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United eyes schedule cuts; JetBlue drops 17 leisure markets; Hong Kong bans transit passengers

United eyes schedule cuts; JetBlue drops 17 leisure markets; Hong Kong bans transit passengers
Written by Publishing Team

In this week’s air travel news, United Airlines plans to reduce flight operations due to staff shortages; Delta Air Lines claims schedules are back on track despite 8,000 workers testing positive for COVID-19, and customers granted travel credits for another year to use; JetBlue Airways will stop flying on 17 mostly recreational routes this spring, including San Francisco International Airport – Cancun; American Airlines is cutting frequencies on many domestic routes; Air Canada will suspend services to 15 Caribbean destinations; British Airways temporarily shoots down three US gates; Virgin Atlantic will start flights from London to Austin. Finnair is coming to Seattle; Singapore Airlines has big plans for service outside the New York area; US threatens to retaliate against China for closing trans-Pacific flights; Hong Kong bans transit passengers for a month; America begins code sharing with Aer Lingus; The United States adds Canada to its “do not travel” list; Southwest offers discounted COVID self-test kits to passengers; And two of the new European carriers are going ahead with plans to fly to the United States this year.

As US airlines struggle to maintain schedules as the workforce dwindles due to COVID cases and quarantines, United is providing numbers this week on how bad the staffing problem is. In a note to employees this week, United CEO Scott Kirby revealed that the airline is “reducing our schedules in the near term to make sure we have the staff and resources to take care of customers.” Kirby did not specify how deep the cuts would be. He said the airline currently has about 3,000 employees who have tested positive for COVID, or roughly 4% of its workforce. The situation varies by location. “Just as an example, in just one day in Newark, nearly a third of our workforce got sick,” Kirby said. He noted that the rapid spread of the omicron variant “has put a strain on our operations, leading to customer disruptions during the busy holiday season.” “While we do everything we can to avoid flight cancellations, we have worked to anticipate the impact by acting early to cancel flights when necessary and notifying affected customers in advance of their arrival at the airport.”

Baggage handlers load a Delta Airlines Connection plane at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., Friday, December 24, 2021. Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg

Baggage handlers load a Delta Airlines Connection plane at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., Friday, December 24, 2021. Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg

Eric Lee/Bloomberg

Delta said that in the past four weeks, 8,000 employees have tested positive for COVID, out of a total workforce of 75,000. That staff shortage has contributed to Delta canceling more than 2,200 flights since Christmas, but CEO Ed Bastian said the airline’s cancellation rate this week due to COVID issues has fallen to 1% of its schedule. “While the rapidly spreading omicron variant has significantly impacted employment levels and travel disruption across the industry, Delta operations have stabilized over the past week and are back in pre-holiday performance,” Bastian said. “Omicron is expected to temporarily delay the recovery in demand by 60 days, but as we look to the peak, we are confident of a strong travel season in the spring and summer with significant pent-up demand for consumer and business travel.”

Given Omicron’s implications for passenger bookings, Delta this week gave all customers with unused travel credits an additional year to use. Starting January 12, all existing eCredit holders will have an additional year of flexibility to rebook and travel. The airline said that customers will be able to rebook their ticket by December 31, 2023 for travel throughout 2024. Furthermore, all Delta customers who travel in 2022 or who purchase a ticket in 2022 also have the flexibility to rebook their ticket until December 31, 2023. And travel throughout 2024, if their plans change.


United is not the only carrier reducing flight operations in the face of omicron. Both JetBlue and Alaska Airlines have said in recent weeks that they will be cutting January schedules by up to 10%, due to COVID workforce issues. A JetBlue spokesperson told The Points Guy this week that after reviewing its network, it has decided to shut down service this spring on 17 “underperforming” routes, converting some markets to seasonal operations. Most of the suspended roads are leisure markets — “additions we’ve made in response to pandemic travel trends to help us bring in cash right away,” the spokesperson said. Routes to get the ax include Cancun service from San Francisco, Sacramento, and Las Vegas, as well as flights to Bozeman and Montt. , from Los Angeles and Ft. Lauderdale. Other cuts include East Coast routes to Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America. Meanwhile, American Airlines is reducing the number of flights in many domestic markets rather than cutting off routes. For example, the Los Angeles-El Paso and LAX-Denver schedules have been cut from three flights per day to one, while Long Beach-Phoenix will drop from 21 flights per week to 10 in February. Most of the other service cuts were in the eastern half of the country.

An Air Canada plane prepares to take off from San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Tuesday, November 26, 2019 (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
An Air Canada plane prepares to take off from San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Tuesday, November 26, 2019 (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Not only internal roads are affected. Air Canada, citing the COVID pandemic and low customer demand, has decided to cancel service to 15 leisure destinations in the Caribbean and Bermuda from January 24 through the end of April. And British Airways, which recently resumed services to most of its US gates, is now suspending flights to three destinations from January 18, including Nashville, Baltimore/Washington and New Orleans. It will likely resume in the spring.

But some airlines are still adding new international routes. Delta partner Virgin Atlantic said it plans to launch service on May 25 between London Heathrow and Austin Bergstrom, on the road four days a week. The Austin-LHR line is already served by British Airways. Meanwhile, Finnair announced a service launch date of June 1 between Helsinki and Seattle. The new route will give Finnair passengers a chance to connect with Alaska Airlines flights; Both carriers are members of the US oneworld alliance. However, COVID-related staffing issues led Finnair to back out of its planned Helsinki-Dallas/FT rollout. Flights due, from February 6 to March 27. On the east coast, Singapore Airlines has big plans to expand service beyond the New York area. By late March, Singapore will fly three flights a day there, including nonstop from JFK to Singapore, nonstop from Newark to Singapore, and single-stop service from JFK to Singapore via Frankfurt. The Frankfurt line will use the A380, while the other two lines will operate with the A350-900ULR (Ultra Long Range).

There is a new air row between the United States and China as the Chinese government increases the cancellation of passenger flights between the two countries. So far this month, China has ordered the suspension of 70 flights — including, most recently, two combined flights from San Francisco to Shanghai and four China Southern flights from LAX to Guangzhou. The Chinese government is keeping a close eye on the number of incoming travelers who have tested positive for the COVID virus after their arrival, and is punishing the airline that brought them in by ordering it to temporarily suspend service. The total number of US-China flights from US and Chinese airlines has already fallen to just 20 a week this winter, down from more than 100 in pre-pandemic times. The White House this week criticized mandatory cancellations of flights in China, calling them “inconsistent with its obligations under the US-China Air Transport Agreement,” and said the United States might respond in an unspecified way.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has gone further in its efforts to keep COVID at bay, announcing this week that passengers from 150 countries, considered high-risk, will be barred from making connections at Hong Kong International Airport from January 16 through February. .16. No one who has visited or resided in any of these countries will be allowed to enter Hong Kong, even at the airport. The city had already imposed a two-week ban on flights from several countries, including the US, UK, Australia and Canada. The new ban on transit passengers is expected to have a devastating impact on the Hong Kong airline, Cathay Pacific.

American Airlines, which flies to Dublin from several US gateways, this week began a new codeshare partnership with Irish carrier Aer Lingus, allowing customers to book AA coded connecting flights outside Dublin to various European destinations. The code is shared on Aer Lingus flights from Dublin to London (Heathrow and Gatwick), Amsterdam, Birmingham and Manchester, as well as from London Heathrow to Belfast in Northern Ireland and Shannon and Cork in Ireland. The deal also places Code Air Lingus on several AA local routes outside of Chicago O’Hare. “It is also scheduled to expand token sharing in the near future,” American said. Last year, Aer Lingus became a member of AA’s transatlantic joint venture operation which also includes British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.

Both the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week added Canada to its level 4 “no travel” list, citing a continuing rise in COVID cases there. Dozens of countries around the world were already on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Tier 4 list, including most European countries. Only two months ago the United States began allowing fully vaccinated foreign visitors to enter the United States through the Canadian and Mexican land borders, after closing them to non-essential travelers for the past year and a half. Last month, Canada urged its citizens to avoid non-essential travel outside the country’s borders.

A Boeing 737-700 of Southwest Airlines is seen at Norman Y Mineta San Jose International Airport.

A Boeing 737-700 of Southwest Airlines is seen at Norman Y Mineta San Jose International Airport.

Alex Tay/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Southwest Airlines customers traveling outside the United States can now purchase self-administered COVID test kits to use before return flights, at a discounted price of $50 each, from the health care company CityHealth. The kits provide a rapid, CDC-approved antigen test, and include an online appointment with a CityHealth testing specialist, who will oversee the user’s sample collection process. “RapidReturn does not require travelers to download an app or use a specific operating system,” CityHealth said. “All that is required is a Wi-Fi connection and a video-enabled device (such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop), which reduces compatibility issues. A secure link to download the digital health certificate is emailed shortly after the test is completed, usually Within 2-3 minutes.”

Two low-cost European airlines are developing plans to fly to the United States in the new year. Started by former executives from the defunct WOW Airlines, PLAY in Iceland is scheduled to start an April 20 flight between London Stansted and Baltimore/Washington, and May 11 between Stansted and Boston. Both routes will include a short layover at Keflavik Airport, Iceland, outside Reykjavik. PLAY began operations last summer and currently flies from Iceland to six destinations in Europe. Meanwhile, Oslo-based Norse Atlantic Airways has obtained an operating certificate from the Norwegian government, and aspires to be the successor to Transatlantic Norwegian Airlines. (Norwegian Airlines still exists, but no longer flies to the US) Norse Atlantic plans to begin flying the 787 this spring from Oslo to Ontario, California, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and Stewart International Airport in Orange County, New York, 60 miles from New York City.

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