The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business-Travel Briefing for November 17-30, 2016
The briefing in brief: United's new plan: Give you even less and charge you more. Delta will add lie-flat beds to more New York routes, at least temporarily. So much for that Alitalia revival. Turkish Airlines cuts, too. Big cities, new hotels. Buffet's back in the airline game. And more.
United's New Plan: Give You Even Less, Charge You Even More
I've lost track of the times I've quoted Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons and dubbed United Worst. Airline. Ever. Yet I had a several decent flights this year and more than a few business travelers had convinced themselves that United was improving. But United made it known this week that it is intent on turning itself into the meanest, nastiest, money-grubbingest, old-plane-flyingest airline in the skies. Think I am kidding? Here are some low lights from the new strategy United unveiled at its "investor day" presentation:
United's new Basic Economy fares, patterned after Delta's Basic Economy product, are downright nasty. Any traveler who deigns to buy one can't get advance seat assignments, won't be allowed to change flights, can't upgrade at any price and won't receive elite-status credit. Basic Economy buyers also will be required to board last and won't be permitted to bring a carry-on bag to put in the overheard bin.
United will "rebank" some hubs to increase connecting traffic. Banked hubs also increase delays since flights are scheduled to arrive and depart within unrealistic time windows.
United will install more of its despised "slimline" seats. The airline will also "densify" more aircraft, which is relatively new industry jargon for slashing legroom and stuffing more coach seats on each plane.
United will continue to fly older planes and has deferred indefinitely delivery of more than 60 new Boeing 737s.
MileagePlus will transition to revenue-based awards, which will increase our cost in miles as United tries to squeeze more dollars from its frequency plan.
Delta Will Add Lie-Flat Beds to More New York Routes, at Least Temporarily
Delta Air Lines will deploy aircraft with lie-flat beds in first class on several new domestic routes from its New York/Kennedy hub. At least temporarily. Between December 17 and February 11, Delta's JFK-Jackson Hole flight will use Boeing 757s configured with the seat-beds. Delta will also deploy the premium 757s on eight flights in December on the JFK-San Diego route. Also worth noting: Delta will use Boeing 757s with lie-flat beds on the Boston-San Francisco route that launches on June 8.
Washington/National gets another transcontinental route when Alaska Airlines launches daily flights to San Diego on March 15. Alaska will use Boeing 737-800s and 737-900s on the run.
Kapalua, the airport in West Maui, will have Hawaiian Airlines service again. Starting January 17, there'll be two flights daily from Honolulu and a daily flight from Kahului on the other side of Maui. ATR-42-500 turboprops configured with 48 coach seats will be used on the routes. Hawaiian hasn't flown to Kapalua in more than 20 years. Ironically, the airport's three-letter code (JHM) stands for John Henry Magoon, president of Hawaiian when it developed the airport in the 1980s.
So Much for That Alitalia Revival. Turkish Airlines Cuts, Too.
It was a tale of two Mediterranean airlines. For years, Istanbul-based Turkish Airlines was the fastest-growing major carrier in the world. It was also solidly profitable and boasted that it flew to more international destinations than any carrier on the planet. Then there was Rome-based Alitalia, the perennial ne'er-do-well that required a bailout from Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier. Etihad took a 49 percent stake in 2014 and quickly boasted that it has cured Alitalia. Now Alitalia and Turkish are both getting hammered. A terrorist attack and a failed coup temporarily closed Istanbul this year. If that wasn't enough to scare away travelers, Turkey's president, Tayyip Erdogan, purged the airline's top management and forced the resignation of hundreds of lower-level staffers. The company's stock has plunged 30 percent and routes are being slashed. Meanwhile, Etihad soon will be announcing staffing and route cuts at Alitalia because it continues to lose scads of money. More than a dozen aircraft also will be purged from the Alitalia fleet. Ironically, one Alitalia route has already been trimmed: Rome-Istanbul, which ends November 30.
Korean Air is bulking up West Coast flights next year. At least five weekly flights will be added to the Los Angeles-Seoul run, which already has two daily flights. Seoul-San Francisco, currently operated once a day, will gradually increase to twice-daily next year. And flights from Seattle to Seoul will increase to daily operation in the spring.
Aer Lingus is adding a Miami-Dublin route on September 1. There will be weekly Airbus A330-200 flights configured with business and coach classes.
Big Cities, New Hotels
Hotel chains have focused on international destinations and secondary U.S. markets lately, but this week there are some new properties in big cities around the country. Two are just off Chicago's Magnificent Mile. The 287-room Conrad, a Hilton luxury brand, has opened on East Erie Street. The building formerly housed the Chicago headquarters of Foote, Cone & Belding, the advertising agency. Over on East Superior, a 215-room Cambria Suites from Choice Hotels has opened in a building you may know as the MileNorth Hotel. The property was converted this week. Meanwhile, Hilton has opened a 195-room Homewood Suites in Washington on M Street Southeast. That's near Washington Nationals park and the Navy Yard Metro station. Hilton has also opened a 132-room Hampton Inn on Ashford Dunwoody Road in Atlanta. The hotel is part of a mixed-use development that includes retail shops and office space.
Marriott says it spent $237 million on expenses in the third quarter related to the merger with Starwood. All but about $40 million was related to severance and employee-retention fees.
Business Travel New You Need to Know
A Southwest Airlines employee was shot and killed on Tuesday in the parking lot of Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. The suspect was later found dead in a truck in the airport garage.
Warren Buffet is back in the airline game. The billionaire's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. disclosed in a government filing this week that the company has taken stakes in United, American and Delta airlines. The investments in United and Delta are worth a total of about $500 million while Berkshire Hathaway's position in American is $800 million. Meanwhile, Buffet himself told CNBC that he'd also taken a stake in Southwest Airlines. Buffet publicly excoriated airlines in 2007 after losing money on a 1998 investment in US Airways.
Cathay Pacific says it'll launch its first route to Israel. There'll be four weekly Airbus A350-900 flights to Tel Aviv from Hong Kong next summer.
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.