The U.S. Transportation Security Administration expects the number of travelers passing through airport checkpoints to beat, if only slightly, the record of 262 million set four years ago.
The TSA screened nearly 228 million travelers from Memorial Day through August 29, or an average or roughly 2.5 million people a day, it said on Tuesday. The agency forecasts another 14 million more travelers passing through airport checkpoints over the six-day Labor Day holiday weekend from September 1-6. That equals roughly 242 million travelers from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
The balance of screenings needed to exceed 2019 numbers by roughly 1% — the agency’s growth forecast — are likely to come from adjustments between initial reports and final volumes, a TSA spokesperson said.
For the Labor Day weekend holiday, the unofficial end of summer in the U.S., the TSA expects 11% more screenings than last year, Administrator David Pekoske said.
“We are prepared for the increase in travel volumes and are working closely with our airline and airport partners to make sure we are maintaining our wait time standards of 30 minutes and under for standard screening lanes, and 10 minutes and under for TSA PreCheck lanes,” he said. “There are occasions where wait times may be longer, so we encourage you to arrive early, pack your patience and reach out to us before arriving to the airport if you have any questions on our security procedures or items you may bring.”
American Airlines forecasts carrying 3.5 million travelers from August 31 through September 5, and Untied Airlines 2.8 million travelers over the same period.
Pilots at American Airlines approved a new contract Monday worth $9.6 billion over its four-year term, making the carrier the second of the major U.S. carrier after Delta Air Lines to finalize a new pilot accord.
But the deal was hardly a slam dunk for the Allied Pilots Association (APA) that represents the roughly 13,900 pilots at American. Only 72.7% of crew members voted for the deal, according to the union with the balance voting against. Ninety-five percent of pilots voted.
One sticking point among pilots was the failure of the deal to provide them with additional scheduling flexibility.
The contract will raise wages 44% over its term, but it is expected to boost wages by 47% once a snap-up provision is implemented to match rates at Delta and United Airlines. Pilots at American will see an immediate more than 21% pay jump under the deal. It also includes $1.2 billion in retroactive pay and bonuses.
American CEO Robert Isom called the ratification a “great day” for the airline and its pilots in a statement Monday. He added that it would allow the carrier to expand its training capacity, something that was a chokepoint for American to fully recover from the pandemic in 2021 and 2022.
A previous tentative agreement between the APA and American was put on hold after United reached its own tentative deal in July. Following additional talks between the airline and union, the carrier agreed to match the wages offered by United and Delta.
Pilots at Delta ratified a four-year contract of their own in March. That deal included up to 34% pay increases, as well as a snap up provision that meant Delta would match any higher rate set by either American or United. Roughly 78% of pilots at the Atlanta-based carrier voted in favor of the accord.
While the pilot deals were needed to secure labor peace for the airlines, they are also a big contributor to rapidly rising costs. Unit costs, excluding fuel and special items, at American were up 16% from 2019 levels in the second quarter and are forecast to increase another 2-4% in the third quarter. The outlook includes the new labor agreement.
American and other airlines have largely offset the cost increases they’re seeing with higher fares. But fares have begun to fall and the industry has yet to pullback on its post-pandemic capacity growth, which puts further downward pressure on airfares if travel demand does not keep rising.
Updated with additional details of the new agreement, statement from American CEO Robert Isom, and background on the negotiations.
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines will both add more flights to China this fall and winter as geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and China begin easing.
Fort Worth, Texas-based American will add three weekly nonstops for a single daily flight on the Dallas-Fort Worth-Shanghai route in January, an airline spokesperson said Wednesday. And Atlanta-based Delta will add six weekly flights for a total of 10 — once daily Seattle-Shanghai and thrice-weekly Detroit-Shanghai — on October 29, the carrier also said Wednesday.
The additions come less than a week after U.S. and Chinese officials agreed to double the number of nonstop flights between the two countries to 48 a week — 24 for airlines of each country — from October 29. A sticking point in negotiations has been U.S. demands that flights on Chinese airlines to the U.S. avoid Russian airspace, which U.S. carriers are barred from crossing. Flights were capped at 24 a week since China eased Covid-19 travel restrictions in January.
Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, and United Airlines have also outlined plans to add more flights since the new frequency limit was unveiled. The three Chinese carriers each plan to operate five weekly flights through October 28, while United plans to offer at least eight weekly flights between San Francisco and both Beijing and Shanghai from November.
The flight limits have been blamed for stymieing the recovery of Chinese visitor flows to the U.S. The segment generated some $35 billion in annual spending in American cities before the pandemic.
“There won’t be a post-Covid recovery without China because it’s our number one spend market,” Brand USA President and CEO Chris Thompson said earlier in August.
Foreign airlines, like All Nippon Airways, Japan Airlines, and Korean Air, that lack the frequency restrictions their U.S. and Chinese competitors face have picked up connecting traffic on their China flights. ANA President and CEO Shinichi Inoue said in June that the U.S.-China restrictions had created “new demand” for the airline.
In 2019, there were more than 50 daily nonstop flights — or more than 360 weekly frequencies — between the U.S. and China, according to Cirium Diio schedules.
The deadly wildfires on the island of Maui are likely to affect visitor — and airline — demand to the island for the “foreseeable future,” analysts at T.D. Cowen said Friday.
“Resort destinations in Maui are likely to disappear from plans for the foreseeable future, but we believe Hawaii overall will remain an aspirational vacation destination for travelers,” they wrote in a report. The analysts expect the recovery to “take years,” citing as an example the two-year recovery in air travel demand to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma hit the island in 2017.
The wildfires, believed to have been fueled by high winds from a hurricane that passed near the Hawaiian islands, leveled the historic town of Lahaina, killing at least 55 people and displacing thousands on Wednesday. The region of West Maui affected is isolated with just one road in and out.
The outlook is tough news for Hawaiian Airlines, which is the largest airline on the island and operates a secondary hub at Maui’s main airport of Kahului. T.D. Cowen expects the impact the be “meaningful” for the carrier. Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines — the second, third, and fourth largest airlines to the island — are also likely to feel the affect of less demand to Maui.
“We expect capacity to shift away from Maui as a destination and to Oahu, [and] the Big Island,” the T.D. Cowen analysts wrote. “Kauai may also benefit.”
Most airlines have stopped carrying non-essential travelers — or all passengers in some cases — to Maui. Instead, they have been transporting supplies to the island from the mainland U.S., and filling departing flights with those eager to leave the island after the fires. Hawaiian and Southwest are offering seats for just $19 between Kahului and Honolulu.
Airlines have all waived change fees for certain previously booked tickets to Maui, and some are offering rebooking flexibility, including allowing travelers to change their destination in Hawaii free of charge. As of Friday morning, American Airlines‘ waiver applied to trips scheduled by August 13; Alaska and Delta Air Lines by August 15; Hawaiian and United by August 31; and Southwest by September 4.
Non-essential travel to Maui is strongly discouraged for the time being.
New York’s loss is seemingly Philadelphia’s gain at American Airlines. The carrier will begin new daily flights between Philadelphia and Doha, home to Oneworld partner Qatar Airways, in October, replacing New York JFK as the gateway for the route.
The announcement comes weeks after American began unwinding its alliance with JetBlue Airways. That pact, known as the northeast alliance, allowed the two airlines to coordinate schedules in Boston and New York. JetBlue acted like a domestic feeder to American’s long-haul international flights in both cities, including from New York to Doha.
An American spokesperson did not mention the alliance in a statement, saying only that the move to Philadelphia was part of a “continuous evaluation” of the airline’s network. They cited the additional connecting opportunities available to Doha travelers over American’s Philadelphia hub.
American and Qatar Airways also partner on flights between the U.S. and Qatar, as well as on flights beyond Doha. This includes connections to destinations in India and Africa.
Philadelphia is American’s primary transatlantic connecting gateway. However, since the pandemic when it forged the alliance with JetBlue and retired several older aircraft types, the carrier has been slow to rebuild its schedule in Philadelphia. That was particularly evident on long-haul routes with flights to boutique destinations like Dubrovnik and Edinburgh disappearing seemingly for good.
Asked whether the end of the American-JetBlue alliance could benefit Philadelphia in July, airport CEO Atif Saeed said: “We could stand to benefit as an airport. Looking at different variables, we have transatlantic from here and as equipment becomes available, it makes sense for it to come here. I don’t mean that we exclusively benefit, but the potential is high.”
American will launch Philadelphia-Doha flights on October 29. No word yet if Qatar Airways, which also flies the route, will adjust its schedules.
JetBlue Airways and American Airlines will begin winding down their alliance in the northeast in a week’s time, or on July 21. That’s when the carriers will stop taking new reservations under the pact, which a federal judge ruled violated U.S. antitrust law in May.
Existing itineraries that include American and JetBlue flights for travel after July 21 will be honored, but new bookings will not be made, New York-based JetBlue said Friday. Travelers can also accrue loyalty program points after that date as long as their either American AAdvantage or JetBlue TrueBlue number is on their reservation prior to the cutoff date.
“We are still committed to minimizing disruption to existing travel plans and continuing to deliver great value and our award-winning product and service to our customers,” JetBlue Vice President of the Northeast Alliance Dave Fintzen said.
The strategy, to stop taking new reservations but honor existing ones, is similar to the way American and US Airways integrated their reservations systems in 2014. The process is known as a “drain down,” where the number of existing bookings gradually drain out of the system as no new reservations are taken. The method avoided any major integration snafu when American and US Airways merged.
However, numerous details of how American and JetBlue end their alliance remain unknown. These include how JetBlue returns slots at the New York-area airports that it leased from American, how the airlines recover divested slots at Washington’s Reagan National airport, and potential gate relocations at certain airports.
JetBlue announced plans to end the alliance earlier in July. It cited a desire to focus on its proposed merger with Spirit Airlines for the decision. American, on the other hand, still intends to appeal U.S. District Court Judge Leo Sorokin’s decision. Sorokin has yet to set a deadline for the airlines to unwind their alliance, but has indicated that a request by the airlines for 120 days was “too long.”
The U.S. Justice Department has challenged JetBlue’s merger with Spirit, as it did the alliance. That case is scheduled to go to trial in October. Wall Street analysts generally see JetBlue’s decision to end its alliance with American as a positive for the proposed merger, though on the margin given the DOJ’s case against the deal.
JetBlue Airways will not fight to save its alliance with American Airlines in the northeastern U.S., following a judge’s ruling that the pact violated U.S. antitrust law and must be unwound. Instead, JetBlue will shift its focus to securing approval for its proposed merger with Spirit Airlines.
“Despite our deep conviction in the procompetitive benefits of the NEA, after much consideration, JetBlue has made the difficult decision not to appeal the court’s determination that the NEA cannot continue,” the New York-based airline said Wednesday. The NEA refers to the name of the partnership, the Northeast Alliance.
American, in a separate statement Wednesday, said that it maintains plans to appeal the ruling but respects JetBlue’s decision. It will work with the airline to “seamlessly” end the alliance.
American and JetBlue will unwind their partnership over the coming months. The pact is wide ranging including a codeshare partnership in Boston and New York, slot leases at busy New York LaGuardia and JFK airports, a loyalty tie up, and revenue sharing mechanism on joint routes. It even included the divestment of select slots at Washington’s Reagan National airport, which Southwest Airlines recently acquired.
The timeline suggests that the busy summer travel season, which typically ends after the U.S. Labor Day holiday in early September, will be unaffected by JetBlue’s decision to end the alliance. However, the judge in the case could alter the timeline at a hearing scheduled for July 26.
JetBlue still has a fight ahead. Ending the American alliance is not a guaranteed path to the U.S. Justice Department changing its view and approving its merger with Spirit. The regulator has previously indicated that it has concerns about the merger even without the JetBlue-American partnership, and many viewed the alliance as a key bargaining chip in JetBlue’s negotiations with the DOJ. The regulator sued to block the combination in March; a court date is set for October.
“The DOJ should reconsider and support our plan to bring a national low-fare competitor to the Big Four,” JetBlue said Wednesday. “We are open to working with the DOJ to address any remaining concerns they have.”
American Airlines and JetBlue Airways have won a little more time to either appeal or unwind their partnership in the northeastern U.S. after it was found in violation of antitrust law last month.
U.S. District Court Judge Leo Sorokin said Monday that he would take both the Justice Department and airlines’ respective requests on the timeline to end the alliance into account in a yet-to-be-issued final judgement. He described the Justice Department’s request that the original 30 day period — or until June 20 — be honored as “too short,” and the airlines’ request for up to 120 days to end their codeshare agreement as “too long.”
American and JetBlue must end their alliance in the northeast, which covers the Boston and New York markets, 21 days after the final judgement, Sorokin ordered.
The airlines argued on June 9 that, without a delay, unwinding the alliance could be “disruptive to consumers.” One reason they highlighted were JetBlue’s technology systems that they claim are incapable of honoring all aspects of previously-booked tickets if the agreement ended this month. More time would also provide “sufficient time to resolve any forthcoming motions to stay the judgment pending appeal.”
The U.S. Justice Department disagreed. “The court found that the NEA [northeast alliance] considered as a whole, not merely specific aspects of it, was anticompetitive and illegal; allowing portions of the NEA to remain in place indefinitely would provide incomplete relief,” the regulator said in its own filing.
In both cases, the airlines are pushing travel agencies and other retailers to move towards so-called New Distribution Capability. This is a technology standard developed by the International Air Transport Association, and it aims to give airlines more control over their airfares, rather than rely on global distribution systems, such as Sabre, Amadeus and Travelport.
What’s interesting is that up until now, Europe’s airlines were the ones adding expensive fees to encourage adoption. Now it seems to be catching on in the Americas region.
Copa Airlines’ website reflects that: “A fixed amount of $18 will be charged per direction (or each “one-way” of the trip) whenever Copa Airlines participates as the marketing carrier regardless of the operating or ticketing carrier,” says its FAQ document.