The TSA on Friday extended its requirement that travelers wear masks in airports and on commercial flights until September 13.
“The federal mask requirement throughout the transportation system seeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” said Darby LaJoye, a senior official performing the duties of the TSA Administrator, in a statement.
The mandate had been set to expire on May 11. It requires most travelers over the age of two to wear masks aboard flights, trains, or buses. It includes time spent in transit hubs, train stations, and airports.
Travelers who have refused to wear masks have been kicked off flights, sometimes accompanied by cheers from other passengers. Last month, Alaska Airlines said it banned a GOP state senator in Alaska after she refused to comply with mask requirements.
United Airlines is back at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and ready to make up for lost time after a six-year absence.
Flight 520 from San Francisco touched down in a foggy New York City on Sunday afternoon, marking United’s return to the city’s largest airport since October 24, 2015. The third time proved to be a charm for the airline that had intended to return to JFK in early February but was forced to push the launch date back to late February and eventually late March due to “softer demand.”
Five weekly flights to both San Francisco and Los Angeles kick off the new service as United readjusts to JFK. It’s a far cry from the multiple daily departures that other airlines serving the transcontinental market offer but it’s indicative of United’s new trend of getting a foothold on popular routes in any way possible in order to fill seats.
United hopes to soon double the number of JFK flights to give customers two flights per day to both cities but that timetable remains up in the air. Americans have only just begun returning to the skies in earnest.
For now, two morning flights in the eastbound direction accompany two afternoon flights in the westbound direction. And for some travelers, it’s the perfect timing.
Allison Rutledge, a Connecticut resident traveling with her two college-age children, said she chose United over JetBlue for the cross-country flight because the former offered an arrival time an hour earlier. JFK is the more convenient for her over Newark and it also helped that United came in around $200 lower for the tickets, booked on short notice to give her kids a makeshift spring break.
Price and convenience, more so than loyalty to United, were motivating factors for many passengers on the outbound flight, some of whom had booked last-minute tickets and found the United flight to be the best and cheapest option.
A premium service from coast to coast
Welcoming United travelers back to JFK is one of the airline’s swankiest aircraft, a reconfigured Boeing 767-300ER wide-body jet in a three-class configuration including Polaris business class, Premium Plus premium economy class, and economy class. Onboard the aircraft are United’s newest seat products in all cabins, including lie-flat seats in business class.
And while business travel isn’t exactly where United execs would like it, Ankit Gupta, United’s vice president, domestic network planning & scheduling, believes the rise of wealthy leisure travelers will help fill the 46 business class seats in the front of the jet.
“I would say the business demand will take some time to come back but we’re seeing a lot of premium leisure demand too,” Gupta told Insider.
The first flight to San Francisco was completely full in all classes of service, United said. Filling the 167 seats in addition to normal travelers, of course, were United employees and aviation enthusiasts that wanted to take the first flight.
Business class flyers and United elites will not, however, have access to premium lounges on the New York side of the journey. All lounges in United’s Terminal 7, including the Alaska Airlines and British Airways lounges, are currently closed. Those willing to make the journey can head to Terminal 4 and use the newly-opened American Express Centurion Lounge or one of the Priority Pass lounges open in Terminals 1 and 4.
Sunday’s “homecoming,” as David Kinzelman, United’s vice president, global airport operations, described it, was not just for United’s aircraft but for some United employees, as well. A majority of the workers servicing the first flights had been with United in 2015 when the airline made the choice to leave the airport, a move that now-CEO Scott Kirby would later call “the wrong decision,” as Skift reported.
For those employees, United’s return is personal. Kinzelman told Insider, “We were asked the question constantly, ‘When are you guys coming back to JFK?'”
They return to Kennedy after spending nearly six years at other airports around the metropolitan area including nearby LaGuardia and Newark Airports, where United concentrated the majority of its flights after ceding JFK to its competitors.
In 2015, however, United was flying as many as 14 daily flights to the West Coast. Now, the workers are coming back to service a mere 10 weekly flights, or two flights per day, until United bumps up service.
The next step will be increasing JFK service with another round-trip flight on each route. United’s current flight schedule shows an additional flight being added to each city on May 7 and both routes going daily the week of May 9.
Once the West Coast is accounted for, the airline can start looking to serve its other hubs to give New Yorkers and visitors an alternative to LaGuardia and Newark.
“We plan to be here for the long-term,” Kinzelman said.
American Express opened a new Centurion Lounge at Denver International Airport in February, the latest in the financial services company’s growing network of 14 airport lounges that will soon include locations in London and Washington, DC.
The Denver location covers more than 14,000 square feet above the airport’s Concourse C and is Amex’s second-largest lounge behind the newly-opened John F. Kennedy International Airport outpost. Its opening comes as increased spring and summer travel appears more likely thanks to a faster than anticipated vaccine rollout.
American Express now boasts the only true non-airline premium lounge in Denver, which until February only featured airline clubs and a USO location. Airline lounges have lagged behind private lounges in bringing back popular amenities, as Insider found during visits to the airport lounges of the top three US airlines, with this new location offering travelers a better alternative.
Amex Platinum and Centurion cardholders, as well as Delta Air Lines flyers with the Delta American Express Reserve card, can access the lounge and use it when departing from or connecting through Denver. Travelers whose final destination is the Mile High City, however, cannot use it upon their arrival.
Lounge patrons are also limited to a three-hour stay per American Express policy. Prior to the pandemic, these lounges were often filled from wall to wall, and they may soon be again.
Take a look inside the Denver Centurion Lounge.
Walk to the western edge of Concourse C at Denver airport and you’ll find the Centurion Lounge. You can’t miss it as the American Express name is displayed for all in the terminal below to see.
It’s quite literally at the furthest reach of the airport, located at the far end of the concourse that’s the furthest from the main security checkpoint. Real estate at Denver airport, however, isn’t easy to come by for lounges so Amex had to take what it could get.
Guests can check-in at the main desk with their boarding pass, credit card, and identification, or use the American Express mobile application for contactless check-in.
Frequent Centurion Lounge patrons might notice something different about this lounge upon entry, and that’s because the Denver location doesn’t have the iconic blue door.
Here’s the blue door at the newly-opened lounge at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, for example.
But the similarly iconic living wall is still in place, filled with live plants.
The seating area is arranged in a horseshoe pattern above the concourse, with floor-to-ceiling windows on each side to give an open feeling.
A total of 587 patrons can be accommodated in normal times but COVID-19 restrictions in Denver only permit a maximum of 150 people at any time.
More patrons will be allowed in as Denver’s guidelines loosen, however.
Lounge chairs and couches line the interior windows, with seats blocked for distancing.
Larger tables are reserved for groups of three or more, to be seated by the lounge hosts.
The lounge does include a family room but it’s largely off-limits during the pandemic.
One of the staples of the Centurion Lounge is complimentary alcoholic beverages and the Denver lounge doesn’t disappoint.
This craft beer bar, one of two bars in the lounge, only serves up local brews.
Even if patrons are just passing through Denver, they’ll still get a taste of the local flavor. American Express’ mixologist, Jim Meehan, crafts a menu that’s specific to each destination.
The craft beer bar is located in the lounge’s game room featuring billiards, shuffleboard, and other tabletop games. like chess and checkers.
The games can be played during the pandemic but accessories are strictly controlled by staff, who also ensure they’re sanitized after each use.
Amex opted for the game room instead of a spa or fitness center.
Classic cocktails can also be ordered but the one drink that isn’t on the menu, however, is the “blue door” since this lounge doesn’t have the blue door.
Construction wasn’t drastically altered due to the pandemic as lounges are already built with privacy in mind.
Some of the solo seats were either spaced already or came with high, pandemic-friendly dividers.
But there are changes in the service. Literature in the lounge, for example, has gone digital.
Plexiglass partitions can also be found at check-in and at the bars.
And any food has to be served from lounge staff.
For business travelers, amenities include a small business center with a printer…
And a conference table.
For private phone calls, the lounge also offers one phone room.
The second bar is located at the bottom of the horseshoe, opposite the check-in area.
This is where most of the cocktails will be crafted, also at no cost to patrons.
Centurion cardholders, AmEx’s “black card,” also receive special perks like Veuve Clicquot champagne.
Digital flight information signage can be found throughout the space so passengers can keep an eye on their flights without leaving the lounge.
The dining area then features classic tables, chairs, and benches for when it’s time to enjoy a meal.
Those wanting to plane spot from the lounge would be ideally seated by the window.
The dining area windows face south and overlook the Southwest gates below. Just across the ramp is the sprawling United Airlines concourse.
On the menu for lunch on the day of our visit was chestnut soup, grilled chicken with salsa verde, Pomodoro di pasta, tiramisu, and berries and cream.
Plates are served on trays and given to patrons.
My tour was after hours but I did manage to sample some of the food, including the Tiramisu. True to reputation, the meal didn’t disappoint.
The lounge also offers a pasta bar during the afternoon and a Nutella crepe bar for breakfast.
Coffee and tea can be found at one of these stations, spread across the lounge. An attendant will also serve the drinks as well.
Overall, this lounge is a great reason to get to the airport early.
The pandemic hasn’t impacted the iconic Centurion Lounge service too much and nothing beats free food and drink while at the airport.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Centurion Lounge without this iconic scene. This chair and art pair can be found at Amex lounges across the network.
The United States will begin tracking people who arrive from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea, two countries facing Ebola outbreaks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that the US government will “institute public health measures” for travelers coming in from those two countries “out of an abundance of caution,” as the threat of the outbreaks to the US remained low.
“Beginning next week, the US government will funnel travelers from DRC and Guinea to six US airports,” the agency said in a statement. “Airlines will collect and transmit passenger information to CDC for public health follow-up and intervention for all passengers boarding a flight to the US who were in DRC or Guinea within the previous 21 days.”
The information will be shared with local health departments for tracking and monitoring.
As Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnson previously reported, Ebola can lead to fever, aches, and fatigue. It has a fatality rate of about 50%. At least three people have died in Guinea from Ebola since the outbreak was detected in February.
The Democratic Republic of Congo reported another outbreak earlier this month as well, according to the World Health Organization.
The risk of Ebola becoming an outbreak in the United States is “extremely low,” the CDC said.
But the agency still recommends that the US take precautions, especially as the country battles new variants of the coronavirus.
In 2016, more than 11,000 people died from a two-year Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Guinean government is taking steps to put an end to the resurgence before it spreads more widely. A new Ebola treatment center is being constructed and an Ebola vaccine is being rushed out, Insider’s McFall-Johnson reported.
Flights in and out of Dallas are being grounded as the air traffic control center responsible for the region’s high-altitude airspace is undergoing a two and a half hour cleaning after one of the facility’s personnel tested positive for COVID-19.
This is the second case this week where facility personnel tested positive for the virus, with the most recent incident occurring as recently as Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration’s website shows. Six FAA facilities in the Dallas area have reported positive COVID-19 cases, four of which reported cases multiple times, but this facility has experienced a whopping 22 cases, including Wednesday’s.
The FAA issued a ground stop for all aircraft landing within the facility’s airspace during the cleaning, which extends well beyond the Dallas metropolitan area. Its airspace includes the skies above most of Northern Texas, Southern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Western Louisiana, and Eastern New Mexico.
Dallas-bound flights that haven’t taken off yet are being held at their departure airports while flights en route to the area will likely need to enter holding patterns or divert to other airports outside of the airspace until the ground stop is lifted.
The Dallas Air Route Traffic Control Center typically coordinates flights in upper altitudes that depart from and arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas’ Love Field. The airports are home to American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, respectively, which operate hundreds of daily flights from the city.
Aircraft slated to fly through Dallas’s wide-ranging airspace may also need to be rerouted around it, which can increase flight times for other aircraft. The facility is still open, the FAA confirmed to Business Insider, but likely operating with a reduced workforce due to the cleaning.
The first high-profile incident of COVID-19 affecting sensitive air traffic control facilities occurred in March when the air traffic control tower at Chicago’s Midway International Airport was forced to close, grounding flights in and out of the airport. In Las Vegas, the extended closure of McCarran International Airport’s air traffic control facilities meant aircraft had to communicate directly with each other to coordinate their movements.
Air traffic controllers at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport retreated to a secondary location while their control tower was closed for cleaning in March. Not all airports, however, have backup facilities for their air traffic control operations.