The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for September 10-24, 2015
The briefing in brief: Meet United's new boss, same as the old boss(es). Canada gets new international flights to Europe, Asia and Africa. Some good news on (premium-class) seating. Japan Airlines returns to DFW. Pittsburgh loses more nonstops. And much more ...
Meet United's New Boss, Same as the Old Boss(es)
United Airlines ousted chief executive Jeff Smisek on Tuesday (September 8), but not because he was running an awful airline. He and two aides were fired because of a federal investigation in United's 2012 revival of a nonstop route between its Newark hub and Columbia, South Carolina. The route was demanded by David Samson, who then ran the Port Authority, the agency that controls the major airports in New York and New Jersey. (Samson has a weekend home in Aiken near Columbia.) The route was dumped again as soon as Samson resigned in the Bridgegate scandal. Smisek departed with $4.8 million in cash and perks such as lifetime flights, but there's a clawback provision if he pleads guilty or no contest to a crime. To replace Smisek, United turned to Oscar Munoz, president of the freight railroad CSX. What is Munoz's airline background? Zilch, save for his time on the boards of Continental and United Airlines, where he presumably supported Smisek's many blunders. According to an SEC filing, Munoz was hired so hastily that he doesn't even have finalized contract terms. That virtually guarantees United will pay an astronomical sum to steal him from CSX, where he was the CEO-in-waiting. Worst of all, Munoz is the third consecutive United boss with no airline experience. Smisek joined Continental in 1995 as chief counsel. After the 2010 merger with United, Smisek replaced Glenn Tilton, an oil executive with no airline background. In other words, meet the new boss, same as the old bosses: no feel for United's deep operational problems and no practical experience to solve them.
Canada Is Suddenly Getting a Lot More International Flights
All the economic signs are pointing downward in Canada now that oil prices have plunged, but that doesn't seem to be stopping airlines, specifically Star Alliance carriers, from adding more international flights. Air Canada announced five new overseas routes this week and Air China added one, too. The new service from Air China is a three-times-weekly flight between Montreal and Beijing. The service starts on September 29 using Boeing 777-300ERs configured with first, business and coach classes. Over at Air Canada, all five new routes will be flown by its Rouge subsidiary, the sub-brand known for its decent-enough premium-economy cabin and absolutely abominable coach seats. A new Montreal-Casablanca run begins with four weekly flights on June 3 using 280-seat Boeing 767-300ERs. From Toronto/Pearson, next year will bring nonstop routes to Prague, Budapest, Glasgow and Warsaw. Each of those routes will operate three times weekly starting in late May.
Japan Airlines, a Oneworld Alliance carrier, says it will resume flights to Dallas/Fort Worth, home base of American Airlines, also a Oneworld member. Flights to Tokyo/Narita resume November 30 with four weekly flights using Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners. JAL last flew to DFW in 2001.
Aeroflot, the state-controlled Russian carrier, has bought up its flashier, private rival, Transaero, which was on the verge of collapse. Aeroflot paid one ruble to take a 75 percent stake in Transaero.
Delta Has a Flashy New Club in San Francisco, a United Hub
Delta Air Lines has made it clear that it considers all of its domestic competitors weak and won't hesitate to attack where it sees an opening. And sometimes (like, say, Seattle-Tacoma) where there isn't one. Take San Francisco, for example, where Delta has just 8 percent of the traffic compared to United's 47 percent. Delta last week opened a flashy new SkyClub. At 9,000 square feet, it's twice the size of the previous Delta outpost and is airside, beyond the security checkpoints. There's lots of art, bamboo walls and plenty of food and wine for sale.
American Airlines is only weeks away from the final combination with US Airways and it also seems intent on wiping out its presence in Pittsburgh, a hub US Air long ago abandoned. Two more routes disappear in November. Flights to Hartford end on November 4 and flights to St. Louis, an old TWA hub that American long ago abandoned, end on November 30.
Los Angeles will soon allow Uber and Lyft to pick up and drop off passengers at the airport. The city council voted last month to allow the on-demand transportation firms.
Columbus has a new dining option. Remember Eddie George, the former pro football player and Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State? He's now fronting a restaurant at the airport called Eddie George's Grille 27. The restaurant is actually run by HMS, the food-service firm that dominates airport dining.
Old Hotels With New Names and New Affiliations
It's nearly impossible to keep track of all the hotel openings, not to mention existing hotels that have changed names and brand affiliations. So let's focus this week only on the morphing properties. The hotel in the former McGraw-Hill building at 521 North Rush in Chicago is now called The Gwen and is affiliated with the Starwood Luxury Collection. The 300-room property had been operating as a Conrad Hotel. The 198-room Citizen Hotel in Sacramento defected from the Joie de Vivre chain and is now affiliated with the Marriott Autograph Collection. In Budapest, Ritz-Carlton has taken over the Elizabeth Park Hotel and the 198-room property near Erzsébet Square will undergo an extensive renovation. And DoubleTree by Hilton, the chain's we'll-reflag-anything brand, has taken over hotels in Nanuet, New York, and Vancouver Island. The 156-room hotel in suburban New York City is a former Comfort Inn. The 181-room hotel in Victoria is the former Executive House.
Take a Seat, This May Take a While
There's actually some good news to report in the creature comfort departure. A few airlines are improving their seats, so long as you're willing to pay for and sit in (or get upgraded to) a premium class. Here's the latest news:
United Airlines this week unveiled its new first-class seat for domestic flights. Thanks to a bit of crafty engineering (and some creative accounting), they are slightly wider than the existing first-class product. The leather-covered chairs have a variable-sized tray table with a tablet holder; in-seat power; dedicated storage for water bottles and side slots to store laptops and tablets. Airbus A319s with the new seat will appear around the system starting next week, but full deployment will take at least through the end of next year on A320s, Boeing 737s and 757s.
American Airlines will begin retrofitting US Airways A319s next month. So that means first-class cabins with eight seats instead of 12, American's premium-economy seating (called Main Cabin Extra) and at-seat power.
Air Berlin is adding a premium-economy cabin on its long-haul, international flights. There'll be five rows of so-called XL seats on its Airbus A330 aircraft. They will have about six inches more legroom than coach in a 2x4x2 configuration between standard coach and business class. First flights configured with XL begin in December.
Singapore Airlines says its new premium-economy class is behind schedule and that means later deployments on its U.S. flights. Premium-economy service will now start on flights from San Francisco on January 6. They'll appear on Los Angeles flights beginning January 17. Deployment on Singapore's JFK-Frankfurt flight is still unknown.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
The two-day Lufthansa strike this week, the 13th work stoppage in 18 months, ended up cancelling more than 1,000 flights. After initially failing to convince a court to stop the strike, Lufthansa did convince a German labor court on Wednesday (September 9) to stop the pilots' job action. But it was too late to stop the cancellations. Where we go now--Lufthansa wants huge givebacks on retirement benefits from pilots and the pilots are incensed that the airline has based the low-cost Eurowings division outside the country--is anyone's guess.
British Airways Flight 2276 from Las Vegas to London was hit with a fire just before takeoff on Tuesday (September 8). About two dozen of the 170 passengers and crew suffered minor injuries. The Boeing 777-200 was engulfed with flames as it headed down the runway. Many travelers slid down the escape chutes with carry-on bags, obviously a no-no during evacuation.
Three airlines tanked in the last two weeks. SkyGreece, CanJet of Canada and Korongo Air of the Democratic Republic of Congo have all folded.
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