Business Travel Briefing
For March 5-March 19, 2020
The briefing in brief: Instead of trying to stimulate traffic, the airlines begin cutting service and grounding planes--and they'll expect you to pay for it. Two European hotel chains debut in New York City. Berlin sets still another opening date for its "new," 10-year-old airport. Flybe folds in Europe. St. Louis gets a Priority Pass lounge. Delta adds more flights in Seattle and aims them right at American's biggest hub. And much more.

This was the week when U.S. airlines got serious about combating collapsing passenger traffic due to real and imagined Coronavirus fears. Did they initiate systemwide fare sales to stimulate discretionary travel demand? Um, well, no. Did they reduce award prices to incentivize flyers to fill empty seats? Er, no. Did they announce pay-coach-fly-premium upgrade schemes? Appeal to our patriotic feeling about travel? Place a single advertisement promoting their product? No, actually, they did none of those things. So what did they do to follow up on last week's gimmicky change-fee waivers? They cut capacity and began putting aircraft on the deck, where they're guaranteed not to generate any revenue. United Airlines said it would slash domestic capacity by 10 percent and international traffic by 20 percent in April and May. JetBlue Airways plans a smaller, but no less significant, cut. American Airlines is dropping flights from New York to places such as Savannah, Georgia, and Bermuda. Also going are routes between Chicago and Duluth, Minnesota, and Charleston, West Virginia. What's more, the carriers will expect us to pay for their cowardly decision to ground planes and cut service. Several airline executives I've spoken to this week say it is inevitable that the carriers will go to Congress in the weeks ahead and lobby for a 9/11-style bailout. As you recall, Congress literally gifted the carriers $5 billion after the terror attacks, the equivalent of almost $18 a citizen. In subsequent years, Congress also allowed airlines to collect taxes and keep the revenue rather than pay it to the Treasury. "We will need help," one C-Suite executive told me via E-mail on Wednesday (March 4). "Planes are emptying faster than you could imagine." Of course, airline imaginations are very limited. After all, these are people who can't think of anything to do with aircraft but ground them and guarantee losses.

It takes years for hotels to go from planning to pipeline to opening and nearly as long for a top-to-bottom renovation of an existing property. That explains the rather untimely premiere of two European hotel chains in New York with their first U.S. properties. This may not be the moment to open new hotels in one of the world's most competitive markets, but time, tide and viruses wait for no economic models. Which explains the opening of the Pestana Park Avenue. The 95-room property on East 39th Street near Madison is the first of two New York locations due this year from the privately owned Portuguese chain. Opening rates start as low as $125 a night. Just a block away, at the corner of Madison Avenue and East 38th Street, NH Hotels of Spain is about to open its first U.S. property, the 288-room NH Collection Madison Avenue. Due on April 1, it's a reimaging of the Madison Towers, a Depression Era property most recently run by Italy's Jolly Hotels, which NH purchased more than a decade ago.
        Ambassador Chicago, better known to business travelers as the Ambassador East, is joining Joie de Vivre, now a Hyatt brand. The 285-room property on the Gold Coast, also recently known as the Public, was long home to the Pump Room, one of Chicago's most famous restaurants. It closed several years ago and was replaced by a dining room called Booth 1. A restaurant called Food Gallery now occupies the space. The hotel is already available for sale via the site.

Berlin's "new" airport, Brandenburg, was originally due in 2011. It came within weeks of opening in 2012 before a slew of serious deficiencies, including fire-suppression systems, led officials to keep it shuttered. Every few months, a "new" opening date would be delayed again. In the interim, the airport's supposed hub carrier, Air Berlin, collapsed in 2017. Now Brandenburg is due for an October 31 opening with carriers moving from Tegel, currently Berlin's primary airport. More to the point, the new Berlin power, Lufthansa, is planning to start its move on November 8. The German giant and its European vassals--Brussels, Swiss and Austrian airlines--will transfer that day. Don't hold your breath, though. History has not been kind to opening dates for the decade-old "new" airport.
        Charleston, South Carolina, gets 14 weekly Florida flights from Silver Airways, an independent regional carrier. It'll operate AT72s to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa starting on May 21.
        Seattle-Tacoma continues to benefit (generally speaking) as hometown Alaska Airlines and interloper Delta Air Lines fight for primacy there. Just days after Alaska and American Airlines started playing nice again last week, Delta announced it would launch three daily flights to American's Dallas-Fort Worth hub. Delta's service, using Airbus A220s, will begin June 8.

Europe's largest commuter airline, Flybe, shut down yesterday (March 4), an especially difficult situation for flyers in British cities such as Aberdeen, Scotland; Birmingham and Southampton, England; and Belfast, Northern Ireland. Purchased last year by a consortium fronted by Virgin Atlantic and Stobart Air, Flybe was hoping for a government bailout that never arrived. British commentators are eulogizing the carrier today, but seem to have conveniently forgotten that the airline was loathed by customers and routinely melted down and left flyers stranded for days at a time.
        Air Canada is launching daily service between Vancouver and John Wayne/Orange County. Effective June 15, there'll be a daily roundtrip using Airbus A319s configured with 14 business class and 104 coach seats.

The Wingtips Lounge, the only common-use club at St. Louis/Lambert, now accepts Priority Pass for the entry fee. Meanwhile, United Airlines has opened its club in the new terminal at New Orleans airport. The 6,000-square-foot lounge is located near Gate C7.
        Amtrak has a new chief executive, William Flynn, a former cargo airline executive. He replaces Richard Anderson, who, of course, once ran Delta Air Lines. Going from a passenger-airline boss to a cargo-carrier executive seems like a worrisome downward step, don't you think?
        PreCheck now has 10 million members, according to the TSA. There's no truth to the rumor that they are all on the PreCheck line at your airport.