SouveNEAR aims to make airport shopping fun and support local artists

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Items for sale at one of SouveNEAR’s vending machines in the Kansas City International Airport. (Sheryl Jean)

Airport gifts might bring to mind images of magnets and key chains.

SouveNEAR is trying to change that by selling locally made art through vending machines. I spied two of its vending machines at the Kansas City International Airport (it has six there).

This is the second time I’ve run across “vendo art” in my travels. In February, I wrote about a vending machine in Minneapolis that sells mini pieces of original art — at $5 a pop. Art-o-mat, a North Carolina artist collective, has more than 100 refurbished cigarette machines across North America.

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Visitors to Kansas City can by locally made gifts at a SouveNEAR vending machine at the airport. (Sheryl Jean)

SouveNEAR happens to be based in Kansas City, Mo., and run by two women — Tiffany King and Suzanne Southard. They started the business in 2014 to offer convenient mementos to visitors while supporting local artists. They find local artists — not just in Kansas City — and commission work designed and made locally.

Gifts I saw at the Kansas City airport ranged from chocolate and earrings to coasters and small paintings for $5 to $35. Customers can pay by credit card, Google Wallet or Apple Pay.

In addition, SouveNEAR has two other vending machines in the Kansas City, Mo., metro area: one at Union Station (downstairs by the Extreme Screen and Planetarium entrance) and one at Garmin Ltd.’s headquarters in Olathe, Kan. It also has three machines at the Oakland, Calif., International Airport and one machine at The Hall on Market, a food and drink venue in San Francisco.

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Here’s why American Airlines is buying into a Chinese carrier

 

With China as the fastest-growing aviation, U.S. airlines are eager to make deals to gain entry to the highly regulated market in that country.

American Airlines’ just announced $200-million stake in state-owned China Southern Airlines in the latest example.

The deal will make it a little easier for Americans to travel to China and vice versa because it will provide travelers with a larger flying network and more price options in China and the United States.

“We are two of the biggest carriers in the world, and our networks are highly complementary, with the potential to offer China Southern and American customers an unmatched range of destinations in two critical markets for business and leisure travelers,” Robert Isom, president of Texas-based American Airlines said in a statement.

The deal will offer the airlines’ customers “more travel options and better value,” China Southern chairman Wang Chang Shun said.

China Southern’s headquarters and main hub is in Guangzhou, China. American flies from hubs in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Beijing and Shanghai, and from DFW and LAX to Hong Kong.

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China leads the International Air Transport Association’s forecast of the top air passenger markets over the next 20 years. (IATA)

Later this year, the two carriers plan to start codeshare and interline agreements that will offer about 70 new destinations in China to American customers and nearly 80 new stops in North and South America to China Southern customers.

International air travel is expected to nearly double to 7.2 billion passengers by 2035, according to the International Air Transport Association. China is the fastest-growing market, with 1.3 billion new passengers by then. The industry group predicts China will pass North America as the world’s largest aviation market around 2024. (See graph at upper right.)

For the United States, China is the fifth largest tourism generator, bringing well over 2 million visitors a year, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO). (See chart at lower right.)

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US travel to China also has increased — up nearly 8 percent to 1.2 million people in 2015, the latest data available from the U.S. Travel Association.

The now defunct Pan American World Airways began flying between the United States and China in 1981, two years after diplomatic relations between the two nations were established. But the expansion of flights has been slow in a competitive process for routes.

The United States doesn’t have an open skies agreement, which allows unrestricted flights in each country, with China. The current US-China bilateral treaty specifies the number of passenger flights allowed.

Other airlines have forged ties with Chinese carriers to gain more access to China’s growing travel market. Last year, United Airlines enhanced a partnership it’s had with Air China since 2003. In 2015, Delta Air Lines paid $450 million for a small stake in China Eastern Airlines.

American, the world’s largest airline, offers nearly 6,700 daily flights to nearly 350 destinations in over 50 countries. It carried over 198 million passengers in 2016.

China Southern, one of three major state-owned carriers in mainland China, operates more than 2,000 daily flights to 208 destinations in 40 countries and regions. It flew 115 million passengers in 2016.

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China Southern Airline’s base in Guangzhou, China. Beijing (at top right of map) and Shanghai (right center of map). (Sheryl Jean with Apple Maps)

Remember airline food? It’s back for free on some longer Delta flights

Starting today, Californians will be among the first travelers to taste Delta Air Lines’ complimentary meals in the economy class on 12 longer U.S. routes.

Meals are first being rolled out to economy passengers on flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and the Los Angeles or San Francisco airports. Then on April 24, Delta will offer free food on 10 other routes, including Seattle, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.

Delta’s food leans toward fresh and healthy. For breakfast, passengers can choose between a honey maple breakfast sandwich, a breakfast medley or a fruit and cheese plate. For lunch, there’s a mesquite-smoked turkey combo, a whole grain veggie wrap (main photo above courtesy of Delta Air Lines) or a fruit and cheese plate. Passengers also will get snacks.

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Starting March 1, a complimentary fruit and cheese plate will be offered to economy-class passengers on some longer Delta flights. (Courtesy of Delta Air Lines)
Most airlines, including Atlanta-based Delta, stopped serving free meals in economy class by 2010. Delta says its change is part of a multi-million dollar investment in its in-flight customer experience, including upgraded snacks, better blankets, new food-for-purchase options and free in-flight entertainment.

When the airline tested the meal service on some flights late last year, its customer satisfaction scores spiked.

There are other reasons, too. Now that the airline industry is quite healthy again, carriers are re-investing some of their profits in products and services designed to retain existing customers and attract new customers in a hyper-competitive market. Free food is a way for Delta to distinguish itself from the competition .

Remaining questions include whether Delta’s free food tastes good and whether that matters to most travelers.

Q&A: What the Alaska Airlines and Virgin America deal means for travelers

Alaska Airlines on Wednesday completed its purchase of Virgin America, kicking off a merger process it hopes to complete within three weeks.

The Seattle-based parent of Alaska Airlines paid $2.5 billion for Burlingame, Calif.-based Virgin America, a week after getting approval from the U.S. Department of Justice contingent on Alaska Air Group Inc. reducing the scope of its code-share agreement with American Airlines, the world’s largest airline based in Texas. Alaska expects to receive approval from regulators and Virgin America shareholders by Jan. 1.

The merger Alaska and Virgin America will create the nation’s fifth largest airline, with nearly 1,200 daily flights to 118 destinations in North America, Costa Rica and Cuba. Based in Seattle, the combined airline will be a West Coast powerhouse, with hubs in Seattle; Portland, Ore., Anchorage; San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Here are some answers to questions travelers may have:

Q. Where can Virgin America tickets be bought online?

A. Starting Dec. 19, customers can buy Virgin America tickets at AlaskaAir.com. They also can continue to buy tickets at VirginAmerica.com for the immediate future.

Q. Are there any new routes?

A. The combined airline will offer new daily flights to Minneapolis; Orange County, Calif.; and Orlando, Fla.; from its San Francisco hub starting in summer 2017. The schedule will be announced on Dec. 21, the same day tickets to those places go on sale.

Q. Will the Virgin America name and/or experience go away?

A. Travelers should not see “major changes” to the Virgin America product or flying experience in the next 12 months. Alaska said it’s “conducting extensive customer research to understand what customers value most” and hopes to have a decision about the Virgin America brand in early 2017.

Q. If you have an existing flight reservation, what should you do?

A. If you have an existing reservation, your reservation remains the same, and each airline’s current travel policies still apply. If you have a flight on Virgin America, check in at a Virgin America counter. If you have a flight on Alaska, check in at an Alaska counter.

Q. What changes will loyalty program members of each airline see?

A. Alaska Mileage Plan and Virgin America Elevate will continue to operate as separate programs. Starting Dec. 19, Virgin America Elevate members and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members can earn rewards on each other’s flights and elite members will receive priority check-in and boarding on each other’s flights. Starting Jan. 9, members of both frequent flier programs will be able to redeem award travel on both airlines and Elevate members will be invited to open new Alaska Mileage Plan accounts.

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Courtesy of Alaska Airlines Group Inc.

Q. What does the merger mean for California customers?

A. The combined airline offers 289 daily flights to 52 places in California. Just from the San Francisco Bay Area, there are 113 daily flights to 32 destinations.

Q. Will Alaska’s fleet change?

A. Alaska said it has not made any long-term decisions about its fleet. For now, Virgin America’s Airbus A319 and A320 jets will join Alaska’s all-Boeing fleet.

It remains to be seen how the Alaska and Virgin America merger and their different styles will shake out. Virgin America is known as young, fun airline with cabin mood lighting and touch-screen personal entertainment. Alaska has invested in technology, such as luggage tags customers can print at home, for more efficient operations.

“Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are different airlines, but we believe different works – and we’re confident fliers will agree,” Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden said in a statement. “The two airlines may look different, but our core customer and employee focus is very much the same.”

Travelers can find more answers on an Alaska web page designed for that purpose.