A Turndown in Transcon Fares: Permanent or Passing?

Recently, I’ve mentioned the great deals on transatlantic flights that I’ve gotten to a few different people. Almost every time, people say “(the deal you got going to Europe) is cheaper than going to California.”

While I’ve heard those various replies, it wasn’t until recently that I started to think about what they were saying. After all, transcontinental flights have historically run well in excess of $300 round trip, particularly those to California.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to take a look at flights between Boston and Los Angeles, which has generally run cheaper than places like San Francisco, Portland, OR, or Seattle. I was quite surprised to find a number of flights not only well under $300, but closer to the $250 range.

Factors at Play

So what has spurred this recent downturn in fares?

There are a number of different things that spur these types of trends, but one of them seems to be the recent introduction of basic economy classes with American legacy carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines.

Though I wrote a piece about the emergence of these fare classes (a year ago to the day!), particularly United’s, one of the major goals of these programs isn’t to “give consumers choice,” as airlines would like you to believe. Rather, it’s to encourage people to pay more to get the same service that they received before.

Perhaps, then, the downturn in transcontinental fares can partly be attributed to the introduction of basic economy classes. However, it’s not just American, Delta, and United who are selling sub-$300 round trips on transcons: jetBlue and Virgin America have both slashed their prices to the point where even flights less than a month out are running in that price range.

b6-fare-bos-lax
A trip from December 6 to December 10 would cost $237, which is well below traditional norms.

This is particularly surprising, as jetBlue and Virgin America have been known to have economy transcon products that are superior to the aforementioned American legacy carriers. Moreover, neither has implemented a basic economy class (derisively called “economy minus”), so you’d think that they would still be able to charge a (relative) premium.

Looking Ahead

While these recent developments are certainly good for the average traveler looking to escape to the West Coast, this isn’t to say that transcontinental fares will stay low permanently. Additionally, while international flights are (generally) further in distance and have their own unique requirements that can drive prices up comparable to domestic flights, and while the U.S. domestic airspace already contains budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier, the arrival of carriers like Norwegian Air Shuttle and WOW Air have certainly put downward pressure on a number of transatlantic markets. As a result, any fluctuation could well put these transcon fares back above the routes they’re currently cheaper than.

Moreover, fares are not made to be identical or stagnant, as, for example, a market with less competition and a high number of business travelers is likely to have a higher base fare at any given time. After all, from a business standpoint, why charge less when people will pay more? Airlines are businesses, and businesses aim to maximize profits, so they’ll do their best to get the maximum “willingness to pay” out of their customers. If that willingness is “up” in a certain place, it’s reasonable to assume that the prices will adjust accordingly.

Despite all the pessimism in the preceding two paragraphs, there’s certainly much to be optimistic about. With the ever-increasing affordability of air travel, particularly to destinations far away, the American public can continue to look forward to newfound travel opportunities both near and far.

Azores Airlines: You’ll get there, but it might take a few days

In the United States, Spirit Airlines has developed a reputation of being the most “bare bones” carrier in the skies. Fees for carry-on bags, snacks and drinks (even water!), and extensive delays have deterred a large number of passengers, myself included. Yet there is another, lesser-known European carrier with a presence (albeit a small one) in the U.S. whose service (or lack thereof) has also become notable: Azores Airlines — formerly known as SATA Internacional — the flagship carrier of the Azores islands.

The Azores

Located off the coast of Portugal in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores are becoming a popular destination for tourists. The incredibly blue water, mild temperatures, and picturesque mountains rising out of the ocean is really quite phenomenal — and those observations are coming from someone who’s never been.

While the (occasionally cheap) fares may attract some to travel on Azores in order to get to this archipelago, there are reasons to be leery — mainly that Azores has a well-documented reputation of shoddy service.

The Incident

Back in June, passengers were unable to fly for days after a ground vehicle struck an Azores plane at Boston Logan, resulting in cancellation of that day’s flight to Ponta Delgada. While it doesn’t appear that Azores was responsible for the collision, one woman described of waiting “three, maybe four” days in the airport. Since Azores didn’t have its contingency plan in place enabling passengers to utilize local hotels, Massport was forced to provide cots for passengers to sleep on in the airport — hardly the safest accommodations, not to mention uncomfortable.

Another passenger said he was continuously told “come back tomorrow,” with scarce information on the flight itself. To add insult to injury, he was forced to pay for transportation to and from his hotel. His view on the incident reveals a galling disconnect and lack of communication from the carrier:

“All these people that are lined up, it is just pure frustration,” Cabral said. “You can’t go to the bathroom; you have to wait in line. No one comes out and manages anything. We don’t believe anything that is being said at this point and time. It is disappointing. We have lost hotels, we have lost appointments, we have lost connecting flights, and we have no idea what we are going to get in return. We don’t know what is going to happen when we get to the front of the line. This is an exercise in futility. It’s an embarrassment, and I really think that something should be done.”

Azores’ Response

For its part, Azores did issue a public statement about the incident after the fact:

“A series of technical issues took out two [aircraft in our] long-range fleet, causing difficulty from Boston to Portugal. Our team has tried to get local airport officials to inform impacted passengers [of the situation].”

A statement is better than saying nothing, in this case, but it was insufficient in my opinion. Particularly, I had to laugh at the use of the word “difficulty.” It seemed to be almost as tone-deaf of a statement as United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz initially using the word “re-accommodate” to describe what happened to Dr. David Dao in April of this year in a memo to his employees.

More importantly, it speaks to the disconnect that occurred between Azores and Massport; evidently, Azores thought Massport would handle communication about the situation, when that is — as the carrier — firmly Azores’ responsibility. Moreover, it’s Azores’ responsibility — not Massport’s — to ensure passengers have appropriate accommodations. Evidently that didn’t happen.

There’s an interesting review of Azores’ “premium” offering from One Mile at a Time. Though this review is merely a subjective take on an Azores flight — and the author is admittedly fascinated by the prospect of flying on an Airbus A310 — an aircraft type that has, these days, mostly been relegated to performing cargo operations — he did express his disappointment in the level of service throughout the review.

Alternatives

For those who are interested in exploring the Azores, there are other travel options. Air Transat, a low-cost carrier based in Canada, operates flights from a number of Canadian cities to Ponta Delgada. Additionally, passengers can fly to Lisbon on airlines like TAP Portugal and then take a connecting flight (albeit going to mainland Europe only to travel back over the ocean seems a bit redundant). And recently, Delta Air Lines announced it would begin service between New York JFK and Ponta Delgada in 2018, giving Americans a new link to these islands.

Of course, there are people who have enjoyed their experience on Azores, according to this list of carrier reviews on SKYTRAX. Moreover, even the “good” carriers are subject to having dissatisfied customers. And ultimately, I haven’t flown Azores, so your experience may well have been different than my perception if you’ve tried the carrier out. However, as a SKYTRAX two-star carrier, Azores is rated the same as Spirit, and you might know how I feel about Spirit if you’ve read my aforementioned blog post. Come next year, there will be a new non stop option for those looking to get from the United States to the Azores (and back, of course).

Touchdown: First Scheduled British Airways A380 Arrives in Boston

Anticipation of the Airbus

Soaring over a crowd of around 30 people on Castle Island, the first scheduled British Airways Airbus A380 arrived at Boston Logan this afternoon. Incidentally, it touched down on Runway 4R – which was the same runway that the Boeing 747 I was on landed on in 2014 – at around 1:30 p.m.

Speedbird 213 super soaring towards Runway 4R.

Last July, when the news first broke that BA would be flying its A380s from Boston to London Heathrow in 2017, I was hesitant to put much stock in it. Things change in the aviation world all the time, and so while that didn’t stop me from writing a post on it, I think it’s worth pointing out that there’s a difference between reporting the news and buying into it.

Initially, my skepticism seemed to be well-founded: in August, BA mysteriously pulled its scheduled deployment of the aircraft, with the apparent culprit being the delayed renovation of Terminal E. At that point, I thought that the delay was due to “typical Massachusetts construction,” as we often see construction projects cost more and take longer than anticipated (e.g. the Big Dig).

However, September saw BA reinstate its plans to launch A380 service to Logan, with the new start date scheduled for a month after the original planned introduction. And while the new schedule has the aircraft visiting only three days per week (Sunday, Monday, and Friday) as opposed to the original schedule which had it lined up to come four times per week (Thursday through Sunday), it appeared that the new timeline took into account the construction of the A380-capable gates and new Terminal E lounge.

March 26, 2017

Even though Emirates holds the distinction of having flown the first scheduled A380 to Boston – a one-off flight exactly two months before this one – BA is the first carrier to land a regularly-scheduled A380 in Boston.

On multiple occasions, I have said that I prefer the 747– and particularly BA’s 747s – to the A380. While that still holds true, I have developed a newfound admiration for the A380, particularly after traveling on it in China and experiencing how modern and efficient it is, and so I went to see the maiden arrival – operated by G-XLEE as BA213 – this afternoon (the aircraft will return to London tonight as BA212).

I arrived around 20 minutes before the aircraft was scheduled to land, and was surprised to find that there were a number of onlookers waiting with their cameras, phones, and scanners. I got out my phone to open Flightradar24, and saw that the aircraft was beginning its downwind leg.

 

IMG_1060
Visible, but not much detail here.

We continued to track G-XLEE, both visually and with FR24. Soon enough, it was starting its final approach.

IMG_1065
On final.

As it got closer, the sense went from ‘this is going to happen’ to ‘this is really happening.’ Correspondingly, the plane went from being a faraway object that was barely visible to an approaching aircraft that revealed more and more detail by the second.

Having disappeared from our vision over the shipyard, the aircraft touched down on 4R, arriving at the gate 10 minutes after the tires hit the tarmac. As such, the long-anticipated event was completed.

Looking Forward

With this arrival, Boston has seen a scheduled BA A380 before New York JFK. And while this is somewhat surprising given that JFK-LHR is the busiest transatlantic route in the world and that BA is the dominant carrier on that route, there are actually a few explanations for this seemingly counterintuitive circumstance.

Moreover, the arrival of the A380 does not mean that BA will stop sending 747s to Boston. Unlike some other U.S. destinations (such as San Francisco and Washington D.C.) where BA used to send 747s but now mostly sends A380s and 777s, BA will likely continue to fly the 747 to Boston alongside the A380 for quite some time. Today is a perfect example: while BA213 and BA212 are operated by an A380, BA203 and BA202 are being flown by a 747.

Why is this?

Well, in addition to boasting good load factors on its BOS-LHR route, which means that it can fill a large number of seats, BA recently retrofitted a portion of its 747 fleet with a modernized cabin and more business class seats. Given that BOS-LHR is a route with high “premium” demand (e.g. a large number of first and business class travelers), the retrofitted aircraft still have a decent amount of life left in them, and that more than 790,000 people traveled between Logan and London Heathrow last year, it makes sense that Boston as a destination can support two four-engine, double-decker planes in the same day.

Most of all, I’m curious to know which of Logan’s runways the A380 uses. While the “main” runways – 4R/22L and 15R/33L – are obviously capable of handling an A380, I am curious to see if the two “supporting” runways – 4L/22R and 9/27 – will see any A380 action. Performance-wise, I think it’s possible, as the A380 has superior takeoff performance to the 747 and I have observed a number of 747s use 4L/22R and 9/27, but I can’t say for sure.

Despite a cloudy day, the sight of the Superjumbo was a bright spot on this particular Sunday. With any luck, there will be many more 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.

Next Big Trip Up: England in the Spring

My trip to England in Fall 2014 was my first across the pond in more than 10 years. Given that England is my favorite foreign country, I knew that I didn’t want the next one to be 10 years down the road. Back then, as a gift for my graduation from college, my parents were nice enough to pay for my airfare. The base fare was $952 on British Airways, which was pretty cheap for non stop BOS-LHR flights at the time (it ended up being $1,034 altogether with window seat reservations both ways). More importantly, I was able to fly on the Boeing 747-400 both ways, which was an incredible experience. All told, I was extremely happy with that trip. That said, I’m similarly excited for my upcoming trip to England.

Pricing

This time, I myself paid for the trip. It was $504.89 base fare, and came out to a total of $576.89 with window seat reservations both ways. As good as that base fare is, it’s not even the lowest that it’s been – British Airways was selling $460 BOS-LHR round trips in November. Regardless, the fact that there has been a $447 reduction in the base fare on the BOS-LHR route from the last time I went to this time – from $952 to $505 – is insane.

Aircraft

You might well know that I am partial to the 747 over the Airbus A380, the latter of which BA is scheduled to begin flying to BOS at the end of March. However, having enjoyed my flight on a China Southern A380 during my trip last month, I decided that I did want to fly on the A380 at least one of the legs of this trip. Since I enjoy the flight home more than the flight over, I figured I would take the 747 on my favored leg of the trip and the A380 on the other leg.

The Itinerary:

  • 04/09/2017 – BA212 – 7:20 p.m. departure (spring schedule) – A380-800
  • 04/17/2017 – BA203 – 4:45 p.m. departure – 747-400

I am seated on the World Traveller upper deck section of the A380, in 82K, and the World Traveller main deck section of the 747, in 49A. Both are window seats – the first on the right, the second on the left.

Other Factoids

Flights I’ve Taken Between U.S. and U.K.:

  • 11/25/2014 – BA212 – 5:55 p.m. departure (fall schedule) – 747-400
  • 12/02/2014 – BA213 – 11:20 a.m. departure – 747-400
  • 11/10/2004 – BA238 – 8:10 a.m. departure – 777-200ER
  • 11/16/2014 – BA213 – 11:20 a.m. departure – 777-200ER

So, to this point, I’ve taken BA213 twice, BA212 once, and BA238 once.

I do like BA213 a lot because it’s a late-morning departure from London and an early-afternoon arrival in Boston, but it’s being operated by an A380 that day, so I decided to take BA203 instead for the 747, which still gets me back around 7 p.m.

Other Notes and Overall Thoughts

While I’m in England, I plan to take a couple of short Euro trips – to Brussels and Amsterdam. Each city was decided somewhat on a whim, but I am confident I’ll enjoy them.

My dad went to Brussels back in 2002, via London. He very much enjoyed taking the Eurostar train through the countryside of France on the way to Belgium. I’ll be taking that train, too, and for less than $90 round trip.

Amsterdam is a fascinating city that I’ve always wanted to see. Also, the easyJet flights were running for around $75 round trip from London Southend, so that should be fun. Two new countries for less than $200 in travel expenses – I’m happy with it.

I’m pretty excited to have finally booked this. The last time I went to England, I was very focused on the excitement of flying on the 747. As a result, the way over was very much a blur (albeit an awesome one). This time, having been on both the 747 and A380, I’ll definitely try to relax and enjoy the flights (and the trip) a lot more.

Hump Day Fare Hacks: December 28, 2016

Norwegian Index for December 28, 2016: 246.2

The past few years have seen – anecdotally speaking – a massive influx of low-cost transatlantic flights into various air travel markets. With that in mind, I decided that it might be interesting to see what an “average” price for these particular transatlantic flight deals might be. That’s how the Norwegian Index was born.

If you’ve followed Hump Day Fare Hacks, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen the Norwegian Index trend downward throughout the year. It’s fitting, then, that the Index set a new record low in its final iteration of 2016. I’ll leave you to look at the fares, as they speak for themselves.

Note: All routes profiled are based on a 7-day round trip (departing and arriving the same day a week apart), unless otherwise noted. That said, I strongly encourage you to play with a variety of dates and trip lengths and see what you can find.

 

BOSTON

 

Boston – Copenhagen

Leave on:

  • April 4, 2017 (return April 13, 2017)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $266

Thoughts: This may be just a single date in 2017, but the price is good enough that it may be worth taking advantage of.

 

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 23, 25, 29, 30

  • February (2017) 6, 8, 13

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $260

Thoughts: By far the lowest that this has been.

 

Boston – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 15-20, 22-27, 29-31

  • February (2017) 1-3, 6-10, 12-15, 20-24, 26-28

  • March (2017) 1-3, 5-9, 13-17, 19-23

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic Airways
Price: $473

Thoughts: The SkyTeam members are offering identical, sub-$500 fares.

 

Boston – Oslo

Leave on:

  • April (2017) 3, 10 (return April 11, 18)

  • May (2017) 1, 8 (return May 9, 16)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $254

Thoughts: Not the lowest it’s ever been, but certainly “up there” (or, perhaps, down there).

 

Boston – Paris

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 15-20, 22-24, 26, 27, 29-31

  • February (2017) 2, 3, 5-7, 9-10, 12-14, 20, 21, 23, 25, 26-28

  • March (2017) 1, 2, 5-8, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19-24, 26-31

  • April (2017) 2-7, 9-11, 19-21, 23-28, 30

  • May (2017) 1-5, 7, 8

Carriers: Air France, Delta Air Lines
Price: $425

Thoughts: As a route that usually goes for well north of $500, this one came out of left field.

 

NEW YORK

 

New York JFK – Barcelona

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 26-29, 31

  • February (2017) 2-5, 7, 9, 14

Carrier: American Airlines
Price: $376

Thoughts: Cheap cheap cheap cheap cheap.

 

New York JFK – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 15-31

  • February (2017) 1, 2, 4-15, 19-28

  • March (2017) 1-23

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic Airways
Price: $473

Thoughts: Same prices as DL and VS are offering on BOS-LHR.

 

New York JFK – Milan

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 17, 18, 24, 25, 31

  • February (2017) 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28

  • March (2017) 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29

  • April (2017) 4, 11, 12, 19, 25, 26

  • May (2017) 2, 3, 10

Carriers: Alitalia, Delta Air Lines, Emirates
Price: $496

Thoughts: Sub-$500 Emirates flights don’t come along every day! (Oh, and Alitalia and Delta operate this route, too.)

 

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • March (2017) 3, 23

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $203

Thoughts: Giving the JFK-ARN all-time low a run for its money, no pun intended.

 

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28, 30

  • February (2017) 1, 3, 4, 27

  • March (2017) 1, 24

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $248

Thoughts: The fact that a $248 fare on JFK-ARN isn’t considered unusual says a lot.

A Super Visit: Emirates to fly single scheduled A380 to Boston in January

While British Airways is slated to be the first carrier to regularly fly the “Superjumbo” Airbus A380 to Boston, Emirates has beaten them to the punch in one respect. The Gulf carrier will have the maiden A380 flight scheduled to land at Logan.

According to Routesonline, the Gulf carrier plans to send an A380 from Dubai to Boston on January 26, 2017. This replaces the Boeing 777-300ER (77W) on EK237 and EK238.

Background

It’s worth noting that Emirates flew a similar one-off A380 flight to Chicago – a city that, like Boston, sees regularly-scheduled 77W service – during the summer of 2016. Given that the A380 usually necessitates airports to upgrade their infrastructure, the Chicago flight was mostly to check the infrastructure’s compatibility.

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The itinerary for the Emirates A380’s scheduled arrival (top) and departure (bottom).

While it’s quite possible that this Boston flight is similar in nature, it’s also possible that there’s more than meets the eye.

Emirates is the world’s largest operator of the A380. The carrier sends its A380s to an extensive number of destinations, including Manchester (UK), Copenhagen, and Toronto. And though each of those places have a number of international flights, they do not have any other regularly-scheduled A380s. With that in mind, it’s safe to say that Emirates doesn’t vet its A380 routes like others. Perhaps this is because it has dozens of the type, while other carriers generally have a dozen or so.

Power Motivation?

Considering Emirates’ pride in its A380 fleet, it’s quite possible that it’s simply pulling a power move. The carrier’s load factors to Boston haven’t suggested it’d be prudent to replace a 77W with an A380. However, as the world’s largest A380 operator, the motivation is understandable.

Regardless of the rationale behind this flight, it will certainly be interesting to see a scheduled superjumbo arrive at Logan for the first time next month. And – assuming BA’s scheduled launch goes as planned – it will be the first of many.