The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Business Travel Briefing for July 13-27, 2017
The briefing in brief: Alaska Airlines won't be Switzerland anymore. The U.S. security guys bullying the world's airports have a 95 percent failure rate. Hotel "soft" brands continue to grow rapidly. United subtracts and adds international flights. El Al adding Dreamliner runs. And more.

Alaska Airlines Won't Be Switzerland Anymore--at Least Domestically
When it was a pleasant, plucky niche player based at Seattle-Tacoma, Alaska Airlines was content to play the Switzerland Strategy, industry jargon for a non-aligned carrier that would cut code-sharing deals and frequent flyer partnerships with any interested competitor. But Alaska Air has expanded at a breakneck pace in recent years and last year snapped up Virgin America for $2.6 billion. Throw in Delta Air Lines' aggressive move into Seattle-Tacoma and you have a new world for the one-time niche player. And at least domestically, it can't be Switzerland anymore. After burying its Delta partnership, Alaska is gutting its frequent flyer alliance with American Airlines. Effective January 1, reciprocal elite status benefits end and neither airline will award miles on the other carrier unless it is on a code-share flight. "The competitive situation is different than it used to be," says Charles Breer, Alaska Air's managing director of alliances. "Virgin Atlantic has brought a lot of direct, competitive overlap" with American flights. "Commercially, with Virgin, we basically get you pretty much anywhere around the West Coast and lots of transcontinental destinations." But Breer insists Alaska, which doesn't fly outside North America, will maintain the Switzerland Strategy internationally. In fact, Alaska Air Mileage Plan members will continue to earn miles on all American Airlines international flights. The big losers in the new regimen are American Airlines customers, who often credited AA flights to Alaska Air because of the higher earnings. And that's not all that American AAdvantage customers are losing. In a separate move, the frequent flyer partnership with Jet Airways also ends at the end of the year. That'll seriously reduce the earn-and-burn possibility for India travel.

The U.S. Guys Bullying the World's Airports Still Have a 95 Percent Failure Rate
The Homeland Security Department has spent months bullying the world's airports and threatening a global in-flight electronics ban unless they adopt supposedly higher U.S. security standards. But why would anyone listen to these incompetent idiots? The TSA has recorded a 95 percent failure rate on tests to detect fake weapons and dummy explosives. And the incompetence continues even after the TSA insisted it was plugging the holes. A TSA "red team" tested security at Minneapolis-St. Paul last month and guess what the failure rate was? Yup, 95 percent. Again. KMSP-TV in Minneapolis has the details.
      The laptop ban itself is all but history. Over the last week, Homeland Security has ended restrictions on all affected nations and airlines except Saudi Arabia. The nation's flag carrier, Saudia, said this week that it expects the restriction to end by July 19.
      Global Entry applicants take note: The difficulty of securing interviews is easing. If you arrive on an international flight into five airports--Houston/Intercontinental, Houston/Hobby, Austin, San Francisco and Vancouver--you can do the in-person interview as you enter the country. More information is here.
      Silvercar opens two new airport locations in the next six weeks. The app-driven agency that only rents Audis will open at Seattle-Tacoma on July 31 and Orlando on August 28.

The Hotel Industry Continues to Go Soft at a Rapid Clip
The hotel industry is brand-obsessed, so much so that it even organized so-called "soft brands" for independent properties. Independents get access to a major chain's reservation system, chains get more inventory without worrying about specific standards and travelers get to earn-and-burn points and check out some interesting, non-chain properties. In other words, win-win-win. It also explains why the soft brands are expanding rapidly. The Autograph Collection from Marriott, for example, has added the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago; the Hi-Lo in Portland, Oregon; The Current in Davenport, Iowa; and the Hotel Circulo Gran Via in Madrid. Meanwhile, the Curio Collection from Hilton has added The Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis; the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego; and the Grand Hotel Des Sablettes in La-Seyne-su-Mur in France.

United Airlines Giveth (More Rome) and Taketh Away (Glasgow and Shannon)
It is probably useless to try to understand the logic behind United Airlines and the coming and goings on its international network. The airline announced last week that it will return to year-round service on its Newark-Rome route. There'll be three flights a week for most of the months between late October and early March. At the same time, however, United has quietly dropped winter flights from Newark to both Shannon (Ireland) and Glasgow (Scotland). The Glasgow flights are off the schedule from October 29 to May 4. Shannon flights are dumped between November 26 and March 9.
      El Al is adding Boeing 787 Dreamliner service to Tel Aviv on many of its routes. There'll be six weekly flights from Newark beginning October 29 and six weekly flights from New York/Kennedy starting June 29. Flights to London will begin much earlier. El Al launches its Dreamliner flights from Heathrow on September 12.
      British Airways cabin crews on some flights have been on strike since the beginning of the month and the affected employees may continue the work stoppage until the end of the month. Surprised you haven't heard of it or been affected? BA has been shuffling equipment and leased planes and crews from Qatar Airways. Qatar has the capacity because of the ongoing dispute with other Arab states, which have barred flights from the Doha-based carrier. Another reason why you haven't heard of it? BA's short-haul customers like the Qatari aircraft and crews better than the BA flights.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines is ending its code-share agreements with Etihad and Qatar Airways effective March 25. American says it will dump the arrangements because they are inconsistent with U.S. carriers' campaign to rein in the Big Three Gulf Airlines. But AA isn't exactly cutting all ties. Both carriers will remain partners in American AAdvantage and travelers will still be able to earn miles and claim awards on Etihad and Qatar Airways.
      LOT Polish Airlines is going where no U.S. carrier has gone in more than five years. The Warsaw-based carrier will launch nonstops to Budapest, Hungary, from both Chicago/O'Hare and New York/Kennedy. The O'Hare-Budapest route launches May 5 with two weekly flights. There'll be three weekly flights from JFK starting May 3. Malev, the Hungarian flag carrier, dropped U.S. flights in 2007 and collapsed in 2012. Delta and American airlines dumped their Budapest flights in 2011.

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.