In route news, it looks like SFO transcon flyers on United will get the option of Newark or JFK next year; United customers to Hawaii get another testing location at SFO as the islands once again welcome tourists; Hawaii’s hotels and resorts are gradually reopening; Alaska Airlines sets the date for Oneworld membership; American makes new concessions to AAdvantage elites; Southwest plans to start flying out of two big United hubs; UA will add more Mexico/Central American service this winter; Qantas will resume repatriation flights; JetBlue and Southwest will open up service to a popular Colorado ski resort; and American Express reopens its Centurion Lounge at SFO.
A couple of weeks ago, word leaked out that United Airlines plans to put New York JFK back on its route map after abandoning the airport five years ago when it created its big hub at Newark Liberty International. And this week United CEO Scott Kirby confirmed those reports in a call with Wall Street analysts, saying that United expects to be “competing aggressively” in transcontinental markets from JFK when it returns there in 2021. Of course, the two hottest transcon markets out of JFK are San Francisco and Los Angeles — routes that United left in 2015, now serving them from Newark, New Jersey, instead. Both JFK markets are already served by American, Delta and JetBlue. Which NYC airport do you prefer? Why? Tell us in the comments!
Could United be looking for revenge against JFK-based JetBlue, which this summer jumped into United’s EWR-SFO and EWR-LAX nonstop routes using aircraft equipped with its premium-cabin Mint service? Maybe, but United CEO Kirby, who joined the airline a year after the creation of its Newark hub, has long been a critic of UA’s decision to abandon JFK. Kirby has argued that by giving up on its JFK transcon routes, United also abandoned a significant segment of New York-area business travelers who didn’t want to make the trek out to Newark.
It looks like United travelers from SFO and LAX could get a choice of New York-area airports next year.
Hawaii this week officially reopened for tourists who have pretested negative for coronavirus before leaving home, and United Airlines marked the occasion by adding another testing option for its Bay Area island-bound passengers. The airline said customers can now get a COVID-19 test at a drive-through location near San Francisco International Airport – specifically, in the parking lot of the airline’s San Francisco Maintenance Center at 800 S. Airport Blvd. (Just north of the airport.) Customers who opt for that location should make an online reservation for an appointment scheduled 48 to 72 hours before their flight; results are delivered electronically within 24 to 48 hours.
United Maintenance Center drive-through tests cost $105, and its same-day testing available in SFO’s International Terminal, operated by GoHealth Urgent Care, will set you back $250. The airline also offers Hawaii travelers the option of a self-administered at-home test for $80 plus the cost of shipping a sample to the participating lab.
Hawaiian Airlines is also offering preflight testing for its customers in drive-through locations near SFO and near Los Angeles International, promising results within 36 hours for a $90 test, or “day-of-travel express service” for $150. (Oddly, there’s no location yet …) And Oakland International is offering free COVID testing for Hawaii travelers, with one facility in the airport’s North Field terminal complex at 9070 Earhart Road, and a second that opened this week in front of the main terminal complex between Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 along the second curb in the Ground Transportation plaza. Appointments in advance are strongly recommended and are available through December at CityHealth’s website. “Walk-ins” will be accepted secondary to those with an appointment. OAK said its CityHealth testing program has been certified by the state of Hawaii.
All testing must be conducted by companies that are on the state of Hawaii’s official list of “trusted testing and travel partners.” Arriving travelers who don’t have a negative test result on file will still be subject to the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine. “While the state does not expect an immediate flood of travelers, it’s using Oct. 15 as a deadline to bring testing and contact tracing capabilities to the highest levels of readiness and effectiveness achieved so far,” according to a statement from Gov. David Ige’s office. “Many of the partners that are involved with the pre-travel testing program – government, airlines, hospitality industry and businesses – are also using this start date as a deadline to ensure all safety measures, operations and information for residents and visitors are ready.”
A number of Hawaii’s hotels and resorts are already open in anticipation of the visitor revival, but others won’t be accepting guests for another month or two. For example, the Hyatt Regency Maui, Sheraton Princess Kaiulani on Oahu and Four Seasons Resort Lanai are all open now, but the tentative opening dates are Nov. 1 for the Hyatt Centric Waikiki Beach and Marriott’s Wailea Beach Resort on Maui, and Nov. 15 for the Grand Wailea Maui, a Waldorf Astoria Resort. The website of Hawaii Magazine is tracking and updating a comprehensive list of major hotel openings; you can see it here.
While airlines are ramping up a resumption of their mainland-to-Hawaii routes, Hawaiian Airlines said this week that effective Nov. 1 it plans to temporarily suspend its interisland ‘Ohana by Hawaiian service, citing low passenger demand due to coronavirus restrictions. The ‘Ohana flights between Honolulu-Molokai and Honolulu-Lanai use turboprop aircraft operated for Hawaiian by Empire Airlines.
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Alaska Airlines and American have been moving closer together for months now, with increased code-sharing, plans by AA to shift some international flying on the West Coast from Los Angeles to Alaska’s Seattle hub and so on. They have also been promising that Alaska, which has never been part of a global alliance, will become a full member of American’s Oneworld family. And now they have set March 31 as the date when that will happen. “There’s a huge amount of complicated work that’s being done behind-the-scenes at Alaska to meet our aggressive deadline,” the airline said. “Changes are required to every one of our major systems so they can ‘talk’ to each Oneworld member airline, and ensure we have a smooth and seamless guest experience.” Alaska’s Mileage Plan members will be able to earn and burn miles on all 13 Oneworld airlines, and elite-level members will have access to status perks on them as well. Alaska already has its own partnership agreements with some Oneworld members like British Airways, Japan Airlines and Qantas, but the alliance membership will give it seven more partners including Iberia and Qatar Airways.
Meanwhile, American’s AAdvantage members learned this week that AA is bringing some improvements to that program in terms of gaining and using elite status. The carrier said all qualifying flights in the fourth quarter of 2020 will now count toward elite status requirements in 2021, and that elite levels achieved in 2021 will be valid through Jan. 31, 2023. Members who might not spend enough on fares next year to meet the elite-qualifying dollar requirements will have those requirements waived if they spend $30,000 on an AAdvantage credit card instead. More bonus perks will be available next year to AAdvantage Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members, and starting this month, elites who purchase Basic Economy fares are entitled to previously denied benefits like priority access, upgrade privileges, same day confirmed flight changes and access to Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats. See the details here.
For decades, Southwest Airlines has concentrated its growth at larger cities’ second-tier airports instead of the major hubs of its competitors – focusing on Dallas Love Field instead of DFW, for instance. That policy has gradually eroded over the years, and this week Southwest announced plans to move into two of United Airlines’ major hub airports next year – even though it already has a major presence at those cities’ second-level facilities. Southwest said it will supplement its huge presence at Chicago Midway by adding flights from Chicago O’Hare and will extend Houston operations from its Hobby Airport hub into Houston Bush Intercontinental. The airline didn’t say where it would fly from ORD and IAH. “Service to both airports is anticipated to begin in the first half of 2021. Additional details, including schedules and fares, will be available soon,” Southwest said.
In other route news, United this week revealed plans to add more service this winter to destinations in Mexico and Central America, including a new weekly flight from San Francisco to Liberia, Costa Rica, staring Jan. 9. Los Angeles will also get new Costa Rica flights, with a Saturday roundtrip to San Jose beginning Dec. 19, increasing to daily frequencies Jan. 5; and three flights a week to Liberia as of Jan. 8. Also coming are new nonstop routes from Denver to Belize City, Belize, and San Jose, Costa Rica. In addition, United said it will add more frequencies on some existing Mexico routes, including San Francisco-Cancun and LAX to Cancun, San Jose del Cabo and Puerto Vallarta.
We recently reported the story of Michelle Parker, a San Francisco-based flight attendant for a U.S. carrier whose real home is in Sydney, Australia, where she has a spouse and three children. She’s been stuck in the U.S. because Australia’s strict quarantine rules only allow in a trickle of returning citizens and permanent residents, and when she does go there while working a flight, she has to stay in an assigned hotel instead of her home. There may be some hope for stranded Aussies on the horizon, as Qantas has plans to resume “repatriation” flights for the 25,000 Australians overseas. The carrier will initially operate a handful of these flights to London and New Delhi this month and next, and returning Aussies will be flown to an air force base in Darwin where they’ll find accommodations for their mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Avid skiers are getting a lot of access to Colorado’s popular Telluride mountain resort this winter, with new service plans announced by Southwest and JetBlue. On Dec. 19, Southwest said, it will start up to three daily flights between Denver and Colorado’s Montrose Regional Airport, which serves Telluride, as well as weekend service from Dallas Love Field. On the same date, JetBlue will introduce weekly service to Montrose from Los Angeles and New York JFK as well as twice-weekly flights from Boston.
American Express has reopened its Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International.
In airport news, American Express has reopened its Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International. It’s located in Terminal 3 by Gates F1/F2 and can also be accessed post-security from International Terminal G. AmEx just opened its newest Centurion Lounge at New York JFK, and has also reopened locations in the Charlotte, Seattle and Philadelphia airports. The company said Centurion Lounges at Houston Bush Intercontinental and Dallas/Fort Worth will reopen later this month.
In other SFO news, that paving work on the airport’s Runway 28R has been completed and the runway has reopened. That should bring an end to the minor flight delays caused by the construction. The project was originally scheduled for 2022, but airport officials decided to get it done this fall to take advantage of the airport’s reduced flight activity due to the coronavirus pandemic – down about 60% from the same time last year.
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