I’ve said many times that I’ll always prefer the 747-400 to the A380, and today doesn’t change that. That said, this momentous arrival is exciting for the Boston aviation community, and – with British Airways scheduled to start flying the A380 on its BOS-LHR route alongside 747-400s, 777s, and 787-900s – signals the beginning of a new era at Logan.

The Boeing 757: A “sports car” in the sky

While technology has led to extensive change within the automotive industry, one thing has remained constant: sports cars are timeless classics. So the fact that the Boeing 757 was last produced 12 years ago means that its reputation as a “sports car” will likely remain intact for years to come.

The Race Car of the Sky

For those of you not familiar, the 757 is a very unique airplane. It’s not quite big enough to be a wide body, but larger than virtually any other narrow body. It has a long fuselage, powerful engines, and incredible wake turbulence.  It even makes air traffic controllers give special warnings to aircraft following behind.

It’s also capable of flying an incredible variety of routes. From Miami to Orlando (192 miles) to Newark to Berlin (3,973 miles), the 757 is a jack of all trades. Perhaps the largest factor that makes it unique, however, is the engines that power it. Equipped with either the Rolls-Royce RB211-535s or the Pratt & Whitney PW2000s, which are capable of producing in the range of high 30,000 lbs. force to low 40,000 lbs. force each, the 757 has been described as being “overpowered.” It boasts a significantly higher thrust-to-weight ratio than a variety of other aircraft. Regardless, when one puts a pair of powerful engines on an otherwise “light” aircraft, the result is the predictable.

An Experience Like No Other

I myself got to experience the power of the 757’s engines a month ago. Though I’d wanted to sit in front of the fans on a British Airways 747 in order to hear the unique buzzsaw of the RB211-524s, I realized that a much more cost-effective way of hearing an RB211 on takeoff power – rather than spending an extra few hundred dollars to sit in World Traveller Plus – would be to ride at the front of a 757-200 and hear the RB211-535s. Needless to say, it was an incredibly cool experience.

To be sure, I’m still a 747 fan first and foremost, as the four engines, two decks, and unparalleled impact on aviation are all unique to the first jumbo jet ever produced. However, I have a new, unique appreciation for the 757.