Business Travel Briefing
For November 12-26, 2020
The briefing in brief: Airlines and airports ramp up testing. Norwegian Air may not survive winter months. United Airlines is reviving transcons to LAX and San Francisco from New York/Kennedy and no one knows why. Salt Lake City opens another new concourse. Porter Airlines delays relaunch again. Hong Kong and Singapore opening a travel "bubble." And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

For all of the great news this week about the Pfizer vaccine, there are plenty of questions, too. And the bottom line hasn't changed: For at least the next number of unspecified months, it is testing that can get us back on the road. After frittering away most of the year waiting for a federal agency to put a national testing plan in place, airlines and airports now are working independently to get testing in front of travelers. We covered the first moves toward travel testing last month, but this week saw an explosion of new options. Consider:
        Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport offers free saliva testing in Terminal 1. Details are here.
        JetBlue Airways and the Caribbean island of Aruba are collaborating on a testing regimen. Aruba is now accepting the PCR test administered by Vault Health. The test is administered via online video and overnighted to a Vault facility. Results are promised within 72 hours. Details are here.
        Seattle/Tacoma Airport is running a Coronavirus testing pilot through January 31. Available pre-security on the mezzanine level above the ticketing counters, PCR lab tests are limited to ticketed passengers 72 hours before departure. Results are available the same or next day. Details are here.
        American Airlines has widened its destination-specific testing options. The airline promises that this month passengers can be tested for flights to Belize, Grenada, St. Lucia and Hawaii. Options and procedures vary by destination. Details are here.
        Hawaiian Airlines now permits HawaiianMiles to be used to pay for various testing options that the carrier already offers. (Hawaii requires negative tests to enter the state, of course.) Details on the new Hawaiian Air miles offer are here.

Fans of Norwegian Air, best-known for its commodious, comfortably priced transatlantic Premium Class, will be sweating out the carrier's long, dark and cold winter. Norwegian hasn't flown transatlantic routes since the spring and its financial situation is, um, precarious. Norway refused to offer another bailout this week and the carrier promptly laid off another 1,600 employees. That comes atop an atrocious third-quarter report: a loss of around US$107 million and a 91 percent decline in passengers. Just 25 of its 140 aircraft were in service in the third quarter and that number shrunk to 21 in recent weeks. Management says it will ground all but six of those jets going forward. Worst of all, Norwegian only has about US$375 million in cash on hand to get it through the bleak fourth and first quarters.
        United Airlines is restoring some hub flights to the Caribbean and Latin America destinations. From mid-December and into January, it will resume service on the Cleveland-Cancun, Denver-Belize and Washington/Dulles-Santo Domingo routes. Flights to Costa Rica (San Jose and/or Liberia) will be restored from Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

United Airlines bailed on its transcontinental flights and New York/Kennedy back in 2015 and the move made a lot of sense. Having already killed all international connections and its other domestic flights at JFK, the transcons to Los Angeles and San Francisco were literal orphans. United was also struggling to fill the flights and discounting heavily in a crowded market. Worst of all, the premium-heavy JFK configuration outclassed anything United offered across the Hudson River at its Newark hub. But the new boss, chief executive Scott Kirby, has been adamant that United made a mistake bailing on JFK and has been angling to return to the slot-controlled airport. With flight traffic everywhere shriveled, Kirby acquired some slots and United this week announced it would return with twice-daily flights to LAX and SFO beginning February 1. The revived flights will use Boeing 767-30ERs outfitted with 46 business class seatbeds, 22 premium economy chairs, 47 Economy Plus seats and 52 seats in coach. The logic of the return is unclear: The widebody aircraft are nice to have, of course, but isn't a great use of the plane. No one is flying anywhere now. The twice-daily schedule is uncompetitive and doesn't even feature Eastbound red-eyes. And, bizarrely, United has told staff that it only has the necessary slots until March 26, which means it'll have to scramble for more to keep the service running in the spring.
        Salt Lake City has opened Concourse B to complement the new Concourse A, which opened in September. While Delta Air Lines, the hub carrier, controls all of the 25-gate Concourse A, the 21-gate B Concourse will house other airlines serving Salt Lake City. (Delta will also use a few B gates.) Two of the gates (numbered B21 and B24) are actually "hard stand" operations for commuter flights.

Airlines are wrapping up their quarterly reporting and numbers are depressing, to say the least. Multiple billions are being lost with little chance of profit even in the medium term.
        Air Canada says its third quarter sales of C$757 million was down 86 percent from the same quarter in 2019. The third quarter operating loss was $785 million. Passenger count was down 88 percent. Capacity was down 92 percent in the second quarter, 81.7 percent in the third quarter and is expected to be off 75 percent for the rest of the year. Its daily cash burn in the third quarter was C$9 million and the carrier predicts it will be $12-14 million in the fourth.
        Emirates said it lost US$3.4 billion in the first half of the year and claims it is the carrier's first 1H loss in 30 years. Revenues fell 75 percent to $3.2 billion.
        Porter Airlines isn't even bothering to release figures. It simply continues to delay its return to the skies. Originally grounded March 21, the Toronto/City-based carrier has once again pushed back its restart date. It's now planned for February 11.

Hong Kong and Singapore will open a "travel bubble" between the two cities beginning November 22. One flight a day in each direction, carrying a total of 200 passengers each way, will be operated by Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Passengers must be tested several times at their own cost (estimated at about US$245), but will not be required to quarantine. If the operation is successful and no Coronavirus cases can be tracked to the service, flight schedules will double starting December 7.
        American Airlines restored complete terms and conditions for ticketing and travel to The airline had dropped the full T&Cs and restoration of the complete text is due to pressure from the Department of Transportation.
        Austrian Airlines is expanding AIRail service that replaces many domestic flights. Starting on December 13, four trains carrying Austrian flight numbers will operate between Graz Central Station and Vienna Airport. Austrian already operates rail service to Vienna Airport from Linz and Salzburg. More details are here.
        Marriott settled up with British regulators on the matter of Starwood data hack first reported in 2018. Marriott agreed to pay a fine of 18.4 million pounds (about US$24 million).