Business Travel Briefing
For February 20-29, 2020
The briefing in brief: Airlines divert grounded Asia widebodies to domestic and Europe routes. Airline food news (ugh!). Virgin Atlantic kills its free ground transfers for business class flyers. Capital One will open a branded lounge at Washington/Dulles. Regional favorite Ledo Pizza arrives at BWI. Cape Air wants to launch seaplanes between New York and Boston. Men are dumber frequent flyers than women. (But you knew that, right?) And much more.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hotels are closed in China as the Coronavirus ravages travel. And there's nothing much the hotel industry can do about those empty assets. But the airlines' most valuable asset--widebody aircraft--are mobile and they can be deployed elsewhere. So where are the airlines using the diverted Asia aircraft? United Airlines, which has the most service into Greater China, has moved an estimated 18 widebodies to domestic routes. Until at least late April, you may find some Boeing 777s and 787 Dreamliners on the Denver-Los Angeles and Chicago-Las Vegas runs. There are also some diverted widebodies on the San Francisco-Cancun route. American says its Asia aircraft will be deployed on routes from its Dallas/Fort Worth hub to Europe and some high-yield domestic markets. Delta Air Lines has diverted some Asia aircraft to transatlantic routes, but the carrier won't give details. Air Canada is also moving Asia planes to Europe runs. British Airways is temporarily deploying Asia planes to routes from London to Miami, Seattle and Cape Town, South Africa. What's it all mean? For starters, hope for some lower fares here and there as the airlines work to fill those extra seats. Perhaps you'll finally score an upgrade, too. And do check your boarding assignments. There'll be a lot of seat juggling as the carriers swap out aircraft. Keep an eagle eye on your supposedly "confirmed" seat assignments on upcoming flights.

I'm convinced that if you are thinking about airline food you are doing business travel wrong. But I admit my bias: I've never gotten over the fact that an executive once described his airline meals as leftovers because they were mostly cooked in advance and then refrigerated for later use. Still, if you care, you should know that United Airlines has retired, at least temporarily, the Biscoff cookie. In its place until at least May will be Oreo Thins. (Another Low Country favorite, stroopwafels, continues on the bill, however.) Separately, United is testing complimentary meals in coach on routes between Hawaii and its Newark, Washington/Dulles, Houston/Intercontinental and Denver hubs. The carrier began offering coach meals last month on its Chicago-Honolulu route. United is hardly being magnanimous, of course. American, Delta and Hawaiian airlines have already restored meals on their runs between Hawaii and the mainland. Meanwhile, American Airlines announced this week that it will allow passengers in premium class on American Eagle commuter flights to preorder meals. The service starts March 11 and the airline says that almost 1,900 American and American Eagle flights will then offer the pre-order option. American allows advance ordering from 24 hours to 30 days before an eligible flight.

Considering Virgin Atlantic is now essentially a vassal of Delta Air Lines, it's amazing that this has survived as long as it has: Virgin announced this week that it is killing free ground transfers for business class passengers. Once the defining difference between Virgin and competitors in the U.S.-U.K. market, the perk ends on June 30. Virgin had years ago dumped the service for all but its higher-fare business class and now no one will get a free limousine transfer, limobikes or even comped tickets on the Heathrow or Gatwick Express trains.
      LOT Polish Airlines is opening another U.S. gateway. Effective June 2, the airline launched three weekly flights between its Warsaw hub and Washington/Dulles, hub of its Star Alliance partner United Airlines. LOT flies Boeing 787 Dreamliners in a three-class (business, premium economy and coach) configuration.
      United Airlines said this week that it will slap its UA code on Vistara flights in India. Beginning February 28, the UA code will appear on Vistara flights to 26 destinations beyond United's service to Mumbai and Delhi.
      KLM said this week that it will finally introduce a premium economy cabin on long-haul flights, including transatlantic service to and from its Amsterdam hub. Deployment is at least a year away. At the moment, KLM offers business class, coach and Economy Comfort, an extra-legroom coach section.

Capital One has been striving to break into the frequent flyer market. It unveiled a high-reward vehicle for dining--the Savor card offers four points per dollar on restaurant spend--and took a huge leap when it made Capital One points transferable to many airline frequency plans. Next step: branded airport clubs, a market currently dominated by American Express Centurion Lounges. The bank has committed to front a 9,100-square-foot space at Washington/Dulles. Construction costs in the old control tower, formerly occupied by restaurants, is estimated at $7.5 million. According to public documents, Capital One's 10-year lease guarantees the Washington Airport Authority at least $23 million and a third of the gross revenues. The lounge won't be run by Capital One, however. It will be managed by a Turkish Airlines subsidiary that operates clubs for other airlines and under its Prime Class lounge brand.
      Baltimore-Washington International is home to the first locations of Ledo Pizza, a favorite in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. There are now branches pre-security and in the B Concourse. Ledo is best-known for thin-crust square pies with a large, thick slab of pepperoni on each slice.
      Dawson Creek--a city in British Columbia, not the old TV show--is getting service from WestJet. There'll be a daily flight to the airline's Calgary hub beginning April 26.

Here's something you didn't know you needed--and probably don't need. Cape Air has received permission to launch a seaplane service between Boston and New York. A one-year pilot program will link Long Wharf in Boston Harbor and Logan Airport with the 23rd Street Dock in Manhattan. Prices and schedule for the nine-seat aircraft service have not been announced. Cape Air already offers some high-priced seaplane service from Manhattan to New Haven and the Hamptons.
      Qatar Airways is upping its stake in IAG, the parent company of British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus. A $600 million investment will increase Qatar Air's holding to 25.1 percent.
      JetBlue Airways says that 85 percent of its passengers are point-to-point travelers and do not connect at one of its "focus cities" like Fort Lauderdale, Boston/Logan or New York/Kennedy. Chief Financial Officer Steve Priest released the number this week at an investment conference.

If a survey from National Car Rental is to be believed, men are more interested than women in business travel. In order to get work-related travel, the survey says men (21 percent) are more willing to forego a higher salary than women (10 percent). Men (22 percent) are also more willing to sacrifice off-days than women (10 percent) to get more work-related travel. Woman (19 percent) are more cost-conscious than men (11 percent) about business travel costs. If you're interested in additional proof that men are really, really dumb, you can read the full survey here.