Business Travel Briefing
For Jan. 21-Feb. 4, 2021
The briefing in brief: The Trump and Biden Administrations impose a thicket of new (and conflicting) rules for international travel. American will launch Tel Aviv flights on May 6. Southwest extends the validity of Companion Pass until the end of the year. KLM will ground its long-haul flights as the Netherlands tightens travel rules. Air Canada resumes Boeing 737 MAX flights on February 1. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

My advice in today's Brancatelli File about the relationship of travel and politics has a practical underpinning: New rules and regulations for international travel are coming faster than Bernie Sanders mitten memes and media coverage of Bernie Sanders mitten memes. Scroll back to last week--January 12, to be specific--and remember that the CDC declared everyone flying into the United States would require a negative Coronavirus test. That rule was pegged to go into effect on January 26 and enforcement was unceremoniously dumped on unprepared airlines. On Monday (January 18), the Trump Administration decided to lift restrictions on flights to Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Europe's Schengen Zone. That, too, would be effective January 26. Trump unilaterally imposed a flight restriction last year without advance notice to those nations and lifting the ban was equally unilateral. The added quirk this time: January 26 was after Trump left office yesterday (January 20) and the Biden team immediately let it be known that they weren't going to do it. In fact, we learned today (January 21) that the day-old Biden Administration was adding rules. Besides restoring the flight ban and requiring the advance Coronavirus testing effective January 26, a Biden Executive Order adds a quarantine upon arrival. The Biden rule is extremely hazy since it's couched in weasel-word language and stipulates no policing. Most ludicrous of all? Almost none of us are traveling internationally, so the rules, regulations, restrictions and executive orders are effectively moot for the foreseeable future.

Southwest Airlines has been far too slow in revealing its 2021 requirements for Rapid Rewards elite status and other perks. But good things do come to those who wait. Southwest now says any travelers whose Companion Passes had been extended through June 30 will now receive an additional extension through December 31. All Rapid Rewards members also will receive 15,000 tier-qualifying points; 25,000 qualifying points and 25 qualifying flights toward Compassion Pass; and 10 qualifying flight credits toward A-List and A-List Preferred. The airline is also removing credit card caps on travelers hoping to reach A-List and A-List Preferred status this year. Cardholders will earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 spent in 2021. Complete details are here.

The Transportation Department is making some passenger-friendly changes to involuntary denied boarding rules and payments. Effective April 13, an airline that has scanned or otherwise collected your boarding pass cannot deny you boarding. Moreover, once you have boarded and been seated, airlines cannot remove you from a flight claiming it has been oversold. Both of these rules are aimed at codifying changes that the airlines were essentially shamed into adopting after the David Dao incident in 2017. The DOT also increased compensation to $775 (for shorter delays) and $1,550 (for longer delays) if you are involuntarily denied boarding. Separately, the agency raised lost-baggage compensation to $3,800 from the current $3,500. Details on the changes are here.
        JetBlue Airways says it is "temporarily" dropping flights to four cities: Albuquerque (ABQ); Minneapolis/St. Paul; Burlington (BVT); and Portland (PDX), Oregon. The service suspensions will supposedly begin on February 11 and extend until April 1.

KLM, the Dutch carrier based at Amsterdam/Schiphol, was already down to about 40% of its 2019 schedule. Now it looks like many of the rest of its flights will be grounded by the weekend. During the week, the government of the Netherlands announced a one-month ban on flights from the United Kingdom, South Africa and many South American countries. It also imposed virus testing requirements for all travelers entering the country. The result? KLM has apparently decided to ground its long-haul flights and even some medium-distance routes within Europe. The airline hasn't confirmed or denied the groundings, but the new restrictions will put around 250 more flights a week on the deck until medical and financial conditions improve.
        American Airlines has set the launch for its nonstop New York/Kennedy-Tel Aviv flights for May 6. A seasonal route to Athens from JFK is expected to begin June 2. Both runs will use Boeing 777-200s configured with 37 lie-flat business class beds, 24 premium economy seats and around 200 coach and Main Cabin Extra chairs.
        Emirates Airline says it will resume flights to Seattle, Dallas/Fort Worth and San Francisco. The Seattle run to Dubai returns on February 1 while the others resume on March 2. The Seattle and SFO routes will operate four times a week while the DFW run will offer three weekly roundtrips. All three routes will use variants of Emirates' Boeing 777s.

Air Canada says it will resume flying Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on February 1. The aircraft will operate on select flights between Toronto and Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Winnipeg. Meanwhile, WestJet started flying its MAX aircraft today (January 21) from Calgary to Vancouver and Toronto.
        Travel Pass, an app sponsored by IATA, the global airline trade group, is picking up steam. The app promises to keep track and verify your Coronavirus tests and vaccinations as well as offer testing information and carrier requirements. It is now being used by Emirates, Etihad and Singapore airlines. British Airways will also begin testing the digital solution. Complete details are here.