Business Travel Briefing
For October 22 to 31, 2020
The briefing in brief: Hawaiian Airlines revives the nation's longest nonstops (to Boston and New York) while Singapore resumes world's longest nonstop. Southwest Airlines abandons blocked middle seats. Three airlines report bloody bad quarterly reports. United and Delta revive long-dead Zombie routes. Chase offers supermarket bonus for spend on Sapphire and Reserve cards. Four Republicans attack Biden for paying to charter an Amtrak train. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

I bet you're sitting there, not on a plane or in an airport, wondering when airlines were going to revive really long nonstop routes. Wonder no more. This is a week for bringing back long-haul flights that few will fly in the months ahead. On the other hand, at least if you're Hawaiian Airlines, you have a shot at traffic given that Hawaii now has a testing regime and it's getting cold in the East. That is the rationale for the imminent revival of nonstops to Honolulu from Boston/Logan and New York/Kennedy. At about 5,084 miles, the Boston run is the nation's longest domestic route. The JFK-Honolulu nonstop is about 4,970 miles, the second longest. Hawaiian has targeted December 1 for the restarts using Airbus A330-200s. There'll be two weekly flights to Boston/Logan and three to Kennedy. Internationally, Singapore Airlines says it intends to resume the world's longest nonstop between New York and Singapore beginning November 9. The service will move to JFK from its previous Newark base and that makes it a distance of 9,536 miles. Singapore also won't use its specially configured Airbus A350 ultra-long-range jets, either. It'll use a standard A350-900 configured with 42 business class beds, 24 premium economy chairs and 187 coach seats. Technically, the A350-900 doesn't have the range for the route, but loads on the three weekly flights are expected to be extraordinarily light, so Singapore probably won't proactively have to block off some seats. In fact, the route has been a huge money-loser for Singapore Airlines over the years. The revival now is probably more about cargo than any real passenger demand.

Southwest Airlines doesn't assign seats, of course, but it has restricted ticket sales so passengers were assured an empty middle seat. No more. Effective December 1, Southwest says all inventory on its Boeing 737 flights will be fair (and fare) game. That aligns Southwest with American and United and contrasts with JetBlue, Alaska Air and Delta, which will continue to block seats into early 2021. Southwest's decision is curious, however, because its load factors and its own statements indicate blocking seats was costing it very little. In July and August, the financial impact was "minimal," executives said today (October 22) during its third-quarter earnings call. No surprise there since Southwest said its summer load factors were below 43 percent. Its load factor climbed to 51.5 percent in September and executives claimed that caused a $20 million revenue hit. Southwest says the hit will again be $20 million in October with its load factor in the 50-55 percent range. And though Southwest is predicting no increase in November load factor, it mysteriously ups its estimate of lost November revenue to $40-$60 million.

Just in time for Halloween and spooky, creepy undead things, U.S. carriers are reviving some long-abandoned routes in an attempt to find revenue somewhere. At Delta Air Lines, for example, the Seattle-London/Heathrow nonstop is being revived after being dropped in 2017. Delta says it'll operate a daily Boeing 767-400ER on the run, which resumes April 1. Another undead route, Los Angeles-Fort Lauderdale, abandoned in 2012, returns November 20. The daily flight will operate with Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Meanwhile, United Airlines plans to resume four Zombie routes from its Washington/Dulles hub. Service to Akron/Canton, dead since 2001, returns December 1. Flights to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, dead since 2014, return December 3. On December 17, United revives its flights to Pensacola, Florida, and Allentown, Pennsylvania. Both were abandoned in 2013. All four routes will be served with CRJ-200 regional jets.

Three U.S. airlines--American, Alaska and Southwest--reported third-quarter earnings today (October 22) and it went about as you'd expect, especially after last week's bloodbaths at United and Delta. American Airlines reported a net loss of $2.4 billion as revenue plunged 73 percent. The shock: The airline's cash burn is still an eye-watering $44 million a day. At Southwest Airlines, revenue fell 68 percent and the net loss was $1.16 billion, the largest quarterly loss in the carrier's history. Southwest's cash burn was $16 million a day. At Alaska Airlines, revenues fell 71 percent and the net loss was $431 million. Daily cash burn is estimated at $4 million a day.

Chase is adding new temporary benefits to its Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve cards. The Sapphire Preferred Card will earn two points per dollar spent at grocery stores and supermarkets up to $1,000 per month. The Reserve Card will earn triple points. The promotion will be available on purchases between November 1 and April 30.
        The CDC this week issued a "strong recommendation" that passengers and employees on mass transit--airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares--wear masks. It also recommends masks at transportation hubs such as airports and rail stations. That's something like closing the barn door after the horse escapes, of course, but remember the White House blocked legislation in July that would mandate mask usage.

Four Republican Congressmen want Amtrak to investigate Joe Biden's use of a chartered train on a campaign trip last month through Ohio and Pennsylvania. They claim Biden was using Amtrak's "scare resources" and delaying freight trains. A dumbfounded Amtrak responded that anyone can charter a train and the Biden campaign paid full freight and was given "no discounts or scheduling preference." Disclosures to the Federal Election Commission reveal the Biden campaign paid $265,000 for the chartered train. For the record, the Congressional idiots are Ohio Representative Bob Gibbs; Arkansas Representative Eric Crawford; and Pennsylvania Representatives Scott Perry and Lloyd Smucker.