The Airbus A380 is making a comeback as more pandemic-era travel restrictions are lifted.
British Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Qatar Airways say they will fly their A380s before the end of the year.
Other airlines have permanently said goodbye to their A380s in favor of more economical planes.
The world's largest passenger plane is making its comeback as airlines around the world are moving quickly to once again shuttle travelers around the world as pandemic-era travel restrictions continue to fall.
Airbus' behemoth A380 stood out like a sore thumb in a world deprived of air travelers early on in the pandemic. The indulgences in air travel and the ability to fly as many passengers in a single plane that the A380 once represented made it temporarily obsolete.
But long-haul flying is returning as countries open their borders. The A380 is once more facilitating vacations, long-distance reunions, business travel, and the countless other reasons travelers have for flying around the world.
Airlines that sent their Airbus A380s to storage are now dusting off the cobwebs and getting flight crews reacquainted with the aircraft. They'll soon fly hundreds of passengers across two full levels of seats.
Here's how the A380 is making a comeback after being mostly forgotten and abandoned during the pandemic.
Four-engine aircraft including the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 were among the most impacted during the pandemic. Airlines no longer needed the amount of space that the aircraft offered combined with the excessive cost of two additional engines when only two were needed.
The A380 also didn't have the benefit of having a second life in the air cargo realm, as other airliners did, despite its size. Though, that didn't stop some airlines from using the A380 as a makeshift freighter.
Destined to fly passengers, the A380 is now getting the chance to do it once more as three airlines have plans to resume scheduled flights with the aircraft before the end of 2021.
Singapore Airlines is the latest airline to announce plans that bring back the A380 thanks to the new "vaccinated travel lane" program that allows vaccinated visitors to skip quarantine upon arrival in Singapore.
The first Singapore Airlines A380 flight since April 2020 will operate on November 4 to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The 160-nautical-mile flight is among the shortest to ever be flown by the A380 in a scheduled capacity.
Source: Cirium Diio Mi
Other Singapore Airlines destinations slated to receive the aircraft after Kuala Lumpur include London; Sydney, Australia; Shanghai, China; Beijing, China; Hong Kong; Dehli, India; Mumbai, India; and Osaka, Japan.
Source: Cirium Diio Mi
Singapore Airlines uses its A380s to offer a premium experience in the sky, unlike anything its smaller planes could offer. Suites are offered in first class, for example, and two can be combined to form a "double suite" with a bed for two.
In Europe, British Airways will resume flying the A380 on November 8. Frankfurt, Germany and Madrid, Spain will be the first destinations from London as a means of getting flight crews reacclimated with the plane.
Source: Cirium Diio Mi
After its initial European runs, British Airways' overseas destinations including Los Angeles and Dubai will be the first to receive the aircraft followed by San Francisco, Singapore, Miami, and Johannesburg, South Africa in 2022.
Source: Cirium Diio Mi
The iconic red, white, and blue A380s sat in storage around Europe and as far as the Middle East. In Doha, Qatar, for example, three British Airways A380s sat idle on a taxiway at Hamad International Airport.
On October 15, All Nippon Airways took delivery of its third and final A380 from Airbus's production line in Toulouse, France. The Japanese carrier had planned to use the aircraft to fly solely between Tokyo and Honolulu, Hawaii before the pandemic hit.
Those flights are scheduled to resume in January, according to the airline's most recent schedule. Though, that may change depending on the travel landscape in Japan.
Source: Cirium Diio Mi
Emirates, in its role as the world's largest Airbus A380 operator, is unsurprisingly flying the most A380 flights of any airline.
Dubai opened to international travelers in July 2020, ahead of most global tourist destinations, and Emirates responded by adding A380 flights to London and Paris.
Source: Cirium Diio Mi
Since then, the A380 has returned to many of the Emirates destinations it has served including the US. American A380 destinations include Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC with as many as six daily A380 flights to the US planned for December.
"Slowly but surely, the A380s are going to fly and they're going to fly to all of those [pre-COVID] destinations," Essa Sulaiman Ahmad, Emirates' division vice president for the US and Canada, told Insider. "The United States is ready for it."
All of Emirates' A380 luxuries have also been restored including caviar in first class and in-flight showers.
And Emirates' existing A380 fleet is also in the process of being retrofitted with a new interior that includes enhancements to each cabin and the addition of a premium economy class.
Qatar Airways plans to resume flights on the Airbus A380 on December 15, serving Paris and London.
Source: Cirium Diio Mi
The largest aircraft in Qatar Airways fleet is the only to feature a true first class cabin. Smaller Qatar Airways aircraft only feature business class seats.
Korean Air also resumed limited flying with the A380 in September 2020 to destinations in Japan and China. Starting December 1, the aircraft is scheduled to fly to more destinations including Bangkok, Thailand, and Paris.
But even as Korean Air slowly returns the jet to its standard flying schedule, the A380's tenure in Korea is still set to expire in the next five years.
"The A380s will be leaving Korean Air's fleet within five years, and the Boeing 747-8i fleet will also follow suit within ten years," Walter Cho, Korean Air's chief executive officer, told FlightGlobal in August.
Lufthansa shares Korean Air's feelings towards the A380 and it's doubtful whether the German carrier will restore the aircraft to flying service at any time in the future.
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said that the "A380 obviously will not come back" in a second-quarter 2021 earnings call.
Air France quickly retired its A380 fleet in May 2020, early on in the pandemic, and now relies on more efficient twin-engine aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing 777, and Airbus A350-900 XWB.
Australian flag carrier Qantas does not currently have A380 flights scheduled for the remainder of 2021. The first scheduled flight is for July 1, 2022, between Sydney and Los Angeles, a staple route for the aircraft.
Qantas just announced the resumption of US and London flights from Sydney following the reopening of New South Wales to vaccinated tourists but has tapped the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to perform the first flights.
One airline that never gave up on the A380, even during the worst of the pandemic, is China Southern Airlines. From Guangzhou, China, the A380 flew to global destinations such as Los Angeles, Sydney, Tokyo, Paris, London, and Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Source: Cirium Diio Mi
The pandemic hasn't yet killed the Airbus A380, even if it has sped up the aircraft's demise. Airlines, like their passengers, still do have affection for the aircraft and aren't ready to part with them just yet.
JetBlue Airways has brought in-flight dining to both cabins of service on its new London flights.
Dig is crafting the economy class menu while Delicious Hospitality Group is tasked with catering in Mint business class.
Italian food was a big focus on my flights with options like meatballs, cavatelli, and chicken Milanese offered.
JetBlue is offering more than cheap fares on its London routes, it's also offering a full culinary experience.
Travelers in both economy and business classes receive complimentary hot meals on European flights. It's the first time in economy class that JetBlue flyers receive any meals.
The choice to provide meals aligns JetBlue with all the current airlines flying between the US and London. Meals are standard in economy on transatlantic flights to the UK and the offering shows that JetBlue isn't taking the budget carrier route of charging extra for meals.
The meal service is an important part of any flight as it passes the time, entertains, and breaks up the boredom of a long-haul flight.
I flew JetBlue to London in economy class and back in business class. Here's what dining on the airline was like in both cabins.
My restaurant for the outbound flight to London was the economy class cabin onboard JetBlue's first Airbus A321neoLR, and I even scored a table near the window.
Instead of perusing a paper menu, however, all meals are on display through the seat-back entertainment screen. I was immediately brought back to the times of Virgin America, which had a similar ordering style.
JetBlue chose Dig, a New York City-based eatery with an emphasis on healthy farm-to-table dining, to cater the economy class meals. I hadn't yet tried Dig's offering, despite working in New York City, and was eager to sample it.
"Dig has earned a big following in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, where customers love the fresh ingredients and customizable concept," Jayne O'Brien, JetBlue's head of marketing and loyalty, said in a statement. "We wanted customers in the air to have the same freedom to design their own meal, just like they would if they were dining at a Dig restaurant."
Ordering was quite simple and intuitive, starting with the main. Three options were available from which to choose only one, with two meat/poultry options and a vegetable option.
Each choice, to my surprise, had a list of the ingredients and a short description. I don't think I've ever seen that level of detail on an economy class food menu. On offer for the dinner service was charred chicken with brown rice in a lime juice with herbs….
Beef and chicken meatballs in a tomato ragu with farro and basil...
And spiced eggplant with turmeric cauliflower rice and toasted quinoa.
Next came the list of sides to accompany the main. Two sides could be selected from three choices available.
The options included a Dig Acres tomato salad with soft farm cheese, pickled onions, and mint…
Chilled sheet tray carrots with garlic, herbs, and a lemon peel…
And mac and cheese in a three-cheese blend with whole-wheat pasta and crispy panko breadcrumbs. To be honest, it was hard to pick since all three seemed ideal to accompany the main.
But just like that, I had the perfect meal queued up and ready to go. There was nothing more I had to do or say, and the anticipation was already building before takeoff.
The empty middle seat in my row also presented another opportunity: use the screen to order an additional meal. My rowmate, a JetBlue employee, and I decided to test out the system and ordered an additional meal to the empty seat.
I also took a look at the interactive drink menu that listed all the beverages available on our flight.
JetBlue offers complimentary soft drinks, beers, wines, and liquors in economy class.
The in-flight service began once the mood lighting in the cabin turned pink. Two flight attendants geared with service trolleys walked up and down the aisle to serve the cabin.
I opted for the traditional gin and tonic in honor of JetBlue's first flight to London. The classic drink consisted of Bombay Sapphire gin and Canada Dry tonic water.
Next came the part we were all waiting for, the meal service. Flight attendants once again started at both ends of the cabin, making their way towards the middle.
A large black insulator case on top of the service trolley served to keep all the meals warn. It reminded me of a pizza delivery box but it did the trick.
The presentation was also unlike anything I had seen in economy, with the food served in small reusable containers. It was certainly presented better than the traditional microwaveable dinner-style packaging to which I'm accustomed on other airlines.
Also on the meal tray was a water bottle and two sauce cups containing sriracha and garlic mayonnaise. This differs from, say, the dinner roll, small side salad, cheese and crackers, and perhaps a dessert that other airlines will pack onto the tray.
I opened the lids, however, and found more than enough food to satisfy, and everything looked delicious. I quickly dug in, no pun intended, and effectively cleaned my plate.
The highlight was the mac and cheese which was the perfect comfort food for a long flight. I didn't love the cold carrots and was surprised by their temperature in comparison with the hot food but it was still tasty.
Next came the meatball main and while the presentation was similarly delightful, I do have to say that I didn't love the meatballs. They were alright but as someone that takes joy in making meatballs from scratch, I thought I could have made a better meatball.
The tomato salad, however, was incredibly fresh and delightful. It was a perfectly healthy option for the flight. I was too full to clean the tray but I made sure to enjoy the second serving of mac and cheese.
An ice cream cookiewhich capped off the evening meal service, which was the highlight of the meal. And with that, it was off to bed for the rest of the transatlantic crossing.
For those still hungry, though, the JetBlue "pantry" was open for business with a selection of the carrier's signature snacks.
I was woken up just a few hours later by a JetBlue flight attendant, at my request, during the morning meal service.
There weren't any choices this time around and all passengers were given the same box of breakfast goods, including a pain au chocolate served warm and fruit salad.
Once again, the light meal hit the spot and prepared me to take on the day in London. Chocolate bread is also a personal favorite when in Europe and I'm glad JetBlue thought it would be ideal for London flights.
Landing in London completed the culinary journey that accompanied the flight, and the next few days were spent enjoying the local UK cuisine.
JetBlue has been working with the Delicious Hospitality Group to cater Mint business class flights since November. Any traveler that's flown Mint since then has had the opportunity to test out its culinary offering.
DHC under chef Ryan Hardy is known for its New York City restaurants including Pasquale Jones, Legacy Records, and Charlie Bird. Each restaurant has its turn onboard and Pasquale Jones was up for my flight to New York.
Ordering meals in business class is slightly different than in economy, and traditional menus were left on each seat. Dinner was served on the 2:05 p.m. flight to New York, with five options from which to choose including baby greens, roasted carrots, shrimp curry, chicken Milanese, and cavatelli.
Before the meal, however, a blood orange mimosa was served for the pre-departure beverage. It was quite refreshing and set a positive tone for the flight ahead.
A beverage menu also listed which cocktails, beers, and liquors were available to order. Traditional cocktails were on offer including an old fashioned, margarita, and a dirty martini, as well as JetBlue concoctions.
The meal service began shortly after takeoff with a tasting trio of olives, cashews, and anchovies. I'm not an anchovy fan but I can't hold that against JetBlue, especially as the other two snacks were delightful.
I also ordered a "mint condition," consisting of gin or vodka with ginger, lime, cucumber, and mint. It reminded me of a mojito and I very much enjoyed it.
Next came the main course, with four plates and a lot of food. Travelers can choose three of the five main course choices and I opted for the chicken Milanese, cavatelli, and baby greens.
The baby greens served as the salad for the meal and included sweet potato and buttermilk dressing. It was light, fresh, and delicious.
The chicken Milanese was basically a plain chicken cutlet, a dish I've eaten since I was a kid, accompanied with lemon and some greens. It was quite tasty but a bit bland without any sauce or cheese.
I was the most nervous about the cavatelli since I've never had a great experience with tomato sauces on airplanes. It wasn't my favorite dish on the tray but it was quite the Sunday gravy with a full bowl of pasta with sausage ragu with pecorino romano on top.
And finally, a dinner roll was served on the side with an "emergency kit," as chef Ryan Hardy calls it, of olive oil, spicy olive oil, and salt.
"I think we can really fix just about anything. If we have great salts, great olive oil, some hot pepper, and some lemon," Hardy said when debuting the new Mint offering in November, "because those are critical to the cooking that we do in our restaurants."
Dessert immediately followed dinner and flight attendants rolled the desert cart down the aisle. On offer were a cheese plate and vanilla gelato with blackberries and almond crunch.
A cheese plate, in my opinion, is the best way to end a meal and I'm glad to see that JetBlue recognizes that. My only complaint was that there weren't enough crackers to accompany the delicious cheeses.
While certainly tasty and well-presented, I can't say it was among the best in-flight meals I've ever had.
A selection of coffee and English tea was also available but I was fully content after the meal. The next few hours were spent working and resting.
The good food continued as we crossed the Atlantic with flight attendants passing around a selection of snacks, including Walker's shortbread cookies. I was glad to see it wasn't JetBlue traditional snack basket and had premium brands.
I also tested out the dirty martini and found it a little too dirty for my taste. But I did appreciate the odd number of olives in the drink.
The pre-landing "supper small plates" were served just under an hour before landing as we approached New York. A selection of three choices was provided, from which I could select two, including Italian clam soup, panzanella, and a panini.
I opted for the panzanella and panini, which were accompanied by a pretzel roll. It was a surprisingly good amount of food and I didn't even think I was hungry enough to eat again. But I was and I did.
Flight attendants also brought over the before-landing snack from economy, purely for demonstration purposes, consisting of a warm pretzel and fruit salad. I didn't indulge but both definitely would've sufficed had I been in the back.
Landing in New York came all too soon and it was safe to say that I didn't need to have dinner that night at home. But if I had to choose between the two JetBlue meals I had, I think I'd choose the meal I had on the flight I took in economy class.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline updated the document that outlines its responsibility to customers on August 27 with strengthened language on how it handles flight delays and cancellations, among other items. One line, in particular, appears to state that American isn't obligated to get customers to their destinations in the event of lengthy delays or cancellations.
"If we or our airline partner fails to operate or delays your arrival more than 4 hours, our sole obligation is to refund the remaining ticket value and any optional fees according to our involuntary refunds policy," states the conditions of carriage. The line isn't found in the previous version, which Insider used an archived webpage to view.
Despite the new language, American says that its underlying policies remain the same and that it will still work to help impacted travelers.
"We recently made updates to our contract of carriage to more accurately reflect our Customer Service Plan and practices we've had in place for a few years," American told Insider in a statement. "None of these updates reflect a change in policy, but instead provide more detail about what customers can expect during travel in accordance with domestic travel regulations."
An industry expert, however, is doubtful that the new wording paints the clearest picture of the airline's obligations, despite American's stated intentions.
"What concerns me about the wording in American's current contract of carriage is it creates the impression that if your flight is delayed by more than four hours, [the airline's] sole responsibility is to give you a refund," Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider.
"The challenge for American is that the contract has to be able to be read and understood by the average American Airlines passenger," Harteveldt said. "And American serves an extremely diverse mix of people."
It's not just passengers that may need to refer to the conditions of carriage. Airline staff may refer to the document for clarity when serving travelers.
"The concern that I have is that an American Airlines employee who is not well-versed, well-trained, or may simply be feeling lazy, would tell a customer: 'I don't have to get you to your destination. All we have to do is give you your money back for your unused portion of your ticket,'" Harteveldt added. "What matters to people is how they are treated when the chips are down."
American maintains that this language won't affect the customer experience and it will still work to help impacted flyers when delays and cancellations strike.
"We always strive to provide our customers with the best service possible when they are traveling on American and support and assist them when travel does not go as smoothly as intended," American said. "Our hope with this written clarity is that customers who may have questions about their travel can more quickly find answers to their questions, rather than waiting in line or calling to speak with an agent."
Hartevelt notes that in trying to eliminate ambiguity American may have unintentionally created it.
September 6, 2021Thomas PalliniUncategorizedComments Off on Americans rushed to Canada when it first opened but crossing data shows the Great White North has lost its allure – and businesses on the border are most impacted
Americans flocked across the US-Canada border after its reopening to vaccinated US tourists.
Crossings have since dropped given strict requirements and the end of the summer travel season.
Canadian businesses haven't been able to capitalize on the border reopening as leaders had hoped.
Canada's newly-reopened border drew around 219,000 non-commercial crossings, according to Canada Border Services Agency crossing data viewed by the Wall Street Journal, in its first week. The high point for 2021 was around 15% of summer 2019's crossing levels.
But crossings dropped as summer came to a close, and businesses in border towns are still without the American customers on which they rely.
That's because the Canadian border isn't as easy to cross as it once was. Gone are the days when just the flash of a passport and a few questions from a border guard would grant entry into Canada.
Vaccinated American citizens looking to travel north need a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours from a flight's scheduled departure or arrival at a land border crossing. Travelers that have recently recovered COVID-19 can show a positive test from between 14 and 180 days prior to entry.
And before arriving in Canada - whether by air, land, or sea - travelers must have completed an online form called "ArriveCan." Its requirements include providing an address in Canada at which visitors could quarantine should they test positive and providing the exact dates of a traveler's vaccination.
Upon arrival at the border, CBSA personnel now perform a question-based health screening to each arrival, increasing crossing times.
Business leaders cite the restrictions as the reason for a reduction in casual crossings.
"In the past, you'd have people who just crossed the border for dinner and then drove back home," Ritu Khanna, executive director of the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce in Canada's British Columbia province, told the Wall Street Journal. "Now, the feeling is, people are coming cautiously, still, because there are so many requirements."
Foreign visitors to the country arriving by air rose by 67%, the Journal reported, but those travelers typically bypass border cities altogether and land directly in Canada's major cities.
Not all businesses have felt the squeeze as one eco-lodge operator in Manitoba has been reporting an increase in customers since the reopening announcement. Adam Pauls of Churchill Wild told the Journal that foreign visitors are the reason his business is booked to capacity from mid-September, albeit with the business operating at limited capacity due to government restrictions.
The US is also contributing to the problem as Canadians have less of a reason to pass through their own border cities. Canadians are not allowed to cross the land border for non-essential reasons through at least September 21, as part of the ongoing border closure that the Biden administration is keeping in place.
Canada is expanding entry to all other fully vaccinated foreign nationals on September 7, which may give businesses more of a boost. But with the summer coming to its official close, seasonal American tourists are becoming a negligible source of revenue for many Canadian businesses.
The Biden administration confirmed that it helped with an American citizen and their family members escape from Afghanistan to a neighboring country using an "overland route," according to an Associated Press report on Monday.
The unnamed official wouldn't give any specific details of the escape route, including the neighboring country in which the evacuees arrived, to protect its viability for future missions, the AP reported.
American embassy officials met the group at the Afghanistan border. An overland evacuation meant the group would've arrived at the border on foot or in a vehicle.
Five countries border Afghanistan including Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and China. The disputed Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan also borders Afghanistan.
America has embassies in all but one of those countries, Iran. Given the tense state of affairs between the US and Iran, it's likely the overland escape would've been carried out to one of the more friendly countries to the US.
A tweet from Rep. Ronny Jackson confirmed that four US citizens from Texas were evacuated, including young children, citing the "first successful ground evacuation since the US left Kabul."
Airlifting additional US citizens out of Afghanistan has proven difficult following the official end of the US' presence in the country. Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas on Sunday warned of what he called a "hostage" situation at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport in northern Afghanistan as six planes were prevented from leaving.
"In fact, we have six airplanes at Mazar-i-Sharif Airport, six airplanes, with American citizens on them as I speak, also with these interpreters, and the Taliban is holding them hostage for demands right now," McCaul, the Republican leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Fox News Sunday.
Also on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain told CNN's "State of the Union" that "around 100" US citizens remain in Afghanistan and that the Biden administration is in touch with all American citizens that have been identified in the country. "We are going to find ways - the ones that want to leave - to get them out of Afghanistan," Klain said.
It's not the first time that the US has had to go to extreme measures to get its citizens out of hostile Middle Eastern and South Asian countries. In 1980, the Central Intelligence Agency working with the Canadian government flew American diplomats using assumed identities out of Iran following the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
Afghan refugees have been fleeing to their country's borders in attempts to seek asylum in neighboring countries, with the BBC reporting large masses gathering at Afghanistan-Pakistan border crossings. Pakistan and Iran have declined to accept additional Afghan refugees, the British news outlet reported.
The Taliban flag now flies over the Afghanistan border, including at a crossing near Chaman, Pakistan.
Other Middle Eastern and European countries are taking a hard line on migration across their borders in the wake of the US withdrawal. Turkey is reinforcing its border with Iran using three-meter tall concrete slabs, according to the Guardian, while Greece recently completed a 25-mile wall on its border with Turkey, according to CNN.
And at the border of the European Union in Poland, soldiers have constructed a makeshift border of barb fencing with neighboring Belarus to stop the rising tide of migrants from countries including Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Reuters.
The UK is finally open to Americans after more than a year of closed borders.
As of August 2, vaccinated Americans are allowed to enter the UK for non-essential purposes, including tourism.
But entering the UK isn't as easy as flashing a vaccination card, as it is elsewhere in Europe. Travelers must take tests before departure and after arriving in the country.
I flew to the UK on JetBlue's inaugural flight to London and saw why it's not the easiest country to enter, even while vaccinated and fully recovered from COVID-19.
My flight to London was on a Wednesday and that meant I could get tested as early as Sunday. So, I went to the airport.
The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which operates the city's public hospitals, has numerous free testing sites throughout the five boroughs. Its location at John F. Kennedy International Airport, I've found, is always empty and reliable.
I set out on a rainy Sunday to get the test and requested a PCR test just to be safe.
A quick swab of the nose and I was on my way. I've taken numerous tests here and have never billed been; though, I do see the insurance claims.
With that test coming back negative in under 24 hours, I should've been good to enter the UK. Now, I had to arrange a post-arrival test.
American visitors to the UK are required to take a "day two" test on or before the second day from their arrival. I was landing on a Thursday so had to take the test no later than Saturday.
Finding a provider was not easy. Hundreds of firms are listed on the UK government's website with no easy way to search based on city.
After hours of searching, I found a testing site from the UK government's website just a few stops on the London Underground from my hotel in the community of Shepherd's Bush. It cost £79 or $110.48.
The worst part was, I had to do this process twice since I was planning a day trip to France in the middle of my trip.
On top of that, I needed to book a rapid antigen test to get back into the US just in case the PCR results didn't come back in time.
I resolved to book an "at-home" test for my second day two test and had the firm. ship it to my hotel in London as I couldn't have it sent to the US. That test cost £60, or $83.90.
The irony, though, was that I used British Airways' website to get a discount code even though I was flying JetBlue.
Lastly, I booked a rapid antigen test from a provider that had a location inside London's St. Pancras International Station. That only cost £32 or $44.75.
I spent a good eight hours over the course of a week planning these different tests and navigating the rules. Once I booked the tests, I was given a confirmation number to put on my passenger locator form required to enter the UK.
I also needed another pre-departure test to get back into the UK after my side trip to France. For that one, I went to CVS on a Tuesday before my trip.
CVS similarly offers free tests and though I had never used the service before, I was hopeful the results would be the same. Three cars were ahead of me at the drive-thru and it took a good 20 minutes to get to the window.
This was a self-serve test so I had to swap my own nose and put it in the provided tube and sealed bag. That test came back in under 48 hours with the same negative result.
Then, it was finally time to fly to England. I printed a massive stack of papers with my test results and the rules for entering the UK just in case I was challenged.
I even got two more tests before my trip at the airport and a pop-up site in Manhattan just to be sure.
The JetBlue check-in agent verified my Sunday test and vaccination document. And with that, I was all set to jet.
That was the last time anybody reviewed my tests. Officials normally at customs upon arrival into the UK but JetBlue had arranged to use electronic gates in London and I never spoke to a border agent.
It was soon time for the first test, just one day into my trip. This was the rapid antigen test to get back to the US.
Quick and painless, I left with an itchy nose and eventual negative result.
The next test was the UK government-mandated day two test. I hopped on the Underground and went to Shepherd's Bush.
It wasn't a part of London I wanted to see or necessarily be in. But I had to take the test.
Lo-and-behold, I found it in the back of an eyeglass shop.
All in all, I was in and out in under five minutes. The result came back the same day: negative.
I could've used that result to fly home but already booked the rapid antigen test. Back I went on my trip.
Coming back from France on the Eurostar, I was asked for my negative COVID-19 test by customs officials. My Tuesday test from the CVS got me in just fine.
The final test was the at-home test that was delivered to my hotel. I had to take this test after coming back from France, even though I was leaving the UK in less than 48 hours.
Just like the CVS test, a packet was provided with a test kit to be sent back.
It took some time to figure how what information to put on the vial but there was a handy guide to assist.
This test consisted of a tonsil and nose swab.
It wasn't very secure, though, as there was nothing verifying I was the person taking the test.
In any case, all I had to do was drop off the box in a mailbox. The results came on a Wednesday after dropping it off on a Sunday morning.
At no point was I required to inform the UK government of my results, nor was there any effort to check and see if I had actually taken the tests.
Overall, I spent $239.13 on three different tests without including travel expenses and took countless more just for a weekend in London. I'll stick to destinations that don't require tests for future trips.
France is open once again to US tourists, and also taking customers across the Atlantic once more is La Compagnie.
The French boutique airline specializes in premium, yet discounted, transatlantic travel with an all-business class offering.
Operating the flights is La Compagnie's new flagship aircraft, the Airbus A321neo, boasting greater comfort and efficiency than the Boeing 757s it replaced.
At present, the airline can be found flying between Newark and the French cities of Paris and Nice. But new routes to Milan Italy, and Tel Aviv, Israel are scheduled for later this year, depending on how international travel develops given the Delta variant.
I went onboard one of La Compagnie's swanky aircraft after a flight from Paris. Take a look inside the airline's Airbus A321neo.
On the outside, La Compagnie's aircraft are unmistakable thanks to an iconic blue and black livery.
Even the cockpit windows feature Airbus' signature black mask, affectionately referred to as "eyeliner."
Powering the aircraft are two CFM International LEAP-1A engines, that are quieter and more fuel-efficient than previous generation engines.
When combined with aerodynamically-friendly wingtips, known as "sharklets" on Airbus planes, fuel burn is reduced by 20% per seat compared to older generation aircraft.
In a normal configuration, the Airbus A321neo can fly 4,000 nautical miles. But La Compagnie's configuration is anything but normal.
A total of 76 business class seats comprise the single cabin, spanning a mere 20 rows.
There are no economy seats onboard La Compagnie, nor middle seats, for that matter.
Each row offers paired seats, with an aisle and a window seat. They're ideal for couples traveling together but there is a partition in case the seat neighbor is a stranger.
The window seat offers the greatest amount of privacy since it's away from the aisle.
But the tradeoff is a lack of direct aisle access for window seats. The choice is between having a good view and having unobstructed access to the aisle and lavatories.
Each seat has a seat-back entertainment system with high-definition displays.
The screens are immovable but quite large and also touch-screen.
A remote is available, however, so flyers don't have to keep reaching over.
A range of complimentary content is offered, in addition to complimentary in-flight WiFi.
Options include movies...
And a map section.
Menus for the meal service are also listed on the screens. La Compagnie offers French cuisine on its flights, unsurprisingly.
Three flight attendants service the cabin during flights for a ratio of one flight attendant for around every 25 passengers.
Tray tables extend from the side of the seat and can be half-extended to hold drinks or light items.
And then they can be fully extended for meal times or when using a laptop, for example.
Coat hangars can also be found on the seat-backs.
Seats are fully lie-flat and controlled by a panel next to the seat.
Each seat comes with a pillow and comforter for when it's time to sleep.
The lie-flat capability is a step up from when La Compagnie flew Boeing 757 aircraft that only had angle-flat capabilities.
Each pillow also has a saying in French and English.
Mood lighting helps to relax passengers, especially when it's time to rest. And when it's time to wake up, colors change to make the body more alert.
One downside to the seats is that headrests are not adjustable, and minor cracks do show in the leather.
In terms of seat amenities, a pair of noise-canceling headphones can be found at each seat.
These are common in transatlantic business class cabins and make the already quiet A321neo experience even more tranquil.
For those travelers working or reading during the flight, a personal reading lamp is available so the cabin can be kept dark during night flights. In-seat power is also available.
And a business class amenity kit also comes standard for all passengers.
Inside are the essentials such as an eye mask, socks, and lotions.
Customers with high heels or other shoes can also store them in a bag.
French champagne is served onboard the airline with at least three selections from which to choose. Passengers are handed a glass after stepping onboard.
The lavatories were the only non-glitzy part of the aircraft and were surprisingly basic, aside from a few extra lotions.
The exit rows feature some of the best seats on the aircraft as they offer just slightly more legroom than the rest.
After walking through the plane, there really weren't any bad seats, aside from some with misaligned windows.
In row 15, for example, the windows don't exactly line up.
The last row is also to be avoided as they double as crew rest seats and have a metal bar above them that holds a curtain.
La Compagnie is now, however, the only airline offering all-business class flights between the US and Europe, and has been since British Airways retired its Airbus A318 aircraft flying between New York and London, UK.
The feeling of a private jet is even more pronounced given that the airline's load factors are only around 60%, meaning that most seat pairs will only have one occupant.
More and more airlines are flying narrow-body aircraft across the Atlantic, but La Compagnie's configuration gives the cabin a more spacious and open feel.
Flyers can see straight to the back of the aircraft, for example, even from the very first row.
Most of the seats also have two dedicated windows, allowing flyers in both seats to look out of them.
Christian Vernet, La Compagnie's chief executive officer, told Insider that the aircraft's economics and modernity make it a win-win for passengers and the airline, alike.
Despite the glitzy cabin in the back of the plane, the cockpit is quite standard for an Airbus jet.
Only two pilots are staffed on each flight, tasked with transporting passengers to and from France.
But pilots can rejoice in once more flying paying customers across the Atlantic instead of ad-hoc charter and cargo flights during the pandemic's peak.
August 10, 2021Thomas PalliniUncategorizedComments Off on Frontier Airlines is mandating vaccines for employees and running promotions for vaccinated flyers. Except vaccinations aren’t really required for either.
Frontier Airlines is requiring employees to be vaccinated and running promos for vaccinated flyers.
But workers can opt out through testing, and customers aren't being asked to prove vaccination.
The move comes as more companies are aligning themselves with pro-vaccine policies.
Frontier Airlines is the latest company to incentivize vaccines for both employees and customers.
In the past week, the ultra-low-cost carrier unveiled two promotions aimed at vaccinated flyers and instituted a vaccine mandate for employees. That would put Frontier on the leading edge of airlines that are taking active measures to get more of the country vaccinated, joining United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines as the only other US airline with a vaccine mandate.
The only caveat is that vaccinations aren't technically required for either the promotions or workers.
"A vaccination policy is a clear next step for the airline as it remains committed to the health and safety of all passengers and crew members," Frontier said in a statement on Friday.
Employees, however, can opt out of mandatory vaccinations by submitting to "regular" COVID-19 testing.
"The majority of our employees have already been vaccinated and our hope is that this step will increase that percentage," spokesperson Zach Kramer said of the more than 5,300 Frontier workers directly employed by Frontier.
Frontier didn't clarify which tests would be acceptable and how often tests would be allowed when asked by Insider, but did that say receiving the vaccine or undergoing testing would be a "condition of employment."
Frontier's "Friends With Vaccines Fly Free" allows vaccinated members of the airline's Discount Den subscription program to buy a ticket and get another free. The terms and conditions require customers to fly on certain days and within a certain time frame but it doesn't actually mandate that purchasers be vaccinated, and Frontier isn't likely asking for proof.
Another promotion gives flyers 10,000 bonus miles under the Frontier Miles frequent flyer program for every two flights they take. This program also relies on the honor system where flyers "agree" that they are vaccinated by signing up.
"With respect to the Friends With Vaccines Fly Free and 10K Bonus Miles offers, our goal is to highlight the importance of being vaccinated to protect each other and encourage people to get vaccinated, if they haven't already done so," Kramer added.
Frontier didn't address whether vaccination cards would be checked by airline staff for those that booked tickets under either promotion, when asked by Insider.
Dr. Rupali Limaye, an associate scientist and director of behavioral and implementation science at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Insider that a vaccine mandate with testing opt-outs isn't likely to sway the unvaccinated that have likely made their minds up about the vaccine.
"If they're still not persuaded by Delta and looking at morbidity and mortality related to Delta, I don't think they're going to get [the vaccine]," Limaye said of the unvaccinated facing vaccine mandates with testing opt-outs. "I think that they would automatically opt for the testing option."
The same logic can be applied to vaccine-based promotions that don't actually require vaccinations.
While any mandate is better than nothing, Limaye believes that regular testing for workers should include multiple viral tests per week.
The unvaccinated workforce should also be wearing masks to prevent spreading the virus in case they contract it in between tests, according to Limaye. Many airport-based airline workers are already required to wear masks due to the federal mask mandate.
Less than 200 miles separate New York and Boston, but traveling between the two cities is anything but fast.
Travelers have countless options including the standard planes, trains, and automobiles, but it still takes close to 4 hours when traveling commercially, at the very least. But one airline is changing all of that.
The flight time is only 75 minutes and the planes use New York's East River and Boston Harbor as airports.
Tailwind took up some reporters on a demonstration flight using the same aircraft it uses on the New York-Boston runs. Here's what it was like.
On the New York side of the route, Tailwind uses Manhattan's New York Seaport located at the intersection of FDR Drive and 23rd Street.
Tailwind has a small departure lounge at the seaplane base where customers can wait before a flight. It's not much beyond a few comfortable seats and some complimentary drinks, but flyers won't be waiting here long on most days.
Unlike traditional commercial flights, Tailwind only requires passengers to show up no later than 10 minutes before a flight. Meanwhile, Amtrak recommends passengers arrive 30 minutes early for its trains.
Then it's just a short walk down a long pier to get to the seaplane dock where the aircraft is waiting.
Cessna Caravan seaplanes operate the exclusive New York-Boston flights with room for eight passengers. Only seven passengers will fly on these runs, however, according to Captain Adam Schewitz.
The aircraft is often flown by a single pilot, but two are at the controls for the Boston flights. One pilot helps passengers onboard and starts up the plane while the other pushes the plane from the dock and then hops onboard.
The cabin is small but not too claustrophobic. Inside, eight leather seats are laid out in a 1-1 configuration.
There aren't any flight attendants, seat-back entertainment screens, or WiFi capabilities on this plane, but the 75-minute flights should be short enough for passengers not to notice.
Passengers are limited on how much baggage they can bring due to weight restrictions but each can be a standard bag of no more than 20 pounds. Tailwind expects business travelers to only be bringing light items.
The cockpit is also open, allowing passengers to get the same view as the pilots.
I was directly behind Schewitz and had bounds of legroom.
After all of the passengers were seated, it was time to take to the skies. Schewitz started up the engine and we were off.
There's no set runway in the East River so it's up to the pilots to find a clear patch and depart into the wind.
Already, the views of the city were impressive.
Seating is also first-come, first-serve - flyers wanting the best view should ask one of the pilots which direction the plane will be departing.
After a few seconds of bumpiness as we crossed the river, all became calm in the cabin and we ascended above the city.
I was on the left-hand side of the plane so my view was of downtown Brooklyn and the Williamsburg Bridge.
We also flew right over the highway traffic that this kind of air service allows travelers to avoid.
Just off the other side of the aircraft, however, was Lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, and the Freedom Tower.
We flew down the river at an altitude of around 1,000 feet, not quite high enough to fly above the Freedom Tower.
New York Harbor then came into view with the ships waiting to dock at the Port of New York and New Jersey.
And, of course, the Statue of Liberty did not fail to impress - we did a quick circle over Liberty Island.
Then we headed up the Hudson River just a few thousand feet from the Freedom Tower. On my side of the plane was New Jersey, including Jersey City and Hoboken.
The Hudson River is a popular area for air traffic and we would occasionally hear warnings from the cockpit about other aircraft in the vicinity. But the aircraft's advanced avionics system allowed Schewitz to easily avoid other aircraft.
Additional sights included Madison Square Garden...
and Hudson Yards.
Our sightseeing flight was soon coming to an end and we crossed Central Park on approach to the East River.
The George Washington Bridge, Harlem, and Randall's Island all came into view.
The Hell Gate Bridge, which carries Amtrak trains from Boston and New England, was also visible, in a bit of irony. In the time it would take this plane to reach Boston from New York, Amtrak's Acela would only make it to around New Haven, Connecticut.
Once again, Schewitz would have to imagine a runway in the middle of the East River, staying clear of boat traffic and helicopters from the East 34th Street Heliport.
Roosevelt Island was visible from my side of the plane as we slowly descended for an East River landing, with Schewitz being careful to avoid the Queensboro Bridge as we flew a few hundred feet overhead.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's famous quote from "The Great Gatsby" about "the city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is the city seen for the first time," took on a whole new meaning.
From the opposite window, I could see some of Midtown Manhattan's tallest buildings, including those on Billionaire's Row.
I was most concerned about landing in the East River, given the boat traffic and potentially rocky water.
Case in point: I could see a New York City ferry nearly opposite our flight path, but it proved to be no issue.
"It's their river," Schewitz told Insider, adding that it's his responsibility to avoid them while communicating on an advisory frequency monitored by all operating in the river.
Congestion in the river could mean that the aircraft could have to attempt another landing once the traffic dissipates.
Despite landing on water and not a paved runway, it was one of the smoothest landings I've ever experienced. Schewitz slowed the plane using reverse thrust and then we slowly drifted towards the dock.
It appeared to be incredibly quiet from the cockpit for the whole flight, but Schewitz said he was speaking on at least five different frequencies during our 12-minute flight.
Just like that, we were back where we started. If I was a business traveler that had just arrived, I could be in the heart of Midtown Manhattan in minutes or down on Wall Street in less than half an hour.
Overall, it's easy to see why taking a seaplane would be more convenient than even the high-speed Acela.
Specifically, the lack of security checks, the ability to arrive at the plane just 10 minutes before departure, and the convenience of downtown departure points make this mode of travel perfect for New York-Boston travel.
And if either the East River or Boston Harbor isn't available, the seaplane can use its traditional landing gear to land at a regular airport.
July 17, 2021Thomas PalliniUncategorizedComments Off on Tension and violence onboard airplanes is soaring, but the CDC still wants flyers to wear masks because the unvaccinated are ‘extremely vulnerable’
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is against lifting the mask mandate on airplanes.
The Transportation Security Administration's current mask mandate expires on September 13 but may be extended.
Thousands of travelers have been banned from airlines for not wearing masks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come out against lifting the federal mask mandate that requires travelers to don face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when using transportation modes including air, rail, and bus.
"The truth is that the unvaccinated portion that's out there is extremely vulnerable," Marty Cetron, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's division of global migration and quarantine, told Reuters on Thursday.
President Joe Biden first directed agencies to create mask mandates for transportation in January and CDC soon followed up with an order that codified mask mandates on commercial and public transportation into federal law.
The Transportation Security Administration, tasked with protecting the nation's transportation networks, complemented CDC's order with its own mandate that covers airports and commercial aircraft, as well as surface transportation networks. Before then, mask mandates were solely a matter of airline policy, and the first airline to require masks for passengers, JetBlue Airways, didn't do so until late April.
TSA's mandate took effect on February 2 and has already been extended past its original expiration date of May 11. September 13 is the new scheduled end date but the order can be extended again if the federal government deems it necessary, and Cetron's comments hint that it might be.
"I get we're all just over this emotionally but I do think we will succeed together if we realize the virus is the enemy and it's not your fellow citizen or the person sitting next to you on a plane or a piece of cloth that you have to wear over your face," Cetron told Reuters, adding that federal agencies are expected to follow CDC's lead on this issue.
"It is currently unknown as to whether the mask mandate will be extended or kept in place," Lisa Farbstein, TSA's spokesperson, told Insider. "What we do know is that the mandate is currently in place until September 13. That gets us through the traditional summer travel season, just past the Labor Day holiday."
Defiance to the mask mandate has heightened tensions onboard commercial flights as flight crews have been enforcing the policy. Passengers have hurled verbal abuse at flight attendants and interactions have even turned violent, as Insider's Allana Akhtar reported.
"I'm sure there are some executives and many employees who personally wish the mask mandate would end today, were it not for the threat of the delta variant of the virus, simply to reduce the tensions that exist on aircraft," Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider.