Virgin Atlantic Cancels Airbus Super Jumbo Order
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. canceled its order for six Airbus A380 superjumbos, finally acknowledging that the world’s largest passenger aircraft has no place in its fleet after years of deferring a decision on the double-decker.
The deletion appeared in Airbus’s monthly order-and-delivery tally, and was confirmed by the airline. Virgin originally ordered the aircraft more than a decade ago, but then proceeded to give only tepid support to the plane as it went on to build its fleet around smaller wide-body jets.
The cancellation comes on the same day that Airbus confirmed a cutback in production of the A380 to just six units a year from 2020 to reflect the lower order intake. Emirates is the only major customer for the plane, while most other operators haven’t made the giant aircraft a centerpiece of their fleets, taking instead only a dozen or so each.
Virgin’s languishing commitment speaks to Airbus’s malaise surrounding the A380 order book, with several other customers having ordered years ago but not followed through on actually taking the planes. Among them is Amadeo, an aircraft leasing business that ordered 20 A380s years ago and has failed to take delivery of a single one because it’s not been able to establish a leasing market for the model.
While Virgin has always positioned itself at the forefront of stylish travel that the A380 has sought to fulfill – think in-flight bars and enclosed suites – the change of heart may reflect to the carrier’s relatively new ownership structure. Founded by Richard Branson, Virgin is 49 percent owned by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. Air France-KLM Group, a Delta ally, has also agreed to buy a 31 percent stake in a move that will see the billionaire’s holding reduced to 20 percent. So far, no U.S. carrier has bought the A380 aircraft.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
Photo Credit: Richard Branson is a natural showman, and for marketing purposes the A380 is a great airplane. But twin-engine aircraft like the Boeing 787-9 are a better fit for the airline’s network. Virgin Atlantic
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March 8, 2018 at 06:37AM
American Airlines Knows Plenty About Its Most Loyal Customers
The Skift Airline Innovation Report is our weekly newsletter on the business of airline innovation. We look closely at the technological, financial, and design trends at airlines and airports.
Brian Sumers writes and curates the newsletter, and we send it on Wednesdays. You can find previous issues of the newsletter here.
Travel bloggers love nothing more than amassing millions of frequent flyer miles while buying the cheapest fares.
There’s nothing wrong with that — in fact, my side hobby is leveraging points into impressive redemptions — but the old paradigm never made much sense. Why would a company reward its most frugal customers?
We know now most major airlines have re-jiggered their programs to reward big spenders, and customers who earn points via credit cards. That has set off an arms race among major U.S. airlines, all trying to attract big spenders by improving premium seats and adding new lounges.
During a recent visit to American Airlines headquarters, I spoke with Bridget Blaise-Shamai, the carrier’s vice president for loyalty, and Alice Curry, managing director for customer loyalty and insights, about how American seeks to win and retain lucrative flyers. Among the insights: American sometimes can learn a customer is likely to decamp for a competitor even before the customer leaves for another airline. It’s all about data. “I often joke, even when we as an industry are a bit cash poor, we’ve always been rich in data,” Blaise-Shamai said.
Also this week, we followed the American versus United drama at Chicago O’Hare, looked at new technology from SkyTeam, published a video interview with Bonny Simi, president of JetBlue Tech Ventures, and explained how International Airlines Group’s distribution model could evolve.
— Brian Sumers, Airline Business Reporter, firstname.lastname@example.org
STORIES OF THE WEEK
American Airlines Knows if You’ve Been Cheating on It With a Competitor: If you want to wring extra revenue from your frequent flyer program, one of the best ways to do it is through data analytics. American long has known more about its customers than most businesses. Now, it wants to use what it knows to improve its relationship with its most loyal (and profitable) customers.
Gogo Replaces CEO With Its Largest Shareholder: Gogo’s new CEO, Oakleigh Thorne, controls the family office that owns 30 percent of the company’s shares. Why would he make sense as a new leader? Perhaps to sell the company? Or is there another reason?
SkyTeam Eases the Hassle of Getting Rebooked When Flights Get Disrupted: It is one of the worst kept secrets in alliances — some airlines are tight with others, and others are fierce competitors. But SkyTeam would prefer its member airlines cooperate more. It recently introduced a platform that allows any SkyTeam member to rebook passengers on any SkyTeam itinerary. It’s a great idea in theory. But will it work?
British Airways Wants to Get Smarter About Selling Airline Tickets: Airlines have long hoped for a technological development that would enable them to take back control from travel’s middlemen. IATA’s New Distribution Capability was supposed to be that solution, but change of this magnitude takes time. Skift Europe Editor Patrick Whyte looks at the latest developments in Europe.
American Air Is Battling Chicago Over a ‘Secret’ Deal With United: Apparently, nothing has changed in my hometown since I left in 2005. American and United Airlines are still sniping over who gets a better deal at Chicago O’Hare. American has complained United got a “secret” last-minute deal for five extra gates as part of the airport’s $8.5 billion modernization plan. United says there’s nothing secret about it and Chicago’s mayor has suggested the city won’t change its plans. Will American close its hub? Highly doubtful.
JetBlue’s Venture Arm Expects Blockchain to Be a Major Disruptor: You might not know exactly what blockchain is, but you know it’s supposed to be important. So be sure to watch this video interview with JetBlue Technology Ventures President Bonny Simi. My colleagues taped it last year, but it’s still germane. “Blockchain will be to travel what the internet was to travel,” Simi said in the interview. “Right now, we are in like the 1990s for the internet, where people are like, ‘Uh, what is this?’”
U.S. and UK Airlines Should Retain Lucrative Transatlantic Air Rights After Brexit: Brexit is a mess, and some airlines could lose their rights to fly some routes because of it. But I’m betting regulators will keep UK-U.S. Open Skies. There’s no other possible option. London will not be closed to U.S. airlines.
American Airlines Will Bring Basic Economy to Transatlantic Routes: Some consumer-rights groups think basic economy is a travesty. Maybe they’re right. But the market has spoken. People want cheap, no-frills fares. So why shouldn’t American sell them? Bloomberg has some details on American’s plans.
United Hits ‘Pause’ on Its Bad Idea to Replace Bonuses With Lottery-Style Perks: This story proves I never know what’s going to go viral. When a United employee sent me information on the airline’s new bonus structure last week, I ignored it. A day later, it was international news. Employees were outraged United was taking away their bonuses for hitting various operational marks, in favor of a lottery system, where people could win cars. United took so much flak over it that it pressed the “pause button” on Monday.
Delta May End Discounts for All ‘Politically Divisive’ Groups After NRA Controversy: How many more news cycles will this Delta Air Lines/NRA fracas take up? Surely this is enough already, no? Let’s go back discussing emotional support animals.
What’s coming up
I had an interesting discussion last week with Andrew Watterson, Southwest Airlines’ chief revenue officer, about why the airline flies where it does.
Yes, Southwest adds routes where it expects paid demand is high. But I didn’t realize how much it takes into account frequent flyer redemptions. If customers demand a new leisure route and want to redeem for it, Southwest might add it. This is part of the thinking for Southwest’s new Hawaii routes, which should start next year.
Remember, this is not just about rewarding frequent flyers, who earn miles based on flights. The credit card game is lucrative, and Southwest sells points to Chase, and the bank uses them to reward its high-spenders. When a Southwest customer redeems a flight to Hawaii next year, it might be “free” for the customer, but Southwest will still get paid in a roundabout way by Chase.
“It’s not just for credit cards but it is part and parcel of it,” Watterson said. “We view Hawaii expansion as something that will ignite credit card applications.”
Look for my full story soon.
See you in Hamburg?
The Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg is roughly a month away, and I’m looking forward to attending for the first time. Will you be there? Do you have a story to pitch? Do you want to say a quick hello? Email me and let me know. [email@example.com.]
Skift Airline Business Reporter Brian Sumers [firstname.lastname@example.org] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send him an email or tweet him.
Photo Credit: American Airlines is using data to try to attract and retain high-value customers. Pictured is a customer using the carrier’s Admirals Club. American Airlines
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March 8, 2018 at 05:33AM
Marriott Stands Alone in Its Move to Cut Meetings Commissions
Last week in Montreal, I had the pleasure of chatting with executives from AccorHotels and a variety of event professionals and hoteliers from around the world.
Accor’s luxury executives said they have no plans to follow Marriott’s lead on commission cuts. They’re also uncertain whether creative hotel event spaces will catch on globally, even if the outcome of a meeting in one can be so much more memorable than a traditional boring conference room.
Not every meeting is a festival, it seems, particularly in the luxury space.
Check out my story below on the latest from Accor. We also have the news on shifts in digital advertising, the rise of eSports arenas, and how brands are playing around with augmented reality.
If you have any feedback about the newsletter or news tips, feel free to reach out via email at email@example.com or tweet me @sheivach. A few people sent me angry emails last week for calling virtual reality a gimmick, so feel free to keep them coming.
— Andrew Sheivachman, Business Travel Editor
The Future of Meetings and Events
Accor Won’t Play Marriott’s Game With Meetings Commission Cuts: Accor has no plans to follow Marriott International’s lead with commission cuts for meetings, but then again Accor’s relatively weak presence in North America means it has to focus on drawing in clients instead of pushing them away.
Luxury Travel Is Becoming Even More Specialized: Luxury travel is learning lessons from meetings and events when it comes to designing experiences and memorable moments.
Facebook Takes On Google With Trip-Planning Ads: Facebook isn’t really in the conversation yet when it comes to competing with Google in travel advertising. But Facebook has the ability to reach travelers at various stages of the trip-planning process so it has the potential to be even more disruptive than it has been.
Brands Embrace Augmented Reality, With Mixed Results: Retailers are figuring out how to sell to consumers using augmented reality. The lessons they’re learning have serious implications for the event sector as well.
Emirates Chatbot Integrates Into Display Ads: Emirates is experimenting with chatbots in its display advertising, and others will soon follow suit. Interactivity is taking on a new importance in online marketing.
Event Industry Technology
What Are the Most Valuable Aspects of a Meeting? Research published in the Harvard Business Review breaks down the subjective and objective facets that bring value to a meeting or event.
Washington, D.C. eSports Arena Sets Debut Event: The next generation of event spaces and entertainment arenas is coming, and it’s geared toward eSports and Generation Z.
UK Meeting Spending Surged in 2017: Spending per attendee, and on meeting production itself, exploded in 2017 according to new research on the UK event sector. What’s most impressive is the spending growth coupled with a slight decrease in actual attendees.
Breakthrough Technology for Meetings: It’s not virtual reality or holograms that will have the most impact on events over the next decade.
Skift Business Travel Editor Andrew Sheivachman [firstname.lastname@example.org] curates the Skift Meetings Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday.
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March 8, 2018 at 05:12AM
Brazil’s Senate Approves New Open Skies Agreement With United States
Brazil’s Senate approved an open skies agreement with the United States, a measure that should lead to more flights between the two countries and increased competition in their airline industries.
The bill passed in a symbolic vote and will become law following a few procedural steps. Its approval comes seven years after the Brazilian and U.S. governments signed a preliminary agreement.
“This deal benefits the whole of Brazilian society and is fundamental for the development of national aviation,” said Jerome Cadier, the CEO of Latam Airlines Brasil, in an emailed statement. American Airlines also said it welcomed the agreement.
Both U.S. and Brazilian airlines have been pushing for the legislation, which they argue will boost growth in air travel in both countries, offering passengers a wider choice of journeys, destinations and connections. Brazilian critics argue that the South American nation’s airlines stand to lose out, as they will struggle to compete with the major U.S. companies.
Senator Lindbergh Farias, from the Workers’ Party, voted against the deal.
“Brazilian companies’ capacity to compete with the North American firms is very small, so we could lose a lot of market share,” he said.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
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March 8, 2018 at 01:46AM
Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel Review
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March 8, 2018 at 01:20AM
5 Ways I Plan to Earn More Points and Miles This Year
Like most people reading this website, I always try to rack up as many points and miles as I can during any given year. I mostly do this by a) paying all my bills with credit cards, b) making sure we use credit cards for all our miscellaneous spending, and c) signing up for new credit cards when it makes sense. Of course, I always pay my credit card balances in full because, well, it makes zero sense to carry a balance if you’re pursuing rewards.
Still, I really am hoping to earn more points and miles in 2018. This is partly because I’m greedy, but it’s also because we have a lot of time to travel this year and a lot of trips to pay for.
Here are five strategies I plan to lean on in the coming months:
Scoring More Signup Bonuses
Obviously, one of the easiest ways to earn more points and miles is signing up for new credit card offers as they become available. You could earn 60,000 points worth $600 in travel with a card that earns 2x points like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard after spending $30,000, for example. However, it’s a lot easier to earn 50,000 points worth $625 in travel after spending $4,000 on your card after signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. Since signup bonuses make it easy to earn a ton of points in a hurry, I definitely sign up for new cards when it makes sense.
Being Strategic With My Business Spending
My favorite business card is the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, and this is mostly because I earn 3x points on business travel and social media advertising. My blog spends several thousand per month on Facebook ads, so this is huge for me. In 2018, I plan to continue making sure I’m getting the most bang for the buck out of business-related purchases.
Maximizing Category Bonuses
I am really bad about using cards for their category bonuses. Even though my favorite category card, the Chase Freedom, doles out 5x points in categories that change each quarter, I am terrible at remembering this!
In 2018, I plan to keep a closer eye on Chase Freedom® categories specifically. I love Chase Ultimate Rewards. Maximizing this card’s categories is a great way to boost earnings each year.
Remembering to Use Shopping Portals When I Buy Something
I absolutely love shopping portals, specifically the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal. All you have to do to use it is click through to a participating store’s website before you make a purchase.
Unfortunately, I have had a few situations where either myself or my husband forgot to click through the portal before we bought something at a participating store. This is something I am working on so I never leave points on the table again.
Paying Attention to Special Promotions
Since I work full-time and have two kids, I don’t have a lot of time to screw around. Because of this, I frequently ignore all the easy ways to earn points.
I am trying to get better at this year. There are definitely times when hotel brands will dole out points for completing a survey or tweeting something but I miss out because, well, I tend to get lazy about that stuff. I hope to do better this year. More points = more travel, and I need all the points and miles I can get.
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March 8, 2018 at 01:06AM
How Sincere Is “The Bachelor”?
In the summer of 1999, the young television producer Mike Fleiss had
already achieved some early success making tacky compilation reality
shows such as “Shocking Behavior Caught on Tape” and “World’s Scariest
Police Shootouts,” when he had an idea for a game show, in which a
wealthy man would select a winner from a group of fifty
wedding-gown-clad women, propose, and then marry her. After some
searching, Fleiss found his star, Rick Rockwell, a comedian and
real-estate investor, and, in February, 2000, a two-hour TV special
called “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire” aired on Fox. On a
studio stage bathed in harsh lighting, Rockwell chose an emergency-room
nurse, Darva Conger, to be his bride, and twenty-three million people
viewed the pageant-like proceedings.
Recently, I rewatched the moment in which Rockwell—lantern-jawed, his smile locked in a manic
rictus—swoops in to kiss Conger, a slim, yellow-tressed woman whose
tense grin echoes his. The two are, obviously, complete strangers—and,
unsurprisingly, their union buckled almost immediately under the weight
of its own extreme premise. Rockwell, it emerged, was barely a
millionaire; he had also had a restraining order filed against him by a
former girlfriend. Conger later revealed that the marriage was not
consummated on the new couple’s all-expenses-paid Barbados honeymoon.
The union was annulled seven weeks after it was forged. But Fleiss
wasn’t done yet. As Amy Kaufman recounts in her new book, “Bachelor
Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty
the producer came to understand that he could tease out and extend the
romance, nurturing it carefully into full blossom. And so “The Bachelor”
In 2002, during a difficult first year of grad school, as a foreign
student in Baltimore, I watched the second season of the show, on ABC,
which starred the dull but calming Bachelor Aaron Buerge, a Midwestern
banker whose very large head had, I used to marvel, the quality of a
solid cube of beef. Now, this is America, I told myself: a country
brimming with healthy, pleasingly robust bodies, a land of meat and milk
and corn. It was during this season that I first encountered the
hallmarks of the show, in which banally attractive and
almost always white protagonists are provided with a string of
one-on-one and group dates to “get to know” the contestants, who live
together in a “luxury mansion,” and who are progressively winnowed down
in formal “rose ceremonies.”
Since then, in the course of more than forty seasons, the “Bachelor” franchise—which came to include the spinoffs “The Bachelorette,”
“Bachelor Pad,” “Bachelor in Paradise,” and, recently, “Bachelor Winter
Games”—has become a mainstay of American reality television,
transforming the competition of “Multi-Millionaire” into something much
more baroque, and shrouding its mercenary quality in the language and
soft lighting of romance. The TV landscape is lousy with more or less
unscripted, improbably themed series—from “Lip Sync Battle” to
“Basketball Wives LA” and “Hunting Hitler”—but the aims of “The
Bachelor” have proven impressively static. (Almost unbelievably, the
series didn’t introduce its first black lead, the Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, until 2017.) Any enjoyment I’ve derived from the show over the
years has had less to do with its dramatic plot points (A former
boyfriend appears to stake his claim on one of the contestants! A
contestant steals away to sleep covertly with the Bachelor!) than its
According to Kaufman, such stately rhythms are the result of painfully
hard work. An entertainment journalist at the Los Angeles Times and a
longtime fan of the show (she has, she writes, a “bach discush” cohort),
Kaufman has procured damning production notes, revealing the show’s
behind-the-scenes manipulation of participants, beginning with the
ground rules established at the Agoura Hills, California, mansion where
“The Bachelor” is filmed. No electronic devices or reading materials are allowed there, nor is contact with the outside world provided.
Competition is kindled not only between the contestants but also among
the on-set producers, who battle for seniority and money (at times,
literally, for hundred-dollar bills doled out by their superiors), by
attempting to create moments of onscreen tension. They throw
participants into states of heightened fear during televised dates (a
bungee-jumping gathering for the heights-averse contestant, say), veer
between intimidation and intimacy to secure information, and keep track
of contestants’ menstruation cycles, targeting them when they are at
their most vulnerable in order to achieve more affecting and dramatically
Like Kaufman, the Canadian poet and academic Suzannah Showler is a
self-professed fan of the show, and she has also recently written a book
about it, “Most Dramatic Ever: The
Bachelor.” Unlike Kaufman, Showler didn’t talk to any sources, because, as she
writes, “Uh, I didn’t really want to.” Instead, she studies the show
using the tools of literary analysis, treating it as a text whose form
provides meaning. Less attuned to the motivations of individual actors,
Showler is more interested in interrogating the ways in which the show
works systematically—analyzing, for instance, how the contestants’ life
traumas are, as a rule, converted into connection, creating an economy
where “confessional narrative is a form of Bachelor currency.” In
recent years, she suggests, the producers have increasingly allowed
reality to enter the insular spectacle of the show (as, for instance,
when the Southern-belle Bachelorette Emily Maynard acknowledged on
camera that she knew about a past affair that one of the contestants had
had with a “Bachelor” producer). Such intrusions are carefully
calibrated to imply that the show’s authenticity is total, Showler
proposes, while, in fact, the producers careful control how many of its
seams they will expose.
Despite their different approaches, both Kaufman’s and Showler’s books
are primarily preoccupied with the question of feeling. How sincere is a
show, they ask, that professes to be about true emotions while
manipulating its participants? And what is the right amount of emotional
distance that viewers should be able keep from “The Bachelor”? Nearly
twenty years ago, in her groundbreaking book “No Logo,” Naomi Klein
referred to a type of engagement with popular culture that she called
“ironic consumption,” wherein people, realizing their inability to
detach from the often idiotic, occasionally poisonous products of
capitalism, partake instead of these products’ pleasures while keeping a
sense of agency and humor about it. Kaufman’s and Showler’s books remind
us that this attitude is, today, often subsumed by a stance that looks
past irony to find sincere enjoyment and edification in wholly
commercial works. Viewers such as herself, Showler writes, are “aware of
the preposterousness of the situation” presented on the show, and of its
pandering to gendered and racial stereotypes; and yet, she writes, “I
fucking love The Bachelor.” For her part, Kaufman notes that “no one
takes a show about twenty-five women vying for one man seriously”; and
yet, if given the chance to try out for the show, she writes, “I WOULD
STILL. FUCKING. APPLY.” This admission is followed by another reversal:
“That’s pretty dark, right? What is wrong with me? Why do I want to be
that girl?” The fault lines between enjoyment and irony, critique and
complicity, are treacherous; the back-and-forth is ongoing, insistent,
recursive. A moment later, Kaufman is moved to earnest query once again:
“What does it mean to be the chosen one?”
Monday saw the airing of the three-hour finale of the twenty-second
season of “The Bachelor,” which had been hyped relentlessly by the
show’s host, Chris Harrison, as the most dramatic and
controversial “Bachelor” climax yet. In it, the unbelievably dull Arie
Luyendyk, Jr., a salt-and-pepper-haired race-car driver turned Arizona
real-estate agent, who resembles a model for the UNTUCKit shirt company,
waffled between the blond Lauren B. and the brunette Becca K. The drama
heightened toward a long, unedited two-camera segment (the first in
“Bachelor” history, Harrison reminded us more than once), in which Arie
decided to break off his engagement with Becca K. in order to “try
again” with Lauren B. The footage was, indeed, “raw,” and Becca wept.
(In yesterday’s ritualized “After the Final Rose” special, which unpacks
the proposal and its aftermath at the end of every “Bachelor” season, it
was announced to much excitement that she will play the role of the new
Bachelorette this spring, and the tears were replaced by the audience’s
whoops and hollers, and the introduction of a number of Becca’s future
suitors.) And yet the whole thing still read as practiced. It wasn’t
false, exactly, but it did crystallize the kind of
going-through-the-motions routine that resides deep within our boring
human souls—like stealing a glance at oneself in the mirror while
sobbing. My nearly seven-year-old daughter, trying to dodge her bedtime
and hovering curiously behind me as I watched, asked, “This isn’t real,
In her book, Showler argues that the unions that take place on “The
Bachelor” are, in fact, not so different from real-life marriages. This
is a show, Showler writes, “that has always pretended to be about the
production of fantasy, but is really about how people make do . . . under
inadequate conditions,” just like in real life. The enjoyment one can
glean from the show relies on this relatability, but also on the
hairline gap between true emotions and interactions and their onscreen
representations, and the ability to tell the difference between the
two—to identify the way the artificial structures that the show puts in
place do not make up the entire story. But in the conclusion to her
book, which was written after Trump’s ascent to the Presidency, Showler
does seem a little chastened by her easy acceptance of the “lower-order
authenticity” of “The Bachelor.” “What does it mean to live under false
premises?” she asks. In our new, almost literally unbelievable era, she
adds, “one is forced to recalibrate not only a sense of moral clarity,
but a more basic, factual understanding of what is real.” She sounds,
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March 7, 2018 at 11:56PM
Virgin Atlantic Adds Basic Economy to Fend Off Rivals
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. will split its coach class into three different ticket grades in an effort to head off the challenge presented by an emerging low-cost, long-haul sector led by Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA.
The U.K. carrier plans to introduce an “economy light” fare for passengers prepared to take hand-baggage only and happy to have their seats allocated at check-in, it said in a statement Wednesday.
The new category is aimed at “millennials and customers jetting off on city breaks,” it said.
At the same time, Virgin will offer an “economy delight” product with a 34-inch seat pitch — three inches more than standard — priority boarding, checked luggage and seat selection at any time. A third “economy classic” grade offers the same perks, bar priority boarding, but with the smaller berth.
The changes, which include fitting up to 36 of the bigger seats on each plane, are part of a 300 million-pound ($417 million) investment program that represents the biggest change to Virgin Atlantic’s economy-class cabins in more than a decade, Chief Executive Officer Craig Kreeger said in the release.
Virgin Atlantic, a long-time rival to British Airways on long-haul flights from London, is facing a new breed of competitor, as Norwegian Air builds the U.K. capital’s Gatwick airport into a major base. BA and other network operators are responding with lower-cost operations of their own that could begin to threaten Virgin on some of its leisure-oriented routes.
Founded by Richard Branson, Crawley, England-based Virgin is 49 percent owned by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. Europe’s biggest carrier Air France-KLM Group, a Delta ally, has also agreed to buy a 31 percent stake in a move that will see the billionaire’s holding reduced to 20 percent.
Virgin will retain its “premium economy” class following the changes to coach, while renaming it simply “premium.” Together with the top-end “upper class” that will mean passengers have a choice of five different service levels.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
Photo Credit: Virgin Atlantic will split its coach class into three ticket grades in an effort to head off the challenge presented by an emerging low-cost, long-haul sector led by Norwegian Air Shuttle. Unfortunately, the three classes will not be called cheap, cheaper, and cheapest. Simon Dawson / Bloomberg
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March 7, 2018 at 11:38PM
The Miracle of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”
Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” has always seemed like a fluke. In
November, 1968, the irascible songwriter from Belfast released a
jazz-influenced acoustic song cycle that featured minimal percussion, an
upright bass, flute, harpsichord, vibraphone, strings, and
stream-of-consciousness lyrics about being transported to “another time”
and “another place.” The album was recorded in three sessions, with the
string arrangements overdubbed later. Many of the songs were captured on
the first or second take. Morrison has called the sessions that produced
the album “uncanny,” adding that “it was like an alchemical kind of situation.” A decade
later, Lester Bangs called the album “a mystical document” and “a
beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk.” Bruce Springsteen said that it gave him “a sense of the divine.” The critic Greil Marcus equated the
album to Bob Beamon’s record-shattering long-jump performance at the
Mexico City Olympics, a singular achievement that was “way outside of
Ryan H. Walsh’s new book, “Astral Weeks: A Secret History of
takes up Morrison’s sui-generis masterpiece and unearths the largely
forgotten context from which it emerged. Though the songs on “Astral
Weeks” were recorded in New York and are full of references to
Morrison’s childhood in Northern Ireland, they were, in Walsh’s words,
“planned, shaped and rehearsed in Boston and Cambridge,” where Morrison
lived and performed for much of 1968. In documenting the milieu out of
which the album came, Walsh also argues for Boston as an
underappreciated hub of late-sixties radicalism, artistic invention, and
social experimentation. The result is a complex, inquisitive, and
satisfying book that illuminates and explicates the origins of “Astral
Weeks” without diminishing the album’s otherworldly aura.
What was Morrison doing in Boston? The short answer is that he was
hiding out. Stymied but full of ambition, the twenty-two-year-old
songwriter had come to New York, in 1967, burdened by an onerous
recording contract with the Bang Records producer Bert Berns, who’d
worked with Morrison’s band Them, and who had also produced Morrison’s hit
single “Brown Eyed Girl.” When Berns died of a heart attack, in
December, the contract came under the supervision of a mobster friend of
Berns named Carmine (Wassel) DeNoia. One night, Morrison, whose
immigration status was tenuous at best, got into a drunken argument with
DeNoia, who ended the conversation by smashing an acoustic guitar over
the singer’s head. Morrison promptly married his American girlfriend,
Janet Rigsbee (a.k.a. Janet Planet), and escaped to Boston.
Boston was home to the other major figure in Walsh’s book, Mel Lyman, a
musician who reinvented himself as the messianic leader of a commune in
the Fort Hill area of Roxbury, where he and his followers, known as the
Lyman Family, commandeered an entire neighborhood of houses. As Walsh
notes, the Fort Hill Community “attracted followers of a pedigree far
more impressive than that of your run-of-the-mill sixties commune,”
including Jessie Benton, the daughter of Thomas Hart Benton; Mark
Frechette, the star of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film “Zabriskie Point”;
Paul Williams, the founder of the music magazine Crawdaddy; two
children of the novelist Kay Boyle; and Owen deLong, a former
speechwriter for Robert Kennedy. Lyman controlled every aspect of life
in Fort Hill. Members who had trouble following the rules might be given
an LSD trip, guided by Lyman himself, or subjected to a rigged
astrological reading. Commune members were also expected, among other
duties, to distribute the provocative biweekly underground newspaper
Avatar. Lyman died in 1978, but his death was kept secret until the
mid-eighties. The Fort Hill Community, unlike so many other sixties
communes, still exists.
There’s no evidence that Morrison and Lyman ever met, but their
trajectories through the book operate like melodic counterpoints. With
his harmonica, Lyman serenaded mournful fans who were departing the
Newport Folk Festival in 1965, after Bob Dylan’s scandalous electrified
set. In “Astral Weeks,” Morrison abandoned the amplified sound of his
earlier work in favor of acoustic instruments. Lyman was a charismatic
leader able to create and sustain a community through the force of his
character. Morrison was hotheaded and irritating to many of the
musicians who played with him, and he exasperated a series of managers.
Both men believed fiercely in the power of their own internal visions
and were propelled by the tumult of the late sixties. Each has a legacy
that endures half a century later.
Walsh fills out the book with a plethora of other figures, famous and
obscure, who were living in or passing through Boston during that year.
There was David Silver, a Tufts University Shakespeare scholar from
England, who created the wildly experimental television show “What’s
Happening, Mister Silver?” “It was the first TV show that spoke to the
stoned generation,” Peter Simon, the younger brother of the
singer-songwriter Carly Simon, said. There were the members of the
Velvet Underground, who played at the Boston Tea Party, a local rock
venue, fifteen times in 1968. (Lou Reed called it “our favorite place to
play in the whole country.”) There was Peter Wolf, the future front man
of the J. Geils Band, who worked as a late-night disk jockey on WBCN, a
free-form station that Morrison liked to call in to. Wolf’s early band,
the Hallucinations, played gigs with the Velvet Underground, Howlin’
Wolf, and other notable acts in Boston. Jonathan Richman, who would
found the Modern Lovers, in 1970, was in the audience for some of those
shows and serves as a source for Walsh.
This flourishing of countercultural activity was not accidental. Its
foundations were laid a decade earlier. Walsh writes that “in the late
fifties and early sixties, Boston and Cambridge served as ground zero
for both the folk music revival and the origin of the American
hallucinogenic revolution.” Boston was where Timothy Leary and Richard
Alpert started the Harvard Psilocybin Project, under the auspices of
which they conducted experiments on the effects of psychotropic drugs.
Mel Lyman took LSD at Alpert’s house. Alpert later travelled to India,
returning to Boston as a spiritual guru with the name Ram Dass. His
best-selling book, “Be Here Now,” published in 1971, introduced many
readers to Hindu spirituality and yoga. It also inspired the George
Harrison song of the same title.
The common thread among the myriad personalities and communities
profiled by Walsh is a yearning for transcendence and rebirth. These are
also the central themes of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” Morrison’s
route to the spiritual plane was through music, not drugs. (A notorious
drunk during his time in Boston, he is said to have eschewed dope after
“burning [his] brain on hash” when he was younger.) The singer seems
to have been guided by his subconscious in creating “Astral Weeks.” Some
of the songs emerged from dreams and reveries. Morrison was a student of
the occult who believed in automatic writing.
Morrison spent the summer of 1968 playing rock clubs, roller rinks,
high-school gyms, and amusement parks across New England with a group of
local musicians, under the banner the Van Morrison Controversy. While
Morrison was refining the songs that would become “Astral Weeks,” a
Warner Brothers executive named Joe Smith, who’d seen Morrison perform
in Boston, bought his Bang Records contract from the Mob with a bag full
of cash. “He was a hateful little guy,” Smith said of Morrison, “but . . . I still think he’s the best rock ’n’ roll voice out there.” Smith
dispatched the producer Lewis Merenstein to audition Morrison in Boston,
in September of 1968. Upon hearing him perform “Astral Weeks,”
Merenstein said, “What are we wasting time for? Let’s go make a record.”
So what magic happened during those three recording sessions on West
Fifty-second Street? At Merenstein’s insistence, most of the band
Morrison had been touring with that summer were not invited to the
studio. Instead, the producer gathered an élite group of session
musicians, featuring the bassist Richard Davis, who had performed with
Sarah Vaughan and Oscar Peterson, and the guitarist Jay Berliner, who
had recorded with Harry Belafonte and Charles Mingus. Perhaps
intimidated by the company he was in, Morrison skulked to the vocal
booth and kept his interactions with the musicians to a minimum. Davis
recalls that Morrison strummed his songs once or twice for them and then
let them improvise their parts as the tapes rolled. It hardly seems like
a recipe for success, but it was very much in keeping with the
unstructured and unorthodox temper of the time. Merenstein and the
musicians were thrilled with results, but Morrison, ever the contrarian,
had a different opinion. “They ruined it,” he said later. “They added
strings. I didn’t want the strings. And they sent it to me, it was all
changed. That’s not ‘Astral Weeks’.”
For the rest of us, though, it very much is.
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March 7, 2018 at 11:14PM
Self-Driving Cars Are Getting Attacked By Humans
Basic logic might lead you to believe that malfunctions with self-driving cars would be caused by programing errors or faulty software. But, an unusual percentage of “crashes” with self-driving cars in California were actually caused by humans.
And when we say caused by humans, we mean humans literally attacked two autonomous cars.
San Francisco saw two attacks on self-driving cars in January, according to recent reports from the city’s DMV. The first incident occurred on January 2 when a man in the Mission District struck a General Motors Cruise AV test car. According to the DMV’s incident report, the car’s human driver (who’s there for safety reasons) was driving in autonomous mode when a pedestrian “ran across Valencia Street against the ‘do not walk’ sign, shouted, and struck the left side of the car’s rear bumper and hatch with his entire body.”
Now another incident from January is being reported that occurred in the Mission Dolores neighborhood. The perpetrator this time? A taxi driver — maybe worried about the impending doom that autonomous cars could bring to the cab industry.
The DMV report showed that it was actually the same type of vehicle as the one that was attacked earlier in the month. The report described the incident as follows:
“A Cruise autonomous vehicle (“Cruise AV”), operating in manual mode, was stopped behind a taxi on Duboce Avenue just past Guerrero. The driver of the taxi exited his vehicle, approached the Cruise AV, and slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch. There were no injuries and police were not called.”
The DMV requires that any sort of crash, no matter how minor, must be reported. In 2018, seven “crashes” have been documented, and two of those were humans attacking the cars, a third and forth were caused by human error when the cars were being operated in manual mode. Meaning that 57% of crashes this year were actually caused by humans.
Starting in April, California will allow self-driving cars to cruise the streets without a human backup behind the wheel. Twenty-seven accident reports were filed in 2017.
Featured Image by GM / YouTube.
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March 7, 2018 at 11:01PM