Business Travel Briefing
For July 22-August 5, 2021
The briefing in brief: Blame the travel chaos on short-staffed airlines--who we've paid to keep employees on staff. Air Canada says it'll restore service to all U.S. destinations. American and JetBlue expand their already shaky Northeast Alliance. Hobby Airport sells more booze than anyplace in Houston. Citi ThankYou points temporarily transfer to American AAdvantage. LAX bans single-use plastic water bottles. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

More than 42.5 million people passed through TSA checkpoints during the first 21 days of July. That's triple the number of passengers who traveled during the first 21 days of last July. But guess what? It's only 80% of 2019 levels. So why are airports a mess and airlines straining under the volume? Some of it is the flyer mix, of course. Business travelers are still mostly chained to their desks or home offices and a disproportionate number of current passengers are leisure flyers. They fly with lots more checked luggage (and oversized carry-ons) and they're generally unfamiliar with the rules. Besides, with international travel still largely off-limits, almost all of those 42.5 million flyers are using domestic airports at both ends of the trip. But the primary reason airlines and airports are a mess is because the carriers are ridiculously short-staffed. According to numbers released today (July 22) by the Transportation Department, the nation's carriers only had about 393,000 full-time employees in May. That's the lowest level since May, 2015--and even down 4.9% from last May, at the height of the pandemic when fewer than eight million travelers passed through TSA checkpoints. What makes this especially infuriating is that the tens of billions in taxpayer-funded bailout funds handed to the airlines were specifically earmarked to keep employees working. What carriers did instead, of course, was lay off or buy out tens of thousands of experienced workers and pocket most of the cash. In other words, we've literally paid the airlines to operate this poorly.

Air Canada is still fighting with U.S. regulators over last month's $25 million fine for refusing to refund tickets on flights cancelled during the pandemic, but the carrier is mounting a transborder service restoration now that Canada is reopening to travelers. The airline says it'll resume flights to all 57 U.S. destinations it served before the pandemic although the exact timeline is unclear. However, Air Canada says 14 U.S. routes from its Toronto/Pearson hub return between August 1 and September 9. That includes Austin. Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Raleigh-Durham, Seattle-Tacoma and Washington/National. Six routes from Vancouver, including Chicago/O'Hare, Las Vegas and Newark return in the same time frame. The airline's Calgary-Phoenix run also resumes on August 1.
        Paine Field, the reliever airport north of Seattle-Tacoma, is losing United Airlines. The carrier is pulling all service on October 5. That leaves Alaska Airlines as Paine's only commercial service.
        New York/LaGuardia this week received FAA approval for a controversial $2.1 billion AirTrain linking the airport with the New York City subway system. The project was championed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, but has been widely criticized elsewhere. Reason one: the train's indirect route. Reason two: The cost, which has ballooned to $2.1 billion from initial estimates of $450 million. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2025.
        Houston/Hobby is where the drinkers are. The latest Texas alcohol sales report, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, says the three Pappas restaurants in Hobby Airport rang up nearly $1 million in sales of wine, beer and liquor during June. That's more than any venue in the city.

The Northeast Alliance between American Airlines and JetBlue Airways has gotten off to a rocky start, especially for American flyers. Many are still attempting to get AAdvantage credit for JetBlue flights and American still can't assign seats on JetBlue metal. But the two airlines are forging ahead despite the kinks. If you believe them, AAdvantage elite and TrueBlue Mosaic members soon will receive priority check-in as well as expedited boarding regardless of the carrier flown. More notably, however, JetBlue is overhauling more of its operations to match up with American. It'll move flights into Terminal B at New York La/Guardia and use it as well as the Marine Terminal. And JetBlue will also add new routes to fill out the carriers' combined networks. Starting on October 31, JetBlue will launch flights to San Antonio from both its New York/JFK and Boston/Logan hubs. Starting March 27, there'll be nonstops to Kansas City and Milwaukee from those two hubs.
        Avelo Airlines, the Burbank-based start-up, continues to juggle its network. Starting September 16, there will be four weekly flights between Las Vegas and Sonoma County (STS). The carrier already flies to Sonoma County from Burbank.

Citi ThankYou points can now be transferred to your American AAdvantage account. But it's a temporary perk that only lasts until November 13. Points accrued with Citi Prestige or Citi Premier cards transfer at a 1:1 ratio. If you earn ThankYou points with a Citi Rewards+ card, the transfer rate is two points per mile. This temporary opportunity is especially notable because Citi is concurrently running an 80,000-point acquisition bonus for the Citi Premier card.
        World of Hyatt has added 20 more Small Luxury Hotels (SLH) to its roster. The good news is that most are Category 5 (20,000 points) or Category 6 (25,000 points) award redemptions rather than Category 8 (40,000 points), the level created specifically to cover the first SLH properties in the Hyatt program. The new entrants include five in France, one in Jerusalem and one in the Seychelles.

Tailwind Air, a seaplane operator, says it will launch a schedule seaplane route between Boston Harbor (BNH) and Manhattan's Skyport (NYS). The 75-minute run begins August 3 with 8-seat Cessna Caravans. There will be four roundtrips each weekday until November. One-way fares start at $395.
        LAX Airport is phasing out single-use plastic water bottles. The policy is effective immediately for new concessions. Existing merchants and restaurants have two years to convert to recyclable glass, aluminum or compostable material. Bottled water served on flights to or from LAX is exempt.
        United Airlines this week posted a net loss of $434 million despite the massive federal bailout. The loss without the CARES Act funds would have been $1.3 billion. Other major carriers--American, Alaska Air, Southwest and, last week, Delta Air Lines--all reported a 2Q profit thanks to the taxpayer-funded bailout.