Routes: SFO-Dublin and Canada, Hawaii welcomes back visitors, holiday airfares are rising, and more – SF Gate

In this week’s roundup, higher demand and rising fuel prices are driving significant increases in airfares as the year-end holidays approach; Aer Lingus will resume service to San Francisco International; low-cost Canadian carrier Flair Airlines plans two new SFO routes in the spring; international news from Delta Airlines, Singapore Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Qantas Airways; Hawaii’s governor says visitors are welcome again starting Nov. 1 as COVID caseload eases; JetBlue Airways schedules its new A220s for transcontinental service to San Jose; Alaska Airlines will drop some California routes next year; Delta unveils a big boost in New York City schedules; United Airlines sees a record year for international travel in 2022; Southwest Airlines’ massive cancellations this month cost it $75 million; Southwest adds new perks for its Chase cardholders; and Los Angeles International Airport opens a giant “state-of-the-art” parking facility.

As airlines report increasing consumer demand for flights over the year-end holidays, travelers are being warned to expect a surge in airfares — not only due to higher demand, but also due to another big factor: the price of aviation fuel. Fares are already rising as the holidays approach, and United CEO Scott Kirby said this week that as fuel costs continue to escalate, fares are likely to get even higher.

“Higher jet fuel prices lead to higher ticket prices. Ultimately, we’ll pass that through,” he said in a CNBC interview.

Scott Kirby, president of United Airlines since 2016, sat down with SFGATE's Chris McGinnis for a wide ranging interview on March 28, 2019.

Scott Kirby, president of United Airlines since 2016, sat down with SFGATE’s Chris McGinnis for a wide ranging interview on March 28, 2019.

United Airlines

Hopper, a booking app that analyzes changes and trends in airfares, said in a new report on holiday travel that domestic airfares for trips around Christmas are already back up to pre-pandemic 2019 levels at an average of $390 for a round-trip fare – a 55% increase over 2021. The company said last-minute holiday travel will get even more expensive, with average round-trip fares jumping to $460 two weeks before Christmas and $510 in the last week before the holiday. “In general, booking domestic flights three weeks in advance (or by Thanksgiving at the latest), should help travelers avoid the biggest price spikes,” Hopper said. Other experts recommend booking even farther out — like within the next couple of weeks. Hopper said the best available domestic fares are for outbound trips on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

For the Thanksgiving holiday, “Book no later than Halloween for the best prices,” Hopper suggested. “For Thanksgiving, travelers should expect domestic airfare of around $300 round-trip, which is up 23% from 2020 ($245) but down 11% from 2019 ($335).” The average fare will jump to $400 for the week before the holiday and $500 for last-minute trips the week of Thanksgiving, the company said.

Ireland’s Aer Lingus, which will resume East Coast service next month, has now set Dec. 12 for a return to San Francisco International Airport. The carrier plans to fly four days a week from SFO to Dublin, increasing frequencies to six days during the weeks before and after Christmas. Aer Lingus has also revealed starting dates for its new direct service to the U.S. from Manchester, England, which has been delayed for several months. The carrier will launch non-stop service between Manchester and New York Dec. 1, followed by Manchester-Orlando starting Dec. 11.

Meanwhile, United Airlines has reportedly canceled plans to launch its own San Francisco-Dublin flights, which had been scheduled to begin March 26. United already flies to Dublin from its Newark hub. 

In Canada, the ultra-low-cost carrier Flair is heading toward domestic and international expansion next year, including new trans-border routes and the addition of San Francisco International to its route map. As it adds more 737 MAX jets to its fleet, Flair plans to begin new service from San Francisco to Edmonton on April 14 and from SFO to Vancouver starting May 17. Other new Flair trans-border routes will include Denver-Toronto beginning April 15, along with Nashville-Toronto and Nashville-Edmonton as of April 14.

In other international route news, Delta has dropped three long-haul routes from its schedules, with no plans to bring them back: Los Angeles-Shanghai, Salt Lake City-London and Atlanta-Stuttgart. But Delta is adding service to Panama City, Panama, with plans to start flying there once a week from Los Angeles and Orlando on Dec. 18, as well as three times a week from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on Dec. 20; Delta will also add a second Saturday flight from Atlanta to Panama City on Dec. 18.

Singapore Airlines is due to return to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) on Dec. 1, when it will resume service eastbound flights to Singapore via a stop in Manchester, United Kingdom. The flight will operate three days a week as a Fifth Freedom route, meaning passengers can book only the IAH-Manchester segment if they want.

With the U.S. reopening to European travelers on Nov. 8, KLM said this week that it is expanding transatlantic service in its winter schedule, which starts Oct. 31. That includes increasing Amsterdam-Atlanta frequencies to 12 a week and Amsterdam-JFK to 11. The carrier will also serve Las Vegas and Miami three days a week, and will extend its summer Amsterdam-Minneapolis route through the winter with three weekly flights. 

Two Qantas planes sit outside its hangar at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25, 2020. 

Two Qantas planes sit outside its hangar at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25, 2020. 

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Qantas has moved up the resumption of Los Angeles-Sydney and London-Sydney flights from Nov. 15 to Nov. 1, but they still won’t be available to anyone except fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents of Australia. The Australian government continues to say that the resumption of international tourist traffic into the country is unlikely to happen before March of next year.

In domestic travel developments, Hawaii Governor David Ige announced this week that a continuing drop in the number of COVID cases in the islands means that mainland visitors are welcome to resume trips, beginning Nov. 1. On Aug. 23, when new cases and hospitalizations were surging in Hawaii, Ige had asked mainland travelers to stay away from the islands, even though the government didn’t impose any new entry restrictions. Still, his request was enough to spur a wave of cancellations that left Hawaii’s hotels with thousands of empty rooms, after the industry rebounded sharply during the summer months.

Hawaii still requires visitors to show proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test taken within 72 hours of departure if they want to avoid a 10-day quarantine upon arrival in the islands.

The Pololu Valley on Hawaii Island is one of its most sacred coastlines.

The Pololu Valley on Hawaii Island is one of its most sacred coastlines.

Peter Unger/Getty Images

JetBlue started taking delivery of new Airbus A220s earlier this year and has started flying them in the eastern half of the country. But next year, it plans to put the A220 into transcontinental service with flights from San Jose to Boston. JetBlue’s A220s have 140 seats in a 2×3 layout, including six rows with extra legroom, along with AC, USB-A and USB-C ports, high-definition seatback screens, 30 channels of DirecTV and its usual free Wi-Fi connectivity. JetBlue will introduce the aircraft on the SJC-BOS and Portland-Boston routes starting in September of 2022.

According to a report in the Crankyflier.com blog based on schedule data from Cirium, Alaska Airlines will drop several routes from its summer schedule next year. That includes two major routes that it inherited from Virgin America – Los Angeles-Chicago and LAX-Boston. In the Bay Area, Alaska will reportedly discontinue its San Francisco-Ft. Lauderdale, San Francisco-Tampa and San Jose-Paine Field (Everett, Wash.) routes. Other markets getting the axe include Anchorage-Kona; Palm Springs-Boise; Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, Paine Field, and Tampa; Portland to Cancun, Ft. Lauderdale, Omaha, Tampa, and Tucson; San Diego to Cancun and Ft. Lauderdale; and Seattle to Belize. 

An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8, on a flight from Miami to New York City, lands at LaGuardia Airport on Monday morning, March 11, 2019.

An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8, on a flight from Miami to New York City, lands at LaGuardia Airport on Monday morning, March 11, 2019.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In its latest response to the challenge of JetBlue and American’s new Northeast Regional partnership – and to growing passenger numbers – Delta said this week it is ramping up flight operations in New York City airports this winter. By next month, Delta said, its LaGuardia and JFK schedules will feature 100 more daily departures than they did this past summer – a 25% boost in overall capacity. That includes restoring service to the New York area’s 40 most popular domestic markets and adding more departures to key business travel destinations like Boston, Washington D.C., Charlotte, and Raleigh-Durham.

What’s more, “every Delta flight at JFK, LGA and EWR will now offer a First Class experience, due to the removal of smaller, 50-seat aircraft from all NYC markets,” Delta said. At JFK, Delta will increase Paris CDG and London Heathrow service to twice-daily and Dublin departures to once a day starting Dec. 6. It will also add a second daily JFK-Tel Aviv frequency Dec. 18, and resume JFK-Lagos, Nigeria service three days a week beginning Dec. 7. Delta’s JFK-Frankfurt flights will return Dec. 13, while service from JFK to Sao Paulo and Los Cabos resumes Dec. 19.

While government entry restrictions have kept a lid on the recovery of international travel, United Airlines said this week it expects to see a rapid expansion of that sector in the months ahead. In its quarterly earnings report, the airline said that for 2022, it expects its international capacity to rise by 10% over pre-pandemic levels, while its domestic capacity will remain about the same as 2019. United cited “the rebound in premium leisure travel, re-opening of European borders next month, continued recovery of business travel and early indications of loosening travel restrictions in key Pacific markets” for its optimism. “Expected flying at record levels to Europe, Latin America, India, Africa and the Middle East in summer 2022, will be enabled by the anticipated return of United’s Pratt & Whitney-powered Boeing 777s to the fleet in 2022,” United said. Those aircraft have been grounded since one suffered an engine failure over Colorado last February.

The operational mess that hit Southwest Airlines’ schedule earlier this month also hit the airline’s bottom line with a $75 million “negative impact,” due to thousands of cancelled flights and the resulting passenger refunds and “gestures of goodwill,” the company said this week. Those “gestures” were the payments of $100 to $250 per passenger that Southwest has been issuing as compensation for their disrupted travel plans. The airline’s October revenues took another $40 million hit “due to the lingering effects of the delta variant,” which caused a temporary downward trend in bookings. In August and September, Southwest said, the COVID delta variant had negative revenue impacts of $100 million and $200 million respectively.

CEO Gary Kelly conceded that Southwest tried to ramp up capacity too fast in the third quarter, when it didn’t have the staffing to do so. He said the company has “reined in our capacity plans” to match current staffing levels and is actively hiring 5,000 new employees by year’s end. Capacity planning for 2022 will also be affected by “more conservative staffing assumptions,” the company said. 

To mark the 25th anniversary of its credit-card partnership with Chase, Southwest Airlines has come out with special promotions for new cardholders and extra benefits for existing members. New applicants for the consumer card can earn up to 100,000 Rapid Rewards points if they meet spending quotas, and business cardmembers can earn up to 140,000 points. New benefits for existing cardmembers include double points on local transit and commuting purchases, including ride-sharing; double points for spending on internet, phone, cable TV and select streaming services; and two annual EarlyBird check-ins (i.e. front of the boarding line). These are in addition to existing perks like bonus points on the card anniversary, bonus earning for spending on Southwest, and points on every purchase made with the card.

Theme Building and tower of Los Angeles International Airport at dusk.

Theme Building and tower of Los Angeles International Airport at dusk.

Boarding1Now/Getty Images/iStockphoto

LAX cut the ribbon on a $294 million “state-of-the-art” parking structure this week, saying that it is “one of the most advanced economy parking facilities at any U.S. airport.” The four-story LAX Economy Parking facility has 4,300 parking spots and offers advance booking, “intuitive wayfinding” to help drivers find a spot, and electric vehicle chargers.

The new garage is “the first piece of a complete modernization of the parking experience at LAX,” the airport said. “In the near future, all LAX parking structures, including those throughout the Central Terminal Area, will feature smart technology, which will create a more efficient and elevated guest experience.”

As of this week, users can book advance reservations at four garages in the Central Terminal area (2B, 3, 4 and 7) and at the Van Nuys Flyaway terminal garage. Online bookings are available at parking.flylax.com. Those who book a space in advance can get discounts of up to 70% off the drive-up parking price of $25 a day, LAX said. The new garage will eventually provide a direct link to the inter-terminal Automated People Mover system, currently under construction. Until then, dedicated shuttle buses will take parking customers to the Central Terminal Area. 

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