Business Travel Briefing
For December 17-31, 2020
The briefing in brief: Yikes! Transportation Secretary-Designate Pete Buttigieg thinks O'Hare is "romantic." Alaska, Southwest and JetBlue add odd new routes. Delta quietly drops the nasty SkyMiles 72-hour change/cancellation rule. Coronavirus testing at airports picking up steam. Canada will unground the Boeing 737 MAX next month. And much more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

President-elect Biden yesterday (December 16) introduced former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as his choice for Transportation Secretary. And "Mayor Pete," the former two-term mayor of South Bend, Indiana, promptly stepped in it. "I proposed to my husband, Chasten, in an airport terminal," he said yesterday in his speech. "Don't let anyone tell you that O'Hare isn't romantic." Now Transportation Secretary is a job often given to the other party in a show of bipartisanship--see Democrat Norm Mineta for Bush II or Republican Ray LaHood for Obama--or used as a sinecure for a corrupt crony--see Elaine Chao, Mitch McConnell's wife, under Trump--so Buttigieg's appointment was a surprise. After all, he's very young (38), with a military background (Navy reserve with Afghanistan service), smart as a whip (Harvard and Oxford) and a rising star in the Democratic Party. And despite his protestations of love for transportation, he has no bone fides in the field. And now has to go into the position defending his claim that O'Hare is romantic. Color me skeptical. Not to mention that now I'll have to learn to spell Buttigieg and it's already taken me a lifetime to learn how to spell Brancatelli. By the way, according to his memoir--Who knew 38-year-olds had memoirs?--Buttigieg proposed to his husband at Gate B5. It's probably the most exotic thing to happen at ORD since then-British Prime Minister David Cameron hatched his disastrous idea for a Brexit referendum at an O'Hare pizza joint.

Nobody knows what 2021 will look like. In fact, most experts were wrong about the pace of recovery this year. Still, airlines have planes and they have to fly somewhere. And alternate carriers, being slightly more nimble than their larger competitors, can move faster. Where are they going? Pretty much anywhere they think they can turn a quick buck. That means trying out old routes they once dropped, looking for markets they may have missed and even just flying to sunny places because, really, who doesn't like sunny places? So consider:
        Alaska Airlines is reviving some routes from Anchorage that it had previously abandoned. Four weekly runs to Las Vegas will return May 20 three years after Alaska Air dropped them. Seasonal daily Phoenix flights now will run year-round. And from June to August, there'll be daily flights to Denver (dropped in 2013) and San Francisco (dropped in 2010). The San Francisco route was actually supposed to start this past April, but, you know ... All four runs will be served with Boeing 737s.
        JetBlue Airways is adding Miami to its route map, something of a surprise since it maintains a hub at Fort Lauderdale Airport 26 miles up I-95. Starting February 11, it'll fly from MIA to Los Angeles, New York/Kennedy and Boston/Logan. LAX flights will operate with Mint, JetBlue's much-admired business class service. Also new will be seasonal flights to Key West from JFK and Boston. Those will also launch February 11. On June 17, JetBlue will also add flights to Los Cabos from JFK and LAX. Also new: daily flights from JFK to Guatemala City.
        Southwest Airlines is returning to Jackson, Mississippi, after a seven-year hiatus. There'll be daily flights to Atlanta, Baltimore-Washington and Houston/Hobby. The service returns June 6. And although it has not released schedules, Southwest confirms it'll add two more California cities to its map: Santa Barbara and Fresno. That will mean Southwest will operate from 13 California airports by next summer.

For nearly a decade, Delta Air Lines further devalued SkyMiles by imposing a despicable rule that barred changes to or cancellation of award tickets within 72 hours of travel. The airline confirmed this week that has quietly dumped the 72-hour rule. But beware: Although close-in changes can now be made, the equally nasty $150 change/redeposit fee still applies on some award tickets. Thankfully, however, award tickets originating in North America will be exempt.
        Air Canada already announced it would launch a Chase-issued MasterCard for U.S. travelers who play in Aeroplan. The card is due sometime next year. Now it has gone the next mile (or, actually, the next point): Aeroplan will become a transfer partner in the Chase Ultimate Rewards plan. Amex Membership Rewards points already transfer to Aeroplan.
        JetBlue Airways says it will enhance the anemic Mosaic elite level of its anemic TrueBlue program. Mosaic members will receive free travel for a companion from January 1 to May 20. (Since airlines never give anything away, assume JetBlue thinks its loads will be quite light in the winter and halfway through the spring.) A more permanent improvement: Mosaics will now receive free day-to-travel upgrades to JetBlue's "more space" seats on a space-available basis.

Ten months into the pandemic, it's obscene that testing remains a problem in the United States. Thankfully, however, airports are beginning to get into the act. A former airport-spa chain has repositioned as XpressCheck and already opened at five airports. Major Alaska airports have testing facilities and you'll find several other large airports with locally sourced test options. The latest? Pittsburgh. PCR and rapid testing should be available starting Monday (December 21) across from Gate A2. Even bigger news, at least if you're looking for a warm-weather getaway this winter? Alaska Airlines is spearheading a "pre-clearance" program for flyers headed to Hawaii. It allows Alaska Air passengers to avoid the growing queues at airports in Hawaii, which on October 15 permitted visitors with negative tests to skip a 14-day quarantine. Alaska Air says travelers will receive an E-mail before departure helping guide them through the pre-clearance process. Alaska Airlines now offers 18 nonstop flights a day from the West Coast. More details on the airline's skip-the-line plan are here.
        The Club says its Cincinnati and Baltimore/Washington airport lounges have reopened. The Pittsburgh lounge has closed again, however, and will not reopen until January 4.

Air Canada and WestJet will be cleared next month to resume flying their Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, according to Canadian regulators. When the carriers will actually resume MAX flights remains to be determined.
        Paris has opened a 3.6-mile extension of Metro Line 14. The new track heads north from Saint-Lazare station and adds four new stops in the city's northern suburbs.
        China is going Paris one better. Well, actually, lots more than one better. This month it added another 268 miles of high-speed service, a north-south route between Taiyuan in Shanxi province and Zhengzhou in Henan province. It also opened a link between Zhengzhou (population 10 million) and the city's airport.