Before we get too deep into today’s charter activities, a quick story: Faced with four hours to kill following the CO presentation Thursday afternoon, 15 of us decided on a pub crawl… through the Presidents Clubs. Exploiting the PC’s unique ability to issue gate passes for members and up to two guests, the group started at Terminal E and progressed through the alphabet in reverse, visiting Terminal C South, C North, B, and A in a state of increasing inebriation. Three of us — Scott, Marty and myself — snuck out to the KLM lounge for a bit, bringing the total group tally to six. By the time we caught up them again, the Clubs had begun calling ahead to warn of our group’s approach. “They’re coming,” the receptionist at C South informed her counterpart at C North. “All they want is a few pictures.”
At each stop, there were photos. First, it was a group shot outside the Club in Terminal E; then one in front of the counter at Terminal C South. By C North, we were behind the counter. In B, we were in the front of the bar. Finally, by the time we reached the Club in Terminal A — by which time the first (annual?) Presidents Club Margarita Contest was nearing its conclusion — we were behind the bar. (Photos below). As for the contest results:
1. Dina at Terminal B. The secret of her success? Adding a splash of amaretto to the mix.
2. Keri at Terminal A
3. Charles at Terminal C South
4. Veronica at Terminal E
5. Unknown at Terminal C North. “Definitely the strongest, though,” the judges ruled. “His goal was to get alcohol into you as quickly as possible.”
Finally, three-and-a-half days into the DO, we’re at full strength, some 180-strong. We’re boarding buses at the moment en route to meeting the new United Airlines managment team, and rumor has it there’s a pool party on tap for the afternoon. Tonight, of course, is the first Frequent Traveler Awards, which are sold out. This year’s Mega DO is finally Mega again.
This week’s joyride is billed as the “Star Alliance Mega DO,” but as in real life, we’re spending a lot of time with Star’s member airlines and very little with Star Alliance itself. That changed a bit for the FlyerTalkers selected to participate in a workshop Tuesday afternoon at Star Alliance’s headquarters, and, members willing, may be about to change for the average flyer.
As USA Today’s Ben Mutzbaugh covered yesterday, Star executives asked Mega DOers for feedback on a conceptual iPhone app and an alliance-wide service kiosk with which a stranded traveler might pick up a phone, swap a credit card, and instantly be connected to a reservation agent with the full itinerary already in front of them. It sounded useful, but the story behind the kiosk is more interesting than the results.
At the Lufthansa dinner, I spoke with Jeremy Drury, Star’s director of alliance innovation services, who sat in on the sessions Tuesday. He explained Star was “used to working with our members’ boards; as of this year, we’re working with our members’ employees.” In a nutshell, Star is seeking to crowdsource ideas across the 400,000-strong combined workforce of its members. “We want to connect a United idea to a Japanese customer service rep,” as Drury put it.
Out of 190 ideas in the original harvest, eight or nine so far have made the cut. The kiosk is the outcome of a suggestion that began life unpromisingly as increasing the “cross-fertilization of reservation agents.” It ended up a kiosk connecting travelers to whichever Star reservation agents happen to be awake and under-utilized at that hour. “We wanted to take the kiosk out of the kiosk and put a person inside instead,” Drury said.
But more intriguing is seeing Star Alliance executives scheming to unlock the creativity of its members, and to put their ideas to work across all 27 airlines, presumably with a Star Alliance logo on the kiosk or app instead of an airline’s. Industry pundits — especially the analyst Mike Boyd — have predicted that the big three alliances may one day supersede airline brands just as the name carriers superseded the regional affiliates that comprise a good percentage of their lift.
That day may yet come, but for now “I’d like 10,000-20,000 employees talking to each other, and we’re not there yet,” Drury said. When I asked how quickly Star will move to implement these suggestions once they’ve been vetted by customers, he just shook his head. There are no timetables for anything, because “there are 27 carriers, and they all need to be convinced. And if you’d like my job, you can have it,” he joked. Still, it’s interesting to see Star Alliance taking the lead when it comes to innovation.
StarMegaDo is an amazing experience at many levels. This afternoon we experienced that by being in two places at the same time. We were standing on the ground in Frankfurt and then walked up the stairs and suddenly found ourselves in München.
In this case München is the name of D-AIMB, one of the Airbus A380s that Lufthansa has in service. And they had it available for all of us to tour this afternoon to kick off the Frankfurt portion of StarMegaDo 2010. I’ve seen the A380s a few times and I still have trouble processing just how absolutely HUGE the airplane is. That means, among other things, that it makes for a great tour because of all the different sections, cabins and features.
The first class lavatory on the A380 is actually larger than the bathroom in my apartment. That was a rather depressing and shocking discovery though I also realize that the rent I’m paying is quite a bit less than buying F seats every night. On the plus side (I suppose),
I have the advantage that at least my feet actually reach the cushion/ottoman.
We spent time in the cockpit:
We spent time in Coach:
And we spent time in the crew rest bunks, too:
Did I mention that the A380 is HUGE???
Seriously beautiful plane.
This afternoon, Star Mega DOs 1 & 2 came full circle with a visit to the “Munchen,” a.k.a D-AIMB, the Lufthansa Airbus A380 we last saw a year ago on the assembly line in Toulouse. (And if that wasn’t enough, we caught a glimpse of last year’s charter, the Condor 757 D-ABON, as we were leaving the hangar area). Lufthansa’s second A380 (of three so far, with the fourth set to follow shortly) the Munchen had arrived from NRT earlier this morning and was being prepped for its NRT return flight the following day.
Splitting into small groups upon arrival, FlyerTalkers literally kicked the tires (rated to 235 mph and costing $16,000 a piece) and stroked the fuselage and found the orange waterspouts where the water you washed your hands with exits the aircraft. Our tour guide, a retired 747 captain named Ulrich Fuchs (who led tours of that plane a year ago) explained how the landing gear folds up in upon itself and told the story of the stowaway found frozen on one of his runs between FRA and Accra, Ghana. “Boeing likes to boast the 747 is made of 6 million parts,” Fuchs said at one point. “Well, 3 million of those are rivets. The A380 has 6.5 million parts, but you hardly see any rivets.”
On board, the Mega DOers politely milled about in Economy for awhile (“Look around,” Tommy said, “This is your first and last time on the lower deck!”) before being led upstairs to the new First Class. Designed in a typically restrained Teutonic style in grays and blacks, most of the amenities on display were expected (lie-flat beds, pajamas, humidifiers, his-and-hers kits by Porsche Design) and a few surprises (instead of overhead bins, personal lockers; instead of showers, bathrooms with full sinks, leather benches, and cabinets stocked with razors, toothpaste, and makeup remover).
We skipped business class considering many of us flew in the same product the night before, but the Lufthansa execs on board were quick to defend the absence of a refresh. When LH was finalizing its A380 layout in 2004 in expectation of a 2007 rollout, the nearly-flat beds were still in the top tier. But the endless series of supposedly minor delays hamstrung their ability to rethink the product in time. (Although the first row of seats in business class can be made full lie-flat if you know which levers to manually push. Ask your purser; she’ll know how.)