Swiss International Airlines: Providing Time Travel As Well As Flights

By Nick – Random Segments

As a part of the Star Alliance MegaDo 4, I was on a Swiss flight from Zurich to San Francisco on the Airbus A340.  While I know many of you ignore the advertising that appears on the inflight entertainment system, this flight provided some real gems.  Let us start with their newest code share partner for North America


And next we have a series of other airlines that they recently started partnerships with.




So basically, according to the IFE, Swiss is becoming a member of oneworld.  But any fears were alleviated when there was advertising for the Swiss Travel Club, and this gem of a plane, being held up as one of the flagship types of their fleet.


I will have a review of Swiss Business Class coming up, but I figured everyone needed a laugh to start off the week.


Notes from Marketing, Product, and Social Media executives at the Star Alliance MegaDo 4/United DO

By Nick – Random Segments

For the second part of the notes from Q&A’s at the megado.

Social Media

United does realize just how bad their social media operation is.  However, they tried spinning it that they are working to improve as the general company is starting to gain an understanding of how important social media can be for shaping the image of the company.  In fact, the social media team has grown greatly since the merger closed.  At the time of the merger, there were only 2 employees dedicated to social media, and that number is now up to 6, and they are actively working to bring on more.

Another deficiency acknowledged is in the current design of the team.  Right now there are no reservations agents working on the team to address issues, and the social media team exists solely within marketing, and can only perform marketing activities.  This is noticed mostly when a customer tweets during IRROPS and gets no response.  Right now they are training reservations agents to be able to join the team so that the twitter account, to help passengers with issues during their travel experience.  Also, in the discussion, many of us were encouraging that even the marketing people just acknowledge tweets and messages posted as a way of just building the brand and creating a more personable feeling among the team.


This portion of the panel was quite contentious.  We were the second group to go through this panel, and as there are a multitude of complaints that various passengers have experienced with marketing, and specifically the website, this portion was very confrontational.

We were finally able to get acknowledgement of bugs existing in in mistake meal displays, as well as different pricing offered for serviced depending on if someone logs in.  Including the difference in the day of departure upgrade price.


A common complaint was the regional jet experience, from buy on board, just to the proliferation of regional jets.  Currently, they are working to expand the buy-on board program to include all flights, even though some United Express flights will have a limited selection.  They are also working to ensure that these will join the cashless cabin policy that currently exists on mainline flights.

Also, power is being installed on all aircraft.  Due to cost, the installation on parts of the fleet not undergoing a complete product refit, power outlets will only be available in front of the exit row.  Great for elites, but not so much for the average passengers not willing to pay for the premium seating options.


Notes from Hub and Airport Operations executives at the Star Alliance MegaDo 4/United DO

By Nick – Random Segments

So I have been spending the past week on the Star Alliance MegaDo 4.  In fact, I have not made it home, but there were some important notes that came from the executive panel Q&A sessions, as well as the information session with Jeff Smisek.  There are a lot of updates from this one, so I will give it its own post.

Hub and Airport Operations

While United has placed a basic gui ontop of SHARES for agents to use, a completely new integrated system will enter testing in the hubs next month continuing through Q1 2013.  As a part of the new system, many graphical interfaces and tools are designed to allow for technological pieces to be used across platforms.  For example, the seat map that agents will have uses the same technological resources as the website and the mobile applications.  This keeps information in sync and will provide more options in the future to devlop tools that are consistent across all platforms and users.  The system will also bring features that were never present in either Apollo or SHARES.  

Boarding is another area that has been a sore spot, and work is being done to ease the boarding process.  At some gates at ORD, they are reconfiguring the boarding lanes so that Premier Access and general boarding are not parallel lines, but instead go in different directions to keep the lines separate.  They are also working to reduce the number of boarding groups, as well as adjust the number to accomodate the aircraft type (since a CRJ-200 with 7 boarding groups is just crazy).  With some of the items being tested, they have been able to successfully load a packed 757 in 12 minutes, without any increase in the number of agents at the gate.  Also, as for seating configuration for most efficient boarding, they have encountered that Window-Middle-Aisle is the most efficient.

Carry-Ons are a major sore spot for passengers, and progress is coming on that front.  One thing that has held back United in getting aggressive in enforcement is that most gates do not have bag tag printers, as well as ways for gate agents to collect the bag fees at the gate for passengers who bring an oversized carry-on.  These two factors will provide a better tool so that agents can easily check bags, instead of having to do hand written tags, and hope that the passenger can be found.  This will also allow for the gate checked bags to be linked to reservations to facilitate tracking in case of irregular operations.

For those who fly regional jets out of ORD, there is great news that some of you may have noticed.  The T2 United Club is being replaced by a new location right above the McDonalds.  It will be 5 times the size of the current club, and is going to be the prototype for all new and renovated United Clubs, as this is the first club to open since the integration.  They are currently investigating the cost of turning the existing club into an expanded customer service counter to be able to better serve passengers during IRROPS, especially since regional jet flights are impacted at a greater rate than mainline.  All T2 gates will have jetbridges by the end of 2013, including F1, where a completely new setup is being built.  At IAH, after the next round of construction is complete, Terminal B will also have a new club, that will be better configured to handle passengers over the current club there.  LAX renovations will begin in 2014 as a part of the terminal refreshment program, so expect to see major improvements there then.

And a few customer service notes, that many of you will be glad to see.  All customer facing employees are in the process of going through customer service training to be completed by the end of the first half of 2013.  Also, they are starting to actively track customer complaints about bad service at EWR.  In addition to looking at the employees who are driving complaints, they are also working to process compliments and publically praising and rewarding agents who perform above and beyond to provide positive reinforcement to try and encourage them to perform better.  

As for dealing with agents from the combined carrier, the panel acknowledged that they are still working to get the policies in place to empower agents to help the customer.  The challenge is to tell agents to use common sense, and not create a hard policy that will just completely cause the boundries to be pushed.  Thus, if the policy for baggage were to be 50lbs +5% at the agents discretion, then it is very easy for that amount to become standard for luggage, and the amount has to be adjusted upward.  

And in miscellaneous notes, after ORD opened TSA pre-check, the throughput is greatly enhanced for that lane.  While a regular security lane is only able to handle 80 passengers an hour, the pre-check lane processes 300-350 passengers in an hour.  Also, they have been performing the uniform fittings for all airport employees, as they are ready to launch the new uniforms so that there will be a combined look to employees.  Below are pictures of the uniforms for the customer service agents and ramp workers.  Global Services employees will have a slightly different uniform.




Thoughts on United Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner

By Nick – Random Segments

So for the Star Alliance MegaDo 4, the plane was advertised as being a reconfigured 767-400.  However, as the FAA filing for the event was published, there was an aircraft substitution that was never announced to everyone.  As everyone knows, sometimes that can be a bad thing, sometimes it can be a good thing.  In this case, it was a very good thing.  We were upgraded to the 787, which due to mechanical issues, United currently only has one while Boeing repairs the other.  Thus, we were the first North American charter flight aboard this aircraft.  While I’m not going to post a lot of pictures of the flight (there are way too many of them out there, and it was hard to get the really good pictures inside), I will give some thoughts on the experience.  

You really feel the engines taking off on this plane.  I mean seriously, the take off roll as you start launching down the runway is impressive, and feels really good.  On most planes, it is kind of steady, but this one you really feel the acceleration.  I was impressed.  This is not surprising, since it has a reasonable amout more thrust than a 767, as well as being quite a bit lighter.  Another advantage of this, is that the climb is much faster getting you to cruising altitude and out of your seats quicker.  Below is a screen grab from flight aware that covers the first segment in full, and most of the second segment as far as speed and altitude.


The windows are something that everyone already gushes about, and after seeing and using them, I understand why.  The ability to select how bright you want the window makes it quite pleasant to look out at the scenery without as much glare.  Now these do not go completely opaque, so if you are light sensitive when you sleep, you should be prepared for a little bit of light.  Now the surprise is that even the emergency exit door windows use the exact same control system.  And all the windows (even the emergency exit door windows) are much larger as promised, and it is a size difference you do notice if you are so inclined to enjoy the scenery outside the plane.

One caveat I do feel I need to give with the configuration United has chosen is how the seats recline in economy.  Unlike all of the existing seats on United’s planes, these seats recline by pushing the bottom of the seat forward.  This means your knees will get pushed forward.  At least unlike some airlines with this configuration, they did have the decency to have a softer seat back, and give an extra inch of pitch.  But if you can not deal with 32″ of pitch and then having your seat slide forward, then you will want to be aware and get out of regular economy and into economy plus.  

The entertainment system is standard, however as United is prone to do with the 787, they are pushing the dreamliner branding like crazy. 



The branding push continues with fact cards in every seat back, as well as a special 787 introduction from Jeff Smisek before the safety video.  However, on the plus side with that, there is no news about changes they are making that he thinks we will like 😉

And it did feel more comfortable because of the increased humidity, as well as the pressurization to a lower altitude.  However the flights were short enough that we were not able to really get the full benefit, since the segments were 3 hours and 2 hours.