Business Travel Briefing
For March 18-April 1, 2021
The briefing in brief: Three of Norwegian Air's key players plan a new transatlantic venture. Alaska dumps all its Oakland-Hawaii flights. All the airports named Orlando keep fighting it out. Little-known Sun Country Airlines goes public with a huge IPO. JetBlue adds a Hartford-Miami nonstop. The most important hotelier you didn't know has died. Amtrak restores daily service on 12 long-haul routes. Hyatt makes a play in Las Vegas. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

The demise of Norwegian Air Shuttle's transatlantic service earlier this year was a bitter blow to travelers who found the carrier's Premium cabin, low fares and gentle ticketing rules a refreshing change. But now a føniks--that's Norwegian for phoenix--just might be rising from the ashes. Three key figures from Norwegian Air--Bjorn Tore Larsen, Bjorn Kise and Bjorn Kjos--have reunited to create Norse Atlantic Airways. The three Bjorns aren't shy about their plans: recreate Norwegian Air's transatlantic operations. The initial idea is to link New York, Los Angeles and Miami with London, Paris and Oslo. Not exactly the sprawling route network Norwegian had established by 2019, of course, but Norwegian wasn't built in a dag (day), either. The Bjorns have lined up about US$25 million in capital from private investors and are eyeing a public share offering. They are even negotiating for leases on some of Norwegian's Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which were lightly used when Norwegian abandoned them with the transatlantic routes. "I think it will be fantastic to get them back," Larsen told a business newspaper in Norway this week. However, the proposed December launch seems too aggressive, not to mention flying into the teeth of the slow, winter season during a lingering pandemic. But stay tuned because the Bjorns have never done thing by any accepted airline measures.

The Alaska Airlines name is a misnomer since the carrier is based in Seattle and a double-digit amount of its capacity actually operates between Hawaii and the West Coast. But faced with stiff competition in Oakland from Hawaii newcomer Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines is saying aloha to flights there. The airline had temporarily dropped Oakland-Hawaii service when the pandemic hit last March and only briefly resumed flights during the Christmas/New Year holidays. Service from Oakland to Honolulu, Lihue, Kona and Maui was due to return on May 21, but the carrier has now permanently pulled the plug. Alaska Air will retain its service to Hawaii from San Francisco and San Jose, however. Meanwhile, the carrier continues to beef up its regional operations from its Seattle/Tacoma hub. Effective June 17, there will be daily roundtrips to both Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Redding, California. Horizon Air Q400 turboprops will be used on both routes. Two days later, it adds weekend seasonal Boeing 737 roundtrips between Anchorage and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Flights will operate on Saturday and Sunday until August 15.
        JetBlue Airways continues to build service at Hartford, Connecticut. Starting June 24, it will add a daily roundtrip to Miami using Airbus A320 aircraft. The route circumvents both JetBlue's New York/JFK hub and Fort Lauderdale, nexus of its Florida flights.
        Sun Country Airlines, an oft-sold Minneapolis-based carrier that can trace its checkered history to the 1980s, has gone public. Its IPO raised nearly $220 million and opened this morning (March 18) above $36, more than 50% higher than the $24 float price. It closed at $35.06.

The years-long legal battle over which airports gets to call themselves Orlando may finally be coming to an end. Orlando International (MCO), by far the busiest airport serving the community and the theme parks, has spent years hissing at Melbourne (MLB), which markets itself as "Orlando Melbourne International" even though it is in a different county and around 75 miles from Disney World. But now MCO will drop its lawsuit against MLB so long as Melbourne flips its name to "Melbourne Orlando International" and doesn't claim to be in, you know, Orlando. Meanwhile, MCO continues to oppose efforts of Orlando Sanford International (SFB), about 60 miles from Disney World, to trademark that name. And none of those Orlandos should be confused with ORL, Orlando Executive Airport, which is closest to downtown Orlando but reserved for general aviation.
        XpresCheck, the Coronavirus testing operation that grew from XpresSpa, has opened more airport branches. Washington/National, Washington/Dulles and Houston/Intercontinental can now test on-site. The IAH operation is post-security in Terminal E while the Dulles site is in lower level baggage claim. The National testing site is near Terminal B security in National Hall.
        Silvercar, the all-Audi rental firm, has closed its last airport location. Since Silvercar's purchase by the parent company of Audi, all rental locations have moved to in-town sites or Audi dealerships.

Extended-stay hotels have fared noticeably better than other lodging segments during the pandemic. One obvious reason: Extended-stay units offer more living space to guests and are equipped with kitchens. Both are huge advantages when guests may be spending more time in their rooms and subsisting on take-out meals and food deliveries that benefit from refrigeration and reheating. Which is a long-winded backstory to explain why Blackstone, which once owned both the Hilton and LaQuinta chains, and Barry Sternlicht, who created Starwood, have teamed up to purchase Extended Stay America. With about 650 locations nationwide, the mid-priced chain sold for about $6 billion.
        Hyatt and the owner of the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas will reconfigure the huge all-suite property into several Hyatt-branded properties. About 1,500 of the Rio's 2,500 rooms will be renovated and converted into an all-suite Hyatt Regency due to open in 2023. The other rooms will be converted to other Hyatt brands. The 30-year-old, off-the-Strip Rio is currently aligned with Caesars, but that deal is scheduled to end in December, 2023.
        Jack DeBoer died at the age of 90 earlier this month. Although his name may not be as familiar as Conrad Hilton or J. Willard Marriott, DeBoer created four major hotel chains: Residence Inn, now owned by Marriott; Summerfield Suites, which was subsumed into Hyatt House; Candlewood Suites, now part of InterContinental; and Value Place, now called WoodSpring and owned by Choice Hotels.

The FAA is proposing huge fines for JetBlue Airways passengers who behaved very, very badly on holiday flights. On a December 27 flight from Boston to San Juan, the FAA says a flyer repeatedly refused to wear a mask, wouldn't wear a seatbelt, shouted obscenities and shoved a flight attendant multiple times. The proposed fine: $20,000. On New Year's Eve on a flight from New York to the Dominican Republic, the FAA says a passenger refused multiple requests to wear a mask, repeatedly drank from a personal stock of liquor, threw bottles, slammed overhead bins and refused to remain seated during landing. The proposed fine: $12,250.
        Amtrak says its portion of the bailout from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan will permit it to resume daily service on 12 long-haul routes. The service will return in three tranches: May 24, May 31 and June 7. The daily schedules already have been loaded to Amtrak's Web site.