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THE BRIEFING SEPTEMBER 18 TO 30, 2014
By Joe Brancatelli

· Back to the Future (in Biz Class) on Icelandair
· Southwest Launches Costa Rica Flight Next Year
· Japan Airlines Launching an LAX-Kansai Route
· United Will Revamp Newark Dining and Retail
· Lots More Limited-Service Hotels Nationwide
· Air Canada, WestJet Add $25 Domestic Bag Fee
· New Mexico Route for Houston/Intercontinental


Back to the Future (in Business Class) on Icelandair
Icelandair is launching seasonal service between Portland, Oregon, and Reykjavik next year. That'll be Icelandair's 14th North American nonstop route and they connect at Reykjavik with service to 20 European cities. Those tidbits might not normally matter to business travelers, but it may be time to go back to the future with Icelandair. For decades before the widespread availability of cheap nonstop flights to continental Europe, Icelandair was popular with bargain hunters who scored low connecting fares via Reykjavik. Now Icelandair has quietly evolved into a carrier that offers low business-class fares to Europe, too. As long as you make that Reykjavik connection, business-class fares from East Coast cities to Icelandair's European destinations are as low as $2,200 roundtrip. And that's without much of an advance purchase or minimum-stay requirement. (Fares are higher from Midwest or Pacific Coast cities and to Icelandair destinations in Southern Europe.) Another nice perk: The business-class fares include a free layover in Reykjavik. But there is a major caveat: Business class on Icelandair's fleet of Boeing 757s isn't great. There are no flat beds and seats, configured 2x2, offer just 40 inches of legroom. Another consideration: Icelandair's Saga Club points aren't flexible. The carrier no longer partners with a U.S. carrier and only permits redemptions on Icelandair, Finnair or with Hilton or Radisson hotels. Still, when you need a last-minute ride to Europe, can't justify walk-up business fares on other carriers and want to avoid coach, Icelandair is worth checking.

Southwest Will Fly to Costa Rica, Its First Real International Route
Every time in the last year that Southwest Airlines converted an overseas route once served by its AirTran Airways subsidiary, aviation geeks and media types breathlessly claimed the 800-pound gorilla of low-fare carriers was heading overseas. In fact, however, it is just this week that Southwest actually could be said to be going international. The carrier will launch flights from Baltimore/Washington to San Jose, Costa Rica, the first overseas route not previously operated by AirTran. Pending government approvals, the route launches on March 7 and Southwest will use its standard all-coach Boeing 737s. ... Japan Airlines says it'll try again to fly to Osaka's Kansai airport from a mainland U.S. airport. A daily flight from Los Angeles is scheduled to begin on March 20. JAL will use Boeing 787 Dreamliners configured with 42 business-class seats and 144 coach chairs. JAL currently flies to Kansai from Honolulu, but has ended Osaka flights from a number of major mainland gateways in the last decade. At the moment, Kansai has nonstop flights from San Francisco on United Airlines and a New York/Kennedy nonstop from China Airlines. China is dumping that route on October 1, however. ... Interjet of Mexico is launching daily service to Monterrey from Houston/Intercontinental beginning October 23.

United Apes Delta (and JetBlue) Again With Newark Dining Revamp
An inside joke among airline types is that United Airlines executives wear wrist bands emblazoned with the initials W.W.D.D. That, of course, stands for What Would Delta Do?. United has spent the last year or so mindlessly aping any move Delta makes on everything from frequent flyer programs and regional-jet deployment to in-flight meals and tarmac limo transfers for elite flyers. Now you can add this: United plans to overhaul dining and retail operations at its Newark hub and it will be a carbon copy of what Delta has done at its terminal at New York/LaGuardia. United has even hired the same firm Delta used, OTG Management of Philadelphia, to do the work at Newark Terminal C. OTG says the $120 million project will include 55 new dining venues at 60 gate areas; 6,000 iPads passengers can use to order meals and browse the Internet; and 10,000 power outlets and USB ports in the seating areas. If all this sounds familiar, it is because before United stole the idea from Delta, Delta stole the idea from JetBlue Airways. JetBlue hired OTG in 2008 to design and operate the food and retail operations at its New York/Kennedy hub. ... US Airways has moved its operations at Chicago/O'Hare to Terminal 3. The check-in desks are now directly adjacent to its check-in positions of its merger partner American Airlines. US Airways has been in Terminal 2.

Everywhere You Look in America, More Limited-Service Hotels
If you prefer luxury and full-service hotels, complete with bellboys, dining rooms and lots of public space and meeting rooms, you're probably not interested in the tsunami of limited-service hotels opening from coast-to-coast. But if you're a fan of the limited-service chains, the continued growth of these properties is brilliant news. So get out your scorecard and note these newbies. ... The sixth Hilton Garden Inn in Manhattan has opened just off Park Avenue South on East 33rd Street. It has 232 rooms. ... Also from Hilton this week are Home2 Suites in Omaha (105 rooms) and Dover, Delaware, (91 rooms) as well as Hampton Inn properties in Bensalem, Pennsylvania (101 rooms); Lewiston, Maine (93 rooms); and a mile from the airport in Oklahoma City (104 rooms). ... Marriott has opened Courtyard properties in Odessa, Texas (100 rooms), and Lansdale, Pennsylvania (135 rooms). ... InterContinental has opened Staybridge Suites hotels in Chandler, Arizona (104 rooms), and a 77-room property on North Gessner Drive in Houston.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
WestJet Airlines and Air Canada are now imposing a $25 fee for the first checked bag on domestic flights booked in the lowest fare classes. The WestJet charge applies to the carrier's Econo fares and Air Canada's fee applies to Tango class fares. WestJet's charges kick in for flights on October 29 and Air Canada's fees start for flights beginning November 2. ... Delta Air Lines is launching a Los Angeles-San Antonio route. Beginning April 7, there will be two daily flights using regional jets. ... United Airlines has added gate-to-tarmac limo transfers at its Denver hub. Mercedes-Benz vehicles will ferry some Global Services and international first-class flyers. Of course, this is all at United's whim and you cannot book or reserve the service. ... Check off still another box from my fall travel agenda column from last month. JetBlue Airways announced today (September 18) that president Robin Hayes will take over as chief executive when CEO David Barger's contract expires in mid-February.

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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.