Business Travel Briefing
For May 7-May 21, 2020
The briefing in brief: Frontier Airlines tried to sell social separation. Denver and LAX require masks. TSA screeners will wear them, too. Vienna Airport is selling Coronavirus tests. Marriott sells Bonvoy points to Chase and Amex. Italy, Belgium and Germany grapple with bailouts for their airlines. JetBlue Airways will drop flights to other carriers' hubs. And more, including our daily Coronavirus update.

Frontier Airlines, the sleazy low-fare/high-fee carrier owned by soulless William Franke, formerly of America West and Spirit, and run by creepy Barry Biffle, formerly of Spirit and US Airways, hoped to sell social separation for the low, low price of $39. The plan was to allow you to buy the empty middle seat for prices "starting at $39 per passenger." The so-called More Room program was aimed at selling both aisle and window customers the middle seat, of course. That would have been a nifty financial scam considering flight loads are running around 25 percent and Frontier's home page is promoting one-way fares as low as $21. The Franke-Biffle grift didn't last long, however, since Frontier was hammered in a Senate hearing this week. The airline then quickly backed off the plan, saying they were shocked--shocked!--to learn that anyone thought they were trying to profit off a pandemic. "We recognize the concerns that we are profiting from safety and this was never our intent," Biffle wrote to Congress on Wednesday. Which, of course, reminds you why Rick despised Ugarte in Casablanca. "I don't mind a parasite," Bogart's Rick explained to Peter Lorre's Ugarte, who had just murdered two German couriers for the letters of transit. "I object to a cut-rate one." Frontier then announced today (May 7) that it will begin temperature screening on June 1. Any potential passenger registering a temperature north of 100.4F degrees will be denied boarding. Unless, of course, you arrange for a special visa with Captain Renault.

Last week was when major U.S. carriers began telling us to wear a mask or face covering in-flight. This week it's the airports and the TSA. During the week, both Denver and LAX said they would require passengers to wear masks or face coverings in all passenger areas. The Denver rule went into effect yesterday (May 6) and LAX imposes the restriction on Monday (May 11). But if you're actually headed to an airport in the coming days, you'll also find your TSA security screener wearing a mask of some kind. The TSA made that announcement today and said it would be imposed systemwide "over the coming days."
        Vienna Airport says you can get an immediate Coronavirus test at the airport to avoid Austria's 14-day quarantine rule. The test will cost 190 euros and is available to both arriving and departing flyers. Full details are here.
        Airport concession sales nationwide fell below $5 million daily during the month of April, according to a trade group of retailers. Sales at airport shops and restaurants were about $825 million in April, 2019.

When Hilton last month pre-sold a billion dollars' worth of Hilton Honors points to American Express, its credit card vendor, it was hard to worry much since Honors points already are the Zimbabwe dollars of frequency. But Marriott Bonvoy had maintained some residual value even if members of the defunct Starwood Preferred Guest program would disagree. Now even that limited value is being diluted. Marriott announced this week it raised $920 million in cash from Amex and its other partner, Chase. The funds are will come largely from a pre-sale of Bonvoy points.
        Amtrak Guest Rewards said this week that it has extended the status of all elite members until February 28, 2022. Full details are here.

I grew up as a (kinda) nice Catholic school boy and was educated by nuns. They taught me not to eat meat on Friday, run under the church pews in case of nuclear attack and that three miracles made someone a saint. So let me introduce you to Saint Alitalia, which received still another miraculous bailout this week. The Italian government, which nationalized the airline earlier this year after a 2017 bankruptcy and several aborted private recapitalizations, says it will inject 3 billion euros into the eternally hopeless carrier. This new cash infusion is atop the 1.5-billion-euro injection since its 2017 bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Belgium is tying itself up in knots over the future of Brussels Airlines, the successor to Sabena. Owned by Lufthansa, Brussels has been grounded since March and the German airline is demanding a bailout to restart the carrier. The always divided Belgian government isn't sure of its next move. has an interesting piece on the political, social, cultural and financial implications. All this is complicated by Lufthansa's position in its home market. The German giant is seeking a 9-billion-euro bailout from Angela Merkel's government, but doesn't like the terms. Germany wants a 25 percent stake in exchange for the bailout and representation on Lufthansa's board.
        Virgin Atlantic Airlines, a vassal of Delta Air Lines although still technically owned by Richard Branson, is also nearing an inflection point. This week it permanently grounded its remaining Boeing 747s, laid off 3,000 employees and staked its future on flying from London/Heathrow and Manchester in Northern England. That means the end of service from London/Gatwick, from where the carrier launched in 1984.

JetBlue Airways asked for a slew of exemptions from the CARES Act to drop cities from its route map and was promptly denied. But a second request has yielded better luck and the DOT this week agreed to let JetBlue dump service to 16 cities, most of them hubs of other carriers. Through September 30, JetBlue will now be permitted to drop flights to cities such as Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis, all Delta Air Lines hubs; Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Phoenix and Philadelphia, all American Airlines hubs; Denver and Houston, both United Airlines hubs; as well as the multi-hub cities of Seattle and Chicago.
        InterContinental Hotels will take overthe Four Seasons Pudong in Shanghai. The hotel will be rebranded with the chain's Regent Hotels luxury flag. Four Seasons will still have a presence in Shanghai with its property on Wei Hai Road in the Jing'an District.