More flights added at Bay Area airports

In this week’s roundup, a new study found that airline bookings slowed down last month as airfares recorded their highest-ever month-over-month increase; San Francisco International Airport warns travelers its parking garages will be full this summer; JD Power poll finds passenger satisfaction drops as flights fill up; several new flights are starting up at Bay Area airports next week; Delta drops an Oakland route and British Airways sets a June return to San Jose; United drops some long-haul routes during June; Delta’s newest jet comes to SFO; international code-sharing news from United and JetBlue; Southwest budgets $2 billion for passenger improvements, including Wi-Fi and power ports; Hawaiian Airlines invests in electric “seagliders” for inter-island trips; European Union drops its mask rule for airlines; Delta changes its new access rules for Sky Clubs.

Are soaring airfares starting to put a damper on enthusiasm for travel? Strong consumer demand combined with airline problems ramping up capacity have pushed airfares on a strong upward trend. And now new data finds passenger bookings are starting to slow down. According to Adobe Analytics, which tracks online consumer spending on six major US airlines, domestic flight bookings in April were down 17% from their March levels while prices rose 8% during the same period. But business is still booming compared with the pre-pandemic levels of 2019, Adobe noted: April 2022 bookings were up 5% over the same month of 2019 and online spending jumped 23%, while prices rose 27% over April 2019. The big gap between increased booking levels and online spending “shows that consumers have been paying considerably more for the same amount of service,” Adobe said.

“An uncertain economic environment is pushing some consumers to reorient their travel plans,” said Adobe lead analyst Vivek Pandya, adding that some are delaying trips rather than canceling them. “While bookings for Memorial Day are down, summer travel is above pre-pandemic levels” — but only by 2%. According to data from the Labor Department this week, April airfares increased by 18.6% overall from March levels — the biggest one-month increase ever recorded. And that came after a 10.7% increase from February to March. Compared with April of 2021, airfares were up more than 33%, the department said, while the general rate of inflation in the US economy was 8.3% during the same 12 months.

Given the outlook for a record summer travel season (Memorial Day through Labor Day), San Francisco International Airport this week warned that its parking garages will be “at or near capacity” during those months and urged travelers to take public transport or share rides to get to the airport. If they must drive themselves, SFO said, travelers should use the airport’s online booking system. The Transportation Security Administration said this week it expects summer passenger numbers to match or exceed those of 2019. “The continued recovery from the low travel volumes during the pandemic may require more patience and planning than was necessary before the pandemic,” TSA said, adding that its deployment of credential authentication technology to verify passenger identities and computed tomography scanners for carry-on bags should keep the lines from getting too long at airport checkpoints.

The growing crowds at airports and on aircraft along with rising fares are having a negative effect on travelers’ attitudes, according to the 2022 JD Power survey of airline passenger satisfaction, which was released this week. After rising significantly during the pandemic years, overall passenger satisfaction in 2022 dropped 20 points on the survey’s 1,000-point scale. “With volumes surging and some remnants of pandemic-era constraints still in place, passenger satisfaction is in decline — but that’s not really bad news,” said JD Power’s Michael Taylor. “If airlines can find ways to manage these growing volumes while making some small adjustments to help passengers feel more valued, they should be able to manage this return to ‘normal.’”

As the peak travel season heats up and passenger demand keeps climbing, more airline routes are about to startboth domestic and international, even as a few routes get cut back due to ongoing industry problems.

In the Bay Area, Hawaiian Airlines plans to add a second daily flight between San Francisco International and Honolulu on May 15, continuing through Aug. 1. The new flight will depart SFO at 7 am and arrive in Honolulu at 9:30 am; the return is a redeye, arriving in SFO at 5:05 am At Oakland International, May 18 is the launch date for a new Spirit Airlines transcontinental route, with one daily A320neo flight between OAK and Philadelphia. And on May 19, Alaska Airlines is set to resume daily service between SFO and Paine Field in Everett, Washington, building up its schedule to four flights a day by mid-June. On the downside, The Points Guy reports that Delta has axed three routes from its summer schedule, and one of them is the new Oakland-Detroit service that was due to begin this spring. (The other two are Oklahoma City-Detroit and Boston-Toronto).

Bay Area residents will get the first chance to experience Delta’s newest plane next week. May 20 marks the introduction of the first new Airbus A321neos into Delta’s fleet, which the airline will put into service on two of its three daily San Francisco-Boston flights. The new planes have 194 seats, including 20 in first class, 42 in Delta’s Comfort Plus extra-legroom section and 132 in the main cabin. Delta has 155 A321neos on order. “The new aircraft will be deployed primarily across Delta’s extensive domestic network, complementing the Airbus A2321ceo fleet of more than 125 aircraft,” Delta said.

JSX is expanding again. The regional carrier that promises a semi-private jet experience plans to add Colorado to its route map this summer. On Aug. 4, JSX expects to introduce daily flights from Hollywood Burbank Airport to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, between Denver and Boulder. On the same date, it plans to begin daily flights between Dallas Love Field and Denver/Boulder, and on June 30, it will start flying twice a week between Dallas and Gunnison, Colorado, the airport for Crested Butte. JSX operates Embraer regional jets with a business class layout.

On the international side, the German leisure-oriented carrier Condor is due to begin service May 19 between San Francisco International and Frankfurt, operating three flights a week (Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays) with 767-300ERs. At Mineta San Jose International, it looks like British Airways’ on-again off-again nonstops to London Heathrow are finally coming back next month. We checked Google Flights and found that BA is due to resume daily SJC-LHR operations on June 13 with 787 aircraft. The Canadian low-cost carrier Flair, which started up the only San Francisco-Edmonton nonstops last month, is now due to begin SFO-Vancouver service on May 17, but only with three flights a week in a crowded market.

The next step in United’s summer European expansion comes May 20, when it becomes the only US carrier flying to Norway; United will introduce Newark-Bergen nonstops that day, with a schedule of three 757 flights a week. however, a shortage of long-haul aircraft has reportedly led United to suspend service during the month of June on several routes, including flights from Newark to Maui, Honolulu, and Tokyo Narita; and from Washington Dulles to Sao Paulo, Geneva, Honolulu and Dublin. The airline had expected to start using its 777-200ERs and -200s powered by Pratt & Whitney engines in mid-May, but that has been pushed back. Those planes have been grounded since early 2021 after some engine parts fell off one of them over the Denver suburbs.

In other international markets, Icelandair has revived seasonal Portland-Reykjavik service with four flights a week, as well as daily flights to Reykjavik from Denver International. British Airways has restarted daily flights between Nashville and London Heathrow and will soon do the same from Pittsburgh and Portland. Air Canada has set May 20 for the launch of the first nonstops between San Diego and Montreal, operating three days a week. And American Airlines is doubling down on seasonal service (through October) to Ireland this month. It recently started flying to Dublin from Chicago O’Hare and Philadelphia and is due to add service next week to Dublin from Dallas/Fort Worth and Charlotte.

Regulators in Australia have given a green light to United Airlines’ new partnership agreement with Virgin Australia, replacing the latter’s former deal with Delta. The two airlines will use code-sharing to feed traffic onto each other’s routes. That means United fliers will be able to get smooth connections to domestic destinations in Australia like Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane from United’s flights into Sydney from San Francisco and Los Angeles and from its SFO-Melbourne flights that resume next month. In other code-sharing news, the US has approved an expansion of JetBlue’s agreement with Etihad Airways that will allow the JetBlue code to go onto Etihad flights to Abu Dhabi and beyond from New York JFK and Chicago O’Hare.

Southwest Airlines will spend more than $2 billion to improve the passenger experience, the company announced this week, including state-of-the-art in-flight Wi-Fi, USB power ports and larger overhead bins. The airline is working with its current Wi-Fi supplier Anuvu to upgrade that technology across its fleet, installing new hardware that will give passengers “a significant improvement in speed and bandwidth up to 10 times the current hardware onboard,” Southwest said. The upgrade should be available on 50 planes by the end of this month and 350 by the end of October. The airline has also signed on the satellite connectivity company Viasat to install top-quality Wi-Fi and live TV programming on its newly delivered aircraft starting this fall. In addition, Southwest’s 737 Max aircraft will be getting USB A and USB C power ports at every seat starting early in 2023. New aircraft delivered next year will also come with larger overhead bins, and by later this summer, customers will be able to use their mobile devices to buy upgraded boarding positions A1 to A15. And by the end of 2022, Southwest plans to double the number of free movies available through its in-flight entertainment portal.

Hawaiian Airlines said this week it has a long-term plan to bolster its interisland service with a new kind of all-electric aircraft that skims just above the water’s surface at speeds of up to 180 mph. The company is making a strategic investment in a manufacturer called Regent to support the development of a 100-passenger “seaglider” known as the Monarch. Regent said its electric-powered seagliders, which will have a range of about 180 miles, are zero-emission vehicles that provide “harbor to harbor overwater transportation at a fraction of the cost, noise and emissions of existing regional transportation modes like aircraft and ferries ” The Monarch is scheduled to enter commercial service in 2028, Hawaiian said. And Hawaiian isn’t the only one: According to a report in, the parent company of Hawaii’s smaller interisland carrier Mokulele Airlines has already ordered 15 of Regent’s 12-passenger Viceroy seagliders.

Last month, a federal court order forced the US to drop its mask mandate for commercial air travel and other public transportation, and this week the European Union followed suit for airline passengers and crew. Effective May 16, masks are optional for airline passengers flying in Europe — not due to a court ruling but to a joint decision by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. The safety agency said elimination of the in-flight mask rule will bring airlines into alignment with “the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport.” However, individual member nations still have the authority to keep their own rules in place so travelers might encounter mask mandates on some European flights.

In airport news, Delta has modified its recent decision to tighten up access to its airport Sky Clubs starting in June. One of the changes Delta had announced earlier this month said that Sky Club members (except for Delta One customers) on arriving flights could no longer get into the lounges; that has now been dropped due to negative feedback from members, according to The Points Guy.

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