The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for June 2-June 16, 2016
The briefing in brief: What United isn't saying about its new business class. Sunny and exotic new places to burn hotel points. Is it cheating when the TSA is already incompetent? Delta and Virgin Atlantic swap London routes. Hilton opens a slew of hotels in the Midwest. And more.
What United Isn't Saying About Its New Business Class
After years of starving its product, United Airlines today (June 2) took the wraps off a new international business class. But what it didn't say seems at least as important. Let's start with the long-overdue good news: Seats will fold into fully flat beds as long as 78 inches and will be staggered, thus allowing each passenger direct-aisle access. There'll be pajamas and mattress pads available on the longest runs; slippers and upgraded amenity kits; and gel pillows on request. The airline is revamping food and beverage presentations and will open nine business class lounges where travelers can dine before flying. The meaningless news: The BusinessFirst name disappears, replaced by Polaris. Now what United isn't talking about much: The cost of the remake, which means it'll spend less than it should and scrimp on the project. Also unsaid: The airline will continue to configure business class as densely as six across, making seatbeds uncomfortably narrow. United also hasn't released its complete retrofit schedule and the makeovers we know about will take until at least 2020. Want the sotto voce news? United finally admitted that it will eventually dump international first class. It hasn't yet committed to a real premium economy cabin. There's still no combined contract with flight attendants, the people who must work the new cabin and execute the new service. And, oh yeah, United is going to 10-across coach seating on its longest-haul Boeing 777-300ERs. For more details, consult the Polaris microsite.
Sunny and Exotic New Places to Burn Your Hotel Points
It may be harder than ever to cash airline miles for an award, but the major hotel chains continue to open new options for sunny and exotic redemptions. Hyatt Gold Passport players, for example, have two new places to go. The first Park Hyatt resort in Europe, a 142-room property on the Northeast coast of Mallorca, is now available as a Category 5 redemption. Hyatt also opened a beachfront property in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. The 178-room Hyatt Centric is a Category 3 redemption. (Remember, it's fall in the Southern Hemisphere now.) Marriott Rewards has another redemption option in Phuket, Thailand. The former Imperial Adamas Beach Resort on Nai Yang Beach has been renovated and reopened as a 180-room Marriott. It's a Category 7 redemption. And Starwood Preferred Guest has another property in Miami. The 148-room former Viceroy Hotel, part of the Icon Brickell mixed-use complex, has been reflagged as a W Hotel. It's a Category 6 redemption.
Is It Cheating When the TSA Is Already Incompetent Anyway?
Titanic lines at security checkpoints didn't materialize last weekend and the TSA is alternately taking bows and telling anyone who'll listen that it can't possibly keep lines moving all summer. But the truth, as always, is more complicated. The TSA avoided the PR nightmare of hours-long lines by cheating. It threw barely trained rookie screeners into the front lines and, whenever lines started swelling, it told travelers to keep their shoes on and instructed them not to remove laptops and 3-1-1 bags in from carry-ons. "Whenever things slowed down, we stopped looking," one TSA executive admitted to me this week. And it's not that the TSA's no-searching searches were a secret. There was a tsunami of social-media posts from perplexed flyers wondering why the rules had suddenly been loosened. Of course, the TSA cheating on its own rules raises two issues: 1) Has the agency outed its own mindless obsessions with shoes and toiletries? And is it really cheating when the TSA can't find contraband anyway? Remember, this is the agency with a 95 percent failure rate when it is actively searching, so how much more dangerous can it be when they give up entirely?
Delta and Virgin Atlantic Swap Routes to London Again
Delta Air Lines owns a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic and has slowly remade the British carrier in its own image. One frequent trick: swapping routes. So it won't surprise you that a new tranche of route switches is due on March 26. Virgin Atlantic aircraft will replace Delta planes on two routes: Seattle-London/Heathrow and New York/Kennedy-Manchester. Neither route has performed well for Delta. Meanwhile, Virgin will exit the Detroit-Heathrow market and Delta will add flights to pick up the slack. And Delta will open a new route. Effective May 26, Delta will operate four weekly flights to Heathrow from Portland, Oregon. Delta will use Boeing 767-300ERs on the run.
OpenSkies, the boutique carrier owned by British Airways, will have a bifurcated premium economy service when it takes possession of its first Boeing 767. Since its launch in 2008, OpenSkies has flown only Boeing 757s and its premium economy cabin between New York/Kennedy, Newark and Paris/Orly offers a 2x2 configuration with 47 inches of legroom. But the hand-me-down 767 it gets from BA on August 18 is configured with BA's traditional premium economy. That means just 38 inches of legroom and a 2x2x2 configuration. Take care when you book.
Hilton Has a Slew of New Hotels If You're Headed to the Midwest
It's nearly impossible to keep up with the pace of hotel openings worldwide, but it's worth noting that Hilton this week has concentrated its new properties in the Midwest. The chain has added properties in Wisconsin (a 203-room Embassy Suites in Brookfield and a 73-room Hampton Inn in Fond du Lac); Iowa (an 83-room Hampton in Mason City and a 90-room branch in Ames); Indiana (a 99-room Homewood Suites in Munster); and Ohio (a 600-room Hilton in downtown Cleveland on Lakeside Avenue). Meanwhile, the London Guarantee Building in Chicago, one of the "pillars" surrounding the Michigan Avenue Bridge, has been converted to a hotel. The structure, built in 1923, now houses the 452-room LondonHouse hotel. It has joined Hilton's Curio Collection.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines is raising the price of Admirals Club membership by $50-$100 a year. The price hike goes into effect on July 25. Complete details are here.
Delta Air Lines is bulking up at Raleigh-Durham again. After the carrier's previously announced decisions to restore flights to Salt Lake City and Washington/National, Delta said this week that it would launch three daily flights to Newark. The regional jet service begins on November 6.
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.