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Virgin Atlantic rolls-out Covid-19 testing to crew

Virgin Atlantic has become the first UK airline to introduce Covid-19 pre-flight testing at its Heathrow base for its cabin crew and pilots.

Launched on flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong, the airline plans to extend the trial to Barbados and select services later in October, before a wider roll out to test every operating crew at least once per month. 

In partnership with GeneMe UK, the official distributor of the Frank test, the airline trial is offering crew and pilots a rapid Point of Care Covid-19 RT Lamp test.

Through integration with the digital ID platform Yoti, the test process is fast, secure, paperless and does not require a lab.

After a swab is taken on-site, results are processed and delivered on the Yoti app within 30 minutes. 

Corneel Koster, chief customer and operating officer, Virgin Atlantic, commented: “The introduction of onsite pre-flight Covid-19 testing for our crew and pilots ensures we remain at the forefront of the aviation industry’s safe return to the skies.

“As testing technology and Covid-19 requirements around the world develop, we want to utilise technology that is relevant, accurate and available to keep our teams and customers healthy and safe.

“While the Covid-19 testing landscape evolves, we continue to be in discussions with multiple providers offering different technologies to guarantee the best solution possible, while absolutely ensuring that we do not compete with the NHS for vital resources.”

He added: “This trial is a first step in our phased plan to introduce regular testing for all of our teams in the air and on the ground, in order to instil confidence in flying.

“However, we continue to call for the swift introduction of a wider coordinated passenger testing regime.

“We need urgent action from UK and US governments to introduce pre departure testing, to remove the need for quarantine and to minimise travel restrictions, while protecting public health and half a million UK jobs associated with the sector.”

UK’s easyJet cuts capacity as quarantine restrictions widen

British airline easyJet is reducing its flying schedule after demand has been hit by frequent changes in government restrictions on travel, including quarantine measures.

The airline said on Tuesday it expected to fly slightly less than the previously planned 40 percent of capacity in the three months ending Sept. 30, its fiscal fourth quarter, and that it could not give earnings guidance for either this or next fiscal year.

It had said only last month that it had been encouraged by higher-than-expected bookings following the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions, and as a result had decided to expand its schedule for the current quarter.

England has imposed a 14-day quarantine on arrivals from countries including France and Spain, and it added seven Greek islands to the list on Monday. Other countries in the United Kingdom have taken similar measures.

“Following the imposition of additional quarantine restrictions to seven Greek Islands and the continued uncertainty this brings for customers, demand is now likely to be further impacted and therefore lower than previously anticipated,” easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said.

“We know our customers are as frustrated as we are with the unpredictable travel and quarantine restrictions,” he added.

Shares in easyJet, which have lost 55 percent of their value since the start of 2020, were down 6 percent at 591 pence in early deals.

Lundgren said it was difficult to overstate the impact on the industry of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated government policies.

He said the aviation sector needed specific support, including the removal of air passenger duty for at least 12 months and the alleviation of air traffic control charges.

EasyJet is cutting 4,500 jobs across Europe and is closing its bases at London Stansted, London Southend and Newcastle airports as a result of the pandemic. 


Emirates and flydubai renew codeshare partnership

Emirates and flydubai customers can now access a wider range of travel options around the world.

Following the progressive resumption of passenger flights to global destinations, the two Dubai-based airlines have revived their strategic partnership to offer customers increased connectivity.

Emirates customers can now travel on codeshare flights to over 30 destinations on flydubai, while flydubai customers have over 70 destinations they can travel to on Emirates.

Some of the favourite flydubai destinations for Emirates passengers include Belgrade, Bucharest, Kyiv, Sofia and Zanzibar.

Commenting on the renewal of the partnership, Adnan Kazim, Emirates chief commercial officer, said: “We are delighted to announce that our customers can once again take advantage of the complementary strengths of Emirates and flydubai to access an enhanced network of cities on a single ticket and integrated loyalty programme.

“The partnership has crossed a number of successful milestones since its inception in 2017 and over the coming months, Emirates and flydubai will be working together to re-open even more of the world for our customers.”

Emirates and flydubai will offer travel experiences reflecting their individual brands while keeping the health and safety of customers and employees on the ground and in air as their top priority.

The two airlines have each implemented extensive safety measures to combat Covid-19 at every step of the customer’s journey including enhanced sanitisation of all touchpoints and advanced HEPA filters fitted in aircraft cabins to eliminate dust, allergens and germs from the cabin air.

Hamad Obaidalla, chief commercial officer at flydubai, said: “We are confident that the demand for travel will continue to increase as more countries gradually start to lift restrictions on international travel.

“flydubai has restarted operations to 32 points around the network since June and we expect the number to steadily grow over the next few months.

“Dubai has put strong health and safety protocols in place which has encouraged well-informed passengers to travel, whether for business, leisure or to reunite with their loved ones.”

He added: “We remain agile in our approach to maximise the utilisation of our fleet by supporting government efforts to operate repatriation flights and increasing cargo-only operations.

“Our partnership with Emirates will continue to facilitate a more seamless flow of passengers and cargo across our combined networks in the recovery phase.”


How Can Tourism Boards Attract Airlines?

Both airlines and airports have access to a lot of data. Whether that’s from their own knowledge base or industry tools, they already know on paper whether a route will work or not. But does that tell the whole story?

We discussed route development at the recent AviaDev Europe conference, and in particular how tourism boards can get involved in the process. Although traditionally conversations about new routes will happen between airlines and airports, more and more we’re now seeing tourism boards becoming involved in order to increase the attractiveness of the destination to airlines.

Moreover, a new airline route ticks so many boxes for a tourism board too, why wouldn’t they want to be involved in developing new routes?

The things tourism boards know that airlines want to know

Airlines know a great deal about routes and connectivity. In fact, by the time an airline comes to meet with an airport, they will almost certainly already be fairly confident that, on paper at least, the route could work. However, they are still likely to be touting for business around a number of airports, so what can tourism boards do to sway their opinion?

As Becca Rowland from MIDAS Aviation said at the event,

“Just because you have a great business case doesn’t mean that you’re going to win it. You’re up against everyone else who are also presenting great business cases. Your case has to be more convincing.”

Traffic potential is a big one. It’s easy enough to look at schedules and gaps to be filled, to pore over reams of hard data. But is this really necessary? Becca says not.

“The airlines that airports are talking to also have all of that data; they have bigger computers, bigger teams, they have more analysis and they are analysing every day. What they don’t have is your local knowledge. That’s the bit that makes your business case different.”

Becca gave some examples of the forms of knowledge that tourism boards will often have at the tips of their fingers that airlines will not have and will find hard to get. Things like local festivals, upcoming conferences, new local hotels opening… all these things serve to strengthen the business case and help an airline make the right decision. She said,

“Don’t underestimate the value of your local knowledge.”

Building the business case

Without a doubt, airlines love numbers, but there’s no point in trying to replicate the numbers that they already have at their disposal. Tourism boards and airports should be working towards presenting those numbers that airlines don’t have access to. Managing Director at AviaDev Europe, Juraj Toth, gave some examples:

  • Catchment area: Any airline can draw a circle around an airport and call it a catchment area, but what they don’t know is how easily connected (or not) that airport is. Local knowledge about MRT links, express highways and other infrastructure can suddenly make that catchment area much more appealing.
  • Economic details: A big population doesn’t always mean a great propensity to travel. Knowing more about the buying power of the people in the catchment, things like income data, age and other demographics, can improve the outlook for potential passenger flow.
  • Industry: Tourism boards should present a list of the biggest companies in the local area, showing their need to travel and their connections to other destinations.

Of course, there’s one part that the tourism board can do far better than anyone else in the room, and that’s to sell the destination. As Juraj said at the event,

“People fly to destinations, not airports”

While I know a few people who would happily fly to Singapore just to spend the day at Changi, I guess we’re in the minority here, and most people do indeed fly to destinations. As the face of the destination, tourism boards have a unique opportunity to really sell the attractions and the benefits of their local area to the airline, which will undoubtedly help to convince that airline that selling tickets on their flights is going to be a breeze.

AviaDev Europe will be taking place again in November 2020. In the meantime, Simple Flying is working with AviaDev again towards AviaDev Africa 2020, the premier forum dedicated to growing connectivity to, from and within the African continent.


Does Flight-Shaming Over Climate Change Pose An Existential Threat To Airlines?

Jet aircraft have been flying in airline service since the ill-fated DeHavilland Comet in 1952. Flying was so glamorous that the term “jet set” was coined to described the envied international social group of wealthy people who hop-scotched around the world in what were presumed to be luxurious jet airliners.

Jet travel may no longer be as glamourous, but it’s become vastly more popular. Some 4.6 billion passengers are expected to take wing in 2019, supporting a trillion-dollar travel industry. But not if a growing group of European “flight shamers” and climate change protestors have their way.

Concerned about global climate change, a growing group of Northern European activists have begun to just say no to airline travel. Will such protests gain the momentum achieved by the anti-fossil fuel movement, as over one thousand institutional investors representing $6 trillion in funds have pledged fossil fuel divestment?

The Swedish-born “anti-flying” movement has grown, and its arresting if somber slogans like “flygskam” (“flight shame”) and “tågskryt,” (“train brag”) are being translated into many languages. One flight-boycotting British attorney, who formerly loved to travel, told Reuters, “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but when you look at the issues around climate change, then the sacrifice all of a sudden becomes small.”

“We should all fly less, the future of this planet is at stake,” said actress Dame Emma Thompson. But showing just how difficult such change is, her British Airways flight to London to support the Extinction Rebellion climate change protests reportedly generated two tons of carbon dioxide for each First Class passenger, such as Thompson. A British newspaper noted that the Extinction Rebellion group “insisted that the tons of carbon her flight produced for her to be at their protest was an ‘unfortunate cost in our bigger battle to save the planet’.”

Airline travel is now considered responsible for almost 3% of global carbon emissions today. Left unchecked, emissions will grow along with airline passenger traffic, expected to grow at a 3.5% per year clip through 2036, when 8.2 billion passengers will travel by air.

Anti-airline sentiment seems to have crossed the pond from Europe to America as well. A proposed Green New Deal bill called for the United States to “build out highs-peed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” In an early FAQ, its authors wrote, “We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”

The airline industry mocks such sentiment at its own peril. Although it failed this time around, the Green New Deal proposal was signed by Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and 67 Congressional co-signers, and may well be a significant issue in the 2020 US elections.

The response of the airline industry has so far been uncertain. At the just-concluded International Air Transport Association (IATA) 75th Annual General Meeting, IATA head Alexandre de Juniac said “Come on, stop calling us polluters,” to reporters at a news conference launching IATA’s ‘global imitative’ to reduce emissions.

The airline industry is announcing a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) agreed through the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization. The goal of CORSA is to cap net CO2 emissions from international aviation at 2020 levels, even as passenger and flight growth continues. This is called carbon-neutral growth, or CNG. “Between 2020 and 2035 (CORSA) will mitigate over 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 and generate at least $40 billion in finance for carbon reduction initiatives,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

Global initiatives or not, the airline industry has limited options in terms of how it can continue to grow while cutting emissions, at least in the near future. Having attended the “launches” of three non-flying mockups of eVTOL aircraft (electric vertical take-off and landing) in the last few months, it’s clear that battery-powered, hybrid gas/electric and hydrogen-fueled power plants are a long way from propelling light helicopter-like craft, let alone Airbus A380 replacements.

What could fuel big jets and cut carbon emission are the so-called biofuels. But their availability is strictly limited, forcing the airlines to continue using aviation fuel. Nonetheless, IATA has a 2% target for sustainable fuel by 2025, when additional sources will hopefully come  online.

So what’s left? A number of airlines offer piecework “solutions”, such as the opportunity for passengers to pay more money on their ticket to “offset” the carbon emitted on their behalf. As one would imagine, such initiatives are not very popular. Even at the recent IATA conference only a handful of airline executives said they had purchased off-sets for their ticket to Seoul.

The Scandivanaian airline SAS just announced that it is ending on-board duty-free sales to reduce aircraft weight, save fuel and reduce carbon, as part of its overall strategy to cut emissions by 25% by 2030 (compared with a 2005 baseline.) While the announcement didn’t say how much weight would be saved, it’s hard to imagine it was the equivalent of even one passenger.

And what’s next? Will the airlines begin weighing passengers and charging them a carbon surcharge if they are over the prescribed weight for their height, or offer a “offset-discount” for the svelte?

The airline industry needs to proceed on two tracks if it is to continue to thrive. One, of course, is to explore every technological solution to reduce carbon emissions, from alternative fuels to alternative power plants. The second is to convince an increasingly skeptical public that the airline industry is not only doing everything it can to fight climate change, but that it has made measurable and important progress in doing so.

Otherwise, the multi-billion airline industry will prove a tempting target for ever more vehement climate protest.


Airlines are on pace for their worst year since 2014

New York (CNN Business)High fuel prices, an international trade war, and the 737 Max groundingare adding up to a miserable 2019 for the airline industry. Airlines are bracing for their worst year since 2014.The aviation industry expects to earn $28 billion in profit this year, according to a forecast released Sunday by the International Air Transport Association, a global trade group representing 290 airlines. That income outlook is 21% lower than the association’s previous 2019 forecast, which it issued in December. It would be the lowest profit the industry has recorded in five years. “The business environment for airlines has deteriorated with rising fuel prices and a substantial weakening of world trade,” the group said in a statement.

“Margins are being squeezed by rising costs right across the board.”IATA expects airlines’ costs to grow 7.4% this year, outpacing the 6.5% anticipated growth in sales. That means airlines will make about 11% less on each passenger in 2019 than they made in 2018.Oil prices, which have risen in recent months as tensions escalate between the United States, Iran and Venezuela, are a big factor in airlines’ doom-and-gloom attitude about 2019. Jet fuel accounts to a quarter of airlines’ operating costs, and IATA said jet fuel will cost 27.5% more this year than it did two years ago.Rising trade tensions aren’t helping either. They will most directly hurt the cargo industry, although passenger traffic could fall as people reconsider vacations to some locations and as consumers spend more money on imports.

IATA expects that growth in cargo demand will slow substantially. Growth in passenger demand for air travel will slow a bit too, although far less dramatically than cargo. “There is no easy money to be made,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s CEO, in a statement.


5 things you need to know about booking a budget airline ticket, according to experts

With summer just around the corner, many people are looking to make their vacation budget stretch further. And for those looking to fly international, one option may be to use a low-cost airline.

But the budget airline industry has had a rocky 2019 so far, withIceland’s Wow Air ceasing operations in March and Russian airline Aeroflot experiencing a crash landing on May 5.

Yet travel and safety experts say that the vast majority of budget airlines are a safe bet for travelers looking to save a buck. But while you may not encounter any major issues, you are probably going to give up some amenities and comforts in order to save that money.

“Budget airlines have built their entire business model around charging cheaper fares across the board ultimately giving travelers the option to choose what they pay for,” Steve Sintra, Kayak’s regional director of North America, tells CNBC Make It.

Here’s a look at what you need to know before you purchase a ticket on an international budget airline.

1. Know what’s included in the ticket cost

It used to be that your airfare included not only a seat on the plane, but luggage storage, a meal or two and even a drink. But when you’re flying budget, those amenities are extra.

“Make sure when you’re booking your ticket, you know what is or isn’t included so there are no surprises when you get to the airport,” Sintra says.Y

With most international low-cost airlines like AirAsia, Norwegian Air, EasyJet and Ryanair, the base fare includes a seat on that flight and a personal item that you can put under the seat in front of you. Checked luggage stored in the hold is almost always extra, but for some flights, even larger rolling carry-ons that you need to put in the overhead bins may be an additional fee.

“Their carry-on rules are much different,” says Charles Leocha, head of the consumer group Travelers United, tells CNBC Make It. Often the accepted sizes on international airlines are smaller than the traditional U.S. rolling carry-ons. For example, Ryanair only allows a personal item that fits under the seat in front of you with dimensions under 40cm x 20cm x 25cm (roughly 16 inches x 8 inches x 10 inches). Basically this is a purse, a laptop bag or a small backpack.

Plus, many of the budget airlines also have weight restrictions for all luggage, even carry-on bags. If you check-in with a carry-on that weighs more than 10 kilograms, about 22 pounds, you will typically have to pay a fee or check the bag. For example, Mexican-based Interjet allows you to bring a personal item like a purse and a carry-on,but both items have to be under 10 kilograms.

Even U.S. carriers have put major restrictions on carry-on bags these days, especially on U.S. budget airlines. Frontier, for example, charges a$35 fee for a carry-on bag (free for those with Elite status) if you purchase while booking online. It jumps to $50 if you wait to pay until you get to the airport and check-in.

Kayak has a Baggage Fee Assistant tool which lets you easily see whether your bags are included in the overall flight price when you’re searching for ticket options.

A Ryanair luggage stand is seen at Krakow international airport.

In many cases, an international budget carrier will charge you extra for options like picking your seat, getting a meal and seatback entertainment. For example easyJet charges roughly $3 to $14 to pick your seat in the general cabin without extra legroom. You may even find that the actual seat is smaller than on a traditional carrier.

“Weigh the pros and cons before you book,” Sintra says. It may be that you’ll end up paying more in extras than you would buying a ticket on a traditional airline. If you’re traveling with family members, for example, you’ll likely want to sit near them, but that generally costs extra for each person. Norwegian Air charges €35 ($39) for seat selection per leg. For a family of four, that could add up to roughly $300 in extra flight costs.

“If you prefer the extra amenities you may want to consider an airline that you know has them,” Sintra says. That said, if you’re simply looking to get to your destination for the cheapest price, then it might be worth sitting next to a stranger in the middle seat or limiting your packing to a small carry-on.

This 29-year-old turned an obsession with cheap flights into a million-dollar business

2. Know where you’re flying to and from

One of the biggest surprises for those who don’t fly budget airlines is the airports. Many low-cost carriers use alternate hubs.

“You should look at this very carefully” when booking, Leocha says. If you’re flying to Venice, Italy, for example, EasyJet flies into the city’s main airport, Marco Polo. But Ryanair flies into Treviso Airport, which is about 25 miles outside of the city.

These alternate airports may also be smaller and have fewer personnel and amenities. Norwegian recently launched flights out of New York’s Stewart International Airport, for instance, which is in New Windsor, New York — over 60 miles north of Manhattan. The airport only has two restaurants: a Quiznos sandwich shop before security and a cafe after security.

Perhaps even more frustrating, there are only limited check-in, security and customs systems in place, which means it may take travelers longer to get through the airport at Stewart.

3. Know about the airline

When you’re searching for your flight, there are typically a dizzying number of options. You likely don’t have to do in-depth research on all of them, but it can be helpful to look up some information in advance to avoid headaches. “If it’s an airline I’ve never heard of before, I’ll check it out,” Leocha says.

First, you should check out their safety record and performance. The site Airline Ratings can be an excellent source to get a quick view of an airline’s safety rating, which they base on seven factors, including the International Air Transport Association’s Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certification audit and the European Union’s Blacklist, which bans carriers it feels are too risky.

Cancellations and on-time performance are also major factors, especially if you have a connecting flight. FlightStats has an excellent database of airline performance, including low-cost carriers. Last month, easyJet flights operated on-time arrivals 80% of the time, while Ryanair had 88% of its flights arrive on schedule.

Yet travelers generally shouldn’t worry too much about an airline going under, despite the recent shut-down of Iceland’s Wow Air.

“It is very unlikely that a budget airline would go under without an earlier warning or indication,” Henrik Zillmer, CEO of AirHelp, tells CNBC Make It. Experts were speculating about Wow Air for months before it officially went under and ceased operation.

If you’re worried, Zillmer recommends doing a quick Google search to look at airlines’ previous performance and news before booking a flight.

Here’s what it’s actually like to be a flight attendant

4. Know how to buy

When you go to book your ticket, it’s best to book with a credit card over a debit card. If there are any issues, the money is not coming from your checking account and you have the right to dispute the transaction.

Plus, there are several credit cards on the market, including Citi Prestige and both the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve, that offer travel protections. These kick in if your luggage is lost or delayed, or you’re stranded because of a cancelled or delayed flight, or even if you have a medical emergency.

Booking through a well-known travel operator like Expedia or Priceline may also offer more protections, Zillmer says. For example, he says if an airline does go under before your trip, you may be able to claim a refund if you booked through a site like this.Travelers should always be aware of their rights in case something goes wrong when booking their flightsHenrik ZillmerCEO OF AIRHELP

It’s also worth noting that travel agents or partner airlines may also step up to refund or rebook you, depending on whether flights are covered by travel insurance. If a trip was booked as a package, coverage should be guaranteed, Zillmer says.

If you are booking directly with the budget carrier, be aware that its website may be difficult to navigate, so check everything carefully and be careful with translations.

“The websites can get a little funky,” Leocha says. If you do have issues, Leocha says he’s found that low-cost carriers are fairly responsive on social media. He’s cleared up several issues by shooting the airline a note on Facebook.5. Know your rights

“Travelers should always be aware of their rights in case something goes wrong when booking their flights,” Zillmer says. And while the specific rights can vary by flight route or departure and arrival destinations, they can be a big help regardless of whether someone has travel insurance.

Unfortunately, travelers in the U.S. have the fewest protections, Zillmer days. Essentially you can seek compensation of up to $1,350 from an airline if you are denied boarding due to overbooking and you ultimately suffered a delay in arriving at to your final destination.

If you’re flying back from a European country to the U.S, flying on a European airline or flying within Europe, you have more protections. You can get up to $700 per person if your flight is cancelled or delayed more than three hours unless it’s deemed an “extraordinary circumstance,” such as a storm, medical emergency or political unrest. Under these conditions, airlines do not owe you anything.

In addition to financial compensation, if your flight is delayed more than two hours, you’re entitled to food and refreshments, as well as a hotel room and transport if the trip interruption requires an overnight stay.

“When you’re stuck waiting for the airline to get you back on track, you’re entitled to necessary assistance from the airline, depending on your situation,” Zillmer says.



A new report from J.D. Power claims customer satisfaction with America’s airlines is at an all-time high. You wouldn’t know it by looking at a typical airline passenger’s Twitter account, though: Social media constantly seems to be flooded with complaints about massive delays, skimpy in-flight amenities and poor treatment by flight crew members. (Get ready for more: Some airlines are cutting down on how much their seats recline.) 

So how can airlines improve their act?

If you’re Singapore Air, you launch a farm-to-plane program providing organic greens for passengers’ meals. But for struggling U.S. carriers, staying ahead of low-cost competitors has meant slashing prices—and amenities. (American and United Airlines have chosen not to include seatback entertainment devices on new planes designed for shorter trips.)

But there are several things airlines can do to improve customer relations that don’t cost a dime. We spoke with Brian Kelly, found and CEO of The Points Guy, who shared his simple recommendations for America’s airline industry. 

1. Keep passengers informed

“Travelers can deal with flight delays but their patience and understanding dwindles when neither the pilot, flight attendants nor gate agents provide updates,” says Kelly. “Even if there’s no available information to share, show sympathy and take ownership of the situation.”

2. Help families with children

Wrangling the kids onto a plane is a hassle—for parents and other passengers alike.  Families with small children should always be preboarded, says Kelly, to expedite the boarding process and provide them with enough time to get settled. At the same time, they shouldn’t have to play musical chairs to sit together.

“Try to solve seating requests for families ahead of time,” Kelly advises, “to avoid flight delays due to last minute seat changes.”

3. Ensure better communication

“Overall communication between airlines and passengers could be improved. During delays, it would be beneficial to receive email, text and push notifications from the airline app as soon as possible.”

And, Kelly suggests, airlines should be better about empowering travelers to automate simple requests through their app or website, whether that’s rebooking on a later flight or filing a compensation claim. The traveler will feel less stress and customer service departments will save time and resources.

4. Organize meal service

Kelly doesn’t have any suggestions for making the food taste better, but he does think information about meal options can be disseminated better.

“Announce meal options in economy before meal service begins,” advises Kelly. “This might alleviate the irritation felt from flight attendants after they’ve had to repeat themselves at every row.”

5. Above all, show compassion 


Want to book holiday flights? Southwest to start selling Thanksgiving, Christmas tickets this week

Travelers have been asking Southwest Airlines for weeks when it plans to open its schedule for bookings through the busy holiday travel season.

The answer has changed a couple times, and at one point was as late as June 20, almost a month later than normal — freaking out plan-ahead travelers trying to finalize their year-end trips.

The airline now has a firm date, and it’s almost here: Thursday, May 30.

That’s the day Southwest, which opens its schedule in increments rather than nearly a year in advance like most major airlines, will extend the booking window through Jan. 5. Southwest’s schedule is currently only open through Nov. 2.

Southwest did not reveal what time the schedule will open on Thursday. The airline only sells its tickets on its website and over the phone.

Most of Southwest’s competitors, including American, Delta and United, have been selling holiday tickets for months.

More: Southwest, JetBlue top J.D. Power airline rankings

But Southwest is the nation’s largest domestic carrier and has legions of loyal fans who turn to the airline first when booking flights. It’s also a price leader on many routes, so fares usually get a shake-up the day its schedule opens.

That doesn’t mean that Southwest’s fares are the cheapest — they often aren’t any more — or that travelers with flexible schedules should book holiday tickets this far in advance. Fares might go down — or up — in the next several months. Most people don’t buy their holiday flights this early. Last year, nearly 40% of travelers waited until November to search for Thanksgiving and Christmas flights, according to Hopper, a mobile travel app.

One plus on Southwest: if you book a nonrefundable flight now and the fare goes down on that flight or another flight, you can cancel and rebook without paying an onerous ticket change fee. The airline issues a Southwest credit for any difference. The credit can only be used by the named passenger.

Southwest isn’t the only airline yet to begin holiday travel bookings.

Frontier Airlines is currently accepting reservations through Nov. 13. The airline expects to begin holiday bookings at the end of June, spokesman Zach Kramer said.

Spirit Airlines is only accepting reservations through Dec. 18. The airline plans to extend the booking window “relatively soon,” spokesman Derek Dombrowski said.


Plastics in Airline Catering Raise Questions About Carbon Emissions

Plastics play a huge role on airplanes, especially in catering, but it wasn’t always this way. Going back to the so-called golden age of air travel in the 1950s and 60s, the experience of flying was very different: fine china, cocktail glasses, and real cutlery.

Naturally, those flights were expensive for the time, and few people could afford to fly. Today, democratization has arrived and anyone with even 60 dollars can fly somewhere on a low-cost carrier. With exceptions for first and business class, we’ve swapped the porcelain plates for plastic cups, plastic straws, plastic coffee stirrers, and plastic-wrapped cookies.

These items are awfully convenient. Plastic is lightweight, so it’s quick and easy for cabin crew to dispose. There’s also no concern about sanitation in this tight-knit space — everything is single-use or individually wrapped. Plus, the lightweight factor means an increase in fuel efficiency, which helps lower carbon emissions and keep fares down.

However, much like other sectors of travel, airlines are increasingly aware that their use of plastics is damaging the environment as bottles, straws, and wrappers pile up in oceans and on beaches.

Airline catering is rife with plastics and is a sensible place to start cutting back. But is replacing plastic with another material, or eliminating it, such an easy win? Will flyers really embrace these changes if it costs them money or convenience?


Airlines are increasingly concerned about plastic waste from their catering operations, but plastic has a key benefit: It’s lightweight and thereby helps minimize the plane’s emission of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and poses a major environmental threat.

CO2 emissions vary from aircraft to aircraft, but on average, a plane produces 53.3 pounds per mile, according to Blue Sky Model. By comparison, driving one mile in an average passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams per mile, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The heavier the plane and its contents, the more CO2 it burns, and with an airplane, that burning happens at a very high altitude, which is arguably more damaging than emissions at sea level.

Airlines are naturally hesitant to replace lightweight plastic with something heavier like glass or china that will require the plane to use more fuel, which comes at both a financial and environmental cost. Every ounce of weight can theoretically make a difference, and with items like glassware, they also need to be cleaned and sterilized.

One way to address the weight problem is to reduce the amount of food and drink all around. On Scandinavian Airlines, all fresh food as well as breakfast on short-haul flights is available by preorder only, making the amount of food — and associated plastic packaging — lower and more precise.

Delta Air Lines cited preordered meals as one of its more successful initiatives that reduce waste, although it started as more of a customer benefit than a focus on plastics, according to Tim Mapes, chief marketing officer.

Delta doesn’t have an exact figure for how much plastic it uses in its catering, but said its long-term goal is to eliminate single-use plastics, including items like coffee stirrers, and further promote a circular plastic economy, in which more plastics get successfully recycled. Mapes cited edible seaweed pouches that replaced plastic bottles in the London marathon as “the imagination and creativity that’s got to be brought to these issues.” Outside food and beverage, Mapes also said that as of July 1, Delta will eliminate all plastic surrounding its amenity kits, as well as the plastic wrapping for its blankets and linens.

“What can we take away that’s not being used?” asked Max Knagge, general manager Americas for Scandinavian Airlines, about catering materials. “Do we need salt and pepper on breakfast trays? Maybe not, so we’re taking that away,” he said. The carrier is also in the process of changing straws and stirrers from plastic to compostable materials, and reducing the size of its water bottles to reduce waste and better reflect how much water passengers are actually drinking.

These food-related measures help reduce carbon emissions, but there are other ways to address that problem.

Much like preordering food, flyers have some limited control over their carbon footprint. Passengers can opt to offset their CO2: 40 percent of Scandinavian’s 30 million passengers are CO2 offsets, the cost of which the airline picks up for loyalty members. Delta passengers can similarly pay to offset their impact.

Scandinavian said it’s phasing in new aircraft with 18–20 percent lower emissions: Airbus 320neos and Airbus 350s. Electronic aircraft is the endgame, the most sustainable option, according to Knagge, but it’s a long road to get there. Biofuel is a good interim step, but there’s a limited supply, so Scandinavian is partnering with energy company Preem to produce its own — a new plant will open in 2023.

Mapes similarly stressed that the modernization of Delta’s fleet makes a major difference in reducing fuel consumption and reducing carbon footprint. “It’s all about net,” said Mapes of replacing plastic with something heavier that only appears to be more sustainable — if it reduces plastic waste but worsens carbon emissions, it’s not a good move.

“I would rather increase carbon emissions [than increase plastic waste] because we can do things to offset that,” said Jason DiVenere. The 35-year-old spent much of his career as an aerospace engineer at Boeing and SpaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic. In 2018 he flew 487,000 PQM (premier qualifying miles) on United and he’s been a by-invitation-only Global Services member with United for four years.

Carbon emissions can indeed be offset as DiVenere noted, though so can a switch away from unsustainable materials. Likewise, it’s arguably just as daunting an idea to remove microplastics from the ocean as to repair the ozone layer, and the real solution lies in preventing the pollution at its source.

DiVenere is also a private pilot and said that small amounts of increased weight from heavier, non-plastic catering materials will not pose a significant problem, especially because airlines already can’t precisely account for contingencies like heavier luggage.


Replacing plastic with a heavier material often comes at a financial cost, which may get passed on to the consumer. Whether flyers will pay more to reduce plastic waste depends greatly on the demographic, and societal pressure, according to Knagge.

“In Scandinavia and especially Sweden, it’s in such transition. It’s really changing the demand on travel, and everything from grocery shopping to the car industry,” said Knagge. “If you offer something that is better for the environment, and it has a negative impact on your personal convenience, you don’t complain about it. It’s politically incorrect and that pressure from society is so huge.”

In Scandinavia especially there’s an incipient anti-flying movement among those who are vocal about climate change. The community is fairly small at this point, but shows real signs of growing as people stop bragging about airline status and start bragging about taking the train instead. Tour operator Thomas Cook even cited that the anti-flying movement is negatively impacting its Northern European business.

And yet, consumers have their limits when it comes to shunning aviation. “Looking at a more global picture, we’ve seen quite a low tolerance for paying extra for a more sustainable option,” he said. Scandinavian does encourage flyers to pack light to reduce weight on board, save fuel, and reduce costs — but packing habits die hard.

“There’s no doubt there’s a line that, when crossed, it might become problematic,” said Mapes of travelers’ ability to withstand changes. “When you have food, you want to know that there’s hygiene, that there are proper controls,” he said, specifying that taking care with food crossing international borders is even more crucial.

The idea is to lead by example and not be judgmental when introducing sustainable changes to flyers, according to Mapes. “More people embrace it than don’t,” he said.

While testing bamboo and wooden cutlery options, Etihad Airways found that “they didn’t deliver a pleasant dining experience,” said Linda Celestino, vice president of guest experience and delivery, by email. “This resulted in us selecting disposable stainless steel to ensure we uphold our service standards. Of course, we have considered that metal adds extra weight, which in turn leads to extra fuel burn.” Celestino added that the carrier leaned toward a lightweight stainless steel option and that carbon emissions comprised a “bigger issue” than plastic waste.

“Flyers are not always aware of the complexity of airline catering,” said Anne De Hauw, founder of Monaco-based design firm In Air Travel Experience. On the other hand, flyers are increasingly aware of sustainability issues, even though things like on-time performance and cabin comfort still top their priority lists. “Changes have to be genuine, authentic, and true, because flyers will not accept greenwashing anymore,” she said.

And now, with increasing government legislation regulating single-use plastics, like that in the European Union, the pressure is on. “With the new EU policy, there is a more urgent need for airlines to look into it. It’s no longer a plus — it’s a must.”

But who should bear the cost of switching from cheap plastic to something that might be more expensive? “We as an industry have a huge responsibility to find a way to offer solutions that actually are more sustainable without necessarily requiring customers to pay for it,” said Knagge.

Then again, there is a subset of flyers who are willing to assume the burden. “Someone has to pay the cost to do the right thing for the environment, and I don’t mind being that person as long as it’s reasonable and thought out,” said DiVenere.

An avid flyer like DiVenere may be more aware of plastic waste, and more motivated to address it, than your average traveler. He takes the initiative to ask attendants to refill his cup instead of bringing him a new one each time, and he created a video encouraging flyers to recycle the plastic wrapping that accompanies amenities like blankets.

“A flight to Australia is 15 hours — how many cups do you think an economy passenger goes through?” asked DiVenere.


If the plastic used to transport food is an issue, one comprehensive solution is to become your own food supplier and thereby control more of the process yourself.

Singapore Airlines launched a farm-to-plane partnership with AeroFarms, resulting in an indoor, vertical garden that will produce salad greens for in-flight meals starting in September. The main purpose of this garden is to supply passengers with the freshest possible food, according to a representative, but there are potential waste-reduction benefits down the line associated with sourcing food close by, instead of flying it in from another continent.

The carrier is also replacing plastic stirrers with bamboo, and plastic straws with paper, starting in September, as well as making sure items like menu cards are made with certified sustainable paper.

Reducing plastics behind the catering scenes, where flyers can’t see, may not be the type of endeavor that goes viral like Skip the Straw, but is an important part of the plastic-reduction process. Ryanair, for example, is trying to source alternative packaging through its suppliers, to be rolled out in-flight and in the company’s offices by 2023, according to an emailed statement.

Ryanair wants to eliminate nonrecyclable plastics across its operations by that date as well, but declined to specify what falls into this nonrecyclable category. It’s worth noting that what constitutes “recyclable” varies greatly by location and available facilities — an estimated 91 percent of plastic is not recycled at all.

Etihad similarly has major room for error in its plastic-reduction efforts. The carrier has pledged to reduce its single-use plastic usage companywide by 80 percent by the end of 2022, including through its supply chain, but declined to say whether they’ve been able to measure their plastic usage in the first place, from which that 80 percent would be calculated.

Aviation suppliers are often motivated by their own sales at a cost to environmental sustainability, according to De Hauw. Using cheap, light, disposable packaging is a financial win for suppliers, but airlines need to explore their options, which vary from carrier to carrier. For example, there’s little reason to introduce a compostable material if local regulations require the airline to incinerate waste upon arrival.

“A circular [plastics] economy requires a collaboration and an open ecosystem of airports, caterers, and airlines to really truly make it work, and I think we’re far away from that right now,” she said.

By: Sarah Enelow-Snyder – Source: