The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business Travel Briefing for Early December, 2017
The briefing in brief: For your sanity, book away from American Airlines in December. Marriott won't merge frequent-guest plans in 2018. Delta shifts some domestic flights to Delta One service. United adds Elmira flights. Air Canada takes a run at U.S flyers. And more.

And You'd Book American Airlines in December Why?
You may have heard that a scheduling snafu at American Airlines left 15,000 flights in December without one or more of its flight crew. You may have also heard American's claim that it's all gonna be cool and they are taking steps to mitigate the situation. But why would you fly American in December? Book away. Even if American does fix the problem and then your American flight cancels, you'll be convinced it was because of the scheduling issue. So for your own sanity in December, just book away. There's no psychic or physical benefit to booking an American flight in December. Simple as that. By the way, if you hadn't heard, the news was released by American's pilot union. American confirmed the problem, but won't confirm the number of flights or detail how and why its flight-roster system failed. And American's claim that it can fix the issue without disruptions is almost totally based on offering time-and-a-half pay to pilots to pick up the slack. But it's not as easy as that since many pilots who'd be interested in working may have reached their federally mandated maximum flight hours for the year. When Ryanair had a similar pilot-schedule problem earlier this year, it was forced to cancel tens of thousands of flights without warning and temporarily suspend service on dozens of routes. So, again, just book away from American for your own sanity in December.

Marriott Won't Merge Frequency Programs in 2018, Promises Essentially the Status Quo
Marriott completed the Starwood acquisition 16 months ago, too late to make substantive changes for 2017 to its Marriott Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest frequent-guest plans. And while there has been some program coordination this year, it's been clear that Marriott wouldn't try to merge the two plans in 2018, either. Marriott confirmed that fact this week and will make only minor tweaks next year. The biggest change: the Marriott Rewards Elite Rollover scheme ends on December 31. Any extra elite nights you accrue this year will roll into 2018, but there'll be no rolling over of excess 2018 nights into 2019. The biggest winner with the stasis: Travelers who get their SPG Gold Elite status via American Express Platinum. That means another year of your complimentary SPG Gold Status mapping to Marriott Rewards Gold, too.
      Delta SkyMiles members take note: Delta is upgrading some flights on long-haul domestic routes to Delta One service. Starting April 1, routes with Delta One on at least some flights are Boston-LAX; JFK to/from San Diego, Seattle and Las Vegas; and Atlanta and Minneapolis to Honolulu. Complimentary upgrades to domestic Delta One will not follow standard rules. Upgrades will be awarded only on the day of departure. By the way, Delta is pulling planes off international routes to put Delta One on the new domestic runs. That means at least three routes--JFK to Shannon, Reykjavik and Ponta Delgada, Azores--will be served with domestically configured Boeing 757s. The cabin will be sold as premium economy on those routes.
      IHG Rewards Spire Elite members are now offered check-in times as early as 10 a.m. The benefit is not guaranteed, however. It's based on availability.

Tucson Gets Another East Coast Airport Link
Tucson, Arizona, is getting another connection back to the East Coast. Effective February 16, American Airlines says it will add a daily Airbus A320 flight to its Charlotte hub. American is also bulking up in Maine. Beginning April 3, it'll add two daily Portland-New York/LaGuardia flights. On June 9, it'll begin a weekly run between Bangor and Chicago/O'Hare. Both routes will be flown with one-class regional jets.
      Elmira, New York is getting United Airlines flights again. The upstate airport will be connected to United's Newark hub. Two daily ERJ-145 flights start on April 9.

Air Canada Makes Another Transborder Run at U.S. Flyers
Every couple of years, Air Canada decides U.S. flyers are angry enough at U.S. airlines that they'll switch to Air Canada for international flights. We're in one of those periods again. Starting in May, the airline will be connecting its Montreal hub with Baltimore/Washington and Pittsburgh. It'll also add routes to its Toronto hub from Omaha and Providence, Rhode Island. The carrier will also revive two former routes: Edmonton-San Francisco and Vancouver-Sacramento. It hasn't flown between Edmonton and San Francisco for 16 years and was off the Vancouver-Sacramento run for a decade. All six routes will be served with regional jets. Separately, the airline this weekend will open a new private lounge in Toronto called the Signature Suite. Located in Terminal 1, the 160-seat club will serve meals in three separate dining rooms. Access to the Signature Suite will be limited to Air Canada's paid international business class flyers.
      Air France is resuming flights between its Paris/CDG hub and Catania, Italy. The three weekly Airbus A319 flights launch on March 27. Air France hasn't operated on the route in more than 25 years.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Delta Air Lines and Korean Air have received U.S. approval for a joint-venture operation. The one-time frenemies will now push transpacific connecting traffic over Korean Air's Seoul hub, another blow to Delta's former hub at Tokyo/Narita, which it inherited in the Northwest Airlines merger.
      Darwin Airline, a regional carrier based in Switzerland, has stopped flying. It's another casualty of cutbacks at Etihad, the financially stressed Abu Dhabi carrier that had a 33 percent stake in Darwin. Darwin also flew for bankrupt Alitalia, another carrier abandoned by Etihad.
      Air France/KLM will institute a $15 charge on bookings made through GDS systems. The fee was created by Lufthansa in 2015 and was recently adopted by British Airways, too.

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.