New flight options from Oakland to New York, Santa Rosa to Palm Springs; US considers enforcing refunds for canceled, changed flights

In the latest air travel news, Spirit Airlines will debut a new transcontinental route from Oakland next week; low-cost Avelo Airlines will add Palm Springs to its route map this fall; Frontier Airlines and American Airlines will drop some service this fall; Delta Air Lines is adding a Premium Select seating option on some Hawaii flights and putting new A321neo planes onto more domestic routes; France and Tahiti end COVID entry restrictions; Lufthansa pilots vote to strike if they can't get the contract they want; Amsterdam Schiphol extends its passenger cap into the fall; British Airways stops selling short-haul flights out of London Heathrow through next week; low-cost Norse Atlantic Airways starts two European routes out of LAX this month; the Transportation Department issues new proposed rules tightening up on mandatory passenger refunds; and the FAA asks for public comments on setting minimum dimension for airline seats.   Oakland International Airport will get its newest transcontinental route next week, when Spirit Airlines introduces non-stop service to Newark Liberty International on Aug.

10. Spirit will fly the route -- the only non-stop service between those two airports -- once a day with a 182-passenger Airbus A320neo. The eastbound segment is not a red-eye -- it departs OAK at 8:10 a.m., while the return from EWR leaves at 5:30 p.m. and arrives in Oakland at 8:40 p.m.

It's part of a continuing build-up of service at Newark for Spirit, which also includes daily Los Angeles flights that started in May. And that is likely to continue, since the Transportation Department earlier this month reassigned eight peak-hour takeoff and landing slots at Newark to Spirit after Southwest gave them up. (Ironically, JetBlue had also sought those slots, and last week, the airline succeeded in its bid to acquire Spirit.) At Las Vegas, meanwhile, Spirit added new daily flights to Albuquerque and Boise this week and will begin twice-daily Las Vegas-Reno service on Aug.

10.  

A Spirit Airlines plane prepares to take off from Oakland International Airport on July 28, 2022 in Oakland, California.

A Spirit Airlines plane prepares to take off from Oakland International Airport on July 28, 2022 in Oakland, California.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In other California route news, low-cost Avelo Airlines will introduce new service to Palm Springs this fall from Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa. Starting Nov.

14, the 737-800 flights will operate two days a week, Mondays and Fridays, with introductory fares starting at £29 one way. Also in mid-November, Avelo will begin new routes to Palm Springs from Bend/Redmond, Oregon and Eugene, Oregon, with two weekly flights in each market. Most of Avelo's flights in the western U.S. operate to and from Hollywood Burbank Airport.

Elsewhere, Simple Flying is reporting that Frontier Airlines plans a big overhaul of its winter schedule this year, dropping 32 domestic and 11 international routes that were slated to operate for the season starting in November.

Most of the domestic routes dropped are to and from Florida, while all of the international ones are to Cancun. Frontier's only California routes getting the axe are Sacramento-Phoenix, which was scheduled for three weekly flights; and Ontario-Phoenix, which was supposed to operate four days a week. And American Airlines will shrink operations at its Philadelphia hub this fall, cutting seven flights a day in September and 13 a day in October. 

Delta's Premium Select service -- an upgraded economy class product with extra legroom, wider seats with greater recline, and improved in-flight amenities, available on most of the carrier's transatlantic and transpacific flights -- is coming to select domestic routes later this year. Delta said it will sell the Premium Select seats on three Hawaii non-stop routes: Atlanta-Maui, starting Nov.

17 with an A330-300; New York JFK to Honolulu, beginning Dec.

17 with a 767-400ER; and Salt Lake City-Maui, which will resume Dec.

17 with an A330-900neo. "The airline aims to continue to roll out the product across additional fleet types and destinations in the years ahead," Delta said.  Delta is also deploying its new single-aisle Airbus A321neos on more domestic routes. It will introduce the new aircraft Sept.

20 on a daily Los Angeles-Maui flight, as well as a handful of flights between LAX and Minneapolis-St. Paul. It recently announced plans to start using A321neos in mid-September from Seattle to LAX, Maui, and New York JFK; it already flies the plane to Boston from San Francisco and Denver and will add Seattle-Boston on Aug.

11 and San Diego-Boston service starting Aug.

20.  

An aerial view of Paris during the 52nd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport in June 2017.

An aerial view of Paris during the 52nd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport in June 2017.

Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

France is the latest European country to eliminate its COVID-related entry requirements. As of this week, international travelers to France no longer need to show proof of vaccination, a negative COVID test result, or evidence of recovery from a previous infection, and they will not be subject to testing after arrival. The government said it retains the right to reimpose COVID rules in the event of a serious new outbreak. In the Pacific, Air Tahiti Nui said on its website this week that the same now applies to French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, etc.) -- which is a part of France. "Travel is now open to both vaccinated AND unvaccinated passengers," the airline said. "Pre-departure test is no longer required regardless of the passengers' vaccination status." According to the European travel news website Schengen Visa Info, France is now the 27th European Union nation to eliminate all COVID entry restrictions for foreign visitors; only Spain and the Netherlands still have COVID rules in place.

The U.K., which is no longer a member of the EU, has also ended its COVID entry restrictions.     Europe's air travel problems don't seem to be improving. In the latest developments this week, Lufthansa -- which went through a one-day walkout last week by ground workers that led to hundreds of flight cancellations -- is now facing a potential pilots' strike. More than 97% of the company's pilots voted in favor of a walkout if their union doesn't succeed in negotiating favorable changes to their contract with Lufthansa.

The strike vote is a way of pressuring management to become more agreeable to their demands, which mainly involve a 5.5% pay increase. According to Schengen Visa Info, "in case the negotiations fail, pilots are likely to go on strike in mid-August, causing inconveniences during the peak holiday season." In the Netherlands, Amsterdam Schiphol has decided to extend a daily maximum on the number of passengers that can pass through the airport, at least until November, as it struggles to get a handle on massive problems with flight cancellations and delays, checked baggage backlogs and so on. London Heathrow also put a cap on passenger numbers last month that continues through August; British Airways has now stopped selling tickets through Aug.

15 on a number of short-haul routes so that it doesn't exceed that cap. According to the Daily Mail's I News, a passenger trying to fly from Heathrow to Edinburgh before Aug.

15 would have to go via Brussels and pay as much as £1,040 one way.

Airplanes are seen parked at the apron of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in January 2022. 

Airplanes are seen parked at the apron of John F.

Kennedy International Airport in New York in January 2022. 

Xinhua News Agency/Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

West Coast flyers have new transatlantic options from Los Angeles International this month, thanks to new low-cost Scandinavian carrier Norse Atlantic Airways. The airline already flies from its Oslo home base to New York JFK, Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, and it's due to add three weekly flights to LAX from Oslo, beginning Aug.

9. Norse Atlantic has also announced plans to begin three weekly flights from LAX to Berlin's Brandenburg Airport on Aug.

19, as well as a daily flight from New York JFK to Berlin on Aug.

17. The LAX-Oslo and LAX-Berlin flights would be the only non-stop service in those two markets. The airline is also putting London's Gatwick Airport onto its route map this month, introducing daily service from JFK as of Aug.

12.

Norse Atlantic filed for a United Kingdom Air Operator's Certificate for a base it is building at Gatwick, and it told the U.S. Transportation Department earlier this year that its long-term plans for the London airport include additional U.S. service to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, Baltimore/Washington and Rockford, Ill., west of Chicago.

Meanwhile, Norse Atlantic is also forging new interline partnerships with low-cost carriers in the U.S. and Europe to feed traffic to its transatlantic routes. That includes Spirit Airlines in the U.S. as well as easyJet and Norwegian in Europe. Norse Atlantic uses two-class Boeing 787s on its U.S.-Europe routes.

After months of U.S. airline operational problems and growing pressure from members of Congress for the government to get tough on carriers that don't provide consumers with timely refunds when they should, the Transportation Department did just that this week. Under current regulations, airlines are required to provide passenger refunds if the carrier "cancels or significantly changes" the flight that the customer booked, but without defining what constitutes a significant change. Now DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg has unveiled new proposed rules that set specific definitions.

Under the proposal, the customer would be entitled to a refund if the airline makes a schedule change that affects the passenger's departure or arrival time by three hours or more for a domestic flight, or six hours or more for an international trip; if it changes the departure or arrival airport; if it increases the number of connections in the itinerary (e.g. changing a non-stop flight to a one-stop connection); or if it changes the type of aircraft used, resulting in a "significant downgrade in the air travel experience or amenities available onboard the flight."

Passengers wait for a flight at Keflavik International Airport outside Reykjavik, Iceland on August 3, 2022.

Passengers wait for a flight at Keflavik International Airport outside Reykjavik, Iceland on August 3, 2022.

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Since the COVID pandemic started, DOT said, it has received "a flood of air travel service complaints from consumers with non-refundable tickets who did not travel because airlines canceled or significantly changed their flights or because the consumers decided not to fly for pandemic-related reasons such as health concerns." Besides defining what constitutes a "significant change" to a scheduled flight, DOT's proposed rules would also require airlines and ticket agents to give customers flight credits or vouchers "that are valid indefinitely when passengers are unable to fly for certain pandemic related reasons" -- e.g., government bans on travel, closed borders, or passengers who are urged not to travel in order to protect their health. (Southwest Airlines last month eliminated expiration dates on unexpired flight credits held by customers that were still valid as of July 28.) And considering that major airlines received big government bailouts to see them through the height of the pandemic, the new rules would require those carriers to issue customer refunds "in lieu of non-expiring travel credits or vouchers," DOT said. The proposed rules are subject to a 90-day public comment period before taking effect.  Last fall, DOT slapped Air Canada with a £4.5 million fine for refusing to provide customers with timely refunds for transborder flights that were canceled or had significant schedule changes.

This week, the agency said it is pursuing enforcement action against 10 other carriers for "extreme delays in providing refunds," and it is continuing to investigate 10 more airlines for the same thing.

Rows of airline seats inside an Airbus A320 at the Rothenburg Airfield.

Rows of airline seats inside an Airbus A320 at the Rothenburg Airfield.

picture alliance/dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

It's ostensibly about passenger safety during aircraft evacuations, but a new request for public comment from the Federal Aviation Administration about airline seat size also has a lot to do with passenger comfort. The FAA's long-delayed rulemaking on setting minimum seat dimensions dates back to 2018, when Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act, which included a provision requiring the agency to study the issue of seat size as it relates to safety and to issue new standards setting minimum seat dimensions for commercial airlines. Since then, the FAA has conducted simulated aircraft evacuations with various seat configurations, but it still hasn't issued any recommended new standards -- which it was supposed to do by October of 2019 -- even as some U.S. carriers installed new coach seating in their planes, with even less space for passengers, so they could increase revenues by boosting the number of seats in each aircraft. 

Earlier this year, a consumer group called Flyers Rights petitioned a federal appeals court to bring the FAA into compliance with the 2018 law, and that may have lit a fire under the agency. Public comment is a required part of the process, and the FAA is now asking interested parties to submit their thoughts on the impact of airline seats' width, length and pitch (i.e., the distance between seat rows) as it relates to passenger safety and health. There are currently no federal regulations that mandate minimum dimensions for airline seats -- just a rule that a carrier must be able to evacuate an aircraft within 90 seconds in an emergency.

If you'd like to express your thoughts on the subject, you can do so at regulations.gov; the docket number to search for is FAA-2022-1001.