Business Travel Briefing
For June 20-30, 2019
The briefing in brief: United seems to be bailing on its India flights. Alaska Airlines adds Aer Lingus awards. TAP Air Portugal's fast growth leaves some business travelers behind. The Russians won't take responsibility for the MH17 disaster. Hilton adds an all-suite hotel near SFO. And more.

Even by the weird standards of the airline industry, United Airlines is just weird these days. On a granular level, consider this: Effective August 13, it is eliminating the $50 initiation fee to join the United Club network of lounges. At the same time it is raising basic annual rates by $100, to $650. But United doesn't think you'll notice, even though the disclosure is listed on the page with the old prices. And United doesn't think you'll realize that eliminating a one-time $50 fee does not offset a $100-a-year price bump. On a global level, there's the matter of its India service. To its credit, United has been the only U.S. airline flying to India. Launched in 2005, the service putatively includes flights from its Newark hub to both Mumbai and Delhi. This week United said that it was bulking up the routes with a code-share with the Indian carrier Vistara. Expected to launch in the fall, the deal will cover more than 20 airports in India. But here's the rub. United told staff today (June 20) that it has "temporarily" ended Newark-Mumbai service due to "current events" in Iran. (The flight, of course, overflies Iranian airspace.) You'd normally give that excuse credence--except for the fact that United "suspended" its Delhi flights months ago. Service was due to resume July 3, but late last month that was pushed back to August 1. United is supposed to launch a seasonal flight in December between San Francisco and Delhi, but, as of now, United has a code-share partner in India with no flights to India. So, go ahead, make sense of any of that stuff ... (A 1 a.m. June 21 update: Several hours after United cancelled its first Mumbai flight, the FAA ordered U.S. carriers to avoid overflying the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. According to tracking data, United's Newark-Mumbai route does not operate over either of those areas. International airlines, including British Airways and Qantas, have rerouted, not cancelled, flights in the area. And Lufthansa continues to fly to Tehran, the Iranian capital.)

The Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan already has 17 partners, part of Alaska's "Switzerland strategy" of aligning with airlines, not airline alliances. It added Aer Lingus as a code-share partner last year and now it allows award redemptions on the Dublin-based carrier, too. Effective immediately, coach awards on Aer Lingus start at 30,000 miles each way. Business class awards start at 60,000 miles each way. Intra-Europe coach travel on Aer Lingus starts at 8,000 miles. Complete details are here. Aer Lingus last year launched service to Alaska Air's Sea-Tac hub.
      Marriott Bonvoy members take note: Transfers to the Lufthansa Miles & More program are no longer available. The glitch seems to be on Lufthansa's end. Gary Leff of the View from the Wing blog has additional details.
      World of Hyatt members take note: Hyatt is picking up another resort in Puerto Rico. The Gran Melia in Coco Beach on the northeast coast will go independent next month, then rebrand as the Hyatt Regency Coco Beach in the fall after a renovation.

The revival of TAP Air Portugal engineered by JetBlue Airways founder David Neeleman has its storybook elements: The carrier's fleet has been overhauled, the in-flight service is dramatically improved, new U.S. and Canadian gateways have been added and there are excellent connections over TAP's Lisbon hub to Europe and Africa. And, oh, by the way, TAP's revival helped spark Portugal's economic resurgence and it's not unfair to say Neeleman may have saved an entire nation. But business travelers are paying the price for TAP's new prominence. Lisbon Airport is much too small for the new capacity that TAP has poured into its hub. The result? Far too many transatlantic flights arrive and depart from "hard stands," requiring annoying bus rides to the terminal. Customs and immigration facilities at Lisbon are overwhelmed and travelers report long lines and even longer waits. And business class travelers at New York/JFK receive no lounge access because there is no club to use at the JetBlue terminal where TAP is located. "It puts you off TAP," one JoeSentMe member fumed last week. "The lines, the buses and nowhere to wait out a delay [at JFK] make you feel like TAP doesn't take business customers seriously." Neeleman admits he's heard all the complaints, but can't fix the most serious issues. "We wish we had a better airport in Lisbon," Neeleman told me this week after he arrived on TAP's inaugural flight to Washington/Dulles. "We are in need of more space." On the customs issue, however, Neeleman insists lines and waits are decreasing now that 170 more people have been added to help with the processing. The JFK lounge gap is a matter of logistics, however. About 40 percent of TAP's connecting passengers at JFK come from JetBlue, making it logical for the airline to stay in the terminal. "Once we get 'em on the plane, they are okay. Everyone knows how much we improved our business class product in-flight" he says. "Before and after, that's been the problem."

No one was ever held responsible for the destruction of Korean Air Lines 007 in 1983 when it strayed over Soviet air space. The Russians are now ducking responsibility for the 2014 missile takedown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Three Russians and a Ukrainian ally were fingered this week by a Dutch-led investigation team for the attack. As you probably recall, Flight 17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was destroyed over Eastern Ukraine by what was later identified as a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. (There's even film of the Russian military battery en route to Ukraine.) The attack took place in the Donetsk region, a hotbed of separatism near the Russian border. According to the arrest warrants issued this week, the perpetrators were Igor Girkin, a former colonel in Russia's FSB intelligence service; Sergey Dubinsky, an official in the Russian GRU military-intelligence agency; a Russian operating for the GRU in Ukraine; and a Ukrainian working with the Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine. Girkin at the time was also identified as "minister of defense" of the separatist Donetsk region. All four men are currently hiding in Russia. A Kremlin spokesman rejected the Dutch findings and said Russia would not surrender the men.

Air Canada has opened a scaled-down Maple Leaf Lounge--the airline is calling it Maple Leaf Express--near its U.S. departure gates at Toronto/Pearson airport. The club, near Gates F-84 to F99 in the Terminal 1 transborder departure area, is available to business class flyers, Altitude status travelers and Star Alliance Gold flyers.
      Hilton has opened a 155-room Home2 Suites extended-stay property near San Francisco Airport. The property, at 550 Gateway Boulevard, offers free shuttle service.
      Delta Air Lines has taken a 4.3 percent stake in the company that controls joint-venture partner Korean Air. Delta also owns stakes in Air France/KLM, Aeromexico, China Eastern and Virgin Atlantic. Like Korean, all are members of the SkyTeam Alliance and/or joint-venture partners.