Business Travel Briefing
For June 10-June 24, 2021
The briefing in brief: American Airlines schedules even more flights at Austin to create a hub in everything but name. Hyatt loses five hotels to Sonesta--and that's a victory. Hilton is losing its iconic Singapore hotel. As leisure travel rebounds, airlines add a slew of new leisure runs. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

The Texas capital of Austin is the current "it girl" of cities: a booming business environment, a trendy reputation, educated and well-paid citizens, growing population, plenty of arts, culture and dining, and, of course, all that government-related stuff. Plus it is felicitously located about halfway between the two coasts. Sound like the stuff that airline hubs are made of, right? Well, don't say "hub" or even "focus" city around the poohbahs of American Airlines, but it sure looks like American is building a, er, um, presence in the City of the Violet Crown. Although Southwest Airlines now carries the most passengers at AUS with 35% of the market, American is a growing Number 2 with 20%. And that was before today's (June 10) announcement of 14 new routes from the Texas capital. Launching in September and October, the new runs include daily flights to the Midwest (Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis); Jacksonville, Florida; Reno, Nevada; and closer-in destinations such as El Paso, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. There'll even be new sun runs to Mexico and the Caribbean. Including an expansion earlier this year, American will be up to nearly 100 daily flights from Austin by the fall. In other words, it's an American Airlines hub in everything but name.

Hyatt lost five hotels this week--the Hyatt Place properties at Kansas City and Tucson airports, the hotels in Fort Wayne and at the Gwinnett Mall in suburban Atlanta, and the branch in suburban Austin--and that's a victory. All five are owned by Service Properties Trust (SVC), the firm that recently shifted hundreds of Marriott and InterContinental hotels to the Sonesta chain. (SVC owns a huge chunk of Sonesta, too.) Earlier this year, a disagreement over money led Hyatt to sever its brand agreement with 22 Hyatt Place properties owned by Service Properties Trust. But a complicated new deal has kept SVC in the Hyatt fold and the Hyatt Place flag flying over 17 hotels. The five defectors this week were reflagged as Sonesta Select hotels.
        Hilton is losing its iconic (if slightly tatty) Singapore hotel on Orchard Road. The 423-room property will get a remake and switch in January to the new Voco brand from InterContinental. Hilton will be left with a Conrad and a Hilton Garden Inn in the city.

If you've ever been inside an Amazon Go retail outlet, you know everything is controlled by your credit card and an app. There are no clerks and no check-out lines. You enter, choose your items, then leave and get billed automatically. Like it or hate it, Amazon is bringing that format to the nation's airports. Thanks to a deal with the ubiquitous Hudson News chain, Amazon's so-called Just Walk Out technology is now operating at Chicago/Midway and Dallas/Love Field. The 1,000-square-foot Hudson Nonstop shop opened this week at Midway's Gate B19. Travelers enter by swiping a credit card and their purchases are automatically billed to that card on departure. The system was tested earlier this year at a 500-square-foot Hudson Nonstop at Gate 10 at Love Field. Hudson plans to open new Amazon-powered shops at major airports nationwide throughout the rest of the year.

U.S. passenger volume has reached about 70% of pre-pandemic levels, although the numbers are heavily skewed to domestic leisure routes. With overseas runs still largely losers and a robust return of business travel months away, the carriers continue to remake their route networks to cater to those leisure flyers. Here's what's new:
        Southwest Airlines is adding a route between its Baltimore-Washington hub and Syracuse, the carrier's first flights to the Northern New York city. Also new: flights from Palm Springs, California, to Dallas/Love and Sacramento; flights to Cancun from Chicago/O'Hare; and flights to Sarasota, Florida, from New York/LaGuardia and Washington/National.
        WestJet is launching flights to Kona and Lihue, Hawaii, from its Calgary hub.
        Alaska Airlines is launching flights to Belize City, Belize, from its Los Angeles and Seattle hubs. It will also add flights from its Portland, Oregon, hub to New Orleans and Tampa. Also new: flights to Cancun from San Francisco and from Palm Springs to the uber-hot aforementioned Austin.

This week in boorish passenger behavior: An unruly flyer rushed the (locked) cockpit of Delta Flight 386 last Friday (June 4), but was subdued by the cabin crew and other travelers. The flight from Los Angeles to Nashville was diverted to Albuquerque to offload the fool to a waiting contingent of local police and FBI agents. It then continued to Nashville.
        Amtrak says its new Acela trainsets won't debut this fall after all. The new deployment date is next spring.
        Air Canada executives have been shamed into returning about C$10 million in cash and share bonuses because the carrier received a C$5.9 billion bailout from the Canadian federal government. The clawback affects the chief executive, the airline's executive vice presidents and the retired CEO.