The Business Travel Briefing For March 21 to March 31, 2019
The briefing in brief: British Airways replacing its 20-year-old business class seats with a decade-old design. Marriott says it'll open 1,700 more hotels in the next three years. El Al returning to Chicago. Jet Airways of India is collapsing. China Southern joins AAdvantage. And more.

British Airways revolutionized international business class in 1999 when it introduced lie-flat beds. It's been downhill ever since. Every major global carrier offers longer, wider beds and, increasingly, all-aisle access. BA admitted years ago that its 20-year-old seats were murdering its claims of being a premium carrier yet it continued to fly them. No more. With much fanfare, BA this week announced its response: 10-year-old seats that it will get around to installing on a schedule it won't reveal and fly them on routes it won't disclose. BA's seat choice, the so-called Super Diamond, was first designed for Qatar Airways in 2009, and it isn't a bad product. In fact, it's what British Airways' code-share partner American Airlines is now flying. And it surely is an upgrade from the current BA business class. In fact, it's arguably better than the seatbed BA uses in first class. And the all-aisle access, all-front-facing 1-2-1 configuration is a winner. The problem? BA is clearly going to take years to install the "suites." (BA is bolting privacy doors to the Super Diamond pods specifically so it can call them "suites.") The first new business class will arrive this summer on new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft. BA also says a pair of Boeing 777-200s will also get the product this year. Upgrades on other aircraft will only begin in 2020 and BA won't say how quickly the new seats will be installed or on which aircraft. In fact, you can be sure BA's aging 747s won't get the upgrade. It may not appear on its Airbus A380s, either. And the narrower fuselage of the BA's Boeing 787 Dreamliner might cause a configuration problem, too. When will any North American travelers see the new business class? Best bet is to watch the Toronto-London/Heathrow run since BA has tentatively scheduled A350 service to begin October 1. Want to read what BA says about its new product? Click here. Want to see its 360-degree video promo for the new cabin? Click here.

After gobbling up Starwood, Marriott has 30 brands and more than 6,900 hotels and resorts around the world. But the world apparently is not enough. The gigantic chain said this week that its three-year growth plan includes 1,700 more hotels around the world. That translates into as many as 300,000 additional rooms by the end of 2021 to complement the more than 475,000 rooms now part of the chain. To put the Marriott growth strategy in perspective, adding 1,700 hotels in three years would be the equivalent of buying two lodging chains the size of Hyatt, which currently has 850 properties.
      Hyatt, by the way, opened two new Hyatt Place properties. There's a new 103-room branch in downtown Florence, South Carolina, and a 144-room property in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Separately, Hyatt Place has added a somewhat flexible check-in and check-out program. Top-level (Globalist) members of World of Hyatt can reserve check-in as early as 9 a.m. to go with the existing benefit of checkouts as late as 4 p.m. Second-tier elites (Explorist) get the same check-in perk with their 2 p.m. checkouts. Early check-in can be reserved within seven days of arrival. It is not guaranteed availability, however. The complete details are here.
      Hilton has added a 206-unit Home2 Suites near the Navy Pier in Chicago. Meanwhile, a 210-room Hilton opened in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville. And the 200-room Baker's Cay Resort in Key Largo has joined Hilton's Curio Collection of independent properties.

Chicago/O'Hare gets another nonstop international flight. Starting next March, El Al will add three weekly flights to Tel Aviv using 282-seat Boeing Dreamliners configured with business, premium economy and coach cabins. The flights will mark El Al's return to the Midwest for the first time since it dropped one-stop Chicago service in 2007.
      Detroit/Metro is losing its nonstop to Brazil. Delta Air Lines ends its three weekly flights to Sao Paulo/Guarulhos on March 29.
      Pittsburgh Airport now has a branch of Primanti Brothers, the city's iconic sandwich shop. The 2,700-square-foot restaurant is located in the airport's Central mall. The airport branch will expand its menu to include breakfast sandwiches, something the original Primanti never offered even though it served lots of early-morning, post-binge customers.

WOW Air, the Iceland-based carrier that wowed coach flyers with one-way fares to Reykjavik for as little as $59, has been jilted again. Indigo Partners, which owns Frontier Airlines, today (March 21) bailed on its bail-out deal. WOW is now turning back to Icelandair, which passed on a merger last year. WOW says it hopes to have a rescue deal in place by Monday and Icelandair indicates that it'll have more flexibility now that Iceland's government may categorize WOW as a failing company in danger of imminent collapse. Meanwhile, Jet Airways of India is collapsing in on itself. The once-respected privately owned airline has grounded most of its fleet, abruptly cancelled key domestic and international routes and is operating only about 150 flights a day, down from more than 600 daily at this time last year. Pilots say they'll stop flying Jet's remaining aircraft if the company doesn't have a rescue deal by March 31 and offer a plan to reimburse them for back pay.
      Alitalia, living on the taxpayer dime since 2017, continues to lose potential suitors. Lufthansa bailed some time ago and now EasyJet has also walked away from any possible involvement.

American Airlines AAdvantage players take note. China Southern has joined the program as an earn and burn partner. No surprise since American is a minority owner of the Guangzhou-based carrier. Awards can be claimed in coach and business, but you'll have to call since availability is not yet shown online.
      British Airways is adding flights between London/Gatwick and Bergamo, Italy, starting September 1. There'll be six weekly flights. Bergamo is closer to Lake Como than Milan/Linate or Milan/Malpensa airports.
      American Express hasn't told its English-speaking Platinum cardholders yet, but the credit card firm and Lufthansa have extended their lounge-access agreement. Platinum cardholders can enter various Lufthansa lounges at the carrier's Frankfurt and Munich hubs until October 31. The German-language details are here.