The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
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Business Travel Briefing for September 3-13, 2018
The briefing in brief: August was a dreary month for flying. Fares aren't rising much, but fees are jumping fast. Some long-overdue good news on African aviation. Alaska Airlines will fly to Columbus. Can Amazon H2 be far behind? Do we really need a "hotel campus" in Texas? And more.
Yup, August Was As Awful a Month to Fly As You Thought
First, good news: Flying in September can't possibly be as bad as flying last month. I think. The bad news: Flying in August was really, really--did I say really?--brutal. According to figures compiled by FlightStats.com, almost 19,000 flights in August were cancelled nationwide. There were an astonishing 222,000 delays, a daily average of around 7,100, which is snowstorm-in-February bad. Although oranges-to-oranges comparisons are tricky because of how big carriers and regional airlines report, it looks like American Airlines was worst of the majors last month. Along with captive regional feeders Envoy, PSA and Piedmont, American cancelled 3,700 flights and delayed 34,000 more. Delta and its Endeavor commuter subsidiary cancelled 1,300 flights with about 20,000 delays. United (1,000 cancellations and 17,000 delays) looks best by comparison, but only because it doesn't have any exclusive regional carriers of any size. One of its primary commuter lines, SkyWest, recorded nearly 1,200 cancellations and 15,000 delays, but it's hard to know which SkyWest flights belonged to which major. Southwest Airlines reported 1,700 cancellations and 25,000 delays. To the surprise of no one, the worst airports for cancellations and delays in August were Chicago/O'Hare and the three New York-area airports. Not too far behind: Philadelphia and Reagan/National, both hubs for American Airlines.
Fares Aren't Rising Much. Fees? Well ...
At the beginning of the summer, we talked about how the rising price of oil might translate into higher fares. The airlines haven't yet been able to raise prices in any organized way, so as autumn begins they've resorted to Plan B: higher fees. Southwest Airlines, for example, now charges more for EarlyBird Check-In. Introduced in 2009, EarlyBird originally cost $10, then $15. Starting last week, however, Southwest charges as much as $25 depending on route and demand. The price hike is Southwest's second fee increase this year. In February, it jacked the price of Group A boarding to as much as $50 a flight. Meanwhile, JetBlue Airways is leading the airlines to higher checked-bag fees. On its cheapest Blue Fares, JetBlue now charges $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second. United Airlines quickly followed, kicking up its bag fees to $30/$40 on most routes in North and Central America. Expect other airlines in the days ahead to match the $5 per bag increase. Because why wouldn't they to, you know, "remain competitive?"
Alaska Airlines Launches Columbus Route. Will Amazon Be Far Behind?
Anyone who has flown with Alaska Airlines through its Seattle-Tacoma hub has surely seen the signs: Amazon.com employees often have dedicated ticket-counter space and sometimes even their own boarding lines. Keep that in mind when you consider this: Effective March 7, Alaska Air will add a daily flight from Seattle to Columbus, Ohio. The service will operate with Airbus A320s, part of the fleet Alaska Air inherited in the Virgin America merger. Alaska Air is freeing up equipment from its San Francisco-Fort Lauderdale route, a former Virgin service that ends on January 6. What's all this got to do with Amazon? Columbus, the nation's 14th-largest city, is on the online retailer's short list for its second headquarters. The so-called HQ2 plan, which could pump as many as 50,000 new jobs into whichever community Amazon chooses, was announced last year. Columbus is one of 20 cities that Amazon.com claims it is considering. Does Alaska Air know something--or is it simply covering all its bases? Stay tuned.
Do We Really Need a 'Hotel Campus' in Amarillo?
The lodging industry long ago crammed dual- and even triple-branded hotel buildings down our metaphoric throats. Now comes the "hotel campus," a collection of hotel brands on a single plot of land. The first such project, Marriott Place, poured a range of Marriott brands into downtown Indianapolis. Now a hotel owner-operator called Newcrest is building three hotels on a five-acre site in Amarillo, Texas, at the busy intersection of Interstate 40 and South Soncy Road. Although the area surrounding the intersection is already home to a half-dozen hotels, Newcrest is adding three more. The 94-room Tru by Hilton opened last week. A 90-room Aloft from Marriott and a 90-room Hyatt Place are expected next year.
Hilton is doing its best to maintain growth to keep up with the runaway global expansion of Marriott. Besides that aforementioned Amarillo Tru, Hilton this summer added the lower-cost brand in 13 other markets around the United States. It opened Hilton Garden Inn outposts in central Bordeaux, France; in Lusaka, capital of Zambia; and in Munich near the Donnersbergerbrucke Station. It opened a Home2 Suites at 2800 Destination Parkway in Orlando and downtown Seattle's newly built Charter Hotel has joined Hilton's Curio Collection of soft brands. It's a block from the Pike Place Market.
Some Good News to Report on African Aviation
Africa is essentially a lost continent for U.S. travelers. Major U.S. airlines largely avoid the region and Africa's homegrown carriers tend to be plagued by corruption or incompetence or both. That often requires U.S.-originating flyers to add a costly, time-consuming plane change in Europe or to fly past Africa on the Gulf Carriers to make a connection in Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi. But hope springs eternal and this week there are multiple bits of good news to report. Royal Air Maroc says it will launch flights between Miami and its Casablanca hub on April 3. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner nonstop, planned for three times weekly, will be the first route to Africa from Miami in almost 20 years. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines has begun code-sharing with SkyTeam Alliance partner Kenya Airways. That won't eliminate the Europe stop, but there should be easier connections to Nairobi and beyond from London/Heathrow and the SkyTeam hubs in Paris and Amsterdam. Finally, both Zambia and Nigeria are set to relaunch national airlines. Nigeria Air is expected to be a joint venture between the Nigerian government and private investors and comes 15 years after Nigeria Airways collapsed. And government authorities in Zambia will collaborate with Ethiopian Airlines to restart Zambia Airways. That will be the third carrier to use the name. The original, government-owned Zambia Airways, folded in 1995 and a private carrier with the name collapsed in 2009.
Business Travel News You Need to Know
Chase Ultimate Rewards players take note: Chase points now transfer to JetBlue Airways on a 1:1 basis in 1,000-point increments. Although it's not technically a replacement, JetBlue became part of Ultimate Rewards a week after Chase and Korean Air parted ways.
Seoul/Incheon Airport has permanently lost its rail link. The high-speed line opened four years ago and connected Incheon to the country's rail network and five major South Korean cities. But it closed, ostensibly for maintenance, shortly after February's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. Now the government says it will shutter for good after low ridership that left load factors in the 30 percent range. South Korea spent more than $250 million to build the line.
WestJet is adding the much-disliked Boeing 737 Max 8 jet to dozens of routes linking key Canadian cities--Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver--to sun destinations. You'll find the planes--look for them and avoid their slim-line seats and skimpy legroom--on routes starting in November.
United Airlines, which trades as United Continental Holdings (UAL), is shifting to Nasdaq from the New York Stock Exchange on September 7.
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