The Business Travel Briefing For May 16 to May 30, 2019
The briefing in brief: Alabama's new airport is short one airline. El Al hooks up with Alaska Airlines' frequent flyer plan. Hilton has a Lyft tie-in. The TWA Hotel opens and JFK finally has on-airport property. Boston gets more flights to sun destinations. Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel gets a new affiliation and a renovation. And more.

It says something about the state of American infrastructure that a new, two-gate airport is newsworthy. But with the exception of Paine Field in North Seattle, which opened in March, new airports are few and sadly far between. So give it up for Mobile Downtown Airport. An $8 million terminal opened on May 1 and occupies part of the former Brookley Air Force Base, which closed in 1969 and is now home to several aviation-related projects. Coded BFM, Mobile Downtown is only 16 miles from Mobile Regional Airport, which until now has handled all commercial traffic at Mobile, gateway to Alabama's Gulf Coast. Mobile Downtown hasn't gotten off to a booming start, however. Frontier Airlines, the low-fare/high-fee carrier with a habit of launching and cancelling routes faster than Bob Dylan changes musical styles, is the only carrier. It operates several flights a week to Denver and Chicago/O'Hare. The airport was supposed to have a second carrier--but no one can find it. Via Airlines, a flyspeck commuter carrier, promised to launch flights from BFM to Orlando/Sanford and continues to sell seats on the route. But Via, which was operating at Mobile Regional, has cancelled every BFM flight so far and, in fact, never signed a lease. Even airport authorities can't reach Via. "We're very uncertain as to the future of Via Air" in Mobile, says Chris Curry, president of the city agency that operates both BFM and Mobile Regional. Logical conclusion? Via Airlines is stuck outside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again. Someone really should check Interstate 45 ...

El Al has complained for years that it is treated like a pariah by other airlines. It's never been able to join one of the major alliances and its list of partner airlines is skimpy. Its last major U.S. partner, American AAdvantage, bailed almost five years ago. But leave it to Alaska Airlines, the self-described Switzerland of U.S. carriers, to step into the gap. Now that El Al has launched its oft-delayed nonstops to San Francisco from Tel Aviv, SFO-hubbed Alaska is bringing on the Israeli carrier as a partner for the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Alaska Air players can earn miles on El Al flights beginning July 1. An award structure has not been announced.
      Hilton Honors has a new partner. Hilton players who link their accounts with Lyft will earn 3 points for each $1 spent on Lyft rides and 2 points for each $1 spent with Lyft shared rides. Earnings are capped at $10,000 worth of Lyft spend per year. Link your accounts here.
      Delta SkyMiles now permits you to pause or extend elite status if your flying stops due to life changes. The so-called Reclaim My Status program is basically a repackaged status challenge requiring you to fly a certain number of new flights to retain your earlier elite level. More details are here.

Never underestimate geeky loyalty to long-dead airlines. But as tiresome as that usually is, at least we get an on-airport hotel at New York/JFK in the deal. Although far from complete, the $265 million TWA Hotel opened this week in the shell of the former TWA Flight Center designed by Eero Saarinen. The 512-room property is festooned with real and recreated TWA memorabilia and a 1960s/Don Draper vibe in the rooms and public areas. Nightly rates are stratospheric at the moment, but give the hotel credit: In an attempt to keep room occupancy up, it sells a variety of day rates in four- to 12-hour increments. Prices for short stays start at $139. You know, so you can gawk at all the long-dead airline stuff, including a TWA Lockheed Constellation repurposed as a cocktail lounge. The property is connected to Terminal 5 and the airport AirTrain system.
      Boston/Logan gets more flights thanks to Delta Air Lines' determination not to allow JetBlue Airways to dominate New England's primary gateway. Starting on December 21, Delta is adding three more "sun runs." There'll be twice-daily flights to Miami, daily service to Sarasota and daily flights to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
      Detroit/Metro has a new dining option. Cantoro Italian Market has opened landside in the North Terminal. The well-known local market's airport location is controlled by HMSHost and offers grab-and-go meals, takeaway food and Italian groceries.

Desperate to shore up its tough immigration stance, the Trump Administration has a new idea: Deploy TSA agents on the border with Mexico. According to information turned up this week by CNN, around 200 TSA agents will be pulled from at least six airports and moved to the border. As many as 400 agents eventually may be stripped from airports, according to internal TSA E-mail. "We understand that we are accepting some risk as we enter a very busy summer" and border deployment creates an "additional risk" for delays, wrote a senior TSA official quoted by CNN.
      Cellphone and laptop searches at airports have quadrupled since 2015, according new filings in a federal lawsuit. The information, supplied by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, "shows that the scope of border searches is unconstitutionally broad," according to an EFF attorney. Originally filed in a Massachusetts federal court in 2017, the suit wants government agencies--notably Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement--to delete data collected by what the plaintiffs call unwarranted and illegal searches. The government claims--and courts have previously supported--that it has nearly unlimited rights to search anything carried into the country by any passenger.

WestJet is going private. The Canadian discounter will be acquired for C$31 a share in an all-cash transaction arranged by a private equity firm called Onex. The deal for the 22-year-old carrier is expected to close later this year or early next year.
      Hertz customers are being arrested for auto theft thanks to the car rental firm's slovenly policies and record-keeping, according to report from a local Florida television station. Hertz's response: Arrests are "extremely rare." Okay, then ...
      Dublin travelers take note: The Shelbourne has gotten a $40 million renovation and switched affiliations. It's now part of the Marriott Autograph Collection of independent hotels and no longer part of Marriott's Renaissance chain.
      PSA Airlines, a wholly-owned American Airlines commuter carrier, already has a reputation for lousy service, frequent cancellations and regular computer outages. Its latest problem? A pilot indicted for three counts of murder in Kentucky. He was arrested last week at Louisville Airport.