The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business Travel Briefing for February 16-28, 2017
The briefing in brief: If these are good times, why don't you feel better about travel? American's Phoenix hub shrinks. TSA "behavior detection" unit is fake news and fake science. Airlines wild about Montreal flights. Delta restores coach meals on 12 long domestic routes. And more.
If These Are the Good Times for Travel, Why Don't You Feel Better?
Cranky business travelers haven't had much to complain about lately in the fare department. And it turns out 2016 wasn't that bad a year to fly generally. According to government figures released this week, air travel was rather pleasant. Well, if not pleasant, at least historically less awful. The industry-wide cancellation rate for the year was 1.17 percent, the lowest in more than 20 years. The industry's 2016 rate for mishandled bags was 2.70 per 1,000 passengers, the lowest since records began in 1987. Involuntary denied boarding was .62 per 10,000 passengers, the lowest bump rate since 1985. For the full year of 2016, the industry on-time rate was 81.4 percent. That's an impressive number, but only 12 carriers report statistics, which means many of the most egregiously late commuter airlines are not covered.
American's Phoenix Hub Is Shrinking Fast
When U.S. carriers are pitching their mergers to federal regulators and the court of public opinion, their constant refrain is that hub networks are secure and won't be cut. That's a lie, of course. Since its merger a decade ago with Northwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines has eliminated Memphis, eviscerated Cincinnati and begun dismantling Tokyo/Narita operations. The United-Continental merger meant the end of Cleveland and the decision to abandon transcontinental operations at New York/Kennedy. When Southwest absorbed AirTran Airways, it dismantled the Atlanta hub and abandoned AirTran's Akron/Canton operations. And that brings us to American Airlines and its three-year-old merger with US Airways. American has not only reined in growth at the former US Airways hub in Philadelphia, but it is also shrinking Phoenix. Thanks to route cuts and "downgauging" to smaller aircraft, American traffic at Phoenix fell by 7 percent last year. American's 2016 passenger load of 20.7 million was 1.5 million flyers fewer than in 2015.
Raleigh-Durham, which airlines love but don't want to make a hub, gets another point-to-point route. On June 12, Delta Air Lines adds two daily regional jet flights to Nashville.
New York/LaGuardia, the airport nobody loves, is losing its nonstop link to the Canadian capital of Ottawa. Air Canada drops flights on March 26, but the airline will maintain three daily Ottawa nonstops to Newark.
Washington/Dulles flyers take note: Priority Pass now has a much-needed additional lounge. The Turkish Airlines lounge in Concourse B near Gate B43 now accepts the card for entry.
TSA's 'Behavior Detection' Program? Fake News About Fake Science
A data and document dump triggered by a freedom of information lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union confirms what most business travelers instinctively knew about the TSA's much-ballyhooed Behavior Detection program. It's fake news supported by fake science. Originally rolled out in 2007 by Bush Administration appointees, the program was continued and expanded during the Obama Administration. The $250-million-a-year scheme claims that properly trained TSA officials can identify potential terrorists simply by observation. But the bizarre parameters of the detection triggers--yawning, whistling, rubbing hands together and even arriving late for a flight--show how little science is involved and how badly it is applied. If you want to read the details for yourself--and you should--surf here. The facts are alternately chilling and hilarious, sad and sobering.
Customs and Border Protection has changed the procedure on guns in checked bags. At least at four South Florida airports--and for international travelers. International flyers arriving at Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Key West cannot now claim checked bags with guns off the baggage carousels. They must go to a special office. The change is a result of the January 6 shooting at Fort Lauderdale when a passenger claimed his bag, went to a restroom, loaded a weapon and came out firing. However, that incident occurred after a domestic flight and there are no changes to rules for domestic flights.
Rare on the Road: Newly Built DoubleTree Hotels
If you've never been in a DoubleTree by Hilton, you should understand that the chain is Hilton's "conversion brand." In other words, virtually any property that is tired--or tired of its existing brand affiliation--can defect to DoubleTree without worry about picayune details like standards or consistency. Except for the cookies at check-in, DoubleTree stays are a crapshoot. That said, however, two newly built properties are now flying the DoubleTree flag. A 612-room hotel on West 40th Street in Manhattan is now part of the chain. So, too, is the 241-room, much-delayed convention hotel in Evansville, Indiana. Ironically, there is a conversion in Evansville. The 69-room property out on Interstate 69 near the Lloyd Expressway has become a Country Inns after switching from the Holiday Inn Express chain.
Marriott continues to flood the zone with an array of new properties aligned to its limited-service brands. There are new Fairfield Inn hotels in Bowling Green, Ohio; Acworth, Georgia; Aransas Pass, Texas; and Florence, South Carolina. There are new Courtyard properties in Somerset, Kentucky; near Interstate 10 in El Paso, Texas; and Fort Mill, South Carolina. There's a 129-room Residence Inn across from the QuickSilver Chair Lift in Breckenridge, Colorado; a 92-room TownePlace Suites in Dothan, Alabama; and a second Aloft in Louisville, Kentucky.
Suddenly, Canadian Carriers Are Knocking on Montreal's Metaphoric Door
Montreal/Trudeau isn't exactly the first airport that comes up when Americans--or even Canadians--think of convenient places to fly. Yet Air Canada and WestJet are now falling all over each other launching new flights to and from the emotional heart of Francophone North America. From WestJet comes flights to three new cities using Dash-8 turboprops. Effective March 15, there'll be two roundtrips to Halifax. Four daily flights to Quebec City start on June 15 and two daily nonstops to Boston/Logan begin on October 15. Meanwhile, Air Canada will add twice-weekly seasonal flights from Montreal to Tel Aviv. Flights will operate between June 22 and October 16 with Airbus A330-200s configured with 27 business class seatbeds, 21 premium economy seats and 244 coach chairs. Separately, Priority Pass says your membership will now get you access to Salon Odyssee Desjardins in Terminal A. The club is near Gate 62.
Delta Air Lines already owns about 4 percent of code-share and SkyTeam partner Aeromexico and has the right to acquire another 13 percent. Now it wants to bump up its ownership to 49 percent via a stock purchase.
Air China says it will launch three weekly flights between Los Angeles and Shenzhen. Service starts on July 6 using Boeing 787-900 aircraft.
Lufthansa and the union representing its frequently striking pilots have agreed to a wage-and-benefit offer made by an arbitrator. The pilots must vote on the deal, however. Chances of approval are cloudy since Lufthansa also announced this week that it will move more flights to contract operations outside the scope of the new pilots deal. Stay tuned.
Arik Air, the largest carrier in Nigeria, has apparently stopped flying to both London and New York/Kennedy. The situation is unclear because many of the airline's jets are grounded for maintenance and the carrier itself has been taken over by the country's notoriously inefficient "assets management" agency.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines says it will restore complimentary in-flight coach meals on a dozen of its longest-haul domestic routes. Beginning March 1, coach meals return to the flights in the Transcontinental Triangle between New York/JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco. On April 24, ten more routes will get coach meals, including cross-country flights to/from Boston, Seattle, San Diego and Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Raleigh/Durham. Coach+ passengers on the 12 routes will also be offered complimentary beer, wine and spirits and pre-arrival snacks.
British Airways cabin crews on some shorter-haul flights will strike about eight more days this month. The strikes should not affect transatlantic flights
China travelers take note: Most international visitors will be fingerprinted as they enter the country. The policy starts tomorrow (February 17) at Shenzhen Airport and will eventually be expanded to other entry airports. And don't whine about those shifty commie autocrats. The United States has fingerprinted most arriving international visitors since 2004.
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