Foul weather may have been dominating the headlines with respect to air travel this week, but airports and airlines have also rolled out a number of new product updates travel agents should keep in mind.
This week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced a plan for a major expansion to the city’s busy hub airport, O’Hare. The $8.5 billion, eight-year capital improvement program will mark the airport’s biggest terminal expansion ever, adding 25 percent more gate capacity, modernizing existing terminals and aiming to improve the passenger experience. As part of the plan, Terminal 5 will undergo an upgrade an expansion, while Terminal 2 will be largely demolished and rebuilt to include a new international arrivals facility, called the O’Hare Global Terminal. Terminals 1 and 3 will also see renovations. The project will also add the first Global Alliance Hub in the country, which will aim to give passengers an easier connection to international destinations upon arrivals, as well as a number of new technology upgrades aimed at improving security wait times, baggage screening and check-in. Overall, the updates will expand the airport’s terminal square footage by more than 60 percent, from 5.5 to 8.9 million square feet. It will be the first major capital improvement to O’Hare’s terminals in more than 25 years.
In airline news, this week American Airlines announced plans to introduce its Basic Economy fares on some transatlantic flights to Europe starting in April. The new fares will be similar to the airline’s short-haul Basic Economy fares, with some key differences. Seat assignment will be available at any time for a fee, and passengers will be permitted one carry-on and one personal item. There will also be a checked bag fee beginning with the first bag. American said that it will initially make the service available in a limited number of markets.
In other budget travel news, Ryanair announced that it will operate from two new airports in Germany for the first time this summer: Berlin (Tegel) and Dusseldorf. The airline will fly four new German peak summer routes (June to August) to Mallorca from Dusseldorf (daily), Berlin (six times weekly), Nuernberg (four weekly) and Stuttgart (three weekly). The airline will also expand its flights to Mallorca from Cologne to 13 times weekly and from Dortmund to five times weekly.
Another low-cost carrier, Norwegian, launched a new female-driven in-flight entertainment comedy channel this week as part of an exclusive partnership with the online comedy platform PYPO, Put Your Pretty On. The on-demand in-flight video channel will be onboard all of the airline’s Dreamliner-operated long-haul flights, including 45 routes from the United States. Next steps in the partnership call for the creation of exclusive content that will premiere on Norwegian’s in-flight entertainment system before it’s accessible on PYPO’s own platform.
Air Astana, the national carrier of Kazakhstan, reports that it will begin offering daily, nonstop flights from London (Heathrow) to Astana, effective June 1. The additional frequencies, on Wednesdays and Fridays, are already available for purchase.
In the South Pacific, Fiji Airways, Fiji’s national carrier, and Alaska Airlines inked a new codeshare agreement this week covering flights from San Francisco to two U.S. cities. Fiji Airways will place its FJ code on Alaska Airlines’ flights from San Francisco to Seattle and Portland, speeding connections between those cities and Fiji. The codeshare flights will be available for sale starting March 5.
In other codeshare news this week, American Airlines and Qantas are taking another run at a proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to form a joint business serving customers flying between North America and Australia/New Zealand. A previous application had been rejected in 2016 amid opposition from rivals Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue Airways. This time, the airlines say they may be forced to reduce service if the deal does not go through. Qantas said it may be forced to reduce or cancel its A380 service between Sydney and Dallas/Fort Worth, while American may further reduce its services between Los Angeles and Sydney and Auckland.
Finally, this week March 1 was the official start of Delta’s new policy regarding emotional support and service animals.