The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for Jan. 28-Feb. 11, 2016
The briefing in brief: United launching SFO-Singapore nonstops in June. JetBlue's reconfigured A320s won't be quite as packed as promised. Oh, Canada! You've got some new hotel options. A new route for Hartford. Easing the rules for Cuba travel. And much more.

United Will Launch an SFO-Singapore Nonstop, Bypassing Narita
United Airlines announced late today (January 28) that it will launch a nonstop service between its San Francisco hub and Singapore. The flights are scheduled to start June 1 using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners configured with 48 seatbeds in business class, 88 chairs in Economy Plus and 116 seats in coach. Why is this notable? Consider:
      The route will be the longest Dreamliner run in the world--and one of the longest routes using any commercial aircraft. It's 8,446 miles, according to United. Flights will run 15.5 hours westbound and about 16.5 hours eastbound.
      United's announcement trumps Singapore Airlines' plan to restart nonstops from New York and Los Angeles in 2018 using an as-yet unbuilt variant of the Airbus A350. United and Singapore Air are partners in the Star Alliance, but relations have been frosty in recent years.
      United's Dreamliners are configured nine-across in coach and its business class is 2x2x2 with 22-inch wide seats. When Singapore originally flew its nonstops, it offered 37 inches of seat pitch in coach in a 2-3-2 arrangement using specially configured Airbus A340-500s. It later switched to a 100-seat all-business-class service offering 35-inch wide seatbeds. Needless to say, United's Dreamliner flights will be much less comfortable regardless of which cabin you choose.
      When the SFO-Singapore run launches, United will drop its Tokyo/Narita-Singapore nonstop, delivering another blow to the airline's shriveling Tokyo hub. That's especially interesting because Delta Air Lines is shrinking its Narita hub, too, and whining about U.S.-Japanese talks aimed at adding more transpacific flights from Haneda, Tokyo's more convenient airport. Delta is demanding it be allowed to transfer its hub to Haneda from Narita even though it recently abandoned a route between its Seattle-Tacoma hub and Haneda.

JetBlue's Reconfigured A320s Won't Be Quite as Packed as Promised
When JetBlue Airways announced last year that it was defecting to the dark side, it promised the snarling horde of security analysts that it would squeeze 15 more seats onto its 150-seat Airbus A320s starting this year. That turns out not to be quite correct. JetBlue said this week the reconfiguration won't start until next year and there'll only be 12 additional chairs--for a total of 162 --on the planes. To make up for packing its A320s with more seats than the legacy carriers operating A320s, JetBlue is promising free, gate-to-gate WiFi and more free channels of seatback TV.
      WestJet is expanding cross-border again. It will launch Toronto-Nashville flights and make its third run at a Toronto-Los Angeles route. Also new: a Vancouver-San Diego run. The three weekly flights to San Diego launch June 16 using Boeing 737-800s. The resumption of daily Boeing 737 LAX flights begins on June 29. The Nashville route begins on June 15 with Q400s operating five times weekly.
      Southwest Airlines says it will launch nonstops from Los Angeles to Liberia, Costa Rica. The route will launch in April from Terminal 1. Southwest's domestic operations at LAX are at Terminal 2.

Air Berlin Won't Launch That Dallas-Dusseldorf Flight After All
Air Berlin may be in the Oneworld Alliance with American Airlines, but even having access to passenger feed from American's huge Dallas/Fort Worth hub apparently isn't enough to justify a DFW-Dusseldorf route. The German carrier announced this week that the service, originally scheduled to launch on May 6, will be cancelled. Dusseldorf is Air Berlin's secondary hub.
      Bradley Airport in Hartford, Connecticut, which exists in the shadow of the New York area airports and Boston/Logan, picks up another flight option. United Airlines says it will launch daily nonstops to its Denver hub starting on May 5. United will even use a real jet, an Airbus A319, on the route.
      Toronto is the newest destination for Lufthansa subsidiary Brussels Airlines. The carrier will launch five weekly Airbus A330 flights from its Brussels hub beginning in April. Brussels is moving into the Toronto market now that Jet Airways of India has left the market.

Oh, Canada! You've Got Some New Hotel Options
As oil prices have cratered, Canada's economy has hit a wall. But hotels are planned years in advance, so they often come gushing out of the development pipeline at the most inopportune time. So consider these new openings in that light. There are two newbies in Alberta, a 125-room Hampton Inn in Medicine Hat and a 129-room Holiday Inn in Cold Lake. InterContinental has also renovated a formerly independent property in Ottawa and reopened it as the 261-room Holiday Inn East. And the 227-rooom Hotel Saskatchewan has joined the Autograph Collection, Marriott's "soft brand" for independents.
      InterContinental hotels has been busy in places other than Canada, too. It has opened two new properties in Texas: a 98-room Staybridge Suites in Midland and a 119-room Hotel Indigo in a formerly abandoned hotel in downtown El Paso, Texas. It also opened a 453-room InterContinental adjacent to the O2 Arena in North Greenwich near London, and converted a formerly independent property in Jababeka, Indonesia, into a 176-room Holiday Inn. Also notable: the 410-room hotel on Kellogg Boulevard East in St. Paul, Minnesota, has been rebranded as an InterContinental. It formerly traded as a Crowne Plaza and opened decades ago as a Hilton.
      Marriott has also been busy around the world. It opened a 90-room Fairfield Inn in Orem, Utah; a 154-room Residence Inn in Seattle; and a 332-room Marriott in Zhuhai, China. There's also a new dual-branded operation on the Outer Ring Road in Bengaluru, India. It features a 170-room Courtyard and a 115-room Fairfield Inn. But wait, there's more. A former independent hotel and conference center in Madrid has become the 869-room Marriott Auditorium. And two independents have joined the Autograph Collection: the 150-room Annapolis Waterfront Hotel in Maryland and the 277-room Camby in Phoenix. That property was once known as the Ritz-Carlton, which is also a Marriott brand.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Travel to Cuba continues to get less difficult. The U.S. Treasury Department this week liberalized many rules for business travel to--and doing business on--the island. Complete details are here.
      Alaska Airlines has tweaked its logo and livery. There's a revised typeface and slightly more color. You can see the new look here.
      Hilton is launching still another lodging brand. This one, called Tru, seems to be aimed at price-sensitive millennial travelers. But I can't cut through the marketing babble and all I see is a doughnut that comes right out of The Simpsons. You can see for yourself here.
      Cathay Pacific is repositioning and rebranding Dragonair, its short-haul Asian carrier. The new name is Cathay Dragon.

This column is Copyright © 2016 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2016 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.