The Tactical Traveler By Joe Brancatelli
Business Travel Briefing for December 13-27, 2018
The briefing in brief: Prepare for strikes in Europe throughout the next month. Delta reminds you again that it does not want to give you free upgrades. American Airlines adds more flights from its hubs. United will start a San Francisco-Delhi route. Delta fiddles with boarding process.

Attention, Europe Holiday Travelers! There'll Be Plenty of Strikes.
If your travel includes Europe during the next month, buckle up for major disruptions. French air traffic controllers will strike this weekend (Friday and Saturday). There will also be scattered strikes on the French rail networks, including on the routes that connect central Paris with Orly and Roissy (CDG) airports. There's a nationwide strike in Belgium tomorrow (December 14) that will disrupt flights from Brussels. Some Virgin Atlantic pilots have scheduled a series of four-day strikes (December 22-25; December 30-January 2; and January 4-7). The airline has yet to announce any cancellations, but pay close attention if you're booked on Virgin. In Britain, there will be strikes hitting the South Western and Northern railroads and a work stoppage on the Bakerloo line of the London Underground. RMT, the rail union calling those strikes has details of planned stoppages here.

Delta Tells You Again: We Don't Want to Give Free Upgrades
Delta Air Lines executives have been on a relentless, years-long campaign to convert its first class cabins into a paying operation. It's upsell rate is even a standard data point in virtually every investor presentation and quarterly earnings call. That, of course, means fewer free status upgrades for Delta SkyMiles elites. Now the next step: Delta this week announced that any flyer can use miles to upgrade at more steps in the booking process. Most notable: You can book with miles on the Web even after you've locked in your flight. The value you get will be terrible, of course--a penny a mile or less--but the bottom line is that it's another way for Delta to ditch status upgrades from inventory and "sell" them to customers willing to burn miles. Complete details on the new after-booking mileage upgrade process is here.
      Marriott Rewards has added a new award option in Germany. The 300-year-old Hotel Elephant in Weimar reopened after a nine-month restoration and has joined the chain's Autograph Collection. The 99-room hotel also houses a Michelin-starred restaurant called AnnA. It's a Category 4 redemption.
      Hilton Honors has added another New York outpost. The 155-room Distrikt Hotel has joined the chain's Tapestry Collection. The eight-year-old property is on West 40th Street, equidistant from Times Square and the Javits Convention Center.

American Airlines Will Launch a Burst of New Flights From Its Hubs Next Year
As we've discussed, American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker hates competition and hides behind his fortress hubs. Which is basically all you need to know about the airline's route plans for 2019. It's adding a burst of new flights, but they'll all touch hubs, giving Parker cover and (he hopes) more profitable fares. In fact, there's only one notable new destination: Kalispell, Montana, where American will run summer regional-jet flights from its Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles and O'Hare hubs. Among the other schedule additions announced in recent days:
      From Chicago/O'Hare, for example, look for new daily flights to Manchester, New Hampshire; Allentown, State College and Erie, Pennsylvania; and Pensacola, Destin and Panama City, Florida. All routes will run with regional jets.
      From Dallas/Fort Worth, there'll be daily flights to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and San Luis Obispo, California, plus seasonal runs to destinations such as Myrtle Beach. Regional jets rule the roost here, too.
      From Los Angeles, look for new daily flights to Louisville and Tulsa. Louisville gets an Airbus A319 and Tulsa gets an Embraer E175.
      American's oft-ignored New York/LaGuardia operation gets a new year-round route to Columbia, South Carolina and summer flights to several resort destinations. All regional jets, of course.
      The Philadelphia hub gets new year-round flights to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina, and a summer run to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Yup, regional jets, too.
      Phoenix gets a daily Airbus A320 flight to Raleigh starting May 3.

United Airlines (and TAP) Add International Routes From SFO
United Airlines is playing connect-the-dots from its huge San Francisco hub. There aren't any new cities for United's route map, but there are new routes from SFO. Most notable: daily flights to New Delhi starting December 5 using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. There'll also be three weekly flights to Melbourne; additional nonstops to Seoul; twice-daily flights to Toronto; and daily service to Amsterdam. Two existing SFO routes, to Auckland and Papeete, are being upgraded to year-round service. Separately (although related because TAP Air Portugal is in the Star Alliance with United), TAP says it will add nonstops between San Francisco and Lisbon. Five weekly flights begin in June and will buttress two previously announced new 2019 routes to Lisbon. TAP will add service to Chicago/O'Hare and Washington/Dulles, both of which are also United hubs.
      El Al will launch a weekly flight to Las Vegas beginning June 14. Haaretz, the Tel Aviv-based newspaper, says El Al will receive a subsidy of 250,000 euros from the Israeli Tourism Ministry to fund the route.
      Hainan Airlines will begin its previously announced flights between Los Angeles and Xi'an on December 31. Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners will be used on the route, which will operate weekly until February, then increase to twice-weekly.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines begins charging for "preferred" coach seat assignments tomorrow (December 14). Not Economy Plus, you understand, just plain old coach seats that United has decided you should pay extra to occupy. Of course, United is playing follow the leader here. Delta and American Airlines already charge for coach seats based on the airlines' determination of what is "preferred."
      Southwest Airlines has opened new digs in Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International. The $500 million renovation is the first since work was completed at the terminal before the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. There is 23,000 square feet of retail and dining space, including outlets of local favorite Cassell's Hamburgers and major chains such as Chick-fil-A and California Pizza Kitchen.
      Delta Air Lines is changing its boarding process beginning January 23. More accurately, it's changing the branding of the boarding order. First to board will be premium customers (first class or Delta One followed by Premium Select, Delta's premium economy class). Then come Delta Comfort passengers, then Sky Priority flyers, then three levels of "Main Cabin" (for standard coach flyers) and, finally, Basic Economy passengers. Diamond Medallion SkyMiles customers will board with the premium group. Gold and Platinum members get Sky Priority boarding, which is now after premium economy flyers. Silver elites get bumped back to Main Cabin group one.
      Wow Air continues to unravel. The Iceland-based low-fare/high-fee carrier is reducing its fleet by around 50 percent and more North American routes--to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver--are being dumped. The airline is trying to work a bailout investment from Indigo Partners, which owns Frontier Airlines and Volaris of Mexico.

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.