In this week's developments, the Biden administration wants to require airlines to be more transparent in displaying certain passenger fees during online flight searches; United Airlines is dropping more routes from its network; Mineta San Jose gets a new transcontinental route next week; United revives a New Zealand route from SFO, and new trans-Pacific service is starting up from LAX to Korea and Seattle to French Polynesia; Delta will expand its Europe schedules next year; Virgin Atlantic finally joins a global airline alliance; Canada ends COVID-19-related entry restrictions as another Canadian low-cost carrier plans to enter the U.S. market; there's Latin America route news from Aeromexico, American and Azul; the trial has started in the Justice Department's antitrust suit against the JetBlue-American Northeast Alliance; and United is poised to start using a second terminal at Newark Liberty International.
When you get on the computer and start searching for flights, what's the one thing you probably won't see when those fare results start popping up on your screen? The extra fees that the airline will tack on for ancillary services and options that aren't covered in the basic airfare, like checked bags (and in some cases, overhead bags), seat selection and rebooking charges. Those fees are now the latest target of the Biden administration — not that they should be eliminated, but that airlines should be more transparent in letting customers know before they hit the "purchase" button just how much those fees are, so that their online comparison-shopping will show the true cost of travel, not just the base fares.
The Transportation Department said this week it is proposing a consumer protection rule that would impose that transparency on airline ticket purchases. "Under the proposed rule, airlines and travel search websites would have to disclose upfront—the first time an airfare is displayed—any fees charged to sit with your child, for changing or cancelling your flight, and for checked or carry-on baggage," the agency said. DOT's proposed new rule is part of President Joe Biden's Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, since it will help air travelers save on the cost of air travel. The new rule would apply to U.S. airlines, foreign carriers that operate out of the U.S., and ticket agents (defined as "third party sellers of air transportation and online 'metasearch' sites that display air travel options").
Since DOT recently said it wants airlines to make it easier for traveling families to sit together, and because seat availability and fares fluctuate regularly, the rulemaking would also "require carriers and ticket agents to enable consumers traveling with a young child to purchase the seats with the fare at all points of sale."
In reply to the DOT's proposed rulemaking, Airlines for America, the major trade organization for U.S. carriers, said in a tweet , "It is simply false and misleading to consumers to insinuate that U.S. airlines 'sneak fees' onto airfares." If any airline is likely to benefit from such a new rule, it's Southwest, because that company remains an industry outlier in its continuing refusal to charge fees for two checked bags (or overhead bags), or for flight changes and cancellations. And since Southwest offers open seating, it never assesses seat selection fees.
United Airlines is dropping more routes from its network, including several from San Francisco and Los Angeles, as it continues to fine-tune its system after the pandemic upended air travel. According to a report from The Points Guy , the latest cuts include one international route — Houston Bush Intercontinental to Edmonton, Alberta — and 11 domestic markets. From San Francisco International, the report said, United is eliminating service to Detroit, St. Louis, Oklahoma City and Madison, Wisconsin. Getting the ax at LAX are routes to Madison, Colorado Springs, and Eugene and Medford, Oregon. Elsewhere, United will drop service from Chicago O'Hare to Eugene and from Newark to Northwest Arkansas Airport in Bentonville, Arkansas (home of Walmart's headquarters). "Many of the routes that United is cutting were previously suspended in prior months due to low demand associated with the pandemic," The Points Guy said. "However, the carrier had originally planned to bring them all back by next summer."
At Mineta San Jose Airport, Oct. 6 is the launch date for American Airlines' resumption of daily service to its Charlotte hub. American already flies from SJC to its hubs at Los Angeles, Phoenix and Dallas/Fort Worth. The transcontinental flights are timed for easy connections with American's service from Charlotte to Florida, the Caribbean and Central America. American had stopped flying the SJC-CLT route four years ago.
United Airlines resumes its nonstop San Francisco-Auckland, New Zealand, service Oct. 1, using a Boeing 787-10 for the 13-hour flights. They'll be available three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) until Oct. 28, and then will increase to daily frequencies . The SFO-Auckland route is also served by United's Star Alliance partner Air New Zealand. In other trans-Pacific route news, the new South Korean carrier Air Premia plans to start flying Oct. 5 between Seoul Incheon and Los Angeles International, marking its first service to the U.S. Air Premia will launch the route with three weekly 787-9 flights, increasing to daily service later in the month. Also on Oct. 5, Air Tahiti Nui plans to add its second U.S. destination (after Los Angeles) when it kicks off twice-weekly flights from Seattle-Tacoma International to Papeete. The French Polynesian carrier is a new international partner of Alaska Airlines, so Alaska's Mileage Plan members can earn and burn miles on Tahiti flights.
Delta this week gave a preview of its 2023 plans for trans-Atlantic service to Europe, including a couple of new routes from Los Angeles International. The airline said its LAX-Paris service, which was suspended when the pandemic started, will resume May 8; and LAX-London Heathrow flights, which Delta hasn't offered since 2015, will come back March 25. Other additions to the airline's Europe schedule next year include the introduction of New York JFK-London Gatwick and JFK-Geneva service on April 10; the resumption of daily JFK-Berlin flights and the addition of a third daily JFK-Rome flight on May 25; the revival of two Germany routes from Atlanta — to Stuttgart beginning March 26 and to Dusseldorf as of May 9 — and the introduction of seasonal Atlanta-Edinburgh service five days a week starting May 15. Delta said its total 2023 peak season schedule across the Atlantic to Europe and beyond will include 620 flights a week to 32 destinations. Meanwhile, Delta partner Air France plans to suspend its six weekly flights from New York JFK to Paris' close-in Orly Airport for the winter season, ending them Oct. 30 and resuming in March 2023.
Virgin Atlantic has long had close ties to the global SkyTeam alliance of Delta, Air France-KLM and other carriers, although it has never held membership in the group. Ten years ago, Delta bought a 49% stake in Virgin from Singapore Airlines; and Delta, Air France and KLM are partners in a trans-Atlantic joint venture with Virgin. But now they're tightening that relationship with the announcement that Virgin will join SkyTeam early next year as the alliance's only U.K.-based airline, filling a big gap in its network map. SkyTeam said this will enhance its overall trans-Atlantic network and increase its connecting options at London Heathrow and Manchester, Virgin's two key airports in the U.K. Virgin, Delta, Air France and KLM all operate out of Heathrow's Terminal 3, as do SkyTeam members China Eastern and Aeromexico, making for easy connections across the alliance at that airport.
SkyTeam said that members of Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club loyalty program "will enjoy significant benefits from the day of joining, with a global expansion of its loyalty offering. Virgin Atlantic Silver Card holders will be recognized as SkyTeam Elite Members, whilst the airline's Gold Card members will become Elite Plus. This recognition provides a raft of benefits, including priority check in, baggage handling and boarding."
Effective Oct. 1, Canada is ending COVID-related entry restrictions for travelers arriving by air, land or sea, dropping all vaccination, testing and quarantine requirements. The government is also ending its rule that passenger must wear masks aboard aircraft and that they must submit health information through the ArriveCAN app or website. It said the changes were made possible because Canada "has largely passed the peak of the Omicron BA.3 and BA.4 fueled wave" and because of the country's high vaccination rates, reduced hospitalization and death rates, and widespread availability of boosters, rapid tests and treatments for COVID. Canada said that even though the mask rule is being lifted, it still "strongly" recommends that air travelers wear "high quality and well-fitted masks during their journeys."
Canada's ending of COVID restrictions will benefit the new Canadian low-cost carrier Lynx Air, which is poised to add its first transborder routes this winter. The airline plans to launch three weekly 737 flights from Los Angeles to Calgary on Feb. 16, as well as four a week from Phoenix to Calgary beginning Feb. 7 and four a week from Las Vegas to Calgary as of Feb. 24, competing against Air Canada and WestJet on all three routes. Lynx also is planning four weekly flights from Toronto to Orlando starting Jan. 27.
There's more news about Latin America routes this week. Aeromexico has set Dec. 15 for the revival of daily Los Angeles-Monterrey flights as part of its joint venture with Delta. Monterrey will also get new service from American's Phoenix hub starting Jan. 10 when American Eagle/Envoy launches daily E175 flights to the Mexican city. In South America, the Brazilian carrier Azul is scheduled to add service from Florida to secondary destinations in its home country this winter, including Orlando-Recife beginning Feb. 17, along with Fort Lauderdale-Manaus and Fort Lauderdale-Belem, both starting Dec. 15. And American Airlines plans to end its route between New York JFK and Santiago, Chile, effective Jan. 4.
Spirit Airlines shareholders will decide Oct. 19 whether to approve JetBlue's acquisition of their company, but JetBlue executives have another matter at the top of their agenda right now. A trial started this week in the Justice Department's lawsuit to block the JetBlue-American Airlines Northeast Alliance on antitrust grounds. That alliance — in which the two carriers are coordinating their schedules and sharing revenues on routes to and from New York-area airports and Boston Logan — has been in operation for a year and a half since the Trump administration gave it a green light. But the Biden administration's Justice Department, taking a tougher stance on what it considers anti-competitive behavior in the corporate world, has sued to stop the partnership, even though it is technically not a merger. DOJ was joined in its complaint by six states and the District of Columbia.
JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes took the stand Sept. 28 and defended the deal with American, challenging the government's allegation that it is costing consumers hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing competition between the two carriers. According to Reuters, Hayes told the court that JetBlue and American are still "full-blooded competitors" in markets not affected by the Northeast Alliance, and that their partnership in the northeast is aimed at fighting back against market dominance by Delta and United. He noted that JetBlue's presence at New York JFK has grown from 150 flights a day to 200 thanks to takeoff and landing slots at the congested airport that it got from American. The planned JetBlue-Spirit merger is not at issue in the trial, but the outcome of this litigation could signal what kind of reception that deal might expect from the antitrust regulators at DOJ if it moves ahead. The trial in federal district court in New York, which is not being conducted in front of a jury, is expected to continue for about three weeks.
In airport news, United is poised to move into Newark Liberty International's new $2.7 billion Terminal A when the facility opens in November. According to Airline Weekly, United will initially use 12 of Terminal A's 33 gates, gradually increasing to 15. Citing an internal company memo to the carrier's pilots, Airline Weekly reported that United will split its EWR operations between Terminal A and its main hub at Terminal C, using Terminal A for single-aisle aircraft flights to 23 domestic destinations including Atlanta, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, Nashville, Orlando, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham, San Diego, Seattle-Tacoma and Tampa. Other airline tenants of Terminal A will include American, Delta, JetBlue and Air Canada.
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