Business Travel Briefing
For September 5 - 19, 2019
The briefing in brief: Global safety regulators go separate ways on recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX. British Airways will be grounded next week by pilots strike. American Airlines adds Montana flights. Alaska Airlines loves San Luis Obispo. Star Alliance carriers juggle Europe service. Cathay Pacific loses more executives to China pressure. And more.

The recertification of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft is positively Newtonian. You know, bodies at rest and bodies in motion and all that stuff. With aircraft on the ground since March, regulators find new reasons to keep the plane out of the skies. It hasn't helped that Boeing has been less than candid about far too many details. U.S. carriers this week bowed to reality and excised the MAX from their schedules until at least December. Meanwhile, may I direct you to my MAX primer for some prescient punditry about the shattering of the global regulatory regimen? As I said then, it made little aeronautic sense for the world to rely on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration as the global arbiter of safety. Conversely, it made almost no sense for the FAA to ground the plane because MAX aircraft operated by U.S. carriers already were equipped with additional safety features. Now it does seem like the FAA and key global regulators will go their own ways on recertification. As the FAA edges toward approving the aircraft to fly again, European regulators say they won't immediately concur. As far back as April, in fact, the European Aviation Safety Agency said there'd be "no delegation" to the FAA. This panics IATA, the global airline industry trade group. "Discrepancy [in regulatory rules] is detrimental to the industry," whines IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. What does it all mean for us flyers? Expect the FAA in the weeks ahead to approve the MAX aircraft operated by United, American and Southwest. Canadian, European and other safety agencies won't approve the plane for the airlines they regulate until Boeing equips the MAX to their standards and passes other tests. That's how it should be.

British Airways seems headed for a pilots strike on Monday, September 9, and Tuesday, September 10. And BA is holding out little hope that it'll fly much if any of its schedule, which usually includes about 800 daily flights carrying 140,000 travelers. "If you have a flight booked with us on or around those dates," BA says on the Web, "it is likely that you will not be able to travel as planned." In other words, get out while you can and don't expect to travel painlessly (or at all) on September 8 or September 11, either. (Another strike day is planned for September 27.) For what little informational assistance BA is offering, surf here. American Airlines, BA's code-share, joint-venture and Oneworld Alliance partner, has a toothless travel waiver for paid tickets in effect from September 8 to September 11. But why accept American's onerous change terms when BA is telling you that flights won't operate? By the way, don't expect a last-minute reprieve. BA rejected new meetings with the pilots union today (September 5), then attacked its employees because they had the temerity to reject management's previous contract offer.

Like Willie Sutton robbing banks because that's where the money was, airlines tend to emphasize big-dollar hub and large-city flying over all other service. But there is opportunity elsewhere--or, perhaps more accurately, there's also money elsewhere. Alaska Airlines, for example, wants more of the San Luis Obispo market. Effective January 7, it'll launch daily EMB-175 flights from San Diego. Then on June 18, it'll add daily flights from Portland, Oregon. And American Airlines is adding more spring and summer service to Montana. It'll run daily Los Angeles to Bozeman flights using EMB-175s. There'll also be Saturday-only flights from Philadelphia to Bozeman using Boeing 737s. From New York/LaGuardia, there'll be Saturday flights to Kalispell using Boeing 737s. With some variation, the new American flights will run between June 4 and September 8.

If you need reliable schedules to Europe from your chosen airline group, the Star Alliance won't be your friend. Its airlines continue to juggle routes and operating carriers with abandon. SAS Scandinavian, for example, is resuming flights between Los Angeles and Copenhagen, a route it dropped in 1994. That service begins again on January 13, same day it dumps its LAX-Stockholm route. SAS' Airbus A330-300 flights will directly compete with Boeing 787 flights operated by Norwegian. Meanwhile, Star Alliance carriers Air Canada and Brussels Airlines are playing musical routes. A subsidiary of Lufthansa, Brussels Airlines drops its Toronto/Pearson-Brussels route on January 7. On March 29, however, it starts five weekly Airbus A330-300 flights to Brussels from Montreal. Meanwhile, Air Canada says it'll pick up the YYZ-Brussels slack. Effective May 1, it adds five weekly flights using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner configured with business, premium economy and coach.

Cathay Pacific continues to bleed top executives as China increases pressure on Hong Kong's flag carrier. Cathay's chief executive and chief commercial officer were forced out last month. Now the airline's chairman, John Slosar, is resigning. The 39-year Cathay veteran infuriated China earlier this summer when he said he "wouldn't dream of telling" airline employees how to think or act as democracy demonstrators squared off against Hong Kong's government. As demonstrations ramped up, however, the airline was forced into a humiliating about-face when it told employees there was a "zero tolerance" policy on anti-government activity. Ironically, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam this week officially scrapped a controversial extradition measure that sparked the protests.
      An American Airlines mechanic was arrested Thursday (September 5) for tampering with the navigational system on a flight departing from Miami. The incident took place on July 17 and seems to be part of the ongoing battle between the carrier and mechanics, who have been without a contract for more than three years. The Miami Herald has details here. American and unions representing the mechanics return to federally mediated talks later this month, the first negotiations since April.
      The British pound dropped to a 34-year low below US$1.20 earlier this week before rebounding when the British Parliament passed a bill to bar a "no deal" exit from the European Union on October 31. (Let's not get into Brexit here. No one seems to know what's going on--or what will happen.)
      The TSA can be sued if screeners mistreat flyers, according to a federal court in Philadelphia. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled en banc by a 9-4 vote that screeners are not immune from lawsuits. The case was brought by a Florida woman, Nadine Pellegrino, who was arrested in 2006 at Philadelphia Airport after an incident at a TSA checkpoint. The Justice Department, representing the government and the TSA, has not yet said whether it will appeal to the Supreme Court.