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Starting Dec. 1, JetBlue will phase out its policy of blocking all middle seats

The days of airlines blocking seats to make passengers feel safer about flying during the pandemic are coming closer to an end.

JetBlue is the latest to indicate it is rethinking the issue. A spokesman for the carrier said Thursday that JetBlue will reduce the number of seats it blocks after Dec. 1 to accommodate families traveling together over the holidays.

Southwest Airlines said last week that it will stop limiting the number of seats it fills after Dec. 1. Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines say they will lift caps on seating early next year.

The pandemic and resulting border restrictions caused U.S. air travel to plunge 95% in April. Some airlines promised to block middle seats to create more distance between passengers. Others, notably United Airlines and American Airlines, did not, arguing that ventilation systems and air filters made planes safe without social distancing.

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Etihad to become first Gulf carrier to operate commercial flight from Israel

Historic flight, flown in partnership with the Maman Group, will depart Tel Aviv on Monday to bring Israel’s top travel and tourism leaders to the UAE

Etihad Airways will become the first GCC carrier to operate a commercial passenger flight to and from Israel, to bring Israel’s top travel and tourism leaders to the UAE.

The historic flight, flown in partnership with the Maman Group, will depart Tel Aviv on Monday, operated by an Etihad Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft for the three-and-a-half-hour journey from Israel to the UAE. The return journey will depart Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

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This is the latest development in a growing cooperation between the two nations following the establishment of diplomatic ties, and the signing of the Abraham Accords between the UAE and Israel in Washington DC on September 15.

It also follows Israeli national airline El Al’s first symbolic commercial flight between Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi on August 31.

Mohamed Mubarak Fadhel Al Mazrouei, chairman, Etihad Aviation Group, said: “Today’s flight is a historic opportunity for the development of strong partnerships here in the UAE, and in Israel, and Etihad as the national airline, is delighted to be leading the way. We are just starting to explore the long-term potential of these newly forged relationships, which will be sure to greatly benefit the economies of both nations, particularly in the areas of trade and tourism, and ultimately the people who call this diverse and wonderful region home.”

The flight comes as Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed on a deal to allow for 28 direct weekly passenger flights connecting Tel Aviv with Abu Dhabi and Dubai, according to a statement from Israel’s Transportation Ministry.

The flights will begin “within weeks” and came after significant commercial interest from airliners on both sides in the routes, the statement said. Both countries are in the process of developing economic and diplomatic agreements following the decision to normalize relations earlier this year.

Currently, Royal Jordanian and Turkish Airlines are the only carriers in the Middle East that fly to Israel.

The UAE’s gains could prove to be a setback for Turkish Airlines, “as they have traditionally provided those profitable connections for travellers coming from Israel through their hub in Istanbul”, said Anne Correa, vice president for airline and airport services at aviation consulting firm Morten Beyer & Agnew.

Israel and Bahrain cemented a deal officially establishing relations and signed seven memorandums of understanding Sunday, further opening up the wealthy Gulf region to the Jewish state.

The documentation was signed at a ceremony in the presence of other international dignitaries and reporters, an AFP correspondent said, fleshing out a US-brokered deal the two nations had agreed to at the White House on September 15.

The Israeli delegation, led by National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat, had travelled to Manama from Tel Aviv on the first direct flight between the two countries.

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Ras Al Khaimah set to lure major European carrier in tourism 'game changer'

Airport CEO says big announcement of ‘very big’ European airline will be made in early 2021

Ras Al Khaimah International Airport is in discussions to bring a leading European carrier to the emirate in a move that has been described as a “major game changer” by the company’s CEO Sanjay Khanna.

The airport in the Northern Emirates currently facilitates a number of budget airlines including Turkey-based Pegasus and the UAE’s Air Arabia. India’s SpiceJet are anticipated to launch operations before the end of the year, while moves to include ‘full-fare’ Bahrain flag carrier Gulf Air, delayed by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, could come to fruition in the first quarter of next year.

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Although Khanna was unable to give the identity of the unnamed European carrier due to a signed non-disclosure agreement, he said to expect an announcement in January or February next year.

He told Arabian Business: “We are in discussion with a very big European carrier. We are not disclosing the name at this moment in time because of the NDA. However, it would give us a lot of mileage and it would make Ras Al Khaimah the gateway to the UAE.

“It’ll be a prestigious carrier to add onto our portfolio of airlines operating in Ras Al Khaimah.”

Khanna said he hoped the flights with the European carrier could launch by summer 2021.

And while RAK Airport is considered very much a boutique airport, Khanna admitted he would be keen to attract more big names, while conceding his local passenger network would come from the Northern Emirates and not from the aviation powerhouses of neighbouring Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

He said: “We never compare ourselves to any of the airports, we always say that we don’t compete, we complement. Having said that, there is a big catchment area. You may consider Ras Al Khaimah as alone but the trend that we see is people connecting from places like Fujairah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwaim coming to Ras Al Khaimah to take a flight, whether it is to Pakistan, or Bangladesh, or Egypt, or even for that matter Turkey or Europe.

“Definitely we want to grow but the idea is not by taking somebody else’s traffic, only by retaining our traffic and addressing the residents and nationals of the Northern Emirates.”

Last week, Air Arabia resumed a full schedule of passenger flights from Ras Al Khaimah as the airport slowly returns to its original capacity and resumes operations following a period of restricted services that was necessary to curtail non-essential travel in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

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With commercial activities at RAK Airport reverting to pre-pandemic levels, passengers flying in and out of the facility are required to follow protocol that it is in line with national efforts to control Covid-19 and prevent the spread of the virus.

Included in the mandatory requirements for passengers entering and leaving the UAE through RAK Airport are possessing adequate health insurance, obtaining a Covid-19 test result no longer than four days before travel, and completing a health disclosure form.

Arriving passengers are also required to download the Al-Hosn app, undertake a Covid-19 test upon arrival at airport, and self-quarantine at their destination hotel or residence until the results of the test are known.

If found to be positive for coronavirus, visitors and returning residents are obliged to isolate according to Ministry of Health and Prevention guidelines.

The potential growth in European tourists comes as Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority last month announced its long-term investment strategy aimed to boost the growth and diversification of Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain.

The plans include a pop-up hotel concept, scheduled to open in the second half of 2021, which will introduce cliff side accommodation with mountain views, and the Jais Coaster, a summer toboggan/bobsled concept inspired by the Alps, which will open in Q2 2021.

The plan underscores the emirate’s resilience and recovery momentum despite the challenges imposed this year by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Forget Blocking Middle Seats — Air Canada Is Flying Reconfigured Planes Instead

Air Canada Jetz plane

Air Canada is making it easier to escape the cold in comfort. 

The airline will operate its fleet of all-business class Jetz charter aircrafts — normally reserved for pro athletic teams, musical performers, and corporations — as commercial flights. Each Airbus A319 is configured with just 58 seats — half the volume typically found on an aircraft of the same size.

The seats fill a single cabin and passengers can expect between 42 and 49 inches of space between themselves and those in the rows ahead of and behind them. Some seats are configured for groups of four who want to sit around a table with others in their bubble. 

While service won’t be quite what it was before the pandemic, passengers will receive complimentary iPads to use during their flights, complimentary alcoholic drinks, and prepackaged meals curated by Montreal chef Antonio Park.

Air Canada plans to deploy the planes for holiday flights from Dec. 12 through Jan. 6 and again in March. They’ll fly from Toronto to Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Barbados, and Cancun; Vancouver to Phoenix, Palm Springs, and Puerto Vallarta; and Montreal to Fort Lauderdale and Barbados. 

Air Canada also plans to use the planes on domestic routes from Toronto to Kelowna and Vancouver. 

For anyone feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day, it’s worth noting that boarding and deplaning times are likely to be shorter than usual with fewer passengers on board. 

It’s more of “a private-jet-like experience," Mark Galardo, vice president of network planning and alliances at Air Canada, said in a statement. The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, and the Spice Girls are among the celebrities who’ve flown on the planes. 

For commercial passengers, ticket costs are similar to business class prices on other airlines, CNN found. 

Air Canada says vacation packages, including flights on its Jetz fleet, are in the works.

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets, and walking on beaches. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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TSA Screening Numbers Pass 1 Million for First Time Since Start of Pandemic

TSA line

For the first time since travel as we know it came to a halt in March, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it screened more than one million passengers in a single day last week.

On Oct. 18, the TSA processed 1,031,505 passengers at airports around the country, according to current data. During the week from Monday, Oct. 12 through Sunday, Oct. 18, the TSA processed more than 6.1 million passengers at checkpoints from coast to coast.

Although the increase is a positive sign, after the drastic fall due to COVID-19, they are nowhere near “normal.” Last year on Oct. 18, the TSA processed more than 2.6 million passengers that day.

But the one million marker is significant as travel resumes considering that at its lowest point in April, the TSA processed only 87,534 passengers at all airports around the country in a single day.

Numbers have slowly been growing back over the past few months. On Sept. 4, the TSA reported more than 968,000 people passing through security, which was the first time since mid-March that the TSA screened more than 900,000 travelers in one day.

In response to the pandemic, the TSA has altered protocol at checkpoints.

“TSA has been diligent in our efforts to ensure checkpoints are clean, safe and healthy for frontline workers and airline passengers, implementing new protocols and deploying state-of-the-art technologies that improve security and reduce physical contact,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a press release on Monday.

Acrylic barriers help reduce contact between TSA officers and passengers. And new technology at select checkpoints has travelers scan their IDs themselves so officers do not need to touch them. New scanners also eliminate how many times an agent must open suitcases and investigate the contents.

In addition, the TSA also changed liquids rules for hand sanitizer, allowing travelers to pack up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in their carry-on luggage.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. When in a new city, she's usually out to discover under-the-radar art, culture, and secondhand stores. No matter her location, you can find her on Twitter, on Instagram or at caileyrizzo.com.

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