Business Travel Briefing
For August 19-Sept. 2, 2021
The briefing in brief: The in-flight mask mandate is extended again and the feds are considering a vaccine mandate, too. Chase improves earnings on Sapphire cards. Hyatt buys 100 resorts in a $2.7 billion deal. Start-up Avelo Airlines tries New Haven flights. A small Mississippi airport pays $12 million for commuter service. Turkish Airlines adds a DFW-Istanbul route. American delays relaunch of some London flights. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

It was just a month or so ago that we explained the in-flight mask mandate would survive until its September 13 expiration date because Washington pols do almost nothing during the summer. But the TSA this week extended the mask mandate again, this time until January 18, because the Delta variant has upset everyone's plans and calculations. With Coronavirus deaths and new cases rising to rates not seen since the worst of the winter spike, virtually nothing was going to dislodge the mandate--not even the airlines whining that it has led to an upsurge of disruptive passengers. But more Covid-related action may be on the way. A vaccine mandate to fly is under "active discussion" at policy levels of the federal government's medical bureaucracy. "It won't happen until FDA gives final approval to the vaccines," one White House official told me this week via E-mail. "But air travel is viewed as a way to convince holdouts to get vaccinated. It's an ultimate carrot, especially if they want to see family over Thanksgiving." Who'd oppose a vaccine mandate to fly? Anti-vaxxers, of course. But also airlines, who'd surely be tasked with policing the vaccine requirement. "Awful idea," one airline executive told me this week. "We'd end up duct-taping unvaccinated flyers to chairs at the gate after we deny them boarding." So stay tuned, this one could be interesting ...

Starting this week, Chase has improved earnings on several key categories when you use a Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve card. For the premium-priced Sapphire Reserve Card, you now earn 3 points per dollar on travel and dining worldwide; 10 points per dollar spent on car rentals, hotels and dining via Chase's own portals; and 5 points per dollar on flights purchased through Chase. For the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, the new earning structure is 3 points per dollar spent on dining, some streaming services and online grocery store purchases; 2 points on travel spending; and 5 points on travel purchases via Chase portals. Separately, Chase revealed its first three airport clubs will be located at Boston/Logan, New York/LaGuardia and Hong Kong. Clubs will be operated for Chase by a division of the company that controls Priority Pass.

Burbank-based Avelo Airlines, which launched earlier this year, continues to search for places it can fly, presumably at a profit. It has already dumped several of its inaugural routes and is now hoping for gold at overlooked Tweed-New Haven Airport in Connecticut. Beginning in November, the low-fare/high-fee start-up will fly from New Haven to four Florida destinations. Five weekly flights to Orlando begin November 4 and five weekly runs to Fort Lauderdale start the next day. On November 8, three weekly flights launch to Tampa and November 11 brings twice weekly runs to Fort Myers. Avelo flies Boeing 737s configured with 189 seats, most of which offer only 29 inches of legroom.
        Greenville, Mississippi, has scored flights to Dallas/Fort Worth and Nashville. How did the sleepy airport convince independent commuter carrier Contour Airlines to launch its 30-seat ERJ-135 aircraft on the routes? Government-approved graft, of course. Greenville received a $12 million grant from the federal government to improve flight service and Greenville is giving it all to Contour over a four-year period. Flights launch October 1. Greenville (GLH) hosted about 7,500 passengers during the 12 months ended in May, according to DOT statistics.

Desperate to improve its global footprint to keep pace with rapidly expanding Marriott and Hilton, Hyatt Hotels has struck a $2.7 billion deal to purchase the Apple Leisure Group. It's okay if you don't know the name, but Apple controls several tour packagers and a collection of about 100 mid-scale resorts in ten countries. The properties operate under the names Secrets, Breathless and Dreams and are located in sun destinations in Latin America and Europe. The deal, expected to close in the fourth quarter, will surely include earn-and-burn privileges at nearly all of the resorts. The bigger issue is how Hyatt will integrate Apple's tour operators into the World of Hyatt program. Stay tuned.
        The Drake, one of the best-known hotels in Chicago, is for sale for the first time in more than 100 years. Currently aligned to Hilton Hotels, the property at 140 E. Walton Street is being offered for sale without a brand-management condition. That means The Drake could affiliate with any chain after the sale.

American Airlines has delayed several international routes it had originally promised to restart in October. Nonstops to London from both Raleigh/Durham and Phoenix now won't return until the start of next year's "summer" schedule in late March. Separately, the carrier's Seattle/Tacoma-Bangalore run has been delayed one week to November 8, 2021.
        Turkish Airlines says it will launch flights to its Istanbul hub from Dallas/Fort Worth. Service begins September 24 with four weekly flights using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners configured with coach and business classes.
        Virgin Atlantic says it will begin nonstop flights between Orlando and Edinburgh. The twice-weekly route launches March 30 using Airbus A330s configured with business, premium economy and coach cabins.
        U.S.-China nonstops have been severely restricted since the beginning of the pandemic and subsequent Sino-American tensions. The current limited services will now be even further restricted. Claiming that it carried passengers who tested positive for Coronavirus, the Chinese government has limited United Airline to 40% capacity on its China runs. The U.S. government responded by limiting four Chinese carriers--Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Xiamen Airlines--to exactly the same capacity controls. The tit-for-tat lasts until mid-September.

The FAA today (August 19) levied a total of more than $530,000 in fines on 34 passengers for allegedly disruptive in-flight behavior. The FAA proudly notes that brings the total of "zero tolerance" fines to $1 million so far this year. Of course, only two of all the passengers fined to date have agreed to pay, so take the numbers with several huge grains of salt.
        Delta Air Lines has eliminated the fee for same-day standbys for trip changes. In other words, Delta will no longer charge you for privilege of waiting around to take an empty seat and help it fill aircraft. Confirmed same-day changes still cost $75.
        Government per diem rates for lodging stays in 2022 are frozen at 2021 rates, the General Services Administration announced last week. Meal reimbursement rates were revised upward by about 10%. New rates are effective at the beginning of the federal fiscal year, which starts October 1.
        Hawaii flyers take note: Business class travelers on five American Airlines routes--DFW to Kona and Maui; and DFW, O'Hare and Charlotte to Honolulu--now receive admittance to the Admirals Club or Flagship Lounges.