Business Travel Briefing
For August 26-Sept. 9, 2021
The briefing in brief: Southwest Airlines may now be the worst carrier in the nation. Zombie versions of Alitalia and South African Airlines are set to launch. MileagePlus quietly launches a miles-and-dollars purchase option. Honolulu gets first new gates in nearly 30 years. Airlines continue to delay the restart of many key international routes., the business travel ticketing flop, goes down. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

How bad has Southwest Airlines' summer been? You can make the case that it is now the nation's worst carrier. The Transportation Department says Southwest ran on-time just 62.4% of the time in June, the worst performance among U.S. major carriers. It also racked up a worst-in-the-nation cancellation rate of 3.3%. Things haven't improved in July (1.6%) or August so far (3.3%), according to airline data service Cirium. Unions grumble that Southwest's drive to resume the equivalent of its 2019 schedule with too lean a staff has caused the crisis and Cirium calculations back up the claim: Southwest's October schedule is 92% of 2019 levels, much higher than Delta, American or United, which are each in the 80-85% range. (I first alerted you to Southwest's schedule maneuvers, a rerun of its post-9/11 playbook, back in June, 2020.) However belatedly, Southwest seems to be bowing to the inevitable. The carrier announced today (August 26) that it would be cutting back: A modest 27 daily flights will be trimmed from the previously announced September schedule, but then more serious cuts kick in. About 4.5% of the schedule will be dumped from early October through November 5 and the airline expects similar reductions for most of the rest of the year, too. The outgoing chief executive, Gary Kelly, claims the reductions "will create a more reliable travel experience" and admits Southwest "fell short" during the summer.

United MileagePlus this week quietly rolled out a "money + miles" purchase option. You can redeem as little as 500 miles to help offset the price of a cash ticket. The option is only available in a few markets right now so it is hard to get a handle on the value proposition. But do not believe you'll do better than a penny a mile, which, of course, isn't a particularly great value. But we're talking United here, so what did you expect?
        Air Canada Aeroplan has added Bahrain-based Gulf Air as an earning and burning partner.

A pair of moribund airlines we thought we'd seen the back of--Alitalia and South African Airways--are set to live again as zombie carriers with the same name but different funding and operational goals. Alitalia first. As I explained back in July, Alitalia dies on October 15. The third version of the carrier has now cancelled all flights after that date. You may have learned this if you had booked a Delta award to Italy in the fall and gotten a rerouting notice. (Alitalia finally got around to informing its own customers about its fate here.) In Alitalia's place the same day will be ITA, a new carrier that has already taken some Alitalia planes and is expected to hire some employees and buy the Alitalia name. But ITA already has blundered. It hasn't yet applied to the U.S. Transportation Department for the right to fly to and from the states. That means it may launch without the right to operate on the U.S routes it had hoped to service: New York/JFK, Boston and Miami to Rome and Milan. Meanwhile, South African Airways shut down last September, devastated by the pandemic and groaning under billions of dollars of debt. A new and newly financed company--the government of South Africa will hold a 49% interest--called South African Airways begins flying again on September 23. There's no word yet on whether or when the new SAA will fly to the United States.

Honolulu Airport gets its first new gates in nearly 30 years tomorrow (August 27) when the 12-gate Mauka Concourse opens. The $270 million, 230,000-square-foot project will also add six new TSA security checkpoints. Hawaiian Airlines will be the first carrier to use any of the new gates. The opening comes at an odd time: Hawaii Governor David Ige this week urged visitors to stay away from the tourism-dependent state until at least the end of October.
        New York/LaGuardia has gotten its first Minute Suites. Kinda. Sorta. The so-called Minute Suites Express operation is actually five cubicles/workspaces located inside the Bowery Bay Shops in the new Terminal B.
        American Airlines confirms that its Flagship Lounges and private dining rooms will reopen starting next month. New York/Kennedy and Miami operations are first starting on September 14 and September 28 respectively. Other locations--Dallas/Fort Worth, LAX and Chicago/O'Hare--reopen later in the fall.

Once upon a time, Qantas Airways said it would resume international flights in October, 2020. Then they were pushed back to March and then to this October. But with Australia still mostly locked down and under-vaccinated, October is off the board, too. The new Qantas plan--don't hold your breath--now envisions flights to Los Angeles, Vancouver and Honolulu to relaunch in mid-December.
        All Nippon Airways has pulled flights from the Tokyo/Haneda-San Jose route. The service was due to resume on October 31, but ANA now has no timeline for a relaunch.
        United Airlines has again delayed the launch of nonstops between its San Francisco hub and Bangalore, India. Most recently, the airline was planning an October 5 start. Now it has been pushed back to December 10.
        Air Senegal will launch service to the United States on September 2, but the route has changed. Washington/Dulles has been dropped and the service will now operate from Baltimore/Washington with a stop at New York/JFK before arriving in the Senegalese capital of Dakar. The twice-weekly runs will use Airbus A330-900neo aircraft configured with 32 business class beds, 21 premium economy seats and 237 coach chairs.

Not that anyone will miss it, but, a business travel buying service originally fronted by Priceline founder Jay Walker, is folding. Launched in 2016 to much acclaim and publicity--I was one of the few skeptics--Upside promised to reward business travelers with gift cards if they took connecting or other, cheaper itineraries instead of more costly nonstops. The service already has stopped selling tickets and will shut down completely by the end of September.
        Four U.S. commercial carriers--Delta, American, United and Hawaiian--have loaned 18 aircraft to the Afghan evacuation effort. The planes were petitioned by the Defense Department as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. It's only the third time the so called CRAF has been invoked.
        Eurostar is finally ramping up cross-border and English Channel service after more than a year of skeletal operations during the pandemic. Starting September 6, there'll be five daily trains between London and Paris and three daily trains between London and Brussels. One of those Brussels trains will continue to Amsterdam and Rotterdam.