Business Travel Briefing
For February 13-27, 2020
The briefing in brief: American Airlines and Alaska Airlines revive and expand their alliance and Alaska will join Oneworld. Air Italy folds. Marriott loses a Hawaii resort but gains Florida hotels. Air Canada and Turkish Airlines adjust Vancouver routes. Hyatt jiggers award prices of more than 200 hotels. Transportation Department scorches Southwest Airlines and the FAA's oversight. New York sues Homeland Security over Global Entry ban. And much more.

Here's some genuinely surprising news: Alaska Airlines and American Airlines won't be cutting each other's noses off to spite their respective faces after all. In fact, they're madly in love again. As you may recall, Alaska and American were about to kill off most of the rest of their long-standing partnership on March 1. But today (February 13), they declared themselves love-besotted Valentines and, even more shockingly, Alaska Airlines plans to join the Oneworld Alliance, too. The carriers will restore and expand their code-sharing partnership at Alaska's Seattle-Tacoma hub and American's LAX hub, where Alaska also has a large operation. There'll be reciprocal lounge privileges across the network of both carriers, unfettered ability to earn and burn in each other's frequent flyer programs and elite-status reciprocity, too. American even plans to launch international flights to Bangalore, India, and London from Seattle. Alaska is working to become a Oneworld member by no later than the summer of 2021. The kissy-face about-face makes sense--Alaska never wanted to lose the American alliance and American needs Alaska's West Coast heft--but also raises a lot of questions. What happens to Alaska's traditional Swiss Strategy of one-on-one deals with a broad range of partners regardless of which alliance they were in? What happens to Alaska's generous frequent flyer program, which is still mileage-based and much more generous than any Oneworld partner? Can American be trusted to launch and maintain the India flights? And does the reignited partnership help either carrier fend off Delta Air Lines, which opened a Sea-Tac hub and has been lapping both American and United? Stay tuned, fellow travelers. This is going to be fascinating to watch once the sloppy kisses end and candy hearts are finished.

President Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo met today (February 13) and made no progress resolving the battle over Homeland Security's abrupt decision last week to expel New Yorkers from Global Entry and other security bypass programs. The White House meeting, preceded by blunt attacks by Cuomo and nasty tweets by Trump, came after New York sued to stop the DHS action. The ACLU also sued the federal government. The New York lawsuit, which claims Trump and the DHS acted maliciously and without legal justification, also contained some interesting tidbits: 50,000 New Yorkers were conditionally approved for Global Entry but unceremoniously flushed from the system when the DHS dropped the hammer; 30,000 other people had pending applications; and Global Entry expires for 175,000 more New Yorkers during 2020. Politics and taunts aside, here's what to do if you're one of the New Yorkers affected: 1) Contact your credit card company and demand it reverse the prepaid $100 application fee; 2) Apply separately for TSA PreCheck, which, for reasons known only to DHS, is not barring New York applicants; and 3) Check your credit cards because you shouldn't be paying for this stuff. You almost surely have a card that will rebate the $85 PreCheck application fee. In the meantime, download Mobile Passport, a third-party phone app that's a decent enough temporary replacement for Global Entry privileges.

Qatar Airways in 2018 took a 49 percent interest in the old Meridiana, a carrier the Aga Khan launched in 1963 to service his Sardinian resorts. Qatar Air renamed the carrier Air Italy; focused its network on Milan, a hub serially bankrupt Alitalia had largely abandoned; loaned it some spiffed-up former Qatar Airways planes; and launched Milan nonstops to several U.S. and Canadian cities. But Italy is a notoriously goofy aviation market and the carrier lost about US$400 million during the last two years. That led the Aga Khan, who still held the other 51 percent, to pull the plug. And since Qatar Airways can't increase its investment beyond 49 percent by Italian law, Air Italy is biting the dust. Its last flights are on February 25.
        American Airlines says it will launch nonstop flights from Seattle-Tacoma to both Bangalore, India, and London. The announcement came as part of the larger news today (see above) that American and Alaska Airlines are once again BFFs. The Bangalore flights, the first service by American to India since 2012, are due to launch in October. London runs are due in March, 2021. The Bangalore route makes sense since there is lots of business between India's Silicon Valley and the tech-heavy Seattle market. It's unclear whether the London service will be in addition to the two daily flights currently operated by British Airways, American's Oneworld and revenue-sharing partner, or if AA will take over one of BA's daily runs.

This unseasonably mild February may have diverted your attention from winter sun destinations, but the Marriott portfolio in sunny climes is getting a juggle. First up, a departure. The Sheraton Kona Resort on Hawaii's Big Island--once upon a time known as the Kona Surf hotel--is out. The 509-room oceanfront property is stripping off the Marriott name on April 15 and will reflag as an Outrigger hotel. The Honolulu-based Outrigger chain has purchased the 22-acre property, which is 50 years old and has undergone several renovations and reworkings. But Hawaii's loss is apparently Florida's gain as Marriott debuts a slew of new and restored properties in the Sunshine State. The 376-room Ritz-Carlton South Beach just off Collins Avenue has reopened after a $90 million renovation. Meanwhile, after a financially troubled, three-year conversion, the Le Meridien Dania Beach opened near Fort Lauderdale Airport. The 12-story, 245-room property was a Sheraton before it closed in 2016. About 45 miles up the Atlantic Coast in West Palm Beach, a newly built 208-room hotel called The Ben has opened as part of the Autograph Collection. Built on the site of West Palm's former city hall, the oceanfront hotel takes design cues from Ben Trovato, a Victorian mansion created by Byrd Spilman Dewey, an author and co-founder of the town of Boynton. And as if to put a punctuation mark on all this sunny stuff, Marriott also opened a 177-room Aloft Hotel in the El Distrito neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Vancouver travelers take note: Your international options are changing thanks to schedule alterations made by Star Alliance partners Air Canada and Turkish Airlines. Air Canada says it is reducing its Vancouver-Melbourne, Australia, route to seasonal service. There'll be no flights between May 1 and November 27 and four weekly Boeing 787-9 runs at other times. Meanwhile, Turkish Airlines says it will add Vancouver service this year. It'll begin three weekly flights to its Istanbul hub beginning June 9. The service will operate at least through October 22 with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners configured with business and coach cabins.

The World of Hyatt program continues to spin almost uncontrollably and seems unable to get any real traction in a global market where Hyatt's larger competitors--Marriott, Hilton and InterContinental--are as much as nine times larger. New this week: details of Hyatt's annual readjustment of award pricing. The net-net is, um, about zero. Good news: About half of the more than 200 properties are going down in price. Bad news: more than a dozen hotels, all part of the Hyatt's alliance with Small Luxury Hotels, move into Category 8, the highest price bucket. Good news: A dozen hotels move down into Category 4. Bad news: Nearly two dozen hotels move out of Category 4 into Category 5. (Category 4 is the upper limit of properties where you can use specialty free-night awards.) You can examine each hotel changing price here. Changes are effective with awards booked beginning March 22.

Southwest Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have both been hammered for their approach to the carrier's safety. In a scathing report this week from the Inspector General of the Transportation Department, Southwest was faulted for weak oversight, unwillingness to spend money on known safety issues and for pressuring employees to ignore safety problems. The FAA was cited for ineffectively overseeing Southwest's maintenance and ignoring known concerns about its internal safety culture. You can read the complete report here.
        David Neeleman, who founded JetBlue Airways and Azul of Brazil, has named his U.S. start-up Breeze. The carrier applied for FAA approvals last week and hopes to launch a skeleton schedule by the end of the year using Embraer regional jets leased from Azul.
        United Airlines says it will upgrade Kosher meal choices on its flights to Tel Aviv. It promises fresher ingredients, but also groan-inducing Yiddish stereotypes like bagels and black-and-white cookies. I'm just surprised there won't be little tubs of schmaltz, too.