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.
United Airlines has said it will mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all new external hires, the company said in an internal memo shared with Insider.
All new employees receiving job offers after June 15 will be asked to show proof that they are fully vaccinated, United said in the memo.
“As we welcome new employees to the company, it’s important we instill in them United’s strong commitment to safety,” the memo said. “They will be required to upload their COVID vaccine card in My Info no later than 7 days post hire date.”
The airline said the new rule applies only to US-based hires, with an exemption for internationally-based staff. “Reasonable accommodation” will be given to hires who are not vaccinated on medical or religious grounds, per the memo.
The airline will not require current employees to get jabbed, but will strongly encourage it by offering incentives. Last week, United said it would give vaccinated flight attendants up to three additional days of vacation, according to a letter shared by the Association of Flight Attendants.
In January, United CEO Scott Kirby said he wanted to make vaccines mandatory, and encouraged other companies to to the same.
United follow Delta Air Lines which last month last month announced that it would require all new employees to be vaccinated, and may bar current staff from working on international flights if they refuse to get the jab.
Delta thanked those who helped restrain the would-be hijacker.
“Thanks to the crew and passengers of Delta Flight 386, LAX to Nashville (BNA), who assisted in detaining an unruly passenger as the flight diverted to Albuquerque (ABQ),” a statement said. “The aircraft landed without incident and the passenger was removed by law enforcement.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was said to be investigating the incident, according to the Associated Press.
Having elite status on Delta Air Lines just got a whole lot more lucrative.
Delta’s most frequent flyers enjoy special privileges, chief among them are complimentary first class upgrades. But they’ve been harder to come by during the pandemic.
The airline’s seat-blocking policy also applied to first class seats on narrow-body where the configuration is 2-2. A 16-seat first class cabin, for example, became an eight-seat cabin.
It made getting an upgrade especially hard for Silver Medallions like myself, the term for members on the lowest rung of Delta’s Medallion elite status program.
The seat-blocking policy ended on May 1, however, opening up all seats on Delta’s aircraft, including those in first class.
I flew Delta on the first day that seats were filled. Here’s what it was like as an elite status holder.
Flying home from Phoenix to New York, I picked my flights very carefully to have the best chance of an upgrade while spending as little money as possible.
I chose a flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis on a Boeing 767-400ER wide-body aircraft connecting to a New York flight on an Airbus A320. Both had first class cabins that were pretty empty when I booked, so I was confident I’d get an upgrade on at least one flight.
Delta has been deploying more wide-body aircraft like the Boeing 767 on domestic routes, and they offer the best chance of an upgrade.
With the flights booked, all I could do was wait. Silver Medallions don’t get upgraded until the flight is within 24 hours from departure.
Fast forward to the departure day, I checked into the first flight and was number four of five on the upgrade list with five seats available. It was looking good that I’d get one of the coveted seats but Delta wasn’t going to give it up that easily.
I was almost immediately upgraded into Delta Comfort+, an extra legroom section of the plane that also comes with complimentary alcohol. Delta was selling seats in the cabin for $84.93, so the value of my trip had instantly increased with the upgrade.
A Comfort+ upgrade would’ve been fine on its own as Delta uses larger recliner seats in the cabin on its retrofitted Boeing 767-400ER planes. It’s basically the equivalent of a first class seat on a smaller plane, and the cabin is arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration.
The flight from Minneapolis was also looking surprisingly good for an upgrade as the cabin hadn’t filled up. Minneapolis-New York is a business traveler-heavy route and this was a Saturday night, so I had a better shot.
I arrived at the airport the next morning with no confirmed upgrade for the first flight, even though I was still in good standing on the upgrade list. This didn’t affect my airport experience much, though, as elite status holders still have access to many of the same airport perks as first class flyers.
Not even the gate agent could tell me if my upgrade had cleared when I inquired before boarding. It was clear that it was going to come down to the famous boarding-time upgrade for which Delta is known.
Lo-and-behold, I scanned my boarding pass and out came a little slip of paper with my new seat number, 9D.
Just like that, I turned left into the aircraft and the entire flight changed for me. The value of my trip shot up to more than what I paid for my economy ticket.
Delta wanted $385.93 for this upgrade just a few days before departure, which is more than what I paid for my economy seat. The new value of my $221.80 ticket was now $607.73.
And in terms of upgrades, this was like hitting the jackpot. The Boeing 767-400ERs are intended for long-haul international flights and as such, its first class cabins feature Delta’s newest seats.
The seat had fully lie-flat capabilities, no seat neighbor, and a direct line of sight to the window. It was my own personal cocoon for the three-hour flight to Minneapolis.
If it wasn’t for the passenger across from me, it would have felt like I was the only one on the plane. That’s how private these seats are.
But flying first class during a pandemic is a far cry from normal times. Delta, for example, has cut services like the pre-departure hot towel and beverage. Purell wipes are given instead.
The in-flight service soon started after we got airborne. Flight attendants took orders individually for the drink and snack service.
This flight would’ve normally yielded a hot meal but only snack boxes were on offer, as part of Delta’s modified service.
A larger selection of drinks was available, however, including soft drinks, coffee, tea, beer, wine, spirits, and mixed drinks.
A choice of two snack boxes was available and I ordered both, for the purposes of this story.
First up was the bistro snack box. It was packed with goodies like gummy bears, potato chips, a meat stick, Tic Tacs, a cheese spread, Oreo cookies, a Kind bar, and crackers.
The market snack box then included popped chips, almonds, beef jerky, a protein bar, a Ghirardelli chocolate,
Both had some great items but didn’t impress me much. Similar snack boxes were sold in economy for around $10 before the pandemic.
The seat itself did most of the work on this flight, and I used the lie-flat capability to its fullest. After finishing the meal, I reclined all the way flat and got some well-needed rest.
The Twin Cities shortly came into view after an incredible relaxing flight, and my time with the seat soon came to an end.
After a four-hour layover spent in the Delta Sky Club, I headed to my next gate. Minneapolis airport was incredibly quiet, and that had tracked with my flight being empty.
A total of 79 seats went empty, with 10 empty seats in first class alone.
My upgrade had cleared at pretty much the 24-hour mark before my flight, and I had my pick of seats.
These seats were nothing like the modern lie-flat seats on the Boeing 767, but they were as comfortable as they looked.
Delta wanted $192.43 for this upgrade meaning the value of my $221.80 ticket was now $800.16.
After an hour-long delay, we took off into the Minnesota sky. There was no pre-departure service, just like the previous flight, but the service started quickly after takeoff.
The cabin was less than half full so it didn’t take long for the flight attendant to reach me. I ordered an old fashioned and both snack boxes.
The mixed drink came first and this time, it was pre-poured but still in a plastic cup. I really enjoyed it.
Ordering both snack boxes again, I got to pick and choose from each which snacks to eat. If Delta is reading and decides to add this hybrid snack box to the menu, please call it “Tom’s snack box.”
The rest of the flight continued uneventfully as we progressed towards New York. I was the epitome of relaxed as I enjoyed the in-flight entertainment from the comfort of my oversized recliner.
But the flight soon came to an end, and the experience was over.
In total, the value of my $221.80 ticket ultimately shot up to $800.16, and I didn’t have to do a thing.
The upper echelons of airline frequent flyer programs have historically been reserved for airlines’ most frequent flyers and top spenders. But airlines, eager to get their top flyers back in the air, are making it easier for more travelers to reach the coveted levels of status, and all the perks that come with it.
United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have rolled out new programs that help speed along the process. And the result will be flyers spending fewer dollars and less time in the air in order to join or renew their membership in the elite status club.
The minimum spending amount to earn elite status on Delta, known as “minimum qualifying dollars” or MQDs is $3,000. A flyer will also have to fly at least 25,000 miles, known as “minimum qualifying miles” or MQMs, or 30 flight segments, known as “minimum qualifying segments” or MQS, to qualify.
Flyers booking tickets in economy will earn 50 percent more MQDs, MQMs, and MQSs with each flight. Those that pay more for Delta Comfort+, Delta One business class, first class, or Premium Select premium economy seats will earn 75 percent more of each category.
Delta customers that book their tickets using SkyMiles, also known as award tickets, will also earn credits towards qualifying for status. Award tickets are traditionally exempt from counting towards status on most airlines because no revenue is being earned, so this is a major shift from Delta.
Tickets that are purchased using a combination of cash and miles will also count towards qualification.
Delta’s is largely egalitarian and even members on the lowest rung of the elite status ladder – known as Silver Medallion – can be upgraded to first class on any domestic US flight if seats are available.
Other perks of earning elite status with Delta include a free checked bag, access to priority check-in and boarding lines, dedicated phone lines, and complimentary lounge access, depending on the level of status.
United’s MileagePlus program is similar to Delta’s where flyers have to earn a certain number of premier qualifying points, or PQPs, while also flying a certain number of flights to qualify for elite status. Those thresholds were lowered by United in November, however, to make elite status more easily attainable.
Attaining Premier Silver status, for example, only requires 3,000 PQPs and eight flights. That’s down from 4,000 PQPs and 12 flights.
All MileagePlus members will earn bonus PQPs for their first three trips to kickstart the process while existing Premier members received 25 percent of the PQPs required for their status level at the beginning of the year.
From there, MileagePlus Premier members had an opportunity to pick between receiving another 25 percent of the required PQPs for their status level after three trips or have 10 percent of the required PQPs deposited with no travel required. The latter option was meant for flyers that didn’t plan on flying before the promotion’s expiration date.
United offers a similar upgrade model to Delta where any elite status holder can receive an upgrade if there are seats on most domestic flights. Additional perks of having elite status with United include a free checked bag, access to priority check-in and boarding lines, and dedicated phone lines.
Both models make it easier for all flyers to earn elite status while United’s is slightly geared toward helping existing elite flyers keep their status. Both strategies differ, however, from last year when airlines simply extended status levels through 2021.
But now, airlines are giving frequent flyers a reason to get back in the air and start flying again.
Here are all the options travelers have when flying between New York and the Massachusetts Islands this summer.
Three major airlines serve Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket from New York’s three area airports and Westchester County Airport north of the city. Flying commercial is often the least expensive option, especially with a mix of carriers on the routes.
JetBlue Airways offers the greatest variety of service to the islands with flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and Westchester County Airport. Flights use JetBlue’s Embraer E190 aircraft, and one-way fares can be as low as $75.
Delta Air Lines also offers flights from JFK and LaGuardia to both islands on regional jets. One-way fares are as low as $85, and first class is offered for a premium on some days.
United Airlines is offering non-stop flights only between Newark and Nantucket. It also uses regional jets, and schedules show United will deploy its swankiest of them all, the Bombardier CRJ550, with 10 first class seats, 20 “Economy Plus” extra-legroom seats, and 20 standard economy seats.
Elite Airways is the newest carrier to offer service between New York and Massachusetts, with flights from Westchester to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard starting Memorial Day weekend. The carrier is set to use Bombardier regional jets on the routes with fares starting as low as $129.
The airline also boasts complimentary amenities like a free checked bag, advanced seat assignments, and onboard snacks and drinks.
One of America’s largest independent regional airlines, Cape Air, offers a semi-private experience between New York and the New England coast.
Five routes are offered from New York – three from Westchester and two from JFK. Both airports offer flights to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, with service to Provincetown, Massachusetts also available from Westchester. Service differs depending on the departure airport.
Flights to and from Westchester use a private terminal away from the airport’s main commercial terminal. At JFK, flights use Terminal 5, which JetBlue also uses.
Cape Air flights between New York and Massachusetts use Cessna 402 twin-engine piston aircraft with no WiFi or in-flight entertainment, and often no co-pilot. It’s truly a back-to-basics experience but does the trick on short flights. Passengers can also request to sit in the cockpit if there’s no co-pilot.
But even with the basic aircraft and a single pilot, one-way fares for the summer often run more than $200.
Helicopter company Blade offers weekender flights between Westchester and the Massachusetts Islands using Pilatus PC-12 turboprop aircraft starting May 27. Flights to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are available and use private terminals on both ends of the journey.
One-way fares start at $725 plus tax and do not require a membership.
Wheels Up, a membership-based private aviation firm, is resuming its Nantucket shuttle from Westchester starting Memorial Day weekend. Travelers can purchase seats on its Beechcraft King Air 350i turboprop aircraft for $795, with flights departing on Fridays at 5 p.m. and returning on Sundays at 5 p.m.
Flights use private terminals at both ends of the journey, so flyers can skip the security checkpoint. One carry-on bag, or a set of golf clubs, is permitted.
However, the shuttle is only available to Wheels Up members. There are three tiers of annual memberships, with the most basic “connect membership” costing $2,495 per year and a one-time initiation fee of $2,995.
Private aviation firm Tradewind Aviation is also resuming shuttle services between Westchester and Massachusetts.
The company uses single-engine Pilatus PC-12 turboprop aircraft with luxurious interiors that feature executive-style leather seats. Tradewind flights use private terminals on both ends of the journey.
Prices and flight times vary day to day, but one-way fares are often between $400 and $1,000.
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.
Hansen and her friend Siearra Rowlan, 23, were napping when flight attendants asked passengers if there was a doctor on the flight, according to The Washington Post.
“Everybody’s kind of turning back to see what’s happening, and then there’s a lot of shuffling between flight attendants,” Rowlan told The Post. “The speaker goes on and off like they’re about to announce something but they don’t. Then there’s a little baby crying.”
The video captures some of that commotion. At first, a crew member can be heard making an announcement that a baby has been born. The passengers then break into a round of applause.
In the next clip, passengers are asked to remain seated while the woman seeks medical assistance. Around three hours later, the woman can be seen making her way off the plane in a wheelchair while the newborn baby sits on her lap.
“After she had gotten out, everyone just kind of got up, got their carry-on, and left,” Hansen told The Post.
Delta confirmed that the baby was born on the six-and-a-half-hour flight on Wednesday. No other information was provided.
“Since the onset of this crisis, U.S. airlines have relied on science, research and data to help guide decisions as they continuously reevaluate and update their processes and procedures,” a spokesperson for the trade organization Airlines for America, which represents the likes of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, told Insider.
“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” the organization said.
Delta is currently the last airline to still block middle seats but will stop doing so on May 1, the longest run of any US airline to block seats. The CDC’s study hasn’t deterred the airline either, which held firm on the policy shift when asked by CNBC on Thursday.
“Our experts tell us that with vaccination rates where they’re at and demand being as strong as it is it’s absolutely safe to sit in that middle seat,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said.
Airlines and at least one aviation expert agree that the CDC study is flawed in multiple aspects including that it was performed in 2017 using maskless mannequins – while wearing masks on an airplane is now mandated by federal law – and wasn’t conducted on an actual airplane, unlike more recent studies.
But science aside, blocking middle seats served a valuable purpose during the pandemic: inspiring peace of mind among travelers returning to flying after months of being grounded.
My experience with blocked middle seats
I’m a life-long flyer and returning to the skies in June 2020 was not an easy decision. Like many, I’d feared catching the novel coronavirus and had a brief moment of panic when I boarded my first flight amid the pandemic.
I was lucky to be flying Delta, however, as I’m sure my panic would have been worsened if I was on a packed plane.
I do realize that airlines need to be profitable in order for me to keep enjoying their services. Delta, after all, estimated that it lost up to $150 million in potential revenue from blocking seats in March.
But, not all of the country is vaccinated and even those that are still might not feel comfortable with being packed into a plane.
My hope is that airlines giving up on seat-block will double down on other efforts to drive home the fact that flying is safe. I’ve seen this on airlines like Delta and United but some have a way to come in their efforts.
The findings of studies promoting air travel as safe are predicated on airlines following their recommended precautions. But even the industry-funded study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health specifically gives recommendations that some airlines aren’t following or enforcing.
CEO Ed Bastian appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Thursday morning and criticized the report’s shortcoming when asked, saying: “Our experts tell us that with vaccination rates where they’re at and demand being as strong as it is it’s absolutely safe to sit in that middle seat.”
Guiding Delta’s decision, according to Bastian, are experts from the Mayo Clinic, Emory University, and Delta Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting, formerly of the Mayo Clinic. The airline deferred to trade organization Airlines for America when asked for comment on the CDC report.
“Since the onset of this crisis, US airlines have relied on science, research, and data to help guide decisions as they continuously reevaluate and update their processes and procedures,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement to Insider. “Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low. “
Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that the CDC study and its release were flawed for multiple reasons, chiefly because it doesn’t take into account the new realities of travel. Researchers ran the trials in 2017 using maskless mannequins while masks are now mandatory in airplanes under federal law.
Harteveldt and airlines instead point to more recent studies, including one by the US Department of Defense where masked mannequins were tested onboard a United Airlines wide-body aircraft. Airlines similarly tout a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study that declares the risk of air travel to be “below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out” when precautions are taken.
Both support the claims by airlines that flying is safe thanks to measures like mask-wearing and the use of high-efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA filters, regardless of whether seats are blocked. Harteveldt noted, however, that the Harvard study was funded by the airline industry while the DOD study was not.
Delta was an early and ardent adopter of the seat-blocking policy and kept seats blocked the longest of any major US airline, most of which started filling planes in late 2020. The policy cost Delta up to $150 million in potential revenue in March but even still, the month was successful as the airline saw positive daily cash flow thanks to a surge in travelers.
“Thanks to the incredible efforts of our people, we achieved positive daily cash generation in the month of March, a remarkable accomplishment considering our middle seat block and the low level of demand for business and international travel,” Bastian said in an earnings statement, adding that he expects the airline to be profitable once more in September.