As we close out the year, the TPG team is looking back at all the big travel announcements from 2023.
This includes going through the near-constant stream of route-map updates unveiled by airlines around the world.
We’ve already rounded up the top 10 best new airline routes of the year, and now the TPG aviation team — comprised of senior aviation editor Ben Mutzabaugh, senior aviation business reporter David Slotnick and senior reporter Zach Griff — has compiled its personal favorite new flights.
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Here they are.
Icelandair: Pittsburgh to Reykjavik
Ok, I’ll admit up front: This is a nostalgia play. I’ve long had a soft spot for Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT).
The airport was the main hub I flew through in my late teens and early twenties back when it was still a hub (and a cutting-edge one, at that). I have memories of bouncy Dash 8 turboprop flights ferrying me from the small airport in State College, Pennsylvania, to PIT — where connections to the world awaited. It was a great place to connect.
Its “AirMall” concept, introduced in 1992 as PIT opened a sparkling new terminal, pioneered the retail and food experience now commonplace in U.S. airports. After arriving at PIT, I connected to nonstops all across the country. My first overseas flight was from Pittsburgh — USAir’s nonstop to Frankfurt.
But the 2000s were not kind to PIT. USAir, which had rebranded as US Airways by then, struggled through multiple bankruptcies and eventually dropped PIT as a hub. The airport’s lineup of European nonstops — once a source of pride for a city the size of Pittsburgh — dried up. The airport’s domestic flight schedule also shrank dramatically as US Airways struggled to stay afloat and made cut after cut in Pittsburgh.
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In recent years, however, PIT has had a resurgence, focusing on local demand and rebuilding its domestic schedules across a number of airlines. With renewed stability and growth, the airport prioritized the return of overseas flights. There have been some wins, such as British Airways returning in 2019 with nonstops to London. Others have come and gone.
This brings us to Icelandair’s new nonstops from PIT to its hub in Reykjavik. For me, the story behind the route can be just as exciting as the route itself. So, while Icelandair’s arrival to PIT may not seem high profile, it keeps Pittsburgh connected with a second transatlantic route and lets me keep my memories of the airport’s glory days alive.
JSX’s service to Boca Raton
I grew up just beneath the flight path for arrivals into Florida’s Boca Raton Airport (BCT). While the airport has exclusively been used for general aviation, I was shocked when I saw JSX announce earlier this year that it would launch two new winter seasonal services to Boca from Westchester County, New York, and Morristown, New Jersey.
JSX doesn’t operate like a traditional airline, and the carrier’s public air charter model means you can show up just 20 minutes before your flight and enjoy the convenience of departing from FBOs or fixed base operators. (JSX offers free drinks and snacks, as well as high-speed Starlink Wi-Fi.)
Behind the scenes: Touring JSX’s ultra-spacious 1-1-configured jet
I’d love to try one of JSX’s new flights, though the fares — starting at around $1,000 — are pretty steep.
United’s new transpacific crossings
I find United’s current international strategy fascinating. The airline is taking a big risk by betting heavily on continued premium international leisure demand through the rest of the decade. It thinks it can build some of that demand by launching service to destinations that might not be intuitive or have strong business demand, but could have strong appeal to vacationers and those traveling to visit friends and family abroad.
To that end, Manila, Philippines, and Christchurch, New Zealand, both represent that plan. Manila has demand from Filipino Americans visiting relatives and travelers looking to explore the islands across the Philippines.
Christchurch, meanwhile, is mostly a pure leisure play. The route provides direct access from the continental U.S. to New Zealand’s South Island with its incredible landscapes and adventure opportunities. This makes it more accessible — and therefore more appealing — to travelers deciding on a vacation spot.
High-end competition: United will send its poshest plane on a new flight to Italy
Only time will tell if United can keep these routes profitable and if the broader strategy will play out. For now, it’s fun to see where in the world the airline plans to go next.
JetBlue: New York to Paris
JetBlue has been busy building out its transatlantic network, but no route has been more exciting to me than its new service to Paris.
Better yet, JetBlue’s fares during the offseason are among some of the cheapest in the competitive set, giving you even more reason to try the airline’s fledging transatlantic services.
New flights to Tulum
It’s not often you see a completely new international airport open, but that’s exactly what happened this month in Tulum, Mexico.
To visit the gorgeous beaches and ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, travelers previously has to fly to Cancun and travel two hours by ground — either by renting a car, hiring a taxi or taking a bus.
With the opening of Tulum International Airport (TQO), travelers can skip the drive and fly right into the Yucatan Peninsula tourist hot spot.
The airport was originally slated to open this spring, but AeroMexico and VivaAerobus began flying there this month. For now, flights are all from locations in Mexico, with connections in Mexico City possible for travelers coming from the U.S.
Five U.S. carriers — American, Delta, JetBlue, United and Spirit — begin flying to Tulum from various domestic airports in March 2024, so it will be exciting to see this new airport grow.
A coast-to-coast turf war
I’ve been covering the airline industry since 2002 and have covered more storylines than I can remember. I’ve enjoyed most of them, but few are as fun as a good old-fashioned turf war. Some turf wars are a straightforward tit-for-tat back-and-forth, but the best ones are those where one airline makes completely over-the-top retaliation to a rival’s unwelcome incursion.
The 2000s and early 2010s may have been the high-water mark for these aviation grudge matches. Many of them involved Northwest, perhaps the most vicious of the day for retaliating against carriers adding new routes to its hubs.
We don’t see those as much these days, but one new route that woke up some echoes came after Alaska Airlines announced new nonstop service between San Diego International Airport (SAN) and Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport (IAD). The latter, of course, is a hub for United Airlines — and it didn’t wait to respond to Alaska’s encroachment.
A previous turf war: Alaska Airlines defends its home turf in newest spat with Delta
United already served the route with three daily flights of its own, but — just a week after Alaska’s announcement — United said it would add a fourth daily flight on the route. That’s not all: United decided to fly that additional IAD-SAN flight with a 364-seat Boeing 777-200. That’s the highest-capacity plane in United’s fleet, and using it for the extra flight is a surprising choice for sure.
Normally, this route wouldn’t make my list of most exciting new routes, but the palace intrigue behind the turf war was enough for me. I’m curious to see how this competition plays out in 2024.
American: Philadelphia to New York
After (temporarily) moving to Philly this year, I’ve been spending more time riding the Amtrak than ever before. (I even earned Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Plus elite status for the first time in my life.) But when my travel plans call for a trip to Long Island or a flight from LaGuardia Airport (LGA) or John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), taking the Amtrak to New York’s Penn Station isn’t always ideal.
Instead of taking multiple train connections (which always involve lugging bags up and down flights of stairs), I’m thrilled that American brought back its up-to-three-times-daily service between Philly and LaGuardia this year.
This is perhaps the fastest way to get to Long Island, and I’m hopeful that Philly to JFK service will resume before I return to New York City. Of course, some aviation insiders consider these flights to be “slot squatting,” but in this case, I’m certainly not complaining.
Avelo’s base in Wilmington, Delaware
Delaware has three decades worth of history of making it onto — and then falling off — the U.S. aviation map. For much of the 1990s and into the 2000s, service at Wilmington Airport (ILG) — the state’s only passenger airport — had been spotty. It endured several stretches with no airline service at all, giving Delaware the dubious distinction of being the only state in America without commercial flights. When it did have service, it was often on the likes of carriers like Shuttle America and Skybus — the latter a short-lived ultra-low-cost carrier that lasted less than a year.
Hopes were perhaps highest in 2006 with the arrival of Delta, whose Delta Connection affiliates offered service to the airline’s hub in Atlanta. However, that ended a year later, again leaving Delaware with no flights. Budget carrier Frontier tried Wilmington twice — once in 2015 and again in 2020 — but left after relatively short stays.
That brings us to Avelo, which announced that it would make Wilmington its third base and bring airline service back to the state. Will it stick this time? This is the question that led me to put Avelo’s ILG routes on my most interesting list.
The airline started in February 2023 with five routes and now is up to 10 which suggests a good start. Let’s check back this time next year to see how it’s all going.
JetBlue: Boston to Amsterdam
I’ve lived in Boston since 2020, so I’m always excited to see my new(ish) hometown gain connectivity and competition.
JetBlue has continued to expand its transatlantic presence over the past few years, targeting popular European destinations with historically strong demand or those that can be served economically with JetBlue’s long-haul, narrow-body A321LR.
Amsterdam is its latest destination, and watching the airline compete with the Delta-KLM joint venture out of both New York and Boston has been fun. I haven’t had a chance to take advantage of the route yet, but I’m hoping to soon.
I’m also excited to see JetBlue launch service to Dublin from Boston and JFK next year, along with flights from New York to Edinburgh. I went to graduate school in Edinburgh and tend to make it back fairly often, so I’m always thrilled to see more service to the Scottish capital from the Northeast.