The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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The Business Travel Briefing for Early June, 2018
The briefing in brief: Hidden trip wires that could mess with your travel this summer. Delta shuffles its fall route map. Singapore Airlines will try again to launch Newark and LAX nonstops. Hilton slaps its brands on a slew of hotels in China and Britain. And much more.
Spring (and Summer) Can Really Hang You Up the Most
Your summer travel faces the expected hurdles--crowds of inexperienced flyers, bad weather, TSA insanity--but it's the hidden trip wires that can really hang you up the most. Watch for these hidden stumbling blocks in the weeks ahead:
Travel to/from/through Toronto may be slowed by a shortage of Canadian Border Agents. The Canadian government says many airport-based border agents are being moved to handle an influx of asylum seekers in Montreal and St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, the country's two main processing centers. The crunch is expected to be worst right at the end of the school year late in June.
Overcrowding at some American Express Centurion Lounges has led Amex to restrict entry with no advance notice. The ad hoc policy apparently bars post-flight entry to any inbound flyer. Outbound flyers are being told they can't enter an Amex lounge until two hours before departure. And, yes, boarding passes are being checked. Amex says the rules have only been applied at times of "extreme" crowding and won't be standard practice. But the company won't say more. Some online posters and bloggers say they have seen the restrictions imposed in recent weeks in Seattle, Miami and LaGuardia Airport in New York.
Chicago/O'Hare closed its people-mover system for repairs this week through the "winter season," which means late March in airline parlance. You can still walk between the domestic terminals--numbered 1, 2, and 3--but you'll now have to take a shuttle bus to reach the international facility (Terminal 5). The people mover also connected the terminals to parking facilities. The system already has been closed overnight during the last few months.
Norwegian Airlines has built its reputation on factory-fresh Boeing 787s. (See my review here.) But problems with the Rolls Royce engines that power many Dreamliners have forced Norwegian to ground some of its planes and substitute older aircraft and crews "wet-leased" from charter carriers. Expect to see Airbus A340s flying to Barcelona from Oakland and Newark on some flights in June and July. Leased A340s will be operated on some days to Paris from Los Angeles and New York/Kennedy through July. As previously reported, Norwegian already uses alternate aircraft on flights to Rome, too. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Norwegian seems unwilling or unable to provide useful seat maps, isn't alerting passengers in advance and hasn't given its own staff much information.
Aer Lingus, whose business class duplicates the much-admired JetBlue Airways Mint configuration, has at least one rogue aircraft flying U.S. routes. The replacement plane, acquired from Qatar Airways, has angled-flat beds and no WiFi. To date, the plane has been spotted flying Washington/Dulles-Dublin.
Delta Shuffles Its Route Map for Fall Travel
Delta Air Lines is making some adjustments to its fall route map. Beginning October 1, for example, it'll launch four daily roundtrips between Boston/Logan and Philadelphia using CRJ-900 aircraft. Also new starting October 15: six weekly nonstop flights to John Wayne/Orange County from its hub at New York/JFK. This transcon route won't get the Delta One treatment, however. The run will use traditionally configured domestic Boeing 737-700s. There'll also be new flights to El Paso from its Salt Lake City hub. Daily service begins October 1 using CRJ-900s. Some marginal routes are also being chopped. Miami-Orlando runs end October 28. The airline is also cancelling its weekly flight to Havana from JFK. The last flight is September 1.
Singapore Airlines Will Take Another Shot at Nonstops From Newark and Los Angeles
Singapore Airlines lost a bundle--it won't say how much--trying to fly nonstop to Singapore from Los Angeles and Newark Airport using Airbus A340-500 aircraft. Aeronautic realities forced SIA to carry fewer passengers and the four-engine craft was a gas guzzler. The service, launched with great fanfare in 2004 as the world's two longest flights, ended quietly in 2013. (For useful background, see my columns on the launch and their demise.) But now that it has a more fuel-efficient plane, the Airbus A350-900 series, Singapore Air is going to try again. Nonstops between Newark and Singapore resume on October 12. There will be three flights the first week, then daily flights after that. Singapore Air also says it will soon announce the return of the LAX run, too. Whether there is a profitable market for the flights--the Newark run will have 67 business class and 94 premium economy seats--remains to be seen, however. SIA, which launched San Francisco-Singapore nonstops back in 2016, has been unable to command substantial fare premiums for the nonstops. And Singapore itself isn't the commercial and financial center it was even a decade ago, having been supplanted by Hong Kong and Shanghai, cities with better access to the burgeoning China market.
Hilton Grows By Conversion in China and Britain
Hilton has already been growing rapidly in China thanks to its own projects and master-franchise agreements with local lodging chains. And now comes another: A deal with Country Garden, which already has 120 China hotels open or in development. Six properties have already converted to either the DoubleTree or Hilton Garden Inn brands. How many more Country Garden properties will eventually become Hilton-branded outposts hasn't been disclosed (or, apparently, decided). Separately, Hilton also opened a new Hilton Garden Inn in Qidong, a city just across the Yangtze River estuary from Shanghai. Meanwhile, Hilton is slapping the DoubleTree name on five existing properties currently trading as part of the QHotels chain. The locations include golf resorts in Yorkshire and Glasgow and hotels in Cambridge, Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon.
Hyatt is shuffling the name on some doors. The Hyatt Bangalore, India, has rebranded as a Hyatt Centric. The Hyatt in Amritsar, India, becomes a Hyatt Regency. The Grand Hyatt in Lijiang, China, becomes the Jinmao Hotel and joins the Unbound Collection, Hyatt's soft brand for independent properties. One actual expansion is the addition of the Nish Palas to the Unbound Collection. The 45-room hotel is located in Istanbul's Nisantasi neighborhood.
InterContinental has added two properties: the 322-room Desmond Hotel and Conference Center in Albany, capital of New York State, and a 194-room hotel in Sofia, capital of Bulgaria. The latter property has been trading as a Radisson.
Montreal travelers take note: Marriott has opened a 169-room AC Hotel on Boulevard Rene-Levesque and Hilton has converted the former Quality Suites on the Island of Montreal into a 162-room Embassy Suites.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Priority Pass cardholders take note: There are now three new airport lounges in Europe in the program. The Primeclass clubs in Frankfurt (Terminal 2) and Zurich (E gates) and the Open Sky Lounge in Dusseldorf (Terminal C) now accept the card for entry.
Honolulu visitors take note: The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor has closed indefinitely for emergency structural repairs. All other Pearl Harbor attractions, monuments and exhibits remain open, however.
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