Business Travel Briefing
For Oct. 24 to Nov. 7, 2019
The briefing in brief: United unveils a unicorn regional jet with a classy first class. The O'Hare people mover will be down until next year. Atlanta and Boston airports add new restaurants. Air New Zealand kills its LAX-London flights, but will fly to Auckland nonstop from Newark. American Express drops roadside assistance and travel-accident coverage on most cards.

Like all its competitors, United Airlines has been in a frenzy, stuffing many more seats into aircraft to enhance its profit and stoke our rage. But here's a pleasant exception: United this weekend will begin rolling out the CRJ-550, a unicorn among regional jets. The aircraft isn't new per se. It's actually a 70-seat CRJ-700 configured with only 50 seats. There's a first class cabin with 10 seats in a 1x2 layout plus 20 Economy Plus and 20 plain-vanilla coach seats configured 2x2. The main feature of the new first class cabin: 42 inches of seat pitch, more space than first class seats on United mainline domestic jets. Also in first class: a luggage closet, oversized overhead bins and a flyer-accessible cooler stocked with snacks and soft drinks. The aircraft are due to begin flying Sunday (October 27) from ORD to shorter-haul destinations such as Allentown and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Bentonville, Arkansas; Des Moines; St. Louis; Madison, Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; and Indianapolis. Eventually the aircraft will be added on routes from its Newark and Washington/Dulles hubs, too. Bloomberg aviation writer Justin Bachman got a sneak peek of the aircraft and United's deployment strategy.

We know how bad Chicago/O'Hare can be around the holidays. Now imagine it without the people mover that connects the terminals and remote parking. Okay, now forget about your imagination and get over it: O'Hare's so-called ATS system is down for the count until at least early next year. Airport officials shut down the people mover earlier this year to speed up completion of an oft-delayed upgrade. They promised it would be ready by the end of the summer. Then they pushed the date back to around Thanksgiving. Now they are throwing in the towel and admitting the system will be down until "early 2020." Ominously, there isn't even an exact return date announced. The reason for the latest delay? Unspecified "mechanical issues."
      Boston/Logan expects to open an airport version of the Boston Public Market in Terminal C before the end of the year. That should bring some interesting local concepts to the airport. In the meantime, a branch of local favorite Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse opened in Terminal C and Trade, from local celebrity chef Jody Adams, opened in Terminal B.
      Cincinnati has a new club. Located in Concourse B, the Escape Lounge is the latest outpost of the small chain created by the operators of Manchester International in England. American Express Platinum cardholders get free entry, otherwise the fee is $45 a visit.
      Atlanta/Hartsfield this week finally opened a food court on Concourse C after five years of corruption charges and contracting delays. The first three shops sell salads, wraps and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Chalk up another casualty on the shrinking roster of "secret" fifth-freedom flights operated between two countries by a carrier from a third nation. Air New Zealand announced this week that it would drop nonstops between Los Angeles and London/Heathrow. The last flights will be in October, 2020. In their place? A new nonstop route between Newark, a hub for joint-venture partner United Airlines, and Air New Zealand's Auckland hub. If all goes according to plan, there'll be three weekly flights using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. The new flights will launch next October and will be among the longest nonstops on the planet. The Newark-Auckland flight is scheduled for 17 hours and 40 minutes while the Auckland-Newark run will require 15 hours and 40 minutes. The departing LAX-Heathrow run was on ANZ's schedule for 37 years and was often a source of low premium class fares between the West Coast and Europe.
      JetBlue Airways is pulling the plug on all flights to Mexico City. Last service will be in January. The airline has been flying from its Boston, New York/Kennedy and Fort Lauderdale focus cities as well as Orlando.
      Asiana Airlines is suspending San Francisco-Seoul/Incheon flights between March 3 and April 16. The carrier was ordered by Korean courts to suspend the flights for 45 days as a penalty for its fatal SFO landing acident in 2013.

All major card issuers recently have been juggling what the industry calls the "junk insurance" coverage they offer with credit cards. But American Express seems to be making the most severe cuts to the perks most travelers might use. Example: Premium Roadside Assistance, which offers battery jumps, tire changes and even emergency gasoline delivery to Gold, Platinum and other cardholders. Also going: automatic travel-accident insurance. Both those perks end on December 31. Purchase protection and extended warranty coverage is also being trimmed. Cardholders are being notified with statement stuffers, but, really, who reads those? If you rely on or have used those coverages in the past, check the specifics on those stuffers or at the American Express Web site.

Italy travelers take note: Friday, October 25, is another nationwide strike day. That'll mean massive cancellations on flights between Italy and North America as well as many intra-Europe and domestic services. Also going down: National rail services and many local train and bus runs. Complete information is here. It's in Italian, but that's what Google Translate is all about, right?
      Hong Kong's democracy demonstrations and occasional violence are brutalizing travel to the city. Flag carrier Cathay Pacific says its load factor in September dropped 7.2 percent year-over-year. Hong Kong International separately said airport traffic plunged 12.8 percent in September. About 100 restaurants have closed and hotel occupancy plummeted about 40 percent. Meanwhile, the local government this week finally withdrew the controversial mainland extradition bill that ignited the protests.