Alaska Airlines

Coronavirus brings more bad news for travelers.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is bringing with it a lot of fast-breaking, bad news for travelers and the travel industry.

Over the weekend, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines announced the temporary suspension of flights to Milan, Italy and United Airlines announced a temporary suspension of flights to Tokyo Narita, Osaka Singapore and Seoul.

And, because travelers are holding back on buying new plane tickets, on Sunday American Airlines announced it will join JetBlue and Alaska Airlines in offering a change fee waiver on new tickets purchased in the next two weeks.

Alaska Airlines also shared some notes about the efforts it is taking to keep planes clean and passengers safe.

The airline says using wipes to clean armrests and tray tables is fine, but they’re asking passengers not to use cleaning wipes on the leather seats because commercial wipes will deteriorate the top coat of leather.

“The wipe might look dirty, ” says Alaska, “but it’s actually the leather dye color that’s coming off.”

Bad news for travelers may keep coming for a while, so it was refreshing to have Saturday Night Live do this silly bit about traveling through New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

Airlines continue coronavirus response

Alaska Airlines has added a “Peace of Mind’ cancellation and fee waiver policy to help travelers worried about what might happen next with the coronavirus.

The peace of mind waiver doesn’t apply to flights you may have booked months ago, only for new bookings.

But if you book a flight prior to March 12 and then decide by that date to change or cancel your trip, this might help. If you decide to cancel, Alaska is offering full travel credit for a flight up to one year from the issuance of your credit. Although fare differences when you rebook will appy.

JetBlue announced a similar program earlier in the week:

“Due to evolving coronavirus concerns, we are suspending change and cancel fees for all new flight bookings made between February 27, 2020 and March 11, 2020 for travel through June 1, 2020,” JetBlue says.

The airline notes that there are no current travel restrictions to the locations they fly. But it seems travelers have jitters and airline bookings are down everywhere. So JetBlue, Alaska and likely others shortly – will be taking action to reassure travelers and encourage them to continue getting on planes.

How are coronavirus concerns affecting your travel plans?

Alaska Airlines’ unusual Northern Lights sale

Aurora Borealis near Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Andy Witteman via Alaska Airlines

If you want to see the Northern Lights this winter, then the Alaska Airlines science-based sale should be of interest.

The sale runs through January 17 for flights between the Lower 48 and both Fairbanks and Anchorage through February 12. Discounts of up to 35% are being tied to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute’s aurora forecast.

The more intense the Northern Lights forecast; the more flyers will save on flights.

“Everyone loves a lighter fare,” said Natalie Bowman, Alaska Airlines’ managing director, marketing and advertising, “This is just the start of how we’ll use dynamic data in the future to appeal to our flyers’ passions.”

Here’s how it works:

Alaska Airlines harnesses Northern Lights forecast data for bucket list trip

Through January 17, fares will be discounted daily up to 35% depending on the Kp-index forecast during the travel time period.

Scientists use the Kp-index to help predict how visible the Northern Lights might be. Alaska will discount fares based on aurora intensity:

  • 0 to 3 Kp = 15% off
  • 4 to 5 Kp = 20% off
  • 6 to 7 Kp = 25% off
  • 8 to 9 Kp = 35% off

Want to know more about the Northen Lights before you pack up and go? The University of Fairbanks has an informative webpage on the Aurora seasons that include a real-time Aurora Tracker.

Ready to bundle up and book? On Tuesday evening rates were 20% off, based on the Aurora Forecast.

Airports & airlines sacking single-use plastic

Our story about airports and airlines getting rid of single-use plastics first appeared on CNBC.

Business and leisure travelers concerned about climate change and “flight shame” may do their part by purchasing carbon offsets and adjusting the number of trips they take on airplanes.

Airports and airlines are trying to save the planet too with a wide range of sustainable initiatives that include cutting down the use of single-use plastics and making reusable water bottles essential travel amenities.

BYOB at SFO Airport

In 2019, San Francisco International Airport (SFO), launched an ambitious Zero Waste Concessions Program designed to significantly reduce the amount of single-use disposable plastics used at the airport.

Noting that in 2018 nearly four million slow-to-biodegrade plastic water bottles were sold at the airport, in August 2019 SFO became the first airport in the nation to ban the sale of single-use plastic water bottles.

SFO now actively encourages each passenger to bring their own reusable water bottle with them to the airport and get free water from one of the hydration stations in the terminals.

Bottled sodas, teas and juices are currently exempt from the policy. And bottled water is still being sold, but only in approved packaging made from recyclable aluminum or glass, or in compostable packaging.

Single-use plastics banned at other airports too

Airports in a growing number of other cities in the United States, and around the world, are getting serious about sustainability projects that are good for the environment and, in some cases, the bottom line.

“Whether through their participation in the Airport Carbon Accreditation program, implementation of more sustainable business practices, or even by the elimination of drinking straws and other single-use plastics, airports are taking a variety of approaches to be good neighbors in their communities,” said Scott Elmore, Vice President, Communications & Marketing for Airports Council International – North America

In February 2019, Glasgow Airport offered all 5,300 people working in an around the airport free, reusable bottles.

In September 2019, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) announced a campaign to phase out all single-use plastic straws at the airport.

In October 2019, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) announced that at least 55 airports in the country had banned single-use plastic items such as straws, plastic cutlery and plastic plates.

And January 1, 2020, is the deadline for Dubai’s two airports, Dubai International Airport (DBX) – the world’s busiest airport for international travelers – and Dubai World Central Airport (DWC) to be entirely free of single-use plastics such as plastic cutlery, drinking straws, meal packaging and bags.

“Along with our partners, including global brands such as McDonalds, Costa Coffee and Starbucks, we are committed to not only removing single-use plastics but in their place providing appropriate and importantly sustainable alternatives,” said Eugene Barry, Dubai Airport’s Executive Vice President – Commercial, in a statement.

Barry says finding replacements for plastic bottles remains a challenge for the airports, so for now bottle recycling efforts are being beefed up.

Going forward, a bill passed by the Atlanta City Council and waiting for the mayor’s approval is set to ban single-use plastics in the city and at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) by the end of 2020. Following the new law shouldn’t be too much of a reach: ATL’s guidelines for increased sustainability already seek to divert 90% of the airport’s total waste from landfills.

Not all airports are nixing the plastic water bottles, though.

In its food court, Portland International Airport (PDX) eliminates a great deal of plastic with its Green Plate Program that gives travelers the option of having meals served on reusable plates with reusable utensils.

But the airport’s environmental team hasn’t pressed to impose a ban on plastic bottles because “not every traveler chooses to tote around what can sometimes be a very expensive refillable bottle,” said PDX spokesperson Kama Simonds, “Further, what if travelers to our airport were unaware of the ban? This could have unintended consequences of either leaving folks with less hydration and/or potentially having a sugary drink as the option, which isn’t healthy.”

Airport vendors and airlines doing their part

HMSHost, which operates dining venues in more than 120 airports around the world, says it is on track to honor its commitment to eliminate plastic straws in its North American operations by the end of 2020.

The company has already eliminated plastic cocktail stirrers and currently only provides straws on request in its casual dining restaurants.

In September, Alaska Airlines kicked off a “FillBeforeYouFly” initiative, asking passengers to help reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles inflight by bringing their reusable water bottles to the airport and filling them at airport hydrations stations before their flight.

In November, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) introduced sustainable meal packaging that includes paper with a coating made of organic plant-based plastic instead of oil-based plastic as well as cutlery made of plant-based plastic.

And earlier this year, Air New Zealand removed individual plastic water bottles from its Business Premier and Premium Economy cabins and switched to compostable plant-based coffee cups made from paper and corn instead of plastic.

The airline is encouraging passengers to bring their own reusable cups on board aircraft and into lounges. And, in a truly tasty move, ANZ is running a test program to serve coffee and ice-cream in edible, vanilla-flavored cups made by New Zealand-based twiice.

Get “espresso boarding” on Alaska Airlines this weekend

Alaska Airlines snowflake plane + Starbucks cup promotion

Alaska Airlines has put a snowflake-adorned plane in the air that will keep flying throughout the ski season.

And, through Sunday, November 10, the Seattle-based airline is also partnering with Starbucks for a “red cup = early boarding” treat.

Show up for your Alaska Airlines flight with a Starbucks drink served in a red holiday cup and you’ll be invited to board the plane in the “espresso lane,” following group B.

Some airport Starbucks, including San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) are piloting compostable cups. But those airport Starbucks will be serving drinks with a red holiday sleeve and those drinks will qualify for “espresso lane” boarding as well.

And, as a bonus, on some West Coast flights, passengers will be gifted a complimentary reusable Starbucks holiday cup and $5 Starbucks gift card.