The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for October 8-22, 2015
The briefing in brief: American's Main Cabin Extra gets an extra seat. Marriott Rewards matches perks from other programs. JetBlue adds Quito flights. WestJet will fly to London/Gatwick. Alaska Airlines grows in Portland. United, Delta add international flights. And much more ...

American's Main Cabin Extra Getting Extra Seat in Each Row
When the team running American Airlines was in charge of US Airways, they didn't understand the concept of a better-than-coach cabin. Alone among legacy U.S. carriers and most international airlines, US Airways had nothing to offer between coach and business or first class. Now the same crew is running the merged American and US Airways and you can tell they still don't get it. They've been slow to retrofit US Airways aircraft with American's Main Cabin Extra and now it develops they are corrupting the entire concept. Without an announcement or any acknowledgement to its customers, American's retrofitted Boeing 777-200s are adding a chair in each row of Main Cabin Extra. At the moment, those aircraft are configured 3-3-3 in Main Cabin Extra. But newly configured 777-200s debuting late in December are showing a 3-4-3 configuration. That means there'll be no difference between the seat width in coach of about 17 inches and the seat width in Main Cabin Extra, which had been around 18.5 inches.

Marriott Spiffs Up Marriott Rewards by Offering Everyone Else's Perks
Big but not particularly rich, Marriott Rewards is upping its game by matching perks already offered by competing programs. It has already leaked some details to members in advance of next week's official announcement. In case you missed it, however, Marriott will add four new privileges: "points advance," the ability to book awards before you have enough points in your account; "points sharing," which will allow you to move points to other members for a fee; "award stay credit," which means free nights and free stays will count toward elite status, and "cash and points" rates, which allow you to pay for rooms with a combination of cash and Marriott Rewards points. How valuable are any of these? Points advance already exists as an undocumented benefit and the value of cash and points rates depends on how Marriott prices them. Stay tuned.
    Chase Ultimate Rewards is losing a transfer partner. You have until December 7 to transfer Chase points into the Amtrak Guest Rewards program. The backstory? Amtrak dumped Chase as its credit card partner in favor of new cards issued by Bank of America.

JetBlue Adds Quito to Its Route Map, WestJet Heads to London/Gatwick
It remains to be seen if JetBlue Airways can retain its edge now that it has imposed a first-bag fee and will slash legroom next year. But credit where due: The airline continues to expand faster than most any other carrier. Beginning February 25, it'll launch nonstops to Quito, Ecuador, from Fort Lauderdale, its Latin American hub. It'll use 150-seat Airbus A320s on the route. Also new are flights from Nashville to Boston and Fort Lauderdale. Those daily flights begin on May 5 and will also use A320s. The airline will also begin a seasonal nonstop between its New York/Kennedy home base and Palm Springs. Service will operate five times weekly between January 14 and May 1. A320s (that means no Mint premium service) are on that run, too.
    Southwest Airlines will add a few new routes starting January 6. There'll be thrice-daily service between Burbank and San Francisco; twice-daily Sacramento-Boise flights; twice-daily runs between Indianapolis and Chicago/Midway, and twice-daily flights between Little Rock and St. Louis. All routes are nonstops.
    WestJet is expanding its operations to London/Gatwick Airport next year from six Canadian cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and St. John's. The routes will operate with Boeing 767-300s except for St. John's-Gatwick, which will be serviced with Boeing 737s. Complete details on the flights, which begin in May, are available here.

Alaska Airlines Bulks Up in Portland, Where Delta Isn't
Alaska Airlines is in an existential struggle with Delta Air Lines at its home base of Seattle-Tacoma, so it's also looking elsewhere for growth. One target: Portland, Oregon, where it already controls about 40 percent of the traffic. Beginning February 16, Alaska will add three more nonstops with flights to Kansas City, Minneapolis and Omaha. The routes will be serviced by E175s configured with 12 seats in first class and 64 coach chairs.
    Cleveland lost its United Airlines hub last year, but United is restoring some flights to Florida. Later this month, the routes to Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers will return. A second daily flight to Orlando begins in March.
    Raleigh/Durham flyers get another option as Delta Air Lines revives flights to its Salt Lake City hub in March.
    Atlanta gets more service from American Airlines. Beginning January 5, American resumes a route to Washington/National. There'll be five daily flights using E175 aircraft.

Delta Adds Europe Flights From Midwest Hubs, United Returns to Auckland
As jet fuel prices have tumbled, airlines have taken virtually all of the money saved and funneled it to profits and stock buybacks. There is one passenger positive, however. A bunch of new routes are popping up using less fuel-efficient aircraft that otherwise would have been retired. Two more examples: Delta Air Lines is adding Minneapolis-Rome and Detroit-Munich runs this summer. Both routes will use Boeing 767-400ER aircraft. The Rome flight will operate daily while the Munich service will run six days a week. Service begins May 26.
    United Airlines returns to Auckland, New Zealand, next year. Effective July 1, there will be three weekly flights using Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The route will expand to daily on October 26. Separately, however, United is bailing on Denver-Panama City nonstops. The route launched with much fanfare less than a year ago.
    SAS Scandinavian is adding Boston as a new gateway. Daily flights to Copenhagen launch on March 29. SAS will use specially configured Boeing 737-700s with 20 seats in business class and 66 seats in coach.
    Aeroflot won't be buying Transaero after all. That means Transaero is likely to fold on December 15. Most of its flights have already been grounded.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
It was a bad week for pilots. An American Airlines pilot died during a Phoenix-Boston flight on Monday (October 5) and the plane was diverted to Syracuse by the first officer. On Tuesday, a United Airlines pilot passed out during a flight between Houston/Intercontinental and San Francisco. The flight diverted to Albuquerque. No passengers or other crew members were injured during either incident.
    Southwest Airlines has once again restated its opposition to baggage fees. The reason? It does better without them, Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly said this week. "The revenue that we gain from our [no-fee] approach is close to $1 billion" a year.
    Atlanta/Hartsfield has a new dining option. A branch of Carrabba's has opened on Concourse C.

This column is Copyright © 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2015 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.