Business Travel Briefing
First-Half 2019 Review
Notable first-half news: Flights pile into LAX, SFO, LGA--and Vegas. One of the new Mobile airport's airlines is missing. United boss Oscar Munoz feels your flying pain. If only there was something he could do about it. British Airways will replace 20-year-old business class seats with 10-year-old seats--when it gets around to it. Tourism helps Greece throw off its austerity malaise. Avoid American Airlines this summer. Polaris updates crawl along.

WHERE THE FLIGHTS ARE: LAX, SFO, LGA AND LAS VEGAS
There are dozens of ways to cut airline travel and one of them is declaring routes the "busiest" based on the number of flights between two destinations. That's the bailiwick of OAG, the airline schedule masters. According to the OAG statisticians, the busiest short-haul (shorter than 1,500 kilometers) route in North America is LAX-San Francisco with 35,365 flights a year. New York/LGA-Chicago is a distant second with 24,188 flights a year. Las Vegas-LAX and Boston/Logan-LGA each also racked up more than 20,000 flights annually. In the medium-haul (1,500 to 3,500 kilometers) category, the busiest route is New York/Kennedy-LAX with 26,286 annual flights. A surprising second: LAX-Seattle, with 19,778 flights each year. In the long-haul (more than 3,500 kilometers), the busiest run is JFK-San Francisco with 15,587 flights each year. The "NyLon" route between JFK and London/LHR was the second busiest with 14,195 flights a year. Globally, the busiest international route was Kuala Lumpur-Singapore (30,187 flights) followed by Hong Kong-Taipei (28,447) and Chongqing-Singapore (27,046). The busiest route in the world, according to OAG? A domestic run between Seoul's Gimpo Airport and Jeju, South Korea. Seven carriers run 79,460 flights a year between the two airports. The Number Two route globally is Melbourne-Sydney in Australia with 54,102 flights each year. (Originally published April 18.)

DIDN'T DYLAN WARN US ABOUT THIS 50 YEARS AGO?
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 should check Interstate 45. (Originally published May 16.)

UNITED BOSS MUNOZ: AIRLINES STINK. SOLUTION: NEW PAINT
United Airlines chief executive officer Oscar Munoz has mostly been a potted plant since arriving in 2015 to replace deservedly maligned and scandal-plagued Jeff Smisek. Whatever he did to improve the airline--um, the Illy coffee is better--has basically been unwound by president Scott Kirby, who arrived at United a year later as president after being told his services were no longer required at American Airlines. Kirby has driven United downward--service and staffing have been reduced in the Polaris business class, legroom has been slashed on most aircraft and MileagePlus was further gutted--and Munoz has apparently noticed. In an interview with ABC News this week, Munoz decried everything about the flying experience, including lack of personal space in coach and United's particularly awful in-flight WiFi. Munoz says he is committed to reversing the awful state of the airline, however. United announced this week that it was repainting its planes with a slightly revised livery. Which, you know, should solve all the problems. (Originally published April 25.)

NEW BA BUSINESS CLASS? TEN-YEAR-OLD SEATS WITH DOORS
British Airways revolutionized 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 most offer 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 BA's 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 now 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. (Originally published March 21.)

TOURISM LIGHT AT THE END OF GREECE'S AUSTERITY TUNNEL
This won't shock you, but Greece is learning that its economic future is tied to tourism. As the nation grappled with unsupportable national debt, high unemployment and the EU-imposed austerity measures, the massive infrastructure investment made for the 2004 Olympics largely went to waste. Greece "has become an all-cash economy, it's still economically depressed," says Plato Ghinos, president of Pennsylvania-based Shaner Hotels. But Greece "is realizing the importance of tourism. There were 32 million tourists last year, more than to the entire Caribbean." The result? A "back-to-basics" focus on tourism as an economic bootstrap. Ghinos isn't just an observer, however. Shaner has opened two hotels in Greece in the last 30 days. The 60-room Academia of Athens opened yesterday as part of Marriott's Autograph Collection. It's a head-to-toe renovation of a long-abandoned tower, complete with indoor pool and rooftop restaurant with views of the Acropolis. "Athens hasn't had the investment it needs in the hotel section," Ghinos adds. Shaner last month opened a Marriott Moxy Hotel in Patra, Greece's second-largest port. The Bank of Greece funded the new-build property. Why the sudden investor interest? "If you believe you've reached bottom, it can only get better, right?" Ghinos explains. (Originally published May 30.)

CRUEL SUMMER: AMERICAN AIRLINES IS A MUST TO AVOID
As I warned last week, we're in for a cruel, cruel summer--and the late spring hasn't been a breeze, either. According to statistics compiled by FlightStats.com, the last 30 days have been brutal. The biggest losers of all? American Airlines and its woebegone passengers. Although the numbers are unofficial and incomplete, there's no doubt American operations are dreadful and they're deteriorating rapidly. American and its wholly owned American Eagle subsidiaries (Envoy, PSA and Piedmont) cancelled approximately 7,200 flights. That's six times the number of cancellations recorded at Delta Air Lines and its wholly owned Endeavor Air commuter carrier and more than three times the cancellations racked up by United Airlines and its commuter network (ExpressJet, CommutAir, Trans States and Air Wisconsin). American and its commuters suffered more than 41,000 delays, too, many more than the 29,000 at United and 27,000 at Delta. Southwest Airlines was no picnic in the last 30 days, either, since the carrier dumped about 3,500 flights and cancelled 31,000 more. Although final numbers will vary for American, United and Delta when multi-carrier commuters' numbers are applied to their proper parent, it is clear that American is the must-avoid carrier of the summer. (Originally published June 27.)

ABOUT THOSE NEW POLARIS SEATS: YEAH, WELL ...
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 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 the seats were not 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. (Originally published May 2. July 4 update: As its tracker shows, United continues to upgrade its aircraft at a glacial pace and the Dulles lounge is now officially "under construction.")