The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for December 3-17, 2015
The briefing in brief: Alaska Airlines will improve first class legroom and add premium economy seats. Air Canada says show us your loonies. The DOT publicly shames airlines on broken checked bags. SAS and Finnair add Miami flights. InterContinental expands in New York. And more ...

With Longer Hauls Than Ever, Alaska Airlines Improves Its Premium Class Cabins
Alaska Airlines radically remade its route network during the last decade--more than a third of its revenue now comes from transcon flights or longer hauls to Hawaii--and the Seattle-based carrier will finally remake its in-flight cabins, too. The airline announced today (December 3) that it will add a premium economy service and add legroom to its first class seats. Chairs in the new premium class, configured 3x3, will offer 35 inches of legroom while coach chairs will retain their current slightly-better-than-industry standard pitch of 31 or 32 inches. First class chairs, which now have a somewhat tight 36 inches of pitch, will get 41 inches of legroom in the makeover. According to Alaska, its Boeing 737-800 aircraft, currently configured with 16 first class seats and 147 coach chairs, will be retrofitted to seat 12 in first, 30 in the new premium class and 117 in coach. The Boeing 737-900 series will retain 16 seats in first, add 24 in premium and go to 138 coach seats instead of the current 165. Although Alaska didn't release specifics of the soft offerings or upgrade rules for the new cabin, it did promise that elite Mileage Plan flyers will receive free upgrades from coach. Sixty aircraft will be retrofitted by the end of 2016 and the remaining planes will be reconfigured by the end of 2017. Embraer 175s, operated on medium-haul routes for Alaska by SkyWest, will also get the upgrade. But Alaska's Boeing 737-400 and -700 series planes won't and no changes are planned for the Q400s operated by Horizon Air on commuter runs.

Air Canada Aeroplan Says Show Us Your Loonies
Already one of the most convoluted and devalued airline programs around, Air Canada Aeroplan continues to throw annoying wrinkles at its most loyal flyers. Beginning on January 1, Air Canada will track spending and impose minimum annual revenue thresholds if you want to keep Altitude status starting in 2017. And because the program isn't already clunky enough, this spending will be called AQD (Altitude Qualifying Dollars). Besides the 25,000 miles (AQM) or 25 segments (AQS) you need to reach Prestige 25K status, you'll also have to record C$3,000 in AQD spending. The 35K level will require $4,000 of spending. The 50K level will require $6,000 in spending. Elite 75K flyers will have to spend at least $9,000 as well as fly 75,000 miles or 75 segments. Super Elites will need to fly 100,000 miles or 95 segments and spend at least $20,000. As you can see by Air Canada's charts and boilerplate explanations, the revenue requirement is specifically aimed at thinning the ranks of Super Elites. After all, that required $20,000 level for Super Elite status is more than three times what you need to reach Elite 50K. In other words, show Air Canada your loonies or settle for less status in 2017.
      American AAdvantage has a few new warm-weather flights to offer. Effective March 5, American will operate weekly flights to Cancun from four new cities: Raleigh-Durham, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Kansas City. The flights will operate with Airbus A319s or Boeing 737s.

DOT Slaps Down Airlines That Won't Pay to Repair the Luggage They Break
In a rare public shaming, the Department of Transportation last week told airlines they were being niggling, penny-pinching creeps when it comes to reimbursing you when they damage checked luggage. The DOT said it issued a notice "reminding airlines that they are required to compensate passengers for damage to wheels, straps, zippers, handles and other protruding parts of checked baggage." It also insisted the airlines accept passenger reports of damaged or mishandled bags even if airport apparatchiks claim it wasn't the airline's fault. The DOT says that its public airing of grievances --it is Festivus season, after all--is a result of a two-week spot check the agency conducted in September. It said it found airlines refusing to comply with regulations at 16 airports nationwide. If airlines continue to bend the rules, the DOT says it will fine carriers beginning January 9. Bottom line: If an airline damaged your bag, go to the baggage office at the airport and demand to file a claim. It probably doesn't hurt these days to snap a dated photo of your luggage before you surrender them at check-in. That'll give you proof to fight off airline intransigence.

Residents of Nordic Nations Finally Realize There Are Warmer Places
The folks living in Scandinavia and Finland apparently have had enough of the cold, the dark and the Russians buzzing their airspace. How else to explain the fact that both SAS Scandinavian and Finnair have recently announced Miami expansions? SAS, part of the Star Alliance, says it will launch three weekly flights to Miami from both Oslo and Copenhagen beginning in September. The flights will operate with Airbus A330-300s. And Finnair, part of the Oneworld Alliance, says that it will turn its seasonal flights between Helsinki and Miami into a year-round operation and service will operate without a spring or summer break in 2016.
      Hawaiian Airlines says it will add flights from its Honolulu hub to Tokyo/Narita to supplement its existing flights to close-in Haneda Airport. Effective July 22, daily nonstop HNL-NRT flights will operate with Airbus A330-200s configured with 18 business class beds, 40 premium economy seats and 236 chairs in coach.
      Royal Air Maroc says it will expand to Washington/Dulles. Three weekly Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners will fly between Casablanca and Dulles beginning September 8.

InterContinental Plants Two More Flags in New York City
InterContintental Hotels has two new outlets in New York City. A newly built, 239-room Hotel Indigo has opened on Manhattan's resurgent Lower East Side at 171 Ludlow Street. And the chain's new Even brand has opened a 150-room branch one block from Pennsylvania Station. In case you've forgotten, Even is supposed to be a chain of "wellness" hotels. You can tell because its dining option is a market called Cork & Kale and the property has a "chief wellness officer."
      Hyatt has opened two new Hyatt Place properties, a 110-room branch in the Crocker Park neighborhood of the Cleveland suburb of Westlake, Ohio, and another outpost in the District of Columbia, this one a 214-room property on E Street Northwest.
      Marriott, which has agreed to buy Starwood, continues its organic global growth, too. This week's newbies: a 118-room Residence Inn in Ann Arbor, Michigan; a 76-room Fairfield Inn in Olean, New York; a 129-room Courtyard in Kingston, Jamaica; a 268-room Marriott in Changzhou, in Jiangsu Province, China; and a 342-room JW Marriott near the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines continues to thumb its nose at the rest of the airline industry, especially the Middle East carriers. It has now ended its interlining deal with Emirates. That means you'll have to self-connect between the two airlines on any joint itinerary and Delta and Emirates no longer honor each other's tickets. Delta recently dumped its interline deal with American Airlines.
      Hilton Hotels is testing a $50 cancellation fee for any reservation regardless of how early you bail. The fee is being tried at about two dozen U.S. properties, but Hilton won't say which ones. So be careful before you book Hilton because its cancellation policy might be ultra-nasty. Hilton says Hilton HHonors members are exempt from the test fee, but, you know, if they won't tell us where the charge applies, how do we know that's true?
      United Airlines will junk its existing coffee supplier, which replaced Starbucks when Continental and United merged five years ago. The new brand will be Italy's much-respected Illy. You'll begin to see Illy products in lounges starting this month. Illy will also be United's in-flight coffee purveyor. Whether that will actually improve United's flying coffee service is to be determined, however. In-flight brewing is tricky and United seems to have an ongoing problem with the water tanks on many aircraft. And bad water means bad coffee no matter how fancy the brand. So stay tuned and maybe BYOC aboard for a while.

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.