The Business Travel Briefing For February 7 to 21, 2019
The briefing in brief: American keeps adding its crappy coach seats, but Delta and United are improving. A little. International routes come and go. Three chains are developing 70 percent of the nation's new hotels. More airport clubs where we need them. Um, Cindy McCain ...

Plane Truth: In-Flight Comfort Depends on Route, Aircraft and Carrier
It's not unfair that the American's configuration of its newish Boeing 737MAX8 aircraft gets all the attention. There's less legroom in all three classes, no seatback videos, fewer galleys and obscenely tiny lavatories. Worse, American is converting all narrowbody aircraft to the awful configuration and extending the MAX8 to transcon routes. The latest: Miami-Seattle, where one of two daily flights will get the planes starting June 6. Many Latin American routes also will get the MAX8 starting in May. You'll find it popping up on some Los Angeles-Washington/Dulles runs, too. Still, there is good news out there:
     + Delta Air Lines began flying the Airbus A220 this week. The plane carries 109 seats: 12 in first, 15 in Comfort+ and 82 in coach. The latter two classes are configured 2x3, meaning fewer middle seats. Also notable: coach and Comfort+ seats are 18.6 inches wide, the best available on a narrowbody. The plane's long range (3,400 miles) is intriguing, but watch for the A220's initial rollout on some larger regional-jet routes, where it will be a distinct improvement.
      + United Airlines this week said a newly configured version of the CRJ700 regional jet, dubbed the CRJ550, will roll out later this year. The plane will have just 50 seats on an aircraft designed for 70 and will be configured with 10 chairs in first, 20 in Economy Plus and 20 in coach. There'll also be several closets. (United isn't doing this because they love us, of course. The configuration has to do with pilot contracts.) United will also be adding four more first class seats to each of its A319 and A320 aircraft. (That may mean a further reduction of seat pitch in coach, so beware.) Also notable: Nearly two dozen of the carrier's Boeing 767-300ERs will get additional business class seatbeds (46 up from 30) as well as 22 seats in United's new premium economy cabin. These international aircraft are part of the long-delayed upgrade to Polaris seating.

International Routes Come and Go, Sometimes Without Ever Flying
We've mentioned in recent weeks that Air Italy was adding scads of flights to the United States from Milan/Malpensa, where minority owner Qatar Airways is hoping to supplant chronically challenged Alitalia. But not everything goes according to plan in Italy. So without ever actually flying it, Air Italy has scrapped plans to launch a Chicago-Milan run. The flights were due to begin in mid-May.
      Ethiopian Airlines is bailing on flights between Los Angeles and Addis Ababa. For several years, the route made an intermediate stop in Dublin. Then the thrice-weekly flights began stopping in Lome, Togo. But nothing was working, so the service ends entirely on February 15.
      British Airways is resuming flights between its London/Heathrow hub and Islamabad, capital of Pakistan. Three weekly Boeing 787-800 flights begin June 2. There are no nonstops between the United States and Pakistan.
      Eurowings, the low-cost operation of Lufthansa, is launching flights between Las Vegas and Dusseldorf. Beginning July 3, there'll be three weekly Airbus A330 or A340 flights configured with lie-flat business class beds and a coach cabin.

More Clubs Are Always Good at Any Airport
As security sloppiness and airline scheduling force us to have more "dwell time" at airports, there's nothing sweeter to hear than the metaphoric jangling of keys in the door of new club lounges. United Airlines, which has promised four new lounges this year, has opened a new United Club at Fort Lauderdale. It is located near Gate C1. Meanwhile, Ontario Airport in the Inland Empire of California is home to the next Escape Lounge, a brand controlled by the folks who run the airport at Manchester, England. It is located in Terminal 2 near Gate 209. The company says a second lounge at Ontario in Terminal 4 will open later this year. Amex Platinum cardholders have free access to Escape locations; walk-up flyers pay $45 per visit. Also this week: the VIP Lounge in Liberia, Costa Rica, now accepts Priority Pass. Liberia, of course, is the gateway to resorts along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.
      Santa Barbara, California, will once again have a link to Delta's Salt Lake City hub. After a nine-year gap, Delta is resuming flights beginning in August. There'll be three daily roundtrips using E175 aircraft operated by SkyWest.
      San Francisco has a new food hall in the Terminal B boarding area. The Manufactory, a 3,200-square-foot operation, houses branches of famous Bay Area brands such as Tartine Bakery, Cala and Kin Khao.
      Phoenix Terminal 3 has new dining options, including branches of Shake Shack and Panera Bread and local favorites SanTan Brewing, The Parlor pizza and Mustache Pretzels.

Three Chains Are Developing Nearly 70 Percent of All New U.S. Hotels
If you ever wondered why major hotel chains continue to create new hotel brands that are sometimes indistinguishable from each other, consider this statistic: Nearly 70 percent of all new lodgings in the U.S. pipeline are controlled by three chains. According to consulting firm Lodging Economics, Marriott has 1,498 projects in development, followed by 1,359 from Hilton and 972 from InterContinental. Those 3,800+ projects are 69 percent of all the hotels under development in the United States. The fastest-growing brand? InterContinental's Holiday Inn Express with 423 new locations, followed by Hilton's Home2 Suites (403), Marriott's Fairfield Inn (306) and Hilton's Hampton Inn (303) and Tru (302) brands.
      Marriott opened a 110-room Element Hotel at 33 John R Street in downtown Detroit. Why is that notable? The hotel opened in the former Metropolitan Building, which had been vacant for 40 years. The Metropolitan had been condemned several times, interiors had been trashed and trees were growing on the roof of the 14-story structure. After a $33 million renovation, some original features--terrazzo floors, a vaulted ceiling in the lobby and decorative staircases--have survived.
      World of Hyatt has added about 50 more Small Luxury Hotels to its roster. That brings the number of SLH hotels in World of Hyatt to around 100, about a fifth of that operation's global roster.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Are you an American Airlines ConciergeKey member? After all the money you've given the airline, American has decided you qualify for two 2019 passes to the carrier's Flagship Dining locations in select Admirals Clubs. Check your account for more details.
      United Airlines has made DirecTV broadcasts free on about 200 Boeing 737 aircraft configured with seatback monitors. All the planes involved were part of the fleet United inherited in the merger with Continental Airlines.
      An off-duty TSA agent jumped or fell to his death last weekend from a balcony of the Hyatt Regency hotel inside Orlando Airport.

Submitted for Your Approval ...
Phoenix police were called to Sky Harbor Airport last week in response to an assertion of human trafficking against travelers lodged by the widow of Senator John McCain. After an investigation and a welfare check, police dismissed the incident. Inexplicably, however, Cindy McCain went public with her claim and even insisted that police had, indeed, found an instance of human trafficking. Police were forced to issue a public statement exonerating the white woman and a child of color and it was only then that McCain withdrew her claim. Ironically, Sky Harbor Airport last month renamed Terminal 3 in Senator McCain's honor. Moreover, he and Cindy McCain decades ago adopted a child from Bangladesh. The child's race became an issue in the 2000 Republican presidential race and nasty rumors about the child's parentage were an issue in that year's South Carolina primary.