The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for April 7 to 21, 2016
The briefing in brief: Hotel development worldwide booms. Upgraded RJs become semi-private jets flying between close-in airports. United faces more competition at Newark hub. American bails on two Brazil routes. More Western hotel brands in India. Corrupt pols. And more.

Who's Afraid of Big, Bad Airbnb? Not the Traditional Lodging Industry
If the traditional lodging industry fears that we're defecting to Airbnb and other alternate rental sites you sure can't tell from their spending patterns. According to Lodging Econometrics, a real estate tracking outfit, hotel and motel building is at record levels around the world. More than 11,000 projects, representing nearly two million new rooms, are in the global pipeline. That's a 9 percent year-over-year increase, the largest ever recorded. It's not just the developing world doing the building, either. About half of all the new rooms under development in the world are here in the United States. That's damned impressive when you consider the AHLA, the lodging industry's trade group, estimates there are already 53,000 hotels and motels and 4.9 million guestrooms in the country. All those shiny numbers may explain why Marriott is willing to part with $13+ billion to gobble up Starwood. In fact, shareholders of both firms vote Friday (April 8) and are expected to approve the deal, which will create a company with 1.1 million guestrooms and 5,500 hotels spread out over 30 brands in 100 countries.

From Crappy RJs to Semi-Private Jets Flying Scheduled Services
Remember those cramped Embraer-135 flown by American Eagle? Those 37-seat horrors are finally gone from the American fleet, but there is life after death for at least some of those aircraft. JetSuite, a private-jet operator created by Alex Wilcox, one of JetBlue Airways' founders, has taken ten planes and is furiously remaking them into luxurious, semi-private jets. The seat count has been reduced to 30 in a 1x2 configuration. Overhead bins have been removed to create more space and headroom. The cabin has been covered in leather and the new seats have 36 inches of legroom and side tables. But Wilcox is going further: He's putting the aircraft into scheduled charter service between private-jet terminals at less crowded, more convenient airports. Starting April 19, for example, the new, now-luxurious planes will fly weekdays between Buchanan Field (CCR) in Concord, California, and Burbank. In other words, Bay Area to LA Basin flights without the hassle of SFO, LAX--or TSA security checkpoints. On weekends, there'll be Concord-Las Vegas flights and, beginning June 30, seasonal service between San Jose and Bozeman, Montana. Advance purchase fares start as low as $109 one-way and top out at $300 one-way walk-up. Will any of this work? "I have no idea," admits Wilcox. "We'll find out. But I'm convinced these aircraft are terrific connecting smaller, more convenient airports about an hour apart. And I know we've created the right in-flight environment," including free in-flight WiFi and entertainment streamed directly to passengers' devices. For more information and to book, surf to the JetSuite site.

There'll Be More Room for United Competitors at Newark
Do you recall that deal where United Airlines was going to swap the New York/Kennedy slots it abandoned when it moved transcontinental service for two dozen Delta Air Lines slots at Newark? The Justice Department sued to stop the deal and this week United yielded. It won't get the Delta slots at Newark after all. (Delta, however, keeps the JFK slots and has been using them.) Separately--or at least we think separately--the Federal Aviation Administration says it'll ease slot restrictions at Newark because the airport is running better. ("Better" being a relative term, of course.) The 2008 restrictions, which limited Newark to 81 flight operations per hour, will apparently be lifted in October. That'll mean United, which controls about 900 of the 1,200 slots at Newark, can add service--and be forced to compete with others, too. Stay tuned.
      Bellingham, Washington, gets another route from Alaska Airlines. Seasonal service to Kona, Hawaii, will operate between November 12, 2016, and April 1, 2017.

American Airlines Bails on Two Brazilian Routes
Brazil's brutally bad economy continues to take its toll on air travel. American Airlines is the latest to pull up some spokes and will dump two routes. The runs from its Miami hub to Recife and Salvador da Bahia both end next month.
      British Airways is reducing the luggage allowance for international business class passengers. For tickets issued after May 10, the free allowance is lowered to two bags, each weighing 32 kilograms or 70 pounds. Gold level Executive Club members will still be permitted to check three bags free of charge.
      Brussels Airlines launched flights to Toronto/Pearson today (April 7). The flights were due to launch March 27, but Zaventem Airport was closed due to the terrorist attack on March 22.

India Gets Another Burst of Western-Branded Hotels
The Indian economy has slowed--the Reserve Bank of India slashed interest rates this week to goose development--but Western-branded hotels continue to dot the subcontinent. The latest additions: from Hilton, a 310-room Conrad in the central business district of Pune; from Hyatt, the 211-room Hyatt Regency in Chandigarh; and from InterContinental, new Holiday Inn Express hotels on Old Mahabalipuram Road in Chennai and at Terminal 1 at New Delhi International Airport.
      Starwood may soon be a Marriott subsidiary, but it continues to add locations on its own. New this week are the 365-room Westin in downtown Doha, Qatar, and a 90-suite St Regis in Langkawi, Malaysia.

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
Air France has told female cabin crew and pilots that they can opt out of flying new routes to Tehran. The reason? Air France wants them to cover their hair when in Iran and some employees objected. Female employees at other airlines serving Iran generally observe the local Islamic custom that requires women to dress modestly and cover their hair.
      Chase Bank now limits ATM withdrawals to $1,000 per day for non-customers. If you're one of the six people on the planet who isn't a terrorist and who withdraws more than $1,000 from an ATM, plan accordingly.
      Hal Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who's chairman of the House Transportation Committee, faces a stiff primary challenge. The reason? He's openly dating a lobbyist for Airlines for America, the ridiculously misnamed trade group that represents major U.S. carriers. Neither Shuster nor the A4A seem to see the problem, but voters may. Politico has complete details here.

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.