The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Business Travel Briefing for February 9-23, 2017
The briefing in brief: Trump meets airline and airport executives. Flying to Cuba is so last year. Delta shuffles international schedules. Alaska Air adds two routes from Albuquerque. Hilton Honors drops an 'H' and the award chart. Not seeing red: Air Canada goes for basic black. And more.

When Worlds Collide: President Trump Meets Airline and Airport Executives
President Trump met with airline and airport executives at the White House today (February 9) and the conference--at least the public part--was, um, interesting. As you can see by the pool coverage filed by a Washington Times reporter, Trump said U.S. airports give airlines "bad equipment." He praised his own pilot--"a real expert" and a "smart guy"--and again said airlines were given "the wrong stuff." He criticized the FAA's controversial "next gen" air traffic system and wondered why the airlines allowed the U.S. government to invest in bad equipment. Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest Airlines, reminded the President that airlines are not in charge of FAA spending. After hearing that LAX was the seventh-busiest airport, Trump promised to make it "number one." He then hastily reversed gears and complimented Georgia when informed that Atlanta/Hartsfield is the world's busiest. The most notable missing airline face at the meeting was Doug Parker, American Airlines chief executive. Parker, who also heads the airline industry's trade and lobbying group, begged off due to a previously scheduled airline management meeting. Politico has more details on the White House event. And here's video of some of the public portion of the meeting.

Airlines Slashing Cuba Flights as Expected Travel Boom Goes Bust
Flying to Cuba is so last year. After a frenetic rush to claim dozens of routes to Havana and other lesser known Cuba destinations, U.S. carriers are now pulling back. Starting this month, American Airlines has culled about a quarter of its original Cuba schedule and now JetBlue Airways is pulling back, too. Beginning in May, JetBlue is "downgauging," the industry jargon for changing aircraft. Cuba routes currently served by Airbus A321s will be served with smaller A320s and existing A320 routes to Cuba will switch to E190 aircraft. That is a reduction of roughly 50 seats per flight or an approximate cut of 30 percent of JetBlue's overall Cuba capacity.
      Delta Air Lines will embark on a wide-ranging adjustment of its international flight operations beginning with the "summer" flight schedule starting on March 25. Several routes are cancelled: Tokyo/Narita-Taipei flights end on May 23 and seasonal service between New York/Kennedy and Pisa, Italy, will not resume. There will be frequency changes and aircraft switches on dozens of other routes. If you are already booked for flights after March 25, check your reservations and your seat assignments.
      Air Canada announced a new look today (February 9). The change involved a new livery scheme and new uniforms for flight crews. There are lots of grays and blacks and a de-emphasis of reds. There are also changes to in-flight food and beverage service. More details are here.

Hilton HHonors Loses an 'H'--and the Award Chart
Hilton HHonors is now just Hilton Honors, but the loss of an "H" is hardly the biggest change in the much-devalued program. Mimicking a move Delta Air Lines made with SkyMiles several years ago, Hilton has officially eliminated its award chart. Hilton, of course, claims that dumping the chart is good for us because now high-priced hotels will offer lower redemption rates when cash prices are lower. Hilton had already substantially gutted its chart by adding sliding redemption rates at its higher-category properties. But since Hilton, like Delta, will not say what a Hilton Honors point is worth, it's impossible to know whether you are getting a good deal going forward. Moreover, there is now no way to compare award prices because there are no charts. Prices--and the transactional value of your points--are now all based on Hilton's whim. Hilton has also made some other changes, including a "pooling" system that allows as many as ten people to combine Honors points. More details are here.
      Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest have each published their annual award category changes of properties in their still-unmerged systems. The effects are essentially a wash, but you might want to check for award-price changes for your preferred hotels. The Marriott changes are here and the SPG changes are here. Both sets of changes are effective on March 7.
      Delta SkyMiles has tweaked its Choice Benefits program for Diamond Medallion members. Complete details are here.

If You Northeasterners Were Smart, You'd Be at These New Sun-Destination Hotels
With a mid-winter storm dropping upwards of a foot of snow on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic today (February 9), you can only ask why points-rich business travelers in the region aren't burning their hotel currency at some of the newly opened sun-destination properties. Marriott, for example, has opened a 112-room TownePlace Suites in Lakeland, Florida. Wyndham has opened a 343-room Wyndham Grand on the beach at Clearwater Beach, Florida. Meanwhile, Curio, the soft-brand collection by Hilton, has added two famous resorts. The 215-room Miramonte Indian Wells is now part of the group. Also added: the newly reopened El San Juan in Puerto Rico. The 388-room resort, first opened in 1958, has undergone a sweeping renovation. The on-site casino, however, will not reopen. Speaking of soft brands, Marriott's Tribune Portfolio, which was originally created by Starwood, has added two properties in Argentina. The 29-room Auberge du Vin, 50 miles from Mendoza, and the 28-room Arelauquen Lodge in Patagonia are now part of the group.

Norwegian Chooses T.F. Green in Providence as Its Second U.S. Base
Norwegian Air, the fast-growing low-fare/high-fee transatlantic carrier, has settled on its second U.S. base: T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island. Norwegian previously announced it would also fly from Stewart/Newburgh Airport in New York's Hudson Valley, about 70 miles from Midtown Manhattan. No flights were announced, but Norwegian is expected to operate from both airports using a new generation of Boeing 737 aircraft that will be delivered this year. In other words, New England and New York area flyers, things are about to get very interesting.
      Albuquerque is getting nonstop flights to two new West Coast cities. Alaska Airlines will launch flights to both John Wayne/Orange County and Portland, Oregon, on August 18. Both routes will operate with E175 jets configured with 12 first class seats, 12 premium seats and 52 coach chairs.
      Los Angeles flyers take note. Delta Air Lines now operates from Gates 60-63 in Terminal 6 in addition to Gates 68 and 69. Delta flights to Denver, Portland (Oregon), San Francisco and Seattle will use Terminal 6 until Delta moves its operations in May to Terminals 2 and 3.
      Airport hotels continue to open rapidly. Hilton has opened a 161-room Homewood Suites about a mile from John Wayne/Orange County. It has also opened a 248-room Hilton Garden Inn in Arlington, Virginia, about a mile from Washington/National. Marriott has converted a former Holiday Inn into a 147-room Four Points about a mile from Cleveland/Hopkins airport. There's now also a 156-room Four Points across the LBJ Freeway from Dallas/Fort Worth. And Radisson has renovated a 273-room hotel across Interstate 84 from Detroit/Metro airport. The hotel was formerly a DoubleTree and most recently traded as the Metropolitan Hotel.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Remember the September, 2014, fire at a Chicago-area air traffic control center? Yeah, I know, that was so many on-the-road disasters ago that it's hard to remember. But refresh your memory because the Inspector General of the FAA, which manages air traffic control, says the agency is still not prepared for a repeat. A report issued by the Inspector General at the behest of Congress makes eight specific recommendations to improve FAA contingency procedures. Don't hold your breath.
      Inter-Continental Hotels says bars and restaurants at a dozen hotels were hacked last year and customers' credit card data may be at risk. Here are the specific details and IHG's CYA comments.
      People Express, the 2014 failed re-launch of the 1980s low-fare carrier, is still causing pain. Newport News, People Express' hub and home, apparently used more than $3.5 million of state funds to pay off a loan it guaranteed for the airline. As a result, Virginia has now cut funding to the airport because state officials claim Newport News didn't have the right to use state funds in that manner.

This column is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2017 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.