The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
The Business Travel Briefing for April 12-26, 2018
The briefing in brief: The TSA doesn't like your cluttered carry-on. Why does British Airways' parent company want to buy Norwegian? Alaska Airlines trims carry-on bag size. Marriott unveils a new frequent guest plan next week. Prepare to be livid. Delta offers free credit monitoring.

Next Up for the TSA: Partnering With Your Mom to Ensure You've Tidied Your Room
A few weeks ago I related the goofy tale of the flummoxed Italian security checkpoint agent who deconstructed my carry-on bag in search of a pasta-machine die. It wasn't funny then and it's not funny now--especially since the Transportation Security Administration announced today (Thursday, April 12) that our carry-on bags aren't neat enough. In another bit of epic asshattery from the nation's most bizarre bureaucracy, the TSA says it has now nationalized the concept of making us organize our carry-ons for their convenience. After proudly reminding us that it requires all electronics to be screened separately, the agency explains that "TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate other items from carry-ons, such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags." The national scolds now tell us that travelers "are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered." At another point, the TSA whines that "dense foods, powders and other items" make for unclear X-rays and thus slow down security lines and make your mom angry. The neatness fetish apparently only applies to travelers going through "standard lanes." Flyers using TSA PreCheck lanes can continue to be as sloppy as they wish. Or not. The TSA is checking with your mom. But be sure to make the bed before checking out of your hotel room. It might slow down the lines.

Does British Airways' Parent Company Want to Buy Norwegian Air?
The International Airlines Group (IAG), parent company of British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus, has purchased a 4.61 percent stake in Norwegian, the discount carrier shaking up the transatlantic skies with cheap coach fares and an inexpensive Premium cabin. And make no mistake about it: BA's parent firm wants to talk. "The minority investment," an IAG statement says, "is intended to establish discussions with Norwegian, including the possibility of a full offer for Norwegian." There's no question that Norwegian is ripe for picking: It has $3 billion in debt, needs funds to underwrite orders for dozens of new jets and is losing money on operations. It has also trimmed a few U.S. routes and this week delayed the launch of Canadian flights until at least next year. The question is what would IAG do with Norwegian? Buy it and fold it; fold it into Level, its own growing transatlantic discounter; or reorganize the airline and run it separately. Keep an eye on this one, folks.

Alaska Airlines Trims Dimensions for Carry-On Bags
It's not enough that the TSA has become your snoopy mom when it comes to our carry-on bags, another airline has decided those bags are too large. Effective June 4, Alaska Airlines trims the acceptable size of carry-on bags. The current limit--24x17x10 inches or a total of 51 linear inches--is being reduced to 22x14x9 or 45 linear inches. The change brings Alaska Air in line with the legacy airlines, but obviates the hullabaloo the carrier made several years ago about the more capacious overhead bins on its newest Boeing 737s. Of course, now that it has inherited a fleet of Airbus A320s after buying Virgin America, it has fewer planes than ever with those large overheads. Complete details are here.
      WestJet is adding two new domestic routes for summer travel. From June 29 to September 8, there will be flights between Calgary and Quebec City. From June 29 to September 7, there will be flights between Vancouver and London, Ontario.
      Southwest Airlines is adding five new routes this fall. There'll be daily flights from its Houston/Hobby hub to both Columbus (Ohio) and Louisville and Denver-Memphis service. The other routes--Denver-El Paso and Oklahoma City-Nashville--will operate once a week.

Philippine Airlines Will Fly Nonstop to New York From Manila
One of the final frontiers for East Coast nonstops to Asia has been Manila, capital of the Philippines. Between the distance and the limited demand, nonstops haven't been feasible. But now Philippine Airlines will try it. Effective October 28, the carrier will operate three weekly Boeing 777-300ER flights to New York/JFK. Until now, the airline has been operating a JFK-Vancouver-Manila service. The New York nonstop will require 15.5 hours
      British Airways is reducing its Oakland-London/Gatwick route. The service is now seasonal and won't operate from October 21 to March 31.
      SAS Scandinavian is dropping its Boston-Copenhagen flights. The last run is scheduled for November 18.

Strikes and Frequent Guest Mergers and Airline Computer Mergers, Oh My!
The next few weeks will be very interesting for business travelers. Mark these developments on your calendar and plan (or plan to be enraged) accordingly.
      Marriott on Monday (April 16) will unveil details of the merged Marriott Rewards and the Starwood Preferred Guest programs. There'll be five elite levels, minimum-spend requirements for the top elite tiers and a cutback in upgrades and guaranteed-lounge access for most current elites. In fact, expect to get less--and in some cases, substantially less--unless you're prepared to give Marriott and Starwood a combined 50 nights a year.
      Alaska Airlines and Virgin America will shift to a single computer system overnight on April 24-25. It will affect everything--reservation systems, Web sites, the frequency program and, of course, airport check-in kiosks and computers.
      United Airlines is scheduled to open its second Polaris Lounge in San Francisco on April 30. That's 16 months after its first lounge in Chicago/O'Hare opened and about a year late. The SFO lounge should be much larger than the ORD club since it covers the footprint once occupied by three lounges.
      Chicago/O'Hare now closes its people-mover system between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. Shuttle buses will operate between terminals and long-term parking. Alternately, of course, you can walk between Terminals 1, 2 and 3.
      Air France continues to be plagued by strikes. The next days are April 17-18 and April 23-24. More details are here.

The 'Soft' Hotel Brands Are on a Roll Worldwide
Anyone who doubted the success of "soft" brands--collections of independent properties that align with the reservations systems and frequency plans of major chains--is surely having to rethink their positions. All of the major chains have them and all of them are growing, often with newly built properties that desire the strengths of the chains without hewing to their brand standards. Here are some of this week's notable newbies.
      Tribute Portfolio, one of the Starwood soft brands, has added the 173-room Hotel Zachary in Chicago. The new property is located across the street from Wrigley Field and is owned by the Ricketts family, the folks who own the Cubs. And in Hamburg, Germany, the newly built Nordport Plaza has opened near the city's airport.
      Luxury Collection, Starwood's original soft brand, has added the 75-room Hotel de Berri in Paris. The newly built hotel is just 130 feet off the Champs Elysee in the 8th arrondissement.
      Curio Collection, the upmarket Hilton soft brand, has two additions. The 297-room Porter Hotel in Portland, Oregon, has joined. And the 53-room Hotel Niepce, carved out of a renovated building not far from Montparnasse Station, opened in Paris. Lots of luck using Hilton Honors points at the Niepce, however. I couldn't find a single night of award availability in 2018.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
After an ugly data breach that it first tried to hide, Delta Air Lines is now offering two years of free credit monitoring with AllClear ID. You can enroll and find more details here.
      Uber is testing a rental car service in cooperation with Getaround, which offers shared hourly rentals. The new peer-to-peer service, called Uber Rent, is due later this month and will launch in San Francisco.
      Japan travelers take note: A 1,000-yen departure tax (about $9.50) will be imposed on all departing passengers. The tax is scheduled to go into effect on January 7.
      South Africa flyers take note: Alitalia has resumed flights between Rome and Johannesburg. The four weekly flights are operated with 250-seat, three-class Airbus A330-200s.

This column is Copyright © 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. is Copyright © 2018 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.