Two Latin nations re-open, United to China; TAP, Hawaii flights +


In route news, United plans to revive some transpacific passenger service from San Francisco and add more flights to Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America; Two new Latin American countries open to Americans, American will bring back Beijing service to that city’s new airport; TAP returns to SFO and Qatar Airways is coming soon; Southwest is resuming Bay Area-Hawaii routes and adding new Oakland-Palm Springs flights; a luxury small jet service will begin flying from the Bay Area to four southern California destinations in January; JetBlue moves out of Long Beach and launches a short-term sale on its new LAX-SFO service; Costa Rica reopens to pre-tested U.S. visitors; and American Express opens its largest Centurion Lounge to date at JFK.

United Airlines’ flights to Shanghai from San Francisco will see a big change on Oct. 21, the company said: They’ll no longer stop in Seoul on the way, but instead will operate non-stop. United’s Shanghai non-stops will depart four days a week (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) with a 777-300ER. And in November, United plans to convert two transpacific routes from their current cargo-only status back to passenger service: San Francisco-Taipei with three weekly flights and SFO-Seoul with five.

That’s just part of the airline’s plan to resume more international service in the months ahead. In November, United said, it will revive Denver-Frankfurt operations with three flights a week and boost Houston-Frankfurt to five flights a week. The airline has also started selling tickets on some new ultra-long-haul routes coming this winter and spring, including Chicago-New Delhi starting Dec. 10, San Francisco-Bangalore beginning May 6, and Newark-Johannesburg launching March 27.

United said its domestic November schedule will be 49% of what it was last year, with a big emphasis on Florida routes. That includes the resumption of service from San Francisco to Tampa and from Denver to Miami, along with a new route from Washington Dulles to Key West. To Latin America and the Caribbean, United’s November plans include the resumption of service from Houston to Santiago, Chile and to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, along with the revival of service to Antigua, Curacao, Grand Cayman, Managua, Nassau, St. Lucia and Roatan and a  big expansion of service to Mexican beach destinations.

During the pandemic, American Airlines has been running cargo only flights on its Dallas/Ft. Worth-Beijing route, but the airline said this week that it currently expects to resume passenger flights on March 27 – and instead of using Beijing Capital International Airport, American will shift its flights to the new Beijing Daxing (PKX). American said the move is necessary to facilitate code-sharing connections with its partner China Southern, which moved operations to PKX when it opened. American, which will use a 787-8 on the route, said it will open the flights for booking on Oct. 12.

TAP Air Portugal this week resumed service from Lisbon to San Francisco, starting slow with just one flight a week. “As with most European nations, Portugal has travel restrictions for people flying from the USA,” an airline spokesperson said. “Portuguese citizens and residents and European nationals may enter but U.S. travelers must meet one of the exemptions such as professional requirements, study, or family reunion.  All must provide a negative COVID test, taken within 72 hours of departure, to board.” The airline also resumed Chicago service, with one weekly flight. Meanwhile, Doha-based Qatar Airways announced plans to begin flying to SFO on Dec. 15. The carrier will use a new A350-900 to make the 16-hour flight four days a week.

Costa Rica is gradually reopening to U.S. visitors provided they show negative results from a COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before departure. The country is already open to visitors from 20 U.S. states including California; it will add Texas, Florida and Georgia to the list Oct. 15 and all other states Nov. 1. Besides taking a COVID test, visiting Americans must fill out an online health form and get traveler’s medical insurance. You can see the rules here. As a result, American Airlines, which resumed service to San Jose from Dallas/Ft. Worth and Miami last month and did the same to Liberia, Costa Rica this week, said it is now offering preflight COVID tests for DFW passengers headed to the Central American country. It recently announced a similar testing plan for travelers from DFW to Hawaii. You can see the details here.

Panama is reopening its borders and welcoming international travelers on October 12, 2020. (Panama City-SFO nonstops on Copa Airlines resume on Nov. 21) A statement said, “When planning a trip to Panama, the implementation of the new health and safety protocols begins with pre-travel requirements. All incoming travelers, including Panamanians, must present a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test upon arrival, which must be taken no more than 48 hours prior to arrival. If a passenger’s COVID-19 test was taken more than 48 hours from arrival, passengers will be mandated to take a rapid test at the airport prior to customs and are responsible for the cost, which will be approximately US$30.” More details here. 

Americans will soon be welcome in Panama City, with unusual architecture like this known locally as “El Tornillo” or The Screw. Officially, it’s the F&F Tower

Chris McGinnis

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In domestic route news, Southwest Airlines has revealed plans to resume or add service in several markets as part of its winter schedule, including some California routes. Following recent word from both Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines that they will revive Bay Area-Hawaii flights in October and November, Southwest plans to do the same. By the first week of November, Southwest expects to revive its pre-COVID service from Oakland and San Jose to Honolulu; Kahului, Maui; Lihue, Kauai; and Kona on the Big Island. And as we reported earlier this week, Southwest released more details on its plans to add Palm Springs to its network, saying it will launch two daily 737 roundtrips to the desert destination from Oakland starting Nov. 15. In other California markets, Southwest will start daily San Diego-Hawaii flights Nov. 4, four weekly Orange County-Nashville flights Nov. 5, daily Orange County-Salt Lake City service March 11, daily Long Beach-Austin operations Nov. 4, and four weekly Ontario-Houston Hobby roundtrips as of Nov. 5.

A membership-based jet charter company from southern California called Set Jet is coming to the Bay Area on Jan. 4, with plans to offer flights to Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and Las Vegas from the Hayward Executive Airport’s APP Jet Center in the East Bay area south of Oakland. The initial schedules will be minimal, with just two flights a week to each of the four destinations, operating out of private terminals at those airports. The Bay Area flights will use Bombardier Challenger 850s, a private jet with 16 seats in a luxury interior. One-way flights will cost $460 to $490, a spokesperson said, including all fees and taxes. The company plans to increase frequencies as demand grows. A Set Jet membership costs $99.95 per month. CEO Tom Smith said he sees a big future for the company in the Bay Area: “We have already generated significant membership with so many major tech companies located nearby and are looking forward to introducing Set Jet’s ultra-luxurious, five-star service to the region.” For more information on Set Jet, click here.

JetBlue this week shut down its operations at Long Beach as planned and consolidated them into Los Angeles International, launching several new LAX non-stop routes, including San Francisco, Las Vegas, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Reno and Austin. The carrier just opened a fare sale on SFO-LAX flights, with one-way rates starting at $44 for travel Nov. 1-Feb. 27, but the booking deadline is Sunday (Oct. 11). Holiday blackouts apply.

Speaking of JetBlue, it’s the latest carrier to extend its policy of limiting capacity on its aircraft to ensure an ample supply of empty middle seats. Previously due to expire in mid-October, JetBlue’s policy will now remain in place through Dec. 1, although it is slightly reducing the number of empty seats per flight. For example, while JetBlue currently limits sales on a 150-passenger Airbus A320 to 97 seats, that will increase to 103.

American Express’ new Centurion Lounge at New York JFK is its largest yet.

American Express

American Express this week announced the imminent opening of its largest Centurion Lounge yet – a 15,000 square foot facility in Terminal 4 at New York JFK. The two-level JFK lounge will offer food service to guests instead of the usual buffets as a COVID precaution, and will also rely on social distancing, increased cleaning and a mask requirement. The lounge will have two bars, one designed to evoke a Depression-era speakeasy; that bar will also serve as a café during the day. The lounge’s executive chef, Ignacio Mattos, is a four-time James Beard Award nominee. A new feature at this Centurion Lounge will be the Equinox Body Lab, offering “performance-driven restorative therapies including custom, self-guided meditation and stretching sessions using the Variis by Equinox app, a vibro-acoustic chair to help fliers relax before takeoff, and more,” AmEx said. Access to Centurion Lounges is restricted to AmEx Platinum Card members, Centurion Members and Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card members and guests. The company said it expects to reopen Centurion Lounges later this month at San Francisco, Charlotte, Houston Bush Intercontinental and Dallas/Ft. Worth, and open new lounges later this year at Denver International and London Heathrow.

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Chris McGinnis is SFGATE’s senior travel correspondent. You can reach him via email or follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t miss a shred of important travel news by signing up for his FREE weekly email updates!

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