Breeze Airways adds more low-fare flights at SFO

In this week’s news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants passengers to keep wearing masks on planes and in airports as coronavirus cases are rising again; Spirit Airlines tells JetBlue it’s not interested in that company’s acquisition proposal but will stick with its Frontier merger instead; Qantas unveils plans for the world’s longest nonstops; United confirms its return to SFO-Melbourne service and adds more routes to Europe; international route news from Aer Lingus, Delta, Level and Norse Atlantic; more air service is coming to Santa Rosa and Sacramento; Spirit and Delta add transcontinental routes; Frontier moves into Chicago Midway and Avelo adds a new base of operations in Florida; COVID-19 restrictions are eased in Greece, Switzerland, Italy, Fiji, Thailand and Malaysia; Delta will add new premium passenger lounges but tightens entry rules for its Sky Clubs; American Express opens a temporary Centurion Lounge at LAX; and Southwest gets 16 more gates at Denver International.

Although mask-wearing on planes and in airports became optional last month due to a federal judge’s ruling, the CDC this week urged  travelers age 2 or older to keep wearing “a well-fitting mask or respirator” on aircraft and in airports. As COVID case numbers are once again rising in the U.S., the agency said its recommendation is based on “currently available data, including an understanding of domestic and global epidemiology, circulating variants and their impact on disease severity and vaccine effectiveness, current trends in COVID-19 Community Levels within the United States, and projections of COVID-19 trends in the coming months.” It also encouraged airlines and airport operators to “support mask wearing by all people, including employees.” As CDC Director Rochelle Walensky put it, “it is important for all of us to protect not only ourselves, but also to be considerate of others at increased risk for severe COVID-19 and those who are not yet able to be vaccinated.” A recent poll conducted by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago after the mask mandate was removed by judicial fiat found that 56% of Americans support a mask requirement for planes, trains and other public transportation, while 24% oppose it and 20% had no opinion.

Passengers check in for flights with Spirit Airlines at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. JetBlue Airways has made an offer to buy Spirit Airlines for $3.6 billion.

Passengers check in for flights with Spirit Airlines at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. JetBlue Airways has made an offer to buy Spirit Airlines for $3.6 billion.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The battle between Frontier Airlines and JetBlue to merge with Spirit Airlines shifted in favor of Frontier this week after Spirit said JetBlue’s offer was not good enough — and that came after JetBlue tried to sweeten its proposal. Following discussions with outside financial advisers and lawyers, Spirit said, it determined that JetBlue’s unsolicited offer to acquire all Spirit stock “is not reasonably capable of being consummated.” Frontier’s offer, the company said, “represents the best opportunity to maximize value,” so Spirit is recommending that its shareholders approve the Frontier merger agreement, which was announced on Feb. 7.

In a letter to JetBlue, Spirit’s top executives said a JetBlue-Spirit combination was unlikely to pass muster with antitrust regulators at the Justice Department. The stumbling block? JetBlue’s Northeast Alliance with American Airlines, which is currently being challenged in court by DOJ and several state attorneys general on the grounds that it harms competition. Under terms of that alliance, JetBlue and American are coordinating their schedules at Boston and the New York City-area airports and code-sharing on each other’s flights. “We struggle to understand how JetBlue can believe DOJ, or a court, will be persuaded that JetBlue should be allowed to form an anticompetitive alliance that aligns its interests with a legacy carrier and then undertake an acquisition that will eliminate the largest ULCC (ultra-low-cost carrier),” the Spirit executives said. 


JetBlue’s revised proposal included a “remedy package” to address regulatory concerns, calling for “the divestiture of all Spirit assets in New York and Boston so that JetBlue does not increase its presence in the airports covered by the NEA,” as well as gates and assets at some other airports like Fort Lauderdale. JetBlue also offered to pay $1.80 per Spirit share if the acquisition was blocked by antitrust regulators. But Spirit said any offer from JetBlue must include the abandonment of its NEA with American. Without that, the odds of failing to win government approval would be too risky for Spirit shareholders, the letter said. 

Qantas staff hold welcome home signs for arriving passengers off their flight from Los Angeles at Sydney Airport in November 2021.

Qantas staff hold welcome home signs for arriving passengers off their flight from Los Angeles at Sydney Airport in November 2021.

James D. Morgan/Getty Images for Sydney Airport

After staying dormant for a couple of years when Australia was shut down to international visitors, Qantas this week revealed plans for a big comeback on the global aviation stage, including a revival of its delayed Project Sunrise. That’s a plan Qantas has been working on for years that would greatly expand the reach of its nonstop international routes from Sydney to places like London and New York, making them contenders for the world’s longest commercial flights. To that end, Qantas said it will order a dozen A350-1000s from Airbus, expected to start flying out of Sydney by the end of 2025. It will also renew its domestic and regional fleet by ordering dozens of A321XLRs and A220s from Airbus, gradually retiring its Boeing 737s and 717s. 

Qantas said its A350-1000s “will have the range for direct flights between Australia and any city in the world,” and will focus on passenger comfort for such long-haul operations. While most international carriers’ A350-1000s have more than 300 seats, Qantas said its new planes will have only 238 in four classes — first, business, premium economy and economy — “with more than 40% of the cabin dedicated to premium seating.” First class suites will come with “a separate bed, recliner lounge chair and personal wardrobe,” the airline said, while premium economy and economy seats will have a pitch (i.e., distance between rows) of 40 and 33 inches respectively. The aircraft will also feature “a wellbeing zone designed for movement, stretching and hydration.” Qantas said the new A350-1000s will be “the final fix for the tyranny of distance that has traditionally challenged travel to Australia.” Meanwhile, on May 23, Qantas plans to resume nonstop 787 flights to London from Perth in Western Australia, with nonstop Perth-Rome flights coming in June.  

United Airlines, which introduced nonstop San Francisco-Melbourne service in late 2019 only to drop it due to the COVID pandemic, confirmed this week that it will restart the route next month with three flights a week. United already flies to Sydney from both SFO and Los Angeles. The Australian government recently reopened its borders to international travelers after a two-year shutdown. And United recently entered into a partnership agreement with Virgin Australia for easy connections to other destinations beyond Sydney and Melbourne. Virgin Australia ended its previous partnership with Delta in order to take on United, but Delta this week signed a letter of intent to form a similar commercial agreement with the Australian carrier Rex (Regional Express), to take effect later this year. Rex serves more than 60 destinations in Australia.

Major carriers are continuing to ramp up their international schedules as the peak season approaches. United just resumed flights between its Newark hub and Naples, the only nonstop service between the U.S. and that southern Italy city. The seasonal daily service with a 767-300ER will continue through October. Elsewhere in Italy, United launched new daily flights from Chicago O’Hare to Milan this week to supplement its Newark-Milan service. On May 7, United adds a second daily departure to its Denver-London schedule, and on May 13, United is due to kick off a new route between Newark and Ponta Delgada in the Azores, Atlantic islands that are part of Portugal. 

An Aer Lingus Airbus A320 lands at Heathrow Airport in October 2020.

An Aer Lingus Airbus A320 lands at Heathrow Airport in October 2020.

NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In other international route developments, Aer Lingus — which already flies between SFO and Dublin — has set May 12 for the restoration of daily Los Angeles-Dublin service, followed by five weekly Seattle-Dublin flights beginning July 7. On May 14, Delta is due to start flying between its Salt Lake City hub and London Heathrow. And Level, the low-cost affiliate of British Airways’ International Airlines Group, this week revived service between Boston and Barcelona with three flights a week — the only nonstop service between those two cities. Norse Atlantic, the new Scandinavian low-cost carrier seen as a successor to Norwegian, has started selling tickets on its first U.S. routes, all of them to Oslo and all starting with two or three flights a week. They include New York JFK starting June 14, Fort Lauderdale starting June 18, Orlando launching July 5 and Los Angeles International (not Ontario as the airline originally suggested) beginning Aug. 9. Fares on the LAX route will reportedly start as low as $205 one way.

Window view from tourist plane when arriving at Toronto.

Window view from tourist plane when arriving at Toronto.

Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

In California route news, Reno-based Aha, the new incarnation of ExpressJet Airlines, announced plans to start flying between Reno and Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa starting July 14. The carrier will fly the route twice a week with 50-seat ERJ-145s and introductory fares starting at $49 available for purchase through May 31. The Sacramento Bee is reporting that southern California’s San Bernardino Airport has applied for an FAA grant to support new nonstop flights between San Bernardino and Sacramento operated by the new low-cost carrier Breeze Airways. Breeze is due to begin daily flights between San Bernardino and San Francisco International in August. And Spirit Airlines this week kicked off new transcontinental service between Los Angeles International and Newark Liberty Airport with one daily round-trip. That’s hardly a dent in a market that already had 16 daily flights operated by United, JetBlue and Alaska. 

Speaking of Breeze Airways, that company has just announced plans to start flying out of Provo, Utah — just south of Salt Lake City — later this year. Its initial schedule includes daily flights between San Francisco and Provo starting at $39 each way, along with daily flights to Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and one-stop service to San Bernardino and Westchester County, New York.

A ground crew prepares to unload luggage from an arriving Delta Airlines flight at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in March 2020.

A ground crew prepares to unload luggage from an arriving Delta Airlines flight at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in March 2020.

John Moore/Getty Images

In other domestic news, Delta will add a transcontinental route out of Seattle in December when it begins a daily flight to Fort Lauderdale — its longest flight out of SEA at 2,717 miles. And Frontier Airlines last week stuck a big new pin in its route map with the introduction of service from Chicago’s close-in Midway Airport. The low-cost carrier already has a few routes out of O’Hare, but it said Midway will now become its “primary airport” in Chicago. Frontier’s initial schedule out of Midway includes daily flights to Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Ontario (California), Phoenix, Tampa and Trenton, with service starting later this month to Philadelphia and in October to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. And low-cost newcomer Avelo Airlines, which has a West Coast base at Hollywood Burbank Airport and one in the northeast at Tweed New Haven Airport, said it is adding a third base at Orlando International next month, where it will start flying to Charleston, South Carolina; Washington D.C.; and Wilmington, North Carolina. Avelo said it should be serving 10 destinations from Orlando by the end of this year.

COVID-related restrictions on international travel continue to fall away. This week, both Greece and Switzerland dropped their previous entry regulations. Visitors to both countries are now allowed to enter without showing proof of vaccination or previous infection, and without taking a pre-departure COVID test. And Italy this week stopped requiring visitors to show a COVID “Green Pass” when entering hotels, restaurants, museums and other public indoor spaces. But Italy still requires foreign visitors to show a vaccination certificate or proof of previous infection, or a negative test result for the unvaccinated. Italy has also dropped its requirement that visitors fill out a passenger locator form. 

Across the Pacific, Fiji this week dropped its requirement that visitors must get a negative COVID test result before leaving home. But they still must be fully vaccinated, book a post-arrival test at entrytestfiji.com to be taken 48 to72 hours after arrival, and obtain travel insurance with COVID coverage. In April, Thailand and its requirement that visitors take a COVID PCR test no more than 72 hours before boarding their flight from home, and this month, the country ended its required post-arrival testing and one-night quarantine for vaccinated visitors, although they must still have insurance. And Malaysia this week declared that vaccinated inbound travelers no longer need pre-departure or post-arrival COVID tests; the country’s insurance requirement has also been dropped.  

A United Airlines flight crew acknowledges passengers waiting to board at Gate F11 for a flight to Honolulu in at SFO.

A United Airlines flight crew acknowledges passengers waiting to board at Gate F11 for a flight to Honolulu in at SFO.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst N/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images

Delta announced this week that it plans to introduce a new type of airport lounge for premium customers, improve its existing Sky Clubs and add new ones — and tighten entry rules for those Sky Clubs. Taking a cue from United’s Polaris Lounges and American’s Flagship First lounges, Delta said it will open new Delta One Clubs for its front-cabin premium flyers, starting with a 36,000-square-foot facility in New York JFK’s Terminal 4 in 2023 and a 10,000-square-foot club at Los Angeles International, connected to its new Terminal 3 Sky Club, in 2024. The airline didn’t provide details on what those clubs will offer other than “a dedicated level of service that elevates the lounge experience for Delta One customers.”

As for its Sky Club network, Delta said it will debut a new one in Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal 5 this fall, with expanded clubs coming at the Nashville, Boston and Atlanta airports this summer. The carrier recently opened a new Sky Club in LAX’s Terminal 3 with seating for 500 members and plans to cut the ribbon on an even larger one next month at its rebuilt Terminal C in New York LaGuardia.

Meanwhile, June 1 is the effective date for new Sky Club entry rules as overcrowding becomes an issue with burgeoning passenger numbers: Members can only enter a club within three hours of their scheduled departure and arriving passengers won’t be able to access the clubs unless they have a connection or are flying in the Delta One cabin. The three-hour rule does not apply to connecting customers, who can enter a club at any time. 

American Express’ Centurion Lounge at Los Angeles International has been shut down for more than two years, but the company has now opened a temporary lounge location at LAX pending its return. It’s smaller than the shuttered Centurion Lounge, and it’s located on the Bradley International Terminal’s sixth floor near the Star Alliance Lounge. The larger LAX location is the only U.S. Centurion Lounge that hasn’t yet reopened, and the delay is reportedly due to repairs to the HVAC system so that jet fumes can’t leak into the facility. In other lounge news, American Airlines recently reopened its Flagship Lounge in Chicago O’Hare, the last location to reopen. Others are in New York JFK, Miami, Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth.

A Southwest jet arrives during a ceremony to unveil the new C concourse addition at Denver International Airport in May 2022.

A Southwest jet arrives during a ceremony to unveil the new C concourse addition at Denver International Airport in May 2022.

AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group//Denver Post via Getty Images

At Denver International, Southwest Airlines is poised for more expansion following the opening this week of a 16-gate addition to the airport’s Concourse C. All the new gates are being leased by Southwest. The 530,000-square-foot extension of the concourse also provides 20 more passenger waiting areas, an outdoor patio, charging stations, more restrooms and pet relief areas. Eight new retail and dining concessions will open in the extension next year. Southwest is expected to start operating flights from the new gates in late May or early June. The eastern extension of Concourse C is part of a larger 39-gate expansion at DEN; the first phase, adding more gates to the west end of United’s Concourse B, is already in place. A fall 2022 opening is expected for the Concourse A-West and B-East expansions, airport officials said. 


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