Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Airlines

American and Delta Add China Flights as Restrictions Ease

11 months ago

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.

Delta plane lands in Shanghai
A Delta Boeing 777 lands at Shanghai’s Pudong airport in 2018. (hans-johnson/Flickr)

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.

Airlines

Devastating Maui Fires Likely to Dampen Airline Demand for Extended Period

11 months ago

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.

Relief supplies for Maui being loaded on a Hawaiian Airlines plane. (Hawaiian Airlines)

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.

Airlines

KLM Wins Court Battle Against Dutch State Over Schiphol Airport Flight Caps

1 year ago

KLM has won its court case against the Dutch government, which proposed cutting flights at Schiphol Airport from 500,000 a year to 440,000 a year to reduce noise pollution.

The court stated the government did not comply with European rules, which specify a flight cap can only take effect after all measures to limit noise nuisance had been considered.

The District Court of Noord-Holland’s preliminary proceedings were brought by KLM and other airlines, including Delta Air Lines, easyJet, TUI and Corendon.

Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith earlier this year said any flight cap would also disrupt planning for the arrival of efficient new jets better able to curb emissions. The Franco-Dutch airline group said it had invested heavily in newer planes based on foreseeable capacity at KLM’s hub only to see the goal posts move abruptly.

Dutch businesses and citizens have also campaigned against the limiting of flights to Schiphol, arguing it will simply divert the traffic to other airports, and do little to reduce aviation emissions. Some 84,000 jobs could also be jeopardized if Dutch air travel was weakened, they added.

Schiphol Airport meanwhile plans to axe late-night flights over the next two years.

Airlines

Delta Pilots Approve New Contract With Big Raises by Wide Margin

1 year ago

Pilots at Delta Air Lines overwhelmingly approved a new accord with up to 34 percent pay increases on Wednesday.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents the more than 15,000 pilots at Atlanta-based Delta, said 78 percent of cockpit crew members that voted were in favor of the four-year contract. Roughly 96 percent of eligible Delta pilots voted. The deal includes roughly $7 billion in economic value for pilots, according to the union.

John Laughter, Delta’s chief of operations, said the agreement “recognizes our pilots’ contributions.”

delta air lines pilot on the ramp labor pay source delta
(Delta)

Ratification of Delta’s new accord ups the pressure on other major U.S. airlines to reach similar agreements. American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines are all in negotiations over new contacts with their respective pilot unions.

The agreement also represents a steep increase in costs for Delta, which already faces higher expenses this year than it did before the pandemic. In January, executives estimated that the pilot accord would add as much as 3 percentage points to how much it costs the airline to fly a seat one mile, or what are known as costs per available seat mile, excluding fuel. Delta’s guidance indicates that the metric could be up 23-25 percent in the first quarter compared to 2019.

Updated with comment from Delta.

Airlines

Delta Boosts Pay 5 Percent for Flight Attendants, Most Staff

1 year ago

Delta Air Lines will give its non-union staff, including flight attendants but not pilots, a 5 percent pay raise this April. The move, as CEO Ed Bastian put it in a memo Tuesday, was “well earned” by staff after a challenging 2022.

“This well-earned increase is a direct result of your efforts,” Bastian said. “I can’t thank you enough you for your continued commitment and the care you demonstrate to each other, our customers, and the communities we serve.”

Delta Flight Attendant
A Delta Air Lines flight attendant. (Delta Air Lines)

The raise comes as airlines around the world face pressure from mounting costs. Delta saw the amount it costs for it to fly a seat one mile, excluding fuel, jump 13 percent in the fourth quarter compared to 2019. The dramatic increase came as the airline staffed up to pre-pandemic levels amid operational challenges but flew roughly 9 percent less capacity than three years earlier. And Delta forecasts a further 23-25 percent increase compared to 2019 — or 3-4 percent year-over-year — during the quarter ending in March if its pilots ratify a new accord that would raise their pay by 34 percent over four years.

Delta will pay more than $550 million in bonuses to staff, something it historically does on Valentine’s Day. In addition, it comes less than a year after the carrier gave its non-unionized staff members a 4 percent increase. Most of Delta’s roughly 90,000 workers are not organized, the main exception being its more than 13,000 pilots who are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA).

Travel demand, however, remains robust with revenue growth, in many cases, outpacing the run up in costs.

Business Travel

U.S. Companies Trailing Rest of World in International Corporate Travel Recovery

1 year ago

Just half of companies located in North America are seeing international bookings recover to their pre-pandemic levels, according to a new poll.

This latest data from the Global Business Travel Association delivers a dose of reality for the travel industry. Most travel agencies are predicting an eventual 70 percent recovery.

The picture is a little better in Europe, where six in 10 companies report a return to 2019 booking levels. Asia Pacific and Latin America are ahead with 65 percent and 77 percent respectively.

The survey polled 217 travel manager members, and they tend to represent bigger corporations. In some ways the association’s State of Global Business Travel report, published Tuesday, backs up reports that it’s the smaller enterprises driving the recovery (explaining why the world’s biggest corporate travel agency, American Express Global Business Travel, has restructured to hone in further on the segment.)

The report also follows bullish airline outlooks, including Delta Air Lines which said corporate travel business was now flatlining at around 80 percent of 2019 levels. There’s a clear discrepancy with the association poll here, but again this could be linked to smaller firms that do not have a managed corporate travel program that are among the carrier’s top international bookers.

However, Southwest Airlines said its managed corporate travel was expected to hit 2019 levels by March. That full recovery is still far off association’s poll results for domestic U.S travel: it found 69 percent of corporations had recovered to pre-pandemic domestic booking numbers, leading both Europe and Asia Pacific by three percentage points. Again this suggests it’s perhaps those smaller companies racing ahead to meet clients face-to-face or attend conferences.

The Global Business Travel Association poll was conducted between Jan. 16 and Jan. 23.

Airlines

Lufthansa Makes Official Bid for Italy’s ITA Airways

1 year ago

The Lufthansa Group has made an offer to buy a 40 percent stake in Italy’s state-owned ITA Airways, it said Wednesday. The bid comes after a multi-year process, or “beauty contest” as it has been called, to find a strategic partner for ITA, and a dramatic change of fortune for Lufthansa after being counted out last August.

Financial terms of the offer were not made public but Lufthansa said Wednesday that its initial offer for a minority stake includes taking full control of ITA in the future. Italian daily Corriere della Sera has previously estimated the value of the offer to be between $250-260 million (€230-240 million). The German airline group and Italy’s Ministry of Economy and Finance must next agree to a memorandum of understanding, which would allow exclusive negotiations over the final terms of the deal to begin.

The Lufthansa Group has submitted a bid for Italy’s ITA. (Airbus)

“For Lufthansa Group, Italy is the most important market outside of its home markets and the U.S.,” the airline said in a statement. “Italy’s importance for both business and private travel lies in its strong export-oriented economy and status as one of Europe’s top vacation spots.”

Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr has previously called the group the “natural home” for ITA.

The bid is a change of fortune for Lufthansa. In August, the previous Italian government selected a bid by private equity firm Certares and including commercial agreements with Air France-KLM and Delta Air Lines for ITA. However, the new government of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni failed to reach a deal with the Certares-led group before the exclusivity period expired on October 31. Air France-KLM has since shifted its takeover interest to TAP Air Portugal.

ITA replaced Alitalia as Italy’s national carrier in October 2021.

Airlines

Southwest First U.S. Airline to Resume Dividend After CARES Act Rules End

2 years ago

Southwest Airlines will pay a dividend to its shareholders of record as of January 10, 2023. This may not seem like a notable move for a carrier that has paid dividends for most of 50-plus year existence but it is: Southwest will be the first U.S. airline to resume shareholder returns since the pandemic.

Shareholder returns, including dividends and stock buybacks, were barred at any airline that took federal aid under the U.S. CARES Act until this September. Most carriers have also returned to profitability on the back of strong travel demand. Dallas-based Southwest made a $277 million net profit in the third quarter.

Travelers board a Southwest flight
A Southwest Airlines gate at Dallas Love Field. (Edward RussellSkift)

Other U.S. carriers may not be far behind Southwest. Alaska Airlines Chief Financial Officer Shane Tackett said in October that the carrier’s management would discuss the possibility of resuming “potential shareholder returns” with Alaska’s board in November. There is no word yet on any decision from the Seattle-based carrier.

U.S. airlines, including Southwest and Alaska, are seeing strong travel demand into the new year. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian in October went as far as to claim that travel is “countercyclical” to the macroeconomic trends of high inflation and a potential U.S. recession.

Airlines practice of giving some cash back to shareholders was in the spotlight when the industry was pushing for federal relief in the CARES Act. Some noted that, had the industry not paid dividends our bought back shares in the years prior to the crisis, they may not need the government hand out. Airlines pushed back on this claim, rightly arguing that such returns were standard practice across businesses and not just airlines.

Southwest will pay its investors an $0.18 per share dividend for the fourth quarter on January 31, it said Tuesday. The carrier estimates the dividends will total roughly $428 million.

Airlines

Newark Airport Sets Opening Date for First New Terminal in 34 Years

2 years ago

It’s not often that travelers have something to look forward to at Newark Liberty International Airport. The new $2.7 billion Terminal A will open in December, the latest in a series of major airport projects opening around the U.S. this year.

The first 21 gates of the 33-gate facility will open on December 8, officials said Tuesday. The remaining gates open in 2023. Air Canada, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and United Airlines will operate from the terminal initially, and Delta Air Lines will join them next year. The old Terminal A, which opened in 1973, will be demolished.

The last new terminal to open at Newark airport was Terminal C in 1988.

Inside the new Terminal A at Newark airport
The security checkpoint in the new Terminal A at Newark airport. (PANYNJ)

United, which has a large hub at Newark, will use up to 15 gates in the new Terminal A. The airline plans to operate flights to around 23 destinations — including to Atlanta, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Nashville, Raleigh-Durham, San Diego, and Seattle-Tacoma — from the facility, Newark Chief Pilot Captain Fabian Garcia said in September.

The new terminal at Newark is the latest in a series of big airport investments around the U.S. this year. New or expanded facilities at Denver, Los Angeles, New York LaGuardia, Orlando, Phoenix Sky Harbor, Seattle-Tacoma, and Washington Dulles airports have all opened in recent months.

Construction of Terminal A at Newark began in 2018.

Airlines

Delta, JetBlue Air Taxi Supplier Joby Delays Commercial Flights by a Year

2 years ago

Joby Aviation has delayed the introduction of its new electric air taxi by about a year to 2025, as the certification of the new aircraft proceeds slower than hoped. The developer disclosed the delay in a letter to shareholders on Wednesday.

The delay has immediate implications for Delta Air Lines, which in October unveiled plans to launch a premium air taxi product with Joby in 2024. Delta will sell and market the flights on what are officially known as electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, while Joby manages operations and branding under the exclusive partnership. The airline will invest up to $200 million in the air taxi company and be its sole partner on the new premium service for at least five years after commercial launch.

“The new timeline helps clear the air with some cautious optimism that the FAA expects to have necessary [regulations] in place by” the end of 2024, Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth wrote Thursday on the delay.

A Joby electric air taxi on a test flight
(Joby Aviation)

Joby, and other companies in the urban air mobility sector, claim that electric air taxi technology will revolutionize how people get around cities. In their partnerships with airlines, they tout fast, carbon-free rides on the battery-powered aircraft from downtowns or regional centers to airports. All of the in-development eVTOLS seat only four passengers and are able to fly no more than about 150 miles on a single charge.

JetBlue Ventures is also an investor in Joby, though its parent JetBlue Airways has yet to specify an order or operational plan for the air taxis in its network. Joby also counts Japan’s All Nippon Airways among its customers.

Read Joby's Shareholder Letter