The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for May 5-19, 2016
The briefing in brief: East Coast Air Shuttles unravel. Important new airport lounges in Boston and Vancouver. Delta adjusts its upgrade rules to favor elites. A former Paris office building becomes a Marriott hotel. Check your passport before heading to Italy or France. And more.
East Coast Air Shuttles Dying Not With A Bang, But With Schedule Cuts
Pressed by increased competition from the Amtrak Acela, crimped by airport security and bleeding high-yield passengers, the East Coast Air Shuttles linking New York, Boston and Washington have been shrinking for years. The guaranteed-seat promise is long gone, the dedicated fleets are gone, the walk-up-and-fly concept is history and the original operators (Eastern, New York Air, Pan Am, US Air and even Trump) have all gone the way of the dodo, too. Now comes the unkindest cut: Delta Air Lines is dispensing with once-sacrosanct hourly weekday flights linking LaGuardia with Washington/National. Delta drastically slashed capacity in 2008 when it switched to regional jets from full-size aircraft, but now even that is too much inventory. Beginning in October, Delta will drop two off-peak daily flights. That'll free up precious slots at National and allow Delta to bulk up its Washington-Raleigh route, which returns to the schedule on August 1. For the moment, Delta will retain hourly flights between LaGuardia and Boston and American Airlines, which operates the other shuttle, will hold on to hourly flights on both routes. But with JetBlue Airways entering the LaGuardia-Logan market with a pseudo-shuttle soon, more cuts from both Delta and American seem inevitable.
Boston and Vancouver Get New Airport Lounges
With the TSA and other security agencies torturing us with longer-than-ever checkpoint wait times, having access to airport lounges is more important than ever. The good news? Many more clubs are opening and our options are improving. At Boston/Logan, for instance, there's a new lounge called, prosaically enough, The Lounge. It's near gate C19 in Terminal C, home of flights operated by JetBlue Airways, Emirates and, since earlier this week, Aer Lingus. Operated by the folks who run Priority Pass and the growing network of equally prosaically named clubs called The Club, the Boston facility is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Both Emirates and Aer Lingus will use the facility for premium class and elite flyers. Access is also free for Priority Pass and American Express Platinum cardholders. Walk-ins pay $35 for a day pass. Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific continues to pay off on its promise to improve its North American clubs. This week it opened its revamped lounge in Vancouver, from where it offers nonstops to both Hong Kong and New York/Kennedy. The 5,500-square-foot facility between Gates D66 and D67 includes Cathay's signature Noodle Bar. It's open to Cathay's first and business class customers, elite Marco Polo members and Oneworld sapphire or higher elites.
Silvercar, the car rental firm that offers only Audis and operates via an app, has opened at Newark Airport. It also opened an in-town location in Brooklyn, New York.
Dallas/Fort Worth now has a Garrett Popcorn Shop. The Chicago-based snack company with a cult following operates from a space in Terminal B near Gate 27.
Brussels has reopened its departure hall, closed since the terrorist attacks of March 22. Delta Air Lines continues to operate from the temporary facility, however.
Atlanta/Hartsfield has closed the South Security Checkpoint and it will remain closed for the rest of the month. There's speculation that Delta Air Lines and Clear, the line-cut program, will take over the facility. Stay tuned.
Delta Adjusts Upgrade Rules to Favor Elites, But Don't Expect to Get Any
Delta SkyMiles has adjusted the upgrade priority clearance process for domestic first class seats. Starting last Friday (April 29), the airline now gives more weight to your elite status than the fare paid. As you can see by its new procedure, however, there are typical Delta tricks, including the fact that Y class tickets, the highest priced coach seats, no longer receive automatic upgrades at booking. And, of course, regardless of your status or the fare you pay, Delta is cutting back on the number of domestic upgrades it allows. It would rather sell them than give them to elites or high-paying customers. And pay attention to this seemingly unrelated wrinkle: Delta confirmed this week that it would add an honest-to-goodness premium economy cabin on international flights. The cabin will launch next year when Delta begins receiving its Airbus A350 aircraft. Seats and service will probably mimic what Delta partners Air France and Virgin Atlantic offer on their flights. The wrinkle? A new cabin between coach and business class on international flights means less chance to upgrade into business class on those runs.
IHG Rewards Club members will soon begin seeing special members-only rates when they book directly with IHG channels. As with the special members-only rates announced recently by Hilton and Hyatt, however, don't expect a break greater than rates available using AAA or other discount plans.
A Former Office Building Becomes Marriott's Newest Paris Hotel
Marriott has opened another property in Paris. The 121-room Renaissance is a down-to-the-skeleton remake of an office building located near Place de la République. The hotel in the 10th arrondissement is a Category 8 redemption in Marriott Rewards.
Hilton has rescued the dilapidated Lismore Hotel, once the leading property in downtown Eau Claire, Wisconsin. After a $21 million remodeling, the 112-room property has been rebranded as a DoubleTree. Speaking of Eau Claire, Marriott has opened a 90-room Fairfield Inn just outside of downtown.
Starwood has opened a 208-room St. Regis in Kuala Lumpur. The hotel is located in ONE IFC, a mixed-use development in Sentral Precinct. The property's most notable feature? Rooms are huge and the smallest accommodation is 678 square feet. Starwood has also opened a 302-room Westin in the Woodlands master-planned community in Houston.
InterContinental Hotels has planted the Crowne Plaza flag on the 233-room hotel in Peachtree City, Georgia, that formerly operated as the Dolce Aberdeen Woods Conference Center. It also opened a 152-room Holiday Inn in Leon in the Mexican state of Guanajuato.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Travelers to Italy and France take note. Due to new rules, your U.S. passport must have at least six months of validity remaining when you enter those countries. In years past, you were only required to have three months left on passports. Plan accordingly.
The U.S. dollar has dropped to its lowest levels in about a year against the Japanese yen. Meanwhile, the euro has recorded its first back-to-back monthly gains against the dollar since 2013. The dollar has held up against the British pound, however, and is trading at about $1.45.
United Airlines says it slashed the pay of chief operating officer Greg Hart by $1 million as a result of the bribery scandal that toppled chief executive Jeff Smisek last summer. But don't cry for Smisek. An SEC document filed last week confirmed that he walked away with $37 million. Smisek would have to return some of the walking-away money if he's found guilty or pleads no contest to charges that may still be filed in the matter.
British Airways has cut a deal with Gogo to install satellite in-flight WiFi on 118 Boeing 747, 777 and 787 aircraft. The deal also includes WiFi for 15 long-haul aircraft operated by Iberia, the Spanish carrier that is owned by BA's parent company. The first WiFi-equipped planes won't appear until next year, however.
Don't Mention the Seat. Emirates Mentioned It Once, But Thinks It Got Away With It.
Emirates this week released a flossy video touting the new business class seat it will offer starting in November on Boeing 777s. But get past the bling--a huge video monitor, HDMI port and personal minibar--and you'll notice something odd: Emirates doesn't actually talk about the seat itself much. There's a reason for the omission. The seat stinks. For starters, they'll be configured 2x3x2, meaning some business class passengers will have to wedge themselves into middle seats. I use the term "wedge" advisedly because the seats fold into beds that are shorter and narrower than those offered by the U.S. airlines and the better European and Asian carriers. Emirates has made one key improvement: the beds on its new 777s will be fully flat as opposed to the angled-flat accommodations on its existing 777s. But there's more bad news, too. Emirates' new business class won't even be retrofitted on its existing 777 fleet. Those will continue to fly with the even older and even less competitive angled-flat seat-bed until they are retired in 2020. For all of its flaws, the latest business class will only appear on Emirates' newly delivered 777s.
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