T4-TBIT connector at LAX: Overlooking the ramp between TBIT and T4 at LAX
A couple of weeks ago, I was one of the first to report on the opening of the new Connector facility between Terminal 4 (T4) and the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). While this is exciting news in my world, I will admit that sometimes I forget that not everyone is a frequent-flying fanatic or even an #AvGeek. So here I am, to make the case to the everyday person on the street on just why the new T4 Connector is so monumental to the improvement to the passenger experience at LAX.
A bit overly dramatic? You be the judge…
To the moon! Or maybe just to Jersey.
Let’s start out with the obvious: it’s been a rough few years for United Airlines. Amidst a choppy merger, a CEO ouster scandal (then the new replacement CEO having health issues), and an awful economic climate for the industry during most of the decade, the Chicago-based airline’s public perception took a big hit. It has become pretty clear that major change is needed to win over the hearts and minds of the American flying public.
Over the past year, United has unveiled a number of updates, including the return of free snacks in economy, beer and wine in long-haul international economy, the continued rollout of WiFi, increased direct-to-device streaming entertainment, refreshed menus in premium cabins, and improved United Clubs. Some updates have gone into effect already, while others will be rolled out gradually during this year.
p.s. BusinessFirst – Photo: United
One major structural change in 2015 was United’s withdrawal from JFK Airport, which had previously served as the New York terminus of the flagship domestic Premier Service (p.s.) routes from San Francisco and Los Angeles. As of October 2014, those flights now land at United’s massive and ever-expanding hub at Newark Liberty International (EWR). On the other coast, United has also been investing in its Terminal 3 hub at SFO.
Other airlines have been upping their transcontinental game, with American flying three-class A321Ts, JetBlue expanding its ever-popular Mint service, and Delta offering its Delta One long-haul product between JFK and LAX/SFO.
Over the course of a few trips between San Francisco and New York on the p.s. route, I had a great chance to test drive some of the latest changes at United. Read on as I share some of my insights from putting the new United through its paces.
A Lufthansa Airbus A380 at SFO
Traveling from the Bay Area to Europe? Chances are you may find yourself on the Star Alliance trunk route from SFO to Frankfurt. I did recently as I kicked off a trip to Germany, India, and Southeast Asia, celebrating my final few months of freedom between a journalism job and medical school. In my experience, flying to Lufthansa’s “Fraport” mega-hub from San Francisco generally meant a trip on United’s venerable – and noticeably aging – 747-400s. While they are beautiful birds from the outside, they don’t make for the best long-haul economy class flights: no seatback screens, no power outlets (although that has since been corrected), and cramped seats, unless you can bump up to Economy Plus or better. Interested in something new, I leapt at the chance to try out Lufthansa’s A380 flight on the same route.
I was glad to be able to book the flight on United ticket stock (ticket number beginning with “016”), which meant I earned both premier qualifying miles (PQMs) and dollars (PQDs) for the flight. With the current UA premier qualifying system, you earn PQMs when you book non-UA ticket stock with Star Alliance partners, but not the PQDs – which are needed for elite qualification.
Heading to the back of the plane, to then go upstairs
Curiously, the confirmation code United provided me allowed me to manage my reservation on Lufthansa’s website, but did not work for online check-in. I found a Lufthansa-specific code buried in a separate email. A bit confusing, but not a huge deal. One downside of booking a Lufthansa-operated flight through United is that you are not always able to pick a seat in advance. That ended up being the case for this flight, and I was dreading the possibility of a back-of-the-bus middle seat. Luckily, seat availability was still good when I checked in online, even though the flight ended up being full.
I had only flown the A380 once before (on Emirates) and assumed that the upper deck was first and business class only. To my surprise, there was an “upper deck” tab on the seat selection window during online check-in. It turns out that on Lufthansa’s newest layout for some of its A380s, there is a premium economy section in the front of the lower deck and a small section – five rows, to be exact – of standard economy at the back of the upper deck. I snagged a window seat at the front of the latter section, thrilled that I would finally get upper-deck bragging rights (though without the usual business class accouterments that usually go with it).
Our Air France A380 parked at SFO. Photo: John Nguyen | AirlineReporter
Thanks to Delta, I found a smashing deal to fly an Airbus A380 for the first time, and not in economy! My wife and I were married late last year, but postponed our honeymoon because we wanted to visit Europe during the warmer months.
We lucked out and found a very low fare valid for this past September, from San Francisco to Istanbul, in the Premium Economy section of Delta partner Air France. This would be our first time flying the A380, as well as the first time in decades flying on Air France. I was cautiously optimistic about what flying Premium Economy would be like, and I subscribed to the mantra of, “anything’s better than coach,” or even my flight on a CRJ-200 the day before.
Would I be severely disappointed?