July 20, 2024


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Hawaii, Europe news + Delta, United, AA, JetBlue, COVID testing, more

Hawaii, Europe news + Delta, United, AA, JetBlue, COVID testing, more

In the latest air travel developments, Hawaii announces Phase 1 of its plan to open up to vaccinated travelers; France could lift restrictions on U.S. visitors starting next month; the U.K. eyes a “travel corridor” to the U.S.; Greece now welcomes international tourists who got their shots; Delta and United plan new routes to Athens and Reykjavik; United will revive service to some international destinations in June, including Tahiti; Delta announces a new transpacific route from Portland; American will introduce a new India route; United upgrades COVID services available on its mobile app and adds more domestic routes; California has route news from Humboldt County and LAX; JetBlue and American will expand their networks from the northeast as their partnership grows; Los Angeles International now offers one-hour results for COVID PCR tests; and Capitol One will open its own airport lounges for cardholders.

Officials in Hawaii have been working in recent months to develop a vaccine-based exemption for mainland visitors from the state’s mandatory 10-day quarantine, and last week they took the first step in that direction — although for now, it only applies to inter-island travel by state residents. A vaccine exemption for mainland visitors could still be weeks or months away. Gov. David Ige said that starting May 11, fully vaccinated residents can go from island to island starting the 15th day after their last shot without a COVID test or a quarantine. The state spells out specific rules to be followed in verifying vaccinations and said this first step will help the state get the proper protocols in place for enlarging the program in the months ahead. “This phased approach will allow us to assess the impacts of the program to our pre-departure document check program and screening procedures,” Ige said. “Most importantly, we’ll be able to assess any impact to our virus transmission rates and healthcare facilities.” He added: “The trans-Pacific (continental U.S.) program is still in development and may begin this summer, and the international program is set to begin later this year.”

Proof of vaccination is seen as the best way to get international travel moving again after months of shutdowns and bans, and as summer approaches, many Americans are wondering when they may be able to visit their favorite European destinations. They got some hope last week from French President Emmanuel Macron, who said in a CBS News interview that his nation is working to reopen to international visitors by this summer, including Americans. “We will progressively lift the (travel) restrictions (from) the beginning of May, which means that we will organize in the summertime with our professionals in France for French European citizens, but as well for American citizens,” Macron said. “We are working hard to propose a very concrete solution, especially for U.S. citizens who are vaccinated, so with a special pass, I would say.” He said the protocols under development could allow entry to vaccinated Americans and to those who show proof of a negative COVID PCR test. 

U.S. travel to the U.K. remains severely restricted for now; it’s legal, but visitors have to undergo multiple COVID tests and self-quarantine (at their own expense) in a hotel for 10 days after arrival. But the nation has started to ease up on its latest internal COVID lockdowns, and the government is under intense pressure from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to end restrictions on travelers as well, perhaps creating a transatlantic travel corridor for vaccinated individuals. Some observers are hopeful that the U.K. could open up to tourism this summer, but there is no specific plan yet. (Meanwhile, the U.S. government isn’t helping to open things up; as we reported last week, the State Dept. has greatly expanded the number of countries on its “do not travel” list so that it now covers 177 of the planet’s 197 nations, including the U.K. That’s just an advisory for U.S. travelers, not a ban, but it could make some people think twice before booking an overseas trip.)
Greece last week followed through on its plan to reopen to international visitors from a dozen countries, including the U.S., who can show a negative COVID PCR test result or proof of a completed vaccination at least 14 days before arrival. COVID is still a problem in Greece, and the U.S. Embassy there is warning American visitors that they could face “24-hour movement restrictions, prohibition of nonessential travel between regions in Greece, a nighttime curfew, suspension of many business and entertainment operations, prohibition of gatherings, restrictions of restaurant operations to delivery/carry-out only, and operation of retail stores by appointment only,” Moreover, “Masks are required everywhere, indoors and outdoors,” the embassy said. However, Greek officials are planning to start lifting some restrictions during May, like ending the ban on intra-regional travel in the country and allowing some restaurant service to resume. 

Now that Greece has joined Iceland in opening up to U.S. visitors, airlines are quickly moving in to secure a piece of the pent-up travel demand. American was already on record with plans to operate seasonal service from New York JFK to Athens from June 2-Oct. 30 as part of its big new partnership with JetBlue. Now Delta says it will operate daily flights on that same JFK-ATH route beginning May 28 and will begin daily Atlanta-Athens service on July 2. On both routes, Delta will use a 293-seat Airbus A330, offering Delta One, Comfort+ (i.e., extra legroom economy) and main cabin service. Last month, Delta announced it will revive service to Iceland from New York JFK on May 1 and from Minneapolis-St. Paul May 27, and will begin new Iceland flights from Boston starting May 20. 

United is getting on the bandwagon as well. The carrier said last week it resume daily summer seasonal flights on June 3 to Athens and to Reykjavik from its Newark hub and will introduce new service between Washington Dulles-Athens and Chicago O’Hare-Reykjavik, both operating from July 1 through Oct. 3.  United also revealed plans to begin new service July 8 from Newark to Dubrovnik, Croatia three days a week continuing through Oct. 3. 

Those markets are only a part of United’s international plans for the summer, and some of those plans include San Francisco routes. The airline said it will resume suspended service in June from SFO to Tahiti (another recently reopened destination) and will expand its San Francisco-Tel Aviv schedule to daily flights beginning June 3. United has also set May 27 for the launch of its new India service from SFO to Bangalore. Elsewhere, United will resume service in May from Newark to Rome and Milan and from Chicago to Munich, Amsterdam, and Tokyo Haneda. On May 7, it will revive its Chicago-Tel Aviv route with three flights a week. To Africa, United’s plans include Washington Dulles-Accra, Ghana flights three days a week starting May 14; daily Newark-Johannesburg flights as of June 3; and Dulles-Lagos, Nigeria service starting “later this year.” 

Meanwhile, Delta just announced a new transpacific route beginning later this year. It will start flying from Portland to Seoul Incheon on Sept. 9, operating three flights a week with a 234-seat A330-200. Through its partnership with Korean Airlines, Delta will offer customers connections via Incheon to more than 80 Asian destinations. (Delta notes that the launch date for this service “is subject to change due to evolving travel restrictions, government authorization and demand” – an advisory that could apply to all carriers’ new international routes.)

In other international route news, American Airlines said it will add a new long-haul spoke from its New York JFK hub on Oct. 31, launching non-stop flights to New Delhi, India. The 777-200 service will initially operate three times a week, increasing to daily Nov. 17-Jan. 3. AA already had plans to begin a new route from Seattle to Bangalore in October as part of its Alaska Airlines partnership. However, American is also planning to trim some service to South America due to reduced demand. It will suspend Miami-Manaus, Brazil flights until Nov. 2, delay the launch of New York JFK-Santiago, Chile flights from May 7 to July 2, and cut frequencies from the U.S. to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and to Lima, Peru. 

As COVID tests and vaccines become ever more important for flying, United said it has upgraded the “Travel-Ready Center” section of its mobile app. Introduced in January, the Travel-Ready Center gives customers access to information on testing and/or vaccination requirements for various destinations and a place to upload testing and vaccine records. With the upgrade, United flyers can now book appointments at more than 200 COVID testing centers around the U.S. and get confirmation whether their result meets the requirement of their destination. “Once the test is validated, customers will see a status indicator informing them that they are ‘travel-ready’ and receive their mobile boarding pass,” the airline said. It currently includes testing sites in United’s hub cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as those in pharmacy chains. “In the weeks and months ahead, the airline plans to expand availability to more U.S. cities, and add access to international testing sites for customers flying to the U.S.,” United said.

In California route news, United is planning to bring back service from Humboldt County Airport near Arcata/Eureka to Denver on June 3, offering one daily roundtrip on a 70-seat regional jet. The service was suspended in April of last year. And American Airlines will add its specially configured Airbus A321T aircraft to a fourth California route in November:  Boston-Los Angeles. The 102-seat planes, designed for the transcontinental business travel market but grounded during the pandemic, have 10 first class suites, 20 lie-flat business class seats, and 72 economy seats, half of them with extra legroom. American is bringing them back on its JFK-LAX and JFK-San Francisco routes, and will start using the aircraft between JFK and Orange County in July. 

United said last week that in addition to its previously announced plans to introduce Hawaii routes from Chicago and Newark, its June schedule will add seven more new domestic routes. That includes Alaska service from San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and Newark to Anchorage and from Chicago to Fairbanks, along with daily flights from Denver to West Yellowstone, Mont. – the closest airport to Yellowstone National Park. Overall, United said, its June domestic schedule will be 67% of what it was in June 2019.

According to various media reports, antitrust regulators at the Justice Dept. are currently taking a long look at whether the new JetBlue-American Airlines partnership in the northeastern U.S. will hurt competition in the region. But that hasn’t stopped the two airlines from moving ahead with aggressive expansion there. Last week, JetBlue unveiled plans to add a number of routes from the northeast as part of that alliance, all beginning late this year or in 2022. That will include its first service to Vancouver, beginning in summer of next year, from both New York JFK and Boston; and new routes from JFK to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. JetBlue will also start service from both JFK and Boston to San Antonio, Kansas City and Milwaukee, and from Boston to Asheville, N.C. The carrier will also double its presence at New York LaGuardia to 50 flights a day by summer of 2022, mostly by adding frequencies to existing routes – including up to 15 flights a day to Boston. JetBlue and AA will also expand their code-sharing to 40 more routes out of the northeast.

For its part, American will introduce new service from Boston to Cincinnati, St. Louis and Toronto, and from LaGuardia to Houston, Oklahoma City and Omaha. At New York JFK, where AA operates out of Terminal 8 and JetBlue from Terminal 5, the two carriers will introduce “secure-side transportation” between the two terminals this summer for easier connections. And American said it will take all single-class 50-seat aircraft out of its schedules in the region. “As a result, every flight on American from JFK, LGA and DCA will be operated with aircraft that feature at least two classes of service,” American said. 

Los Angeles International has added another COVID testing site, this one providing the fastest results yet for a PCR test – the more accurate type of COVID test required by many destinations. While other PCR testing sites at LAX promise to provide results in three to five hours or in 24 hours, depending on location, this new site has its own lab that guarantees results in less than an hour. It’s in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, on the upper/departures level at the Aisle C check-in counters, and it’s open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. every day. “This rapid PCR test is accepted by the State of Hawaii along with a number of international destinations that require a negative result for travel. The cost for these tests, which are among the fastest available for a PCR test, is $199,” LAX said.

American Express, which operates a network of Centurion airport lounges for premium cardholders, is going to get some competition in the months to come. Capitol One is getting into that game, with plans to open a lounge at Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport later this year and at Washington Dulles in 2022. The card giant hasn’t yet said which customers will be able to use the lounges, but an executive told Bloomberg News that Capitol One “will set access policies and rates based on the card product a customer has with the company.” He said the company will break some new ground with its airport oases, offering things like cycling and yoga rooms, shower suites, and nursing rooms.

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