Business Travel Briefing
For March 25-April 8, 2021
The briefing in brief: Travel is mounting an impressive rebound in March. Canadian carriers resume flights to Atlantic Canada and sun destinations. Airspace Lounges are basically done at airports. Trump Hotels get tossed from a prestigious travel-agent network. Virgin Australia ends free meals and snacks in coach. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

A year after the pandemic first tanked travel, March, 2021, is shaping up as the month when the recovery really took off. Consider: According to TSA statistics, 28.1 million people passed through airport checkpoints during the first 24 days of the month. That's nearly four million more flyers than the 28 days in February and almost five million more than January. It also represents 49.9 percent of 2019 volume, a more than 9-point jump from February. It's astonishing since flying has only grown about two or three points a month since last summer. Hotels are also regaining a measure of equilibrium. Average nationwide occupancy for the week ended March 20 reached 58.9%, says STR, the hotel statisticians. That represents 85% of 2019's lodging demand. More importantly for hoteliers, the average daily rate of $108 was 81 percent of 2019's benchmark. STR also reports that every one of the Top 25 markets registered a week-to-week occupancy improvement. Business markets like Boston (37%) and Minneapolis (39%) are still lagging, but Florida cities such as Tampa (85%) and Miami (80.7%) are booming. What's it all mean? "Fare hikes and price increases," a travel executive told me this week. "We may actually have a decent summer."

When Canadian authorities in January abruptly demanded airlines drop winter flights to snowbird destinations, Air Canada begrudgingly dumped most of its Mexico and Caribbean flying. Now the airline has gotten the green light to resume service. Three flights a week from Toronto to Mexico City are set to return on May 3. A weekly flight to Kingston, Jamaica, resumes on May 5 and once-a-week flights to Bridgetown, Barbados, begin on May 9. Meanwhile, WestJet said this week that it will resume service to airports in Atlantic Canada. Flights between St. John's and Halifax resume six times weekly on May 6. Beginning on June 24, flights from Toronto return to Charlottetown, St. John's, Fredericton, Moncton and Quebec City. The Sydney-Halifax run also returns in late June.

It looks like the end is near for Airspace Lounge, a small chain of common-use airport clubs originally founded by entrepreneur Anthony Tangorra. The last branch, located at San Diego International, has begun accepting Priority Pass, a move Airspace has always resisted. But what choice did it have? The network has literally disappeared. The Airspace Lounge in Cleveland closed last year. The New York/Kennedy facility, which opened months late and wildly over budget, shuttered in 2018. And the Baltimore-Washington location disappeared in 2016. The Airspace brand is now owned by Swissport, which operates most of its common-use lounges under the Aspire name. Tangorra, who departed Airspace after the JFK fiasco, is now out of the airport-club business.
        Las Vegas/McCarran is again getting a medical facility. The University Medical Center of Southern Nevada will open a 1,440-square-foot urgent-care clinic in Terminal 1. It is due this summer. Another urgent-care facility, also in Terminal 1, closed in 2019.
        Orlando International is reopening many of its food-and-beverage outlets--but without its former employees. When the restaurants closed last year, HMS Host, the airport giant, furloughed the employees and promised to bring them back. Now they're not even being allowed to reapply for their old jobs. The Orlando Sentinel has the details.

Regardless of what you feel about Donald Trump or his presidency, it's hard to find a positive spin to put on his dreary travel career. It has been marked by lawsuits, bankruptcies and an endless string of awful purchases and worse operational decisions. Now the latest hits. Virtuoso, the high-end consortium of travel agencies, has dropped Trump Hotels, Trump's shrinking lodging chain. "It's a big deal because Virtuoso is well-respected in the industry," analyst Henry Harteveldt explained. "It serves a very elite base of customers." (Harteveldt himself is a former executive at Trump Shuttle.) Meanwhile, Trump's gold-plated Boeing 757--the one emblazoned with his name, the one he used as a background prop during the 2016 campaign--is literally rotting away at Newburgh/Stewart Airport. CNN has the gory details.
        Westin Book Cadillac, the famed Detroit hotel that led the city's revival more than a decade ago, is facing foreclosure. The owner is delinquent on a $77 million loan.

American Airlines says it repaid a $7.5 billion loan against the AAdvantage program secured via the 2020 CARES Act. American raised the funds by floating a $10 billion private placement. To secure the private funds, American was forced to reveal some key details of AAdvantage. Most notable: Third-party mileage sales (mostly to banks issuing credit cards) dropped to $2.9 billion in 2020, down nearly $1 billion from 2019. American's mileage sales direct to members also plummeted last year, down to $213 million from $538 million in 2019.
        Virgin Australia has eliminated free meals, snacks and even soft drinks in coach. Coffee, tea and water are still complimentary. Everything else is available only through a new buy-on-board program.
        The Dorchester in London is opening a rooftop restaurant overlooking Hyde Park. Lunch and dinner will be served. A 60-pound-per-person minimum will apply. The hotel doesn't reopen to guests until May 17, but the rooftop restaurant debuts on April 12.