France, Ireland reopening + ‘airport chaos’ warning, United SSTs, California route news

In the latest developments, France plans a June 9 reopening to foreign tourists; Ireland looks to reopen in mid-July; with Greece back in business, U.S. carriers add Athens flights; world airline body warns of chaos at international airports without digital systems for verifying COVID-19 health status; United orders 15 supersonic jets that could offer six-hour flights from San Francisco to Tokyo; new domestic routes from SFO, Arcata/Eureka and Reno/Tahoe; JetBlue puts its redesigned A321neo into service at LAX; Alaska Airlines ramps up operations at Washington’s Paine Field and starts Santa Rosa-Burbank flights; Delta partners with Cape Air on 11 routes out of Boston; U.S. airlines cut back on the resumption of in-flight alcohol service; European start-up Norse Atlantic agrees to hire hundreds of U.S. flight attendants; and international route news from United, Delta, Lufthansa and Qatar Airways.

France will reopen to foreign visitors on June 9, the French government said on Friday, with varying entry requirements depending on the levels of COVID-19 indicators in the visitor’s home country. France has divided the world into green, orange and red nations based on those metrics; most of Europe is in the green zone, while the U.S. and most other countries are in the orange category. That means American visitors who have completed their COVID vaccinations only need to show a negative result from a PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival, or an antigen test taken within 48 hours. Those who are not vaccinated can still come into the country, but “are obliged to present a compelling purpose of entry, present a PCR test taken in the last 72 hours or an antigen test taken in the last 48 hours before they reach France, and undergo an antigen test upon arrival in France. They are also obliged to undergo self-isolation for a period of seven days,” according to, which tracks the reopening policies of member countries. 

Map of Ireland. 

Map of Ireland. 

omersukrugoksu/Getty Images

However, one issue remains: “It was not immediately clear how U.S. travelers will need to prove that they are fully vaccinated,” The Washington Post noted. It added: “Countries’ classification remains subject to short-term changes, with Friday’s announcement being based on data from Wednesday. This means that Americans could still see restrictions relaxed or toughened in the coming weeks.” Also on June 9, France is relaxing many internal COVID-related restrictions – e.g., bars and restaurants can again offer indoor seating, the nightly curfew moves from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., and capacity limits will be eased on stores, museums and tourist sites.

Another European nation that just set a reopening date for U.S. travelers is Ireland, which has had one of the toughest COVID shutdowns in the E.U., including a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine for all foreign arrivals. Now the Irish government says that on July 19, it will open up to travel not just from other E.U. nations but also from the U.K. and the U.S. for individuals who can show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Those without a vaccination can still enter, but they need a negative result from a COVID test before leaving home and must self-quarantine after landing until they can get a negative test result in Ireland. Two weeks before the country opens up to foreign visitors, Ireland will ease up on internal coronavirus restrictions, allowing bars and restaurants to serve customers indoors, and letting sports and arts events resume. Aer Lingus, which was severely impacted by the pandemic shutdown and the Irish government’s restrictions on travel, said last week: “Flying schedules will be a fraction of normal levels for some time to come. While Aer Lingus welcomes the easing of travel restrictions … it will not facilitate a significant level of travel to and from Ireland during the critical summer months of 2021.” Aer Lingus currently flies to Dublin from New York JFK, Chicago and Boston, while American Airlines has revived Philadelphia-Dublin flights and United offers non-stop service to Dublin from Newark.

Aer Lingus planes seen at Dublin Airport. On Monday, May 31, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. 

Aer Lingus planes seen at Dublin Airport. On Monday, May 31, 2021, in Dublin, Ireland. 

NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With Greece now open to U.S. visitors, airlines are bringing back flights to Athens. Delta last weekend resumed non-stop daily service between New York JFK and Athens after a hiatus of more than a year, and it is slated to begin daily Atlanta-Athens flights on July 2. At American Airlines, June 5 is the launch date for daily service to Athens from both New York JFK and Chicago O’Hare, with plans to add Philadelphia-Athens in August. United resumed Newark-Athens flights on June 3 with a 767-300ER but will switch planes to a larger 777-200ER in July. According to the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Americans can now enter Greece if they present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate that proves their inoculation was completed at least 14 days before arrival. Alternatively, they can show a negative result from a PCR test performed up to 72 hours before their arrival in Greece. 

As individual countries set plans to reopen to international travel, a leading airline group is warning of big problems that could be in store for passengers. The International Air Transport Assn., a trade group of the world’s airlines, said last week that travelers could face “airport chaos” unless governments quickly adopt digital systems to verify COVID-19 vaccinations and test results. IATA said that before the pandemic started, international air travelers spent an average of 1.5 hours in “travel processes” for every journey, including check-in, security, border control, customs and baggage claim. Today, with international passenger volume only 30% of what it was before COVID, airport processing time has doubled to 3.0 hours. “The greatest increases are at check-in and border control (emigration and immigration) where travel health credentials are being checked mainly as paper documents,” IATA said.

Antrim Coastal Road on eastern coast of Northern Ireland, UK.

Antrim Coastal Road on eastern coast of Northern Ireland, UK.

Krzysztof Nahlik/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Unless procedures are automated, total processing time could reach 5.5 hours after traffic is back to 75% of its pre-COVID levels, IATA said, and 8.0 hours once passenger numbers have fully recovered. “Nobody will tolerate waiting hours at check-in or for border formalities. We must automate the checking of vaccine and test certificates before traffic ramps up. The technical solutions exist. But governments must agree on digital certificate standards and align processes to accept them. And they must act fast,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

The European Union is in the last stages of developing its own Digital COVID Certificates to display vaccination and testing status, and seven member countries are already making them available to their citizens, including Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. Bulgaria and Poland, with all 27 member countries expected to have them by July 1. The European Commission has reportedly been in talks with the U.S. to let Americans use the EU digital certificates, but there’s no agreement yet. The U.S. government has said it will not create its own digital COVID-19 vaccine passports, although it is working with private-sector companies and organizations that are doing so.

One of the famed white villages of Greece. 

One of the famed white villages of Greece. 

Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

San Francisco to Tokyo in six hours? Four months ago, United Airlines created a stir in the industry when it announced plans to buy up to 200 electric-powered vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft that it will use to provide air taxi services to its hub airports. And now United is pushing the tech envelope even further with plans to bring back supersonic air travel. The airline said it has agreed to purchase 15 jets from Denver-based Boom Supersonic that will fly at Mach 1.7 – twice the speed of today’s intercontinental jets. Don’t try to book a flight yet; United said the next-generation SSTs aren’t likely to enter commercial service until 2029. That would be a full 26 years after Air France and British Airways pulled the plug on their Concorde flights.

The order from United is for 15 of Boom’s Overture SSTs, with an option for 35 more. “Overture can connect more than 500 destinations in nearly half the time. Among the many future potential routes for United are Newark to London in just three and a half hours, Newark to Frankfurt in four hours and San Francisco to Tokyo in just six hours,” United said. “Overture will also be designed with features such as in-seat entertainment screens, ample personal space, and contactless technology.” According to Boom’s website, the Overture aircraft would fly at 60,000 feet and has a range of 4,900 statute miles; passenger capacity would be 65 to 88 seats. Of course, 2029 is pretty far off, and things can happen. Just last month, Boom’s primary competitor – Nevada-based Aerion Supersonic – shut down, putting an end to its plan to build faster-than-sound business jets. Aerion blamed the inability to secure enough new investment  even though it announced a few months ago that it would build a $375 million manufacturing facility in Florida. 

Humboldt redwoods, California. 

Humboldt redwoods, California. 

Martina Birnbaum / EyeEm/Getty Images/EyeEm

In northern California route news, United last week kicked off seasonal service between San Francisco International and Milwaukee. The daily flights will continue to operate through Sept. 7. And in July, United will resume its suspended service from SFO to Raleigh-Durham, N.C., part of a big July ramp-up of United’s domestic schedules. Farther north, American Airlines last week started up new service to its Phoenix hub from Humboldt County Airport on California’s Redwood Coast near Arcata/Eureka. And across the state line in Nevada, American has just launched new non-stop summer flights from Reno/Tahoe to its Charlotte, N.C. hub, offering daily service through Oct. 6.

In southern California, JetBlue last week put its first new Airbus A321neo into service, operating “select flights between New York JFK and LAX for the next several weeks,” the company said.  Featuring a redesign similar to the one JetBlue will feature on its New York JFK-London service starting in August, the single-aisle domestic A321neos have a new premium Mint cabin with 14 suites in a 1×1 configuration, offering lie-flat seats and other posh amenities. Two of the suites will be new Mint Studios, with “the most space in a premium experience from any U.S. airline,” JetBlue said. (The London routes will use long-range versions of the A321neo with more Mint suites.) The main cabin has 144 seats.

Remember Paine Field in Everett, Wash.? That little airport opened up to commercial airline service a couple of years before the pandemic hit, drawing on the big suburban market north of Seattle, but lost most of it last year. Now Alaska Airlines, which was the biggest operator at Paine with 18 flights a day, plans to bring back its full schedule there within a year. Alaska said that on June 17, it will fly to five airports from Paine Field, including San Francisco, Orange County, Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix. On Sept. 8, it will resume flights from Paine to Boise and Spokane, followed by winter seasonal service to Palm Springs beginning Oct. 7 and to Tucson starting Nov. 19.

Speaking of Alaska Airlines, the carrier last week launched a new route out of Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, offering daily E175 flights to Hollywood Burbank Airport. That gives some competition to the new low-cost carrier Avelo Airlines, which started flying the Santa Rosa-Burbank route this spring. Alaska already flies from Santa Rosa to LAX, Orange County, San Diego, Seattle and Portland.

Heading to the East Coast? Delta announced an expansion of its interline partnership with Massachusetts-based Cape Air so that travelers can now book connecting flights out of Boston to 11 airports in the northeast through Delta’s website or mobile app. That includes Cape Air’s turboprop flights from Boston to Augusta, Bar Harbor, Portland and Rockland, Maine; Hyannis, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Provincetown, Mass.; Lebanon, N.H.; Rutland, Vt.; and Saranac Lake, N.Y. And Delta SkyMiles members can earn and burn miles on those flights.

American and United have joined Southwest in restricting the availability of in-flight alcohol in response to the highly publicized increase of rowdy passenger incidents in the past few months. Southwest and American both decided to hold off on their previously announced plans to resume alcohol service this summer. United continues to offer alcohol on domestic flights longer than 800 miles or from one hub to another but has now delayed its previously announced plan to start serving it again on domestic flights longer than 200 miles. 

On the international side, we reported a while ago about a new start-up European airline called Norse Atlantic that was created by some former executives of Norwegian – the popular low-cost transatlantic carrier that pulled out of the Bay Area and all other U.S. routes last year after COVID-related passenger losses nearly forced it out of business. (It has survived, but in a much smaller version with regional routes in Europe.) Norse Atlantic reportedly plans to pursue much of the transatlantic market share that used to belong to Norwegian, and it looks like they’re serious. According to, Norse Atlantic has inked a tentative agreement with the Assn. of Flight Attendants to hire 700 U.S.-based cabin crew. “This agreement for flight attendant jobs gives us even more urgency to lock in all of the regulatory approvals to start operations as soon as possible,” said Norse Atlantic CEO Bjorn Tore Larsen. No word yet on when the airline might start flying here, or which routes it would operate, but it has obtained several 787s from Norwegian.

In other international developments, United resumed service to South Africa last week, operating daily non-stops from its Newark hub to Johannesburg with a 787-9. Delta and the eastern European carrier AirBaltic have applied to the Transportation Dept. for permission to code-share on 24 routes between the Baltic capitals of Riga, Latvia; Tallinn, Estonia; Vilnius, Lithuania and various European cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Madrid and others. Lufthansa last week revived three of its suspended U.S. routes, including daily service to Frankfurt from Orlando and three flights a week to Frankfurt from both Detroit and Atlanta. Qatar Airways said it will increase its San Francisco-Doha schedule to seven flights a week starting July 2 and will also increase frequencies during July on its routes to Boston, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and Seattle; Qatar also added Atlanta-Doha service last week with four flights a week. 

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