The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for Early June, 2015
The briefing in brief: A bad week on the road presages an awful June. BA gets closer to buying Aer Lingus. Delta and Alaska slug it out for supremacy at Sea-Tac. Air Canada improves some up front cabins on Rouge flights. FIFA's soccer scandal has a travel angle. And more ...
A Bad Week on the Road Presages a Lousy June
It's been a miserable week on the road and it looks like June is going to be a crummy month to travel, too. Between lousy weather, bizarre ground incidents and a bevy of upcoming strikes, things are grim. On Tuesday (May 26), bad weather, especially in Texas, led to 667 cancellations and around 6,100 delays nationwide, according to FlightStats.com. Bad weather in the East and Midwest Wednesday (May 27) created about 1,000 cancellations and 7,100 delays. Throw in a strike at Alitalia on Monday (May 25) that caused 100 cancellations, a sinkhole that closed a runway at Dallas/Fort Worth on Tuesday and a power outage at Dallas/Love Field on Wednesday and you have a toxic mix. Meanwhile, a Virgin America flight departing San Francisco for Austin returned to the gate today (May 28) when a passenger threatened to commit suicide. The air traffic control system failed in Belgium yesterday and shut down Brussels airport and some pilots are striking at SAS Scandinavian. What's coming is worse. Employees at Greek airports will strike Sunday (May 31) and Monday (June 1). Spanish air traffic controllers have announced strikes next month for two hours each morning and afternoon on four days (June 8, 10, 12 and 14). Network Rail, which operates the infrastructure of the British rail system, will be hit with a 24-hour strike starting at 5 p.m. local time on June 4 and a 48-hour strike starting at 5 p.m. on June 9. And watch out for this one: One of four runways is closed for repairs at New York's Kennedy Airport until at least mid-September. That means afternoon thunderstorms will play havoc with evening banks of international departures. I'd say plan accordingly, but, you know, sometimes you should just work from home ...
Delta and Alaska Keep Slugging It Out for Sea-Tac Supremacy
The long-running war between Delta Air Lines, hoping to carve out a transpacific hub at Seattle-Tacoma, and hometown favorite Alaska Airlines is heating up again. Delta announced four new Sea-Tac routes this week and upgraded a fifth to year-round service. On November 1, Delta Connection carrier SkyWest will launch three daily flights to Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco, Washington. On December 19, Delta will add a daily nonstop to Orlando using Boeing 757s. On April 4, Delta will begin daily nonstops to Boston/Logan using Boeing 737-800s. That same day, Delta Connection will add three daily flights to Victoria International in British Columbia. Meanwhile, Delta Connection flights to Bozeman, Montana, scheduled to begin August 1 as a weekly service, are being upgraded to daily operation. Not to be outdone, Alaska Airlines is beginning flights from Delta's Los Angeles hub to Baltimore-Washington. There'll be a daily flight beginning September 9.
Toronto/Pearson is scheduled to get an express rail link to downtown Toronto next week. The Union Pearson Express will connect Toronto's Union Station with Pearson Terminal 1 with two intermediate stops. Trains for the 25-minute ride will depart every 15 minutes. Adult one-way fares start at C$19 and less for the intermediate stops (Bloor Street and Weston Road).
Wichita finally gets a new terminal on June 3. It'll even have restaurants airside and a commodious security-screening area. A new parking garage opened yesterday (May 27) and is part of the $200 million improvement project.
Air Canada Upgrades the Up Front Cabin of Some Rouge Flights
To say Canadians aren't thrilled with the product Air Canada offers on its Rouge subsidiary is to say that it gets cold and snowy in Canada in the winter. One glaring example: Air Canada tried to get away with 3x3 seating in what it called "business class" on the 20 Airbus A319s it assigned to Rouge. But starting in the middle of next month, Air Canada will be upgrading. The new business class will offer 2x2 seating, about 35 inches of legroom and at-seat power outlets and USB ports.
South African Airways is juggling its Washington/Dulles-Johannesburg service. Effective August 3, the carrier will operate four days a week between Dulles and Accra, Ghana, with continuing service to Jo'burg. The existing Dulles-Dakar, Senegal-Johannesburg run will be reduced to three weekly flights.
Delta Air Lines adds four weekly flights between Orlando and Sao Paulo on December 19. Flights will use Boeing 767-300s configured with 35 business-class seats, 143 coach seats and 32 chairs in Delta Comfort+.
New Hotels Are Opening Everywhere (and Anywhere) You Look
If you've been wondering why there have been so many more hotels opening, consider this one statistic: There are 1,000 hotels now under construction in the United States, a 31.8 percent increase over this time last year. With the economy improving, developers are convinced those extra rooms won't go to waste. We shall see. Meanwhile, here's what's new on the board this week.
Starwood has brought the Hotel Gallia in Milan into The Luxury Collection. The 235-room property on the piazza fronting Milan's main train station reopened in December after a long renovation. Italy mavens may recall that the 1930s-era hotel operated as a Le Meredien until it closed for the redo. Meanwhile, a 180-room Sheraton opened in Mesa, Arizona.
Hyatt opened a 108-room Hyatt Place in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It's part of the sprawling campus of Western Kentucky University that dominates downtown Bowling Green.
Marriott has brought the 110-room Press Hotel in Portland, Maine, into The Autograph Collection. The boutique property opened this month in the former headquarters of the Portland Press Herald. Marriott also opened a 128-room Courtyard in Orlando, Florida.
DoubleTree by Hilton has converted the former Radisson in Largo, Maryland. The 184-room property is just off the Beltway next to the Woodmore Town Center.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
British Airways is one step closer to acquiring Aer Lingus. After a contentious, nasty, two-day debate, the Irish Parliament today (May 28) approved the sale of the government's 25 percent Air Lingus stake to IAG, the parent company of BA, Iberia and Vueling. But the 1.36 billion euro offer still needs the approval of Ryanair, which owns 30 percent of the airline. Stay tuned, the interesting part starts now as two old Irish drinking buddies, IAG boss Willie Walsh and Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary, begin to spar over terms.
The Houston Metro System got two more lines this week. The green and purple lines add a combined 19 stops to the system. More details and maps are here.
The FIFA soccer scandal that broke this week has a travel component, of course. According to prosecutors, the American soccer official who fingered some or all of the executives arrested on Wednesday (May 27) was apparently in it for the frequent travel points. Between 2004 and 2011, Chuck Blazer charged $26 million worth of soccer-business expenses to his personal American Express card, thus netting millions of Membership Rewards points to fund his lavish lifestyle. He even maintained a blog detailing his "travels in the service of soccer." The 70-year-old Blazer has already pled guilty to nearly a dozen charges of racketeering, fraud and income tax evasion. He faces as many as 10 years in prison.
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