SFO is regaining these Asia/Pacific routes and a low-fare airline is prepping a travel pass

In this week’s airline news, Frontier reportedly plans to sell 12-month, all-you-can-fly passes next year; US carriers are adding or increasing service to Asia/Pacific destinations, including Hong Kong, Australia and Japan; JetBlue adds more destinations to its code-sharing with Qatar Airways; a new company offers unlimited flights from San Jose to Maui on all-first-class 737s; Alaska Airlines goes all in on Boeing 737 MAX planes with a big new order; United finally finishes installation of Polaris business cabins on all its 787s; new deal between Amazon and Hawaiian Airlines could give the latter a 15% stake in the carrier; Spain is the last European destination to drop all COVID-related entry restrictions; Frontier has its eye on Europe and Hawaii routes when it gets its new long-range Airbus jets; United’s high-end customers with tight connections will travel gate to gate in chauffeured Jaguar SUVs at SFO and other hubs.

The next airline to introduce an all-you-can-fly travel pass for a fixed price will be Frontier, according to some aviation sites that saw an email about the plan. The airline hasn’t formally announced anything yet, but The Points Guy reports that the new Frontier promotion will be called the GoWild Pass; it should be coming next spring, and will be good for unlimited flights to any Frontier destination on 300 days over 12 months. According to the site, the email said flight confirmations under the pass will only be available “the day before you take off.” Simpleflying.com said the pass will be “ideally suited for an adventurous soul who is flexible with scheduling,” but it noted that the last-day confirmation policy means that it will be “difficult to rely on flight schedules as you may be booted if all seats are booked by other passengers.” There’s no word yet on how much the passes will cost.

A Frontier Airlines plane lands at San Francisco International Airport in May 2022.

A Frontier Airlines plane lands at San Francisco International Airport in May 2022.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As Asia/Pacific destinations continue to ease their once-formidable COVID entry restrictions, United Airlines and other US carriers are ramping up operations to the region, restoring and expanding service that has long been dormant to Hong Kong, Australia, and Japan. Bloomberg News, citing “people familiar with the matter,” said this week that United is currently studying plans to bring back its flights from San Francisco to Hong Kong next year, perhaps as early as January. The airline suspended Hong Kong passenger flights early in 2020, as did many other airlines after Hong Kong mandated lengthy quarantines in hotels for all travelers after arrival. Although some COVID entry requirements remain in effect, the hotel quarantine mandate was recently lifted. If United does resume service, it would be the only US carrier with nonstops to Hong Kong. 

Following Australia’s reopening to international travelers earlier this year, United this week launched its first new trans-Pacific route since the pandemic started, operating three weekly flights from San Francisco to Brisbane using 787-9s with Polaris, Premium Plus, Economy Plus and regular economy seating. The airline already flies from San Francisco to Melbourne and Sydney; it just increased its SFO-Melbourne schedule from three flights a week to seven, and it plans to boost frequencies on SFO-Sydney from seven a week to 10 on Dec. 14, using a 777-300ER. This year, United entered into a new partnership with Virgin Australia for onward connections in that country.

Elsewhere, United this week resumed nonstop service from Los Angeles to Melbourne (a route that had been operated only by Qantas) and from Houston Bush Intercontinental to Sydney, both operating three times a week. American Airlines also brought back LAX-Sydney service with daily 787-9 fights. Meanwhile, Australia’s Executive Traveller reported last week that Qantas has once again delayed its plans to resume San Francisco-Sydney flights. The Aussie carrier had expected to restart that route this month, but pushed it back to March 2023, and now has moved it back again, to May 22, 2023. 

Aircraft at Sydney Domestic Airport in April 2020 in Sydney, Australia.

Aircraft at Sydney Domestic Airport in April 2020 in Sydney, Australia.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

To Japan, which recently eliminated its daily cap on the number of foreign arrivals and its requirement that they be part of a tour group, United next month is increasing its Houston-Tokyo Narita service from four days a week to seven, using a 777-200ER, while its LAX-Narita flight will switch from a 787-9 to a 787-10, adding 60 more seats a day; and its Newark-Narita daily departure will upgrade from a 787-9 to a 777-300ER with 100 additional seats. Delta is due to resume its Los Angeles-Tokyo Haneda route on Oct. 30 with three A330-900neo flights a week, increasing to daily on Dec. 1, and to introduce a new route from Honolulu to Tokyo Haneda on Dec. 1 with a daily 767-300ER flight. This weekend, American revived nonstop LAX-Haneda service as well, a route also served by its partner Japan Airlines and by All Nippon Airways.

In other international route news, JetBlue has expanded its code-sharing with Qatar Airways, boosting the number of foreign destinations in the program from 13 to 24 with the addition of several points in Africa and Asia. JetBlue’s code is now going on Qatar Airways flights from Doha to Accra, Ghana; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt; Bangkok and Phuket, Thailand; Denpasar-Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia; Harare, Zimbabwe; Khartoum, Sudan; and Windhoek, Namibia. The airlines’ partnership also includes reciprocal point-earning in their loyalty programs, and will be expanded to include point redemptions on either carrier “in the future,” JetBlue said.  

Speaking of all-you-can-fly, we got an email this week about a new way to travel to Maui – if you qualify, and if you can afford it. It’s called ROAM Maui, describing itself as a “semi-private air carrier” that operates once-a-week flights to Maui’s Kahului Airport from Mineta San Jose, Los Angeles and Seattle. It’s aimed at individuals who own homes on Maui and travel there frequently, initially targeting residents of the Kapalua Resort Association, Kaanapali Golf Estates, Makena Golf & Beach Club, Kula Community Association and Wailea Resort Association — a total of about 3,400 residences.

Flights are on a pair of 737-700s operated by Hillwood Airways that have 58 first-class seats and offer in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi. You can also take your dog along “with no island quarantine restriction,” the company said. Members and their families can take “unlimited flights throughout the year with no blackout dates,” a spokesperson told us, and no per-flight charges beyond the membership fee. And what will all this cost? “Due to guidelines from the Department of Transportation, specific pricing is only available upon request for pre-qualified members, so I’m not able to provide the specific pricing for the membership,” the spokesperson said. “I can say that the annual ROAM Maui membership fee costs less than a single round trip from the west coast to Maui on an executive private jet.” 

United flight attendant showcase some of the amenities on the United Polaris club business-class seating at the Convention Center in July 2016 in Denver, Colo.

United flight attendant showcase some of the amenities on the United Polaris club business-class seating at the Convention Center in July 2016 in Denver, Colo.

Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post via Getty Images

Alaska Airlines has been gradually phasing out the single-aisle Airbus planes that it added to its fleet when it acquired Virgin America six years ago, and this week, Alaska left no doubt that its mainline fleet will be all-Boeing in the years ahead. The airline just announced it will buy 52 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to be delivered from 2024 through 2027, boosting its fleet’s MAX count from 94 to 146. It also secured rights for an additional105 planes through 2030. Alaska already has 35 737-9 MAX models, with 43 more previously ordered for delivery by the end of next year, “at which point we will once again operate a mainline fleet solely of Boeing aircraft,” the company said. Next year, Alaska noted, it will be receiving a new 737 MAX every 10 days. Its fleet also includes earlier 737 models such as the 737-900ER, 737-900, 737-800 and 737-700.

It’s been a long time since United Airlines first unveiled its posh Polaris international business class cabin in 2016, but according to online reports this week, the airline is finally finished installing the product on almost all its long-haul aircraft. United said on Twitter last week that its last 787-9 without Polaris seating is now in China getting a refit to the new business cabin as well as a Premium Plus premium economy cabin. According to Liveandletsfly.com, that means all of United’s 787-9s, 787-8s and 787-10s will finally have the Polaris product. The airline’s 16 767-400s didn’t get the Polaris treatment yet because they were grounded during the pandemic, but the first one just got a Polaris refit with the others to follow, the site said. That work should be finished by next summer. United also has some 777-200s with the old business-class seating, but those are used mainly for high-traffic domestic routes and Hawaii flights, and they are not scheduled for a Polaris refit, according to Onemileatatime.com.

Retailing behemoth Amazon could take on a 15% stake in Hawaiian Airlines as part of a new agreement between the two companies. Starting in about a year, Hawaiian said, it will operate and maintain a fleet of 10 Airbus A330-300 cargo aircraft for Amazon, hauling freight between airports “near the online retailer’s operations facilities.” The pact, which could be expanded to more planes in the future, also gives Amazon warrants to acquire up to 15% of Hawaiian’s common stock over the next nine years. Amazon’s aviation subsidiary, Amazon Air, already has almost 100 cargo aircraft, all leased from other airlines and operating as Prime Air, flying to dozens of destinations in the United States and overseas.

Spain, which had been the last major country in Europe to keep COVID-related entry restrictions in place, has now fallen in line with the rest of the EU. Effective this week, visitors coming to Spain from non-EU countries no longer need to show a negative test result or proof that they have been vaccinated or have recently recovered from COVID. The government attributed the policy change to high levels of immunization among its citizens and a significant decline in hospitalizations and deaths. 

Sam Butland, 4, from Rye, N.H., waits in the line at Jet Blue with his mother, Danielle, right, as they are going to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. 

Sam Butland, 4, from Rye, N.H., waits in the line at Jet Blue with his mother, Danielle, right, as they are going to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. 

Boston Globe/Boston Globe via Getty Images

JetBlue added service from the Northeast to London this year thanks to new Airbus long-range single-aisle aircraft and is expected to announce 2023 flights to Paris soon — and now Frontier Airlines has its eye on transatlantic service, flights to more distant South American cities, and new Hawaii routes. Frontier, which has a growing fleet of all-Airbus single-aisle planes, is due to start taking delivery of longer-range A321XLRs in 2026.

Frontier CEO Barry Biffle said at the Routes World 2022 conference in Las Vegas last week that those new aircraft would put all three of those destinations into contention for the low-cost carrier, since they will be able to fly 30% farther than the Airbus planes currently in Frontier’s fleet. Biffle noted that expansion into Europe is “definitely in consideration” as part of the airline’s long-term planning, according to Routes Online, which sponsored the conference. He noted that he has already been in touch with an official from Ireland’s Shannon Airport. Asked if transatlantic flights might require a reconfiguration of the A321XLRs since Frontier’s current fleet has a tight all-coach layout, Biffle said it’s possible a new front cabin might be added. “It’s not taboo for me to have a premium product, but we’ve got to look at it.”

United Airlines’ top Premier customers with connections at SFO and other hubs will soon be chauffeured between their arrival and departure gates with the latest automotive technology as the airline upgrades its transfer service to a new fleet of all-electric Jaguar SUVs. The airline started using the $71,000 Jaguar I-PACE HSE models at Chicago O’Hare this month and will add them by year’s end at SFO, Los Angeles International, Denver, Houston Bush Intercontinental, Newark, and Washington Dulles. United describes the plane-to-plane transfer service as “a surprise benefit for select Premier MileagePlus members with tight connections.” Travelers who are selected for the ultimate perk learn about it when they land and are greeted by a United rep who escorts them to the waiting vehicle and goes along with them to their connecting flight.

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