Business Travel Briefing
For January 14-28, 2021
The briefing in brief: The CDC orders negative test for all international arrivals. Marriott cuts 2021 elite-status requirements. The DOT approves an American-JetBlue alliance. United cuts long-haul Hawaii routes and delays JFK relaunch. Canadian skies empty as Air Canada and WestJet drop flights. Washington and Washington-area airports lock down after Capitol Riots. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

After months of steadfast inactivity, the CDC this week ordered all passengers on international flights to the United States to have proof of a negative Coronavirus test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival. The edict is effective on January 26, but, of course, it's a mess because the CDC offered up few specifics and dumped enforcement on the airlines. And, naturally, the airlines are totally unprepared for the task even though they have been agitating for testing for months. Until now, the testing requirement was limited to flights arriving from the United Kingdom. The CDC regulation applies to all arriving passengers, including returning U.S. citizens and residents. You aren't exempt if you've already been vaccinated. While popular forms of viral testing, including PCR, will be accepted as proof, antibody tests won't qualify. The cost of the test is your responsibility--as are costs incurred if your carrier won't board you because the paperwork is wrong or you tested positive. Testing is smart as a way to get people back on the road. Rolling it out without clarity is stupid. Just ask Britain, which had to delay implementation of its testing rule this week because of sloppy execution. Buckle up, folks, it's going to be a bumpy ride. Meanwhile, check the JoeSentMe home page. I've posted links to the U.S. airports and airlines offering testing and I'll add links to testing at key international airports in the days ahead.

I noted last week that Marriott Rewards had yet to post its 2021 requirements to retain elite status for 2022. This week it did so and the news is good. All five elite levels will require just half the number of nights as in previous years. That means just five nights for entry level Silver Elite and 50 nights for Ambassador, the top level. Even better is the way Marriott is adjusting the tiers. Technically, the requirements won't change. Marriott is effectively halving them by depositing nights in your account--and those nights will count toward lifetime elite status. One example: Platinum Elite usually requires 50 nights and, technically, it still does. But existing Platinum members will receive a 25-night credit in February, meaning they will need to earn just 25 more nights in 2021 to requalify for Platinum in 2022. Another move: Marriott is reducing the $20,000 spend requirement for Ambassador Status. This year it's only $14,000.

The Department of Transportation has approved a rare domestic alliance for American Airlines and JetBlue Airways. The deal for travel at Boston/Logan, New York/Kennedy and New York/LaGuardia does not allow the airlines to conspire on pricing, but does allow them to coordinate schedules, code-share at New York and Boston and swap take-off and landing slots there. The agreement does have a cost, however. American and JetBlue will have to surrender a total of seven slot pairs (effectively seven roundtrips) at Kennedy and six pairs at Washington/National. The airlines will also have to increase seat capacity by 5% at both Kennedy and LaGuardia. If they don't, they must surrender another 10 JFK slot pairs. Neither carrier has announced plans for the alliance, due to begin during the first quarter. The fine-print details of DOT's agreement with the airlines are available here.

Annoyed that the Canadian government imposed Coronavirus testing rules last week, the nation's leading carriers are slashing service. (And, of course, whining incessantly about it.) Air Canada says it is reducing its first-quarter capacity by 25%. The move won't just reduce the airline to 20% of its 2019 size, it'll also mean 1,900 more layoffs and the end of service to seven Canadian cities. Meanwhile, WestJet says it'll eliminate an additional 30% of its current schedule, including suspension of 11 domestic routes and 13 international runs. That will bring WestJet down to about 20 percent of its 2019 size and entail the layoff of about 1,000 workers. Separately, Porter Airlines once again delayed its restart. Based at Toronto/City Island Airport, the carrier has been grounded since March 20, 2020. It has announced and then delayed its relaunch repeatedly in the last 10 months. The current restart date is March 29. But, you know, don't bet your last Molson on it.

United Airlines is no different than any other carrier: Routes are coming and going with dizzying speed. Immediate casualties: nonstop flights to Honolulu from its Newark and Washington/Dulles hubs. Both routes are off the schedule until at least March. Meanwhile, United is delaying plans to relaunch transcon flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco from New York/JFK. The much-ballyhooed restart has been delayed until at least February 28.
        Madrid Airport continues to struggle after being closed for several days last weekend when heavy snow paralyzed the Spanish capital. Long flight delays and numerous cancellations continued throughout the week.
        JetBlue Airways has dropped four more irports--Burbank, San Jose and Ontario, California, and Baltimore/Washington--from its route map.

Delta Air Lines says it hasn't decided when it will resume selling middle seats. Alone among major U.S. carriers, Delta continues to block seats and has pledged to do so until at least March 30. The policy is "generating a meaningful premium," chief executive Ed Bastian says.
        CNN is killing its Airport Network service. The 24/7 news operation, broadcast in about five dozen airports, goes dark on March 31. CNN pays airports to place the monitors and display the news broadcasts.
        Qatar and Saudi Arabia have restored flight links and reopened land borders after a regional Cold War that began in June, 2017. More importantly, Qatar Airways flights can once again fly over Saudi territory, reducing flight times to many destinations from Doha.

The Capitol Riots on January 6 are not just having legal ramifications for the perpetrators and participants, it's making life for Washington residents and travelers difficult as we reach January 20 and Inauguration Day. Consider just some of the ripple effects:
        No guns All major carriers now say they will not permit guns to be checked on flights headed to Washington-area airports or Richmond, Virginia. The ban will last through at least Inauguration Day. American Airlines won't offer any alcoholic beverages on flights to or from Baltimore/Washington, Washington/National and Washington/Dulles. That ban runs from this weekend through January 24. And Alaska Airlines will require passengers traveling to or from Washington airports to remain in their seats for one hour after takeoff and before landing.
        The FAA says unruly passengers who interfere with flights or crews are now subject to fines as high as $35,000. The policy is in effect until March 30.
        Airbnb cancelled all reservations for lodgings in the Washington area during the Inauguration.
        Washington Metrorail will close 13 stations in the center of the District of Columbia beginning on January 16. Stations will remain closed through January 21.
        Capitol Police will offer escorts to elected officials using the Washington airports due to last week's harassment of several Senators and Congresspeople.
        Amtrak lost its best customer on his most important day. President-Elect Joe Biden--known as Amtrak Joe during his days as a Delaware Senator--has abandoned plans to take a train into Washington for the Inauguration.