The Perfect Enemy | What to expect now that COVID testing for flights is over
July 6, 2022
Read Time:11 Minute

In the latest developments, the Biden administration is finally ending its pre-departure COVID testing requirement for U.S.-bound international passengers; San Jose gets new trans-Atlantic service next week and United plans a new SFO-Australia route; low-cost European carriers Norse Atlantic and Iceland’s Play begin flying to the U.S.; Hawaiian Airlines adds an Oakland route next week; two low-cost U.S. airlines and one Asian carrier plan Las Vegas flights; JetBlue eyes an expansion of Mint service to another LAX route; study finds 2022 airfare increases at San Francisco aren’t as bad as most other U.S. markets; Spirit Airlines postpones its shareholder vote on Frontier merger; a trial date is set for Justice Department’s challenge of JetBlue/American Northeast Alliance; and Delta starts testing a futuristic new passenger technology at Detroit Metro Airport.

The Biden administration on Friday finally gave the airline and tourism industries the perfect gift for the beginning of the peak summer travel season: an end to the government’s COVID-19 testing requirement for all individuals flying into the U.S. The rule will end at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, June 12, after being in place since January 2021. The mandate had required anyone coming to the U.S. — vaccinated or not, foreigners and U.S. citizens — to get a negative COVID test result no more than 24 hours before boarding their flight, and it had been the target of an industry lobbying campaign for months. That campaign grew more intense as other nations worldwide gradually eased their COVID-related entry requirements. The White House said its decision was based on a determination by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the pre-departure testing was no longer needed, although the agency plans to reevaluate the need for testing every three months and could reinstate the rule if the situation changes.

Not only has the testing requirement been a nagging concern of Americans traveling abroad, who fretted over what they would do if the test came back positive just before their return flight, but it has also put a damper on foreign travel to the U.S. Last month, the U.S. Travel Association, an umbrella trade organization for the industry, released the results of a survey of consumers in six major foreign markets, and it found that more than half (54%) said the “added uncertainty” of possibly having to cancel their trip “would have a big impact on their likelihood to visit the U.S.” On Friday, USTA said the lifting of the testing requirement could mean an additional 5.4 million foreign visitors coming to the U.S. this year and an extra $9 billion in travel spending.

British Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft as seen in Amsterdam.

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The big international route news for the Bay Area next week is British Airways’ resumption of London flights from Mineta San Jose Airport, starting June 13. The nonstop 787 flight departs SJC at 10 p.m. and arrives at London Heathrow at 2:15 p.m. the next day. Looking farther ahead, United Airlines announced this week that it plans to introduce a new trans-Pacific route from the Bay Area this fall, starting three 787-9 flights a week between San Francisco International and Brisbane, Australia, in late October. The carrier said that makes it “the first U.S. airline to add a new transpacific destination to its global network since the start of the pandemic.” United just resumed SFO-Melbourne flights this week; the airline also flies to Sydney from SFO and to Sydney and Melbourne from Los Angeles. Meanwhile, American Airlines has now set Oct. 29 for the resumption of its daily Los Angeles-Sydney flights. 

Norse Atlantic Airways, the new Oslo-based trans-Atlantic low-cost carrier, will begin flying to the U.S. next week, and has also revealed plans to add more European destinations in the months ahead, including a route to Germany from the West Coast. The carrier, which has a fleet of 787-9s, plans to start flying from Oslo to New York JFK on June 14, followed by Oslo-Fort Lauderdale on June 18, Oslo-Orlando on July 5 and Oslo-Los Angeles starting Aug. 9. On Aug. 12, Norse Atlantic is slated to begin operations out of London’s Gatwick Airport with service to JFK. And the carrier just announced it will start flying to the U.S. out of Germany’s Berlin Brandenburg Airport, with daily flights to JFK kicking off Aug. 17 and three flights a week to Los Angeles starting Aug. 19. Currently, the only nonstops from the U.S. to Berlin are operated by United from its Newark hub. 

Remember Iceland’s Wow Air, which offered low-cost connections from the U.S. to Europe via Reykjavik before it went bankrupt in 2019? A year-old Icelandic low-cost carrier called Play — founded by two veterans of Wow and following the same playbook — is now flying to the U.S. Play began flying to Baltimore/Washington International in April and to Boston in May, and now it has launched service to Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York, 60 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. Play flies from all three airports to Reykjavik and offers connecting service from there to several European cities including Paris, Dublin, Copenhagen, Prague and Berlin. How low cost is Play? From Stewart Airport it is offering introductory one-way fares for fall travel starting at $99 to Reykjavik and $129 to other European cities. Since Play’s fleet currently has only Airbus A320neo and A321neo aircraft, it’s unlikely to fly to the West Coast anytime soon.

A Hawaiian Airlines aircraft takes off from Long Beach in March 2021.

A Hawaiian Airlines aircraft takes off from Long Beach in March 2021.

MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

On the domestic side, Hawaiian Airlines on June 15 will begin seasonal summer service between Oakland International and Kona on the Big Island. The daily A321neo flights are scheduled to continue through Sept. 6. Hawaiian already flies from OAK to Honolulu, Maui, and Kauai. Alaska Airlines has a handful of routes slated to start June 16, including Seattle-Miami, Seattle-Cleveland, Las Vegas-Boise and Idaho Falls-Boise. 

Las Vegas is getting some new domestic service this year, including plans by two low-cost airlines — Breeze and Frontier — to start flying from LAS to the same East Coast city. Breeze, started by JetBlue founder David Neeleman, has set Sept. 7 for the introduction of twice-weekly service between Las Vegas and Hartford, Connecticut’s Bradley Airport. And Frontier Airlines announced this week that it will kick of daily nonstops in August between the same two airports. The two announcements are part of a Hartford route expansion planned by Breeze and more Las Vegas growth from Frontier. Earlier this month, Breeze introduced new routes from Hartford to Nashville, Akron/Canton, Jacksonville, Richmond, Sarasota and Savannah. With Las Vegas, that will give Breeze 11 routes out of Bradley Airport. Frontier, meanwhile, said that in addition to Las Vegas-Hartford, it will also begin new routes in August from LAS to Kansas City, Baltimore/Washington and Buffalo.

In other Breeze news, AirlineGeeks.com reported that Long Beach Airport in southern California has awarded a pair of takeoff and landing slots to Breeze, enough for it to begin one daily flight out of the airport, although the airline hasn’t yet said where it might fly from Long Beach.  

Las Vegas is also getting some new international service. Korean Air said it will resume flights from LAS to Seoul Incheon on July 10, operating three flights a week with an Airbus A330-200.

JetBlue, which is engaged in a fierce market share battle against Delta in Boston, plans to introduce its premium front cabin service — Mint suites — in a new transcontinental market. The Mint cabins will be introduced on two flights a day between Boston and Los Angeles starting Aug. 6, according to The Points Guy. Currently, the airline only offers the fancy front cabin on select routes out of New York JFK, LAX and on its London flights out of New York (and from Boston starting this summer).  

Travelers wait in line to check in for their flights at San Francisco International Airport.

Travelers wait in line to check in for their flights at San Francisco International Airport.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It’s well established that airfares are soaring this year as consumers unleash their pent-up demand for summer vacations. But fares are not rising by the same amount in all markets, and researchers at CheapAir.com, the big travel booking site, took a look at which cities are being hit the hardest. The company said that as of late May, the lowest domestic airfares are up 26% overall from 2021, but it found that residents of smaller cities are seeing bigger fare increases than those in major markets. For San Francisco, the study found, the 2022 fare increases are among the lowest in the country — up just 17% year over year. The lowest increases were at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (up 14%), Houston (15%) San Juan (16%) and Newark, tied with San Francisco at 17%. 

Compare those fare hikes with a city like Dayton, Ohio, where fares increased by an average of 42%. Also high on the list were Greensboro, North Carolina (up 38%); Flint, Michigan (38%); Des Moines, Iowa (36%); and Spokane, Wash. (35%). “Smaller airports offered fewer flights and itineraries than other, bigger cities, but during the pandemic things really shut down. And now that the country’s travelers are ramping back up, there’s still a more limited flight schedule than can support the consumers right now. When scarcity meets demand, you get inflated prices,” the company said.

CheapAir.com suggested that in general, consumers should book as early as possible to have a chance of getting a lower fare. Those who live in smaller markets, at least for now, should “get used to much higher fares in general,” the company said — or consider driving to the nearest large airport if fares there can provide significant savings. 

Spirit Airlines was supposed to conduct a special shareholder meeting on Friday (June 10) to vote on its plan to merge with Frontier, but now the company has postponed that action until June 30. The company’s plans changed after JetBlue, which also wants to acquire Spirit, made another revision to its takeover offer, promising to pay Spirit a $350 million “reverse breakup” fee if it agrees to a merger but the deal is later overturned by the Justice Department over antitrust concerns. Spirit said it delayed the Frontier merger vote so its board could “continue discussions with Spirit stockholders, Frontier and JetBlue Airways Corp.” Nonetheless, Spirit said it “remains bound by the terms of the merger agreement with Frontier,” and “has made no change to its recommendation that Spirit stockholders adopt the merger agreement with Frontier.” 

The JetBlue University training center campus in Orlando. 

The JetBlue University training center campus in Orlando. 

SOPA Images/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Speaking of Justice Department antitrust concerns, a federal judge has set Sept. 26 as the trial date for DOJ’s lawsuit challenging the JetBlue/American Airlines Northeast Alliance, by which the two airlines coordinate their schedules and code-share on each other’s flights in the New York and Boston markets. JetBlue and American argue that the northeast partnership is necessary to help them compete against Delta and United in the affected markets, but DOJ claims that the alliance goes too far and gives the two airlines an unfair level of competitive power. DOJ was joined in its suit by the attorneys general of several states. Despite the government’s legal threat that could end the alliance, the two carriers continue to move ahead with it. American said recently that it will introduce six more New York routes this fall as part of the partnership with JetBlue, including flights from LaGuardia to Tulsa, Little Rock, Asheville, North Carolina, and Key West, as well as new international service from New York JFK to Bermuda and Monterrey, Mexico. 

Delta customers at Detroit Metro Airport will be able to sample a mind-bending new technology starting June 29, when the airline starts beta testing a “Parallel Reality” experience created by a company called Misapplied Sciences. The technology provides individualized views of a passenger’s personal flight and airport information on a big display screen, and it does the same for up to 99 other passengers at the same time — and on the same screen. “Customers who opt into the experience will see customized flight and wayfinding information (e.g. to your gate or baggage claim area),” Delta said. “Each viewer will get a unique and personalized experience, even as they stand next to other viewers enjoying their own uniquely personalized experiences.”

The Parallel Reality display will be in Concourse A of the McNamara Terminal; ticketed passengers can just scan their boarding pass to see their information, or if they’re enrolled in the airline’s digital identity program through the Fly Delta app, they can activate the display with facial recognition. “The technology truly must be seen to be believed,” said Ranjan Goswami, Delta’s senior vice president of customer experience.