The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business Travel Briefing for March 9 to 23, 2017
The briefing in brief: Alaska Airlines and Virgin America build fast in the San Francisco Bay area. Priority Pass adds more domestic options. Six airlines win new routes to Mexico. Small-town America gets some love from major hotels. Qatar Airways adds double beds in business class.

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America Bulk Up in the Bay Area
Alaska Airlines has spent the last few years battling Delta Air Lines for supremacy--and survival--at Seattle-Tacoma. So it's no surprise that it won't roll over in San Francisco, where United Airlines is the big dog and Alaska's Virgin America subsidiary fights for a solid foothold. It also explains why Alaska Airlines today (March 9) announced a dozen new routes in the Bay Area. The bulk-up isn't just at SFO, either. Alaska is adding flights at nearby San Jose, too. Seven of the SFO routes will use Virgin America Airbus aircraft and the other five will run with E175 commuter jets under the Alaska Air banner. The new SFO nonstops under the Virgin flag are to Philadelphia; New Orleans; Nashville; Indianapolis; Raleigh-Durham; Baltimore; and Kona, Hawaii. The regional-jet routes are to Albuquerque and Kansas City. From San Jose, the new routes will be to Austin, Tucson and Los Angeles. The new flights launch between late August and mid-October, except for the Kona run, which begins in December. Separately, Alaska moved a few notches closer to aligning its Mileage Plan and Virgin's Elevate frequent flyer programs. The changes, detailed here, give Alaska's elite flyers more benefits on Virgin flights, including free checked bags, fee waivers and upgrade opportunities.

Priority Pass Adds Two New Options at Northeast Airports
It's hard to find fault with Priority Pass, the global airport lounge network that most business travelers now get through their credit cards. But if you found fault, it would be with Priority Pass' comparative weakness at domestic airports. So here's some good news. Priority Pass has added the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge in Terminal A at Newark. It also added a new option at lounge-poor Philadelphia. But it's not a club. Priority Pass members will get a free hour's use of a room at the Minute Suites short-stay hotel in the AB Connector between Concourses A and B. Separately, Priority Pass members now also receive a 15 pound credit at Grain Store Cafe and Bar in the South Terminal of London/Gatwick.
      John Wayne/Orange County is getting a nonstop route to Delta Air Lines' Detroit/Metro hub. Delta launches a daily Boeing 737-700 flight on September 5.
      Phoenix/Sky Harbor will add eight gates to Terminal 4. They'll be occupied by Southwest Airlines, which already uses 24 gates in Terminal 4. The new concourse, to be called "high D" gates, will cost an estimated $250 million and open in 2021.

Six Airlines Share Mexico City Slot Bounty Created by Delta-Aeromexico Divestiture
Delta Air Lines and Aeromexico are linking up in a joint venture and the price exacted by the Department of Transportation was a divestiture of 28 slots, 24 at Mexico City and four at New York/Kennedy. The DOT announced the winners of the lottery last week and three U.S. and three Mexican carriers struck gold, er, slots. Alaska Airlines receives four Mexico City slot pairs this year and will launch flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. JetBlue Airways will get six slot pairs, enough to launch flights to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale this year and Los Angeles next year. Southwest Airlines get enough slots to launch flights to Houston/Hobby this year and flights next year to Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale. The Mexican airlines that won at Mexico City and JFK were Volaris, Interjet and VivaAerobus.
      Air Canada is the latest carrier to dump flights to Istanbul. Flights ended January 17 and Air Canada says it will not resume the seasonal service later this year.
      Avianca will launch flights between Boston and Bogota, Colombia. Four weekly flights begin June 2 with Airbus A319s configured with 12 business class and 108 coach seats.
      Qatar Airways introduced a new business class cabin this week at an industry trade show in Berlin. The so-called Qsuite has privacy doors and backward- and forward-facing lie-flat beds. The unique feature: center rows that can be converted to double beds and the ability to turn four center chairs into a large suite for families or business meetings. The seats only fit on certain Qatar Airways aircraft, however. The first outfitted with Qsuites will be Boeing 777-300ERs to ply the Doha-London route. You can see a promotional video on the new seats--complete with voiceover in a plummy British accent--on YouTube.

Small-Town America Gets Some Love From Hilton and Marriott
It's one thing to open new hotels in the big cities, where lots of business travelers visit. But we also have to travel to small-town America, too, and the lodging options there have often been less than palatable. But that is changing as major chains look for new places to inject their brands and expand what the industry calls its "distribution." If you're more often in small towns than big cities, some of these may be of help.
      Hilton opened an 88-suite Home2 Suites on U.S Highway 101 in Portland, Texas. There's also a new 90-room Home2 Suites in Prattville, Alabama. Hilton opened a 121-room Homewood Suites in Draper, Utah, and an 81-room Hampton Inn in Ashland, Ohio.
      Marriott has opened a dual-branded Fairfield Inn and TownePlace Suites in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The two properties have a total of 197 rooms. It also added a 110-room Courtyard in Ruston, Louisiana.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Remember the "chairman's flight" scandal that toppled United Airlines chief executive Jeff Smisek in 2015? Justice, or some version of it, was meted out this week to the chairman in question, David Samson, who ran the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. For his role in extorting United Airlines into launching a flight from Newark to Columbia, South Carolina, near his weekend home, the 77-year-old Samson received four years of probation. He was also fined $100,000 and ordered to complete 3,600 hours of community service. He'll also spend a year in home confinement. Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence him to two years in prison.
      Emirates said its bookings to the United States plunged 35 percent after President Trump announced his initial travel ban in January. "The effect it had was instantaneous," claimed chief executive Tim Clark.
      Alitalia says it is pulling flights from Reggio di Calabria at the tip of the Italian boot. The financially stressed airline says flights to the city lost more than $6 million last year and local authorities have refused to help subsidize service. On March 27, Alitalia will drop its 38 weekly flights to Rome, 14 weekly flights to Milan and four weekly flights to Turin.

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.