Qantas sets a return to SFO; San Jose Airport changes names


In this week’s news, Qantas is finally planning to start flying to San Francisco again after a long COVID-19 hiatus; Delta plans to add New Zealand to its route map in the fall and increase trans-Atlantic schedules this spring; a low-cost European airline plans to add service from the U.S. to Italy; there’s more international route news from Ethiopian Airlines, Delta, American and Hawaiian; Southwest Airlines’ holiday meltdown had a big negative impact on its fourth quarter financial results, and the Transportation Department is widening its investigation of the carrier; Alaska Airlines plans to install fast satellite Wi-Fi on its regional jet fleet; San Jose’s airport officially changes its name, although not by much; SFO will close a runway for two months this spring; Seattle-Tacoma’s Centurion Lounge shuts down; and travelers to New York have a new low-cost option for trips from JFK Airport into Manhattan. 

Since rival United is now operating three Australia routes from San Francisco — Sydney, Melbourne, and new service to Canberra — Qantas has some catching up to do, and it will start this spring. According to the Australian trade publication Executive Traveller, Qantas has settled on a May 22 resumption of its suspended service between SFO and Sydney, operating three flights a week. The carrier had originally planned to resume service on the route — which it stopped three years ago — last October, then delayed it until March of this year, and now to May. No word yet on when Qantas might resume SFO flights from Melbourne and Brisbane. 

The Auckland, New Zealand, skyline during the Volvo Ocean Race in 2015.

The Auckland, New Zealand, skyline during the Volvo Ocean Race in 2015.

Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Image

In other trans-Pacific news, Delta Air Lines — which last month began its first-ever service from Los Angeles to Papeete, Tahiti — is planning to introduce another new long-haul route later this year. The company said it will begin service from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand, on Oct. 28, using an A350 for the daily 13-hour flights. The only other airline currently offering non-stop LAX-Auckland flights is Air New Zealand. Delta also announced more additions to its trans-Atlantic network coming in the spring, including daily 767 service from its Atlanta hub to Nice, France, starting May 12 and an increase in its Atlanta-Tel Aviv schedule to daily frequencies as of April 16. At New York JFK, the airline plans to lay on a third daily departure to Paris Charles de Gaulle beginning May 25; it previously announced new JFK service in 2023 to Geneva, Switzerland, and London Gatwick; a revival of JFK-Berlin flights; and a third daily frequency from JFK to Rome.

Meanwhile, the Points Guy reports that Delta plans to discontinue flights from its Detroit hub to Nagoya, Japan, as of Feb. 27 — the only nonstop service to Nagoya from the U.S. And according to Simple Flying, Delta will boost its schedule between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Paris from seven flights a week to 10 as its partner Air France drops plans to fly that route this summer.

Norse Atlantic, the low-cost, year-old European carrier, is adding another trans-Atlantic route this summer. The carrier is set to begin daily 787 flights from New York JFK to Rome on June 19, a route also served by American, Delta and Italy’s ITA. The news comes a couple of months after Norse announced plans to fly from JFK to Paris, with service starting March 26 — a route that JetBlue will also add this summer. Norse Atlantic also flies from JFK to London Gatwick, Oslo and Berlin. 

In other international route news, Ethiopian Airlines is slated to add a new U.S. route this spring when it launches Atlanta-Addis Ababa flights on May 16, operating four flights a week. The new route includes a westbound refueling stop in Dublin. Although Ethiopian is a member of United’s Star Alliance, reports that the carrier is hoping to reach a code-sharing agreement with Delta for the new Atlanta route. Delta, which already flies to Buenos Aires, Argentina, from its Atlanta hub, has applied for permission to begin new service to that city from New York JFK in December of this year. American Airlines plans to discontinue service to three Caribbean/Latin American destinations — Phoenix to Culiacan, Mexico, as of Feb. 28; and Miami to Samana, Dominican Republic, and San Andres Island, Colombia, effective May 3. And Hawaiian Airlines said it will restore service from Honolulu to Fukuoka, Japan, on April 28, operating three flights a week.

Southwest Airlines departure area at Oakland International Airport in 2020.

Southwest Airlines departure area at Oakland International Airport in 2020.

Smith Collection/Gado/Gado via Getty Images

Troubled Southwest Airlines issued a dismal fourth-quarter financial report this week as the federal government expanded its investigation of the airline’s scheduling practices following its holiday meltdown. While rival carriers have been reporting strong profitability in the October-December quarter, traditionally profitable Southwest was deep in the red, with a fourth quarter net loss of $220 million — although it did manage net income of $539 million for the full year 2022 as post-pandemic passenger traffic rebounded. Southwest said its 16,700 flight cancellations in late December had a “pre-tax negative impact” of $800 million in its financial results, creating the quarterly red ink.

The company said that although its fourth quarter revenues hit a record $6.2 billion, its costs increased to $6.6 billion, due largely to “travel expense reimbursements” to customers whose plans were disrupted, as well as the Rapid Rewards points it gave affected customers and additional pay to overworked employees. In January of 2023, the company said, it has seen “an increase in flight cancellations and a deceleration in bookings, primarily for January and February 2023 travel, which are assumed to be associated with the operational disruptions in December 2022,” but by March it expects its revenues to be back to March 2019 levels. 

Southwest has already been under a federal government microscope as the Transportation Department watches how it is handling refunds and reimbursements to customers following the December schedule meltdown, and now DOT is broadening its investigation to include the airline’s scheduling practices. The agency wants to determine whether Southwest knowingly scheduled more flights than it had the capacity to operate, since that would be considered an unfair and deceptive practice. DOT said its investigations of Southwest will continue to evolve as it learns more about what went wrong during the week after Christmas. 

Alaska Airlines is planning to extend fast in-flight Wi-Fi service to its Embraer 175 regional jets. In a partnership with Intelsat, Alaska said it will introduce the new Wi-Fi service on Horizon Air planes early next year and then expand it to the rest of its regional jet fleet, including aircraft operated by partner SkyWest, over the next two years. The airline is already on track to offer satellite Wi-Fi on all its mainline aircraft by April of this year, also provided by Intelsat.

Alaska said that Intelsat’s latest technology communicates not only with the geostationary satellites currently used for in-flight Wi-Fi but also with “low Earth orbit” (LEO) satellites. “With LEO at just 300 miles from the Earth’s surface, thousands of small satellites circling the planet ensure stronger connectivity with lower latency, or delay in telecommunications,” Alaska said. “Being closer to Earth provides a benefit of a shorter delay time as data moves from the ground to satellites to aircraft and back. This unique combination of using both LEO and GEO satellites enables higher speeds and more coverage, particularly across remote areas in the state of Alaska.” 

The airport formerly known as Mineta San Jose International is now called San Jose Mineta International.

The airport formerly known as Mineta San Jose International is now called San Jose Mineta International.

Courtesy of SJC

Airport rebrandings in the western U.S. in recent years included Burbank Airport’s decision to switch its identity from Bob Hope Airport to Hollywood Burbank, and the renaming of Las Vegas airport from McCarran to Harry Reid International. And now, after “an extensive strategic research and brand development process” conducted with an outside marketing consultant, the Bay Area’s own San Jose airport has officially changed its name.

The airport formerly known as Mineta San Jose International is now called San Jose Mineta International. Along with the new name, the project also gives SJC a new logo, new signage and new advertising and communications materials. (The airport’s code is still SJC.) Why the change?

“Multiple market research studies identified brand elements that resonate with the local community and travelers around the world. The research indicated that travelers did not widely associate the airport’s previous branding with San Jose or the Bay Area,” the airport said. (Where does the “Mineta” come from? The airport is named for Norman Mineta, a former San Jose mayor who also served as U.S. Commerce Secretary under President Bill Clinton and Transportation Secretary for President George W. Bush.)

In other SJC news, the airport has won an $11 million grant to help it comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The funds will provide for the construction of new ramps and other improvements to help disabled travelers navigate their way through the airport. The funding was provided by the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enacted in 2021. 

An airplane takes off next to construction equipment on a runway at SFO in 2019.

An airplane takes off next to construction equipment on a runway at SFO in 2019.

San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

San Francisco International has announced an upcoming eight-week runway closure, but it is reassuring travelers that it shouldn’t cause much of a problem for flight operations. SFO said its Runway 1 Left — the airport’s shortest runway — will close from March 27 through May 25 for a repaving job. During the closure, all arriving and departing flights will use Runways 28 Left and 28 Right, “a common configuration, often used during clear windy days.” SFO said the paving project should cause “few delays during clear conditions and delays of less than an hour during foggy mornings,” as well as slightly longer taxi times for departing flights. The dates of the project were selected to get the work done before the busy summer travel season begins. 

At Seattle-Tacoma International, the American Express Centurion Lounge in Concourse B is set to close Jan. 29 as the company continues work on a new SEA location on the mezzanine level of the Central Terminal. AmEx said the new Centurion Lounge should be opening sometime “in the coming weeks.” 

A view of the entrance to the new Long Island Rail Road terminal at Grand Central Madison station on opening day on Jan. 25, 2023, in New York City.

A view of the entrance to the new Long Island Rail Road terminal at Grand Central Madison station on opening day on Jan. 25, 2023, in New York City.

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Travelers flying into New York City’s JFK Airport who plan to stay on the East Side of Manhattan have a new low-cost ground transportation option as of this week. The cheapest way to get from JFK into the city has always been the Long Island Rail Road’s frequent service from Jamaica Station in Queens into Manhattan’s Penn Station (which requires a short ride on the JFK AirTrain from the airport terminals into Jamaica Station). But Penn Station is on the West Side of Manhattan, and backtracking to the East Side can mean a slow cab or Uber ride stuck in that notorious crosstown traffic.

This week, the Metropolitan Transit Authority opened a new train station under Grand Central Station on the East Side, and after a three-week period of limited service, MTA plans to run trains every 30 minutes between Jamaica Station and the new Grand Central Madison station. With a recent price increase, a taxi ride from JFK to Manhattan now costs a flat fare of $70 one-way; a ride on the train is only $13. The new station is also handy for travelers heading to suburban New York or Connecticut locations served by Metro North trains from Grand Central.


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