The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business Travel Briefing for Early October, 2017
The briefing in brief: Parts of the Caribbean are still in shambles. Delta SkyMiles really, really doesn't value your loyalty. Lufthansa resumes New York-Berlin flights. Signs of life at Embassy Suites. Iraqi officials close the airport in Erbil. Ryanair is melting down. And more.

Caribbean Airports--and the Islands They Serve--Are Still in Shambles
Awful conditions on Puerto Rico in general and at San Juan airport in specific finally have gotten publicity now that a week has passed since Hurricane Irma walloped the island. About 90 percent of the island remains without power--and that includes the airport, which is working on generators and has no air conditioning. Flights are still sporadic as FEMA and other federal agencies have barred commercial operations throughout most of the day. The situation at the airport isn't likely to improve until Saturday (September 30) at the earliest. But Puerto Rico is not alone. The British Foreign Office advised "against all but essential travel to the British Virgin Islands." Airports on Anguilla and Tortola are only slowly reopening to commercial flights. The situation is dire in the U.S. Virgin Islands, too. The airport on St. Thomas finally opened today (September 28) for commercial service although few flights are scheduled in the next few days. The airport on St. Croix won't open until at least October 5. Princess Juliana International, the scenic airport on St. Martin, also remains closed to commercial traffic. Most carriers aren't scheduling service there until late in October.

Delta SkyMiles Really, Really, Really Doesn't Value Your Loyalty
SkyMiles members were shocked this week when Delta dropped another 16-ton weight on them. This time, it was Delta's decision to decuple the amount of spend needed for a Diamond MQD (Medallion Qualifying Dollars) waiver using an American Express SkyMiles card. You currently have to spend $25,000. Starting next year, the spend requirement will be $250,000. (You can still receive an MQD waiver for platinum, gold and silver status by spending $25,000, however.) But you needn't infer from Delta's move that it doesn't really value your loyalty. Delta chief executive Ed Bastian will tell you to your face. Speaking at an industry conference this week, Bastian said first class upgrades were a stupid thing for an airline to give to its best customers. "Any business where you give the majority of your best product away for free doesn't work," he said. That explains why you are never upgraded anymore, as if you hadn't already deduced it from Delta's previous actions and public pronouncements.
      Marriott Rewards members take note: Ritz-Carlton has opened a property in the Malaysia resort destination of Langkawi. The complex, a Tier 2 redemption, offers 70 rooms, 35 suites and 39 villas.

Lufthansa Picking Up the Transatlantic Slack As Air Berlin Disappears
Lufthansa may soon control huge chunks of Air Berlin, which has limped along with government loans while various parties negotiate its demise. But while Lufthansa dickers, it is wasting no time filling the transatlantic gap Air Berlin has created. The German giant will resume flights between New York/Kennedy and Berlin/Tegel on November 8, the first time it has flown the route since late 2001. There will be five flights a week using Airbus A330-300s. On the same day, Lufthansa will also resume three weekly flights between Miami and Dusseldorf using Airbus A330s. These are stopgap plans, however. The airline says the routes will be taken over next summer by its discount arm, Eurowings.
      Delta Air Lines is adding two international routes from Los Angeles. There'll be four weekly flights to Amsterdam and three to Paris beginning June 16. Both routes will operate with Boeing 777-200LRs. Amsterdam and Paris, of course, are hubs for Air France/KLM, Delta's joint-venture partner.
      Aeropostal, the Venezuelan carrier, has ceased service after 88 years. The onetime flag carrier struggled for years and its fleet was grounded during Venezuela's economic chaos.

Signs of Life at Embassy Suites
As hotel brands aligned to Hilton and Marriott have expanded at a breakneck pace, there has been a laggard: Embassy Suites. The all-suite chain has even gone to one-room "suites" and mini-atriums to lower development costs and pump up the number of properties in the pipeline. It's taken years, but maybe it's working. Last week, a new Embassy Suites opened in Amarillo. This week there are new outposts in Syracuse, New York (in the Destiny USA complex); and Kapolei on Oahu, just off the H-1 near the Ko'Olina resort and Barbers Point.
      Loews has lost the Madison Hotel in Washington. The 368-room property is becoming a Hilton although it will retain the Madison name.
      Marriott continues to pump Fairfield Inn properties into communities around the country. The mid-priced brand has opened outposts in Decorah, Iowa; Alexandria and Abingdon, Virginia; Chesterfield, Michigan; Brighton, Colorado; and West Monroe, Louisiana. Also, check next door. One may have opened while we weren't looking.

A Beacon of Kurdish Sanity, Erbil Is Caught in Iraq's Craziness
Even while the Iraq war raged, some airlines started flying to Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. But now that the Kurds have voted for independence in a controversial (and non-binding) referendum, the Iraq central government--or what passes for a central government--is infuriated. One of its target is Erbil Airport. The central government has demanded all flights at Erbil halt by 6pm local time tomorrow (Friday, September 29). Middle East carriers have indicated they would comply. So has Turkey, which vehemently opposes Kurdish independence. More coming because, with Iraq, nothing ever ends.
      Atlanta/Hartsfield has delayed implementation of a new rule requiring all airport restaurants switch to compostable materials. The restaurants were originally told they would have to ditch Styrofoam by October 15. The new deadline is December 29, but airport authorities admit they still don't have a facility where compostable packaging can be composted.
      Cape Girardeau and Quincy airports in Missouri are getting service from United Airlines' commuter division. On December 1, CRJ-200 regional jets will fly six time a week from each city to United's Chicago/O'Hare hub.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines says it will offer free in-flight text messaging on all Gogo-equipped flights. The free service begins October 1. Alaska Airlines already offers a similar perk to its flyers.
      Ryanair, the European discounter, has been melting down due to bad scheduling practices and squabbles with its pilots. As a result, it is cancelling more than 20,000 flights through March. It will ground about 6 percent of its fleet and suspend service on nearly three dozen routes.
      Boeing has successfully convinced U.S. government officials to slap 200 percent import duties on Canada-based Bombardier's new commercial jets, including the CSeries regional aircraft ordered by Delta. The decision also involves the United Kingdom, since Bombardier has a huge facility in Northern Ireland. But stay tuned as this situation winds its way through various legal and political hurdles. Travel Insider David Rowell also has some thoughts.
      Travel Ban 2.0 has expired, replaced by a new Trump Administration plan to bar certain immigrants. That raises doubts about whether the Supreme Court will even hear the issue. The Supremes have cancelled oral arguments on Travel Ban 2.0 and asked for briefs due October 5 on whether the case is now moot. The newest Trump order is more nuanced than previous efforts and exempts existing visa and green cardholders from the affected countries: Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea.

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.