Business Travel Briefing
For Sept. 23-October 7, 2021
The briefing in brief: Justice Department sues to break up the new American-JetBlue Northeast Alliance. Unvaccinated U.S. flyers will have more hurdles to clear on the return from overseas. British Airways will resume Austin nonstops. Swiss will resume JFK-Geneva service. The TSA tells you hours that PreCheck lines are open. United will finally launch the Dulles-Lagos route. Alaska Air adds more Mexico routes, WestJet adds flights to U.S. West Coast. France abandons massive makeover of Paris Gare du Nord station. And more, including the daily Coronavirus update.

DOJ Takes American and JetBlue at Their Words and Sues
U.S. airlines are notoriously unpoetic and the Justice Department is not known for its use of verse. But after the DOJ announced Tuesday (September 21) that it was suing to break up the American Airlines and JetBlue Airways alliance, a cursory reading of its complaint indicates some government lawyer is a fan of the late Maya Angelou. More than anything, the DOJ filing adheres to one of Angelou's most insightful maxims: "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." As you can read yourself, the DOJ complaint is studded with direct quotes from AA execs calling for monopolistic consolidation of the airline industry and commentary from JetBlue principals bemoaning the difficulty that small carriers have competing against the current airline oligarchy. The AA-JetBlue deal, which covers New York and Boston, was approved by the Transportation Department in January just before the Trump Administration departed. The price the carriers paid--just 13 slot pairs in New York and Washington--was criticized as far too low even in January. The implementation of the so-called Northeast Alliance also has been long on benefits for the carriers and extraordinarily thin on advantages for travelers. After the lawsuit was filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the Transportation Department noisily reminded the world that it always said it approved the alliance only subject to DOJ clearance. The response from American and JetBlue was unsurprising: How dare the government try to protect consumers while we're working so hard to fleece them! The two airlines also posted a Web site proclaiming that they are pure of heart and only have flyers' best interests at heart. Stay tuned, folks.

Biden's New Travel Rules Open Some Doors, Close Others
The Biden Administration announced on Monday (September 20) that it would roll back Trump Administration bans on travelers from Britain, the European Community and several other countries. The specific regulations won't be available until November, but airlines were instantly cheered and there was a flurry of bookings, especially from European travelers eager to revisit family, friends, business contacts and the like. But the order will also close as many doors as it opens. That is especially true if you are an unvaccinated American. According to a preview of the rules, unvaxxed U.S. flyers returning from overseas will be required to show a negative test within one day of departure. (At the moment, it's 72 hours.) Another new wrinkle: Unvaxxed U.S. flyers also will have to show proof that they have paid for a viral test to be administered after their return. There was no information on how these rules will be policed and who'll do the policing. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration separately said it had extended for another month the closure of the U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico. That'll keep them shuttered until late October.

Open All Hours ... Or At Least Some Hours
The TSA is hardly the most travel-friendly operation and you never quite know what a checkpoint screener will flag or what mood they will be in. But credit where credit is due: TSA PreCheck, when it's available, is fairly consistent and generally quite painless. The problem? You never know where PreCheck is available and if the checkpoints are open. The solution? The TSA now posts a station-by-station schedule of hours. You can check by airport and then drill down by day and by time in one-hour increments. Of course, the TSA, as always, leaves itself an out: "TSA PreCheck hours are subject to change based on operational needs."

A Year Later, United Will Launch That Dulles-Lagos Route
It's easy to make a joke about this one: United Airlines announced flights about a year ago between its Washington/Dulles hub and Lagos, Nigeria. Then nothing happened, much like waiting for almost any United flight anywhere. But with the pandemic raging and long-haul flying all but grounded, it's understandable why United never launched the IAD-Lago nonstop. But now there's a new start day, November 29, and tickets are on sale. United will use Boeing 787s configured with 28 business class seatbeds, 21 premium economy chairs, 36 Economy Plus and 158 coach seats.
        British Airways will resume its Austin-London/Heathrow nonstops beginning October 13. The route, down since the beginning of the pandemic, will operate three days a week with Boeing 787s.
        Swiss International is reviving nonstops between New York/Kennedy and its secondary hub in Geneva. Starting December 14, there will be as many of four weekly roundtrips.
        WestJet is bulking up its presence on the U.S. West Coast. Starting November 4, the Canadian carrier returns to the Calgary-John Wayne/Orange County route with two weekly flights. It has also decided to make its Calgary-San Francisco route a year-round service. Effective October 31, there will be two weekly roundtrips.
        Alaska Airlines continues to expand into Mexico from its San Francisco hub. On December 18, the carrier will launch winter flights to Loreto, Mazatlan and Zihuatanejo. The Saturday-only nonstops will continue until April 16 and operate with Airbus A320s, aircraft Alaska Air inherited in its purchase of Virgin America.

Business Travel News You Need to Know
Sagging under a summer boom in traffic, U.S. carriers continue to lag in hiring. In July, the 23 scheduled carriers added 8,263 new full-time employees, according to Transportation Department figures. That was up just 2.1% from June and still 10.5% below employee rolls in July, 2019. In fact, July's total of 402,561 full-time employees is the lowest for that summer month since 2015.
        British Airways says elite members of Executive Club whose status is due to expire between January and March will automatically receive another year at their existing tier. It also says Silver and Gold members are eligible for pre-flight dining in BA lounges regardless of the class they are flying. Moreover, Executive Club vouchers due to expire before December 31 will be extended for six more months.
        Harbin, the Northern China city in the region Americans know as Manchuria, launched service on its Line 2 subway. It's actually the third metro line in the city of 10 million people. The underground line covers about 18 miles.

Oh, Never Mind Then ...
It was only 14 months ago that French authorities proudly announced a massive upgrade for Paris Gare du Nord, Europe's busiest rail station and the continental anchor of the cross-channel Eurostar to England. First opened more than 150 years ago, the down-at-the-heels station was supposedly getting a remake to be ready for the 2023 Rugby World Cup and 2024 Summer Olympics. But the project was scrapped this week when the private developer handling the makeover said that it would cost almost triple the announced price of 600 million euros and wouldn't be finished until 2026. The French transport minister says the government still hoped for a much smaller project to spruce up Gare du Nord at a cost of about 50 million euros. The chairman of the private company then quipped: "I don't know what they're going to do with 50 million apart from changing the windows and putting on a new coat of paint."