The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business Travel Briefing for Early March, 2019
The briefing in brief: DOT whacks Delta and American for long tarmac holds. Southwest and mechanics squabble as cancellations spike. New hotels in London, Munich and Changsha, China. United pours new flights into Denver. Egyptair adds a Washington-Cairo nonstop. And more.
The DOT Slaps Down Delta and American for Long Tarmac Holds
When the DOT promulgated tarmac-hold rules in 2010--no domestic flight or passenger held more than three hours, no international flight or flyer longer than four--airlines squealed and then largely rolled over and played nice. Tarmac holds virtually disappeared. But, of course, because airlines gonna airlines, they started getting sloppy, hoping that no one would notice or whine. Today (February 28), the Transportation Department noticed. The DOT fined American Airlines $1 million and Delta Air Lines $750,000 for a clutch of excess tarmac holds. American was slapped for 13 over-the-limits flights between December, 2015, and January, 2017. Delta got hit due to 11 flights between January, 2017, and February, 2018. Most of Delta's troubles came on the day in January, 2017, that the airline's computers melted down. American's troubles were mostly due to diverted flights--and it is the second time American has been hit with DOT fines for tarmac holds. Of course, the amounts of the fines are somewhat deceptive: Each carrier received a $450,000 credit for passenger compensation paid and, in Delta's case, for an investment in a backup data center.
Southwest and Its Mechanics Squabble, Flights (a Lot) Are Cancelled
Southwest Airlines and its mechanics have argued over a contract for most of this decade. Now cancellations have spiked--Southwest dumped an average of about 200 flights a day in the last 30 days, according to FlightStats.com--and Southwest management says it is due to concerted and illegal action on the part of some mechanics. Management declared an "operations emergency"--whatever that is--two weeks ago and today (February 28) it filed suit in federal court against the mechanics and their union. The union denies the charges and claims Southwest's fleet of Boeing 737s--which the airline runs hard and puts away wet, whatever that means--is falling apart. The statistics on Southwest's 6,266 cancellations are a bit of a blunt instrument. It's impossible to know how many were due to mechanical concerns and how many were due to snow and other February weather issues. The total is substantially more than run up by most of Southwest's competitors, but not American Airlines. American's mainline operations cancelled about 1,500 flights, but two of its wholly owned commuter subsidiaries combined to cancel more than 5,000 flights in February.
New Hotels Are Everywhere But Here Are Some Interesting International Branches
The relentless growth of the major chains--especially their limited-service brands--continues apace. So let's just leave it at a new Hotel Generic opened in any town you need to be. But there are some interesting international properties worth noting. Hyatt has opened a 158-room Hyatt Place in Changsha, capital of China's Hunan Province, and a 277-room Andaz in the Schwabinger Tor development in Munich. Marriott, meanwhile, continues to expand its "soft brand" operations. The Dixon, a 193-room property on Tooley Street in London, has joined the Autograph Collection. The hotel is built inside a former Magistrate's Court. And the Luxury Collection has added the 58-room Iraph Sui on the southern part of Irabu Island in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan. The smallest room at the seafront property is 495 square feet.
United Airlines Continues Its Growth at Denver Hub
United Airlines has been bulking up its flight schedule over the last year, especially with fleets of regional jets. It's all part of president Scott Kirby's theory that mega-airlines such as United have a "natural share" so long as the airline flies the flights. The current focus? Denver, where government figures show United and Southwest Airlines each have about 30 percent of the traffic. United's new flights include seasonal service to places as diverse as Portland, Maine, Burlington, Vermont, and Florida airports such as Pensacola and Destin/Ft. Walton Beach.
Paine Field, the new airport in North Seattle, finally opens for business on Monday (March 4). Its debut was delayed because final FAA approvals were held up during the government shutdown. Alaska Airlines will be the primary carrier, eventually offering 18 flights to eight West Coast destinations.
Charlotte has an Admirals Club on Concourse B again. American Airlines reopened the lounge after an eight-month closure for renovations.
Nantucket is getting more flights from the New York area thanks to JetBlue Airways. Seasonal summer service begins June 13 and will operate from New York/LaGuardia and White Plains (HPN) in Westchester County. JetBlue EMB-190s will operate on the route.
Egyptair Says It Will Add a Nonstop to Washington/Dulles
The holes in the route maps operated by U.S. airlines are often the only opportunities for smaller international carriers to serve U.S. customers. Case in point: Cairo and Egyptair. JoeSentMe.com members who've flown the carrier recently say service is surprisingly good--although, to be honest, expectations aren't that high even for Egyptair's business class. In any case, Egyptair says it will add a new U.S. gateway. Effective June 3, it will launch nonstop Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights to Washington/Dulles from Cairo. There'll be three weekly flights until at least late October. Egyptair is part of the Star Alliance.
La Compagnie, which operates twice-day all business class service between Newark and Paris/Orly, is adding the first of its new Airbus A321LR aircraft. The early flight in each direction will get the new equipment while the late flight continues with Boeing 757s. In related news, La Compagnie's parent carrier, XL Airways, is moving its low-fare flights to Newark. Starting June 3, there'll be daily A330 flights to Orly.
Tokyo flights are back in the regulatory barrel. The Japanese government has opened some slots at Tokyo's close-in Haneda airport and all three major U.S. airlines want all the slots, of course. Their goal? Move flights from Narita, Tokyo's more distant airport. Hawaiian Airlines also wants some slots to fly from Honolulu. Don't be distracted by the bleating and whining and screaming that you'll hear in the coming weeks. The route awards will come when they come and we'll analyze them then.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
The TSA has added nine more international airlines to the PreCheck program, including Asiana of Korea, Air India, Japan Airlines, TAP Air Portugal and EVA Airways of Taiwan. That means you will be able to use expedited security bypass lanes when flying those carriers from U.S. airports. TSA says 65 carriers now can offer PreCheck.
Wyndham Rewards has abandoned its bizarre one-price-fits-all award structure. Four years ago it began charging 15,000 points per bedroom for everything from its cheap hotels (think Days Inn and Ramada) to its few decent properties (think Wyndham Grand and some condos). Now it is reverting to a more traditional award chart that ranges from 7,500 to 30,000 points per bedroom a night. The new charts take effect in April, the same time the newly acquired LaQuinta joins the program. Complete details are here.
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