The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business-Travel Briefing for Sept. 22-Oct. 6, 2016
The briefing in brief: Marriott completes the Starwood deal. Despite weak business, airlines add international routes. Phoenix will close a runway for a month. In case you've forgotten: The TSA lies about its failures. More dining options at major hub airports. And more.

Huge Hotel Chains Get Gigantic and the Small Ones Get Bigger
The Chinese government signed off on the Marriott-Starwood merger this week and gigantic Marriott will officially gobble the smaller Starwood on Friday morning (September 23). At the moment the $13 billion deal is announced, you'll also see and hear a lot of canned blather from the chains' executives about how Marriott values all of the elites in the Starwood Preferred Guest program and will make them all happy. Don't believe it. With five times more properties than SPG, Marriott won't be able to match all of the perks SPG traditionally showered on its best guests. That said, expect to see some cross-promotion and cross-chain honoring of status and other small perks to keep the SPG elites from bolting. Marriott has had months to prepare for this first impression--and they've been working the refs in the mainstream media all week before Friday's official announcement. (A September 23 update: Marriott Rewards and SPG members can now link accounts here, have their status honored at all properties and transfer points between programs. Marriott Reward points will transfer to SPG points at a 3:1 ratio.) Meanwhile, at the other end of the lodging scale, the flyspeck Red Lion chain, with about 110 hotels, will be getting larger, too. Earlier this month, it announced the purchase of Vantage Hospitality. That's a name you probably don't recognize, but Vantage owns a grab bag of about 1,000 low-priced properties with brand names such as America's Best Value Inns, Country Hearth, Jameson and Signature. The $23 million deal won't cause a ripple in the gigantic Marriott pond, which will now encompass about 5,700 hotels and 30 brands in more than 100 countries.

Business Is Weak Generally, But Here Come Some New International Routes
We've discussed the fabulous bargains available on international routes. American Airlines is cutting back some--it has chopped flights from its Philadelphia hub to Zurich, Brussels, Halifax and will suspend Frankfurt service over the winter--but other carriers continue to expand. Austrian Airlines is adding flights to Vienna from Los Angeles on April 10. Boeing 777s will ply the route six times a week. Meanwhile, Virgin Australia is resuming flights between Los Angeles and Melbourne, a route it dumped two years ago. Delta Air Lines will code-share on the flights, which will be operated with Boeing 700-300ERs. And Hainan Airlines will launch three weekly flights from Las Vegas to Beijing on December 2. That route will operate with Boeing 787s.

Danger, Will Robinson! Phoenix Closes a Runway for a Month
Phoenix/Sky Harbor travelers take note: The airport will close one of its three runways between October 6 and November 6. That means the airport's approximately 1,200 daily flights will be subject to delays. Plan accordingly.
      Atlanta/Hartsfield has a new Delta Air Lines Sky Club. The 25,000-square-foot facility is located on Concourse B. Delta will close the two smaller clubs it has operated on Concourse B.
      Binghamton, New York, will soon lose its United Airlines flights. The daily commuter service to United's Newark hub ends on November 29.

In Case You Were Wondering: No, The TSA Isn't Working
When you're an agency with a 95 percent failure rate, it's almost redundant to chronicle any other failures. So consider these two TSA items merely confirmation of your worst fears. After the TSA had its near complete failure finding dummy weapons and fake bombs, it ramped up the deployment of bomb-sniffing dogs. But guess what? The so-called K-9 detection teams failed annual certification tests at large U.S. airports more than 50 times between January 1, 2013, and June 15, 2015. The situation came to light after a Dallas television station pursued a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The TSA's response after the FOIA let the dogs out? Nothing to worry about. Failing canine teams only show that the TSA is maintaining high standards. Seriously, that's the official excuse. Meanwhile, the TSA admitted it lied to a House oversight panel about the level of security on newly launched flights to Cuba. The agency told Congress earlier this year that it would not permit scheduled flights to Cuba to begin until Cuba allowed federal air marshals to travel under cover on select flights. But the flights began earlier this month without air marshals on board because the U.S. and Cuba never cut the appropriate deal. A TSA deputy administrator first explained away the lie by claiming the agency only promised to cover charter flights. Later he said the TSA "misspoke" by saying scheduled flights would also have air marshals. As of now, the scheduled flights still aren't staffed with air marshals.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Hungry at the airport? Here's what's new. A P.F. Chang's has opened in the main terminal of Tampa International. Celebrity chef Lorena Garcia has opened a tapas-style small plates restaurant in Terminal A at Dallas/Fort Worth. And a scaled-down version of Publican, a well-known Chicago version of a European beer hall, has opened in Terminal 3 at Chicago/O'Hare.
      United Airlines is adding more domestic flights at its San Francisco hub. There'll be daily Airbus A319 flights to both Cincinnati and Detroit/Metro starting June 8. Both cities are Delta Air Lines hubs.
      Hilton continues to open hotels throughout China. A 202-room Hilton Garden Inn has opened in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, and a 241-room Conrad debuted in Xiamen in Fujian Province.

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.