Business Travel Briefing
For November 14 to 30, 2019
The briefing in brief: Southwest Airlines flying dozens of planes that don't meet FAA rules. Transatlantic carriers shuffle their routes. Hyatt bails on single-use bathroom amenities, too. Federal judge reins in "suspicionless" searches of electronic gear at the airports. JetBlue adds Basic Economy fares. How to buy your own airport hotel. And much more.

It was just last week that we were discussing how airlines and planemakers seem to be cutting some corners. Now comes news that Southwest Airlines is flying dozens of improperly inspected and certified aircraft. According to reporting this week in The Wall Street Journal, the airline is operating at least 38 Boeing 737s acquired from overseas sources that lack proper recordkeeping for repairs and maintenance. If the The Journal reporting is accurate, the FAA threatened to ground the jets in October because Southwest Airlines had not fully inspected the planes and/or had the international paperwork in order. Southwest claims the snafu is strictly a matter of bureaucratic recordkeeping and insists the planes are safe to fly. Of course, Southwest said the about same thing last year when the FAA briefly grounded 32 of its Boeing 737s for faulty maintenance records. The background here should be familiar to any Joe Sent Me reader: Southwest is an all-Boeing 737 airline and it's the largest Boeing 737 operator in the world with about 750 in service. It's also desperately short of planes since the grounding of the 737 MAX in March. Southwest had been flying 34 737 MAX aircraft and was also slated to take delivery of dozens more this year. It has a total of 276 MAX-7 and MAX-8 series planes on order.

The airlines keep insisting there is an insatiable desire for transatlantic flights and they make flowery announcements of new routes. What you rarely hear, however, is how airlines are cutting almost as many routes as they are adding. Norwegian Air, for example, wants you to know it is expanding from both Denver and Chicago. From O'Hare, for example, there'll be summer service to both Paris/CDG and Rome. Denver also gets a summer flight to Rome. But Norwegian doesn't mention it is dropping seasonal New York/JFK-Madrid service, which was due to resume March 29. For its part, Austrian Airlines is launching its first flights from Boston/Logan on March 29. The Vienna nonstop begins with four weekly flights and builds to six starting April 22. Boeing 767-300ERs configured with business, premium economy and coach cabins are the aircraft. But what the airline doesn't trumpet is that it is bailing on its Miami flights and reducing LAX service to five weekly flights from its current daily schedule. Finally, Aer Lingus has scrapped plans to launch flights from Montreal due to delays in aircraft delivery. The Montreal-Dublin route was originally scheduled to begin this summer, then it was pushed to next year. Now it's off completely.
      Iberia says it'll resume flights from Washington/Dulles to its Madrid hub after a ten-year gap. Flights begin again on May 1 and there'll be four or five weekly runs using Airbus A330s configured with business class, premium economy and coach.
      Malaysian airlines are now barred from adding service to the United States as the nation has been downgraded to Category 2 safety designation by the Federal Aviation Administration. Malaysia Airlines hasn't served the United States for at least five years, but Air Asia X does operate a Kuala Lumpur-Osaka-Honolulu route.

Hyatt is joining InterContinental and Marriott and will eliminate single-use plastic bottles of bathroom amenities. Hyatt said this week that it will switch to common-use pump bottles and the transition will be complete by June, 2021. Hyatt is going beyond InterContinental and Marriott, however, and will phase out most plastic water bottles, too. It will add more refilling stations throughout its hotels and serve water in carafes at meetings and events. Hyatt naturally positions the moves as environmental sensitivity, but these are largely cost-cutting measures. More details are here.
      Marriott Autograph Collection gets a prime Berlin hotel. The Hotel Berlin Gendarmenmarkt, which recently left the Sofitel chain, will join Marriott's soft brand in the spring after a renovation.

FEDERAL JUDGE RESTRICTS UNLIMITED BORDER SEARCHES Searches of electronics at the border were restricted this week when a federal judge in Boston ruled Customs agents do not have an unlimited right to examine phones, laptops or other devices. In years past, the courts have given almost unlimited power to Customs agents to paw through our physical belongings as we returned to the country. The government stretched its activity to electronics devices in recent years, demanding returning citizens unlock phones for searches and surrender laptops for deep data dives. But U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper ruled that Customs agents cannot conduct "suspicionless" searches in contravention of Fourth Amendment protections. She stopped short of demanding the government get search warrants or have probable cause, however. Court records show that government agencies searched more than electronic 33,000 devices last year, nearly four times the number of searches conducted three years ago. Read Judge Casper's ruling here. The government has not yet said if it will appeal.

JetBlue Airways has finally (and unfortunately) launched its version of Basic Economy fares. Dubbed Blue Basic--bet you didn't see that name coming--the fares don't allow changes or refunds and guarantee you're last to board the aircraft. They do permit seat assignments for a fee at least 24 hours before departure and come with standard carry-on allotments. An overview of JetBlue's fare structure is here.
      American Express is trimming another benefit from the business version of the Platinum card. Effective January 1, cardholders will no longer receive 10 annual Gogo in-flight Internet passes. As with other Amex cards, the business Platinum also loses free Boingo Internet access beginning January 1.
      South African Airways has cancelled virtually all flights on Friday (November 15) and Saturday (November 16) due to job actions by cabin crews and other employees. The Washington/National and New York/JFK flights are still due to operate on Friday, the airline says.

We've all checked into our share of airport hotels, but have you ever wanted to own one? If that's on your bucket list, may I direct your attention to the Radisson Providence Airport located in Warwick, Rhode Island, across Post Road from T.F. Green Airport? The 112-room, three-star property was built in 1989 and underwent a $2.5 million renovation this year. Sound interesting? If so, you can get in a bid for the property auction starting Monday (November 18). For more details, click here. But fair warning: Radisson Rewards points are not accepted as legal tender for the auction.