The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business Travel Briefing for November 8-22, 2018
The briefing in brief: British travel retailer WHSmith buys its way into U.S. airports. Alitalia returns to Dulles. Hilton grabs Mandarin Oriental in Buckhead. Singapore will fly to Seattle. WestJet will link Calgary and Atlanta nonstop. Detroit/Metro tram is going offline. And much more.

WHSmith, the Big British Travel Retailer, Buys the InMotion Airport Chain
You may have heard this week that British "news agent" turned book/beverage retailer WHSmith nearly purchased the Barnes & Noble chain. But I bet that you didn't hear about a deal that will have greater impact on business travelers. WHSmith has quietly purchased the InMotion chain of airport electronics and digital accessory stores. The $198 million deal will give WHSmith 114 shops in more than 40 U.S. airports. With more than 600 shops on main streets, airports, train stations and motorways in the United Kingdom, WHSmith also operates in Australia, Spain, India, China and Brazil. Officials of WHSmith say it acquired InMotion to help it expand its reach in the electronics market. But it's just as likely that the WHSmith name will begin appearing at U.S. airports and the rebranded chain will sell books, stationary, beverages and music as well as electronic gear. This is WHSmith's second go the U.S. airport market. It began opening U.S. stores in 1985, but withdrew in 2003 during the travel slump after 9/11. Bottom line: Watch this one because our airport retail landscape is likely to change quickly in the next year or so.

Alitalia Returns to Washington/Dulles With New Flights to Rome
Only in Italy could a dead-airline-flying like Alitalia be expanding. But the Italian carrier returns to Washington/Dulles next year with a year-round flight to Rome. The five weekly flights launch May 2 using Airbus A330-200s configured with business, premium economy and coach. It will be Alitalia's second crack at the Washington market. It briefly flew IAD-Milan/Malpensa. United Airlines currently flies IAD-Rome, but only on a seasonal basis.
      Singapore Airlines says it will launch nonstop flights on September 3 between Seattle-Tacoma and Singapore. Four weekly flights will operate with Airbus A350-900s configured with 42 business class beds, 24 premium economy seats and 187 coach chairs.
      Icelandair has bought up Wow Air, an Iceland-based low-fare/high-fee start-up that generates lots of attention, but few business travel bookings. Icelandair paid pennies on the dollar--about $20 million in shares--since Wow was burning cash to survive and recently dropped a slew of U.S. routes.
      Ethiopian Airlines is adjusting its Los Angeles flights, which have been stopping in Dublin en route to Addis Ababa. Beginning December 17, however, the service will now operate LAX-Lomé, Togo-Addis Ababa three times a week using Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Ethiopian also operates a New York/JFK-Lomé-Addis Ababa route.

Hilton Will Get the Swanky Mandarin Oriental in Buckhead
The oh-so-chic Mandarin Oriental hotel in Atlanta's Buckhead district is changing flags. Mandarin is out and the Waldorf-Astoria, one of the luxury brands from Hilton, will take over the 42-story property. The hotel opened as the Mansion on Peachtree in 2008 and fell into bankruptcy before switching to Mandarin. The switch should be effective on December 7.
      Marriott has opened an Aloft Hotel in Chicago. The 337-room property is located in the Streeterville neighborhood at 243 East Ontario, just off North Michigan Avenue.
      Hyatt has opened another hotel in the Greater Shanghai area. The 344-room Hyatt Regency Xuzhou is located in Jiangsu Province within the 873-foot International Finance Center. The hotel occupies the top 14 floors of the 59-story tower and overlooks Yunlong Lake.

WestJet Will Link Calgary and Atlanta With Nonstop Flights
Always good to get a new nonstop, right? Canadian discounter-turned-Air-Canada clone WestJet is launching daily nonstops between Calgary and Atlanta/Hartsfield. Service begins March 3 and there is a backstory. WestJet and Delta Air Lines, Atlanta's 800-pound gorilla, are working up a transborder joint venture.
      Detroit/Metro travelers take note: The ExpressTram servicing the mile-long McNamara Terminal (Concourse A) is being reconstructed. There's been only one car in service in recent weeks although the two-car configuration returns from mid-month through the new year. Then both cars will be out of service from early January through mid-April. Plan your connecting time accordingly.
      Mumbai wins one, loses one. Air India says it will resume flights between New York/Kennedy and India's financial center on December 7. The three weekly flights will operate with Boeing 777-300ERs. (Air India suspended the route in October, 2010.) Meanwhile, Air Canada is dropping its Toronto-Mumbai service. The last flights will be on March 29.

United Turns Tahiti Into a Year-Round Route
United Airlines last week launched what was supposed to be seasonal nonstops between its San Francisco hub and Papeete, Tahiti. In what can only be good news for MileagePlus members, however, United says the route converts to year-round service on March 30. The flights (United 114/115) operate three times a week using Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners.
      American AAdvantage next year raises the spending threshold to qualify for Executive Platinum status. In addition to being required to fly 100,000 EQMs, Executive Platinums must spend $15,000 in EQDs, up from the current $12,000. Speaking of EDQs, beginning January 1 Barclays-issued AAdvantage Red and Blue cards will no longer earn them for spending. Aviation Silver cardholders who spend $50,000 a year will receive 3,000 EQDs, down from this year's 6,000.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
We talked last week about the damage that a no-deal Brexit could cause to flights to London. That remains a possibility, but there is some good news to report. The British government said last week that U.S. passengers arriving at U.K. airports soon will be able to use the country's ePassport gates. The change, expected early next year, will allow Americans to skip long lines and use electronic kiosks to enter the country.
      Barclays, which issues credit cards tied to the American AAdvantage and JetBlue TrueBlue programs, has dropped foreign-exchange fees on the cards.
      Southwest Airlines is eliminating the $5 fee for in-flight movies. Earlier this year, the airline dropped its $2 fee for in-flight text messaging.
      Greenville-Spartanburg now has a common-use airport club. A branch of the Escape Lounge network has opened at the South Carolina airport. It is accessible free with an American Express Platinum card. Day passes cost $45.

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.