The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for November 10-24, 2016
The briefing in brief: Nobody knows nothing about birthing no Trump Administration. American and Alaska airlines change their upgrade rules. JetBlue continues to build out its transcontinental route system. Hampton Inn in the vineyards. France ramps up security. And more.
Nobody Knows Nothing About Birthing No Trump Administration
My Seat 2B column this week discusses a few repercussions of Tuesday's election. The column is fine as far as it goes. But it doesn't go very far because, frankly, President-elect Trump is essentially a blank political slate. Except for his known predilection for "big, beautiful" buildings, Trump has no history or track record upon which to extrapolate his transportation-related ideas.
Who, for example, would he appoint to run the Transportation Department? No one has any idea. He probably won't want a DOT as actively involved in consumer protection as the Obama Administration, but even that is a guess. After all, Trump has spent most of his life espousing mostly liberal (read: Democratic) positions. But don't bet on an outsider to run the DOT. For all of his promises to "drain the swamp" of Washington, President-elect Trump has appointed a consummate insider as head of his transporation and infrastructure transition team. Martin Whitmer is a lobbyist--his firm's clients have included Virgin America--and he's a former DOT deputy chief of staff.
Does President-elect Trump know or care about the debate over privatizing air traffic control? Some Republicans favor it, airlines such as Delta do not.
Does he favor the ExIm Bank, which helps Boeing sells planes, but is a bÍte noire for conservative Republicans and Delta Air Lines? During the campaign, he said he opposed it, but he said a lot of things during the campaign. He's got no discernible record on the issue.
Where does President-elect Trump stand on the squabble between fast-expanding Gulf carriers and U.S. airlines? The American carriers claim Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are illegally subsidized and taking unfair advantage of open skies agreements. Both arguments seem to fit Trump campaign claims about unfair trade, but the Trump Organization itself has extensive business ties to the Gulf states that own the carriers.
American AAdvantage and Alaska Mileage Plan Change the Upgrade Rules
For all the attention paid to award rules and prices, most business travelers crave upgrades. And depending on where you stand in the elite pecking order, the upgrade rules are getting more complicated and difficult. Case in point: American AAdvantage, which is tinkering with its upgrade process again. This time the beneficiaries are the members of American's double-secret service fraternity, Concierge Key. American is slowly remaking the revenue-based, by-invitation-only private level into its top tier of elite status. This week's change: Concierge Key members will receive priority for both flight waitlists and upgrades. Concierge Key member upgrades will clear as early as 120 hours before departure. That's effective January 1, as well as new windows for Executive Platinums (100 hours), Platinum Pro (72 hours), Platinum (48 hours) and Gold (24 hours) members. More complete details are here.
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is also changing how it doles out upgrades. The fare class you paid will now be considered in your upgrade request. It'll fold in between elite status and the time you ask for the upgrade. There are other interesting changes, too, including upgrades on award tickets. Surf here for complete details.
Starwood Preferred Guest members weren't big players in Marriott Rewards before the merger. There was only a 16 percent overlap between the two programs, Marriott chief executive Arne Sorenson said this week during the company's third-quarter earnings call.
Virgin America Elevate members no longer have access to awards and can no longer accrue points from Virgin Atlantic Airways. The two Virgins have gone their own way now that Virgin America is being acquired by Alaska Airlines.
JetBlue Continues to Push Itself Into the Transcon Market
JetBlue Airways may be best-known for its presence along the East Coast--its "focus cities" are New York/Kennedy, Boston/Logan and Fort Lauderdale--but the airline continues to rapidly expand in transcontinental markets. Effective May 3, it resumes daily nonstops between Kennedy and Long Beach, a secondary Los Angeles-area airport. It'll use an Airbus A320 on the route, which JetBlue last operated in 2011. Meanwhile, JetBlue is adding its excellent Mint premium class service to the JFK-San Diego run. Airbus A321 aircraft equipped with Mint cabins will be deployed starting August 15. JetBlue also previously announced it would launch an Orlando-Los Angeles route on January 5.
Pay to Play: United Bails on Belfast After Subsidy Falls Through
Northern Ireland officials pulled out all the stops to save United Airlines flights between Newark and Belfast, the only nonstop between the two countries. But most of a nine-million pound subsidy promised to United has been ruled illegal by the European Community. Since it won't get paid to play, United now says the last Newark-Belfast run will be January 9.
Air Canada is adding two more international routes from Vancouver. There will be three weekly flights to London's Gatwick Airport and three weekly runs to Frankfurt. Both routes start in early June. That's the good news. The bad news is that both flights will be operated by Air Canada's Rouge division, known for knee-crunching seat pitch in coach and very limited premium class services. The YVR-Gatwick route will operate with Boeing 767-300ERs and the Frankfurt flights will use Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners.
Southwest Airlines is a newbie when it comes to international routes and not all is going smoothly. Effective January 4, it'll drop flights between John Wayne/Orange County and Mexico City.
Would You Like a Vineyard With Your Hampton Inn?
Put this one in your strange bedfellows category. The Hampton Inn brand of Hilton has opened a 95-room property on the grounds of Chateau Elan Estate, Georgia's largest winery. The property in Braselton, about an hour from Atlanta/Hartsfield airport, also offers several golf courses, a spa and seven restaurants. This week also brings Hampton Inn branches in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and Alton, Illinois.
Hyatt has opened a 235-room Hyatt Place in downtown Edmonton, Alberta.
Marriott has opened a 245-room AC Hotel on Hennepin Avenue across from the Central Library in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Marriott's SpringHill Suites division has opened a 132-room property in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
A year after the coordinated terrorism attacks on several locations in Paris killed 130 people, French officials have unveiled new security measures aimed at quelling the fears of nervous visitors. Tourism is down more than 8 percent since January. There will also be an all-hands-on-deck meeting of the government and the travel industry next week aimed at reviving flagging visitor numbers.
Chicago/O'Hare is getting its first tranche of automated security lanes. Two checkpoints, which automatically draw carry-on bags into the X-ray machines and return bins to passengers, opened this week at Terminal 3. (That's mostly for American Airlines flights.) Three automated lanes are due to open before Thanksgiving in Terminal 1, dominated by United Airlines. At least at the moment, the automated lanes are supposed to be dedicated to TSA PreCheck members.
The Transportation Department said this week that it is prepared to approve a joint venture between Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico. The cost? The duo will have to surrender six slots at Delta's New York/Kennedy hub and 24 slots at Aeromexico's Mexico City hub.
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.