The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for Feb. 25-Mar. 10, 2016
The briefing in brief: TAP Air Portugal tries to edge back into the trans-atlantic market. More Rome and Waikiki options for hotel awards. Air Serbia and Ethiopian Airlines return to New York. Hainan will launch Calgary-Beijing nonstops. Airbus admits the A380 is a loser. And more.
At the Edge of Europe, TAP Air Portugal Tries to Make Lisbon a Transatlantic Hub
Cynics might suggest Lisbon had its best moment as an airline hub in the movie Casablanca when Ilsa and Victor Lazlo use their letters of transit to board an Air France flight to Lisbon and freedom. But don't tell that to David Neeleman, best known as the founder of JetBlue Airways. Neeleman and a group of investors bought majority control of TAP Air Portugal last year and they hope to turn it into a transatlantic player by using Lisbon's advantageous geographic position at the edge of Europe. "If you want to fly to Southern Europe, why not fly TAP through Lisbon?" he asked me this week. "We fly to dozens of destinations and you don't have to backtrack to get anywhere." Neeleman's problem? Although TAP is a small player in the Star Alliance, it was near collapse in recent decades and had all but disappeared from the U.S. market, serving only Newark and Miami. Since Neeleman and his partners have run TAP, however, they've cleaned up the carrier's operations, stabilized the balance sheet, ordered new planes and reconfigured the European route network. Now comes the hard part: reestablishing TAP in the United States. It'll start by resuming flights to Boston/Logan in June and New York/Kennedy in July. To ply those routes, Neeleman is importing Airbus A330s that have been flying for Azul Brazilian Airlines, the JetBlue clone that Neeleman launched seven years ago. Besides a modern in-flight product--there'll be 20 business class beds, 104 premium economy seats and 147 coach chairs--TAP will tap into Neeleman's first creation. Flights will operate from JetBlue's Terminal 5 at JFK and Terminal C at Boston/Logan and TAP will code-share on several dozen JetBlue domestic routes. Besides super-aggressive introductory coach and business class fares (see the Steals and Deals page), TAP will bundle Lisbon and Europe fares with free stopovers in Lisbon and free tickets to Porto. "Lisbon is one of the places that a lot of people always say they'll visit, but never do. Now they'll have a reason," claims the ever-upbeat Neeleman.
Planning Ahead? Look for New Award Options in Waikiki and Rome
If you're looking to claim award points for holidays in the months ahead, be aware of upcoming lodging options in Waikiki and Rome. Hilton HHonors will pick up another Honolulu hotel this summer when a 623-room Hilton Garden Inn opens at 2330 Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki. The property is a $100 million renovation of a former Outrigger Hotel and is pegged as a Category 7 redemption. Meanwhile, Starwood Preferred Guest gets a new hotel in Rome. The independent Visconti Palace near the Piazza Cavour in the Prati District will become a 240-room Le Meridien on December 31. It's not yet bookable, however.
New Warm-Weather Award Options? At Hyatt Gold Passport, there's a 149-room Hyatt Place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, near the convention center. It's a Category 2 redemption. Starwood Preferred Guest now has a 139-room Aloft on Ringling Boulevard in Sarasota, Florida. It's a Category 4 redemption. And Marriott Rewards has two more options in Orlando. A dual-branded development in the Flamingo Crossings development near Disney World includes a 248-room SpringHill Suites and a 250-room TownePlace Suites.
They're Back! Not That You Necessarily Asked for Them ...
Did you miss JAT, the onetime flag carrier of the onetime country of Yugoslavia? Almost surely not. But Air Serbia, JAT's distant progeny, is returning to the United States. Effective June 23, Air Serbia will operate five weekly Airbus A330-200s flights from New York/Kennedy to Belgrade, Serbia. Speaking of comebacks, Ethiopian Airlines is returning to the New York area after a 12-year absence. The African airline dropped its Newark run in 2004, but will now operate flights to JFK beginning July 3. The route is odd, too: It will run JFK-Addis Ababa with a stop in Lome, capital of Togo. Ethiopian will use Boeing 787 Dreamliners on the route. The airline also flies nonstop between Washington/Dulles and Addis Ababa and recently launched a Los Angeles-Dublin-Addis Ababa route.
Lufthansa continues to unravel thanks to operational issues. It's delaying the launch of flights from San Jose, California, to its Frankfurt hub until July 1. The route was due to launch on April 29. It is also dropping first class cabins on its Atlanta-Frankfurt flights. Effective March 27, Airbus A340-300s will be configured with 18 business class, 19 premium economy and 261 coach seats.
Marriott is adding five more hotels in Japan by rebranding five Laforet properties in the next two years. Meanwhile, it's already slapped the Marriott brand on the former Worldhotel Bel Air Hotel in The Hague, Netherlands. The 306-room property is in the central city.
Hainan Airlines will launch nonstops between Calgary and Beijing on June 30. The privately owned Chinese carrier will use Boeing 787 Dreamliners on the route, which will operate three times weekly.
The A380: The Plane That Should Never Have Been Built
The double-decked Airbus A380 is huge and unnaturally quiet and some international airlines have outfitted them with insane first class suites. But it's probably a plane that should never have been built--a fact I brought to your attention even before the plane went into commercial service. Guess who's come to the same conclusion? Airbus chief operating officer Tom Williams. "We will never be profitable" on the A380, Williams admitted in an interview with Britain's The Telegraph newspaper. He admits being "part of" the mistaken decision to go ahead with the multi-billion-dollar aircraft. Why did Airbus proceed when airlines were pressing for smaller aircraft such as the Boeing 737, the Dreamliner and even Airbus' own A320 series? "Boeing was making a ton of money on the 747, exchange rates were different, the oil price was different." There's also the matter of ego, he admits. "The days when we did some projects for valor or pride are gone," but the A380 "was probably on the cusp" of vanity. Today, of course, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner far outsells its remade 747-8 series and the U.S. planemaker will soon retire the first great jumbo jet. Meanwhile, only 180 A380s have been delivered and 139 more are on order.
Deep in the Heart of Texas, More New Hotels in Time for the Primary
Maybe these were hotels planned to open during the oil boom. Or maybe there was a rush to get properties open before the Texas presidential primaries on Tuesday (March 1). Either way, there are a clutch of new hotels in the Lone Star state. Marriott opened a 109-room Fairfield Inn in Plano. Hilton opened a 338-room Hilton Garden Inn near the Live Oak Conference Center in San Antonio and a 187-room Embassy Suites in El Paso. That property is actually a conversion of an independent property. And Hyatt opened a 125-room Hyatt Place in Lubbock.
Ohio travelers take note: Marriott opened a 92-room Residence Inn in St. Clairsville and Starwood rebranded a former Wingate hotel in West Chester Township as a Four Points. Meanwhile, Hilton added three properties in the Buckeye state. A 118-room Hampton Inn opened in Kenwood and a 114-room branch debuted in New Albany. It also opened a 150-room Embassy Suites in North Canton.
Hyatt opened a 303-room Hyatt Regency in the Central Station mixed-used development near the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Los Angeles flyers take note: A long-awaited airside project to connect Terminal 4 with the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) opened today (February 25). The $110 million passenger walkway not only makes it easier to transit from American's Terminal 4 to the international flights at TBIT, but it also connects the Bradley terminal to Terminals 5 through 8 via Terminal 4.
Southwest Airlines this week pushed through a $5 one-way fare increase. Once again, it is business travelers who get hit hardest since the increase applies to tickets purchased within seven days of departure.
American Airlines withdrew a lawsuit it filed last week against Gogo, the in-flight WiFi provider. But Gogo's annual earnings came out this week and that was more than enough bad news. Annual losses rose to $107 million from $85 million last year. Moreover, fewer travelers are using the service. The "uptake" rate by flyers on Gogo-equipped flights fell to 6.2 percent in 2015 from 6.7 percent in 2014. The American squabble isn't really going away, either. American, Gogo's launch customer in 2008, wants faster speeds and newer equipment and probably expects Gogo to pay for both. Watch this one carefully.
This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. 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.