Everything you need to know about travel to California amid the Getty and Kincade wildfires

Travel to parts of California is returning to normal schedules as firefighters have been able to better contain wildfires in the northern and southern parts of the state.

Last weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency as high winds fueled wildfires across parts of California.

Now, both the Kincade wildfire in the North and the Getty wildfire in the South are more than 60 percent contained. Evacuees are returning home in some areas and power is being restored in many neighborhoods in both areas.

Northern California

The Charles M. Schultz-Sonoma County Airport (STS) in Santa Rosa said it’s restoring full commercial air service, but it will take a few days to return to normal schedules. The airport had shut down all commercial air services due to the Kincade Fire, which started on Oct. 23 near Geyserville in Sonoma County.

Map of Kincade Fire 2019
This is a map of the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County as of Oct. 28, 2019. (Courtesy of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection)

As of today, the Kincade Fire was 68 percent contained and is expected to be fully contained by Nov. 7, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The fire has burned more than 77,000 acres.

Today, the Santa Rosa airport said it’s restoring full commercial air service, but it will take a few days to return to normal schedules. American Airlines, Sun Country Airlines and United Airlines have resumed normal flight schedules to and from that airport, but Alaska Airlines said on its blog that it has suspended all its 18 daily flights in and out of Santa Rosa through Saturday, Nov. 2, because the situation in Sonoma County remains “dangerous and unpredictable.”

“Everyone’s safety remains the top concern,” Alaska said on its blog. The airline is letting customers change or cancel their flights without fees.

For the Santa Rosa airport, American Airlines is letting customers reschedule flights without fees; Alaska Airlines, Sun Country Airlines and United Airlines are letting passengers change or cancel flights without fees. Certain dates apply for each airline.

Flights in and out of other Northern California airports in Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco were not directly affected.

Southern California

The Getty Fire in Los Angeles, which was reported on Oct. 28, is 66 percent contained, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. It has burned about 745 acres.

American Airlines is letting travelers rebook flights without fees for five Southern California airports in Burbank (BUR), Long Beach (LGB), Los Angeles (LAX), Ontario (ONT) and Santa Ana/Orange County (SNA). Delta Air Lines is letting passengers change or cancel flights through the same five  airports without penalty and Sun Country Airlines is doing the same to/from the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Certain dates apply for each airline.

The Getty Fire or smoke from it has not affected other airline operations at Southern California airports.

Airline and traveler aid

Some airlines are directly helping California communities affected by the wildfires — and opening avenues for customers to do the same.

American has activated its Disaster Giving program through a partnership with the American Red Cross, which would supply shelter, food, supplies and health services as needed. American’s AAdvantage members wanting to help can give money, earning 10 miles for every dollar donated to the Red Cross with a minimum $25 donation through Nov. 16.

Alaska donated $10,000 to the California Fire Foundation’s SAVE (Supplying Aid to Victims of Emergency) and $5,000 to the Latino Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund. And the airline will match up to 1 million Mileage Plan miles donated by its customers to its Disaster Relief Pool.

Travelers can register with their airline for text or email notifications of flight delays or cancellations. They also should check with their airline for more details or information about service in California.

American and Zoës Kitchen team up to spice up airline food

Airline food –at least ay American Airlines — just got a little better thanks to a collaboration with Zoës Kitchen on a new inflight menu.

Starting Dec. 1, main cabin passengers on most U.S. flights longer than three hours will be able to buy these new healthy food items.

If you’re not familiar with Zoës, the fast casual restaurant chain offers healthy Mediterranean fare inspired by family recipes and made from scratch. Getting into the whole Mediterranean, Blue Zone lifestyle, Zoës even has a “life blog,” with posts about healthy eating and fitness.

A Greek-American friend of mine swears by Zoës’ seasoning, “Spice of Life.”

Founded in 1995 and based in Plano, Texas, Zoës operates over 260 restaurants in 20 states. (Cava Group Inc. is buying Zoës.) So, Fort Worth, Texas-based American basically teamed up with a neighbor.

Janelle Anderson, vice president of global marketing for American Airlines, said customers have asked for “lighter, tasty food.”

American and Zoës head chef Antonio Iocchi designed the new menu with some items American Zoës head chef Antonio Iocchi designed a menu with some items exclusive to the airline and some signature dishes from Zoës restaurants, such as just for the airline and some signature dishes from Zoës restaurants, such as:

* Breakfast sandwich: Turkey bacon, egg slices, tomato and Calabrian pepper aioli topped with baby arugula on a waffle brioche bun

* Continental breakfast box: Belgian waffle with hazelnut spread and fresh berries

* Hummus duo: Two types of hummus — traditional and basil pesto flavor — topped with Kalamata olives, carrot, cucumber and pita bread

* The Grüben sandwich: Sliced turkey, Manchego cheese, Mediterranean slaw and feta spread layered on marble wheat bread and served with a chocolate chip cookie

* Chicken wrap: Grilled chicken with mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, arugula and artichokes and served a chocolate chip cookie

Throughout 2019, American and Zoës plan to introduce more food items in the domestic main and first class cabins. American said it still will continue to offer its breakfast platter and fruit-and-cheese plate.

American Airlines loosens its carry-on policy for Basic Economy passengers

Starting Wednesday, American Airlines flights might be more packed because it will let Basic Economy passengers carry more bags aboard a plane.

That’s right, the world’s largest airline is changing its carry-on baggage policy as of Sept. 5 for those no-frills travelers. They’ll be able to take one personal item and one carry-on bag on to a plane.

The previous policy let Basic Economy travelers bring aboard just one personal item that fit under the seat. Those passengers could not also bring a carry-on bag to store in an overhead bin.

Why? The world’s largest airline said the move will make it “more competitive with airlines that include a carry-on bag in their lowest fares.” American announced the change in late July.

The airline launched the Basic Economy fare in February 2017 to offer travelers a less expensive flying option.  American president Robert Isom said in a January 2017 statement that the new fare “gives American the ability to compete more effectively with the growing number of ultra low-cost carriers.”

All of the nation’s three big legacy carriers — American, United and Delta — launched no-frill fares in the last several years to compete better against lower-fare airlines such as JetBlue, Southwest and Spirit.

In addition to carry-on restrictions, American’s Basic Economy fare carries other restrictions, such as no advance seat selection, no cancellations and a $25 gate fee for passengers who must check carry-on luggage at the gate.

American also plans to expand its Basic Economy airfares to certain Europe flights  starting in April 2019. All of those main cabin passengers will be allowed one personal item and one larger carry-on, but American will charge a new fee for the first checked bag to trans-Atlantic Basic Economy passengers.

Here’s why American Airlines is buying into a Chinese carrier

 

With China as the fastest-growing aviation, U.S. airlines are eager to make deals to gain entry to the highly regulated market in that country.

American Airlines’ just announced $200-million stake in state-owned China Southern Airlines in the latest example.

The deal will make it a little easier for Americans to travel to China and vice versa because it will provide travelers with a larger flying network and more price options in China and the United States.

“We are two of the biggest carriers in the world, and our networks are highly complementary, with the potential to offer China Southern and American customers an unmatched range of destinations in two critical markets for business and leisure travelers,” Robert Isom, president of Texas-based American Airlines said in a statement.

The deal will offer the airlines’ customers “more travel options and better value,” China Southern chairman Wang Chang Shun said.

China Southern’s headquarters and main hub is in Guangzhou, China. American flies from hubs in Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Beijing and Shanghai, and from DFW and LAX to Hong Kong.

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 12.00.03 PM
China leads the International Air Transport Association’s forecast of the top air passenger markets over the next 20 years. (IATA)

Later this year, the two carriers plan to start codeshare and interline agreements that will offer about 70 new destinations in China to American customers and nearly 80 new stops in North and South America to China Southern customers.

International air travel is expected to nearly double to 7.2 billion passengers by 2035, according to the International Air Transport Association. China is the fastest-growing market, with 1.3 billion new passengers by then. The industry group predicts China will pass North America as the world’s largest aviation market around 2024. (See graph at upper right.)

For the United States, China is the fifth largest tourism generator, bringing well over 2 million visitors a year, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO). (See chart at lower right.)

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 12.20.42 PM

US travel to China also has increased — up nearly 8 percent to 1.2 million people in 2015, the latest data available from the U.S. Travel Association.

The now defunct Pan American World Airways began flying between the United States and China in 1981, two years after diplomatic relations between the two nations were established. But the expansion of flights has been slow in a competitive process for routes.

The United States doesn’t have an open skies agreement, which allows unrestricted flights in each country, with China. The current US-China bilateral treaty specifies the number of passenger flights allowed.

Other airlines have forged ties with Chinese carriers to gain more access to China’s growing travel market. Last year, United Airlines enhanced a partnership it’s had with Air China since 2003. In 2015, Delta Air Lines paid $450 million for a small stake in China Eastern Airlines.

American, the world’s largest airline, offers nearly 6,700 daily flights to nearly 350 destinations in over 50 countries. It carried over 198 million passengers in 2016.

China Southern, one of three major state-owned carriers in mainland China, operates more than 2,000 daily flights to 208 destinations in 40 countries and regions. It flew 115 million passengers in 2016.

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 11.50.11 AM
China Southern Airline’s base in Guangzhou, China. Beijing (at top right of map) and Shanghai (right center of map). (Sheryl Jean with Apple Maps)