Business Travel Briefing
For September 19 - 30, 2019
The briefing in brief: Even when its pilots cancel a strike--and they have--British Airways treats passengers like trash. A reminder: Using miles to claim merchandise is not a solution to airline devaluations. San Francisco says the runway chaos will end a week early. Your fare is now an even smaller percentage of your total flight cost. Delta's law-enforcement minions channel McGruff, the Crime Dog. And more.

Even when things break its way, the moral and operational bankruptcy of British Airways is glaringly apparent. After last week's two-day pilots strike effectively grounded the airline, the union announced early yesterday (September 18) that it had cancelled the planned September 27 work stoppage. How did BA respond? With apparent befuddlement and glacial inaction. As of 3pm local time today (September 19), more than 24 hours later, BA's Web site still displayed this disdainful message: "We are now considering the implications for our schedule and we will give updates in due course." BA already had begun dumping flights for the 27th and that leaves customers in limbo, a sadly familiar physical and emotional destination for BA flyers. Just last week, in fact, Great Britain's aviation regulator upbraided the airline for lying to passengers about alternate arrangements. By law, BA is required to rebook disrupted travelers on the best available alternative, including nonstops operated by competitors such as Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian Air. BA wasn't doing that, of course, and rebuffing flyers who pointed out its legal obligations. BA will now try to lure flyers back onto its planes with bribes. Almost immediately after the September 27 strike was cancelled, BA announced a double Avios points offer. The good news: The double-points offer is also valid on transatlantic flights operated by American Airlines, Iberia and Finnair. Details are here. Meanwhile, It was only after 10pm today local time before BA updated its schedule and travel policies.

With airlines relentlessly devaluing miles, you might be tempted to cut off your nose to spite your frequent flying face and cash in for merchandise. As they have since the beginning of frequent flyer time, however, merchandise awards continue to be dreadful deals. Consider these "gems" from the most recent United Mileage Plus merchandise award guide. The Bose Home Speaker Model 300, which retails for $259, costs 33,300 miles. That's a value of just eight-tenths of a penny per mile. It gets worse from there. The HP Tango Smart Printer, selling for $150 at, will set you back 24,400 miles. That values miles at just six-tenths of a penny. Sony 100X Wireless headphones selling for $260 at run 39,800 miles, giving your miles a value of a shade over six-tenths of a penny. Even smaller bits of merchandise are awful values. The $70 Weber Jumbo Joe 18-inch charcoal grill costs 17,600 miles, giving you just four-tenths of a cent of value. You can't grill burgers fast enough to justify that kind of return.

The runway repairs at San Francisco International, which turned SFO arrivals and departures into a brutal slog of extraordinarily long delays, abrupt cancellations and random flight diversions, may be ending. As early as tonight (September 19), in fact. Airport officials, who've spent most of the month telling flyers that their disrupted schedules really weren't happening, said yesterday that the repaired Runway 28L will reopen at 9pm local time. That's a full week ahead of schedule. Don't make book on the promise, of course, but maybe next week won't be as bad as it could have been.
      Toronto/Pearson has a new feature: a mostly self-service lounge that Air Canada is calling the Air Canada Cafe. Located in the domestic gate area at Gate D20, the grab-and-go operation offers coffees; juices and soft drinks; light meals and snacks; free WiFi and what the airline calls "bistro-style seating." Air Canada's less-than-sizzling sizzle reel for the limited-service concept is here.
      Ekaterinburg flyers take note. Finnair is dropping the city off its Russia route map. The last flight from Finnair's Helsinki hub is scheduled for October 9.

It's okay if you've never heard of XL Airways or Aigle Azur. But you should know that both French carriers hit the financial rocks this month. Aigle Azur was placed into receivership on September 2 and all flights ended a few days later. The carrier is desperately searching for a White Knight investor and faces a September 27 deadline or it will be liquidated. Of more immediate concern is XL Airways, a leisure carrier that flies sporadically to the United States. It stopped selling tickets early today (September 19) and, by the evening, admitted that it, too, was headed for administration, the European version of bankruptcy. Most troubling, however, is that XL shares a parent company with La Compagnie, the all-business-class airline that flies from Newark to Paris/Orly and Nice. La Compagnie operated all of its flights today and has given no public indication that it is at risk. But the airline's five-year history has been uneven and, barring reassurance from management, I'd be circumspect about purchasing La Compagnie tickets for flights beyond the next day or two.

Hurricane season is in full swing and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which has operated with an acting administrator for more than six months, has lost its nominee for full-time boss. says the Trump Administration has pulled Jeffrey Byard after Republican senators balked at items in his background. Byard was nominated earlier this year after Brock Long resigned in a scandal over his use of government cars for personal travel. The White House is now expected to nominate FEMA's acting administrator, Peter Gaynor, to run the agency full-time.
      Fares now cover less than your total flying cost than ever before. According to government figures, during the second quarter of 2019 U.S. passenger airlines collected just 74.2 percent of their total operating revenue from fares. That's down from 88.5 percent in 1990. And in case you've forgotten all those fees you pay--for ticket changes, checked bags, seat assignments and whatever--are generally tax free windfalls for airlines. They are also usually exempt from negotiated corporate discounts.

Delta SkyMiles can nail another trophy to its wall of alleged scams. A Chicago-based travel agent serving primarily Russian and Eastern European clients has been charged with wire fraud by accruing 42 million miles between March, 2014, and April, 2015. His trick: applying a common SkyMiles number to the tickets of his travel agency clients. (The agent apparently set up a dummy account via the Delta SkyBonus small business program.) Attorneys for the travel agent, who now lives in Ukraine, deny the charges. The indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in Atlanta, Delta's hometown. And listen to this bit of crime-fighting hyperbole credited to the FBI agent on the case: "The fraudulent accumulation of frequent flyer miles in the travel industry may seem like a victimless crime, however, large corporations stand to lose significant profit." (No, so far as I can tell, the agent who supposedly uttered those words is not McGruff, the crime dog. Meanwhile, let's all pity poor Delta. As compensation, maybe it can cash in some of its miles for a few of those MileagePlus Weber grills as compensation ...