Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hold That Flight

Delays happen. Everyone who travels frequently knows that. Flights arrive and depart late. Your room isn't ready but you can have breakfast in the hotel cafe if you'd care to wait. Your table at the hot new restaurant - the one featured on TripAdvisor - isn't ready either, but you can have a cocktail at the bar while you wait for the crush to abate.

As it goes with small matters, so it goes with large ones.

That's why it's not a terribly big surprise that Boeing Co. (www.boeing.com) has delayed the delivery of its eco-friendly, composite-materials 787 Dreamliner yet again - this time till the third quarter of the New Year. Originally, the gorgeous new plane - I've seen test models at Boeing plants near Seattle - was supposed to arrive at launch airline All Nippon Airways (www.ana.co.jp) in 2008. Didn't happen, thanks to overextended global supply chains and technical challenges. The latest setback came about when a fire broke out on a test flight in November and engineers had to scrutinize the plane again. When it does finally fly commercially, this will be a better-than-good plane; it will be a breakthrough aircraft. (You can read about the 787 in more detail in a feature story I did last year for Global Traveler magazine, www.globaltravelerusa.com).

Another delay, less sweeping, to be sure, also involving Japan, has come from American Airlines www.aa.com), which will delay nonstop service between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Tokyo's lustrous, refurbished and expanded Haneda International Airport (www.tokyo-airport.bldg.jp). The new service is now expected to begin on or about March 1, pushed back from previously announced Jan. 20 - Thursday. American says it needs more time to plan and wants to wait until the traditionally weak travel month of February gives way to stronger traffic. AA had already sold some tickets for early flights. Bloomberg Business Week reports that AA "will offer passengers rebookings on its existing route from JFK to Tokyo's Narita airport instead, or a refund ...''

Delta Air Lines, too, has pushed back to Feb. 19 its own Los Angeles International Airport service to Haneda, from the original January time-slot.

Sometimes the marketing runs ahead of operations and engineering. These instances are the latest examples, by no means rare.

Having recently toured Haneda airport and flown into and out of the new international terminal, I can say it's one of the best airports in East Asia. That's saying a lot, as most of the world's high-quality airports are in East Asia. Haneda is gleaming, modern, efficiently run, much closer to downtown Tokyo than Narita -which snared Tokyo's international flights when it opened in 1978 but must now share them - and blessed with good food and shops and lounges. You almost wouldn't mind getting delayed there, though I wasn't when I flew to Tokyo Haneda recently on Japan Airlines. When service to this strikingly upgraded airport gets going in earnest, the travel experience for trans-Pacific fliers will get markedly better.

And when Dreamliners are, at last, put on some of those routes, it will be better still.

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