Photo: British Airways
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In route news, British Airways is bringing a 747 to San Jose and will test some new technology on SFO flights; American will revive “Nerd Bird” flights between San Jose and Austin; JetBlue plans more Boston flights from the Bay Area; free Lyft rides to Ontario Airport; SuperShuttle shuts down; plans for a Las Vegas-Los Angeles high-speed train are moving ahead; United kicks off a new route to Africa; Hawaiian adds a Las Vegas route; three airlines schedule new transborder service to Canada for next summer; and Southwest plans some new routes next year.
British Airways must be doing pretty well on its San Jose-London route; when its summer schedule begins on March 29, the carrier plans to switch aircraft on the route from a 787-9 to a 747-400 with 60 additional seats for a total of 275. A BA spokesperson tells us the change is being made “as a response to commercial demand.” Will the bigger aircraft put a strain on SJC’s capacity? An airport official said that the 747 will use either Gate 15 or 18, two of four gates that handle international flights. “Currently only minor painting/striping appears to be necessary on the tarmac surface to include the 747 on those gates,” the official said, adding that SJC doesn’t anticipate any capacity problems with gates and other internal space at the airport. As for arrival formalities, “The BA flight is scheduled to arrive after the other international flights and should not have an impact on the Customs and Border Protection experience,” the official noted.
While other global carriers have been phasing out their 747s, British Airways decided to keep its own 747-400s going for a bit longer, refurbishing them in recent years. In other changes for next summer, BA is planning to keep a 747 operating on its San Diego-London Heathrow route through the peak season, but it will swap out the 747 on Seattle-LHR with a 777-200ER from March 29 through June and then switch to a 787-10. The 747 on its Philadelphia-London route will be replaced with a 777-200ER, according to Routesonline.com. In other 747 news, Korean Air said this week its plans to use a 747-8I on its daily Chicago-Seoul service staring March 29, replacing a 777-300ER.
San Jose is also getting some nerdy new flights from American Airlines next year. The carrier plans to begin twice-daily (except Saturday) 737-800 flights on April 7 between SJC and Austin Bergstrom International, linking Silicon Valley with Texas’ “Silicon Hills” tech mecca. American’s flights will depart SJC at 9:55 a.m. and 6 p.m. The route already has non-stop service from Southwest and Alaska Airlines. That’s just one piece of an AA expansion at Austin. The carrier is also launching twice-daily Austin-Boston service in April and will begin Saturday/Sunday service from Austin to Los Cabos on May 9. The Silicon Valley Slang Page defines nerd bird as:”Any weekday direct airline flight between Austin, Texas, and San Jose, California. There are many engineers and technical types regularly on this flight since there are so many tech developments in both cities. It is also known that a good amount of job seeking and rumor milling occurs on this flight.”
JetBlue said this week it plans to “phase in added flights” in 2020 on more than a dozen Boston routes, including San Francisco International and San Jose, but it didn’t say how many flights it might add or when they would start. Other Boston markets where the airline said it would add frequencies next year include Charlotte, Chicago O’Hare, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark, Nantucket, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle and Washington Reagan National.
JetBlue also said it will boost Boston-Austin frequencies with up to three daily flights next summer. And the carrier plans to move into shuttle-style service on its Boston-New York LaGuardia route next spring, operating up to 10 daily roundtrips with Embraer 190s. Combined with its JFK and Newark service, that will give JetBlue up to 22 flights a day between Boston and the New York area.
Who knows when the Boeing 737 MAX will start flying again? The FAA this week told Boeing to stop saying the aircraft would be re-certified by the end of December, and the Wall Street Journal said its sources predict the federal agency won’t give the aircraft a green light until February 2020. American Airlines said this week that it has now pushed back the estimated start-up date for its MAX flights from March 4 to April 7 – more than a year after the troubled aircraft was grounded by the government. No word yet from Southwest or United, both of which most recently said they expected the aircraft to return to service in early March.
SuperShuttle, the airport van transfer service that operates in dozens of U.S. locations including San Francisco International, San Jose and Oakland, is shutting down at the end of the month. The company’s sedan service called ExecuCar will also bite the dust Dec. 31, according to press reports. SuperShuttle’s fortunes reportedly have declined due to increasing competition from app-based airport ride services like Uber and Lyft, which also offer shared rides in larger vehicles for multiple passengers.
Southern California’s Metrolink rail network said this week said it is offering its customers free Lyft rides (up to a $35 value) to Ontario International Airport from Metrolink stations at Montclair, Upland, Rancho Cucamonga (on the San Bernardino line) and Ontario-East (on the Riverside line). “To participate in the program, riders need to enter the GOSBCTA code into the Promos field in the Lyft app one time, and the subsidy will apply automatically to any eligible ride; the code will automatically renew at the end of each month. Riders without smartphones can participate by calling 909-235-5544,” Metrolink said.
Speaking of trains, construction could begin as early as next year on a high-speed rail service linking Las Vegas with the Los Angeles area. It depends on the issuance of bonds by the two states involved and getting green lights from the Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration. The new rail line is a project of Virgin Trains USA, part of Sir Richard Branson’s sprawling business empire, which already operates trains in south Florida between Miami and West Palm Beach and plans to expand that line to Orlando. The California-Nevada line would run 170 miles from downtown Las Vegas to Victorville, California, and would be extended eventually to Union Station in downtown LA. The plan calls for most of the track to be laid between the northbound and southbound lanes of I-15. If all goes well, trains could start running by the end of 2023.
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December 15 is the launch date for United Airlines’ new service between its Newark hub and Cape Town, South Africa – its only route to Africa. United plans to fly the route three times a week with a 787-9. Flight time on the 7,817-mile route is estimated at 14-1/2 hours southbound and 16 hours for the return. The 787-9 will offer 48 Polaris business class seats, 88 in Economy Plus and 116 in regular economy.
Hawaiian Airlines’ newest route begins on Dec. 15 when the carrier starts flying non-stop between Kahului, Maui and Las Vegas McCarran. The flight will operate four days a week with one of the airline’s new single-aisle Airbus A321neos, departing Las Vegas at 6:30 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. At Los Angeles International, meanwhile, Hawaiian is supplementing its usual Airbus A330 daily service with extra A321neo flights three times a week from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.
At San Francisco International, first class travelers on British Airways flights 285/286 to and from London Heathrow are getting a chance to test out new virtual reality headsets from now through the end of January. Users will be able to immerse themselves in 2D, 3D or 360-degree views of films, documentaries and travel programs. The technology, provided by VR eyeware specialists Skylights, was previously tested on BA’s New York JFK flights. “For San Francisco, the headsets have been upgraded with improved lenses for an enhanced visual experience, and Bluetooth capability to provide better audio quality and a more streamlined set up,” a BA spokesperson said.
More transborder air service between Canada and the U.S. is coming in 2020. Air Canada said it will add a second daily Vancouver-Newark flight for the summer season (June 15-October 12) and will also lay on a daily A319 flight between Calgary and Boston from June 22 through Sept. 7 as well as Air Canada Express E175 flights between Montreal and Nashville from June 1 through Oct. 25. Canada’s WestJet will also jump into the Calgary-Boston market from May 14 through Oct. 12 with a daily 737-700 flight. And low-cost Sun Country Airlines plans to launch its first Canada route on May 20 with seasonal service two days a week between Vancouver and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Southwest Airlines this week released details of some new routes for next summer. On June 7, the airline will introduce daily seasonal service from Atlanta to Charleston, S.C.; Panama City, Fla.; and Norfolk, Va. On the same date, it will add seasonal flights from Baltimore/Washington to Pensacola, Fla. and Tulsa, Okla. Southwest will also begin weekly Saturday seasonal service from Houston to Nassau, Bahamas on June 13, and it will add summer weekly service from Nashville to Portland, Maine; San Juan, Puerto Rico and Portland, Ore..
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 biweekly email updates!