Routes: New Tahiti, London flights plus Hawaii uncertainty, no-mask-no-fly rules + more – SF Gate



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Updated

9:46 am PDT, Saturday, August 8, 2020

United has resumed transpacific flights from SFO to French Polynesia.

United has resumed transpacific flights from SFO to French Polynesia.

Photo: Jim Glab

Photo: Jim Glab

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United has resumed transpacific flights from SFO to French Polynesia.

United has resumed transpacific flights from SFO to French Polynesia.

Photo: Jim Glab

Routes: New Tahiti, London flights plus Hawaii uncertainty, no-mask-no-fly rules + more

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In route news, Alaska Air launched a BOGO sale worth a look; United Airlines has restarted service from San Francisco International to Tahiti, the U.K. and Mexico; British Airways expects to come back to San Jose this fall; revived SFO routes are coming from Lufthansa, Swiss and Fiji Airways; Hawaii’s Sept. 1 date for reopening the islands to visitors now seems uncertain; Alaska and JetBlue are the latest to bar all exceptions to their in-flight mask policies; American brings hot food back to Admirals Clubs and Apple TV to in-flight entertainment; and Virgin Australia’s restructuring eliminates wide-bodies from its fleet and long-haul service from its schedule.

United Airlines this week resumed some international service out of San Francisco International, including three weekly flights to Papeete, Tahiti in French Polynesia. But can Americans go there? “Per local government regulations, all passengers will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure,” a United spokesperson told us. The airline has also restarted SFO-London Heathrow service with five flights a week, as well as routes to four Mexican destinations: Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, and Cancun.

Deal: Alaska Airlines kicked off a valuable buy-one-get-one fare sale for flights through Oct. 31. When you buy one ticket, you get the second one on the same flight for just taxes and fees. More info here. 

A schedule update filed by British Airways this week for the winter season, which starts Oct. 20, shows non-stop service between San Jose and London Heathrow back on the books, with three weekly 787 flights. It also shows one daily flight between SFO and LHR instead of the previously scheduled two flights – with a 777-300ER replacing a 747-400, which the airline recently grounded. Other California cities on BA’s freshly trimmed winter schedule include Los Angeles (down from 21 flights a week to 11) and San Diego (now five flights a week instead of seven).

Other international carriers are also putting SFO back into their networks in the months ahead, according to schedule filings this week. Lufthansa’s newest schedule shows a revival of San Francisco-Frankfurt service on Sept. 2 with three weekly A340-300 flights, supplementing its ongoing SFO-Munich service. Lufthansa affiliate Swiss International’s latest update has a Sept. 2 effective date for SFO-Zurich service, with three weekly 777-300ER roundtrips. And Fiji Airways’ September-October plans include a resumption of service from Nadi to SFO and LAX on Oct. 1, but without specifying frequencies. (Keep in mind, of course, that all these schedules are subject to further revision, and that the availability of airline service to a foreign destination doesn’t mean that Americans are allowed in there without restrictions.)

Did you book a flight to Hawaii in August only to cancel it after the state’s government pushed back its plan to reopen to visitors to Sept. 1?  Well, maybe you should wait before you try to go there in September. According to local media in Honolulu, Hawaii Governor David Ige suggested this week that the reopening might have to be pushed back again. He said he and the state’s mayors are closely watching COVID-19 case numbers, and they have been showing an ominous increase in recent days. If that keeps up, Hawaii might decide to keep tourists away even longer. (The state’s reopening plan would replace the current mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors with a new policy that would require incoming travelers to receive a negative result on a COVID test 72 hours before departure from home.)

The mask wars rage on: Alaska Airlines and JetBlue this week joined other major carriers in deciding they will no longer allow any exceptions, medical or otherwise, to their requirement that all passenger wear face coverings in flight. Effective immediately, Alaska said, that applies to all passengers over the age of 2. “If a guest is unwilling or unable to wear a mask for any reason while at the airport, they will not be permitted to travel. If a guest refuses to wear a mask after boarding their flight, they will be suspended from future travel,” the airline said.

Photo: Virgin Australia

Bankrupt Virgin Australia is getting rid of its long-haul widebodies for the foreseeable future.

The same policy kicks in at JetBlue on Aug. 10, and that face mask has to be a good one, properly worn. “If a crewmember identifies a face covering or mask that does not appear sufficient based on its features or potential lack of protection, they will provide a mask for the customer to use instead,” the airline said. “Customers who do not agree to wear a face covering will not be allowed to board any aircraft, and customers who do not follow crewmember requests to wear a face covering while in flight will be reviewed for future travel on JetBlue.” In other news, JetBlue this week also extended through Oct. 15 its promise to block out middle seats except in rows where customers are all traveling together, as well as its waiver of change and cancellation fees for newly booked tickets.

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Meanwhile, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said during an interview this week with the Washington Post that so far, his airline has put 130 customers onto a no-fly list for their refusal to wear a mask. “We’re going to make certain that we enforce it even if the federal government doesn’t give us the back-up to put a regulation in place,” he said – and so far, the government has shown no inclination to do so.

In one small sign of things starting to return to normal, American Airlines said this week that it will resume service of some hot food items at its airport Admirals Clubs on Aug. 12 and will bring back food-for-sale service at the clubs beginning Aug. 19. Menu selections will vary by location. The airline’s Admirals Clubs have been offering full-service bars and prepackaged snack items since they started to reopen in June. In another passenger service development, American is now offering free streaming of Apple TV+ programming to passengers who bring a Wi-Fi-equipped device on flights with Internet access. It’s available via the American app or at aainflight.com.

Now that bankrupt Virgin Australia has agreed to be purchased by the U.S.-based private equity firm Bain Capital, plans are in the works for a major operational restructuring. And those plans don’t include a resumption of long-haul international service (like its suspended Los Angeles route) any time soon, even after government-imposed coronavirus restrictions are lifted.  Virgin Australia executives said this week they expect the “new” airline will shrink its workforce from 9,000 to 6,000 employees and will get rid of its widebodies – Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A330s – relying instead on an all-737 fleet for domestic and some regional international flights. Officials suggested that Virgin Australia might resume long-haul flights eventually, but only after international markets have fully recovered. And prognosticators at the International Air Transport Assn. have said that might not be until 2024.

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Chris McGinnis is SFGATE’s senior travel correspondent. You can reach him via email or follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t miss a shred of important travel news by signing up for his FREE weekly email updates!

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