Business Travel Briefing
For February 18-28, 2021
The briefing in brief: JetBlue and American airlines launch their code-share while JetBlue limits carry-on bags on cheapest fares. Hotel chains report dismal 2020 earnings. Las Vegas rushes to rename its airport after a different Democratic senator. United delays its JFK relaunch (again) and reduces its promised schedule. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

As far back as 2014, I warned about "The Cheapening" of JetBlue Airways, once the darling of flyers and home of reasonable fares and comfy coach seats. This week brought still more decline, complete with new baggage rules and a service-blurring code-share with American Airlines, a carrier JetBlue was originally created to fight. On the rules front, the airline's basic economy fare (called Blue Basic) will no longer come with full carry-on privileges. Buy JetBlue's cheapest fare and you'll only be allowed an under-seat bag. No access to overhead bins for you. (The new rule is effective on tickets purchased beginning February 25 for travel after July 20.) JetBlue is tarting up that nasty take-away by promising flyers on other fares that they'll be guaranteed space for one overhead bag--or receive a $25 flight credit. The airline is also (finally) aligning with other carriers and ending change and cancellation fees for all but Blue Basic fares. There will be a $75 charge for day-of-flight changes, however, although no fare differences applies. On the code-share front, JetBlue and American will slap each other's codes on as many as 80 flights, mostly to/from the three major New York airports and Boston. The heaviest concentration of code-shares is on transcontinental and Florida routes, where the two carriers had been competitors. The airlines are also promising reciprocal benefits on their frequent flyer programs, but no details were announced. Information will be released "over time," JetBlue says. Code-shares begin February 25, so look carefully before you book either airline to fully understand which carrier operates your flight. Some (but hardly enough) details are here.

Lost in the endless discussion of the billions that the airlines are losing--and the billions of tax dollars we've shoveled into their coffers--is the reality that major lodging chains are being crushed, too. Even with an early boost from the Valentine's Day/President's Day weekend, nationwide hotel occupancy was just 45% for the week ended February 13. Needless to say, the pandemic is playing havoc with the "earnings" of the major lodging chains, most of which were released this week. Hilton Hotels said its 2020 net loss was $720 million. Its revPAR (revenue per available room), a key indicator of lodging health, fell 56.7% for the entire year. The much-smaller Hyatt chain lost $704 million in 2020 and its revPAR was down 65.4%. The 800-pound gorilla of lodging, Marriott, reported a more modest 2020 net loss of $267 million. But it was the chain's first annual loss since 2009 and more than half the loss ($164 million) was racked up in the fourth quarter. The company also lost its president and chief executive this week when 62-year-old Arne Sorenson died of pancreatic cancer. It was only two weeks ago that Marriott announced Sorenson was "temporarily" reducing his work schedule to accommodate more aggressive treatment. His cancer was first revealed in May, 2019.

Officials in Las Vegas are rushing to rename the city's airport for Harry Reid, the former long-time Nevada Democratic Senator and majority leader. There doesn't seem to be much opposition to the move, which would strip the McCarran name from LAS. You're forgiven if you don't even know what "McCarran" references. A former judge, Pat McCarran was also a Democratic Senator from Nevada, serving between 1933 and 1954. He had aviation bona fides: He was a sponsor of 1938's Civil Aeronautics Act and a helped create the Air Force as a separate branch of the military. But he was also a rabid anti-Communist and a proto-fascist. His most "famous" legislative accomplishment, 1950's McCarran Internal Security Act, was denounced by then-President Truman as "the greatest danger to freedom of speech, press and assembly since the Alien and Sedition" acts of the 18th century. The law passed over Truman's veto. McCarran is also known for a 1952 anti-immigration law that also passed over a Truman veto. Still, substituting one pol's name for another seems like a vertical move. Wouldn't naming LAS after Bugsy Siegel, the mobster who made Las Vegas a reality, be more honest? Siegel has literary bona fides, too. He was the model for the Moe Greene character in The Godfather.
        Newark Airport has a second Coronavirus testing facility. It is operated by XpressCheck (fka XpressSpa) and is located in the Terminal C baggage claim area. The original is in Terminal B.

Literary references usually flounder when applied to airlines, but there's a real Captain Ahab vibe coming from United chief executive Scott Kirby's quest to resume service at New York/Kennedy Airport. As you may recall, Kirby last year announced United would return to JFK after a six-year gap with transcontinental flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles. The original plan was to begin the flights on February 1. But that date was later pushed back to February 28. Well, guess what? That's not happening, either. The new launch date is March 28--and even that will be on a truncated schedule. Instead of two daily roundtrips on each route, there will only be five roundtrips a week on each run. Another hazy point: Where is United getting the Kennedy slots needed to provide even the reduced schedule? Stay tuned. Whale metaphors usually end badly for airline executives.

Amex says it will open a Centurion Lounge at Washington/National airport next year. The new facility will be located post-security in National Hall near Terminal B. The card company also says that it plans to renovate and expand its San Francisco and Seattle-Tacoma clubs. Amex opened a Centurion Lounge in Denver earlier this month.
        WestJet says it will temporarily slash four more cities off its route map. From March 19 until June 24, there'll be no flights to St John's; London, Ontario; Lloydminster; and Medicine Hat.
        Paris/CDG Airport will not proceed with a planned expansion. The cancellation rests on environmental grounds, not traffic declines, Paris officials say. Either way, though, I guess it means there won't be another annoying building labeled Terminal 2 to confuse the hell out of passengers.