The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Business Travel Briefing for August 17-31, 2017
The briefing in brief: Hainan Airlines will fly from New York to Chengdu and Chongqing. Southwest annoys A-Listers and JetBlue annoys Long Beach. A round hotel return in Detroit. Air Berlin heads down the tubes. Beware: American's Boeing 737 Max is on the schedule. And more.

Hainan Airlines Will Launch From New York With Flights to Chengdu and Chongqing
Without anyone really noticing, privately owned Hainan Airlines has become a big player in the U.S.-China market. And it has been doing it by adding nonstop flights to "inland" China cities, a euphemism for destinations that are not Beijing or Shanghai. Hainan's newest routes: twice-weekly nonstops from New York/Kennedy to Chengdu, capital of Hunan Province, and Chongqing, the sprawling metropolis still known as Chungking to many U.S. travelers. All of the flights using Boeing 787 Dreamliners launch in late October. That brings Hainan's North American route map to more than a dozen routes, including three from Los Angeles, two each from Seattle, Boston and Vancouver and service to Calgary, Chicago, Las Vegas and San Jose. "We look for niche routes," explains Joel Chusid, Hainan's executive director for the United States. "We're not against developing routes [or] flying just a few times a week on the route as it develops." Of course, it's not like Hainan has a choice. If it doesn't accept the niche routes other carriers won't fly, it risks getting locked out of the tightly controlled Chinese market. And while he admits a schedule that doesn't operate daily isn't a perfect solution for frequent flyers, "people who want to go make do. It's better than connecting" through crowded Beijing or Shanghai. The introductory prices on the New York routes are also notable: as low as $560 roundtrip in coach and $3,545 roundtrip in business class.

Southwest Annoys A-Listers, JetBlue Annoys Long Beach
Southwest Airlines switched to a new reservations system in May and things were going okay until the last few weeks. That is when Southwest's computers stopped spitting out A-List boarding passes for its elite Rapid Rewards customers. As the Arizona Republic explains, the airline doesn't know what's wrong, but claims to be "working feverishly to resolve the issue." Of course, people who buy early boarding for $15 via the EarlyBird Check In program aren't affected. Amazing how it always works out that way, huh? The glitch also means elite Southwest flyers may not get their TSA PreCheck privileges, either, since the computers apparently also are not accurately reading traveler profile information.
      JetBlue Airways has been fined by Long Beach Airport at a record pace. The airport has a noise-abatement curfew barring flight arrivals after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m. In the first six months of the year, JetBlue has paid $640,000 for violations. The airline is fined $3,000 for the first six flights that arrive late in a calendar quarter and then $6,000 for each subsequent infraction. The fines are coming even though the airline has given JetBlue a waiver until 11 p.m. Worst of all for JetBlue, it will now pay $6,000 for any violation past 10 p.m. retroactive to July 1. JetBlue controls about 80 percent of the traffic at Long Beach.

A Hotel in the Round Returns to a Detroit Suburb
A round hotel tower abandoned for nearly a decade has reopened in Southfield, a northern suburb of Detroit. The 16-story building on Telegraph Road was once a Holiday Inn, but has now reopened as a 196-room Best Western Premier. The round building is part of a three-structure, 7-acre site near the intersection of US 24 and Interstate 696. The two other buildings will eventually be renovated into an extended-stay hotel and a value-priced lodging.
      Niagara Falls, New York, has a new/old hotel, too. An 82-room Courtyard by Marriott has opened in a 100-year-old building that was originally constructed for the Niagara Chocolate Company. That firm, now called SweetWorks, is still in business as a division of a Swiss chocolatier.
      Park Hyatt Aviara, which started life as a Four Seasons, continues its legacy of controversy. The resort in Carlsbad, California, has defaulted on its loans again and has been taken over by its lender. The conversion to Hyatt from the Four Seasons brand and management was contentious, complete with lawsuits and, at one point, roadblocks to keep owners and managers away from the property.
      New York City gets another Hilton at the end of the month. The One UN New York, which started life as a Hyatt, is changing flags. The hotel becomes the Hilton on August 30. The property owner, Millennium of Singapore, also owns the Millennium Hilton at what we used to call Ground Zero.

Air Berlin Is Headed Down the European Tubes
Air Berlin, that strange mash-up of carriers that range from Austrian discounter Niki to the former LTU, is headed down the European tubes. The Tegel-based airline filed for the European version of bankruptcy this week and is being propped up with an emergency bridge loan from the German government. Which isn't that much different than in recent years, when it has been burning through cash provided by Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based airline that also threw good money after bad at Alitalia. Air Berlin had a slew of problems, not the least of which was the fact that the new Berlin airport, originally scheduled to open in 2011, is mired in construction delays and may not begin operating in this decade. Lufthansa has been leasing Air Berlin aircraft and crew in recent months and has the inside track on purchasing the carrier's best assets, mostly slots at overcrowded Tegel Airport. Air Berlin's inevitable disappearance is also a blow to American Airlines customers. Air Berlin was often the only carrier with award seats for AAdvantage flyers headed to continental Europe.
      British Airways will launch five weekly flights between Nashville and London/Heathrow. It's the first international nonstop for Nashville since American Airlines closed its hub there more than 20 years ago. The route will operate starting in May with Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
      Bahamasair will launch twice-weekly Boeing 737 flights between Nassau and Houston/Intercontinental starting on November 15.
      Delta Air Lines will start a route between Orlando and Amsterdam on March 30. Daily flights will operate with Boeing 767-300ERs.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
American Airlines flyers take note: Flights operating with the Boeing 737 MAX jets that offer as little as 30 inches in coach are now loaded in reservations computers. First flights are due between New York/LaGuardia and Miami on November 28, but may run sooner on an ad hoc basis on other routes. To avoid the planes--there are no seatback video monitors, either--look for aircraft code 7M8 or 38M.
      PenAir has declared bankruptcy, but continues to fly most of its Alaska-based route network. But it has dumped its flights from Portland, Oregon, and is trying to drop the routes from Denver to small cities in Kansas and Nebraska that it recently began flying under the Essential Air Service.
      The TSA has its 13th administrator in 16 years. David Pekoske, the Trump Administration's first choice, formerly worked elsewhere in the Homeland Security Department.
      United Airlines is starting flights from Paine Field in Everett, about an hour from Seattle. Flights will start next fall to its Denver and San Francisco hubs. Alaska Airlines has already said it will begin flying from Paine next year.

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.