Business Travel Briefing
For May 14-May 28, 2020
The briefing in brief: Ninety-six carriers scored bailout funds from the CARES Act. Airlines decide you must wear a mask--unless you don't want to do it. Hotel occupancy "soars" to 30 percent nationwide. Delta is bailing on about a dozen airports, probably forever. When the going gets tough, United gets worse. And more, including our daily Coronavirus update.

No red lips, undulating bodies or the rampant sexism of a Robert Palmer video, of course, but the feds wants you to know that there's some telling where the money went. Two federal agencies have released detailed lists of the bailout funds issued to airlines and airports from the CARES Act. On the Treasury Department Web site, for instance, you'll learn that 96 airlines qualified for funds. The big winner? American Airlines, which received $5.8 billion of "anticipated payroll support." Not far behind was Delta Air Lines ($5.4 billion). In fact, the top 14 payees are airline names you recognize. But Number 15 on the list, Clay Lacy Aviation, is probably not on your radar. It's a charter-jet operator and scored $26.9 million in bailout funds. In fact, there's a clutch of charter operators on the list and even oddballs like Sacramento Executive Helicopters ($574,000). Smallest payout ($49,780) went to Jannus Air, a charter service based on Martha's Vineyard off Cape Cod. On the airport side, the FAA opened the books several weeks ago. Its payout site isn't, as Robert Palmer might say, simply irresistible, but there are plenty of news nuggets. Not the least is the tale of Devils Lake, the tiny North Dakota airport that initially scored 50 years of operating funds. After that news went viral, however, bureaucrats cut Devils Lake down to around $1.4 million instead of the original $17 million grant.

U.S. carriers now almost universally demand you wear a mask or face covering in-flight. But if you don't want to do it, the carriers have told their flight crews not to enforce the new rules. Reuters broke the story of the airlines' decision not to enforce its new regulations, but facts were leaking out all week. American Airlines, for example, told flight attendants to "encourage" travelers to comply with the mask rule, but instructed them "do not escalate" if they refuse. That's airline jargon for walk away as if nothing has happened. And what if passengers following the mask rule are angry about louts who refuse to wear one? United told its flight attendants to de-escalate the situation by reseating anyone who doesn't want to sit near an unmasked one. By the way, airlines have already publicly stated it wouldn't impose a mask requirement on children or travelers with breathing problems.

The aforementioned CARES Act allows the airlines to "consolidate" service in market areas with more than one airport. JetBlue Airways has already done it and now Delta Air Lines is pulling the trigger. And given how dire the future looks, expect Delta to officially dump these airports permanently when the "temporary" consolidation expires with the CARES Act on September 30. Gone is Chicago/Midway; three airports in California (Oakland, Burbank and Long Beach); two airports in Metro New York (Westchester and Stewart/Newburgh); and several others. One notable market where Delta did not consolidate is Dallas, where it serves both DFW and Love Field. Love would be a logical candidate for pruning by consolidation, but Delta is squatting on a gate that Southwest Airlines technically owns and the two carriers are in a vitriolic lawsuit. Separately, Delta also announced that it was ending service at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
        Paine Field, the small airport north of Seattle, is down to one daily flight, an Alaska Airlines run to Phoenix. Alaska Air says all other flights end tomorrow (May 15).
        Vancouver is losing its Air Canada flights to Taipei this year. Air Canada tentatively plans to resume service on March 27, 2021, which is somewhere over the rainbow at this point.

Um, well, not really, but it sure is interesting how comparatively quickly hotel occupancy is growing. After skidding to just 21 percent during the week of April 5-April 11, the lodging-data geeks at STR say U.S. hotel occupancy jumped to 30.1 percent for the week of May 3-May 9. The nationwide laggard continues to be Honolulu, where only 10 percent of guestrooms are occupied. (No surprise given Hawaii's mandatory 14-day quarantine on arrival.) Canadian hotels aren't doing nearly as well as their Lower 48 counterparts. Nationwide occupancy is just 17.5 percent and only 7 percent of hotel rooms in Newfoundland are filled.

After buying back billions of dollars' worth of shares when its stock was riding high in recent years, United Airlines sold low last month when it issued new shares to raise $1 billion. It followed that up hoping to raise $2.25 billion more with a junk-bond issue. But it pulled that offer last week when it couldn't attract buyers, even with an 11 percent yield.
        Delta Air Lines has extended the validity of Delta 360 memberships until January 31, 2022. The by-invitation-only 360 level is awarded to Delta's biggest spenders, few of whom have been spending at all in recent months.
        Southwest Airlines is offering double Rapid Rewards points on all flights booked and flown through August 31. Don't all rush to book at once ...
        Amtrak is resuming three daily Acela trains in the Northeast Corridor. The railroad's highest-speed train returns June 1.

In these challenging times--hey, I see the commercials--it's good to know there is some continuity. One example: United Airlines, always the worst imaginable carrier, got dragged this week when a photo went viral of a packed flight with no social distancing. United responded about how you'd expect it would. After explaining that it reduced schedules by 90 percent and 85 percent of the remaining flights went out less than half full, United insisted that it wouldn't guarantee empty middle seats after all. But it did promise to alert passengers 24 hours before departure if a flight looks to be operating 70 percent or more full. Travelers will be permitted to rebook or receive the ever-popular flight credit. United's largesse, such as it is, will continue through June 30.