The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Business Travel Briefing for April 20-30, 2017
The briefing in brief: Learning the lessons (or not) on denied boarding. Emirates claims (without evidence) that Trump is to blame for flight cuts. A hotel atop a hotel at an Alabama mall. Alaska Air juggles flights at Dallas/Love Field. More woes at United Polaris. And more.

After Dao: Learning the Right Lessons--and Faking It--On Denied Boarding
As the ramifications of what's become known as the United Dragging Incident continued this week, does it surprise you that United itself is the only one that didn't learn the right lesson? Of course not. After apologizing a few more times for the removal and subsequent beating of ticketed, seated passenger David Dao, United chief executive Oscar Munoz announced some new policies. He promises the airline will never call the cops on ticketed, seated passengers again and vows that deadheading flight crews must check in at least 60 minutes before departure. That'll give United gate agents time to evict ticketed passengers before they are seated. Because that's better. On the other hand, American Airlines actually did learn a useful lesson. It has rewritten its contract of carriage and it now specifically bars ejecting paying passengers. "American will not involuntarily remove a revenue passenger who has already boarded in order to give a seat to another" flyer, it says. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines let it leak that gate agents and supervisors can now offer as much as $9,950 to convince a flyer to voluntarily surrender a seat in an oversold situation. The over-under on how many Delta flyers will ever see anything like that number in the next year: zero. Separately, the Port Authority, which operates the major airports in New York and New Jersey, announced that its cops would not help airlines eject passengers in an oversold situation. Ironically, the Transportation Department this week said U.S. airlines had an involuntary bumping rate of just .62 per 10,000 passengers. That's the lowest number since the government began compiling statistics.

Emirates Claims It Is Cutting U.S. Flights Due to Trump's Travel Bans
Dubai-based Emirates Airline announced yesterday (April 19) that it was reducing frequencies in five U.S. markets. The Boston-Dubai and LAX-Dubai routes go to one daily flight each from two. On Dubai routes from Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Seattle, a few flights each week will be dropped although the cities will continue to have near-daily service. Emirates claimed that the double-whammy of Trump bans--the executive order barring visitors from several Middle Eastern countries and Homeland Security's electronics ban on flights from Dubai--caused an abrupt decline in traffic. The mainstream media and travel bloggers were quick to parrot Emirates' claims. But the facts aren't quite what they seem: Emirates had already planned seasonal reductions on some of those routes and frequency cuts are not uncommon when an airline overestimates demand. Emirates offered no proof that the Trump moves, while annoying as hell and roundly criticized in the courts and the court of public opinion, actually caused a traffic decline. In other words, Emirates has adopted Trump's alternate-facts theory: Make an assertion and don't worry about whether it is provable.
      Spirit Airlines is the latest carrier to bail on Cuba. It will end flights from Fort Lauderdale to Havana, launched four months ago, on June 1.

What Do You Put On Top of a Hotel? Another Hotel, of Course
Starwood has opened a 150-room Element Hotel at the Bridge Street Town Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. That wouldn't normally be all that notable, but this Element is located on top floors of a mixed-used building. Even that wouldn't be a big deal, except the floors were originally earmarked to be residential condos. Still, not that unique. Failed, pricey condos are converted to hotels all the time. What's interesting is what's in the rest of the building: The Westin Huntsville. So what you have is an Element stacked atop a Westin in a shopping complex. Business travel doesn't get better than that, eh?
      Hyatt has opened two new locations, big news for a chain that grows glacially and devalues its frequency program as it falls further behind its competitors. A 156-room oceanfront Hyatt House has opened in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and a 122-room Hyatt Place is now operating in Bradenton, Florida, inside the Lakewood Ranch planned community.

Alaska Airlines Juggles Routes at Dallas/Love Field
As promised, Alaska Airlines is keeping Virgin America's gates at gate-restricted Dallas/Love Field as well as continuing to fly from Dallas/Fort Worth. But surprising no one, it'll juggle Love's route network. Flights to Las Vegas end in August. Two other routes--New York/LaGuardia and Washington/National--will be busted down to 76-seat regional jets. Meanwhile, Alaska will add Airbus A320 flights to its Seattle-Tacoma hub on August 27. The same day, Alaska will add 76-seat regional jet flights to Portland. Routes to San Jose and San Diego will start on February 16 with the regional jets.
      Charlotte flyers gets two new regional-jet routes from American Airlines. Flights to Toledo and Shreveport start on August 22.
      Sacramento flyers get two new routes from Southwest Airlines. Twice-daily flights to Long Beach and daily flights to Spokane begin on August 1.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines continues to make a hash of its Polaris business class, launched in December before the seats actually were installed. The latest problem: The glasses United used for ice cream sundaes were shattering during the flights. The glasses have been removed and United is now serving sherbet and ice cream in paper containers instead. Meanwhile, United is editing the mound of material it piles on your business class seats. The smaller of two pillows is being removed and United will also stock fewer mattress pads, an on-request item.
      Delta Air Lines sent an apology and 20,000 SkyMiles to some elite flyers caught in the carrier's five-day storm- and IT-related meltdown earlier this month. Ironically, the 20,000-mile benefit won't even cover the increase Delta imposed on some partner awards at the same time it was struggling with thousands of cancelled flights.
      Kingfisher Airlines, the failed Indian carrier that shut down in 2012, has a coda: London police this week arrested playboy Vijay Mallya, the airline's founder. Indian government officials want Mallya extradited in connection with more than $1 billion in debts that the carrier ran up during its 7-year run. Mallya is now out on bail.


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