Beckley, West Virginia; Burlington, Iowa; and Clovis, New Mexico are among the countless US cities that have been overlooked and underserved by America’s largest airlines. There’s simply not enough consistent demand to make them profitable.
But one airline’s money-losing route can be another’s profit-maker. In fact, a niche industry of regional airlines seeks out these cities and relies on the US government to help turn a profit when flying to them.
The Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program incentivizes airlines to serve more than 100 cities American cities. More than $315 million in yearly contracts is doled out in the Lower 48 alone, and nearly $27 million is given in Alaska.
Any airline can submit a bid to serve EAS cities but regional carriers have cornered the market. The top EAS airlines in the US include SkyWest Airlines, Cape Air, Boutique Air, Southern Air Express, and Denver Air Connection, according to the DOT’s most recent data.
When considering bids, the DOT factors in items including the service reliability of the airline, connectivity to larger airlines, opinions of the community being served, and the cost of the subsidy. The cheapest bid doesn’t always win the contract, nor does the one with the most community support.
In the case of Rutland, Vermont, the DOT chose Cape Air to serve the city with an annual subsidy of $1,959,579 for the first year rising to $2,018,366 the next. Cape Air’s option won out over a cheaper Boutique Air option in part because of a lack of community support for the latter airline.
But what the community gives, the community can also take away. San Francisco-based Boutique Air was forced out of Ironwood, Michigan, for example, after its aircraft suffered two incidents on flights from the city.
The airport board voted to “seek a new air carrier,” according to a government filing, and three airlines – Air Choice One, Southern Air Express, and Denver Air Connection – all submitted multi-million-dollar bids to take Boutique Air’s place.
Major US airlines can also advocate in support of their regional airline partners as ease of connections in major airports can be crucial in securing a contract. Some major airlines, including American, do bid for EAS routes themselves but are a small percentage of the program as of the most recent DOT tally in July.
The unique airlines operating these flights often use unique aircraft, including older models that are cheaper to operate. Aircraft can be more than 40 years old, such is the case with some of Cape Air’s fleet of Cessna 402C aircraft.
Other airlines, including Boutique Air, use private aircraft intended to transport the wealthy. “Some airlines do feel more like a private [flight,]” Joey Gerardi, an aviation writer who has taken more than 40 EAS flights and has seen the best and worst of the program, told Insider.
Most EAS flights that he’s taken have been bare-bones with no in-flight entertainment or even a flight attendant.
“A lot of Essential Air Service carriers don’t have much service at all and that’s just because of the size of the plane,” Gerardi said, adding that some offer special treats like a snack basket of full-size candy bars.
Alaska sees a lot of EAS flights given the remote nature of the state’s cities and Alaska Airlines is a prominent carrier, using its fleet of Boeing and Embraer aircraft. On those flights, the experience may be indistinguishable from a standard Alaska Airlines flight.
“This aircraft has outlived its viability, is regularly in bad condition, and provides an unacceptably uncomfortable in-flight experience for passengers even on a flight of only 45 minutes to 1 hour in duration,” Lennox wrote, estimating that 40% of the flight he’s booked on the aircraft have been delayed or canceled.
And with millions in government subsidies, these airlines don’t have to worry about filling every seat, and they often don’t.
“At least 80% of the EAS flights I’ve been on have five or fewer people,” Gerardi said.
An annual contest highlighting innovative aircraft cabin technologies has named a comfort-focused airline seat and a hands-free lavatory as this year’s winning designs.
At a virtual ceremony for the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2021, airline cabin manufacturer Safran was presented with two Crystal Cabin Awards, which are decided on by 28 expert judges, according to CCA. Safran’s unique airline seat Interspace took home the Judges Choice Award and its touchless Beacon Clean Lavatory won the Clean & Safe Air Travel category. In pre-pandemic times, the expo would judge designs in eight categories but reduced them to two in 2021 to reflect where the industry is in the wake of the pandemic.
Interspace was this year’s “Special Jury’s Choice” for impressing the international panel of judges with its padded wing. The wing is situated on the right side of the seat and can easily deploy as a body rest to improve lateral comfort and provide additional privacy, according to Safran. Interspace is adaptable and can be installed into economy and premium class cabins without carriers having to replace any seats.
The seat was designed in conjunction with Universal Movement, a studio aimed at enhancing the travel experience through innovative technology. CNN Travel tested out the prototype in 2019 and reporter Francesca Street said the wing was surprisingly comfortable when leaned against and that she barely noticed her seat neighbor.
Safran’s other expo product, the Beacon Clean Lavatory, is a hands-free bathroom that won the Clean & Safe Travel category, which is awarded to innovations that promote health and safety, according to CCA.
Beacon focuses on features that minimize contact and promote cleanliness, according to Safran. It includes a toilet made of anti-microbial materials, a 265nm UV light that quickly disinfects key surfaces of the toilet, a large sink to reduce splashing, and an exterior sink for washing hands.
“Safran wins the two new Crystal Cabin Awards, a mark of recognition highlighting all the creativity and agility our teams have shown in recent months. We have in fact been able to innovate and anticipate the needs of our airline customers, and the expectations of passenger comfort and safety,” said Safran Cabin Charman Norman Jordan and Safran Seats Chairman Vincent Mascré.
The wings of the Interspace seat are designed for privacy and comfort, but it is hard not to see the similarities to some designs that came out of the COVID era. Some seat manufacturers have already jumped on the opportunity to design pandemic-era seats that would provide barriers between passengers or promote social distancing.
Aviointerior’s “Glassafe” seat was revealed last spring and features a head-level barrier aimed at reducing the spread of germs between passengers. It comes as a kit that can be placed over existing seats.
Meanwhile, French engineer Floridan Barjot created the PlanBay cabin seat concept, which is intended to promote social distancing through dividers. It comes with three barriers that fit over the middle seat, creating two cacoons in the window and aisle seats.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Group’s cruise line, Virgin Voyages, will begin a series of US sailings this October aboard its first vessel, the Scarlet Lady.
I took a tour around the adults-only Scarlet Lady when it was docked in New York City, and exploring the ship changed my perspective of what a cruise experience should be like.
The ship was supposed to debut in New York in early March 2020.
“As we got to Liverpool [to unveil the ship], the headlines were ‘people stuck at sea on cruise ships,’ and it was just the worst week in history to launch a new [cruise ship],” Branson said. “Virgin Group definitely chose its sectors well for COVID.”
But now, 18 months later, the Scarlet Lady is ready to begin cruising from the US after completing a series of “staycation-at-sea” sailings around the UK.
According to Tom McAlpin, president and CEO of Virgin Voyages, these UK sailings “solidified the fact that [Virgin Voyages] got the right balance” of onboard amenities like restaurant and entertainment options.
“The team has created a magical experience, the kind of cruise ship that myself and my family would have dreamt of going on,” Branson told Insider.
“We’ve never been interested in going on cruise ships, so that’s why we set out to try to create something really special, unique, and very Virgin,” he continued.
The Scarlet Lady even won over Branson’s cruise-skeptic daughter, who sailed with her friends and “didn’t want to get off,” according to her father.
She’s not alone. During the first sailing in the UK, 125 passengers booked additional cruises with Virgin Voyages, a testament to how much the customers enjoyed sailing on the Scarlet Lady, according to McAlpin.
Let’s take a look around the cruise ship to see what’s attracting these repeat customers.
To start, Virgin Voyages’ ships are all adults-only.
And the cost of a sailing includes access to amenities like group fitness classes, WiFi, and all of the onboard dining options.
Let’s start with the accommodations. The Scarlet Lady has 1,330 cabins and 78 “Rockstar Quarters” suites.
Virgin Voyages says its cabins are “superyacht inspired,” and it’s easy to see why.
The ship also has several features I’ve also never seen on a cruise ship, such as a record shop …
… and a tattoo and piercing shop.
But the one feature that stood out to me the most was the spa, which has amenities like a mudroom, quartz bed, and salt room.
Unlike most spas that are pristine and white, Scarlet Lady’s Redemption Spa has darker colored decor, which made the space feel calm, serene, clean, and luxurious.
However, the nail salon, barber shop, and hairstyling stores aren’t located in the spa. Instead, they’re next to the aforementioned tattoo and piercing shop.
The Scarlet Lady also has several workout options, including a gym, spin room, boxing ring, track, and yoga and barre room.
And we can’t forget about the outdoor pools.
To reduce waste, the Scarlet Lady won’t have any single-use plastic items. This means no non-reusable water bottles or utensils.
Overall, the Scarlet Lady looked more contemporary and sleek than the other cruise ships I remember being on as a child with my family.
And I definitely never remembered seeing a Korean barbecue restaurant or tattoo parlor aboard any cruise ship I was ever on.
And because the space is for adults only, none of the amenities or decor felt childish or tacky.
I’ve always felt lukewarm about vacationing aboard a cruise ship, but the Scarlet Lady’s modern appearance and plush, hotel-like amenities made me rethink my hesitations.
And imagine playing in the arcade or at the casino with no children running around. Luxury!
If you’re also interested in sailing aboard the Scarlet Lady, you’ll have to wait until October when the ship will begin bringing over 2,770 passengers and 1,160 crew members on four to five-night cruises from Miami to the Caribbean.
Passengers will also get a chance to spend time at Virgin’s Beach Club in Bimini, Bahamas.
In terms of health protocols, the Scarlet Lady will be sailing fully vaccinated to create a “bubble” and the safest travel experience possible, McAlpin said.
“It’s time to get back out there and convince people that it is safe and have fun,” he said. “Take the masks off and be able to socialize again and have a good time.”
Like other cruise lines, McAlpin noted that there’s “pent-up demand” for cruises.
As a result, Virgin is seeing a good mix of customers, including first-time cruisers.
Looking ahead, Virgin Voyages already has plans to debut more ships, including the Resilient Lady and the Valiant Lady. The latter will debut in 2022.
A jet setter’s dream, the G650ER boasts a range of 7,500 nautical miles and speeds of up to Mach .925 enabled by Rolls-Royce BR725 engines. With that range, a traveler can jet between any two cities in the world in one stop or less.
Musk is the perfect example of the jet’s capabilities, flying nearly 160,000 miles on the jet in 2018. Some of the Tesla CEO’s longest flights included hops from Texas to Israel, Northern Ireland to California, and California to Thailand via Alaska.
While in Doha checking out the G700, Qatar Executive invited a group of journalists onboard a G650ER for a demonstration flight. Here’s what it was like.
Qatar Executive is the private jet division of Middle Eastern mega carrier Qatar Airways, catering to clients that want a step above first class. The G650ER is the company’s flagship private jet after a $1 billion order for 14 planes.
The typical Qatar Executive passenger bypasses the commercial terminal and is chauffeured right up to their awaiting airplane. Jets in the Qatar Executive fleet also include the Bombardier Global 5000 and Global XRS.
A total of 13 passengers can be seated in the 46-foot and 10-inch G650ER cabin that’s divided into three living areas.
Two pairs of club seats comprise the first living area for a total of four seats, each with its own window.
The forward section is the ideal seating area for takeoff and landing. It’s also the section in which the principal passenger typically sits.
This type of seating area is standard and can be found on nearly every wide-cabin private jet.
Directly behind is another four-seat section known as the dining and conference area thanks to its massive table.
This is where meals can be enjoyed and shared with the other passengers onboard, just like a home dining room table.
But it also doubles as a conference room table ideal for holding meetings or just getting work done on a larger table. In-flight WiFi is included in Qatar Executive’s charter rate, meaning customers can browse away or hold presentations without having to worry about how much data they’re using.
Power outlets are also available to keep devices charged.
When it’s time to rest, the seats can also recline fully flat to make a bed that can sleep two.
Opposite the table is a credenza with a built-in television monitor. The credenza can also be used as a buffet table during meals times, and its drawers can be used for extra storage.
The rear-most living section is a private compartment with seating for five passengers.
This space is highly customizable based on owner preference and Qatar Executive opted for a split between club seats and a three-place divan.
A pocket door can also close for additional privacy, sealing this section off from the rest of the plane. It can be anything from an executive’s private office to a living room.
One private jet expert told Insider in a prior aircraft tour that an executive might use this space as an office and the forward sections as the waiting room, calling subordinates back one at a time for in-flight meetings.
Both the divan and club seat pair can be converted into beds during downtimes. As many as three passengers can sleep in this stateroom.
This G650ER does not come with a shower but the option is available for owners. A shower would complete the idea of a flying apartment, allowing flyers to arrive from a long-haul flight clean and well-rested.
Each pair of club seats in the forward and rear living areas come with tables that can also be used for meals, work, or playing cards, among other uses.
Instead of popping out from the sidewall, the tables are raised and lowered with the press of a button.
Window shades on the aircraft are also controlled with the press of a button. Flight attendants also have control through a master system panel in the galley.
An extra seat is located in the crew rest area that’s reserved for an additional pilot on longer flights.
With all 12 passengers onboard, it was time to take to the skies above Qatar.
First, a towel was offered to every passenger before departure.
Next came the pre-departure beverage. A full bar including soft drinks, juices, and alcohol is stocked and complimentary on Qatar Executive flights, just as on Qatar Airways.
Our pilots started the engines as the first drinks were being served. It was just a few minutes from the time the door was closed to getting underway.
And one of the perks of flying private is being able to see what goes on in the cockpit.
Soon enough, we were taxing to the runway with downtown Doha in sight. The oval windows are Gulfstream’s largest at 28 inches wide, enabling truly expansive views without having to crane one’s next.
Next came the true test of the aircraft’s capabilities: takeoff. Passengers were warned beforehand that the G650ER feels more powerful on takeoff compared to a traditional airliner.
In fact, the force of the speeding plane down the runway was so great that anything not tied down was launched backward. Some fellow passengers ended up spilling or wearing their drinks.
We were quickly airborne and overflying the main terminal at Hamad International Airport. It was a reminder that flying private means never having to wait in line at check-in, or go through a security checkpoint in most cases.
Once airborne, it was revealed that we wouldn’t just be flying aimlessly over Qatar. Rather, the pilots had programmed the route to create a special message in the sky to be revealed after the flight.
But while the plane was flying its special route, it was time to see what dining is like on a G650ER.
The menu for this flight included hot and cold options such as Mongolian beef casserole, rigatoni pesto, and hummus.
The two cabin attendants on our flight quickly jumped up to begin servicing, starting by setting the tables with white cloths, dishes, and flatware. In an instant, the atmosphere changed from a private jet to a five-star restaurant.
The credenza acted as the buffet table for this flight, allowing passengers to take what they pleased throughout the flight.
Meals are crafted in the forward galley, where cabin attendants have access to large countertops, ovens, and microwaves to prepare restaurant-quality meals.
Menus can be customized on each flight according to customer preference but it can be costly. In-flight catering on any private airline can quickly rack up a bill comparable to a five-star restaurant.
It took around two hours to draw our invisible painting in the sky, revealed to be “QE” for Qatar Executive. The only way for anyone on the ground to know what our flight plan spelled out would be through the lens of flight tracking software.
And while the G650ER is an incredibly smooth aircraft in which to ride, I will say that I felt a bit uneasy due to a likely combination of jetlag and the constant turning that the sky drawing entailed.
But it wasn’t time to return to Hamad International just yet. Qatar Executive had one more surprise for us: a trip to 50,000 feet.
That kind of altitude is rarely used by even the most capable private jet when passengers are onboard. In fact, 51,000 feet is the highest altitude possible for a G650ER and we were going to be 1,000 feet shy.
For most onboard, it was the first time any of us had ventured that high up. Travel YouTuber Sam Chui, who was also onboard, said he hadn’t been to 50,000 feet since flying on the famed Concorde.
Pilots carefully climbed the plane through the flight levels and leveled off with ease at 50,000 feet. I walked up to the cockpit to confirm it with my own eyes.
We weren’t quite in Blue Origin territory but it felt like we weren’t too far away.
I expected to feel at least light-headed while in the rarified atmosphere but the cabin pressurization system made it so we felt closer to the surface than we actually were. I was still a bit woozy for all the turns we did but other than that, I felt fine.
After a few minutes at 50,000 feet, it was time to get our feet back on the ground. We could’ve quite easily glided down to the runway but we made a normal approach to the airport instead, passing by some of Qatar’s newly-built 2022 World Cup stadiums.
The oversized windows once again came in handy as we passed Doha’s skyscrapers.
We also passed the Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, constructed using modified shipping containers.
After a flight like that, I can see why Musk and his companies spent around $700,000 to use the jet for most of his 2018 flights.
Popular camper van maker Advanced RV has turned a 170-inch Mercedes-Benz Sprinter cab into a tiny home inside of a box on wheels named “Asteroid of Happiness.”
But unlike most of the Sprinter camper vans currently available on the market, the Asteroid of Happiness wasn’t built inside of a Sprinter body.
Instead, it’s based on Advanced RV’s “B Box” platform, which was unveiled last year. This “box” fully replaces the Sprinter body.
“When we discovered a box that would allow us to meet our clients’ objectives on a cab chassis, we pursued building a prototype because we knew of the spatial, insulation, and off-grid advancements a box would provide,” Mike Neundorfer, the president of Advanced RV, told Insider at the time of its release.
Southwest Airlines is the US’s largest domestic carrier, serving over 100 destinations across the country. The carrier has been in operation since 1971 and just celebrated its 50th anniversary in June.
Southwest started as a small carrier based in Texas and only operated intra-state routes between three cities, San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas. The airline, which was originally called Air Southwest, was dreamt up by Rollin King and Herb Kelleher on a cocktail napkin in 1966.
King mapped the network he envisioned, making a triangle between the three key cities. He explained to Kelleher that operating solely in Texas would make the company exempt from the Civil Aeronautics Board’s federal regulations, which controlled fares, routes, and schedules.
From 1938 to 1978, the airline industry was federally regulated under the CAB as means to ensure major carriers like United and Pan Am were profitable. Fares were sky-high and only business travelers and deep-pocket leisure customers could afford the luxury of flight. The downside was that a lot of the time, planes flew half empty.
Because Air Southwest was certified under the state’s aviation regulator, the Texas Aeronautics Commission, it was not bound to federal rules – a clever loophole King unapologetically copied from California carrier Pacific Southwest Airlines.
The loophole allowed Air Southwest to fly freely in Texas and undercut competitors’ fares, offering more customers the option to fly instead of drive in the large state. The business model was game-changing and a threat to legacy airlines.
In 1967, three airlines operating under federal rules, Braniff, Trans-Texas Airways, and Continental Airlines, took legal action against Air Southwest, saying it does not have the right to fly in Texas.
The lawsuit took three years to resolve, and in 1970, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Air Southwest could fly in the state. The three airlines then took the case to the US Supreme Court, which declined to review it.
Air Southwest’s right to fly in Texas was finalized in December of 1970. The carrier officially changed its name to Southwest Airlines in 1971 and commenced operations on June 18 of the same year. The carrier launched with two routes from Dallas Love Field to Houston and San Antonio using three new Boeing 737-200 aircraft. Flights between Houston and San Antonio commenced in November 1971.
Kelleher used Pacific Southwest Airways’ idea of “Long Legs And Short Nights” for hostesses, as they were called at the time, keeping with the theme of hiring attractive women to work Southwest flights.
Kelleher dressed the flight attendants in a bright orange top, orange hot pants, a white belt around the hips, and white side-laced go-go boots. He also pushed for a laid-back, casual inflight experience and only hired female hostesses who were fun, engaging, and had a sense of humor.
Kelleher continued the playboy theme by creating a “love” culture at Southwest. The carrier was called the “love airline,” automatic ticket dispensers were “love machines,” inflight snacks were “love bites,” and drinks were “love potions.”
In 1972, Southwest made a game-changing, innovative marketing move. The company introduced the “two-tier” fare system, which established two separate price points aimed at different types of travelers.
The fares were the regularly priced “Executive Class Service” at $26 one-way and the “Pleasure Class” at $13 one-way or $25 roundtrip. “Pleasure Class” fares were available after 6:59 p.m. on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday.
In 1973, the company launched a $13 one-way “half-fare” sale on all flights to San Antonio. Southwest’s rival, Braniff, responded with its own “get acquainted sale” with $13 fares between Dallas and Houston. This was the start of the $13 Fare War.
Southwest knew $13 fares on its only profitable route would run it straight into bankruptcy, so King quickly came up with a marketing campaign that would put Southwest on top. “Nobody’s going to shoot Southwest out of the sky for a lousy $13,” read the bold ad.
Southwest matched Braniff’s fare between Dallas and Houston, which was met with praise and respect from customers. As part of the campaign, the airline also offered a free fifth of liquor for passengers who paid the full $26 fare.
Business travelers loved the promotion, and lucky for Southwest, three-fourths of its customers opted to pay full price and pocket the free booze. The airline soon became a fan favorite among many Texas business communities, and Braniff was fuming.
By the end of 1973, Southwest finally turned its first profit and would continue to profit for 47 years until the coronavirus pandemic ended the streak. Meanwhile, Braniff lost the battle and the war, ceasing operations in 1982.
Southwest’s early challenges did not end with Braniff. In 1964, the Civil Aeronautics Board demanded the city of Dallas build an airport to serve the entire Dallas/Fort Worth area. In 1968, every air carrier operating out of Love Field agreed to move to DFW when it opened in 1974.
However, Southwest was not a part of that agreement and filed suit that it would not move from Love Field when the new airport opened. The airline claimed there was no legal reason to end commercial traffic at Love Field and that the company made no written agreement to move its operations.
The city and the DFW Airport Board sued Southwest, saying the CAB rule applied to the airline even if it was made before Southwest was officially founded. However, Southwest argued that its intra-state flights fell outside the jurisdiction of the CAB, so it did not have to leave Love Field.
By 1976, Southwest Airlines had been profitable for three years and proven that government regulation was not necessary for airlines to be successful. Deregulation was a top priority for Jimmy Carter’s administration, and it passed the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978, effectively abolishing the Civil Aeronautics Board.
Finally, Southwest Airlines was free to operate interstate flights and the airline began to thrive. Meanwhile, major carriers like Eastern Airlines, Trans World Airlines, and Pan Am spread themselves too thin as they tried to rapidly expand.
Unlike major carriers, Southwest maintained a simple strategy for success after deregulation, like only operating one aircraft type, cleaning the aircraft before landing to allow for a quicker turn, and focusing on humor in marketing.
And its strategy worked. Southwest was prospering while other airlines like Pan Am and TWA collapsed. However, it was not long before the Wright Amendment put another wrench in the company’s plans.
After deregulation, Southwest wanted to commence interstate flights from Love Field to New Orleans in 1979, but officials at DFW airport feared the increased traffic would hurt the airport financially. So, US Congressman Jim Wright drafted, sponsored, and helped pass a bill restricting passenger traffic at Love Field.
The law, known as the Wright Amendment, was signed in early 1980 and amended the International Air Transportation Act of 1979. It restricted flying out of Love Field to cities in Texas and the surrounding states of Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and New Mexico. The law was meant to keep Southwest from expanding operations out of Dallas.
It only applied to carriers that operated aircraft with more than 56 seats, which Southwest did. So, the airline had to rely on short-haul flights in the five-state area to bolster Love Field operations.
In 2006, an agreement was made between Southwest, American Airlines, Dallas, and Forth Worth to phase out the law. They agreed that in eight years, the amendment would be gone, but until then, carriers could fly to any US destination out of Love Field as long as at least one stop was made in any of the nine states under the Wright Amendment.
On October 13, 2014, at exactly 12:01 a.m., a countdown clock at Southwest’s Headquarters in Dallas hit zero, officially ending the Wright Amendment. A few minutes after, the airline’s first scheduled flight outside of the nine Wright states took off from Love Field to Denver.
While the Wright Amendment restricted expansion out of Love Field, Southwest was still able to bolster its network out of other Texas cities in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
Throughout the 1980s, the airline expanded north into cities like Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Kansas City, and west to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and California. The airline moved east in the late 1980s with flights to Nashville and into the Midwest with flights to Chicago Midway and Detroit.
The airline also updated its livery in the 1980s. Southwest wanted to stand out in the skies and make its brand easily recognizable, so it wrapped its fuselage in desert gold and other warm colors. It received its first 737-300 jet in 1984, dubbed Spirit of Kitty Hawk.
In the 1990s, the network expanded further east to cities like Baltimore, Cleveland, Columbus, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Providence, Islip, and Raleigh-Durham. The airline also began its Pacific Northwest expansion with the acquisition of Morris Air in 1994.
In 1991, the “Friends Fly Free” campaign was launched to battle the recession. The promotion allowed anyone 18 or older to bring a friend of any age free on their flight. It was so popular that Southwest offered the promotion for the next five years.
Kelleher marketed the event, dubbed the “Malice in Dallas,” which received worldwide press coverage. “Smokin” Herb Kelleher and “Curtsy” Kurt Herwald put on a full show at the arena, which even earned a congratulatory note from President George Bush.
While many airlines opted to introduce fees for things like checked bags and flight changes to recuperate funds, Southwest refused. Instead, the airline launched its “bags fly free” campaign which allows customers two complimentary checked bags. Southwest has not gone back on the offer to this day.
By 2010, Southwest added “Transfarency” to its brand. The airline would not have any hidden fees and would remain customer-focused with an emphasis on Hospitality and Heart. The recognizable tri-color heart was added to its airplanes and workplace.
The company’s flight attendant uniform got an update in 2017, marking the first time in 20 years the airline changed the look. Womenswear included two dresses, one black with blue and red stripes and the other gray with red and black stripes. Menswear included a black blazer, a gray shirt and pants, and a red tie.
In October 2017, Southwest became the launch customer for the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet, with its first revenue flight occurring on October 1. However, the aircraft was grounded in 2019 after two fatal accidents involved the MAX. The airline did not fly the plane again until March 2021.
Like in South Shields, there was a walk of around five minutes from the ferry terminal to North Shields Metro station for the next leg of the journey.
The Metro carriages were surprisingly clean for public transport. Though there were no trash cans onboard, the only litter I really spotted was old newspapers people had left on the seats for other travelers.
I took my trip during the morning and early afternoon of a Tuesday during the school vacation. There weren’t many other passengers …
… though it picked up a bit at around lunchtime.
Nexus, which operates the Tyne and Wear Metro, mandates that passengers wear face masks, though a lot of people didn’t wear them.
More international airlines are starting to require surgical masks over cloth masks.
In August, Finland national carrier Finnair became the latest airline to require passengers to wear surgical masks on board, joining Lufthansa, Frenchbee, Air France, LATAM, Swiss, and Croatia Airlines.
Finnair said on its website: “Please note that we do not accept masks made of fabric, face shields, masks with a valve or scarves used as a mask, as they allow air to escape and do not provide comparable protection.”
Acceptable masks are surgical, valveless FFP2 or FFP3, N95, or equivalent, according to the airline.
A study conducted by the University of Waterloo in Canada and published in the Physics of Fluids journal determined medical-grade N95 and equivalent masks better protect against COVID-19.
While some international carriers are mandating surgical masks, no US airline has implemented the policy, and the CDC has not banned cloth masks in its mask guidance. According to the agency, cloth masks are acceptable as long as they are double-layered, tightly woven without punctures or holes, and fit snugly around the face.
However, some carriers do ban certain types of face coverings, like scarves or masks with vents or valves. For example, Delta, Spirit, Hawaiian, Frontier, United, and American do not allow bandanas to be used in lieu of a double-layered face covering or surgical mask, according to each company’s policy.
In the US, the choice between wearing a medical-grade, surgical, or cloth mask is ultimately up to the traveler, though research suggests transmission on aircraft is rare. Last Wednesday, a published peer-reviewed study conducted by Delta Air Lines revealed the risk of COVID-19 transmission on aircraft where all passengers test negative within 72 hours is less than 0.1%.
PCR testing has emerged as a multi-billion dollar industry, and the UK is the world’s second most expensive place for COVID travel tests, behind only the US. With extortionate prices for PCR tests, overseas holidays were pushed off-limits for many UK families this year, making trips abroad a luxury of the better off.
Determined to visit our ramshackle old farmhouse in the Andalusian mountains in Spain where myself, my husband, and our two boys lived for the better part of a decade, we had no choice but to pay the exorbitant expense of COVID travel testing.
The compulsory testing equated to an additional £550 ($762) on top of the cost of the holiday, and the sum would have been significantly higher if myself and my husband had not been fully vaccinated. The Spanish government requires all arrivals to Spain from Britain to show a negative PCR test taken within 72 prior to arrival, or proof of full vaccination – our unvaccinated teenage sons had to have a PCR test before leaving the UK at the cost of £70 ($97) each.
The majority of the COVID testing budget was spent on re-entering Britain, where a compulsory day two test administered by Randox – hailed as the UK’s largest COVID-19 PCR testing provider – cost us £240 ($332).
This was on top of the 160 euros we had to pay just a couple of days earlier to acquire a negative COVID antigen test certificate in order to leave Spain. This nasal swab test, like the rapid ‘self tests’ that are provided for free for domestic use in Britain, doesn’t have to be sent off to a laboratory and provides results within 30 minutes. The tests were administered by a doctor in a private clinic in our local Spanish town.
At one level, some may argue that charging for COVID testing to travel is not unreasonable. If people choose to travel abroad during these precarious times, they should be charged accordingly, and should bear in mind the additional cost of PCR tests before booking their holidays – a “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it” attitude.
However, rather than merely being a matter of choice that comes with additional financial burden, excessive COVID travel costs symbolize escalating inequality in the wake of the pandemic. As many private firms enjoy a COVID windfall, making huge profits on testing, the less wealthy are forced to forgo holidays abroad as travel becomes something only the rich can afford.
The ‘cheaper’ tests are unavailable
Others who took the plunge and travelled overseas this summer cite similar grievances about the cost of testing. Paula Kowalska recently returned from travelling to an “amber” country – a nation sandwiched between the “safe” green countries that require no quarantine regardless of vaccination status and the “high-risk” red countries on the UK government’s travel traffic light system. Kowalska said she was shocked to find the tests she had bought less than a month ago for £35 were no longer available, replaced by ones that cost £60-£70.
“The government website advises the availability of £20 tests. However, these are so limited they are never available or are available by appointment only in certain locations, with 4 or 5 slots a day only,” she told me.
And yet, COVID testing for travel purposes in certain countries is significantly cheaper and, in some instances, free – indicating that there are bigger issues at play.
A friend of mine, who has dual Czech and British citizenship, recently travelled back to Britain from the Czech Republic. The COVID test she was required to take before leaving the Czech Republic and re-entering Britain was offered for free since she was a Czech citizen.
Some nations are even using COVID tests for travel as a political tool. France offered free COVID tests for tourists. However, as of July 7, 2021, the French government decided to make tourists pay for tests, stating it was about “reciprocity,” since French tourists are required to pay for tests abroad. When they want to, nations can and are providing free COVID testing for travellers, so what gives in the UK?
To shed light on the contentious cost of COVID tests for travel, I spoke to Hussain Abdeh, director at Medicine Direct, a UK-based online pharmacy.
Abdeh explained how any medical product that is sold in the UK needs to meet certain regulatory standards.
“Simply put, all PCR tests that are available in the UK meet the same standards of accuracy regardless of the prices they are sold for,” Abdeh said.
He explained the possible origins of pricing differences, saying it could be due to different manufacturing costs or wholesale costs. But this is problematic given that, as Abdeh pointed out to me, usually we would see bigger brands like Boots and Lloyds offering the cheapest prices, due to their buying power and discounts. This, however, is not the case with PCR tests, as Boots seem to be one of the most expensive on the UK market, currently at £79.
“However, with that said, the UK is allowing travel from some countries that offer a free PCR testing service such as Germany and Italy. This tells me that the free PCR testing services being offered by those countries also meet the standards for PCR tests that have been implemented in the UK,” Abdeh told me.
The inconsistency in costs suggests an incentive of profiteering is at play.
The UK’s “test to travel” scheme has prompted concerns about Tory cronyism – whereby Conservative Party officials grant contracts to donors and connections so they can profit from the crisis.
Some of the private firms that are milking the PCR travel test market, like the Northern Ireland-based firm Randox, have links to members of the UK Conservative party. In April, Randox proudly asserted it was “supporting UK holidaymakers by reducing the cost of PCR tests to support travel to £60 per test” – again proving that the costs of tests don’t need to be as high as they are.
In November 2020, without any competition, the UK government awarded Randox, whose testing kits were recalled in the summer of 2020 because of concerns about contamination, a £347 million COVID testing contract.
Despite being awarded nearly half a billion pounds in taxpayer money, Randox continues to privately charge citizens from £86 for a travel test-at-home kit consisting of a pre-departure PCR test, a day two PCR test, and a travel certificate.
New rules confirm prices don’t need to be so high
When I reached out to the Department of Health and Social Care for commentary on the cost of COVID travel tests, they stated:
“Our top priority has always been protecting the public and the robust border and testing regime we have in place is helping minimise the risk of new variants coming into the UK.
We are reviewing all private providers to ensure they meet our robust standards and over 80 private travel testing companies have been issued a two-strike warning for inaccurate pricing and face removal from the gov.uk list if they do so again.”
On September 17, a major update on international travel rules in England was announced. New lighter testing requirements are being introduced as the government seeks to give the struggling travel sector a boost ahead of state support coming to an end this month. The overhaul means that as of October 4, people who have had two jabs will no longer need to take a COVID test before entering England. Later in October, the day two PCR tests will be able to be replaced with cheaper lateral flow tests.
For me, the scrapping of expensive test requirements and complicated travel arrangements, following months of outrage from the tourism sector and travelers, is yet more proof of the profiteering out of travel tests that has been going on for months.
It’s not like the changes are being made due to the virus shrinking. On the contrary, studies show that for some weeks now there has been a worrying waning of immunity as confirmed cases rise.
Choosing the scrap pricey tests after the summer holiday rush, as doctors warn that the country is heading to a “knife-edge” winter for the NHS, shows that the testing was fundamentally used as a means of profit from the start.
And, for families who had to forgo a holiday this year due to unfeasible additional costs, the costs are a stark exemplar at the new societal inequalities created by policy response to the pandemic.
Nando’s is also surprisingly popular in the US, with locations in Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. In fact, the first time I heard about Nando’s was from a friend who pointed it out while we were visiting Washington.
On a recent trip to England, I set out to finally eat at Nando’s after hearing about it for months. Here’s what dining at the restaurant was like.
Unsurprisingly, Nando’s isn’t hard to find in the UK with four locations in Central London alone. I found a location just a few blocks from Piccadilly Circus while sightseeing.
There was a bit of a wait at this location just off Regent Street but not more than five minutes.
South African decor fills the restaurant and gives it a rather exciting ambiance.
The dining room was moderately crowded with plexiglass partitions dividing some of the tables.
I was glad to see the restaurant getting creative with the plexiglass, as evidenced by this butterfly chicken/heart-shaped partition at the cashier station.
The restaurant smelled of delicious chicken and I was eager to finally try Nando’s.
Paper menus were left at each table but all the ordering was done on the Nando’s website.
QR codes encased in little hearts led the way to the ordering website. Luckily, there was WiFi since I had poor cellular service in the UK.
Each table had a number to include in the order so servers knew where to bring the food.
Much to my expectations, chicken was the primary item on the menu with few alternative options. Other items included burgers, salads, and dips but I had my heart set on peri-peri chicken.
I ordered my chicken with mild spice and hoped for the best. It didn’t take too long for the meal to be prepared but the short time waiting was spent further analyzing the South African artwork.
Soon enough, the star of the night appeared. The beautiful golden brown chicken came out in its iconic heart shape, accompanied by two sides.
I was all set to dig in but waited just a bit longer to get some sauce. The server recommended peri-peri garlic sauce so that was what I grabbed.
But there are other options including wild herb and lemon and herb.
The chicken was perfectly cooked with crispy skin on the outside and gorgeous white meat on the inside.
Next up on the taste test was the chips, or French fries for Americans. But these weren’t just any chips, they were “peri-salted chips” and had the distinct peri-peri seasoning on time.
They were a perfectly cooked golden brown and crispy, but also just as spicy as the chicken. I almost broke out into a sweat just from the two items.
Lastly, two pieces of garlic bread were served as the final side. It’s hard to mess up garlic bread and Nando’s certainly doesn’t as it was incredibly tasty.
I will say that I didn’t immediately fall in love with the chicken to the degree to which I expected. A part of me felt that I could marinate chicken at home and then throw it on the barbeque to achieve comparable results.
I also didn’t get much more flavor from the sauce, which was surprising.
But even still, I cleaned my plate and the meal served its purpose of filling me up.
All in all, it cost £12.25 or $17.02. For what I got, I found it to be just a bit overpriced.
A butterfly chicken breast on its own cost $8.25, which I thought to be incredibly high priced. But this was Central London amid a chicken shortage, after all.
I left satisfied with the meal but felt that the beloved Nando’s didn’t live up to the hype. I’d undoubtedly eat at the chain again but will change it up next time to try more of the menu.