In route news, Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines set plans to resume many Hawaii routes; new COVID-19 testing options are available from Hawaiian, Alaska, American and JetBlue; JetBlue founder’s new low-cost domestic airline eyes a spring start; United may return to JFK next year; route news from Delta, United, SAS; Customs preclearance coming to Brussels; San Francisco International starts CBP photo recognition program for arriving passengers; Mineta San Jose speeds Uber pick-ups; Berlin’s new airport finally opens nine years late; and Denver International debuts a reservations-only TSA screening line.
This week we start out with an update on testing for flights to Hawaii and elsewhere. COVID testing and travel is currently in a rapidly changing “Wild West” stage, so our best overall advice right now is this: Try to get your pre-travel COVID-19 test from your health care provider, likely for free, or for a small co-pay. If the type of test or the timing does not work, then resort to the various airline/airport offerings. (More info from Hawaii tourism here.)
In less than two weeks, Hawaii is due to reopen to tourists who present a negative COVID-19 test result to avoid the state’s 14-day quarantine rule, and airlines are preparing to handle the likely pent-up demand. As the Oct. 15 date approaches, carriers will be bringing back many of the mainland routes they have suspended. Hawaiian Airlines this week was the first to announce a big expansion. The airline had already announced it would revive Las Vegas-Honolulu flights on Oct. 2, and now it says it will add Honolulu flights from San Jose, Oakland and Phoenix effective Nov. 1.
And that’s just the start. By Nov. 18, Hawaiian will be serving 10 West Coast cities, including nonstop flights to Maui from Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Sacramento. Hawaiian will also increase frequencies on its existing nonstop service between HNL and San Francisco, LAX, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego and Seattle. Hawaiian this week also resumed service between Honolulu and Tokyo Narita.
As we reported earlier, Hawaiian is planning to offer drive-through COVID-19 testing sites near San Francisco International and Los Angeles International, and United will make testing available for Hawaii travelers at SFO’s International Terminal – both for a significant fee. And earlier this week, Oakland International Airport said free COVID testing will be available for Hawaii flyers by appointment only beginning Oct. 15 in a facility at the airport’s North Field terminal complex at 9070 Earhart Road (it’s a ride from airport terminals). Tests must be performed no more than 72 hours before departure.
Besides the airport drive-through tests, Hawaiian said this week it will also help its mainland passengers get mail-in testing through a partnership with Vault Health. For a fee of $150, customers can place an online order for the company’s saliva test kit, which will be delivered overnight. Users will get on a video call with a Vault Health employee who will “witness” the test, and show them how to collect their sample. That will then be overnighted back to Vault Health, which will send the test result electronically within 24 hours. Alaska Airlines is also preparing to offer COVID-19 testing for its Hawaii travelers, starting Oct. 12 at a “pop-up clinic” in downtown Seattle operated by Carbon Health. The airline said its customers will get “priority testing” at the facility, with tests results provided within two hours for a fee of $135. Alaska said it plans to resume twice-daily flights from Seattle to all four of its Hawaii destinations on Oct. 15, followed by a revival of Hawaii service from San Jose, San Diego and Portland, Oregon, Nov. 1 and from Los Angeles and Anchorage, Alaska, Nov. 20. To accommodate travelers on those routes, “Carbon Health is planning additional pop-up and full-service clinics for rapid COVID-19 testing in those Lower 48 cities in the coming weeks,” Alaska said.
Besides getting a COVID test, travelers to Hawaii are also required to create a profile and fill out a health questionnaire on the state’s Safe Travels page in advance of their flight.
American Airlines is also getting on the COVID testing bandwagon. The carrier said that on Oct. 15 it will start a testing program for passengers on its flights from DFW to Honolulu and Maui. AA customers can get an at-home test from a company called LetsGetChecked, “observed by a medical professional via virtual visit,” with results in 48 hours. They can also opt for in-person testing at urgent care locations operated by CareNow, or on-site rapid tests at DFW Airport, also administered by CareNow. American didn’t say how much the testing would cost. Hawaii isn’t the only place that requires a pre-travel COVID test, and American said it is working with the governments of Jamaica, the Bahamas and other Caribbean nations to implement testing at its Miami International hub starting next month.
JetBlue doesn’t fly to Hawaii, but the company said it is working with Vault Health to make at-home saliva tests available to customers planning travel to “certain states and countries or in order to avoid certain mandatory quarantines. Vault Health (the same outfit Hawaiian is using) will handle all testing and provide JetBlue customers both discounts on their tests and a dedicated customer support phone line,” JetBlue said.
We haven’t heard much lately about Breeze Airways, the new U.S. startup carrier being launched by David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue and Brazil’s Azul. But a new report this week says Neeleman now expects the airline to begin domestic service next March – although not in the western U.S. In a filing with the Transportation Department, Breeze said it expects to launch passenger service from two airports in the southeastern U.S. to a handful of select cities in the northeast and southern states – although it didn’t name them. Breeze was created to bring low-cost airline service to mid-sized markets that are unserved or underserved by other carriers. The new airline will reportedly start flying with leased E190/195 planes carrying 108 or 118 passengers, but over the long term it is acquiring 60 Airbus A220-300 aircraft, with the first one due to arrive in August 2021.
Breeze, the new domestic airline from JetBlue’s founder, is due to start flying in the spring.
United Airlines hasn’t flown out of New York JFK since 2015, when it consolidated New York-area operations into its big hub at Newark Liberty International. But CNBC, citing “people familiar with the matter,” said United plans to put JFK back onto its route map sometime in 2021. The report didn’t say where United was likely to fly from JFK, and a return there would require it to obtain takeoff and landing rights at the slot-controlled airport. Before it abandoned the airport five years ago, United was flying in the highly competitive JFK-San Francisco and JFK-Los Angeles markets; it now serves both from Newark. Which one do you prefer? I’ve personally grown accustomed to Newark since the switch, and prefer it over JFK now. Share your thoughts in the comments, please.
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In other route news, Delta is planning to add daily 737-800 Los Angeles-Fort Lauderdale and 757-200 Salt Lake City-Anchorage flights beginning Nov. 20, and to resume Los Angeles-Tokyo Haneda flights Dec. 19 with an A350-900. United’s latest winter schedule update indicates it will continue to operate six transborder routes to Canada Oct. 25-Feb. 10, including twice-daily San Francisco-Vancouver flights along with service from Denver to Calgary and Vancouver, Chicago to Toronto, and Washington Dulles to Montreal and Toronto. And Scandinavian Airlines has filed plans to boost its San Francisco-Copenhagen schedule from two flights a week to four starting Dec. 1.
The next overseas preclearance location for U.S.-bound travelers will be at Brussels Airport. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said this week it has reached a deal with the Belgian government to set up the facility after the agreement is approved by that country’s Parliament. There’s no word yet on when it might open. “Precleared travelers will bypass CBP and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security inspections upon arrival in the United States, saving valuable time as they proceed to connecting flights or their destination,” CBP said. And more preclearance stations might be coming in the future: CBP said this week it has started inviting new foreign airports to participate in the program, the first such initiative since 2016.
In other CBP news, San Francisco International has become the latest U.S. airport to introduce the agency’s “Simplified Arrivals” facial recognition program for arriving international travelers, which is intended to reduce wait times at inspection checkpoints. Arriving passengers will stop to have a photo taken at the primary inspection location in the Customs facility, and that photo will be electronically matched with the individual’s existing passport or visa photo in the government’s database. If there’s no match, the traveler will be processed manually. “U.S. citizens and passengers meeting other criteria may request to opt-out of the new facial comparison process,” an airport spokesman said. “Travelers who opt-out of the new biometric process will be required to present a valid travel document for manual identity verification by a CBP officer and processed consistent with existing requirements for entry into the United States.”
At Mineta San Jose Airport, officials say that waiting times for Uber rides have dropped by 40% to 65% thanks to new Uber ExpressMatch technology that was introduced there in September. How does it work? “The program anticipates rider demand and requests drivers in advance to briefly wait directly at the airport’s pickup curb or nearby pickup zone,” a spokesperson said. “It works by accounting for the amount of available curb space and rider demand at the airport and issues an alert for drivers to proceed to the pickup curb only when there’s sufficient curb space available. Riders are then matched directly with a driver to enjoy faster, reliable matching.”
Berlin’s new Brandenburg Airport opens later this month — nine years late.
Berlin Brandenburg Airport
Remember Berlin Brandenburg Airport? The newly built airport serving the German capital was originally scheduled to open in 2011 after six years of construction, but that opening never happened due to a variety of technical and administrative mistakes. Nine years later, the airport has finally received an operating license and is now due to make its debut on Oct. 31. It will replace Berlin’s Tegel Airport, which will close down Nov. 8, and airlines are due to shift operations to Brandenburg (code: BER) in late October and early November. The new airport is adjacent to Schönefeld Airport, which served East Berlin in pre-unification days. Schönefeld’s passenger terminal will become Terminal 5 for Brandenburg Airport. Located about 30 minutes south of the city center, BER will be integrated into the Deutsche Bahn rail network, served by up to 14 trains per hour. The airport will have 39 food and beverage outlets, a 100,000-square-foot retail plaza in the main terminal, and an on-site 322-room Steigenberger Airport Hotel.
Denver International has become the nation’s first airport to start using VeriFLY, a faster, more predictable reservations-only TSA security screening line that requires passengers to get a temperature check and to fill out a health questionnaire through the VeriFLY app 24 hours before their flight time. The app is available free at the Apple Store and should be on Google Play soon. Passengers also use the app to make free reservations for the VeriFLY screening checkpoint up to two weeks before their flight, with slots available in 15-minute increments from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. To get through the touchless gate to security screening – which includes both a PreCheck and a regular lane – users must have a temperature of less than 100.4 degrees and then scan a QR code. Post-screening, VeriFLY users can get from the main terminal to the concourses via a specially reserved car on the airport’s underground train system, limited to just 12 passengers.
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