The Business Travel Briefing For May 2 to May 16, 2019
The briefing in brief: United's business class seat-installation program drags along. Marriott enters home-rental business. American adds two heartland routes and 15 more commuter gates at DFW. Hyatt adds two Italy hotels. SAS strike ends. Capital One points transfer to JetBlue. And more.

Nearly three years after United Airlines introduced its Polaris international business class, the carrier remains in limbo: Most aircraft still don't have the new seats and, as explained in November, United has slashed in-flight service and perks. According to United's progress tracker, only about a third of its Boeing 767-300ERs have the seats and only about 40 percent of its Boeing 777-200ERs aircraft have been retrofitted. United hasn't even started on its fleet of more than 50 Boeing 767-400ERs and 787s. On the ground, United has opened five Polaris Lounges. But four others--at Washington/Dulles, London/Heathrow, Hong Kong and Tokyo/Narita--remain "in planning" and no construction has begun. Major fleet overhauls do take time, of course, but United's five-year rollout--the carrier continues to insist work will be done by the end of next year--is unique. Partially because United's seats weren't groundbreaking when introduced and aren't as good as some other competitors now and partially because it is unprecedented that a major airline would slash in-flight service before the product has been implemented systemwide. But, hey, United is United and it will repaint planes so you'll stop whining about its service gaps.

American Airlines continues to play connect-the-dots with its network, this week adding two new routes from its key hubs. From Philadelphia, it is adding a daily flight to Bentonville, the airport that essentially exists to service Walmart. The daily run launches September 4 with EMB-175s and will be operated by American Eagle commuter carrier Republic Airlines. From its Dallas/Fort Worth hub, a new run to Tri-City Airport in Tennessee begins August 15. There'll be five flights a week using Envoy Air EMB-140 commuter aircraft. In case you're confused, Tri-City airport is between Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City. You know, hence the name Tri-City.
      New York/Kennedy finally has a new British Airways club at Terminal 7. The renovation of the aged, ragged lounge now includes 22,000 square feet and has a granite-topped bar with a part-time bartender. There's also a beer room featuring products from BrewDog, a Scottish craft brewer. There's even a special BA-inspired brew called Speedbird 100. (Speedbird is BA's aviation call sign.) You can see a BA-produced video of the long-overdue JFK club here.
      Salzburg Airport in Austria is closed for repairs to its runway. The airport is due to reopen at daybreak on May 29 local time.

Marriott now has more than 7,300 hotels covering 30 brands around the globe. But the world--the hotel world, at least--is not enough. The chain announced this week it is going whole hog into the apartment and home-rental game and will compete directly with Airbnb in that lodging segment. Beginning next week, the Homes and Villas By Marriott should be live. Marriott says there will be at least 2,000 properties available on opening day in 100 markets in the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe. Marriott Bonvoy members will receive five points for each dollar spent and will be able to burn points on redemptions. There'll be a three-day minimum stay and home rentals will be available on, too. Marriott isn't starting from scratch, of course. It is securing the inventory via deals with existing home- and apartment-management firms. Marriott tested home rentals last year and its move comes after Hyatt briefly partnered with a rental firm called Oasis and Accor's 2016 purchase of a rental firm called One Fine Stay.
      Hyatt has picked up two properties in Italy, both of which are reflagging of hotels once aligned with the MGallery by Sofitel chain. The newly minted Hyatt Centric outposts are on Murano Island in Venice and near Milano Centrale railroad station in Milan.

It took a week, thousands of flight cancellations and hundreds of thousands of passenger disruptions, but the pilots strike at SAS Scandinavian ended today (May 2). The airline and its unhappy aviators struck a three-year deal just before midnight local time. But a week of strikes plays havoc with an airline network. Aircraft and flight crews and are out of position, so expect cancellations to continue through the weekend.
      WestJet is dropping its route between Boston/Logan and Halifax, Nova Scotia. The last flight is scheduled for June 2.
      British Airways is dropping its route between Fort Lauderdale and London/Gatwick. Last flight will be on September 7. As a replacement, BA and American Airlines say they'll bump up their combined Miami-London service in late October to five daily flights.
      Korean Air is eliminating first class cabins on more than two dozen international routes. Virtually all of the runs are short- and medium-haul routes within Asia or to Australia. Existing first class service from the United States to Seoul will continue for now. After the cuts, only 30 percent of Korean Air's flights will still have first class.

American Airlines travelers take note: A new 15-gate complex for commuter flights has opened at Dallas/Fort Worth. The gates are in the Terminal E Satellite building, which is tucked away near Gate E21. To reach the satellite terminal and its new gates, you must use an underground tunnel with moving sidewalks.
      Capital One has added a domestic points-transfer partner. Bank points can now be transferred to JetBlue Airways. Transfer ratio is 2:1 although Capital One awards two points per dollar charged so the effective rate is 1:1. The bank does offer a better transfer rate (usually 2:1.5) on most of its international partners such as Air France/KLM, Air Canada and Singapore Airlines. Capital One is offering a 50 percent transfer bonus to JetBlue as an introductory promotion.
      Sabre, the IT network that provides a range of ticketing and reservations services for major airlines such as American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways, this week suffered through another outage. For about an hour on Monday (April 29) the three carriers were not able to book flights or check in flyers. It's the second Sabre glitch in the last month.