The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for October 23-31, 2015
The briefing in brief: BA's anywhere-but-Heathrow strategy. Delta jacks up the price of lounge passes. Virgin America juggles its routes at Love Field. Hawaiian Airlines channels Vizzini in coach. Starwood Hotels is back in Amsterdam. United has another new CEO. And much more ...
Willie Walsh's Anywhere-But-Heathrow Strategy Takes Shape
As explained during the summer, Willie Walsh, impresario of the conglomerate that owns British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus, refuses to pay a bounty for a third runway at London's Heathrow Airport. Besides, relief for the chronically overcrowded London behemoth would be about 20 years away even if the new landing strip is approved and funded. Walsh's solution? Find ways to route U.S.-originating travelers headed to Europe over other airports in the company's orbit. Example one: Aer Lingus this week announced its largest transatlantic expansion in history. It'll revive its Los Angeles-Dublin route on May 4 with five weekly flights. On September 1, it will launch a daily Newark-Dublin route and follow it September 28 with a daily flight from Hartford. The Hartford service is especially revelatory. Although the Connecticut capital has briefly had Europe flights before, they've always been on point-to-point routes. Aer Lingus' flight will allow U.S. travelers essentially caught between Boston and New York to fly to Dublin, bypass Heathrow and connect onward to dozens of other European cities. And as if that's not enough, BA is reviving nonstops between New York/Kennedy and London/Gatwick on May 1. There'll be daily service using Boeing 777-200s configured with 40 business class beds, 24 premium economy seats and 216 coach chairs. British Airways offers onward flights to about two dozen European cities from Gatwick, thus allowing many New York Metro area flyers to skip Heathrow but still use BA.
Delta Jacks Up the Price of Day Passes and Devalues Them, Too
Delta Air Lines reported pre-tax third-quarter income of more than $2 billion last week, but the drive for cash never ends. Delta has quietly raised the price of one-time Sky Club lounge passes to $59, a 15 percent increase. Notice I didn't call them day passes. That's because the more expensive chits are no longer good all day anymore. They are now called "single visit passes" and only permit one visit to one SkyClub.
Chicago/O'Hare has still another lodging option. A 158-room Hampton Inn has opened on West Higgins Road in Rosement, about three miles from the airport. There's a 24/7 free shuttle to and from the terminals.
Washington/National has a new dining option. Kapnos Taverna has opened in Terminal C near Gate 37. The Greek restaurant is fronted by chef Mike Isabella, who operates the original Kapnos in Arlington, Virginia. He also owns several other well-known Washington-area dining rooms.
Hawaiian Air Lies Down in Premium Classes, But Channels Vizzini in Coach
Hawaiian Airlines says it will add lie-flat beds in the premium classes of its Airbus A330 aircraft. The new seats, configured 2x2x2, will fold down into 76-inch beds. Installation begins next year and it will take until the end of 2017 to get all 23 of the A330s outfitted. In explaining its new product, however, Hawaiian claimed that seat pitch at the A330s' 192 coach seats "will remain a roomy 31 inches." But to paraphrase Inigo Montoya's comments to the Sicilian mastermind Vizzini, I do not think that word "roomy" means what Hawaiian thinks it means.
Virgin America continues to try to justify its existence at Dallas/Love Field as an alternative to Southwest Airlines. It'll launch flights to Las Vegas beginning December 1, but drop its once-touted flights between Love and Austin.
JetBlue Airways continues to build up its Latin/Caribbean hub at Fort Lauderdale. In April, it'll launch flights to Barbados using Airbus A320 aircraft. JetBlue already serves Barbados from its New York/Kennedy hub and next month will add flights from Boston/Logan.
Starwood Gets Back Into Amsterdam Market With a W Hotel
Starwood Hotels customers take note: The chain is back in the Amsterdam market. It has opened the 238-room W Hotel near Dam Square and the Royal Palace. Starwood also expects to open an Element Hotel in the Dutch capital in February.
Marriott Hotels has opened a 204-room Renaissance Hotel in Albany, New York. The historic building, at 144 State Street across from the State Capitol building, had been empty for nearly 40 years. It once housed the DeWitt Clinton Hotel.
Ritz-Carlton, another division of Marriott, has opened a 331-room property in Cairo on the banks of the Nile. It's an overhaul and renovation of a hotel that had long traded as a Hilton. Ritz also announced this week that it would put its name on the Hotel de la Paix in Geneva. The 75-room hotel on the shores of Lake Geneva will be bookable as a Ritz starting December 16 and is scheduled for an extensive renovation next year.
Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Watch for American Airlines to ape the Delta Air Lines strategy of offering stripped-down coach fares to compete with Spirit Airlines. Delta calls its fares Basic Economy and they've helped Delta fight off Spirit. Delta also has upsold about 65 percent of flyers who start out buying the ultra-cheap prices. American said this week it will offer a similar product because it now directly competes with Spirit on more than 25 percent of its nonstop routes.
United Airlines will drop its only route into the Arab/Persian Gulf region by eliminating its Washington/Dulles-Kuwait City-Bahrain flights. The service ends in mid-January.
Delta Air Lines continues to build its nascent Seattle-Tacoma hub, which competes with Alaska Airlines. Effective May 4, it'll add four daily flights to John Wayne/Orange County Airport. A Delta Connection carrier will operate the flights using two-class E175s.
United Airlines now has its third chief executive in as many months. The airline's top lawyer, Brett Hart, was named interim CEO on Monday (October 19) while Oscar Munoz recovers from a heart attack suffered last week. United has been mum on the condition or long-term prospects of Munoz, appointed last month after Jeff Smisek resigned due to a federal investigation. Hart is being positioned as outside of Smisek's inner circle of C-suite executives, but he was hired by Smisek in 2010 and given control of passenger service by Smisek earlier this year.
Yes, Virginia, BA Charges for Seat Assignments in Business Class
British Airways garnered a wave of good will from usually cynical flyers thanks to its insanely wonderful two-day business class sale last week. But many of you were shocked that BA then tried to ding you for $100 or more for a seat assignment. BA imposed the abhorrent policy six years ago. But there's no reason to pay the extortionate charge. Seat selection in business class is available free of charge 48 hours before departure or when you check in. And since there are no bad seats in transoceanic business class--and no notably good ones in the miserly intra-Europe business class--why give into BA's money-grubbing mentality?
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