Airlines could hike charges on overweight baggage as they try to account for heavier passengers, an industry expert told Insider.
American Airlines confirmed to Insider on June 10 that its average passenger weights had increased, while airline officials told the Wall Street Journal that average passenger and baggage weights had risen between 5% and 10%, but did not say over what period.
Henry Harteveldt, president of travel research firm Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that he wouldn’t be “surprised if airlines use the higher passenger weight estimates to charge passengers more money.”
Airlines might reduce their weight limit for checked bags, increase charges for overweight luggage, or both, he said.
“Somewhere, in the bowels of an airline’s headquarter building, a zealous financial analyst is licking her or his lips, relishing the chance to use this as an opportunity extract more money from that airline’s passengers.”
Weight estimates are used to calculate the weight and balance of the aircraft before take off – vital data needed to ensure the plane can fly safely. Keeping within weight limits can be harder in hotter climates and at higher altitudes where more energy is needed to lift the plane, requiring more fuel.
Airlines had until June 12 to submit new average passenger and baggage weight estimates to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the government body that regulates commercial airlines, the Journal reported.
An American Airlines spokesperson told Insider that its average passenger weight was 182 pounds in summer and 187 pounds in winter, “an 8-pound increase for both seasons.” The spokesperson also said that American expects carry-on baggage to be five pounds heavier in new estimates, and checked bags to be 4 pounds heavier.
American told Insider it plans to use larger aircraft for flights where it anticipates there may be weight issues, and limit ticket sales “if necessary.” It added, however, that most of its flights are able to accommodate heavier passengers. A company spokesperson said there would be no change in customer experience following the weight changes.
Harteveldt said airlines “constantly” look for ways to reduce aircraft weight, for example, by buying lighter seats, scrapping in-seat entertainment hardware, and reducing the size of toilet cubicles.
Harteveldt added that he has even known airlines to buy lighter cutlery and cups to save weight, and stocking the plane with fewer food and drink items.
Helane Becker, airlines analyst and managing director of investment bank Cowen, told Insider that the “trend in heavier people has been going on for years,” and that she expected airlines to both change overweight bag charges and accept less mail and fewer small packages.
Southwest Airlines told Insider that the FAA had approved its submission in early June and had no plans to “increase overweight or oversized baggage fees.”
Industry body Airlines for America, which speaks on behalf of 10 major airlines, also said that it doesn’t “anticipate there will be any noticeable changes” for customers, in an emailed statement.
Delta Air Lines said they had developed an “implementation plan” to minimize any impact on customers, although did not share any details.
Video shows the moment a flight attendant threatened to turn a plane around after a heated confrontation with a man who hurled vulgarities when asked to put on his mask.
TikTok user Brent Underwood posted multiple videos of his American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Charlotte on June 7, that was diverted to Raleigh, North Carolina for three hours due to bad weather.
In the videos, Underwood explains that a 22-year-old male passenger sitting behind him on the flight called a female flight attendant a “fat gorilla” and told her to “suck my d—” when she asked him to put on his face mask, which is currently mandated under federal law.
Soon after, a male flight attendant spoke to the passengers on the personal address system, saying that if his coworkers continued to be disrespected, he would make the plane go back to the gate.
“I understand the delays are frustrating, this is not something we can control,” he said. “But one of the things I will not tolerate is disrespect to any of my flight attendants. We will go back to the gate and you will get arrested if you disrespect any of my flight attendants on board.
“So when we tell you to put your mask on … which is a federal mask mandate, you need to comply,” he continued.
“Once again I will not tolerate any disrespect to my flight attendants. It’s a 30 minute flight down to Charlotte, but I will be happy to go back to the gate and leave you with the cops right here in Raleigh.”
Some time later, another passenger called the flight attendant who spoke a “drama queen,” at which point the flight attendant said that the plane was being turned around.
But the flight attendant spoke again and said that they would continue on to Charlotte, but chastised the passengers for their misbehavior.
“We’ve been in this delay with you guys, just like you. We have not eaten also, we’ve been delayed here, we’ve catered to you the entire flight. We do it because we love this job. But the fact that we get insulted and mistreated by passengers over a thing we cannot control, it is disgusting.
“We’re just going to go to Charlotte because we don’t want to escalate this, but shame on the passengers who have made this flight a living hell for the flight attendants,” the flight attendant said.
The flight attendant’s speech was met with a round of applause.
The man who filmed the videos, Brent Underwood, praised the professionalism of the flight attendants in an interview with The Charlotte Observer on Thursday.
“The flight crew did absolutely nothing wrong,” Underwood said. “They were more professional than I would have been.”
American Airlines confirmed to the Charlotte Observer that the tension on the flight was in response to a mask compliance issue.
They issued a statement to the newspaper, saying: “We take the health and safety of our customers seriously, and our crew members work hard to uphold the federal mask mandate that remains in effect on aircraft and in airports.
“We value the trust our customers place in our team to care for them throughout their journey, and we expect those who choose to fly with us to treat each other – and our team members – with respect.”
Airline bosses have called the opening of a travel corridor between the US and UK amid both countries’ “world-leading vaccination programmes” in a joint statement released Monday.
The chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and JetBlue joined British carriers Virgin Atlantic, and British Airways in urging President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lift travel restrictions between the two countries.
The bosses of the US Travel Association and London’s Heathrow Airport also joined the call ahead of the G7 meeting in Cornwall, England this week.
“There is a clear opportunity to safely open up travel between these two low-risk countries,” the statement said.
The group urged the US government to allow fully vaccinated UK travelers, or those who can show a negative COVID-19 test, to enter the country.
The US is on the UK’s “amber list” for travel, meaning that visitors arriving from the US into the country must quarantine for 10 days, and take two COVID-19 tests.
“Experts have encouraged governments, businesses and the public to follow the science,” United CEO Scott Kirby said. “United and other airlines have done that and implemented the necessary safety protocols to re-open key international routes like the air corridor between our two countries. We are ready.”
Airlines posted record losses in 2020 after the pandemic forced them to suspend international travel. American Airlines reported a $8.9 billion annual loss in 2020.
American Airlines asked nonunion workers employees at its headquarters to volunteer at nearby Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport as it expects a surge of travel during the summer, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Workers who volunteer would have to do so outside of their normal work responsibilities and will not be paid but are also not required to volunteer, the outlet reported.
American did not respond to an email request for comment at the time of publication but spokesperson Sarah Jantz told the Dallas Morning News: “As we look forward to welcoming back more of our customers this summer, we know they’re counting on us to deliver a reliable operation and help them feel comfortable as they return after many months away from traveling. That’s something our front-line teams are experts on as they regularly go above and beyond to take care of our customers. To ensure they have the support they need this summer and beyond, our corporate support teams will provide additional support at DFW.”
Jantz told the outlet employees have been asked to help with airport operations in the past, but it’s not common to ask the entire support staff for help.
The request comes amid a surge in travel and after the airline cut 30% of its support staff, which included the layoffs of about 1,500 staff members.
Volunteers would work six-hour shifts from June to August helping customers find their way around the airport, as well as assisting at gates and ticketing stations.
On June 6, the Transportation Security Administration recorded close to 2 million people going through airport security. This was the largest number of screenings since the pandemic started. The number of passengers going through security across the US has been increasing in recent weeks, as more and more Americans get vaccinated.
American Airlines’ expansion strategy in South America is experiencing a seemingly never-ending stream of hurdles.
Tourism-dependent Latin America was among the first regions to welcome US tourists during the coronavirus pandemic, and American was standing ready to fly eager travelers. Earlier in the year, the airline had announced new flights to cities in Chile, Colombia, and Brazil in a bid to attract leisure flyers as it waited for business travel to recover.
But while the continent appeared to be welcoming at first, doing business in South America quickly proved problematic.
Chile appeared promising when it opened to Americans in November 2020. But a spike in COVID-19 cases following the country’s summer season prompted the government to once again close its borders to tourists.
The state of emergency in the country planned for the month of April has now been extended through June, according to the US Embassy in Chile. American, as a result, pushed back the launch of its inaugural New York-Santiago flight to July 2; though, Chile may extend its border closure depending on conditions in the country.
American, in response, has issued a travel alert for the Colombian city of Cali, where the protests have been the most extreme, allowing travelers to change their flight to any day between May 4 and May 18.
The protests could discourage future travelers from booking trips to Colombia or encourage flyers with existing bookings to change away from Colombia at a time when American is deploying some of its largest aircraft to the country.
Rebuilding a lost South American network at the wrong time
American’s desire to grow in South American comes as the airline seeks to rebuild following the loss of a partner in LATAM Airlines prior to the pandemic.
Delta Air Lines spent $1.9 billion in 2019 for a 20 percent stake in LATAM, significantly growing its presence in South America. The move saw LATAM drop American and the Oneworld airline alliance to join Delta and the SkyTeam airline alliance, leaving American to rebuild in a historically profitable region.
“Latin America has, for roughly 30 years now, been one of American’s international beachhead,” Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider. “In fact, it’s been American’s most successful region outside of the US.”
With LATAM gone, American was left with Brazil’s GOL Linhas Aéreas, a limited partner in the region. But GOL didn’t have the reach of the larger airlines that were now aligned with American’s competitors.
Delta bought a new partner in LATAM Airlines alongside its existing partner in Aerolíneas Argentinas while United had Avianca and Copa Airlines. To regrow its South American network, American chose to launch new routes from the US with a domestic partner, JetBlue Airways.
American launched its routes to Colombia, Brazil, and Chile in a partnership with JetBlue dubbed the “Northeast Alliance.” For American, the partnership provides access to customers across JetBlue’s network that can connect onto the new routes.
“It’s understandable that American would be eager to start rebuilding its network in Latin America because it is so strategically important to the airline right now,” Harteveldt said.
Ceding Europe to United and Delta, for now
South America isn’t totally lost for American as the airline still operates around 30 daily flights to cities across the continent. Cirium data also shows a steady stream of cargo-only flights operating to Santiago from Miami in 2021, which Harteveldt says helps stem the losses.
“I think American is looking at this and saying, ‘we’re going to be very careful about which routes we pick and which battles want to fight,'” Harteveldt said, thinking back to 2018 when American launched Iceland flights alongside Icelandair now-defunct Wow Air with flights to Dallas. But the airline hasn’t completely ignored Europe, nor a gradually reopening Middle East.
A new route between New York and Athens, Greece, is scheduled to launch on June 2 and existing routes to Athens from Chicago and Philadelphia will resume in June and August, respectively. The airline also just launched a new route between New York and Tel Aviv, Israel, with plans for another route to Israel from Miami, which may pay off as the Middle Eastern country starts to accept vaccinated tour groups.
American may also be waiting for the European Union to open its doors to US citizens, Harteveldt says, so the airline can fly more passengers on its traditional routes to cities like Paris, France; Madrid, Spain; and Rome, Italy.
But success in South America remains challenging as new and unexpected roadblocks appear that are outside of the airline’s control.
“It’s not American’s fault, for example, that you had a strong surge of virus in a particular country, Harteveldt said. “It’s not American’s fault that travel restrictions are in place when American may have thought that some of these restrictions would have been eased or removed.”
Europe is once again just a flight away for many Americans.
US airlines were quick to adjust their route maps when coronavirus pandemic travel patterns shifted towards domestic destinations. And with Europe gradually opening up to American tourists, airlines are making similar adjustments to accommodate the international jet set.
Delta Air Lines announced its latest international route between New York and Dubrovnik, Croatia, scheduled to start on July 2. Flights will operate four-times-weekly with departures from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and return flights from Dubrovnik Airport on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
It’s Delta’s first and only route to the Southern European country, which has seen newfound interest from Americans as vaccinated travelers, as well as those presenting a negative COVID-19 test or proof of recovery, will be able to enter the country. Croatia is situated on the Adriatic Sea and boasts countless historical towns and villages on its over 1,000 miles of coastline.
United Airlines will also serve Croatia with flights between Newark and Dubrovnik launching on July 8. The three-times-weekly flights from Newark Liberty International Airport depart on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and return from Dubrovnik Airport on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays.
Both airlines will use Boeing 767-300ER wide-body aircraft on their respective routes to Dubrovnik.
Croatia also borders Montenegro, another European country open to vaccinated Americans, according to the US Embassy in Montenegro. Dubrovnik itself is only 25 miles from the border with Montenegro and US citizens need only present proof of recent vaccination or recovery, or a negative COVID-19 test less than 72 hours old, when entering.
Delta and United have been the most eager to serve the reopening European continent, and have also launched flights to Iceland and Greece, the two other mainstream European tourist countries opening to Americans.
Iceland will be served by United this summer from Newark, starting June 3, and Chicago, starting July 1. Delta serves the Land of Fire and Ice via Reykjavik from New York and begins flights from Boston and Minneapolis on May 20 and May 27, respectively.
Greece, also welcoming vaccinated Americans or those with a negative COVID-19 test, is also served by the two airlines.
United will fly to Athens from Washington, DC starting July 1 and resume its Newark-Athens route on June 3. Delta will similarly resume its New York-Athens route on May 28 and launch a new route between Athens and Atlanta starting July 2.
American Airlines has been less nimble than its competitors on Europe’s reopening, focusing instead on the Americas. Some additions east of the Prime Meridian have been the New York-Athens route starting on June 3, Miami-Tel Aviv route starting on June 4, and New York-Tel Aviv route that launched on May 6.
While Greece is opening its doors to all vaccinated or COVID-19-negative Americans, however, Israel is being more restrictive with its opening and is only slated to welcome vaccinated group tours on May 23 but not individual tourists yet.
South America has been American’s main focus with new flights to cities in Chile, Colombia, and Brazil starting this year. American has not yet relaunched flights to Iceland or Croatia, despite serving both countries prior to the pandemic.
But American could soon shift to Europe as more countries welcome US citizens. For now, airlines can rejoice that European route launches are once again common after more than a year.
At the same time, the more infectious P.1 coronavirus variant, which was first discovered in Brazil, has been spreading across several locations outside of the country, including Canada and Minnesota. And at the top of the month, Chile decided to shut down its borders, which means only Chileans and foreign residents will be allowed to travel to the country.
Some US airlines are responding to travel-hesitant customers by extending the deadline for flights credits so that customers can have more time to plan trips, especially as most of the country still has not received a COVID-19 vaccine.
United Airlines travelers now have until March 31, 2022, to use their “future flight credits” from trips canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. “Take advantage of your flight credit by booking a flight on or before March 31, 2022, for a trip within the next year,” United told flyers in an email.
American Airlines is offering a similar policy for voluntarily canceled tickets during the pandemic. “Flight credit issued for flights voluntarily canceled by customers during the COVID-19 flexible period can be used for travel through March 31, 2022,” the airline’s website says. Credits usually expire one year from their issuance.
Delta Air Lines is letting flyers who had to cancel tickets booked before April 17, 2020, use their credits for travel until December 31, 2022, the longest of the big three US airlines.
Airlines have also made it easier to book flights on their websites using the credits, though some trips require a phone call to the airline for the credit to be applied. Credits can often be used for extras like paying for seat assignments, if the flight doesn’t use the full amount.
The only caveat is that the difference in fare has to be paid each time if the new trip dates result in higher fares. Basic economy tickets and some international flights are also not included in the scheme, though each airline is different.
Airlines chose to give travel credits instead of cash refunds at the pandemic’s peak as they needed cash reserves to weather the pandemic. Cancellations exceeded bookings for most carriers once the coronavirus spread across borders and continents, and traveler numbers dropped to their lowest levels in decades.
Fox News confirmed the photo with the passenger who took it. It reported that the passenger, who wanted to remain anonymous, shared a photo of his boarding pass to prove he was on the same flight as Kerry.
The passenger said he took it off shortly before boarding and kept it off for five minutes, but he wore it at the boarding gate and for most of the flight.
Kerry said on Twitter: “Feels like there’s some St. Patrick’s day ‘malarkey’ afoot on Twitter.”
“Let’s be clear: If I dropped my mask to one ear on a flight, it was momentary. I wear my mask because it saves lives and stops the spread. It’s what the science tells us to do.”
American Airlines says masks can “only can be removed briefly for eating and drinking” and are otherwise mandatory.
The Tennessee Star reported that Kerry “was not eating, nor drinking, even though first-class passengers are often served before take-off,” though the newspaper did not say how it had this information.
American Airlines said on Twitter in response to the photo: “Masks are required on board our aircraft, and we are looking into this.”
And it told The Independent: “We continue to review the matter and we are reaching out to Secretary Kerry to underscore that all customers are expected to wear masks for the duration of their trip,” it said.
The passenger who took the photo told Fox News: “If five minutes is ‘momentarily,’ he’s correct. Not sure being in a plane without a mask for five minutes is excusable.”
American Airlines is preparing for the summer of vaccinated travel and has its sights set on Texas, but not its usual Dallas hub.
Austin, Texas is receiving 10 routes this spring and summer aimed at increased leisure flyers and the hopeful return of business travel. The Texas capital city has been the preferred destination of technology exodus from California and Silicon Valley, including Elon Musk’s Tesla, opening a new market of well-to-do leisure and business travelers for airlines.
“It’s going to be the biggest boomtown that America has seen in 50 years, at least – megaboom,” Musk said in an interview with Joe Rogan.
Austinites can already catch a non-stop flight to most of American’s hubs but they’ll now be able to fly directly to where they want to go. Most flights to the destinations in this expansion would’ve required a connection in Dallas, Charlotte, Chicago, Phoenix or Miami, for example.
Austin’s popularity has been increasing with airlines in past few years as the city grew into the Silicon Valley of Texas, now known as the “Silicon Hills.” Delta Air Lines considers Austin a focus city while low-cost and ultra-low-cost airlines like Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Allegiant Air have also built bases in the city.
Foreign carriers had also been flocking to Austin before the pandemic crippled international travel. British Airways, Lufthansa, and KLM Royal Dutch had launched or planned flights between Austin and major European cities like London, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam.
Here’s where American Airlines is flying from Austin later this year.
Between Austin, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee
American will launch flights between Austin and Nashville, Tennessee on May 6. The new service will start as once daily, with a morning flight from Nashville to Austin and afternoon return flight, and increase to twice daily service with a morning and evening flight in each direction on July 2.
Southwest Airlines will be American’s primary competition on the route, offering as many as four daily round-trips between the two cities on its Boeing 737 aircraft. Spirit Airlines offered flights on the route in 2020 but hasn’t yet announced a return for 2021.
American’s will be operated by Embraer E175 regional aircraft from Republic Airways.
Between Austin, Texas and Las Vegas
American will launch flights between Austin and Las Vegas on May 6. The new service will start as once daily with a morning flight from Las Vegas to Austin and an evening return flight.
On June 3, the route will see two daily flights with afternoon and evening flights to Las Vegas complemented by morning and afternoon flights to Austin. Flights will operate with American’s Boeing 737 mainline aircraft.
American will see more competition on this route as Southwest, Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier Airlines offer a mix of low-cost and ultra-low-cost flights between the two cities.
Between Austin, Texas and Orlando, Florida
American will launch daily flights between Austin and Orlando, Florida on May 6, upgrading the route from its current once-weekly status. The daily route will see an afternoon departure from Austin accompanied by a late afternoon return from Orlando.
Flights will be operated on American’s Boeing 737 aircraft, an upgrade from the Embraer E175 regional aircraft currently used on the Saturday-only service.
Another popular route from Austin, American will see competition from JetBlue Airways, Southwest, Spirit, and Frontier. Allegiant Air also offers flights to Orlando Sanford International Airport north of the city.
Between Austin, Texas and New Orleans
American will launch flights between Austin and New Orleans on May 6. The new once-daily service will see a morning flight from New Orleans to Austin complemented by an afternoon flight from Austin to New Orleans.
Flights will be operated by Embraer E175 regional aircraft from Republic Airways. Only two other airlines serve the route including Spirit and Southwest.
Between Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina
American will launch flights between Austin and Raleigh, North Carolina on July 2. The new service will start as once daily with a morning flight from Austin to Raleigh and an afternoon return flight.
On August 17, flights are increased to twice daily with a late afternoon flight from Austin to Raleigh accompanied by an evening return flight. Flights will be operated by American’s Embraer E175 regional aircraft from Republic Airways.
American will see competition from JetBlue, Delta, and Southwest on this business traveler-heavy route. From Raleigh, however, American flyers could also get as far as London in pre-pandemic times as the airline operated a daily flight to the UK capital.
Between Austin, Texas and Tampa, Florida
American will launch flights between Austin and Tampa, Florida on June 3. The new service will start as once daily with a late afternoon flight from Austin to Tampa and an evening return flight.
Two airlines offer competition on the route as Frontier and Southwest already fly between the two cities. American’s flights will operate with Airbus A319 aircraft.
Between Austin, Texas and Washington, DC
American will launch flights between Austin and Washington, DC on August 17. The new service will utilize Washington Dulles International Airport and start with twice-daily flights right off the bat.
A morning and afternoon flight will be offered from Austin to Washington while an afternoon and evening flight will be offered in the opposite direction. Flights will be operated using American’s Airbus A319 aircraft.
United Airlines is American’s primary competition on the route as Washington is a United hub. Southwest also offers flights between Austin and Washington via Ronald Reagan National Airport, the airport closest to downtown.
Between Austin, Texas and Aspen, Colorado
American will launch flights between Austin and Aspen, Colorado on June 5 with Saturday-only flights through September 4. A morning flight will be offered in both directions operated by Bombardier CRJ700 regional aircraft from SkyWest Airlines.
Those not wanting to travel to or from Aspen on any other day of the week can connect in American’s Chicago or Dallas hubs. No other airlines currently serve this route, leaving American with no direct competition.
Between Austin, Texas and Los Cabos, Mexico
American will continue flights between Austin and Los Cabos, Mexico from June 5 to August 14 with Saturday-only service. A morning flight will be offered from Austin to Los Cabos complemented by a late afternoon return flight, both operated by Airbus A319 aircraft.
No other airlines operate flights on the route, leaving American with no direct competition.
Between Austin, Texas and Destin, Florida
American will launch flights between Austin and Destin, Florida on June 5 with Saturday-only flights through August 14. A morning flight will be offered from Austin to Destin complemented by an afternoon return flight, both operated by Embraer E175 regional aircraft from Republic Airways.
No other airlines operate flights on the route, leaving American with no direct competition.