Written by: Leonard Parker | Houston Business News | 09th October
In this week’s news, United is adding capacity in expectation of a busy holiday travel season, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks unvaccinated people to stay home this year; the agency also adds more countries to its “do not travel” list; a major U.S. bank won’t allow unvaccinated employees to travel on business; Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and French Bee add flights at San Francisco International; American plans to revive LAX-Sydney flights; Air New Zealand sets a vaccine mandate for all passengers; Canada will start enforcing a vaccine rule for air travelers later this month; international route news from United, Aer Lingus, ITA, Volaris El Salvador and Alaska/Iberia; Oakland will get a new Delta route this spring, and winter routes ramp up at Palm Springs; Delta fights back at the AA-JetBlue alliance with an expansion at Boston; PayPal gives United customers a new in-flight payment option; Hawaiian Airlines moves its LAX operations; and new lounges open at Washington Dulles and Phoenix Sky Harbor.
It’s starting to look like domestic air travel over the November/December holidays will be booming this year — although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend it for unvaccinated people.
United Airlines said this week that flight searches for holiday trips are up 16% this year – not from 2020 levels, but from 2019, before the pandemic hit. Based on current booking trends, United said the busiest travel days for Thanksgiving will be Wednesday, Nov. 24, and Sunday, Nov. 28, and the most crowded days for the end-of-year holidays will be Thursday, Nov. 23, and Sunday, Jan. 2. The carrier said its December schedule will include 3,500 daily flights — just 9% below its December 2019 capacity and its busiest schedule since the pandemic began. United’s vice president of network planning and scheduling, Ankit Gupta, said the company is seeing “a lot of pent-up demand” for year-end trips. “We know families and friends are eager to reunite this holiday season, which is why we’re thrilled to add new flights that will help them connect and celebrate together.”
But the CDC, in an update this week to its web page of travel advice, urged Americans to “delay travel until you are fully vaccinated.” People who do complete their COVID-19 vaccinations “can travel safely within the United States,” the agency said. Those who aren’t fully vaccinated but “must travel” should get a viral COVID test one to three days before departure, the CDC said, and should practice social distancing, avoid crowds, get another viral test three to five days after traveling and self-quarantine at home for seven days after returning. And it reminded all travelers, vaccinated or not, about the federal rule requiring a mask for all travel on airlines and other public transportation.
Meanwhile, the CDC continues to add more European nations to its Level 4 list of “Do Not Travel” destinations, based on risk levels from the latest COVID data. New on the list this week are Austria, Croatia and Latvia. Other European nations added to Level 4 in recent weeks include Norway, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Lithuania, Switzerland, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus. But the CDC this week also eased the travel advisory from Level 4 to Level 3 (don’t visit without a full vaccination) for France, Iceland and Portugal as well as Morocco, Argentina, Nepal, South Africa and Lesotho.
JPMorgan Chase bank is requiring all employees to be vaccinated for business travel.Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images
We’ve noted before how foreign governments and even the U.S. are starting to treat vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals differently when it comes to travel — i.e., making it easier for the former and more difficult for the latter. And now the private sector is moving toward a similar distinction. In a policy decision that could impact the recovery of corporate travel, the financial giant JPMorgan Chase said this week its employees will not be allowed to travel on business if they are not vaccinated or have not revealed their vaccination status to the company, according to a Reuters report. It will also require unvaccinated workers to be tested twice weekly and to pay more for health insurance. The travel news website Skift.com commented that the big bank’s new policy “may trigger other companies to follow suit — a trend that would set back the timeline for an already fragile corporate travel sector recovery even further.”
DENVER, COLORADO - JUNE 20, 2019: A United Airlines passenger plane taxis at Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)Robert Alexander/Getty Images
With the U.S. set to reopen to vaccinated foreign visitors next month and with travel to many overseas destinations getting easier for vaccinated Americans, airlines are starting to ramp up their international schedules. At San Francisco International, Virgin Atlantic last week resumed service to London Heathrow, which had been suspended since the pandemic started. Virgin, a trans-Atlantic partner of Delta, is operating 787-9 flights three times a week (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) and plans to add a Sunday departure as of Oct. 24. In November, Virgin plans to revive service from London to Las Vegas and Orlando and from Manchester to New York and Orlando.
British Airways said it will increase its San Francisco-London schedule to two flights a day starting next month and will operate two daily London flights from several other U.S. gateways including Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Washington Dulles, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami. BA plans to offer daily departures to Heathrow from Phoenix, Philadelphia, Seattle, Denver, Atlanta and Houston. The airline’s New York JFK-LHR schedule will get five daily departures starting next month and BA will resume flying to London from Austin, Orlando, San Diego, Tampa, Las Vegas and Baltimore/Washington. In December, the airline expects to bring back flights to Nashville and New Orleans. British Airways is seeing so much demand that it plans to bring four of its Airbus A380 super-jumbos out of storage this winter for use on select routes, including LHR-LAX and LHR-Miami.
The Paris-based low-fare carrier French Bee plans to return to its Paris Orly-San Francisco-Papeete, Tahiti, route Nov. 2 after a lengthy hiatus when it operated via a stop in Vancouver instead of California. The airline’s A350 flights will operate twice a week. According to French Bee’s website, one-way fares between San Francisco and Tahiti start at $329, with SFO-Paris beginning at $189. French Bee has already restarted its Newark-Paris flights and is due to increase frequencies on that route from three a week to four in December.
With Australia tentatively planning to start reopening its borders to foreign arrivals in the months ahead, American Airlines expects to revive its Los Angeles-Sydney service in early January. The route has been suspended since late August. Australia is adopting a phased reopening, beginning with Australian citizens and residents in November, followed in subsequent months by skilled migrants and students; international tourist arrivals probably won’t begin before March of 2022.
Qantas said last month that as it gradually resumes long-haul international flying, it will require all passengers to be vaccinated against COVID, and now Air New Zealand is following suit. Effective Feb. 1, 2022, the company said, it will “require customers traveling anywhere on its international network to be fully vaccinated.” Air New Zealand said it is working with the International Air Transport Association to start using IATA’s Travel Pass app, which will “check customers' health information against flight details to ensure they are meeting entry requirements for that destination, and the airline.”
In August, the Canadian government said it planned to start requiring proof of COVID vaccinations for all international and domestic airline passengers, and now it has set Oct. 30 as the effective date for that new policy. The policy also applies to seagoing vessels like cruise ships and to interprovincial trains. “For travelers who are in the process of being vaccinated, there will be a short transition period where they will be able to travel if they can show a valid COVID-19 molecular test within 72 hours of travel, but that transition period will end on November 30,” the government said. The requirement does not apply to children under age 12. Individuals who violate the rule could be fined up to $5,000.
In other international route developments, United has set Nov. 13 for the resumption of service from Houston Bush Intercontinental to Rio de Janeiro, operating three flights a week with a 767-300ER, and expects to bring back Washington Dulles-Sao Paulo flights in mid-December. Aer Lingus plans to resume service from Dublin to Newark on Nov. 14 with four weekly flights, increasing to daily in December, and will put Orlando back on its schedule Nov. 27 with three flights a week. ITA (Italia Trasporto Aereo), the new Italian carrier that is replacing Alitalia, is set to begin its first U.S. service Nov. 4, offering three flights a week from New York JFK to Rome with a three-class A330. In March of next year, ITA will add Boston-Rome, Miami-Rome and JFK-Milan flights, followed by Los Angeles-Rome next summer and routes from Rome to San Francisco, Washington Dulles and Chicago in 2023. In Central America, a new low-cost affiliate of Mexico’s Volaris – called Volaris El Salvador – has applied for U.S. permission to launch routes starting in March from San Salvador to Los Angeles, New York JFK and Washington Dulles.
A Boeing 737 Max 9, built for Alaska Airlines, undergoes testing as it flies past the Boeing factory in Everett, Wash., on March 23, 2020.Mike Siegel/TNS
That new code-sharing agreement between Alaska Airlines and Spain’s Iberia took effect this week, putting the latter’s code onto 40 Alaska routes via connections at San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both carriers are members of American’s Oneworld global alliance. “The partnership with Iberia enables our Mileage Plan members to earn miles on Iberia flights and features reciprocal elite benefits, including preferred seat selection; priority check-in, security clearance and boarding; lounge access; and extra baggage allowance, with further enhancements coming over the next several months,” Alaska said.
In domestic route news, Oakland International announced that Delta will start flying between OAK and its Detroit hub on April 20 of next year, operating one daily flight with a 737-900ER. Delta already flies from OAK to Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Southwest this week introduced new service from Sacramento to Palm Springs – the first of several new Palm Springs routes coming in the weeks ahead as winter approaches. American this week kicked off seasonal PSP-Chicago O’Hare flights and Alaska Airlines introduced seasonal service from Palm Springs to Portland, Oregon, and Everett, Washington. On Oct. 14, JetBlue begins seasonal flights from Palm Springs to New York JFK. Elsewhere in California, Canada’s WestJet this week launched twice-weekly flights from San Diego to Calgary, Alberta.
In the northeast, Delta Air Lines is fighting back against the threat to its market share posed by the American/JetBlue alliance at Boston and the three New York City-area airports. Delta said this week it will add several new routes out of Boston in 2022, including international service to Athens and Tel Aviv three times a week beginning in late May — the same two destinations where American launched new service this year from New York JFK as part of its JetBlue partnership. Delta also plans to add new domestic flights from BOS to San Diego, Denver and Baltimore/Washington starting in July. The airline said that by next summer, its Boston schedule will offer 3,800 more seats per day than it did in summer of 2019. Delta also took a poke at American by starting new twice-daily A220 flights this week from Boston to AA’s Dallas/Fort Worth hub.
United Airlines is partnering with PayPal to give its customers another touch-free option for onboard purchases, allowing them to show a QR code in the PayPal app to the flight attendant. It should first be available in November on select flights from Chicago O’Hare and will be rolled out in the following weeks on other flights across United’s network. Fliers who want to use it should download the PayPal app and set their preferred payment method for QR code before leaving the gate. To buy a meal or drink, click the “Pay with QR codes” button in the app, then click the “In-flight Purchase” button and show the QR code to the flight attendant to scan. The user will get an emailed receipt upon landing.
In airport news, Hawaiian Airlines is moving its operations at Los Angeles International on Oct. 12 from Terminal 5 to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, where its flights will depart from the new West Gates extension. The carrier has six flights a day at LAX. “Guests departing to Hawaii from LAX should set aside approximately 15 minutes to transit from the third-floor check-in counters inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal to its West Gates via an underground walkway,” the airline said. “Hawaiian’s guests arriving at LAX from Hawaii will pick up checked bags at the first-floor baggage claim. Travelers can also connect between the West Gates and Terminals 4-8 through a sterile corridor without the need to clear additional security.”
United is reportedly planning to open a new Polaris Lounge later this month at its Washington Dulles hub, according to the Liveandletsfly.com blog. The IAD Polaris Lounge, open to international first and business class travelers, was almost finished a year and a half ago when the pandemic intervened and United closed all its airport lounges. This one is in Dulles’ C Concourse with space for 355 travelers; it will offer a private dining room, a bar and shower suites. Elsewhere, the new American Express partnership with Escape Lounges has just opened a new lounge in Terminal 3’s mezzanine level at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. PHX’s Terminal 4 already has an AmEx Centurion Lounge and a separate Escape Lounge.