Business Travel Briefing
For February 11-25, 2021
The briefing in brief: The pandemic skews the list of America's busiest routes. Delta devalues SkyMiles again because it can. American will launch Miami-Tel Aviv flights, but Air Canada's new route cuts include Toronto-Tel Aviv and a slew of major cross-border runs. Amex opens a Centurion Lounge in Denver. Delta will block middle seats until April 30. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

You won't be shocked to hear that the pandemic has scrambled the hierarchy of America's busiest routes. With New York and California both wracked by Coronavirus, the all-powerful Transcon Triangle routes--New York/JFK, Los Angeles, San Francisco--have fallen off the list, of course. So, too, have the Northeast power routes and runs via Chicago/O'Hare, the hub shared by both United and American. But if you were to believe the mainstream media, the nation is now dominated by point-to-point routes launched by airlines desperate to scoop up whatever traffic exists. Not true. According to global schedulekeepers OAG, hub routes completely dominate the current American Top Ten. In fact, hub-to-hub runs prevail. The current busiest is Atlanta-Fort Lauderdale, followed by three other Atlanta runs: to Orlando, Miami and Tampa. Denver-Phoenix, another hub-to-hub route, is in the fifth slot. Then a pair of routes from Dallas/Fort Worth (to Las Vegas and LAX), two touching Seattle (LAX and Phoenix) and Minneapolis/St. Paul to Phoenix. Besides hubs, notice the preponderance of routes in the South and Southwest.

Delta Air Lines makes no secret of its desire to fleece SkyMiles members of as many miles as possible for just about anything and everything. And it's hard to argue with Delta's logic: SkyMiles members act like sheep. After all, how else to judge the fact that SkyMiles members continue to charge on Amex-issued cards at about 95% of pre-pandemic levels? So don't be shocked to learn that Delta has again devalued SkyMiles in another attempt to shear the sheep. Although there are a (very) few isolated exceptions, using a Delta partner for a business class award will now cost 120,000 miles each way. (It was 75,000 miles as recently as late last summer.) Business class flights to India and Asia are also pegged at 120,000 miles each way. Southeast Asia partner awards start at 160,000 miles. We can't be exact, of course, because Delta eliminated award charts several years ago and it raises (mostly) and lowers (once in a blue moon) award levels on a whim.
        Rapid Rewards, the Southwest Airlines frequency program, issued more than four million awards in 2020. That accounts for 15.8% of Southwest's seat capacity, about double the percentage of any other major carrier. The information was included in a recent federal filing. In the fourth quarter, the airline also revealed it presold about $600 million worth of Rapid Rewards points to Chase, the carrier's credit card issuer.

Various iterations of American Airlines have had no love lost for flights to Tel Aviv. But with El Al grounded for long periods during the pandemic--Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport is essentially closed right now--American has been rethinking its historic antipathy. It already announced TLV flights from its otherwise shriveled New York/Kennedy hub. Those are due to begin in June. Long-promised nonstops from Dallas/Fort Worth are scheduled for October. And this week American said it would fly between its Miami hub and Tel Aviv, too. Three weekly flights using Boeing 777-200s are scheduled to launch on June 4. At the same time, American said it would begin Miami-Paramaribo, Surinam, nonstops on July 1. Airbus A319s are scheduled for that route.
        Air Canada says it will slash 17 more routes starting next week. Notable international cuts: The end of Toronto-Tel Aviv flights as well as nonstops to Bogota, Dubai and Hong Kong and cancellation of flights from Vancouver to London and Tokyo. Also on the chopping block are key transborder routes to the United States. Included are flights from Toronto to Boston/Logan, Denver, New York/LaGuardia and Washington/National. Also gone: Flights from Montreal to Boston and LaGuardia. Assume most or all of the routes will be restored when things get back to normal--whenever and whatever normal is, of course.
        Air Namibia has shut down. The carrier can trace its roots to 1946 as South West Air Transport (SWAT)--remember, Namibia once was a colony called German South West Africa--and adopted Air Namibia as its brand in 1991.

In the before times, the arrival of another American Express Centurion Lounge would have been met with all the bread and circuses that Amex (and its card-flogging blogger partners) could muster. But with air traffic at about 35% of last year's pre-pandemic volume, a new airport club is a rather less-important affair. Still, the newly opened Amex lounge in Denver covers 14,000 square feet and offers an Italian food menu and a bar featuring a rotating roster of local craft beers. Located on the mezzanine level of Concourse C near Gate 46, it's also Denver's first non-airline lounge. Admission is limited to Amex Platinum and Black card members as well as Delta Reserve cardholders.
        Minneapolis/St. Paul is getting three Delta Air Lines nonstops not flown in years. Seasonal flights to Portland, Maine, haven't operated since 2009. Flights to Myrtle Beach return for the first time since 2010 and service to Providence, Rhode Island, will be back for the first time since 2015.

Yes, Virginia, there is a profitable airline. Mesa Airlines, a commuter carrier for both United and American, earned a profit of $14.1 million in the last quarter of 2020. How's it possible? Mesa isn't compensated by its passenger count. Its major-carrier masters have what the industry calls "capacity-purchase agreements" with the airline. In other words, United and American pay Mesa by the flying hour regardless of how many passengers are on board.
        Delta Air Lines says it will extend its empty-middle-seat policy until April 30. It is the only U.S. carrier to continue to block seats to offer a semblance of in-flight social distancing. Delta's policy and specifics of blocking by aircraft type is here.
        United Airlines is making a small investment and taking an equity stake in Archer, a company developing short-haul, battery-powered aircraft. If the technology pans out, United may purchase as many as 200 of the aircraft.