April 14, 2024

Banos Online

Traveling Around the World

SFO delays international route plans

In the latest air travel developments, a coalition of U.S. airline and travel industry groups is pressing the White House to drop mandatory pre-departure COVID tests for all travelers flying into the U.S., as more European nations are taking that step; some Asia-Pacific nations are starting to ease up on their tough COVID entry restrictions; Southwest Airlines will resume in-flight alcoholic beverage service this month; Frontier reduces maximum allowable weight for checked bags; United fine-tunes its international route resumption plans; international route news from Lufthansa, KLM and Alaska; members of Alaska’s frequent flier program may face higher award travel costs on American; the CDC adds Mexico and several other nations to its “do not travel” list; Delta enhances on-line check-ins for Aeromexico connections; and American reopens its LAX Flagship Lounge.

Some nations are justifying the relaxation of entry restrictions for foreign visitors by noting that COVID’s omicron variant is already widespread among their populations, so they’re not really reducing the virus by keeping out travelers. And now a coalition of U.S. travel industry groups is urging the Biden administration to use the same logic and end its requirement that all travelers flying into the country — including returning Americans — must get a negative COVID test result before boarding their flights. That requirement got even more burdensome in December, when the U.S. toughened its testing rule for inbound travelers by requiring a test within 24 hours of boarding; previously, it had allowed 72 hours.

The group said in a letter to the White House that the World Health Organization recommends “a risk-based approach to the facilitation of international travel by lifting measures, such as testing and/or quarantine requirements, for individual travelers who are fully vaccinated,” and noted that Europe and the U.K. are already moving in that direction. “The U.K. concluded that the cost to both passengers and airlines of the testing mandate could no longer be justified as there was no evidence the regime protected the population from COVID,” the letter said. It also cited surveys that indicate many people refuse to travel internationally because of pre-departure testing requirements. “People simply are unwilling to take the chance that they will be unable to return to the U.S. at the end of their business trip or vacation. As a result, international travel in 2021 was 75 percent below 2019 levels,” the letter said. It was signed by Airlines for America, the Global Business Travel Association, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the American Society of Travel Advisors and several other industry groups.

As we reported last week, the U.K. and Ireland recently ended their requirement of a pre-departure COVID test for vaccinated inbound visitors, and other countries are now taking similar moves. Denmark now allows most vaccinated foreign nationals to enter without a pre-departure test. Norway has eliminated a pre-departure testing mandate for inbound vaccinated foreigners and has dropped its quarantine requirement for unvaccinated visitors, although they must still take a COVID test before entry.

Although many Asia/Pacific destinations are maintaining tough entry restrictions if not outright bans on foreign visitors compared with their counterparts in Europe, there are signs that may be changing. 

Australia had locked itself off from the world during the pandemic, but late last year it began reopening gradually, starting with its own citizens and then allowing in vaccinated visitors from nearby nations like Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Now news reports from Down Under suggest that the country could be moving toward a much larger reopening for foreigners by this spring. Without offering any specifics, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a radio interview that depending on the course of the current COVID omicron wave, he would like to see the country reopen to foreign visitors “well before Easter.” It was unclear what kind of entry restrictions other than vaccinations might apply and whether rules might vary depending on the visitors’ country of origin.

The popular Indonesian tourist island of Bali had banned international flights from its airport for most of last year, and when it started letting some of them return in October, U.S. citizens were still excluded. But the island reopened to all foreign visitors this week, according to press reports, subject to certain entry restrictions including COVID vaccinations and a mandatory quarantine after arrival, although the latter was reduced form seven days to five. And effective Feb. 10, the Philippines will grant entry to fully vaccinated foreign visitors (except those from countries that require a visa) provided they get a negative COVID PCR test result no more than 48 hours before boarding their flight.

Thailand, which last year introduced and then suspended a program called Test & Go that allowed foreign visitors to avoid a mandatory quarantine, resumed that option this week — but it’s not exactly simple. Qualified visitors must be fully vaccinated and must apply for a Test & Go Thailand Pass up to 60 days in advance of their trip. That application includes proof of prepayment for two nights of accommodations at government-approved hotels for the first and fifth nights of their visit, where they will undergo PCR tests. They can use different hotels for those two nights but must stay in their rooms pending the test results. The government also brought back its “Sandbox” program, which allows foreign visitors to spend their first seven days in designated destination regions, using up to three different hotels. Visitors are required to show proof they purchased a COVID-specific insurance policy with at least $50,000 in coverage.

We saw some headlines this week about New Zealand laying plans to reopen to travelers, but on closer inspection it’s going to be a drawn-out and tightly restricted reopening. The government laid out a five-step plan for welcoming vaccinated visitors, starting February 27 for New Zealand citizens and residents, then in mid-March for skilled workers and partners and children of New Zealand residents. Vaccinated U.S. citizens wouldn’t be allowed into the country until July, and they’d have to isolate for seven to 10 days and take rapid antigen tests on the first and fifth days after arrival.

In this file photo taken March 28, 2019, Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are parked on the tarmac after being grounded, at the Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville, Calif.

Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

Southwest Airlines has changed its mind about resuming alcoholic beverage service. Although officials said recently that they wouldn’t do so until late March or early April, the airline announced this week that the drinks will start flowing again Feb. 16. Southwest has suspended in-flight alcohol service since March of 2020. “For their convenience, customers may redeem any Southwest Drink Coupon that was set to expire in 2020 or 2021 for an alcohol beverage through Dec. 31, 2022,” the airline noted. Offerings will include three kinds of beer for $6 or $7; three varieties of wine for $6; and six types of hard liquor for $7. Southwest’s decision leaves American Airlines as the only major U.S. carrier still not serving alcohol in the main cabin.

Frontier Airlines said on its website that it is changing the weight limit for checked bags. For travel on or after March 1 (unless it was ticketed before Jan. 18), the maximum weight for a piece of checked luggage will be 40 pounds — down from the previous limit of 50 pounds. Frontier charges a fee for all checked luggage, and for all carry-ons except for one “personal item” that must fit beneath the seat.

In this file photo taken Oct. 1, 2020, United Airlines aircraft are on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles.

In this file photo taken Oct. 1, 2020, United Airlines aircraft are on the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles.

Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

As reported by Simple Flying, United Airlines has cut or delayed some international route plans as government travel restrictions and COVID-related demand slumps continue to affect the market. The site examined United’s most up-to-date schedules and found the following results for San Francisco International: SFO-Tokyo Haneda and SFO-Melbourne flights are due to start March 26, while SFO-Hong Kong service won’t resume until the end of May and SFO-Auckland until the end of July.

United is also reportedly revising international service from its other hubs. According to Simpleflying.com, March 26 starts are now planned for Los Angeles-Tokyo Haneda, LAX-London Heathrow and LAX-Melbourne; Denver-Tokyo Narita; Newark-Tokyo Haneda and EWR-Munich; Houston to Amsterdam and Munich; and Honolulu-Tokyo Narita. Newark-Stockholm is delayed until May 26, Newark-Hong Kong to the end of May and Newark-Lima through October, for example. The report notes that in other markets, United will cut back on flight frequencies or switch to smaller aircraft.

In southern California, Lufthansa is planning to introduce new service from San Diego to its Munich hub on March 30, initially operating A350-900 flights three times a week but increasing to five a week in May. The German carrier used to fly between San Diego and its Frankfurt hub, a route that it gave up during the pandemic. In Texas, Delta partner carrier KLM is planning to launch new service March 28 from Austin to Amsterdam. The Dutch carrier originally planned to introduce the route in 2020 but delayed it due to the pandemic. In other international developments, Alaska Airlines said this week it will implement a major code-sharing deal with Finnair in preparation for the latter carrier’s launching of Helsinki-Seattle service on June 1. Both airlines are members of American’s global Oneworld alliance. Alaska will put Finnair’s code onto 60 of its routes for easy connections with the Seattle-Helsinki service.

Eight of about a dozen grounded American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft are parked on a remote taxiway at Roswell International Air Center in Roswell, N.M., on Sept. 4, 2019.

Eight of about a dozen grounded American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft are parked on a remote taxiway at Roswell International Air Center in Roswell, N.M., on Sept. 4, 2019.

Tom Fox/TNS

Alaska joined Oneworld last March, and since that time it has added more than 250 code-share routes with various alliance partners including American, British Airways, Qatar Airways, Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Finnair and Qantas. “By this summer, Alaska and these eight Oneworld airlines will offer more than 78 daily international flights from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles, enabling seamless connectivity to Alaska’s comprehensive network up and down the West Coast,” Alaska said. Speaking of American and Oneworld, Alaska is advising members of its Mileage Plan loyalty program to look for some changes if they try to book award travel on AA in the months ahead. “Effective March 1, 2022, while the current award prices will continue to be available, note that award pricing on American Airlines flights in the U.S. and Canada may vary depending on demand,” Alaska said on its website. This is the latest example of a growing trend at major airlines in recent years to adopt “dynamic pricing” for award travel — i.e., allowing prices to fluctuate with supply and demand just as regular airfares do. Mileage Plan’s current prices for domestic AA flights range from 12,500 for economy seats to 25,000 for first class; after March 1, those will be the base rates for travel on American but the actual cost could be higher.

Because Mexico hasn’t imposed major entry restrictions on visiting Americans, it has been one of the most popular international destinations for U.S. travelers during the pandemic. But this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added Mexico to its Level 4 “do not travel” list due to the increased level of COVID-19 in the country. The agency is now urging Americans to avoid all travel to Mexico, and if they must go there, to make sure they are up to date with vaccinations. “Even if you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines, you may still be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19,” the CDC advises.

The agency’s Level 4 list has been adding more and more countries in recent weeks — it grew from 80 destinations in early January to more than 120 today — and this week was no exception. In addition to Mexico, the CDC also applied its Level 4 designation to several South American nations including Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, French Guiana and Paraguay; the Pacific destinations of Singapore and the Philippines; Anguilla and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean; and Kosovo and Moldova.

American and Southwest have been expanding fast at Austin Bergstrom Airport in Texas to keep up with the city’s growth, and now the ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant is adding service there as well to exploit the price-sensitive leisure travel market. The carrier said it will start flying from Austin to Sarasota, San Diego and Washington Dulles in April with fare starting at $49 one-way. In May, Allegiant will begin a new route from San Diego to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. From Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, Allegiant plans to start flying to Des Moines, Iowa, on April 14. Allegiant typically offers less-than-daily service in markets that have little service from other airlines.

Aeromexico filed for Chapter 11 but will keep operating.

Aeromexico filed for Chapter 11 but will keep operating.


Delta said this week it is introducing new seamless check-in technology for interline travel between Delta and members of its SkyTeam global alliance. The initiative begins with Delta and Aeromexico connections: “Travelers can now check in digitally and get their boarding passes through either airline’s self-service channels (i.e., apps or websites), then go directly to security without needing to use a kiosk or see an agent, offering a faster, touchless airport experience,” Delta said. It’s the first practical application of new technology called SkyTeam’s Digital Spine, which enhances the links between member airlines’ digital systems. Delta started testing the technology last year with Aeromexico customers connecting to Delta flights, and since then it has been used by more than 300,000 travelers, Delta said, “paving the way for a wider rollout of the technology across more SkyTeam members in 2022.”

In related news, a U.S. bankruptcy court this week approved a financial restructuring of Aeromexico, which filed for reorganization in June 2020. The plan calls for payments to the airline’s creditors and the injection of new capital from outside investors. The carrier’s largest shareholder will be Apollo Global Management, while Delta will hold a 20% stake in the company.

In airport news, American Airlines last week reopened its Flagship Lounge at Los Angeles International to serve its top-end customers — i.e., first class and business class fliers on long-haul international and some transcontinental and Hawaii routes, as well as top-level AAdvantage elites. The lounge’s affiliated Flagship First Dining facility hasn’t yet reopened, though. In September, American reopened Flagship First lounges at New York JFK and Miami International, while lounges at Chicago O’Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth are expected to come back this spring. Meanwhile, AA this week also reopened its premium arrivals lounge at London Heathrow.