In this week's news, Thanksgiving air travel volume this year is expected to approach or exceed pre-pandemic levels; Southwest introduces a new destination from Oakland; Alaska Airlines starts five new routes next week; United will eliminate several smaller cities from its United Express route map; American announces a new fare product for business travelers on high-frequency domestic routes; Japan and Israel ease up entry rules for foreign visitors; American offers big bonuses to employees who work over the holidays; Delta lays out plans for a boost in trans-Atlantic operations; Iberia, SAS and KLM will increase San Francisco schedules; international route news from Air New Zealand, United, Finnair and American; and the FAA slaps another 10 unruly passengers with $225,000 in fines.
Remember the Thanksgiving travel crunch of 2019, before the pandemic hit? It looks like this year could be even busier , according to a new report from the Adobe Digital Economy Index , which tracks consumer online spending. Adobe said that flight bookings for the period of Nov. 20 to 25 are 3.2% higher than they were at this point in 2019, and 78% above where they were last year. "Historically, most Thanksgiving tickets (78% in 2019 and 84% in 2018) were booked by this point in time," Adobe noted. The company's research also revealed how airlines have been using fare discounts to attract passengers. In September of this year, Adobe said, Americans spent $4.2 billion online for domestic flights, which was 35% less than in September 2019, although the number of bookings was down just 13%. In October of this year, consumers' $4.8 billion in online flight spending was down 28% from 2019, while bookings were down just 10%. Adobe said that flight prices are now "ticking up after seeing sizable drops during the COVID-19 Delta variant surge." In October, prices were just 7% below 2019 levels. As prices continue to rise, "consumers should start thinking about Christmas travel pretty soon," said Adobe lead analyst Vivek Pandya.
AAA just issued its annual forecast for Thanksgiving travel, and it predicts that air travel will be close to 2019 levels (4.2 million travelers in 2021 versus 4.6 million in 2019) but will likely not exceed them. Still, this year's numbers will be a huge increase — 80% — over Thanksgiving 2020's 2.3 million air travelers. And the reopening of the U.S. to foreign travelers this week is bringing a surge in international travel, AAA notes, meaning that "airports will be busier than we've seen, so travelers must plan for long lines and extra times for TSA checks." As for cost, "Even with air travel seeing a boost this year, AAA finds that the average lowest airfare is 27.3% less than last year, coming in at $132. Tuesday and Wednesday are still the most expensive and heaviest travel days with Monday being the lightest and least expensive," the organization said. Road travel — which accounts for most Thanksgiving trips — will also be heavy this year, AAA said. It predicts that the busiest car travel in the Bay Area will be along the Interstate 80/580 corridor through the East Bay on Wednesday, Nov. 24, from 4 to 6 p.m., when traffic will be 278% of normal.
Southwest Airlines this week kicked off new service between Oakland and Bellingham, Washington, with two daily flights, as well as new service between Bellingham and Las Vegas. Bellingham, located along the coast 20 miles south of the Canadian border, is a 90-minute drive from Vancouver and is also "the ideal gateway to the San Juan Islands," Oakland Airport said . Elsewhere, Alaska Airlines is due to launch some new routes on Nov. 19, including Palm Springs-Austin; Tucson-Everett, Washington (Paine Field); and Phoenix-Boise, as well as international service to Belize from Los Angeles and Seattle.
In other domestic news, United Airlines continues to shave smaller airports off its United Express schedule. On Jan. 3, United Express plans to end service to College Station and Killeen, Texas, and to Monroe, Louisiana, all served from its Houston hub, along with flights from Chicago O'Hare to Columbia, Missouri; Evansville, Indiana; Kalamazoo and Lansing, Michigan; and Wausau, Wisconsin. Also getting the ax is United service to Winnipeg, Manitoba, from Denver and Chicago. The blog Simpleflying.com notes that all these domestic routes are served mostly by United's 50-seat Embraer 145s and CRJ-200s, which the carrier is phasing out. As for the future of similar routes that use those smaller aircraft, "expect more airports to disappear from the airline's network," Simpleflying.com says.
In the latest enhancement to the American Airlines/JetBlue Northeast Alliance, American said this week it will introduce a new product next year called Main Select in "key business markets" with high-frequency service , including New York LaGuardia-Washington Reagan National, LGA-Chicago, Boston-Washington Reagan National, LGA-Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth-Chicago, and DFW-Los Angeles. American plans to pull out of the LGA-Boston market, handing it over to JetBlue, and to phase out its Shuttle product. Main Select will be a new fare class that includes business traveler-friendly services like refundable fares, priority boarding and check-in, choice of any Main Cabin seats available at time of booking (including Main Cabin Extra), and no-fee same-day flight changes. The company said its business travelers can also purchase a similar Blue Extra fare on JetBlue high-frequency routes including LaGuardia-Boston. Following up on the extension of reciprocal perks to American AAdvantage and JetBlue TrueBlue elite members this fall, American said TrueBlue Mosaics can now select preferred aisle or window seats on AA at the time of purchase. Finally, American said that beginning in December, AA and JetBlue will offer lie-flat seats on all transcontinental routes from New York and Boston. The two carriers' Northeast Alliance is currently the subject of a challenge by the Justice Department on antitrust grounds.
Japan, which has been virtually shut down to international visitors since the pandemic began, opened up this week — but only a little. The country is now allowing fully vaccinated business travelers to visit without undergoing the usual 10-day quarantine after arrival. But they will still have to self-isolate for three days and then get a negative COVID-19 test result. International students will also be allowed in, but the government doesn't expect to see foreign tourists coming back to Japan before it takes another look at the COVID situation later this year. Meanwhile, Israel this month started allowing individual foreign tourists into the country for the first time since early last year. Visitors are required to show proof of COVID vaccination or recovery from an infection within the past six months and must get negative test results before departing to Israel and again after arrival.
Desperate to prevent another massive cancellation of flights over the coming holidays due to staffing problems, American Airlines is motivating workers to show up by offering them new pay incentives. For flight attendants, the airline says it will pay 150% of their regular compensation for working as scheduled from Nov. 23 to 29 and Dec. 22 to Jan. 2, and if they have no absences between Nov. 15 and Jan. 2, they'll get a holiday pay rate that's triple the normal level. Customer service reps and reservations agents will also get 150% of normal pay on days around the holidays, plus a $1,000 bonus for not missing any work from mid-November through early January. American also offered pay incentives of 150% to 200% to pilots who fly during the holiday peak season, but the Allied Pilots Association, which represents AA pilots, turned down the offer . Instead, it wants to concentrate on negotiating "meaningful permanent improvements in a new collective bargaining agreement," APA's board said.
Delta has laid out its plans for expanded Europe service in 2022 and said its schedule will make it the largest operator of trans-Atlantic flights from New York and Boston , reflecting a 90% boost in capacity over 2021. The carrier also noted that thanks to an overhaul of its A330s and 767-300s during the pandemic, all its flights to Europe will offer a Premium Select cabin — i.e., Delta's premium economy product — along with Delta One or Delta One Suites (first class), Comfort Plus (extra-legroom economy) and Main Cabin (regular economy). At its New York JFK hub, Delta plans to resume daily Zurich flights Feb. 6 and begin five flights a week to Brussels on March 26, to Edinburgh on May 1 and to Copenhagen on May 26, as well as daily Prague service starting May 26. JFK-Frankfurt operations are scheduled to resume Dec. 13, and Delta plans to increase JFK frequencies to Amsterdam, London, Milan and Rome to twice-daily next summer.
At Boston, the airline plans to introduce new routes to Tel Aviv and Athens in late May and to resume daily service to Rome on May 1 and five flights a week to Edinburgh on May 27. And at its Atlanta hub, Delta will revive Munich flights Dec. 13 and Milan service on May 1, and will increase frequencies to Amsterdam, London and Rome. Other restored Europe routes will include Portland-Amsterdam on May 3, Cincinnati-Paris on Aug. 2 and Raleigh-Durham to Paris on Aug. 3. ThePointsGuy.com noted that Delta's announcement left out eight European destinations where the airline apparently isn't returning in 2022, including Dusseldorf, Stuttgart and Berlin, Germany; Glasgow, Scotland; Shannon, Ireland; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Malaga, Spain; and Ponta Delgada, Portugal.
With the U.S. now reopened to most foreign visitors, we're seeing more announcements from international carriers about resumed or new routes. For example, Spain's Iberia Airlines — a member of American's Oneworld alliance — plans to resume service from San Francisco International to Madrid in April, operating three flights a week. Iberia already flies from SFO to Barcelona. In the same month, Iberia expects to start service between Madrid and Dallas/Fort Worth (a route also served by American) and will begin a long-postponed new route between Madrid and Washington Dulles, with four flights a week in each market.
Scandinavian Airlines, a member of United's Star Alliance, plans to increase service between San Francisco and Copenhagen over the Christmas/New Year's holidays , operating up to five flights a week. This week, SAS revived its service to Miami from Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo. Also in November, the carrier will boost its Newark schedules to offer twice-daily departures to Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm, and in mid-December, it will add Chicago-Stockholm service to its existing Chicago-Copenhagen schedule.
KLM said this week that with the reopening of the U.S. to European travelers, it has resumed flights to all cities here that it was serving before the pandemic. Its current schedule of five flights a week between Amsterdam and San Francisco is planned to increase to daily frequencies Dec. 6. The Dutch carrier — a member of Delta's SkyTeam alliance — also flies from Amsterdam to Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, New York, Washington Dulles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Houston, Las Vegas and Miami.
In other international news, although New Zealand remains closed to most foreign travelers, Australia has started allowing overseas trips for its own citizens again , so Air New Zealand has resumed Los Angeles-Auckland-Sydney service with just one flight a week, although that is expected to increase to four in December. United Airlines is due to revive service Nov. 13 from its Houston Bush Intercontinental hub to Rio de Janeiro with three weekly flights and is expected to bring back Washington Dulles-Sao Paulo flights starting Dec. 16. Finnair, which recently started nonstop service to Stockholm from LAX, Miami and New York, plans to start flying to its Helsinki home base from Dallas/Fort Worth four times a week beginning Feb. 6. Finnair already serves Helsinki from LAX, Chicago, Miami and New York. American Airlines started new service from New York JFK to New Delhi this week, but it is delaying a new route between Seattle and Bangalore from January to March 26. American is also pushing back its planned new service between Dallas/Fort Worth and Tel Aviv to March 5; it already flies to Tel Aviv from JFK and Miami.
After remaining relatively quiet on the unruly passenger front for several weeks, the Federal Aviation Administration has slapped more than $225,000 total in fines on 10 more bad actors. "The rate of unruly passenger incidents on commercial flights has dropped sharply since the FAA launched its Zero Tolerance campaign (in January) but the rate remains too high," the agency said . As previously reported, the FAA also noted that the most serious cases are now being forwarded to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, an authority the aviation agency doesn't have. FAA’s announcement for details on all 10 of the latest FAA fines.
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