United SFO to JFK, trans-Pacific news, Avelo, vaccine policies, Alitalia, Canada travel

In this week’s roundup, new service could soon be coming from SFO to Australia and Vietnam; Mineta San Jose won’t get Tokyo flights this fall as previously planned; American sets a fall start for Seattle-Bangalore flights; United will downgrade aircraft on its SFO-New York JFK route; low-cost Avelo Airlines drops two more Burbank routes; Delta and Air Canada set new vaccination policies for employees; Canadian carriers plan new California routes; Alitalia sets a date for its demise; South African Airways resumes flying; CDC adds more countries to its highest-risk list; Czech Republic eases entry rules but Germany tightens them; American will bring back its Flagship Lounges; San Francisco International reopens its longest runway; and Honolulu’s airport cuts the ribbon on a big new concourse.

San Francisco International could soon be getting trans-Pacific service to Australia and Vietnam, based on news this week from Qantas and Vietnam Airlines. Qantas, which shut down most international operations months ago, said this week that its target date of December 2021 for resuming long-haul service “remains in reach” based on the COVID vaccine rollout in Australia. If the country remains on target to achieve an 80% vaccination rate by that month, it would “trigger the gradual reopening of international borders,” Qantas said – especially from regions that have similar vaccination levels, like the U.K. and North America. If that happens, Qantas said it expects a mid-December start for the resumption of flights to the U.S., Japan, the U.K., Canada, and Singapore. 

It didn’t spell out specific cities or launch dates, but the carrier’s booking platform shows daily Los Angeles-Sydney service starting Dec. 18 with a 787-9, and connecting service to the LAX flight from SFO via Qantas’ partner American Airlines. Qantas also said it is making some technical changes to extend the range of its A330-200s so they can operate trans-Pacific routes “such as Brisbane-Los Angeles and Brisbane-San Francisco,” and that it expects to return five Airbus A380 super-jumbos to service ahead of schedule, for use between LAX-Sydney starting in July 2022 and London-Sydney (via Singapore) beginning in November 2022.

Vietnam Airways has operated some special charter flights from the U.S. in recent months to repatriate its citizens, but now the carrier says it is ready for regular scheduled service between the two countries. The airline, which is majority owned by the country’s government, is targeting a late October launch for U.S. service between San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), using a 787 or an Airbus A350 and operating via an unspecified intermediate stop. Meanwhile, a Vietnamese low-cost carrier called Bamboo Airways also has its eye on SFO for its first U.S. scheduled flights. Bamboo has applied to the Transportation Department for operating rights from Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles and San Francisco starting by the end of the third quarter, with possible stops in Japan or Taiwan. If its plans are realized, Bamboo said it hopes to enter into a code-sharing agreement with a U.S. airline. 

But one expected trans-Pacific route from the Bay Area now looks like it’s not happening. Mineta San Jose Airport had been scheduled to see the return of All Nippon Airways’ daily flights to Tokyo Haneda on Oct. 31, but those plans have been scrapped. ANA said this week the return of SJC service has been “postponed,” but it didn’t offer a new starting date. “ANA will continue to flexibly respond to demand by reassessing our flight schedule on a monthly basis,” the airline said, noting that it also plans to shift its Houston and Washington Dulles routes from Haneda to Tokyo’s Narita Airport “to accommodate demand for connections between Asia-North America.”

In other trans-Pacific news, American Airlines has set Nov. 6 for the launch of its new nonstop flights from Seattle to Bangalore, India — the so-called Silicon Valley of the subcontinent. The route was announced many months ago but has been delayed because of COVID issues. American will offer daily service on the 16-hour 40-minute route, flying it with a 787-9. It’s all part of AA’s grand strategy of forging a west coast partnership with Alaska Airlines, trading off passengers at the latter’s Seattle hub. American also plans to begin India service from New York JFK to Delhi on Nov. 1. Air India started San Francisco-Bangalore service earlier this year and United is expected to add the SFO-Bangalore route in December.

United Airlines made quite a fuss this spring about its big return to New York JFK from San Francisco and Los Angeles, supplementing its primary transcontinental schedules into its Newark hub. But now the aviation blog Onemileatatime.com is questioning whether the new JFK service is working out. United kicked off the two routes using premium 767-300s that include the carrier’s highly regarded Polaris business cabin, but Onemileatatime said it has learned that on Oct. 1, United will switch aircraft on the two routes from the twin-aisle 767s to single-aisle 757-200s — a change that the site called “a massive downgrade to the passenger experience.” The biggest change is in the business cabin, which will go from 46 Polaris lie-flat seats in a 1-by-1-by-1 configuration to just 16 “much older” business class seats configured 2-by-2. Moreover, the 757s will have 153 economy seats in a 3-by-3 layout, vs. the 767’s 99 economy seats configured 2-by-3-by-2. Gone will be the 767’s 22 premium economy seats. As Onemileatatime.com’s Ben Schlappig observed, “the reality is that business travel simply hasn’t recovered, and that’s especially true of premium demand between New York and California. … At this point I’m not sure what exactly United hopes to accomplish on these JFK flights, other than maintaining slots.”

Avelo Airlines takes off with its first flight between Burbank and Santa Rosa at Hollywood Burbank Airport on April 28, 2021, in Burbank, Calif.

Avelo Airlines takes off with its first flight between Burbank and Santa Rosa at Hollywood Burbank Airport on April 28, 2021, in Burbank, Calif.

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Avelo Air

The California-based start-up carrier Avelo Airlines continues to struggle with its route network just months after it began operations. ThePointsGuy.com says it has confirmed that Avelo will drop service to two more destinations from its base at Hollywood Burbank Airport — Monterey, California, which was due to start Sept. 30, and St. George, Utah, where Avelo had planned an Oct. 7 launch. Avelo told ThePointsGuy those routes will be re-evaluated next year. In addition, the airline will delay Burbank-Provo, Utah, service from Sept. 17 until Nov. 15. Last month, Avelo gave up on flights from Burbank to Bozeman, Montana, and Grand Junction, Colorado, but it still plans to begin service from Santa Rosa to Las Vegas Sept. 16 and from Burbank to Fort Collins/Loveland, Colorado, Oct. 6.

More major airlines are taking steps to make sure their employees are vaccinated against the coronavirus. Air Canada said this week that all current workers must complete their shots by Oct. 30, and no new employees will be hired unless they have been vaccinated. “Under the mandatory vaccination policy, testing will not be offered as an alternative,” Air Canada said. Delta Air Lines is taking a different tack on the vaccination issue. The company told employees this week that they don’t have to get vaccinated, but if they don’t, they’ll be required to pay an extra $200 a month for health insurance premiums starting in November. Effective immediately, unvaccinated Delta employees will have to wear masks indoors and starting in mid-September, they’ll have to be tested weekly for COVID-19. 

An Air Canada plane prepares to take off from San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. 

An Air Canada plane prepares to take off from San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. 

Jeff Chiu / Associated Press

A couple of Canadian airlines are planning new California service. Air Canada recently announced it would start flying from Orange County Airport in Santa Ana to Vancouver on Oct. 2, and now WestJet is targeting a Nov. 4 start for new twice-weekly flights between Orange County and Calgary. WestJet will also expand its San Francisco-Calgary route from a summer seasonal service to year-round, continuing to operate after Oct. 31 with two flights a week. Meanwhile, Canada’s Flair Airlines is planning to add four transborder routes from a new base it is establishing at Edmonton, Alberta. On Dec. 16, Flair plans to kick off twice-weekly service from Edmonton to Palm Springs, Hollywood Burbank and Phoenix Mesa, as well as three flights a week to Las Vegas. 

The expected replacement of Alitalia Airlines by a new, smaller Italian carrier called ITA is now officially set for Oct. 15. That means all Alitalia flights after Oct. 14 are canceled. Passengers holding Alitalia tickets for travel after Oct. 14 can either rebook to an earlier date or get a full refund. The airline said it will email affected customers with details; Alitalia’s U.S. gateways include New York, Miami, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago. The demise of the 75-year-old carrier has been years in the making as Alitalia struggled with steep financial losses and unrelenting labor problems as its unions resisted management’s efforts to downsize. ITA will be a separate corporate entity, not just a new name on a different version of Alitalia. And it will be a lot smaller — with 3,000 employees vs. Alitalia’s 11,000 and less than half as many aircraft (mostly acquired from Alitalia, so the old carrier’s livery on the new ITA flights might be confusing until the planes are repainted). ITA hasn’t yet announced its route network, but since it is taking on only a handful of wide-body aircraft, its long-haul intercontinental routes are likely to be severely limited. 

South African Airways, which has been grounded for months amid COVID and a financial reorganization, said this week it will start flying again Sept. 23. But flights to the U.S. and other long-haul destinations aren’t in its plans right now. Instead, SAA said it will initially operate only intra-African routes, including flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town, South Africa; Accra, Ghana; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Lusaka, Zambia; and Maputo, Mozambique. “More destinations will be added to the route network as it ramps up operations in response to market conditions,” the airline said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its travel advisory list once again, adding six countries to its “Level 4” category. That means Americans shouldn’t travel there because of an increased COVID risk, based on a rising number of cases per 100,000 residents in the past month. The new Level 4 designation was applied to the Bahamas, Haiti and Sint Maarten along with Morocco, Lebanon and Kosovo. All were previously at Level 3. The CDC said anyone who must travel to ay of those destinations should be fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, U.S. citizens who want to visit Prague got some good news as the Czech Republic said it now recognizes vaccination certificates from several foreign nations including the U.S. That means fully vaccinated Americans are no longer subject to testing and self-quarantine rules when they enter the country. But Germany has tightened its rules for entry: Previously, unvaccinated travelers were allowed in if they showed a negative result on a COVID test, but now those individuals will have to quarantine for five to 10 days after arrival. Vaccinated visitors and those who can prove recovery from a COVID infection are still allowed in without a quarantine.

American Airlines' new Admirals Club opened at SFO's Harvey Milk Terminal 1 on Nov. 6, 2020

American Airlines’ new Admirals Club opened at SFO’s Harvey Milk Terminal 1 on Nov. 6, 2020

Tim Jue

American Airlines said it will start to reopen premium Flagship Lounges at its hub airports next month, starting with the Flagship Lounge in New York JFK’s Terminal 8 on Sept. 14 and Flagship First Dining at JFK Sept. 18. At Miami International’s Concourse D, the Flagship Lounge will be back Sept. 28 and the Flagship First Dining service Sept. 30. Locations at Los Angeles International Terminal 4, Dallas/Fort Worth Terminal D and Chicago O’Hare Terminal 3 will reopen “later this fall,” the airline said. The lounges — separate from AA’s Admirals Clubs, which require paid memberships — are open to passengers traveling in a premium cabin on a qualifying flight. That list of qualifying flights has been expanded to include passengers flying to Hawaii from DFW, Chicago and Charlotte in Flagship First or Flagship Business class. Flagship Dining, full-service restaurants with menus from James Beard Foundation chefs, are open to customers flying in Flagship First on qualifying international or transcontinental flights.

An aerial view of the International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport.

An aerial view of the International Terminal at San Francisco International Airport.

Michael H/Getty Images

After a four-month closure for resurfacing work, San Francisco International Airport has reopened Runway 28 Right, its longest runway. “All runways are once again open for operational use,” the airport announced. When the project was announced in April, SFO had predicted “moderate delays” for travelers, especially for flights scheduled between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. But more work is coming: The airport said Runway 28 Left will be “temporarily shortened” by 3,500 feet from Sept. 8 through Oct. 4 to permit installation of new lighting and “improvements in taxiway geometry.” While that work is going on, Runway 28 Left will only handle landing aircraft. “This temporary adjustment is not anticipated to cause any significant flight delays during typical weather conditions,” SFO said. 

All those travelers flocking back to Oahu now that vaccinated individuals can enter the state without a COVID pre-test will be getting some extra elbow room at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye Airport. On Friday (Aug. 27), the airport cut the ribbon on its first significant expansion in 30 years. HNL’s new $270 million, 230,000-square-foot Mauka Concourse gives the airport a dozen more gates and six new TSA security screening lanes. That increases the total screening capacity for Terminal 1 to 10 lanes and should relieve chronic congestion during the midday hours, airport officials said. Hawaiian Airlines will be the first to use the new space.