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While over the years, my aviation hobby has evolved a fair bit, there is one thing that remained unchanged. And that is my love of plane spotting. I visited an airport for the sole purpose of watching aircraft back in April 2006, and since then have been to quite a few airports around the world to do the exact same thing.

In this article, I will take a brief look at what plane spotting is, what plane spotters do, as well as what you need to get started with the hobby.

What Is Plane Spotting?

Plane spotting is a hobby of watching and capturing aircraft movements at an airport. Generally, plane spotters are also aviation enthusiasts in a broader sense – they oftentimes enjoy learning about aircraft, flying on various aircraft types as passengers (or even pilots), and so on.

As for plane spotting itself, though, there are a number of different “types” of plane spotters.

Some enjoy photographing aircraft or taking videos of them while others enjoy noting down the registrations (“license plate numbers”) of the aircraft they see. Some like to travel to different airports around the world while others prefer to capture every single movement at their home airport.

Personally, I’ve mostly been taking photos of aircraft as I think it’s the most practical way of keeping track of the aircraft I’ve seen. That said, it’s also nice to put the camera down every now and then and just enjoy seeing the aircraft directly.

What Equipment Do You Need to Start Plane Spotting?

This will, of course, depend on how you want to capture what you see.

If you simply want to watch aircraft then, you don’t really need any equipment to get started. If you want to log registrations, then you will want to have a pair of binoculars so that you can not only see the aircraft, but also read its registration.

In case you want to take photos, you will need a camera – ideally a DSLR or a mirrorless with not only a wide-angle but also a telephoto lens. The reason you will want a telephoto lens is that you will often be quite far from the aircraft that you will be taking photos of.

I wrote more about choosing the right camera for plane spotting in a separate article.

In addition to the above, you might also want to get an airband scanner which will allow you to listen to air traffic control. Just keep in mind that in some countries it is not allowed to do so – so make sure you check your local laws and regulations before using one.

Finally, depending on the location you will take photos from, you might also need a ladder to be able to get an unobstructed view of the aircraft over the airport’s fence. Once again, while this is tolerated at some airports, it is not at others. So always do your research before using one.

Where Can You Do Plane Spotting?

Generally speaking, there are four types of places that you can take aircraft photos from:

  • Inside the terminal’s secure area: Only possible when you are taking a flight out of an airport and involves taking photos through windows.
  • Inside the terminal’s public area: Some airports have open-air observation decks while others have food courts, etc. that offer views of aircraft through windows.
  • Inside the airport’s perimeter: Some airports like Zurich and Prague offer photo tours that give access to areas around runways and taxiways. This is also possible during airshows and similar events.
  • Around the airport’s perimeter: Either standing near the approach path or by the fence, sometimes with a ladder.

There are some airports – like Tokyo Haneda or Dusseldorf – that have excellent open-air observation decks.

More often than not, however, the best plane spotting locations are located around the airport’s perimeter. Sometimes they are official observation platforms and parks while other times they are “random” areas around the fence.

To find the spotting locations available around the airport that you are planning to be photographing at, you can check one of the many plane spotting websites including SpottersWiki and Spotter Guide.

I also publish some spotting guides and reports here on KN Aviation.

What Do Plane Spotters Do with Their Photos?

While most plane spotters take photos for their own pleasure – so that they can look back and see what aircraft they have seen, they also enjoy sharing these photos with other like-minded people.

Nowadays, one of the most common ways to do so is on social media – either via Instagram or Twitter accounts or through plane spotting Facebook groups. Uploading to photo databases like Airliners.net and Jetphotos.net is still quite popular as well.

In the past, I used to upload to those databases as well. Currently, however, I share my photos almost exclusively here – on KN Aviation (and from time to time on my Facebook page). If you are considering starting your own blog to share your photos and stories, make sure to check my guide about doing so.

Summary

In many ways, plane spotting is easier today than it was a decade or two ago thanks to the fact that the hobby has become much more popular. That has led not only to more and more airports and authorities being understanding of the hobby but also more and more airports setting up observation decks and platforms making spotters’ lives easier.

Information about where to spot, what equipment to get, and so on is much easier to access as well.

As such, if you are interested in aircraft or aviation in general, I can only recommend trying plane spotting. In the beginning, I recommend you try a bit of everything – just watching aircraft, going to an airport near your home, visiting an airshow, etc. – to figure out which aspect of aviation you enjoy the most.

Once you know that, you can start taking trips to airports further away from where you live, investing in more expensive equipment if necessary, start sharing your photos in Facebook groups or even on your own website, and so on.

The post Plane Spotting: What Is It and How to Get Started? appeared first on KN Aviation.

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Whether you’re spending time in a hotel or somewhere else, a small-sized kettle can be very useful. It will allow you to prepare your favorite hot drink without having to worry about whether your accommodation or work site has one.

In this article, I take a look at what some of the best travel kettles are, as well as how to choose the right one for you and how to keep it clean. Before jumping into the details, though, below is a quick overview of my favorites.

KN AVIATION’S TOP 3 PICKS

TOP PICK: Gourmia GK360

Can be folded so takes up very little space. Made of food-grade silicone.

T-fal BF6138 Travel Kettle

Manufactured by one of the most reputable brands. Elegant design and large capacity.

CMDREAM 0.5L Portable Kettle

Plastic-less design, made of stainless steel. Perfect capacity for solo travelers.

6 Best Travel Kettles

Now, let’s take a quick look at what I think are the kettles that you should start your search with. Keep in mind that they are in no particular order and that the right one for you will depend on your specific situation.

1. CMDREAM 0.5L Portable Electric Kettle

If you’re looking for a mini kettle to take on the road with you, then this is a good one to pick. Its anti-dry protection feature will automatically shut it off once the water reaches the boiling point.

It provides, as its name suggests, a capacity of 0.5 liters – and so, it’s perfect if you often travel solo. At 6.5 x 6.1 x 6.5 inches it’s also very compact.

You can use this product for preparing coffee, tea, boiled eggs, and noodles among other things. However, water takes about five minutes to boil which is fairly slow compared to some of the other kettles in this list.

That said, if you like products made out of sturdy metals, you will love this kettle because it’s made of durable stainless steel. Because of the material it’s made out of – and because it doesn’t contain any plastics, you can boil eggs or vegetables inside it.

While the pot is durable, you might notice  yellow spots at the bottom of the kettle after some use. These are accumulated minerals and aren’t dangerous – as you will find out later in this article, you can use vinegar to get rid of them.

Pros
  • Made of stainless steel
  • Sturdy with no internal plastic parts
  • Shuts of automatically when water boils
Cons
  • Relatively slow
Learn more on Amazon 2. Ovente KS22S Electric Kettle

The Ovente KS22S kettle is a good choice if you tend to travel with friends or family because it can boil as much as 1.2 liters of water in just a few minutes. It’s lightweight and measures 7. 5 x 8 x 6 inches.

Your hands will always be safe with this product thanks to its cool-to-touch handle. Its design isn’t foldable but the cord can be retracted for easy storage. That said, this isn’t the best option if you are looking for something very compact,

Just like the previous pot, it automatically shuts off when the water boils which increases both its safety and convenience. Its boil-dry protection feature prevents the heating element from working when there’s no water.

Water in this kettle doesn’t get in contact with BPA particles so you don’t have to worry about contamination. It’s also very easy to clean. Its one downside is that some users reported that the lid of this kettle gets stuck from time to time.

Also, its lid is made of plastic – and so if you want a plastic-free travel kettle then you will need to look at some of the other options in this list.

Pros
  • Can boil as much as 1.2 liters of water
  • Water doesn’t get in contact with BPA materials
  • Retractable cord
Cons
  • Equipped with a plastic lid
Learn more on Amazon 3. Gourmia GK360 Foldable Electric Kettle

The Gourmia GK360 is an affordable and durable model to pick, especially so if you are looking for something compact. This space-saving model will perfectly fit in your suitcase or backpack as it collapses when not in use.

It can boil up to 0.8 liters of water at a time and so is large enough both for making drinks for  a couple of people as well as preparing instant noodles or similar things requiring more water. It measures 4.2 x 7.2 x 6.5 inches and comes in two colors – black and the pictured white.

When full, it can boil water in about five minutes. When only partially filled, it will boil much quicker, of course. In either case, while not the fastest one, it’s still quick enough. It’s also very simple to use.

This kettle’s body is made of food-grade silicone so it can withstand high temperatures. Its designed so that it doesn’t accidentally collapse when it’s full. It also has other useful safety features like the boil-dry protection and lid lock. There’s a sensor that shuts the kettle off when the water level is low helping increase its lifetime.

The integrated sprout filter helps with producing clean boiled water every time.And, its scorch-free handle will keep your hands safe – that is unless you touch the chrome ring which tends to get quite hot.

Pros
  • Lightweight and foldable design
  • Made of food-grade silicone
Cons
  • Chrome ring can get very hot
Learn more on Amazon 4. T-fal BF6138 Travel Kettle

T-fal is a brand that needs no introduction. Its 1-liter BF6138 travel kettle allows you to pick the right temperature for whatever it is that you are making. It also has a convenient swivel base and the kettle itself is cordless. It’s lightweight and portable, however, it does not fold.

If all you need is a cup of boiling water, then this kettle can do it in just 90 seconds. It features a locking lid with an automatic shut-off for safety. There’s a window that allows you to check the water level and it’s equipped with a removable anti-scale filter that keeps impurities away from the water you drink.

If you’re looking for a fast-boiling kettle, then this is definitely a good option to consider. While, at 9.5 x 7.7 x 7.7 inches its not the smallest kettle on this list, it’s still fairly compact.

The bottom part of this product is made of stainless steel and should be scrubbed often to prevent the accumulation of rust and minerals. Still, the product is mostly plastic, and so, if you prefer a to avoid plastics, then you might want to look for something else.

Pros
  • Boils a cup of water in just 90 seconds
  • Comes with an anti-scale filter
  • Water temperature can be adjusted
Cons
  • Made of plastic
  • Stainless steel bottom needs to be scrubbed often
Learn more on Amazon 5. UWear Foldable Travel Kettle

You can collapse the UWear foldable travel kettle from its full height of 6.8 inches to just 3.75 inches by tilting it clockwise. Because of that, it’s a great choice if you like to travel light and are looking for something very compact. When fully set up, it measures 6.8 x 6.8 x 4.8 inches.

It can heat up to 0.5 liters of water in 3 to 5 minutes, so it’s not as fast as some of the other models. It also doesn’t shut itself off when the water reaches the boiling point. So you will have to keep an eye on the kettle while you boil the water.

That said, its boil-dry prevention will at least keep it from boiling when there is not enough water inside. Even though the kettle is made of silicone, you don’t have to be worried about it changing the taste of your water as the material is food-grade.

Pros
  • Compact collapsible design
  • Made of food-grade silicone
Cons
  • Doesn’t shut off automatically
Learn more on Amazon 6. SODIAL Ultrathin Foldable Travel Kettle

While the SODIAL ultrathin foldable travel kettle might not be as low-budget as some of the other ones in this list, it’s a great choice if you are looking for something compact. Its completely foldable – and you can even detach its power cord and handle – for easy storage.

The kettle’s body is made of high-quality food-grade silicone and features a stainless steel lid. It comes with a zippered storage bag so that you can easily carry around whether you are backpacking or on a business trip.

It measures 6.69 x 5.47 x 5.2 inches when expanded and can heat 0.5 liters of water in 2 or 3 minutes. What sets it apart from all the other kettles in this list is that it’s dual voltage – it can be used both with 110V as well as 220V outlets.

This is a suitable choice for travelers who want the smallest kettle possible and that travel around the world.

Pros
  • Folds completely and comes with a storage bag
  • Boils 0.5 liters of water in just 2 to 3 minutes
  • Dual voltage
Cons
  • Not as cheap as some of the other kettles on this list
Learn more on Amazon What to Consider When Buying the Best Travel Kettle

No matter whether you travel for pleasure or business, it might be a good idea to get yourself a travel kettle. Especially so if you like drinking tea or coffee.

The below should help you in picking the right one for you – whether from the six models that I briefly reviewed above or from the many others that are available in electronics stores both online and offline.

Voltage

The very first thing you will need to consider is the kettle’s voltage. If you are only going to be using it on domestic trips around the United States then you don’t have to worry about it.

However, if you plan to travel overseas that you will either need to leave your kettle at home or get one that is dual voltage. In other words, one that you can switch from 110V which is the standard in the US (and Japan among other countries) to 220V which is used in Europe and so on.

Capacity & Dimensions

The other thing you will have to consider is how much water you will need to boil. If you travel a lot a small kettle capable of boiling a cup or two of water will be more than plenty. On the other hands, you will want a bigger one if you travel with your friends or family.

That said, with bigger capacity comes bigger size. And so, you will also want to look at whether a kettle is foldable or not. That way, you will be able to minimize the size of the thing you will have to lug around while maximizing the amount of water you will be able to boil in one go.

Material

Each material has its pros and cons. Plastic, for example, is the most affordable option. It’s lightweight but not as durable. If you accidentally drop the kettle, it might break.

A stainless steel kettle is more durable but a bit heavier. Moreover, minerals tend to accumulate at the bottom of the kettle so you must soak it in vinegar and water every now and then to keep it clean.

Finally, silicone is a good choice – especially if you want a collapsible model. It’s lightweight and it doesn’t break.

Boiling Speed and Other Features

High-quality kettles are built to heat water fast. You can prepare your hot drink in a few minutes because it will heat a cup or two of water in less than 2 minutes.

Some models will automatically shut off once the water is boiled so that you don’t have to manually control the kettle. Most are also equipped with boil-dry feature which prevents the kettle from working once the level of water drops below the minimum.

This keeps your kettle in good condition and ensure it will work for a long time.

How to Clean Your Travel Kettle?

When you don’t clean the kettle often, minerals start to accumulate. These mineral deposits will affect the heating efficiency of the kettle and can affect the color and taste of water.

To get rid of them, you can prepare a mixture made of equal parts of water and vinegar. Get it to boil in the kettle and then let the mixture sit in it for about 20 minutes. Rinse the kettle several times until it’s completely clean.

Dry the kettle, and you will be ready to boil water for your favorite hot beverage again.

Summary

While many hotel rooms come equipped with a kettle, there are still quite a few that don’t. As such – especially if you like hot beverages or tend to eat instant noodles on the road a lot – it might be worth having a small travel kettle as part of your gear.

There are many models on the market – some made from steel other from silicone. These vary in their capacity, boiling speed, and so on.

While above I listed the six that I think are worth looking at, if you are unsure where to start, I would either look at the T-fal BF6138 if you don’t mind carrying around a slightly bulkier one or the Gourmia GK360 if you want a really compact foldable one.

The post 6 Best Travel Kettles to Get in 2019 appeared first on KN Aviation.

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With more and more medium- and long-haul low-cost routes – and even some full-fare airlines like American Airlines eliminating seat back screens – it is more important than ever to be prepared for a long flight without airline-provided entertainment.

While the first step in doing so is making sure your smartphone or tablet is loaded up with enough content to keep you busy for the duration of the flight, the other step is making sure you will be able to watch that content comfortably. And that is where device holders – such as The SkyClip – come in handy.

Continue reading to see what the best airplane phone and table holders are, as well as how to select the right one for you. Before continuing, though, below are my top picks.

KN AVIATION’S TOP 3 PICKS

TOP PICK: Flight Flap Device Holder

Simple design and flexible construction. “XL” version for larger tablets available.

Plinth Pocket Adjustable Stand

Offers multiple levels of tilt. Ideal for not only watching but also “active” working.

The SkyClip

One of the first device holders to enter the market. Simple yet effective design.

5 Best Airplane Smartphone and Tablet Holders

Let’s start with the five products that I recommend you look at if you are thinking of getting a smartphone or tablet holder for your next trip. The one that will suit your needs the best will depend on your situation – and so the products below are in no particular order.

1. Flight Flap Phone & Tablet Holder

This tablet holder is designed specifically to fit the most devices. In other words, it’s universal. It’s made out of an aluminum core lined with soft closed-cell foam. The holder looks like a flat sheet at first, but, actually, it’s pliable and can be bent and folded to carry any smartphone or tablet.

Because of its flexible design, you can easily adjust the position at which your device is mounted to fit your preferred viewing angle. That said, the holder is strong enough to keep even heavier tablets in place.

Finally, since the whole product is lined with soft foam, you don’t have to worry about your expensive devices getting scratched. And, if your device happens to be too large for the standard one, you can get the Flight Flap XL.

Pros
  • Takes up very little space
  • Accommodates most phones and tablets
  • Offers many viewing angles
  • Doesn’t scratch your devices
Cons
  • Foam might start splitting from the aluminum core after regular use
  • Might not fit on smaller tray tables
Learn more on Amazon 2. CHARGEWORX Inflight Magnetic Phone & Tablet Mount

As its name suggests, the CHARGEWORX phone and tablet mount uses an adhesive metal plate attached to your device to mount it to the holder equipped with a magnet. The holder itself can be easily attached to an airplane’s tray table.

The mount has a ball and socket design which makes it very flexible in terms of the viewing angles you can set your device at. With this product, you can rotate your device 360-degrees along the vertical axis and pivot it up to 90 degrees.

If you are worried about the device falling off the magnet during turbulence, you don’t (for most cases) have to. The manufacturer has done turbulence-testing before releasing the product.

That said, if you don’t want to be sticking a piece of metal to your device or its case, pick from the other products on this list.

Pros
  • Can be used with almost any device or case with a smooth back
  • Comes with two metal plates
  • Turbulence-tested
  • Can be set to a wide variety of viewing angles
Cons
  • Harder to use if you have a cover without a smooth surface
  • Requires adhesive metal plates to be stuck to your device or its cover
Learn more on Amazon 3. Arkon Folding Tablet Stand

The Arkon folding tablet stand fits all iPad models within the 7-inch to 12-inch screen-size range. The windshield-and-dashboard mount design folds out into a tripod-like stand to support your device. When not in use, you can easily fold the stand and stow it away in your pocket or your iPad case.

This stand’s legs have notches that keep your tablet held up in place so you never have to worry about it falling off. Also, while the stand is mainly marketed for use with an iPad, it will work with other tables of similar sizes just as well.

Pros
  • Compatible with all iPad models as well as other tablets
  • Has notches in the legs to keep your tablet securely in place
  • Head can be adjusted to provide several viewing angles
  • Very compact due to its foldable design
Cons
  • Construction not as sturdy as some of the other models on this list
  • Cannot be mounted (fixed) to surfaces as it’s a stand
Learn more on Amazon 4. The SkyClip

The SkyClip is one of the first airplane tablet holders that was ever released. It’s also about as simple and straightforward to use as it gets which is the main reason it’s still very popular.

One of these mounts can securely hold a smartphone or small tablet. If you have a larger tablet, you can still use this mount – but instead of one, you will have to use two with space between them. To use this product, you simply hook its upper notch onto your tray table and fit your phone or tablet in the other notch.

I should also mention that the product comes in multiple colors – and so, you can get it in blue, grey, pink, red, and white in addition to the pictured black.

Pros
  • Simple to use and minimalistic design
  • Takes up very little space
  • Can be used with most devices (although some might require two clips)
Cons
  • Incompatible with some (although very few) tray tables
Learn more on Amazon 5. Plinth Pocket Adjustable Stand

The last tablet holder on this list, the Plinth Pocket Adjustable Stand, has an innovative and customizable design that lets you tilt your tablet to 5 different angles to best suit your needs.

These carefully thought out viewing angle positions are designed in a way that – according to the manufacturer – help avoid wrist, neck, and back pain. This can be especially helpful if you intend to be “actively” working on your tablet throughout your flight rather than just watching a movie.

The stand has rubber-lined panels that keep your tablet secured in place and a head that opens up with a push of a button. The head is adjustable and so it can hold tablets of a wide variety of sizes.

Pros
  • Equipped with rubber feet that secure the stand in place
  • Can be set to five different viewing angles
  • Panels are lined with rubber and so don’t scratch your device
Cons
  • Not sturdy enough for heavier tablets like the iPad Pro
Learn more on Amazon Are Airplane Smartphone and Tablet Holders Worth Getting?

As with everything, the answer is “it depends.”

If you only fly in business class, for example, then chances are your seat will be equipped with in-flight entertainment screen. Also chances are that some of the products above will not work with your seat as they are mainly designed for use in economy class.

On the other hand, if you tend to fly economy class a lot and enjoy watching movies on your devices – regardless of whether or not an aircraft is equipped with its own in-flight entertainment system – then getting one of these holders is a must.

It’s also a must if you plan to fly with a low-cost airline on a long flight that does not offer any form of in-flight entertainment. Unless you plan to read a book or do something else during the flight, of course.

What to Consider When Getting an Airplane Tablet (or Smartphone) Stand

Because everyone prefers different products – and because there are many different devices out there – the airplane tablet holder that is perfect for one person might be the worst possible pick for another.

The guide below should help you with choosing the best airplane smartphone and tablet holder for your needs.

Compatibility

While some of the holders are marketed towards specific phone and tablet models – especially iPhones and iPads, in general they are universal. However, they can be limited in terms of the weight and size that they can accommodate.

As such, before ordering one of these holders, make sure that your device will fit in. And, make sure that the holder will be strong enough to hold it steady.

Viewing Angle Flexibility

You should also consider if you’ll need the holder to be flexible like the Plinth Pocket Adjustable Stand. In other words, you’ll need to think if you want it to offer the ability to switch between multiple viewing angles. You might find that useful if you want to, in addition to watching movies, also get some work done on your tablet.

If you only want to watch content then you might do fine with a fixed holder like The SkyClip.

Size and Weight

Finally, while the weight of these holders is minimal, they can vary in size quite a bit. Some are foldable, while others are not. Some are small, some are large. One reason to consider that is to know how much space it will take up in your luggage. More importantly, though, it will help you determine whether it will be able to fit your device or not.

Summary

If you are looking for something simple then the Flight Flap holder is worth considering. Alternatively, if you don’t mind having to stick metal plates to your smartphone, tablet, or their covers, then the CHARGEWORX phone and tablet mount is a great choice.

Regardless of which one you choose, though, you will certainly find the holder to be handy when flying on aircraft that do not offer seat back screens.

The post 5 Best Airplane Smartphone and Tablet Holders to Get in 2019 appeared first on KN Aviation.

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Hong Kong airport is well-known, at least among oneworld frequent flyers, for its excellent Cathay Pacific lounges. Especially so for The Pier and The Wing first class lounges. However, there is also another oneworld airline – Qantas – that operates an excellent lounge at the airport.

Having really enjoyed my visit to The Qantas London Lounge at Heathrow airport last year, I was excited to visit its Hong Kong counterpart before my Cathay Pacific flight back to Tokyo a couple of weeks ago.

Continue reading this review to see what The Qantas Hong Kong Lounge was like.

Location, Opening Hours & Access

The lounge is on the same floor as the airport’s security check and immigration is. In fact, it’s located on the right side of the terminal, just past security. If you are transferring at the airport, you will want to get to the area around gate 5 above which the lounge can be found.

The lounge can be found near gate 5.

The Qantas Hong Kong Lounge is open daily from 7:30AM until midnight.

To get in, you will need to be flying in business or first class with Qantas or one of its oneworld partners. The lounge can also be accessed by oneworld Emerald and Sapphire as well as Qantas Club members.

Finally, Emirates’ elite status holders and premium class passengers can enter the lounge as well.

Entrance.
Reception area.
Lounge Tour

Past the lounge’s lobby – where a friendly lounge attendant checked my boarding pass – there was a seating area with pairs of sofa chairs with coffee tables as well as some benches.

Right from the start, I liked the fact that rather than being dull, the chairs came in a couple of different colors. That proven to be the case throughout the lounge – just like with The Qantas London Lounge, I really liked the design of this lounge as well.

Seating area near the entrance.

Next, there was the feature of the lounge that stood out the most – a staffed bar. There were some bar chairs along the counter, as well as tables with pairs of chairs behind the bar structure itself and further down the lounge.

Bar.
Seating near the bar.
More seating near the bar.

Across from the bar, on the right side of the lounge, there was a separate room with benches along its three sides and some more sofa chairs.

A separate room on the right side of the lounge.

Going further down the main part of the lounge, there were another area with sofa chairs and the dining area. The dining area – besides a buffet that I’ll write more about below – consisted of some more tables for two, as well as a couple of communal tables seating dozen or so people.

Sofas in the middle of the lounge. Dining area.
Communal table.
Dining tables.

When I got into the lounge, the above was all that was accessible. Later on, however, the rear part of the lounge was opened as well – and it was more extensive than I thought it would be.

First, there was another seating area with sofas, benches, and counters.

Seating in the rear part of the lounge.
Counter.
Leather sofas.
Benches.

There was also a customer service counter. That said, when I checked it out, it was not staffed.

Service counter.

Further back, there was an area with drinks and snacks. In terms of seating, there were more sofa chairs and benches, as well as another communal table.

Snack area. Seating with nice wall art.
More seating.
The lounge was much larger than I expected it to be.

Finally, at the very back of the lounge, there was a kids’ area with a TV screening cartoons and some benches along the wall.

Benches at the very end of the lounge.
Kids’ space.
Food and Drinks

There were three places in the lounge where one could get something to drink or eat – the bar, the buffet, and the snack area.

At the bar, a selection of soft and alcoholic drinks was available. For those of you that drink wine, while there was sparkling wine, I don’t think there was Champagne.

Besides that, one could also order a bowl of “pork and prawn wonton egg noodle soup” there. Or anywhere else in the lounge from one of the many lounge attendants I believe.

Wine at the bar.

Drinks available in the self-service areas – other than the same wines as pictured above – included some more wines, as well as canned soda. There were also juices, water, coffee, and a selection of Dilmah tea.

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Singapore Airlines operates more than half a dozen daily flights between its base, Changi airport, and Hong Kong. These are operated using a mix of aircraft including the A350-900, A380, 777-200ER, and 787-10.

Some time ago, Hirofumi reviewed the airline’s new A380 business class seat on the route. Last month, I flew on the not-nearly-as-luxurious Singapore Airlines 777-200ER in business class on the same flight.

Continue reading this review to see what the flight was like.

Transfer at Singapore Changi Airport

After spending the night at the SilverKris Lounge in terminal 2, I briefly visited Thai Airways’ Royal Orchid Lounge. I left the latter shortly after 6AM and made my way to gate A19 where the flight, SQ890, was departing from at 7:30AM.

As the gate itself was in terminal 3, it took about 20 minutes and a combination of two Skytrain (automated trains connecting various parts of Changi airport) rides and walking.

I also had to clear security as, rather than having a central checkpoint, Changi airport has security check at each gate separately. Or, in this case, a joint checkpoint for a group of gates (A16-A21).

Skytrain station.
Gate area.
Passengers waiting for the early morning flight. Boarding Singapore Airlines Flight 890

Boarding started at 6:55AM with business class passengers and PPS Club members, and I was among the first people to get onboard. Before heading down the jetway, the gate agent handed me a Hong Kong immigration form.

At the end of the jetway, there was a rack with a selection of English and Chinese newspapers and magazines.

Flight SQ890.
Boarding lanes.
The 777-200ER waiting for its flight to Hong Kong.
Newspapers.

Onboard, I was welcomed by one of the flight attendants who kindly showed me to my seat, 1K. On the seat, there were a large pillow and a blanket. And, in the seat pocket, there were – among the usual in-flight magazine, safety card, and so on – the menu and a noise-cancelling headset.

Pillow and blanket.
Menu.
Headset.
Singapore Airlines 777-200ER Business Class Seat

Singapore Airlines operates ten 777-200ERs half of which is equipped with full-flat seats in a “1-2-1” configuration. The other half, including the one I flew on, is equipped with older generation seats in a “2-2-2” configuration.

You would want to avoid the latter as much as possible on longer – and especially overnight – flights. The seat was, however, alright for the 3-hour daytime flight from Singapore to Hong Kong.

Business class cabin. Looking towards the front.

Between each pair of seats, there was a small divider. And, next to it, there were a reading light (that I couldn’t figure out how to turn on) and the audio output.

The tray table could be found in the center armrest, and so could a universal power outlet. Besides that, the armrest also housed a bottle (or cup) holder and a number of storage compartments.

Reading light and audio output.
Privacy partition extended.
Storage spaces and drink holders.
Laptop storage space and power outlet.

The seat controls and the IFE controller were in the other armrest.

There were no overhead air vents.

Seat controls and IFE controller.
Overhead panel.

While each of the seats had more than enough legroom, 1K (and the rest of the first row) had even more space as it was a bulkhead seat.

Bulkhead seat legroom. Singapore Airlines Short-Haul Business Class Pre-Departure Service

Not long after I got settled in my seat, I was offered a welcome drink. The selection included apple, orange, and tomato juices, as well as water. I went with a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice.

Welcome drink selection.

Some minutes after that, another flight attendant came to offer newspapers, the purser came to greet me, and warm towels were distributed. Around the same time, the captain welcomed us onboard and mentioned that we would be in the air for about 3 hours and 30 minutes before landing in Hong Kong.

Finally, one of the cabin crew members came by to take my breakfast order. I went with roti prata – but more about the meal service later on.

Sunrise in Singapore. Departing Singapore Bound for Hong Kong

The cabin crew closed the aircraft’s doors at 7:37AM – with about a 50% load factor in business class – and right after that, the safety video was screened.

While the video did a good job of showcasing the sights worth seeing in Singapore, I am not sure how well it conveyed the actual information related to safety. (I find that to be the case with quite a few safety videos these days.)

On a positive note, I found it commendable that the video featured a sign language interpreter in the bottom left corner.

Singapore Airlines A330.
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There are three Star Alliance business class lounges at Singapore Changi airport – two Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounges (one in terminal 2 and terminal 3 each) and a Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge.

During my recent overnight transit at the airport, after visiting one of the SilverKris lounges, I had a chance to spend some time in the Thai Airways lounge right after it opened for the day. While the lounge is mainly meant to serve the airline’s numerous daily flights between Singapore and Bangkok, I visited it before a Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong.

Continue reading this review to see what it was like.

Location, Opening Hours & Access

The Royal Orchid Lounge at Singapore airport is located in terminal 1, however, it can be easily accessed even if you are departing from terminals 2 and 3 considering that they are all connected airside.

It can be found in the central part of the terminal, one floor above the main level. It’s in the same area as the British Airways, Qantas, and SATS Premier lounges are.

Escalators to the lounge floor.
Heading to the Royal Orchid Lounge.

To enter the lounge, you either have to be flying in business (or first) class on Thai Airways or any other Star Alliance airline like Singapore Airlines or ANA, or you have to be a Star Alliance Gold status holder.

The lounge is open every day from 5:40AM until 7:15 hrs, as well as from 10:25AM until 8:30PM on Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, it’s open from 10:25AM until 12:00PM and from 5:00PM until 8:30PM in addition to the early morning time slot.

In other words, the lounge’s opening hours are timed with Thai Airways’ flights to Bangkok. As such, if you are planning to visit the lounge when using a different Star Alliance airline, make sure to check the opening hours before going.

Entrance. Lounge Tour

As I arrived in front of the lounge around 5:35AM, I – as well as a couple of other passengers – had to wait for a couple of minutes before the glass doors opened and we were let in.

After the lounge attendant checked my boarding pass, I entered the lounge which was essentially one big room to the left of the reception.

Reception.

Near the entrance, there were some “Thai Airways purple” sofa chairs arranged in sets of four around coffee tables, and that continued more or less throughout the rest of the lounge.

While in the front it was more of an open seating, towards the back there were some partitions between groups of seats, and in the very back there were “boxes” with four sofa chairs each.

Besides the seats themselves, there were also a TV screening news and a selection of newspapers and magazines.

Seating near the entrance.
Overview of the lounge.
Seating. Seating in the back of the lounge.
Seating near the TV.
Sofa chairs in the very back of the lounge.
“Box” seating area in the back.

On the right side of the lounge, there was a small buffet area with a limited selection of drinks and light food. More about that later, though.

Buffet area.

Finally, behind the reception area, there was a smaller room with a counter on each side. That was the only other seating area in the lounge other than the main one described earlier.

Counters.

Food and Drinks

Drinks available in the Royal Orchid Lounge at Changi airport included canned soda, juices, and beer (Chang and Singha), as well as apple and orange juices in pitchers.

Hot drinks included coffee and a selection of Dilmah tea.

Finally, there were four kinds of liquor – Johnie Walker whisky, Gordon’s gin, Smirnoff vodka, and Bacardi.

Canned drinks.
Apple and orange juices.
Coffee.
Tea. Liquor.

As for bites to eat, there were only lighter items. There were snacks like crackers and peanuts, as well as cupcakes, sandwiches, toasts, and warm pastries.

Snacks.
Cupcakes.
Sandwiches.
Pastries.
Toasts.

Other than that, there were Thai minced chicken congee and a variety of cup noodles.

Congee.
Cup noodles.
Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge Singapore Summary

Overall, considering that Thai Airways only operates four or five flights a day out of the airport – and the fact that those are just two hours long – the lounge was decent.

It offered comfortable seating as well as a reasonable selection of drinks and light food.

That said, unless the Singapore Airlines lounge is too crowded, I would prefer..

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Singapore Airlines operates two business class lounges at its base, Singapore Changi airport. One of those can be found in terminal 2 while the other in terminal 3.

I had a chance to visit the former while making my way from Tokyo to Hong Kong with ANA and Singapore Airlines. Continue reading this review to see what the SilverKris Lounge in terminal 2 is like.

If you plan to visit the one in terminal 3, make sure to check Hirofumi’s review.

Location, Opening Hours & Access

The SilverKris Lounge in terminal 2 can be found near “E” gates, one floor above the main departures level. Because terminal 1 through 3 are essentially the same building, you can visit this lounge regardless of which of the three you are departing from.

Entrance.

To access the lounge, you have to be flying out of Singapore in business class on either Singapore Airlines or one of its Star Alliance partners. Keep in mind that you cannot access the lounge with a Star Alliance Gold status. That will, instead, give you access into one of the two Krisflyer Gold Lounges at the airport.

The SilverKris business class lounge is open 24 hours a day.

Lounge Tour

After entering into the reception area, I was approached by one of the lounge attendants who checked my boarding pass, reminded me that my flight would be departing from terminal 3, and let me inside.

Keep in mind that when I visited the lounge, it was about 1AM (and I stayed until about 5:30AM), and so it was completely empty. During the day, it can get quite crowded.

Just past the reception area, there was a business center with about a dozen cubicles where one could get some work done. While most were “empty,” a couple were equipped with computers.

Business center.

Entering into the lounge, there was a dining area (as well as the entrance into the bathrooms) on the left, and a large seating area on the right.

The dining area consisted of about half a dozen dining tables for four, the lounge’s buffet spread (more about that later), and a pair of communal tables for up to ten people each.

Dining area.
One of the dining tables.
Communal table.
Buffet.

The seating area was in a “boring” lounge configuration consisting of rows and rows of individual sofa chairs. To give some credit to Singapore Airlines, there were two or three different kinds of sofa chairs for some variety.

Unfortunately, there were no larger sofas or anything else that could serve as a sleeping surface, and so I had to connect two of the sofa chairs to make my self (somewhat) comfortable.

Although thinking about it now, I might have been just better off trying to sleep in the terminal itself.

Overview of the seating area.
Rows of sofa chairs.
Leather sofa chairs.

There was also a large TV with the news on and a selection of newspapers and magazines.

Besides that, there were three phone booths where people could take their calls without interrupting other guests – something I really appreciate, and something that can be found in most lounges in Japan but not often enough in other countries.

Plenty of power outlets could be found throughout the lounge – although they were all local rather than universal. That said, they also had USB ports.

TV area.
Newspapers and magazines.
Phone booths.
Power outlets.

The lounge’s shower rooms were simple but sufficient. While there was soap, shampoo, and some other amenities, the selection was fairly limited compared to some other lounges.

Shower room.

Food and Drinks

If there’s one thing I have to praise about the SilverKris Lounge is that even though I visited the lounge in the middle of the night, the buffet was fully stocked. Let’s start with the drinks, though.

There was a large refrigerator with canned Coke and other soda, Perrier, as well as Heineken beer. There were also some bottled juices and water. Besides that, there were a selection of TWG tea bags and a coffee machine.

Alcoholic drinks included, besides the canned Heineken, about half a dozen different kinds of liquor, some wine, and Tiger beer on tap.

Canned and bottled drinks.
Coffee.
Tea. Liquor, wine, and Tiger beer.

As for things to eat, there were some lighter items including cereals, cheese, salads, fruits, sandwiches, toasts, and pancakes.

Cereals.
Cheese.
Salad bar.
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When most people think of carry-on bags, what immediately comes to their mind is a suitcase with either two or four wheels and a long telescoping handle. An underseat bag – such as the Samsonite Silhouette Xv – is essentially a shrunk version of that, one that can fit under your airplane seat rather than in just the overhead bin.

There are both wheeled underseat bags as well as wheel-less ones. In this article, though, I’ll focus on the latter which can often be more compact and lighter. I’ll take a look at what some of the best underseat bags without wheels are and at what things you should consider when choosing an ideal one for you.

Before continuing, though, below is a quick overview of my top 3 picks.

KN AVIATION’S TOP 3 PICKS

TOP PICK: Hynes Eagle Backpack

40-liter backpack with stowable shoulder straps. Available in multiple colors.

Gent Supply Adventure Bag

Luxury bag made out of Buffalo leather. Equipped with a shoe compartment.

Narwey Foldable Duffel Bag

Affordable duffel bag that’s easy to store when not in use. Available in multiple colors.

 
 

6 Best Underseat Bags Without Wheels for All Situation

Let’s start by taking a look at what I think are some of the best underseat carry-ons without wheels that I think you can get. They are in no particular order, although I personally like the first pick the most.

1. Hynes Eagle Flight Approved Carry On Backpack

If you’re looking to travel light, the Hynes Eagle Flight Approved Carry On is one of the best options.

With a generous capacity of 40 liters, this backpack has sufficient room to keep your essentials without having to carry an additional bag. That said, it also works great in conjunction with a larger carry-on suitcase or checked luggage if you are going on a longer trip.

The bag comes in a dozen different colors and so you will certainly be able to find one you like. It’s minimalist design makes it ideal for both female and male travelers.

One of the most noteworthy things about this bag is that it can easily be transformed from a backpack into a duffel bag and vice versa. As such, it is very versatile and you will be able to use it on a wide range of trips – whether for pleasure or business.

Lastly, the bag is equipped with two grab handles that make not only carrying your bag, but also accessing it from under the seat convenient.

Pros
  • Can be carried in three different ways
  • Has a large 40-liter capacity
  • Comes equipped with adjustable waist and sternum straps
Cons
  • The straps are not as sturdy as they could be
Learn more on Amazon 2. Samsonite Silhouette Xv Softside Boarding Bag

Considering that Samsonite is the largest luggage maker in the world, it would be hard to imagine a list of top luggage items without at least one of its products. Though the Samsonite Silhouette Xv is on the pricier end of the spectrum, it lives up to the brand’s reputation and is well worth its price tag.

Its main compartment is equipped with a U-shaped zipper allowing easy access to your belongings. The compartment can easily fit a laptop, a set of clothes, and more. There’s also a smaller exterior pocket which comes fitted with an organizational panel. It will help you organize your travel documents and other smaller items neatly.

The compact – yet spacious – bag is available in the pictured black and twilight blue colors. It’s made from durable nylon, and features a removable shoulder strap and a padded handle.

Pros
  • Allows for neat organization of your smaller items
  • Its main compartment is easily accessible
  • Has a top handle padded for additional comfort
Cons
  • Comes at a steeper price than some of the other bags on this list
Learn more on Amazon 3. Narwey Foldable Duffel Bag

Whether plan to travel for business or leisure, the Narwey Foldable Duffel Bag makes for a great underseat bag. Measuring just 17 x 14 x 17 inches, this bag can be carried on for free even on airlines with stricter luggage policies such as Spirit and Frontier Airlines.

Another thing worth mentioning is that this bag is foldable. As such, while in storage at home (or at your destination if you are staying for a longer time and are short on space), you can simply remove your items from the bag and fold it to a fraction of its size.

The bag is available in more than a dozen different colors and patterns (mostly stripes), and it has a capacity of 30 liters. It’s quite versatile, and besides using it as a carry-on bag for air travel, it will work well for carrying gym clothes, shopping items, or similar.

Being made of nylon, the bag is quite durable – and it is resistant to water, and wear and tear.

Pros
  • Folds to free up space when not in use
  • Equipped with exterior pocket for items you need quick access to
  • Versatile, can be used as your gym bag, etc.
Cons
  • Some users reported their zippers breaking quite easily
Learn more on Amazon 4. Simplily Co. Travel Weekender Large Duffel Bag

While most of the underseat bags prioritize functionality over style, the Simplily Co. Travel Weekender Large Duffel Bag proves that you can have it both ways. This carry on comes in three beautiful patterns including black and white polka dots, black and white stripes (pictured), and a simple black quilted one.

These different exterior designs certainly make a bold statement. However, the real elegance of this bag lies in the numerous pockets that it comes with to allow you to easily organize your belongings.

It is equipped with a tablet sleeve pocket to hold your tablet or a small, interior back and front pockets as well as an exterior front pocket. There’s also a trolley sleeve pocket on the rear which you can use to secure this bag to rolling luggage.

Pros
  • Features chic exterior designs
  • Has multiple pockets for easy organization of your belongings
  • Has a trolley sleeve for securing to rolling luggage
Cons
  • Fabric used to line the bag’s interior could be of higher quality
Learn more on Amazon 5. Gent Supply Adventure Bag

Don’t want to worry about your flip flops or sneakers soiling your best attire, your toiletries, or your travel documents? In that case, you might want to consider the Gent Supply Adventure Bag which is equipped with a dedicated shoe compartment.

Besides being practical, this bag also has luxurious feel to it as it is made exclusively from buffalo leather. Keep in mind that while this makes the bag durable, there might be a few imperfections in the buffalo hides – after all, it’s a natural product.

On the positive side, this underseat bag is equipped with quality YKK zippers throughout. This adds to its durability and makes it convenient to access your items. For easy portability, the bag comes with two leather handles and a detachable shoulder strap.

Pros
  • Has a large shoe compartment
  • Made from buffalo leather for increased durability
  • Comes with a luggage tag
Cons
  • Pricier than many other bags on this list
  • Being a natural product, the buffalo leather might have some imperfections
Learn more on Amazon 6. Inateck Travel Backpack

Whatever the purpose of your trip, there are likely some valuable items that you need to travel with – a laptop, a cellphone, your passport, and money – that you will need to travel with. To ensure the safety of all these items, you should consider getting an anti-theft underseat bag like the Inateck Travel Backpack.

Although it looks like your ordinary backpack, it’s much more than that. It has special features – lockable zippers and compression straps among other things – that prevent thieves from accessing your valuables.

The straps not only protect your bag but they also help reduce its size when it’s not filled to the brim. This ensures that your packed items don’t get jumbled around.

While the 40 liter bag is large enough to accommodate many of your personal belongings, it is also compact enough to be used as an underseat bag on many airlines.

Pros
  • Has two handles so can be carried like a briefcase as well
  • Has lockable zippers to secure your items
  • Comes with a rain cover
Cons
  • Too long to be stowed under seat on some smaller aircraft
Learn more on Amazon What to Consider When Buying an Underseat Bag Without Wheels

Regardless of the type of bag you are looking to buy, if you plan to take it on a plane as a carry-on, there are many things to take into account. With underseat bags it’s no different – in fact, you have to be careful about some of the criteria even more.

You have to think about the airline’s luggage policy – including size and quantity restrictions – among other things. Below is a look at some of the most important things to consider when choosing the best underseat bag without wheels for you.

Cost

Travel comes with many different expenses – and I would think that rather than spending on a bag, you would prefer to direct as much of your money as possible towards actual travel activities and experiences.

However, most quality carry-ons don’t come cheap. As such, you will want to set aside a reasonable budget for your bag before you start shopping. Also, remember that you might be able to get a cheaper bag now, but it will likely last you much shorter than a good quality more expensive bag, and so in the long run might end up costing more.

Dimensions

The one thing that qualifies a bag to be called an underseat bag are its dimensions. After all, this type of luggage needs to be compact enough to fit under a plane seat. Otherwise it would have to be put in the overhead bin or checked in.

Choosing the right dimensions might be challenging since each aircraft seat type has slightly different dimensions. And, the size of luggage airlines allow to be placed under seat – rather than in the overhead compartment for a fee – differs from airline to airline.

As such, you will want to check with the airline you plan to fly with. If you want to be on the safe side, though, go for a smaller bag rather than bigger so that regardless of the airline you fly with or your specific seat, the carry-on will fit under your seat easily.

In case you are flying with Frontier or similar airline and do not want to pay for a large carry-on luggage, you will want to keep the size of your bag under 18 x 14 x 8 inches.

Shape

Apart from size, it’s important to think about the shape of your underseat bag. This is vital in case you end up in one of those unfortunate seats with an in-flight entertainment box under it or with other things that limit the available space.

The easiest way to solve the problem is by looking for a soft-sided bag that is flexible enough to be fit in whatever space is available under the seat. Just make sure you don’t pack it to the brim as otherwise that will not be an option.

Capacity

As much as you want to look for a compact bag, you will also want one that has the maximum amount of space possible so that you will have enough room to accommodate all of the items you might need on your trip.

You will want to look for an underseat bag that strikes a good balance between size and capacity – typically in the 25 to 40 liter range.

Weight

When choosing bag for air travel, another factor that shouldn’t be neglected is its empty weight. While that is not much of an issue with your checked bags, it is crucial when choosing a carry-on, especially one that you plan to carry as your personal item.

Airlines have specific weight limits on the items you can carry on the aircraft. If you choose a heavy bag, you’ll be limited on the number of items you can pack in it. Instead, you should pick a lightweight luggage that allows you to pack more for your flight.

There’s also the added convenience of transporting a lighter bag. Remember that you’ll be carrying it on your shoulders in your hand so keeping its weight down is in your best interest.

Handles and Straps

The type of handles and straps incorporated in your underseat bag will determine how comfortable it will be to carry. You shouldn’t opt for a bag with just a simple handle – carrying your belongings in such a bag would get uncomfortable quite quickly.

At the very least,..

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NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center operates a number of aircraft out of Building 703 at Palmdale airport. Among those, two airliners from yesteryear – a Boeing 747SP and a Douglas DC-8 – that found a new life as research aircraft can be found.

Last year, I had a chance to fly on the larger one of those – the 747SP which serves as an airborne observatory – during its deployment to New Zealand. Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to have been able to cover the smaller and older DC-8 that NASA uses to study the atmosphere among other things.

Continue reading to join me onboard the mission I joined in April and to see how NASA uses the former Alitalia airplane to advance science.

NASA Douglas DC-8-72, N817NA. Egress Training & Mission Briefing Before Boarding the Aircraft

The flight started for me the day before we actually took off as that’s when I visited NASA Armstrong Building 703 not only to see the aircraft based there up close but also to take the mandatory egress training.

Just like when I flew on SOFIA, the egress training consisted of a video explaining the safety features of the DC-8 – many of which were nothing like you would see on a regular airliner – and of a presentation filling in more details about the topics covered in the video.

NASA DC-8 safety card.

On the day of the actual flight, all of the crew members gathered in the briefing room about two hours before the scheduled departure time to go over the details of the flight. The Mission Director took a roll call, the researchers gave updates about the status of their instruments and their research plans, and the cockpit crew provided critical information related to the flight itself.

Mission briefing.

Once the briefing was over, I was escorted out of the building and onto the apron, quickly snapping a photo of SOFIA that was being prepared for its night flight before walking over to the DC-8 which was parked a bit further.

SOFIA being prepared for its next flight.

I walked around the aircraft a bit before climbing up the stairs and entering the cabin – still not believing that I was actually about to fly on the DC-8.

NASA DC-8 – the star of the day. The DC-8 with snowcapped mountains in the background.
Close-up of the aircraft’s CFM56 engines.
NASA Airborne Science Program.
Third Time the Charm: Take-Off from Runway 07

Not long after I boarded the aircraft and secured my luggage for take-off, I joined the two pilots and the flight engineer in the cockpit. Around 2:30PM, they got their headsets on and started going through the pre-flight checklist.

The DC-8’s four engines were brought to life one by one – starting with the inner port side engine, continuing with the inner and outer starboard ones, and finishing with the outer port side engine.

With the engines running, the pilots started their pre-taxi checklist and one of them asked the ATC for a permission to taxi. Once we were cleared to do so – via taxiways Sierra, Echo, and Papa to runway 22 – the pilots made sure all the ground equipment was out of our way and put the aircraft into motion.

While making our way to runway 22, they asked the ATC if we could take off from the closer runway 25 instead – a request that was granted right away. By the time we reached runway 25 end, though, there was a significant tailwind. And so, since we had plenty of time to spare before our planned take-off time, the pilots decided to ask the ATC if we could take off from the other end of the runway.

The request was once again granted without any issues and so, at 3:08PM, we took off from runway 07 into the sunny Californian skies.

A view of the cockpit shortly after take-off.

About thirty minutes after take-off, we reached the Pacific coast. Besides the vast Pacific Ocean in front of us, we could also see Long Beach airport on our right.

It was there – the pilots kindly pointed out to me – that exactly 50 years ago, in 1969, the NASA DC-8 was manufactured. Of course, when it first came out of the factory, it was a standard airliner – originally delivered to Alitalia before being bought by Braniff International Airways – and not the flying laboratory that it is today.

Pacific coast.
Long Beach airport.

Soon after, as we continued climbing, we flew over Santa Catalina Island and a part of the science crew started collecting data. Then, once we reached an altitude of 34,000 feet, the HALO operators were given permission to lase – more about that later in the article, though.

I stayed in the cockpit for some more minutes – observing the pilots and flight engineer in action – before going into the cabin to learn more about the aircraft and the science that was being done onboard.

The pilots and flight engineer at work. Flight engineer’s workstation.
“Engine room.”
NASA DC-8 sticker on the flight engineer’s panel.
Nothing Like an Airliner: Exploring the NASA DC-8

Overall, just like with SOFIA, there was very little to remind the people onboard that the aircraft once used to haul passengers on scheduled flights around the world.

The seats – while similar to US domestic first class ones – were all equipped with shoulder harnesses. Furthermore, mixed between the rows of seats were equipment racks with state-of-the-art instruments and other specialized workstations.

One of the only things that gave a hint about the aircraft’s previous life and its original operator Alitalia was the “no smoking” and “fasten your seatbelt” sign featuring not only English but also Italian text.

A view of the cabin.
Seats.
“No smoking” and “fasten your seatbelt” sign.

Right outside the cockpit, the aircraft’s navigator station could be found. And behind that – in front of R1 door – there was a “standing room only” rack with screens showing our position on the map and other flight information.

Navigator. One of the crew members using the screen showing our position and other flight data.
The aircraft is a headset environment.
Flight map.

Continuing, there was the Mission Director (MD) station from where the whole operation was controlled. It was the MD’s job to oversee the mission as a whole and to liaise between the science teams in the cabin and the pilots in the cockpit. Throughout the flight, the MD asked the pilots to make adjustments to speed, heading, and altitude based on the requests made by the instrument operators.

I loved the fact that whatever area of the MD station was not covered with buttons, switches, screens, and other equipment was covered with stickers depicting the aircraft’s previous missions and cities it visited among other things instead.

Mission Director’s workstation.
Mission Director at work.
Stickers decorating the MD’s workstation.
One more view of the workstation, taken after sunset.

Two “safety techs” responsible for preparing the cabin for take-off and landing, as well as for keeping it safe throughout the flight were onboard the flight as well – one in the front of the cabin and one in the back.

At the very back of the aircraft, there was a small counter with some snacks that the crew brought and a cooler box with water as well. While the aircraft wasn’t equipped with a refrigerator, there was a microwave so that the crew could heat up their meals on what often are long and cold flights.

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Recently, smaller airline alliances have started popping up here and there. However, practically speaking, there are only three major airline alliances that you need to know about – Star Alliance, oneworld, and SkyTeam.

While airlines have been increasingly forming partnerships with airlines even outside their alliances, the alliances are still an important part of the air travel landscape as – besides the benefits they bring to the individual airlines within the alliance – they allow passengers to reach more destinations with seamless transfers and enjoy their frequent flyer perks across a wider variety of airlines among other things.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at the three major alliances – including their history, member airlines, route networks, and frequent flyer benefits – to try to determine which one is the best airline alliance.

Star Alliance

Star Alliance was formed on May 14, 1997, and with its current 28 member airlines across all six inhabited continents, it is not only the first major airline alliance to have been formed, but also the largest one.

Star Alliance airlines serve a total of more than 1,300 destinations across 193 countries. As such, there are very few places where you cannot get to by using a Star Alliance airline.

Member Airlines

The alliance was founded by five airlines – Air Canada, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, Thai Airways, and United – all of which are members of the alliance to this day.

Currently, besides the initial five airlines, the alliance counts the following airlines among its members as well: Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air China, Air India, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Avianca, Avianca Brasil, Brussels Airlines, Copa Airlines, Croatia Airlines, EgyptAir, Ethiopian Airlines, EVA Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Swiss, TAP Portugal, and Turkish Airlines.

The alliance also had other members such as Blue1, British Midland International, Continental Airlines, Mexicana, Spanair, US Airways, and VARIG in the past. Most of those airlines left the alliance either due to bankruptcy or acquisition by a member of another alliance.

Route Network

Two of Star Alliance’s founding members – United Airlines and Air Canada – offer a wide network of domestic flights within the United States and Canada as well as international flights, especially to other destinations in the Americas, to Europe, and to Asia. They are complemented three of its newer members that joined in 2012 – Copa Airlines from Colombia, Avianca from Colombia, and Avianca Brasil – for an extensive coverage of both North and South America.

Flights within Europe and between Europe and other continents are covered well by Lufthansa Group – mainly Lufthansa, Swiss, and Austrian Airlines. TAP Portugal provides further connections to various destinations in Brasil, and Turkish Airlines offers many options for traveling between Europe and the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

With Air China, ANA, Air India, and Asiana Airlines, Star Alliance offers plenty of connections within as well as to and from the four largest Asian economies as well.

Similarly, having the three largest African airlines – Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, and Egypt Air – in its portfolio allows Star Alliance to offer extensive connections to and within the continent. That is further helped by the fact that each of the three airlines is based in a different region – north, east, and south – of Africa.

The one area where Star Alliance lacks connectivity is within Australia. While airlines such as Air China, Air New Zealand, and Singapore Airlines offer flights to the country, there have been no Star Alliance airlines operating within the country since 2001 when Ansett Australia collapsed.

Frequent Flyer Benefits

There are two Star Alliance frequent flyer status levels – Silver and Gold – that the statuses of each individual airline’s mileage program map to.

The Silver status gives passengers priority on waitlists and when standing by for flights, and so is of very limited use. The Gold status – besides providing even higher priority on waitlists and stand-by lists – offers more benefits and can make travel significantly more comfortable.

Regardless of the class one is traveling in, the Gold status allows its holders traveling on a Star Alliance flight to use priority check-in counters as well as priority security and boarding lanes when available. It also gives its holders extra luggage allowance and priority treatment of luggage – meaning their luggage should be, at least in theory, among the first to be unloaded.

Finally, it allows its passengers to visit business class and Star Alliance Gold lounges.

Oneworld

Having been announced in 1998 and officially launched in 1999, Oneworld is the second oldest of the three alliances. It has just 13 member airlines, but thanks to some of the major airlines being part of it, it manages to cover most areas of the world fairly extensively.

Combined, the 13 Oneworld airlines serve more than a thousand airports.

Member Airlines

Founding members of Oneworld alliance included American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Canadian Airlines. All of these airlines except for Canadian Airlines, which left the alliance in the early 2000s when it merged with the Star Alliance carrier Air Canada, are a part of the alliance to this day.

The remaining nine airlines that belong to Oneworld today include: Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines, and SriLankan Airlines.

Other than Canadian Airlines, the alliance also used to count Mexicana (which also used to be a member of Star Alliance at one point), Air Berlin, Aer Lingus, and Malev among its members in the past.

Route Network

While Oneworld does not have domestic presence in Canada anymore, it offers an extensive network of flights within the United States as well as from the United States to other parts of the world thanks to American Airlines. In addition to that, LATAM provides great connectivity to and within South America.

The alliance also offers plenty of connections between Europe and Africa and the Middle East, Asia, and even Australia.

With Qantas being a member of the alliance, it is also the only one of the three alliances to offer domestic flights within Australia. Similarly, Japan Airlines provides a dense domestic network within Japan.

The two areas where Oneworld noticeably lacks coverage are Europe and China.

While it has three European members, due to the geographic location of the UK, Spain, and Finland, none of the airlines is ideal for most flights within continental Europe.

As for China, while airlines such as British Airways, Finnair, American Airlines, and Qatar Airways offer plenty of connections from China to the rest of the world, the alliance lacks a member from mainland China that would offer domestic flights.

Frequent Flyer Benefits

Similarly to Star Alliance and SkyTeam, Oneworld has its own alliance-wide frequent flyer status levels. There are three levels – Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald – offering increasingly attractive perks.

The Oneworld Ruby status offers priority waitlisting and stand-by just like Star Alliance Silver status. On top of that, though, it also allows its holders to use business class check-in regardless of the class of service they are traveling in, and to select seats in advance in some cases.

The Oneworld Sapphire status offers, on top of the Ruby benefits, access to business class lounges, priority luggage handling, priority boarding, and extra luggage allowance.

What separates Oneworld from the other two alliances is its Emerald status level which – in  addition to all of the perks above – also allows its holders to use fast track security, first class check-in area and visit first class lounges regardless of the class they are flying in.

SkyTeam

The youngest of the three alliances, SkyTeam, was formed in 2000. Since then, it has grown to include 19 different airlines serving a total of more than a thousand airports around the world.

Member Airlines

SkyTeam originally comprised of four airlines: Air France, Delta Air Lines, Aeromexico, and Korean Air. The following year, Alitalia and Czech Airlines joined the alliance.

The alliance expanded further in 2004 when KLM, Continental Airlines, and Northwest Airlines joined. Since then, the latter two were merged into United Airlines – a member of Star Alliance – and Delta Air Lines respectively.

Four more airlines – Aeroflot, Air Europa, Kenya Airways, and China Southern Airlines – joined SkyTeam that decade. China Southern decided to leave the alliance at the end of 2018, though.

This decade, Aerolineas Argentinas, China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Middle East Airlines, Saudia, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines, and Xiamen Air joined the alliance bringing the total membership up to its current 19 airlines. Garuda Airlines was the last airline to join the alliance, becoming a member in 2014.

Route Network

Counting Delta Air Lines, Aeromexico, and Aerolineas Argentinas, SkyTeam offers decent coverage of not only the United States, but also the Americas overall. Similarly, with both China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Air being its members, it offers a dense network of domestic flights within China.

Flights within Europe are covered quite well by Air France, KLM, Air Europa, and TAROM. The first two of those also offer extensive connections to cities around the world. Vietnam Airlines, China Airlines, and Korean Air offer a reasonable way to get around Asia.

While the alliance does not have members in North Africa, Australia and Oceania, and Japan, its other members airlines provide a link between destinations in those parts of the world and the rest of the world.

Frequent Flyer Benefits

SkyTeam has two levels of frequent flyer benefits: Elite and Elite Plus.

Passengers with a SkyTeam Elite-level status can use priority check-in desks and boarding, receive priority on stand-by lists, have access to a wider selection of seats, and even get a bit of extra luggage allowance.

SkyTeam Elite Plus members receive, in addition to all of the above, access to SkyTeam lounges regardless of the class they are traveling. They are also eligible for priority immigration, security, and transfer desk lanes, they get a seat on sold out flights, and their luggage gets handled with priority.

Summary: Which Airline Alliance Is the Best?

As you can see, while each of the alliances has a major member airline from the United States, they are also made up of very different groups of airlines – each having more coverage in one region or country than another.

Because of that, it is difficult to choose one of the three and call it the best airline alliance. Instead, before committing to either of the three, you will have to look at what airlines operate the routes you fly on the most frequently – and what alliances they belong to.

In some cases, that might leave you with very little choice – for example, if you are based in Australia, chances are you will go with Oneworld unless you live in one of the major cities and only travel internationally. On the other hand, if you live in the United States, China, or Japan, you will have more choices.

While all three alliances offer their frequent flyers more or less the same perks, the one that stands out is Oneworld. The reason for that is that while – on an alliance-wide basis – Star Alliance and SkyTeam only offer their frequent flyers access to business class lounges, Oneworld Emerald members can also use first class lounges – including the great The Pier and The Wing lounges in Hong Kong.

All that said, there is also of course the option of not sticking with any single alliance which is becoming the “right” choice in more and more cases with the decreasing mileage earning rates and growing networks of low-cost carriers.

The post Star Alliance vs. oneworld vs. SkyTeam: Which of the Three Major Airline Alliances Is the Best? appeared first on KN Aviation.

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