The airline industry is facing unprecedented levels of violent incidents onboard airplanes as tensions rise over issues including the federal mask mandate. In the US, more than 3,200 cases of unruly behavior onboard aircraft have been reported by the Federal Aviation Administration as of early July.
One captain for a major US airline spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity so he could speak freely on the pilot’s perspective of these incidents.
In-flight violence is rare for this airline industry veteran of nearly 30 years. But during the pandemic, he’s had to personally kick off a handful of passengers for unruly behavior while on the ground, some of whom were likely banned by the airline for their behavior.
One incident occurred in Los Angeles where a gate agent notified the pilot of a potentially problematic passenger, based on her mask’s messaging. “It said ‘fuck you’ right in big bold yellow letters,” he said.
The passenger ultimately turned the mask inside out at the request of the flight’s gate agent. Once on board, the pilot left the cockpit with the agent to speak to the problem passenger and confirm that she wouldn’t be an issue.
“No, captain, I told you I got it,” he remembered the passenger as saying. But after the encounter, the pilot heard the passenger refer to the agent as a “Karen.”
She was kicked off the plane and relegated to the next available flight.
Another incident occurred on a flight where two passengers tried to self-upgrade into an extra-legroom section. They were told they couldn’t and started flouting the mask rule, trying to take advantage of the eating and drinking loophole by eating Skittles.
Flight attendants reminded the couple to mask up in between bites, to which the female passenger responded: “Well, yeah, we’re eating now, bitch, so you can just fuck off.” The aircraft was nearing the runway for departure when the flight attendants made the decision to call the cockpit and get the passengers off the plane.
“I felt like the dad driving to the resort, turning around, swatting the kids, saying, ‘if you don’t settle down, I’m just going to turn this car around,” the pilot said.
Had the incident happened while in the air, a decision would have been made as to whether to continue on to the destination or divert.
Dennis Tajer, a captain for American Airlines and spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, told Insider that a diversion would only be considered if a problem is uncontainable and the distraction was too great to continue on with a flight.
“Our goal in any unruly passenger incidents is to deescalate and contain [to] keep everybody safe,” Tajer said of diversions. “If for some reason that containment is in question, then it would be the captain’s ultimate call after consultation with [airline] security.”
Pilots also can’t leave the cockpit to deal with these problems directly as it would compromise the integrity of cockpit security and serve as an additional distraction from flying the plane. “We are on full alert at all times for all possibilities,” Tajer said of the cockpit environment.
Reporting unruly passengers takes away from that awareness, and also includes contacting dispatchers on the ground. Relevant departments and individuals are also looped in, taking them away from their primary work responsibilities.
“These [disruptive] people took attention away from several people who were just trying to operate the flight,” the anonymous pilot said.
Like many, he doesn’t want to have to wear a mask on an airplane but tells Insider that he has to ensure the safety of the aircraft and enforce the rules that his airline sets.
“I don’t like wearing the mask, I don’t want to wear the mask, I hate asking them to wear the mask,” he said. “But we don’t have any choice at this point.”
More travelers have been returning to the skies amid the vaccine rollout and returning to work.
Travelers with airline elite status, as a result, are starting to see their top perk of complimentary first class upgrades becoming less attainable.
Elite status still has perks like complimentary checked baggage and priority access to check-in lanes and while boarding.
There’s often no better way to travel than in first class, and the only thing better than flying in first class is not having to pay for it.
Complimentary upgrades to first class are a perk of having elite frequent flyer status with an airline. Just one upgrade can increase the value of a ticket by more than double the original purchase price.
As a Silver Medallion status holder with Delta Air Lines, I’ve had luck earning in scoring free upgrades to premium cabins during the pandemic. A trip I took on Delta in February yielded more than $800 in upgrades while a trip in May yielded more than $500.
But as more travelers return to the skies for business and leisure, first class cabins are filling up and complimentary upgrades are becoming harder and harder to come by. Some airlines are also dropping prices on paid upgrades to first class to entice economy class flyers to make the jump.
With summer over and Americans more at ease with flying, I wanted to see how hard it was to land a coveted first class upgrade on a recent trip.
I booked Delta on a recent flight from New York to Mexico City, Mexico to see how I’d fare as an elite status holder. Here’s what I found.
One thing I’ve learned when booking flights with the hope of getting an upgrade is that it helps to be strategic. When searching flights to Mexico City, for example, I opted for a flight on a wide-body aircraft as those aircraft often have a great number of first class seats than single-aisle aircraft.
I booked Delta’s Boeing 767-300ER aircraft for the five-hour flight to Mexico’s capital. That aircraft has a total of 26 first class seats available and 12 were open at the time I booked, just three weeks before the flight.
Delta clearly wasn’t having an easy time selling first class seats given the fact that so many seats were open and an upgrade from economy class was only selling for $138.68.
Part of me was tempted to just pay the upgrade fee and guarantee a first class seat. But I wanted to leave it to chance, even if it meant risking a long flight in economy class.
My chances of securing an upgrade seemed great but then the number of open seats started to dwindle as the flight’s departure approached. The 12 seats went down to eight the week before the flight, and then eventually to three the day before the flight.
As a Silver Medallion, my upgrade would be processed no sooner than 24 hours before departure. And there’s no telling how soon before the flight it would clear. So I headed to the airport with no upgrade.
My hope started to fade as I fell further and further down the upgrade list. It was par for the course as I held the lowest tier of frequent flyer status and only booked the flight three weeks prior.
I eventually settled to the ninth spot on the upgrade list and it was becoming certain that I wouldn’t be in first class on this flight. I was, however, first in line for an upgrade to Delta’s Comfort+ cabin which features extra legroom seats.
Delta was also selling an upgrade to those seats, but for far cheaper.
And while I’d normally take a seat in Comfort+ without issue, the only availability was for aisle and middle seats. I preferred to sit in a window seat for the long flight so I opted against the upgrade.
It was becoming clear that I would go without any upgrade on this flight. And that was fine with me as I’m no stranger to economy class and preferred a window seat over an upgrade.
But having elite status isn’t just about upgrades. At check-in, for example, I was able to use the exclusive Sky Priority check-in area and didn’t have to wait too long in line to get a boarding pass.
Just that perk alone made having the elite status worthwhile since it saved me at least 15 minutes of standing in line, from my estimation. After that, Mexico was just a flight away.
I scanned my boarding pass, however, and was given a slip of paper with a new seat assignment in the Comfort+ cabin. The downside was that it was for an aisle seat.
I didn’t get to ask the gate agent why I was given the aisle seat when I opted against it but I wasn’t all too happy with the upgrade. As ungrateful as it may sound, I truly valued the window seat more over the upgrade.
My new seat for the flight was 14F, an aisle seat on the far side of the cabin. At the very least, I wouldn’t be on the side of the aircraft that the sun was going to hit on the way down to Mexico.
The seat had all the standard economy class amenities but did offer 35 inches of legroom, between two to three inches more than in regular economy.
I sat down and got comfortable for the long flight ahead. The seat also offered a decent-sized in-flight entertainment screen, USB charging port, and 110v AC power outlet.
And to my luck, the window seat never filled up. I quickly moved over to occupy it once the boarding door closed.
The flight was delayed by around a half-hour due to maintenance troubles on the aircraft. But we were soon on our way and bound for Mexico.
The in-flight service began shortly after takeoff with the beverage offering. Alcohol is complimentary for Comfort+ passengers but I went with soda water as it was much too early to begin drinking.
Next came the snack service, which consisted of a snack basket being passed around with more premium offerings than what is served in regular economy class. Selections included chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, Kind bars, Biscoff cookies, and more.
This was the first time during the pandemic that I got to pick from a snack basket that was being passed around. Snacks are very clearly back on Delta.
I was surprised, though, when flight attendants said that this would be the first and last time that snacks would be distributed, and I made sure to grab extras on their advice. I know Mexico isn’t classified as a true international destination when it comes to the in-flight service but it was still a five-hour flight.
And it didn’t seem like I was missing too much in first class. Cold boxed lunches were served and they didn’t seem overly appealing.
With the in-flight service out of the way, I turned to my laptop to help pass the time. The extra legroom offered by the Comfort+ seat made working on the computer far easier than a standard economy seat.
The rest of the flight continued uneventfully as we made our way across the Southeast and over the Gulf of Mexico.
A second drink service began around an hour before landing, and it was late enough in the day where I felt comfortable imbibing.
I choose a Miller Lite from Delta’s beer selection that also included Heineken, SweetWater 420, and SweetWater IPA.
The descent into Mexico City was perhaps one of the most enjoyable of my flying career. This was my first time landing in Mexico City and I couldn’t believe how expansive and colorful the city was while surrounded by mountains.
Touchdown at Mexico City International Airport marked the end of the flight and it was a great experience. The small touches of Comfort+ made for an enjoyable flight down without costing a penny extra.
I said goodbye to my Comfort+ seat and headed off of the plane. The total value of my $376.20 ticket was $402.
Looking back, I should have purchased the upgrade for the bargain price of $138.68. But first class upgrades will truly be worthwhile once Delta restores hot meals to the cabin.
This was my sixth Delta flight of September and I did manage to score upgrades on two flights between Seattle and Fairbanks, Alaska. But other flights I took elsewhere in the Delta network similarly yielded poor upgrade results.
So while flying Delta might not yield a first class upgrade every time, there’s still additional value for an elite status holder.
The Embraer Phenom 300E is the focus of NetJet’s latest aircraft order, with as many as 100 planes joining the fleet starting in 2023.
Take a closer look at the Phenom 300E.
NetJets is making a big bet on a small plane.
The Embraer Phenom 300E is the focus of NetJet’s latest aircraft order, with as many as 100 planes joining the fleet starting in 2023.
The order is valued at more than $1.2 billion should NetJets take its full share of aircraft, continuing the lucrative relationship between Embraer and the Berkshire Hathaway-owned company.
While the Phenom 300E will be brand-new to NetJets’ fleet, the fractional-ownership company has been flying the original Phenom 300 since its first order in 2010. It’s one of the best-selling business aircraft in the world as a favorite among private aircraft operators and the wealthy jet set.
Take a closer look at the Phenom 300E.
The “E” in the Phenom 300E stands for “enhanced” and new technology in the cabin sets aside the Phenom 300E from the original Phenom 300, as Insider reported when the aircraft was first debuted.
“The Phenom 300E not only elevates the passenger experience with an intelligent design, it also improves our customer’s ownership experience by driving aircraft value through simple cabin maintenance and redesign capabilities,” Jay Beever, Embraer Executive Jets’ vice president interior design, said at the time.
The standard configuration for a Phenom 300E includes six club seats and a two-person divan. But in a high-density configuration with only one pilot, as many as nine passengers can fly on the aircraft.
There’s even a private lavatory in the back of the plane.
NetJets customers will be able to fly nearly coast-to-coast without having to stop for fuel owing to the Phenom 300E’s 2,010-nautical mile range. Full transcontinental flights, however, will likely require stops.
Lights jets are the entry-level jet of choice for new entrants to private aircraft charter as they’re among the least expensive to charter. And the pandemic has created a new market of first-time private flyers.
“The increase in private or personal travel that we’re seeing is offsetting the vast majority of the business travel that we’ve seen erode this year,” Patrick Gallagher, president, sales, marketing, and service at NetJets, told Insider in August 2020. That trend has continued into 2021.
A recent report from Honeywell Aerospace forecasts light jets to be 35% of new jet purchase plans, in a survey of more than 1,522 business jet operators. NetJets’ latest order is already proving that forecast accurate.
The first aircraft will be delivered to NetJet’s US and European fleets in 2023.
Government-owned Alitalia ceased operations on October 15, marking the end of its 74-year era.
Alitalia has been replaced by ITA Airways, a brand new airline that will not be responsible for the old carrier’s debt.
ITA plans to buy 28 Airbus jets, create a new aircraft livery, and launch a new loyalty program.
Alitalia has officially ceased operations and handed the baton to newcomer ITA Airways, which stands for Italian Air Transport.
Italy’s national carrier Alitalia has had a rocky past full of financial struggles, employee strikes, and other damaging events, forcing it to make the decision to cease operations on October 15 after 74 years of service. The airline stopped the sale of tickets in August and has committed to refunding all passengers who were booked on flights after October 14.
On Thursday, the airline flew its final flight from Cagliari, Italy to Rome, according to FlightAware, officially sealing the fate of Alitalia. On Friday, the country’s new flag carrier ITA took its place with a new livery, airplanes, and network, flying its first route from Milan Linate Airport to Bari International Airport in southern Italy.
Here’s a look at Alitalia’s storied past and the plan of its successor.
Alitalia as a brand began in 1946, one year after World War II ended, first flying in 1947 within Italy and quickly expanding to other European countries and even opening intercontinental routes to South America.
The full name of the airline was Italian International Airlines, a joint effort between the United Kingdom through British European Airways – a precursor to British Airways – and the Italian government.
Air France-KLM Group, the parent company of Air France and KLM as well as several smaller European airlines, then offered to buy the struggling airline but couldn’t get labor unions on board and the deal collapsed.
The third attempt in two years to sell the airline came after the Air France-KLM Group deal collapsed with an investors group forming the Compagnia Aerea Italiana to purchase the airline, despite heavy pushback from labor unions.
It wasn’t long before Alitalia was plagued with issues ranging from union strikes to underperforming subsidiaries and even a sting operation that saw Alitalia employees arrested for theft, according to contemporaneous news reports.
With a new investor in tow, Alitalia began cost-cutting measures but facing a backlash from employees due to planned job cuts, the airline began bankruptcy proceedings and the government announced Alitalia would be auctioned.
When the airline ceased operations, its successor, Italia Transporto Aereo, took its place. Alitalia’s last flight flew from Cagliari, Italy to Rome on October 14, and ITA launched operations with a flight from Milan to Bari, Italy on October 15.
Under European Commission rules, MilleMiglia cannot be bought by ITA and must be put out for public tender, meaning another airline or entity outside the aviation industry can purchase the program. There are an estimated five million MilleMiglia miles that customers have not been able to use.
However, ITA was able to bid on Alitalia’s brand, which it did the day before its launch. The airline bought the Alitalia name for €90 million ($104 million), though ITA executives say they don’t plan on replacing the ITA name.
ITA began operations on October 15, the day after Alitalia’s last flight. The new airline secured €700 million ($830 million) in funding earlier this year, which helped it purchase some of Alitalia’s assets.
Moreover, ITA plans to renew its fleet with next-generation aircraft, which is expected to make up 77% of its fleet in four years. According to ITA, the aircraft will reduce CO2 emissions by 750 thousand pounds from 2021 to 2025.
As part of a carbon-reducing project, the first 10 flights to depart Rome on October 15 will use sustainable aviation fuels made by Italian energy company Eni. The project will contribute to the EU’s “Fit for 55” proposal, which strives to reduce carbon emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
ITA introduced a new livery on launch day, which includes a light blue paint scheme representing unity, cohesion, and pride of the nation, as well as homage to Italy’s national sports team, which wears sky blue during competitions. On the tail will be the Italian tricolor of red, white, and green.
In regards to its network, the carrier launched with 59 routes to 44 destinations. ITA plans to increase its routes to 74 in 2022 and 89 by 2025, while destinations are expected to increase to 58 in 2022 and 74 by 2025.
As for the over 11,000 Alitalia workers, 70% were hired to work for ITA, which has 2,800 employees. 30% of that came from outside Alitalia. The company plans to add 1,000 new jobs in 2022 and reach 5,750 employees by 2025.
ITA has set up a loyalty program called Volare, effective October 15, which is split into four levels: smart, plus, premium, and executive. Customers can use accrued points for any flight in ITA’s system.
According to ITA executives, the company plans to join a major international alliance, though it has not stated which one it prefers. Alitalia was aligned with the SkyTeam alliance, which is comprised of carriers like Delta, Air France, and KLM.
While it is the end of an era with the closing of Alitalia, there are high hopes for its successor. “ITA Airways has been created to intercept the recovery of air traffic in the coming years on the strength of the foundations of its strategy: sustainability, digitalization, customer focus, and innovations,” said ITA CEO Fabio Lazzerini.
United Airlines is in the process of terminating 232 employees that haven’t received the COVID-19 vaccine.
CEO Scott Kirby said that 99.7% of United’s 67,000 US employees have been vaccinated.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order likely won’t affect United since nearly all workers are vaccinated.
United Airlines is currently in the process of terminating its remaining US employees that are unvaccinated against COVID-19. A total of 232 employees in the US have chosen not to be vaccinated, CEO Scott Kirby told CBS Mornings, out of the airline’s 67,000.
“I wish we would have gotten to 100% but out of our 67,000 US employees, there are 232 who haven’t been vaccinated and they are going through the termination process now,” Kirby said on Wednesday.
United was the first US airline to mandate vaccines when it announced in August that employees would have until October 25 or five weeks from the first full approval of a COVID-19 vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration, whichever came first. Pfizer’s vaccine was given that approval on August 23, starting the clock for United employees.
Kirby said he made the decision after hearing about the loss of a United pilot in July, after spending the worst of the pandemic writing letters to the family members of United employees lost to the virus.
“The second time I got notified of an employee – it was a 57-year-old pilot that had passed away – I walked around for half an hour and finally called our team and said ‘enough is enough,'” he told CBS. “We can do something about this, we believe in safety.”
“And weeks later, we got 99.7% of our employees vaccinated,” he said
United then made the landmark announcement the month following and started a trend for US airlines, with rival carriers like Hawaiian Airlines and Frontier Airlines soon following with similar mandates. Some airlines, however, continued to offer a testing opt-out that one public health expert told Insider may prove less effective without regular testing of multiple viral tests per week.
United’s mandate wasn’t without pushback, as evidenced by the 232 holdouts and more employees that Kirby said “did disagree” with the action. Kirby said he took an “empathetic” approach over an argumentative one to win the majority of his workforce over.
“I tried not to argue with them about it,” he said. “We’re not going to win the arguments on this with people. And I respect that you have a different opinion but you now have a decision to make about whether you want to get vaccinated and stay at United or not.”
“Because this is in the rear-view mirror for us, we don’t have to be as focused on what does this really mean in the short-term because we already got everybody vaccinated,” he said. “My responsibility is to try to do the right thing for United Airlines and what I think is safe.”
Spirit Airlines is one of the US’s leading budget carriers, known for cheap flights with no frills that make air travel more accessible to the masses.
But over the summer, Spirit briefly became known for delayed and canceled flights. Extreme weather led to thousands of Spirit flight cancellations over the course of a week, seriously impacting the airline’s reputation for on-time performance.
The event highlighted the risk that can come with booking through an ultra-low-cost carrier. Specifically, travelers on these airlines may have less recourse when things go wrong, such as a lack of backup flights on a given route.
Airlines like Spirit also don’t commonly partner with other airlines, preventing them from rebooking disrupted passengers onto a different carrier.
Those risks usually entice me to book flights on full-services carriers over budget airlines. But I couldn’t resist the challenge when I saw the fare on a cross-country flight was only $34.57 on Spirit for a recent flight home.
I flew Spirit Airlines home from Santa Ana, California to Newark after a work trip to California. Here’s what it was like.
My transcontinental journey started dark and early with a 7 a.m. flight from Orange Country’s John Wayne Airport. The first leg of my trip consisted of a short hop to Las Vegas, where I’d connect to a non-stop flight to Newark.
As per tradition when I book flights on ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit, I didn’t purchase any extras and let fate decide my experience. All I had with me was an overnight bag and a ticket to ride.
This would be the longest journey on Spirit at seven hours and 12 minutes from start to finish. I can’t say I wasn’t tempted to pre-pay for window seats, which started at $10 for the shorter flight and increased to $13 for the longer one.
Nevertheless, I stuck to my faith in the system and was rewarded with a choice of two window seats at check-in. Both were towards the back of the plane but I saved $25 by not pre-paying.
Tickets in hand, I went to the security checkpoint that was luckily empty at the ripe hour of 5 a.m.
Flying time to Las Vegas was a brief 44 minutes and I wasn’t concerned at all with this leg of the journey. The route is among the shortest in Spirit’s network and there’s not much I can’t put up with for 44 minutes on an airplane.
Boarding began in groups around 30 minutes prior to departure. Travelers that purchase extras like a carry-on bag or early boarded, as well as Spirit credit cardholders, are given the first two zones and board first.
I was given zone three and still boarded relatively early. But this also wasn’t a full flight.
Spirit’s newest fleet type, the Airbus A320neo, was operating the flight to Las Vegas. This was the second time I was getting to fly on the jet for Spirit as it took me to Boston in 2020.
The first two rows, however, house “big front seats” that are essential business class-style recliners without the business class perks. These seats offer 36 inches of pitch and 20 inches of width, with a wide center console and adjustable headrests.
There are no additional perks besides a larger seat with extra legroom but it did look comfortable. Upgrade bids for this seat started at $26 for the Santa Ana-Las Vegas flight and $31 for Las Vegas-Newark.
Regular economy seats offer 28 inches of pitch and 17.75 inches of width. It’s a tight fit and the seats are remarkably thin.
There are no adjustable headrests, seat-back entertainment systems, in-seat power outlets, or even seat-back pockets.
A small literature holder acted as a makeshift seat-back pocket that just barely fit my iPhone.
Seat storage isn’t Spirit’s strong suit and putting a bag under the seat would only serve to further reduce legroom. That said, I didn’t immediately feel too crammed into the seat, even as a larger traveler.
But these were all things for which I was prepared. I had downloaded entertainment to my phone ahead of time and packed a portable charger.
The only thing I forgot was a travel pillow to make up for the lack of a proper headrest. Other than that, the “deluxe leather” seats seemed to be comfortable enough for a cross-country journey.
I was also lucky enough to have the row to myself and feeling good that I didn’t pay for a seat assignment. It didn’t get better than this.
And where Spirit lacked in frills, it made up for in on-time performance on this short hop to Sin City. We pushed back to the gate a remarkable six minutes early and made our way to the runway.
We started our takeoff roll just after 7 a.m. and I could rest easy that the airline’s troubles over the summer weren’t going to affect this flight. Though, I still had one more flight to go.
The A320neo’s performance capabilities truly shined on takeoff as we climbed incredibly quickly over Orange County. John Wayne Airport is known for complex departure procedures to keep noise levels down, and the A320neo handled it quite well.
Plus, the aircraft’s Pratt & Whitney PW1000G geared turbofan engines were incredibly quiet on takeoff and throughout the flight.
Flight attendants quickly began the in-flight service once we reached our cruising altitude of 23,000 feet. Flight attendants walked around taking orders instead of rolling out the trolley, given the short duration of the flight.
Nothing is free on Spirit, not even water, but the prices were reasonable for what was on offer. Passengers could choose from combos or standalone purchases.
Tea was $2 per cup while coffee and hot chocolate were $3 per cup.
Soft drinks and bottled water were $3 each.
Servings of beer and liquor started at $8, comparable to what a beer costs in New York City, and cocktails were available for between $9 and $11.
Snacks then started a $3, with snack boxes increasing to $8. The pricing was comparable to what I’ve seen on other airlines.
But for this short flight, I decided to wait and have a proper breakfast once we landed in Las Vegas. I wasn’t alone as not many of my fellow passengers placed orders.
So far, I was holding to my initial fare of $34.57 and no more. We began our descent into Las Vegas shortly after flight attendants finished taking orders.
Seeing the Mandalay Bay marked the end of my Spirit journey’s first leg. Next came a layover of one hour and four minutes before the flight time to Newark.
Deplaning occurred as normal with no change to that procedure. Flying Spirit felt like flying during pre-pandemic times, as more and more airlines are getting back to the normal swing of things.
McCarran International Airport didn’t have too much to offer for breakfast in the Spirit terminal. Moe’s Southwest Grill, Siegel’s Bagelmania, and Starbucks Coffee provided the only real breakfast options so I bought two bagels since I still had a long way to go until Newark.
The flight time to Newark was scheduled for five hours and two minutes. And as luck would have it, I was going to be flying on the same exact plane that brought me to Las Vegas.
This flight was markedly more crowded, however, with nearly every seat filling up. Boarding once again began around 30 minutes prior to departure and one gate agent was tasked with scanning boarding passes and checking passengers’ bags.
Multiple people were taken off the line for having bags that were too large. This gate agent wasn’t playing around.
I was able to board with no issues thanks to my overnight bag, saving what would have been a $60 fee had my bag been larger in size.
The familiar yellow and black A320neo greeted me once more and I got ready for the longest flight of my life on an ultra-low-cost carrier.
This time I was in the second to last row with a seat assignment of 30A. I was way in the back but still had a window seat so I couldn’t complain.
And this seat actually had a window. Row 31, the last row, does not have any windows.
Boarding went smoothly and those that were forced to check their bags, or pay the carry-on fee, soon filed onto the plane.
Once again, we pushed back from the gate and departed on time. I rested easy knowing I wouldn’t be stranded in Las Vegas and that I might even get home early if the tailwinds were strong enough.
I was also happy that I didn’t spring for the $13 seat assignment fee as I had scored a window seat in a row with no middle seat. I couldn’t have asked for a better assignment, compliments of Spirit.
Flight attendants started the in-flight service and brought around a trolley this time. I once again declined, having eaten in the airport.
The next few hours would be somewhat challenging. I didn’t sleep on the flight to Las Vegas and needed to get some rest. But I’ve never slept well when flying on ultra-low-cost airlines.
I finally managed to get two hours of sleep, taking off a good chunk of the flight. It wasn’t a good sleep, and I really should’ve brought a pillow.
I knew I was home free once we crossed the mighty Mississippi River, and that there would be no more than around two and a half hours until touchdown in Newark.
Flight attendants came around for the final service and I couldn’t help but indulge since I had a long journey home from Newark airport to my house on Long Island, New York.
I purchased the $11 snack box and drink combo that came with almonds, Brownie Brittle, Craisins, crackers, and smoked gouda cheese. It was a typical airline snack box and I enjoyed every bite. The total cost of my $34.57 Spirit ticket was now $35.57.
As there were no forms of in-flight WiFi or entertainment onboard, I had to rely on the old-fashioned method of using landmarks to gauge our location the rest of the way. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was the first marker, soon followed by Lake Michigan.
Next came Detroit, letting me know that there was no more than an hour and 30 minutes left of flying time. Our descent started around an hour later, marking the final stages of a long cross-country journey.
Overall, it wasn’t the most comfortable flight of my life but it was more than bearable, and I couldn’t complain given the $35 airfare. For comparison, $35 isn’t even enough to fill up my car with gas with current $3 per gallon gas prices in New York.
But as with anything that seems too cheap to be true, I was taking a risk when choosing Spirit. The airline’s focus on improving its on-time performance in recent years has mitigated that risk but it still remains.
We actually landed in Newark ahead of schedule. Next came the hardest part of the flight, getting home from Newark airport.
Delta Air Lines is falling behind its industry rivals by not implementing an employee vaccine mandate, especially after surging ahead of competitors in health safety earlier in the pandemic.
Out of the four largest US carriers – American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Delta – Delta is now the only carrier to not mandate vaccinations for all employees.
American and Southwest just recently announced their employee vaccine policies, citing government contracts that require compliance with President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate for contractors of the federal government.
“Southwest Airlines must join our industry peers in complying with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive,” Gary Kelly, Southwest’s CEO, said in a statement announcing the requirement.
Delta has similar government contracts as it routinely flies government cargo and military troops, in addition to being a member of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet that was most recently activated during the Afghanistan evacuee airlift, and falls under the executive order’s purview.
Delta’s strategy has worked to increase its vaccination rate by nearly 10 percentage points, according to the airline.
“Delta’s approach to encourage a high rate of employee vaccinations continues to work, with an 84% workforce vaccination rate and climbing daily,” an airline spokesperson told Insider.
But the airline’s reluctance to transition to a full mandate is stumping industry watchers.
“Delta now has the cover of a US government mandate, as a federal contractor, to go to its employees and pretty much say something similar to what Southwest said,” Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider. “What I don’t understand is: why Delta is hesitating at all in the wake of the government’s announcement.”
Delta’s reluctance to follow suit contrasts its stellar performance during the pandemic regarding health safety. The carrier was among the first to implement a back-to-front boarding procedure that reduced passenger interaction and the last to end the COVID-era practice of blocking middle seats, while also investing to overhaul cleaning procedures in its airports and airplanes.
“Delta isn’t being passive. If we had the conversation 24 hours ago I’d say Delta is doing everything and American is doing nothing,” Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, told Insider. “It’s impossible to say one is a lagger and one is a leader.”
Non-Delta affiliated pilot unions have raised concerns about the impact of Biden’s mandate. Pilots from Southwest and American have warned that staff shortages from vaccine requirements could impact holiday travel. In a letter viewed by Politico and The Dallas Morning News, American’s pilot union, the Allied Pilots Association, said a mandate would “either offer unpaid leaves of absence or, worse, implement mass terminations of unvaccinated pilots.”
The Southwest Airline Pilot Association echoed American, warning of operational issues from vaccinated employees and called for “alternate means of compliance” and “an operationally feasible implementation period.” Both unions also cited concerns about vaccine side effects, like blood clots or heart issues, potentially preventing pilots from maintaining their medical clearance.
But Biden’s mandate took the decision out of the airlines’ hands.
“Once the federal mandate came out for federal contractors … Delta had the perfect justification to be able to go to employees and say, ‘our hands are tied,'” Harteveldt said.
Delta has until December 8 to comply with Biden’s vaccine mandate.
Aviation rating company Skytrax has crowned Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar as the “best airport in the world” for 2021, with the airport beating out rivals in Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and more.
Home to fellow Skytrax favorite Qatar Airways, the Middle Eastern mega-hub serves both as Qatar’s gateway to the world and an intercontinental transit point for global travelers. From Doha, travelers can fly as far as Auckland, New Zealand; São Paulo, Brazil; and San Francisco.
And in 2022, the FIFA World Cup will bring even more travelers through Hamad International’s doors. Qatar is scheduled to host the games and stadiums are popping up around the country as a result.
On a recent trip to Doha to see the new Gulfstream G700 private jet, I was forced to stay at the airport for around 48 hours and got to see just what makes it the world’s best. Here’s what it was like.
I landed at Hamad International expecting to enter Qatar and go straight to my hotel after a 16-hour journey from New York. Qatar Airways invited Insider to the G700’s unveiling and had arranged a visa for us to enter the country, as well as given us instructions on what we’d need to do to comply with pandemic travel regulations.
We landed at a remote gate where passengers were shuttled to the main terminal on busses. As I walked into the terminal, I never expected it to be my last time breathing fresh outdoor air for the next two days.
Instead of going through Qatar passport control, I was brought to the Oryx Airport Hotel and discovered that it was to be my new home from Saturday to Monday. For the second time this year, I was virtually trapped in an airport.
Qatar Airways is providing Insider with a discounted rate for the hotel stay given the last-minute change of plans
The airport hotel is located in the transit area of the terminal and is intended to house travelers and flight crews visiting on long layovers. Case in point, an Air Canada flight crew was checking in at the same time as I was.
Wanting to get some rest after the long journey, I made my way to my room for a sleep and a shower. The hotel is arranged in a horseshoe pattern around the main atrium and all the rooms are on one floor.
Many airports have airport hotels in the terminal but this was my first time having a room actually overlooking the terminal. The blinding lights of the massive LED screens in the terminal made it impossible to keep the shades open, almost like staying above Times Square.
But the room itself was quite nice and came was a king-size bed, TV, desk, and all the other standard hotel amenities. I could even order room service if I wanted.
Once rested, I got dressed up for my big Saturday night out on the terminal and headed out. I also made sure to be cognizant of the window overlooking the entire terminal when getting dressed.
This was my second time at Hamad International but I never stopped to really look around on my last visit. Little did I know that I’d get more than my fill on this trip.
There’s only one terminal at the airport and it’s divided into five concourses -A, B, C, D, and E. I found it surprisingly walkable for a 600,000-square-meter building. Moving walkways are in no short supply and I was able to get from top to bottom in around five minutes by using them.
A total of 37 jetway-equipped gates can be found in the airport and an expansion plan is currently underway. The airport will soon double its capacity to more than 60 million annual passengers.
I started in the main atrium, home to the famous 23-foot tall “Untitled Lamp Bear” sculpture, which the airport describes as “a playful piece that humanizes the space around it and reminds travelers of childhood or precious objects from home.”
Lamp Bear is a natural attraction in the terminal and countless visitors were having their photos taken with it, including me.
Flanking the atrium was the airport’s next great attraction, the duty-free shops. Qatar Duty-Free is the largest retailer at the airport with nearly 100 duty-free shops and boutiques, in addition to more than 30 restaurants and cafes.
It felt like I was walking through a shopping mall rather than an airport and nearly every luxury brand was represented. Brands like Bulgari, Gucci, and Hublot all had storefronts, among many others.
Even Qatar Airways had its own store, selling airline-branded merchandise. It was hard to resist not buying some model airplanes for my collection.
The airport truly comes alive at night with the evening bank of passengers. I was walking around well past midnight and the terminal was still buzzing.
After a few hours of my night out on the town, jet lag set in and hit me pretty hard so I headed back to the hotel. One cool feature of the airport’s elevators is that they are touchless and buttons can be selected by waving a hand over them.
But of course, I only ended up sleeping for a few hours before being up at the ripe hour of 4 a.m. In just a few hours, the morning rush would bring travelers from around the world to the airport.
My airport tour later that day began in the exclusive Al Safwa First Lounge, intended for Qatar Airways’ top clients include those flying first class and the airline’s Privilege Club Platinum members flying in business class.
I could immediately see why this is the most exclusive lounge at the airport. It felt as if we were walking into a museum rather than an airport lounge. In fact, the lounge has artwork and artifacts on loan from the Islamic Museum of Art in Doha.
There are four main aspects of the lounge including shopping, working, relaxing, and eating. Armchairs dot the lounge for those that want to sit and relax in privacy as they await their flights.
And for even more relaxation, the lounge has its own spa with treatments including massages, facials, and more. Unlike other premium airport lounges, the treatments are not free and start at around $40.
Treatment rooms are specific to the type of service being provided. And attached are shower rooms where guests can get changed into their robes and freshen up afterward.
I was surprised to see a spa open during the pandemic, especially one with working showers. Most airport lounges in the US still keep their showers closed.
Lounge patrons looking to eat before their flights have two dining areas from which to chose. The larger dining room offers sit-down a-la-carte dining from an expansive menu with local and international dishes.
Alcohol is also served in the lounge, with a selection of wines and spirits available from the bar. Mocktails are also available for non-drinkers.
We had a chance to try some of the food and it lived up to Qatar Airways standards, right up to the presentation and quality.
The other dining area in the lounge is geared towards more casual dining.
Smaller items such as salads, sandwiches, and sushi were primarily on offer. And in both dining areas, QR codes replaced paper menus.
Those looking to get work done before a flight could make use of the business center, with Apple iMac desktop computers and printers available in private offices.
And finally, Qatar Duty Free has a private location in the lounge, taking the best of what’s for sale in the terminal below.
The selection wasn’t as vast as the shops below but it was carefully curated.
Al Safwa is one of nine airport lounges at Hamad International. Others include the Al Mourjan Business Lounge for business class customers, Mariner Lounge for traveling seafarers, and the Oryx Lounge for any customers that want to buy access to a lounge.
But the airport is more than its lounges. The Oryx Airport Hotel, for example, actually has a spa and fitness center of its own.
Located on the top floor of the hotel, the centerpiece of the facility is a 25-meter pool ideal for lap swimming or just idle floating. I wanted to go for a dip but didn’t bring my swimsuit.
Other notable features include a full gym…
And golf simulator.
All facilities except the spa, golf simulator, and squash court are complimentary for hotel guests; though, non-guests can pay to use the facilities.
Back in the terminal. the artwork continues in the concourses where towering sculptures double as children’s play areas. Though tempting, I did not get to go down the slides.
Smaller playground-style children’s areas can also be found in parts of the terminal.
Entertainment and connectivity are also surprisingly big themes. Private television areas allow travelers to sit down on a living room-style couch and watch content on a high-definition TV.
Apple computers are also stationed throughout the terminal, offering complimentary web browsing. Using the computers felt like I was in the Apple Store.
For those without access to a lounge, the terminal has a variety of food options ranging from high-end restaurants like Harrods Tea Room to a food court with Burger King and Red Mango.
In terms of pandemic safety features, masks are required in the airport and social distancing messaging is prominently displayed. Seats are still blocked off for distancing in the gate areas.
But the smoking areas are still open, in which groups of people blow clouds of smoke into the air.
After the tour, I wandered towards the back of the terminal to see how the new expansion was coming along. The construction didn’t seem to impact the operation too much and I couldn’t see too much from inside.
There was only so much that could be seen from inside the airport. Luckily, I got a better look the next day on a demonstration flight with Qatar Executive onboard a Gulfstream G650ER.
American Airlines is one of the leading US carriers flying between the US and Europe, especially from its international gateway in New York.
The summer before the pandemic saw American fly to 23 European destinations from the US. Fast forward to the summer of 2021, however, and that number stood at 11 as American wasn’t as quick to rebuild in Europe following its reopening.
But even still, American has maintained service to core cities like London; Madrid; and Rome, while opening new routes including New York-Athens.
After recent bad experiences on American, I was a bit nervous to fly the carrier overseas. I made sure to do extra research on backup options in case something went wrong, and even arrived at the airport four hours early.
But having flown American internationally earlier in the summer, I knew how to prepare. The first step was to download Verifly, American’s preferred health passport service that speeds along airport check-in and document verification.
I submitted all my required documentation and got the green light. As a result, check-in at the airport was less painful than expected as I was able to use a self-serve kiosk to get my boarding pass.
For those checking a bag, though, there was a bit of a line, as is usually the case in international terminals. I was glad to have only brought a carry-on.
I was instantly relieved once I had my boarding pass and headed straight to the gate with only a minimal line at security. I felt silly having arrived four hours before departure but as the old saying goes, better safe than sorry.
One benefit of flying out of American’s Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy International Airport is that Bobby Van’s Steakhouse is open, and Priority Pass members through Chase can get a free meal. I had the burger and it was delicious.
The rest of the concourse was quiet as I arrived before the bulk of the evening overseas departures. Even still, there were shops and restaurants open for business in a good sign for the industry.
I headed straight to the gate after lunch and got my first glimpse at the aircraft taking us to Spain, the mighty Boeing 777-200. American now only flies Boeing 777 aircraft between New York and Europe in a win for business class and first class customers that get to enjoy the airline’s best premium cabin products.
Pandemic-era safety measures including social distancing floor placards and plexiglass portions at the gate counter were still on display.
Boarding began around 45 minutes prior to departure in American’s standard group boarding procedure. Most US airlines have abandoned back-to-front boarding.
American’s Boeing 777-200 aircraft seat 273 passengers across three cabins, with classes of service including business, premium economy, and economy.
I booked this flight quite late and there weren’t too many seats from which to choose that didn’t require paying an extra fee. American isn’t alone in the practice of charging for advance seat assignments on long-haul flights but I despise the practice as these tickets are expensive enough as it is.
But to American’s credit, there were a good showing of complimentary aisle and window seats towards the back of the plane from which to select.
And to my surprise, the most unique seats in economy were available for selection. The last three rows on this aircraft are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration meaning there are six two-seat pairs.
I thought I had lucked out by selecting one of them but my excitement was short-lived. Simply put, these seats were not the most comfortable for a larger traveler.
The small width didn’t help and I felt like I was taking up part of the seat next to me.
One thing that could’ve helped was if the armrest for the window seat was moveable, but it was fixed in place. I was so close to the seat in front of me that my tray table couldn’t even lay flat (a problem I didn’t have on the other carriers on which I flew during this trip).
My top concern was having enough room once my seat neighbor arrived. But I lucked out and had both seats to myself as nobody showed up to claim the other.
There was a gap between the seat and the cabin wall which offered some additional legroom and a place to store the pillow and blanket kit left on the seat.
American is quite generous with seat features on its wide-body aircraft. Each seat has an 8.9-inch in-flight entertainment screen with a variety of movies, television shows, games, and music.
The moving map proved handy during the flight to keep track of our location.
A tethered remote is also available to control the system and act as a game controller or keyboard for the seat-to-seat chat function. It also comes in handy when scrolling through content since the touch functionality is quite poor in that regard.
In-flight WiFi is also available on the aircraft for a price. And for those using devices during the flight, in-seat power is offered through USB charging ports and 110v C power outlets at seats.
The rest of the aircraft was quite full, which surprised me as it was quite late in the season for transatlantic travel. Some passengers were visiting family and friends while others were starting their study abroad term.
Bad weather in New York wreaked a bit of havoc on the airport but we weren’t overly affected. I was quite relieved that our departure was pretty close to on time as I had a connection to make in Madrid.
The storm did, however, make for some great views as we blasted out of New York.
Madrid is quite a short flight from New York and while I wanted to go straight to sleep, I did want to see what the meal service was like. This was the first time I’d had a hot meal on American during the pandemic.
As I waited for the service to begin, I had a look at what was on offer in the movie department. American had quite a good selection in all categories, and I ultimately picked “The Vault.”
First attendants started the drink service first with a selection of soft drinks, juices, wine, and beer. Alcohol isn’t currently served in economy on American’s domestic flights but it flows freely on transatlantic hops.
I ordered a club soda along with some red wine to help ease my sleep after the meal.
Next came the meal service as flight attendants quickly passed out the trays. I felt like I was being served in a cafeteria as one flight attendant curtly asked, “chicken or pasta?”
I unwrapped the entree to find that not much has changed at all when it comes to American’s economy catering. The chicken dish was accompanied by a side salad, cheese and crackers, and a cinnamon dessert bar.
I couldn’t describe the chicken beyond that it was served in a tomato-based sauce. I enjoyed the sides more than the main and was glad I had the burger at Bobby Van’s before the flight. Next time, I think I’ll head straight to sleep.
Flight attendants were very quick to complete the meal service, though, and got it done in under an hour and a half. The flight to Madrid is only six hours and 30 minutes so every second counts.
Ready for bed with a full stomach, I used the pillow and blanket that American had left on the seat and did my best to get comfortable.
Another downside of the two-seat row is that there’s a gap between the seat and window, making propping a pillow up against the cabin wall near-impossible.
But even then, it wasn’t too difficult to get to sleep and I woke just before breakfast was served.
Flight attendants once more came around to serve drinks first, followed by a pre-packaged cold breakfast.
On offer for the optimistic morning meal included Chobani strawberry yogurt, a raspberry fig bar, and coconut cashew granola. All in all, it was quite standard but still enjoyable.
The flight to Madrid was nearing its end and I can’t say I was upset to see it go. American did a great job of getting me to Spain on time but the in-flight experience was exactly what I expected it to be.
I did appreciate the modernity of the aircraft and the efficiency of the crew but there wasn’t anything memorable about this flight.
Besides having to wear a mask, though, I’d say that American is back to normal on these flights, for better or worse.
Some frequent flyers, including myself, dread the idea of having to fly on a single-aisle plane across an ocean. But after two flights on the aircraft, I was more than happy with the experience and enjoyed flying on it more than some larger aircraft.
Here’s why I’d book another flight on a JetBlue Airbus A321neoLR when flying transatlantic.
Insider paid a media rate to fly from New York to London and back
As a New Yorker, I’ve taken countless JetBlue flights in my flying career and have seen how quickly the airline has improved its onboard product in recent years. Those improvements culminated in the Airbus A321neoLR, flying exclusively between New York and London.
JetBlue’s latest seat products and satellite WiFi can be found on the aircraft, as well as other features like the JetBlue “pantry.”
I specifically book a standard economy seat for the overnight flight to London in seat 24A.
I sat down in the seat and felt surprisingly at ease. It felt like just another flight on JetBlue, an airline on which I’d become incredibly comfortable flying.
United Airlines offers the closest rival on its premium-configured Boeing 767-300ER with seat pitches varying between 31 and 34 inches for economy seats and 18.5 inches of pitch, according to SeatGuru. The 34-inch pitch seats are paid, extra-legroom “Economy Plus” seats.
JetBlue’s spacious seats are accompanied by a low-density configuration of only 138 seats across 31 rows. In economy, you can see from the first row all the way to the last with no dividers in between.
American, by comparison, has 216 economy seats alone on its Boeing 777-300ER flying between New York and London.
The only other airline flying planes with fewer passengers between New York and Europe is French boutique airline La Compagnie.
Having fewer seats means it takes less time to board and deplane the aircraft. It might even take less time to board and deplane than JetBlue’s other aircraft that have more seats.
Personally, having fewer people onboard made it feel like there was a lot less hassle during boarding and deplaning. Flying to London felt no different than if I was flying down to Florida, and it made the overall experience a lot less stressful.
Beyond its impressive spaciousness, the economy seat itself had all the usual trimmings for a transatlantic product a 10.1-inch in-flight entertainment screen with a USB charging port, 110v AC power outlet, and adjustable headrest.
Also on display during boarding was the Airbus Airspace cabin found on its newest jets. Mood lighting welcomes passengers onboard with LED lights above giving the impression of a starry night.
Economy seats are configured in a standard 3-3 configuration with an equal number of aisle, window, and middle seats.
It didn’t take long to get everybody onboard and ready for the seven-hour crossing. We would’ve departed right on time had it not been for bad weather in the area that prevented us from pushing back from the gate.
But once we got underway, it was smooth sailing to London. The A321neoLR handled what little turbulence we experienced quite well.
Flight attendants walked up and down the aisle to perform the in-flight service, just like a normal flight. It took a bit longer than it should have but that was chalked up to it being the very first flight.
One cool feature of JetBlue’s transatlantic product is that customers can order their meals from the in-flight entertainment system.
I quickly fell asleep and woke up over Ireland in time for breakfast with only around an hour left in the flight.
The fuel-efficient Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan engines also make the cabin incredibly quiet and conducive to uninterrupted sleep.
The flight ended, as all do, and I was thinking more about how happy I was in London than the fact that I flew across the Atlantic in a single-aisle plane.
I flew back to New York just a few days later on the very same aircraft. The only difference was that this time, I was in business class.
JetBlue rolled out a brand-new Mint business class seat for this aircraft to give flyers maximum privacy and exclusivity.