Business Travel Briefing
For January 9 - 23, 2020
The briefing in brief: A clutch of new airport lounges are on the way in 2020. United Airlines is less sorry than ever about its sorry operations. New hotels for the snowbird set in Florida and the Caribbean. Memphis gets a Delta flight back. Alaska Airlines continues to trim California routes. Boeing now says pilots need special training to fly the 737 MAX. And much more.

Remember when only airlines operated lounges and we were at the mercy of a carrier's admission policies and/or its annual-fee regime? The best thing about airports in the last 15 years or so has been the rise of independent, common-use lounges operated by club specialists and even credit card purveyors such as American Express. The better news: 2020 should bring a brace of new lounges and locations. Last week, for example, new side-by-side lounges opened in Terminal 4 at Phoenix/Sky Harbor Airport. Partially located in the former home of The Club, the newly designed and expanded space offers the latest American Express Centurion Lounge and an Escape Lounge, available free to Amex Platinum cardholders or to any traveler for $45 a visit. The lounges are about 9,500 square feet combined and share a common entrance. This week it is the scheduled opening of the Primeclass Lounge at Palm Beach International. Located post-security at the confluence of Concourses A and B, the 3,000-square-foot operation is available to Priority Pass cardholders or to paying guests. The lounge is where the old US Airways Club operated until about a decade ago. (Unfortunately, if you are flying JetBlue Airways from Concourse C, this lounge won't help much.) Later this year, look for the first three U.S. lounges from Plaza Premium Group, which runs well-regarded clubs at airports around the world. The lounges will be in Denver International and two at Dallas/Fort Worth. Amex may get as many as four more Centurion Lounges open in 2020, including the locations in Terminal 4 at New York/JFK, at LAX and Charlotte and in Terminal 3 at London/Heathrow.

After its monumental 2017 screwup in the David Dao affair, United Airlines decided to pull out all the stops. Not to be a better airline, of course, just to be more apologetic that it was a crappy one. Shortly after the Dao incident, United decided to automatically compensate travelers who were delayed by United's own incompetence. Now the days of auto-compensation are over. If you are delayed four hours or less, you'll probably get nothing save a formulaic apology. If a United-created delay is between four and six hours, no automatic compensation is forthcoming. You now must ask for some consideration and then it will be left to the judgment of individual employees to decide what, if anything, United will offer. Astonishingly, United claims that the policy change is "based on feedback." It won't say who offered the feedback and what they thought was too generous about United's auto-compensation scheme. But I'm not satisfied with that palaver. I want names. Who of you out there told United that it was being too considerate when it screwed up? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? Anyone?

It's January, it's winter, so now is the perfect time to be thinking about new hotels where it's nice and warm. You know, because you're long overdue for a business trip to where it's warm. To that end, you should know that Marriott has two new properties in Florida. An 80-room Fairfield Inn opened in Vero Beach at 9065 Americana Way and a 95-unit Residence Inn has opened in Tierra Verde on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. It's located at 214 Madonna Boulevard. Meanwhile, Hilton has opened another property in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island at the northern end of Florida. The 103-unit Home2 Suites is located at 2246 Sadler Road. If a resort is more your winter style, however, look to Hyatt and Puerto Rico. It finally slapped its name on a former Gran Melia on the island's northeast coast. The 72-acre, 579-room property now trades as a Hyatt Regency and is a Category 3 redemption. Prefer the less-trafficked St. Kitts and Nevis? The new-build, 102-room Koi Resort has opened as part of Hilton's Curio Collection. The beachfront property is adjacent to the Royal St. Kitts Golf Club.

Memphis was one of the big losers of the 2008 Delta-Northwest merger as the combined carrier wasted little time defrocking what had been Northwest's third-largest hub. But Delta is now resuming at least one Memphis run. After a five-year gap, there'll again be nonstops between Memphis and Delta's Salt Lake City hub. Airbus A319s will be used on the route, which resumes July 6. Two other Delta routes will also start July 6, these from the carrier's Atlanta mega-hub. Daily Airbus A320s will operate to Boise, Idaho, and Boeing 737-800s will serve flights to Spokane, Washington.
      United Airlines continues to throw metaphoric darts at its commuter route network. From its Washington/Dulles hub, for example, it'll add two new north-bound routes: to Madison, Wisconsin and Bangor, Maine. Two daily Madison flights begin May 8 and two daily Bangor runs start June 4. But United is dropping flights to Dayton, Ohio from its Newark and Houston/Intercontinental hubs. The Newark runs end this month while IAH flights end on March 26. Meanwhile, the SkyWest affiliate of United Express will soon add two subsidized Essential Air Service routes. SkyWest will fly daily from Denver to Dodge City, Kansas, and a route from Chicago/O'Hare to Decatur, Illinois. Virtually all of the aforementioned flights will operate with 50-seat CRJ aircraft.
      Alaska Airlines continues to pull in its horns on secondary routes in order to defend itself from larger players. The carrier dropped about a dozen routes in California last year and it will downgrade or dump at least four more this spring. On May 19, it'll end flights between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City and dump its run between Sacramento and Kahului, Maui. Los Angeles-Fort Lauderdale and San Diego-Salt Lake City will be busted down to seasonal runs.

Boeing has recommended to the FAA that pilots receive special flight-simulator training before being certified to fly the MAX variants of the Boeing 737s. The irony of that request? Boeing specifically rejiggered the existing 737 aircraft so that it could claim that anyone certified to fly a 737 could fly the MAX. The reversal, after months of resistance, probably will delay the MAX aircraft's return to the skies even further. The reason? There aren't enough 737 simulators--about 36 worldwide--to speed the training of pilots. The MAX has been grounded worldwide since last March.
      London travelers take note: You won't be shocked to learn that the 2018 decision to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport has run into another snag. The British Civil Aviation Authority has balked at the cost of the runway, delaying it for at least another year. Current plans now call for it to be complete in 2029. So expect it to be at least 2040. But what's 20 more years between friends, right?
      Fort Lauderdale flyers take note: FLL has three new dining options. A Shake Shack and a branch of local favorite Flash Fire Pizza are open in Terminal 2 and a branch of Rocco's Tacos, also a local restaurant, now operates on Concourse C in Terminal 1.